First Snow Day of 2019

We don’t get a lot of snow around here, but when there’s a threat of an inch, schools and businesses close in precaution. (Don’t make fun. We don’t know how to drive in that stuff.) Unfortunately for Jeremy and Jackson, the Miller School for Boys is open every day, snow or no snow.

Still, we make little allowances for the delightful weather. It’s nice to not have to go anywhere. We sleep in a little later, take our time getting to school work, and this morning was no different. Jeremy, who protested that one to three inches of snow was no big deal, was the first one to throw on some layers and take the dog out. It’s Major, after all, who loves snow the most.

The meteorologist called for one to three inches in our specific area, and sure enough, that’s what fell. It was beautiful.

I tried to get pictures of our neighbors, but the snowflakes were so fast and fat that I couldn’t get the horses in focus, and it was too cold to cross the road to get closer.

The temperatures will continue to drop overnight, which gives me pause when I think of the surrounding trees and the heavy snow covering all the limbs.

Major really is the happiest boy in the snow.

Salem, on the other hand, took one look…

…and went back inside.

Once the snow stopped and the clouds cleared, we had blue skies once again and the sun melted all the remaining ice on the roads.

Medal No. 22

I signed up for the Santa Hustle Half Marathon in the Smokies back in the summer, not yet knowing that I would be running a half marathon in England in October. I’d already met my personal goal of running 20 races by the time I turned 40, so now it is just a matter of running races to run them and bring home another medal.

However, by mid-week, I was seriously considering not showing up on account of the dismal weather forecast.

Those temperatures, when combined with 100 percent chance of rain, felt like a big NO in my book. I don’t run in extreme weather conditions, namely the middle of summer when the heat and humidity make East Tennessee feel like an oven. (I go to the gym and do yoga in the summer.) 

By Saturday morning, I was still leaning towards no. The forecast never improved or even shifted. I polled friends on Instagram and the majority said HECK NO, don’t run. 

The yellow bracket represents the time during which I’d be running. The race started at 7:30 a.m.

A small few, maybe six or seven, said DO IT.  A few messaged me and reminded me that I’d probably regret it if I didn’t at least try. I wasn’t aiming for a perfect time anyway. I surrendered the fantasy of PRs – personal records – a long time ago. My only goal now is to finish in one piece, and I honestly believe this basic rule to listen to my body has kept me injury-free for the last decade. 

I wasn’t alone in the indecision or concern. The race’s Facebook page was busy with discussion about travel worries and racers deciding it was too risky to cross mountains and plateaus to get to Sevierville. A few petitioned the race organizers to reschedule, but if you have any experience with the racing community, you’d know that wasn’t going to happen.

In the end, I went for it. I drove to Sevierville Saturday night and slept at my parents’ house, who’d only moved to the area last week. (Their house is 11 miles from the start line.) When I left for the race at 6:15 a.m., the weather was exactly as predicted – 35 degrees and raining. I upped my positive-self-talk game: “Only two hours of running and then you can take a hot shower. No big deal.”

Attendance was noticeably down from the last time I ran the Santa Hustle two years ago, and it was a bare-bones set-up. No local cheerleading teams or bands, no extra volunteers in cheerful holiday garb to make the event festive. People huddled around outdoor space heaters or stayed indoors. When the race started (late) at 7:35 a.m., people were ready to get the dang thing over with.

The first four miles was uneventful weather-wise. The steady rain had lessened to a light mist, and, once warmed up, the temperature felt nice.

Around mile five, the sleet arrived and hung around for the next three or four miles, properly soaking my legs and feet. I took two missteps and landed directly in puddles.

At mile nine, the sleet morphed into fat, puffy snowflakes, which pelted me in the face for a steady 45 minutes. 

By mile 12, I was over it. Done. Soaked to the bone and freezing. By the time I could see the finish line, I could also see – do my eyes deceive me? – my parents parked on the roadside. I waved to them, and they waved back, and then I noticed my mother was recording the Stay-Puffed Marshmallow Woman running her direction. (The white Columbia jacket I bought for our U.K. trip was PERFECT for a long-distance run in wet weather!)

Despite the weather, the Santa Hustle 2018 was still not my worst race experience. The Oklahoma City Half in 2009 still reigns as the absolute worst. My time was a few minutes slower than normal, but I’m still within range of the last ten half marathons I’ve run. 

More than anything, I’m glad I did something hard when I was really tempted not to. 

Thanksgiving 2018

My parents are moving back to Tennessee, and since they are already in the process of the move, it made sense for my sister and her family to spend Thanksgiving here. It helps that I don’t mind hosting and cooking and making everyone as comfortable as possible. 

I made all the usual dishes, including the same turkey recipe I’ve been using since 2007 – Tyler Florence’s Maple-Roasted Turkey with Sage and Bacon (minus the stuffing). I’ve been tempted to try other recipes, but so far, trying new things doesn’t get enough votes. 

We spent time doing all the usual things – watching football, playing games, and eating until our pants get tight. I tried to make enough food so that we’d have leftovers for a second full day. I was mostly successful!

I also took a few photos of Jacob since it’s his senior year, a reality that I’ve yet to accept. It’s hard to believe the first grandchild in the family is graduating high school. We are all so proud of him!

This is my favorite photo from the long weekend: 

We drove to Sevierville to let the boys swim and to check out my parents’ new rental house. I am beyond thrilled that they’re moving back to this wonderful state, particularly since I haven’t lived near my family since 2005. They should be settled in by Christmas.

Other than the fact that none of the teams we root for won this weekend (minus MTSU), we had a lovely, relaxing Thanksgiving together. As always, the time goes by too quickly. 

The UK Trip: Day 10 in Amsterdam

For a dozen reasons, we didn’t want to leave Scotland. How can one look forward to a trip for more than a decade, finally experience it, and leave without crying? 

I cried at the airport. Full on. Cried. 

We drove 1,468 miles in England and Scotland, which doesn’t account for the miles we walked, nor taking the train back and forth to London. Needless to say, we felt accomplished and took advantage of every opporunity.

View of Scotland as we flew away: 

When we were booking our flights for this trip, it was inevitable that we’d have a layover in Amsterdam. Though I’d been to the Netherlands as a kid, Chuck had yet to put his feet on mainland European soil.

So, why not finagle a later flight, get one more stamp in the passport, and tour the city?  

We booked a hotel room next to the train station so everything would be walkable. This was our view: 

With only a couple of hours until sunset, we unloaded our luggage and took to the streets immediately.

Amsterdam was exactly as I remembered it – all bikes and canals. 

Sunset was coming, and we were perfectly positioned for a postcard moment:

These photos were taken with my phone since I didn’t want to haul the camera all night. Not bad for cell phone photos! 

Dinner was pizza on a patio: 

Killed it: 

Cheers to a memorable trip and to being each other’s favorite traveling buddy. 

The UK Trip: Day 9 in Inverness and Banff

By Day 9, we were acutely aware of how quickly time was passing us by. It was an impossibility to see everything on our respective lists, but we would sure as heck try.

Our Airbnb in Kirkhill was a sweet little one-bedroom house on the owners’ property in the country and perfectly situated to jump down to Loch Ness and Urquhart Castle before heading east.  

PEAK COLORS, PEOPLE.

Bits of Urquhart Castle date back to the 500s, but its heyday was in the 13th and 14th Centuries when it was a military stronghold. It was a garrison for the Jacobites and their supporters in the 1600s, but the place ultimately fell into ruin in 1715 and thereafter.

From every corner is a beautiful view of Loch Ness.

If I didn’t know any better, I’d say this photo was taken in East Tennessee: 

It was too cold to dip our toes into Loch Ness, but we got as close as we could.

Off we went to Inverness, which could easily pass for the Scottish version of Knoxville or Chattanooga. Give me Inverness over Edinburgh any day of the week. 

The River Ness was moving faster than I’d seen a river flow, particularly being that wide and shallow. We even asked the waitress at lunch about how fast it was flowing and she said it’s run faster before. If you jumped in, you’d be in the North Sea in minutes. 

We went to The Mustard Seed for Sunday lunch, which offered a solid meal and a stunning view of the river. Though our dinner at the Thomas Becket pub in Canterbury was our favorite, this lunch was a close second. 

You can’t tell by the photo, but Chuck was so happy with his meal that he wore a steady grin on his face the whole time. Even buttering this piece of bread was enjoyable. We really loved carbs on this trip. 

We hit the road for one last swing along the coastline to find a graveyard where a few of Chuck’s ancestors could potentially be buried. We drove through Cullen first.

Banff was home to the graveyard where we looked for Camerons. (Doesn’t everyone traipse through graveyards on their wedding anniversary trip?) 

We actually found two Camerons, but we weren’t sure if they’re related or not. We took photos to bring home to our family historian, Aunt Linda.  

After our graveyard stroll, we stopped in the town of Banff to eat ice cream and then promptly walk off the calories.

Because there were considerable calories. 

By now the sun was starting to set on our last night in Scotland. The sadness started to creep in, at least on my part. I knew leaving the next day was going to be hard. 

We stopped along the roadside for sunset photos because – again – it looked so much like East Tennessee.

Last post: Goodbye UK, Hello Amsterdam

The UK Trip: Day 8 in the Scottish Highlands

Having spent one full day in Edinburgh and one full day in London, I for sure knew I was a country mouse. We both were excited to get back to the countryside, and our plan for the day was to locate specific places where Chuck’s ancestors used to live. Eventually we’d end up in Inverness.

We checked out of the apartment and headed north. The route was curvy and we anticipated occasional re-routing. If there looked to be an interesting pull-off along the way, we’d stop – like this spot, which is Cargill’s Leap on the River Ericht:

We also stopped at the sweetest little library: 

The first stop on our ancestral tour was in Kirkmichael, a tiny village with one school, a little church, a village shop, a fire station, and a couple of inns.

We took a quick stroll through the kirkyard in search of names, but after no success, we went to the pub – of course – to enjoy a pint and talk to the barkeep about village life.

And play darts!

We lingered in the pub for a good hour, curious about life in Kirkmichael and surrounding villages. How did places like these stay afloat? What had the town looked like when Chuck’s ancestors lived there in the 1770s, right before they moved to Townsend? There are fewer than 200 people who live in Kirkmichael currently, and even the barkeep came into work from a neighboring town. 

We finished our drinks, bid farewell, and headed north again. Autumn color was brighter in Scotland than it was in England, even with the foggy rain. And the sheep! They were the most delightful roadside attractions. I had a hard time controlling myself with the camera. Sometimes they were close enough to pet, and y’all know I really wanted to pet them. 

Though most of Scotland reminded me of East Tennesse, certain parts of the countryside in Cairngorms National Park reminded me fondly of Iceland.

Just look at this face: 

Since it had been raining in Scotland for several days, waterfalls and rivers were full and high. 

This photo in particular looks like Iceland:  

Back on the road we went again, farther north to the Glenlivet Distillery. 

No pictures were allowed in the actual distillery, which is a shame because the set-up is impressive. Everyone enjoyed a tasting, and I honestly tried my best. I am not a whisky girl, but I’m also not a quitter. A little water in the whisky helped it go down with less burn. 

Our Airbnb was west of Inverness in a town called Kirkhill. It was the biggest space we’d secured yet, and after looking through the visitor’s diary we learned there’d been guests to stay for months on end. (A quick video of the place can be seen on my Instastories.) 

We arrived at dusk and, since we had no groceries and nothing within walking distance, we hopped back in the car and drove to the next closest town, Beauly. There, we grabbed dinner at the Lovet Arms and popped into a tiny co-op for a few staples. 

Photo of me after dinner: 

Either I’d had too much cider, or I was delirious from travel fatigue, but this package of Wee Skinny Ma Linkys had me in stitches and unable to walk fully upright in the grocery store.

I Googled it and learned that Skinny Malinky Longlegs is a Scottish children’s song. I will never be the same. 

Up next: Inverness and the eastern coastline drive to Banff

The UK Trip: Day 7 in Edinburgh

We arrived in Edinburgh Thursday evening just as it was getting dark. We were fortunate to find our Airbnb apartment and unload our things before it got too late, but instead of exploring the rainy city right away, we grabbed an Uber to the closest theater to watch “A Star is Born”. 

The location of the apartment was perfectly situated across the street from a Starbucks and a grocery store, so on Friday morning, while I watched coverage of Princess Eugenie’s wedding, Chuck made a coffee and pastry run. 

View from the bedroom window: 

It was inevitable that our good luck with clear weather would end. The next two days in Scotland brought a constant mist and occasional shower, but we were prepared and had appropriate gear. 

My expectations of Edinburgh were few, but even then I wasn’t prepared for so little color and flat building faces. Perhaps I’d just been spoiled with blooming flower boxes and bright blue skies in England. Maybe it was the rain that cast a gray shadow on the southern city. Whatever the reason, any bit of color caught my eye, like this purple door: 

Or these flags: 

Our main goal for Edinburgh was the castle – naturally – so that’s the direction we headed on foot.

The wind was something fierce that day, so when we finally made it to the Royal Mile, we braced ourselves and held on for dear life.

Expansive views from atop the castle hill: 

Unlike many of the places we’d visited already, the tourists were swarming at Edinburgh Castle. In some places, it was a tight squeeze. Fortunately I caught a few photos without people obstructing the view.

After touring the grounds, it was easy to see why this castle was one of the inspirations for Hogwarts. 

St. Margaret’s Chapel is the oldest surviving building in Edinburgh: 

My favorite spot on the grounds: 

My monarchy-loving self also thoroughly enjoyed all of the Mary, Queen of Scots and King James VI exhibits. (Photography was limited.) 

The war memorial on the castle grounds was also worth a stop. Here, a tribute to the Cameronians from the Highlands: 

On account of the rain, I didn’t have my camera out as often as I normally would, but I managed to snap a few good photos with my cell phone, including a selfie: 

One thing I didn’t realize about Edinburgh is that it’s layered – there are literally layers of streets, passageways, and hidden tunnels throughout the city. We’d approach a bridge and I’d expect an alleyway of some sort. But no, it was an entire other street with traffic and people three stories below.

In parts, Edinburgh absolutely feels like Hogsmeade.

Greyfriar’s Bobby

A post about Edinburgh wouldn’t be complete without a photo of The Elephant House, the little cafe where JK Rowling spent her earlier years writing the Harry Potter series. 

On our way back to the apartment we stopped at Gordon Nicolson Kiltmakers to buy a tie for Chuck made with his family’s tartan, the Camerons. It was made to order and shipped to us back home. 

He opted for the hunting tartan below instead the standard clan tartan, which is red and green and looked too Christmasy.

Dinner that night was take-away from a little Thai place across the street from the apartment. Having been cold and wet from the rain all day, it was nice to cozy up on the couch and chill. 

Up next: Cairngorms National Park and exploring the old Cameron family stomping grounds

The UK Trip: Day 6 in Northern England, Alnwick Castle, and Bamburgh Castle by the sea

The night in Horsley near Newcastle was a delight, and the Airbnb apartment where we stayed was in an old, Victorian converted barn which offered one of the most comfortable night’s sleep throughout the entire trip.

Our route for Day 6 took us along the eastern coast of Northumberland and eventually into Scotland. We had two nights in Edinburgh awaiting us, but we didn’t want to rush the drive. On my must-see list was Alnwick Castle, private home to the Duke of Northumberland and his family.

The countryside along the drive was nothing short of spectacular.

The approach to Alnwick was breathtaking. I cannot imagine living in an expansive estate such as this.

Guinea fowl! Chuck and I were excited to see these birds because we’d long wondered what guinea fowl actually looked like in person. (Thank you, Great British Baking Show, for making us care so deeply about identifying ground-nesting birds and other ingredients of a game pie.)

Alnwick Castle is home to the scene in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone when the first years learned how to fly on their brooms. Tourists can enjoy the same experience. 

We didn’t learn to fly on brooms, but we did practice a little archery.

At every turn, Alnwick was a stunner.

This was the view from atop one of the battlements:

We couldn’t take photos inside the home – cause it’s someone’s HOUSE – but I did see with my OWN EYES the most beautiful library ever, home to 15,000 books. I snagged a photo from the internet, so I didn’t break any rules by sneaking a photo with my own camera. 

GOOD GRACIOUS ALMIGHTY.

The library was used in a 2014 Christmas episode of Downton Abbey, and yes, I squealed upon learning this detail. 

We took a quick walk through the little town on our way back to the car. (How many photos do I have of my husband from behind?)

We drove north to Bamburgh Castle at the suggestion of Becca and Luke, but by the time we arrived we could only explore the outside. We’d missed the time limit for entr. Boo.

I took this photo with my cell phone from inside the car on our approach to the castle grounds:

Nestled on the seaside, the castle is surrounded on one side by sandy dunes. It is utterly breathtaking! 

On the other side of the castle is the tiny town of Bamburgh. 

As the sun set, we got back in the car and concluded our time in England. I nursed a little sadness because it felt like time had flown by too quickly. Fortunately, we had four more days together in the UK, and it was finally time to explore Scotland. 

If you’re interested, click here to watch my Instastories from England

Up next: Edinburgh

The UK Trip: That one night in Newcastle

Of all the unpredictable details of our anniversary trip – the pleasant weather, the ease in which we navigated the roads, the picture-perfect half marathon despite my doubt – the best unexpected part of our trip was making fast friends with a couple from Newcastle at a pub near our Airbnb in Horsley. 

Our stay in Northumberland was brief since it was a one-night stop on our way to Scotland. Horsley, the tiny spot of a town west of Newcastle, offered a cozy spot to sleep and a pub – The Lion and Lamb – within walking distance. We were tired from our busy morning in Oxford and the Cotswolds, not to mention the near-five hour drive afterward. All we had in mind was a hot dinner and a few pints. We settled at a table and ordered. 

Across the tiny room was another couple and their little brown dog. (Note: I love that so many European restaurants let in well-behaved dogs.) Of course, I had to make eyes with the pup because I have no self-control. Aware of one another, we smiled and nodded to the humans. But really, I was eye-balling that dog. Eventually, I got up to pet him.

Thus began our conversation with Becca and Luke. The usual questions started – Where were we from? What were we doing in the area? Were we enjoying ourselves? Did you know you sound like Julia Roberts?

They were locals, so I returned as many questions as I could. What was worth seeing in the area? What’s it like living here? Why is Northumberland so perfect? 

Then they had an idea – what if they gave us a quick tour by car? Sure, it was dark, and yes, we were strangers, and of course, this sounds totally bizarre. But how about it? 

Hmmm. Let me think: 
– get in the car with strangers
– in a foreign country
– at nighttime
– have no plan whatsoever

Sure! We piled in Luke’s car – Ted the Spaniel jumped in Chuck’s lap, while Becca and I sat wedged in the back seat. Off we went to The Boathouse on the River Tyne.

Do you need a soundtrack for our night with strangers in Northumberland? Click here to hear the song Becca played for us: “Fog on the Tyne” 

Our night didn’t end at The Boathouse. Shall we go into Newcastle and visit another pub? OF COURSE WE SHALL. Come on, Ted.

I can’t remember the name of the third pub we visited, but there we met another group of locals who enjoyed Ted’s company as much as we did. 

Our conversations circled every topic imaginable, from what we all did for a living, a little of our histories, whether or not we were Trump supporters, whether or not they were Brexit supporters, and so on. At every turn, I found them more interesting, more enjoyable to be around, and I grew more thankful we said yes back at the Lion and Lamb.

At the close of the night, Luke and Becca took us for a quick walk by the riverside and it was there that we realized how similar Newcastle is to Knoxville. 

Totally unexpected but completely worth it, we will never forget our one night in Newcastle and the sweet people who made it memorable for us.

Becca and Luke, please come to East Tennessee so we can return the favor.

Up next: Alnwick Castle

The UK Trip: Day 5 in Oxford and the Cotswolds

The plan for Wednesday, October 10, was to spend the morning walking in Oxford and driving through the Cotswolds before the long drive north to Newcastle Upon Tyne.

Before getting on our way, I made breakfast for us in the tiny red kitchen of our Airbnb. The stone building is an old converted pub in Cassington. The owners live in front, and the rental space is in back.

The map for the day: 

Ambitious? Yes, of course!

The architecture in Oxford is a magnificent collage of Neoclassical, English Gothic, Saxon, the occasional Post-Modern, and more. It is a vibrant feast for the eyes. 

Home to 38 colleges, Oxford University serves as a foundational intersection of education and history. Everywhere you turn, there’s another college paired with a different style of architecture.

Though I wanted to absorb all I could in Oxford for the many reasons Oxford is wonderful, I had one singular item on my must-see list: The Eagle and Child.

The Eagle and Child was home to the Inklings, a literary group formed by C.S. Lewis, his brother, Warren, J.R.R. Tolkien, and other academics. The relationship between C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien was key not only in their mutual love for creating fantasy worlds (Narnia and Middle Earth, respectively) but also for the constant wrestling with religion. Lewis openly credits Tolkien for his encouraging his return to Christianity. 

The revolving group of members (albeit “member” is used loosely, as there were few, if any, rules) kept to a corner of The Eagle and Child where their agreements and disagreements could be shared over a few pints.

We did what was necessary and enjoyed a couple of pints in honor of these great minds. I look a fright in the photo because I’d been crying out of pure joy and disbelief.  #truestory

Chuck, yet again, was kind to endure my obsession and sit for as long as I wanted to in the pub. Along with our tour of Hever Castle, the hour we spent in The Eagle and Child is a favorite memory. 

Eventually we made our way through Oxford a little further before grabbing a Cornish pasty, the most delightful treat in the world, and getting on the road to the Cotswolds.

Driving through the Cotswolds was a no-brainer since we needed to head north anyway, and this particular Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty was somewhat along the way. Known for its quaint towns and charming architecture, we made one stop in Bourton-on-the-Water to walk around. 

Bourton-on-the-Water is a favorite stop for tourists, and I could see why. It couldn’t be cuter, especially in autumn.

I would like to live here, please. 

We grabbed an ice cream cone each and made a quick pit stop before heading north to Newcastle. If ever we return to the UK, we’ll explore more of the Cotswolds and head west to Wales. Fingers crossed!

Up next: An unexpected night with new friends

The moment I thought all was lost

Last week I had a near heart attack when this site went blank. A corrupt plugin (or perhaps a plugin update?) looked to have wiped the site of all content. No blog posts. No photos. No pages.

Nearly ten years of content was seemingly gone. I refreshed and refreshed and refreshed, but the browser still showed PAGE NOT FOUND. I got emails from students who were trying to access class pages, which had an easy workaround. But, the thought of losing all those photos? All those stories? Despair does not fully explain my emotional state over the last few days. 

Fortunately, thanks to a rolling month-long back-up, my site was restored yesterday minus the updated class pages from Friday morning. Everything seems just as it was, for which I’m grateful. 

It was a close call though, folks. I did well to keep calm.


I am still making my way through photos from our UK trip, so those will be posted soon. In the meantime, we’ve enjoyed several events, including having my mom here with us. (They will be Tennessee residents again very soon! Cue happy dance!)

Halloween came and went with only Jackson celebrating. It’s strange to be letting go of that holiday, and even Jackson said this was probably his last year to dress up.

We joined a friend of his for trick-or-treating, and I enjoyed the night the best I could knowing we’ll probably never do it again. He’ll be 13 years old next year and his interests may be entirely different by then. 

Salem and I, on the other hand, will always celebrate Halloween.

Last weekend brought a lovely treat for my family and me. The De Gracia family enjoyed a getaway weekend in the Smoky Mountains and dropped by our little town on their way home so we could grab dinner and I could take their photos for the second time. Nortasha and I were neighbors from seventh to ninth grade in Atlanta, and we reconnected on Facebook a few years ago. 

Honestly, this is the primary reason I stay on social media, despite my many temptations to disconnect. Growing up an Army brat meant making friends in new cities, states, and countries every few years. To reconnect with those people has been a true gift. 

Finally, we have a beautiful and meaningful addition to our yard. In honor and memory of Chuck’s mother, sister, and father, my parents gifted us a Japanese maple tree. It is completely perfect, and we are grateful. 

The UK Trip: Day 4 in Windsor and Dorset

Originally, my plan was to drive to Brighton, then Dorset and up to Oxford, but when I couldn’t find room in the itineraries to visit Windsor, I had to make a sacrifice.

Windsor Castle was non-negotiable when it came to my must-see list, so Brighton was cut. We checked out of our hotel in Kingston-Upon-Thames and headed west.

Windsor was one of the places I checked out prior to visiting to make sure it would be open. With Princess Eugenie and Jack’s wedding that same week, I made sure we could still visit.

The town of Windsor is adorable, with its corridors of shops and little storefronts decorated with Union Jack bunting. 

Full disclosure: I didn’t know the Changing of the Guard happened at 11 a.m., but lucky for us, we arrived just in time. People were lining the streets and we followed suit. 

A statue of Queen Victoria welcomes visitors to Windsor Castle.

And a portrait of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip with their grandchildren (minus Prince Louis) welcomes visitors at the entrance.

The castle is every bit as grand as I anticipated. 

Of course, I can just imagine being in this courtyard when Prince Harry and Meghan drove away in that sports car after their wedding…

A marker for Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth I: 

View of Windsor from atop the castle: 

The castle was stunning, and I only snuck a couple of photos from inside because photography was prohibited. Yes, I was naughty. 

The grounds were plenty gorgeous, and I enjoyed walking around the whole property. However, the one specific thing I wanted to see was inside St. George’s Chapel. In fact, I had been counting on it. 

Unfortunately, I had to adjust my expectations. Despite the website making no mention of the chapel being closed for wedding preparations outside of October 11 and 12, it was indeed closed to visitors.

I literally had to choke down tears on account of my disappointment. All the monarchs buried here, all the royal weddings that have been held here, the architecture, the heralds and banners… I would not be able to view it all with my own eyes. It seems silly now, I admit, but I really was upset. So as to not ruin the experience entirely, I took a few minutes to readjust and appreciate the moment as it was.

When it was all said and done, we finished watching the Changing of the Guard ceremony and left the castle. 

The drive to Dorset took several hours, but I knew the views would be worth it. (What I didn’t anticipate was the level of fitness required to climb to Durdle Door.) Dorset is known for its beautiful countryside and seaside cliffs, of which you’ll be familiar if you watched Broadchurch. We parked at Lulworth Cove and met a British friend/co-worker of Chuck’s for a quick pint before taking on the massive hill that led to Durdle Door.

Though only a mile from one spot to the other, the scope of the hill is no joke. I only thought we were hiking when we climbed the White Cliffs of Dover. Oh no! This was actual hiking. (You can listen to our huffing and puffing on my Instastories.) 

Of course, once we reached the top, it was worth it. 

To fully appreciate the size, in the photo below, take note of the man standing on the beach and the two girls in the water. Ahem

Durdle Door is one of the most photographed places on the southern coast. Per usual, I wanted to see it for myself. 

It took a few hours for us to hike to the seashore and back, and not just because I was taking pictures. I cannot impress upon you the steep incline and the necessary stamina it took to climb it. 

Once we made it back to the car park, we opted to eat a quick dinner – fish and chips, naturally – before taking the long road to Oxford that night. 

Up next: Oxford and the Cotwolds

The UK Trip: Day 3 to Rye, Dover, and Canterbury

Every day we spent in England was meticulously mapped out to make the most of our limited time. Scotland was less so, and we would eventually enjoy a more laid back attempt at exploration later in the week. But for now, we had a schedule to keep and a list of things I wanted to see and do. Chuck was indifferent to most of the things on my list, so he was tasked to drive us wherever the GPS told him to go.

As noted in the previous post, Hever Castle was a must-see, so we visited it first thing Monday morning. Afterward, we drove to Rye to visit one specific street.

Yes, you read that correctly: to see a street. 

Mermaid Street in Rye is consistently regarded as one of the most charming, quintessential English streets in the country. I’ve seen it in countless photos of the cobblestone road throughout the years, most notably in the spring when all the flower boxes are in bright bloom. 

Though not as colorful or green as it might be in spring, Mermaid Street was well worth the extra drive. Again, Chuck was so amiable to whatever random thing I wanted to see or do. Bless him.

At the top of the hill, accessible by Mermaid Street, is the former home of author Henry James, where he lived and wrote at the turn of the 20th Century.

The walk down was as lovely as the walk up, as it afforded a beautiful view of the town. 

After our stroll, we popped back in the car and drove to Dover specifically to visit the White Cliffs. Had we more time, I would’ve wanted to visit Dover Castle. Alas, I resolved to view it from the cliffs instead and enjoy the view from there.

We hiked along the cliffside, huffing and puffing, not knowing the worst hike of all hikes would occur the next day in Dorset. 

I’m not sure one can appreciate the sheer size of the cliffs via photos unless you pinpoint a human and do some sort of comparison. If you can spot him, there is a man walking on the path in the top lefthand corner of the photo. He’s wearing blue jeans and there’s a huge tuft of dark shrubbery to the right of him.

The last stop of the day was Canterbury, and for a short while, I harbored the tiniest disappointment that arriving near the close of business hours would mean not going inside the Canterbury Cathedral. In hindsight, it was completely fine because my original thought was to do the reverse – Canterbury, Dover, Rye, Hever – and that would’ve meant potentially missing out on that delightful morning at Anne Boleyn’s childhood home. So, no biggie.

If you are unfamiliar with Canterbury Cathedral, its role in establishing Christianity in England, and the martyrdom of Thomas Becket, then you must read about it, for it is certainly hallowed ground

We toured as much of the Cathedral as we could, which meant exploring the Cloisters and accessible outside walls. 

We went on to explore Canterbury at dusk in order to enjoy the town as much as possible. Dinner ended up being at a pub called Thomas Becket and it was honestly one of our best meals throughout the entire trip.

Appetizers were a Scotch Egg with baked Camembert cheese, toasted bread, and cranberry jelly.

Chuck ordered a steak and ale pie, and I enjoyed a sweet potato, onion, and goat cheese pie. (We have become big fans of savory pies thanks to the Great British Baking Show.) 

The remains:

The dark drive back to Kingston left us weary, but waiting for us were two tiny cakes – a Victoria Sandwich and a carrot cake. Thanks again, Great British Baking Show, for making our jeans tighter. 

Speaking of food, I enjoyed eating beans at breakfast in England. I didn’t put them on toast but simply ate them alongside scrambled eggs, pastry, and mushrooms with thyme. I don’t know why England gets a bad rap about its food. I enjoyed everything I tried.

Coming up next: Windsor and Dorset

The UK Trip: Day 3 at Hever Castle

We visited more than just Hever Castle on Day 3, but my affection for Queen Anne Boleyn warrants its own post on account of the number of photos I took at her childhood home. 

My interest in Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII’s second wife, is primarily rooted in her impact on the English Reformation as a religious reformer and her insistence to qualify their daughter Elizabeth as an heir to the throne. (Spoiler: Elizabeth I made it to the throne.) 

Hever Castle was Anne’s childhood home, so it was a non-negotiable visit. Though Chuck had no prior knowledge about this place and has limited-to-no interest in the British Monarchy, he enjoyed touring Hever and said it was one of his favorite things we did while in the UK. 🙂 

The property as a whole is stunning, and I remain grateful we visited on a bright, clear day. Upon crossing the drawbridge (THE DRAWBRIDGE!!!) we entered a courtyard that showcased the manor’s architecture.  

Each room offers a delightful amount of access, unlike other castles that prohibit photography and keep a rope draped at the doorway. Some pieces of the home are replicas since the castle went into disrepair until a wealthy American, William Waldorf Astor, purchased the property in the early 20th Century to restore and preserve it

I read as many placards as I could and studied the artifacts with great care. I’ve wanted to visit Hever Castle for more than a decade, and there I stood where the Boleyn family used to live. (Not that I have an affection for the entire family, mind you.)

Of course, Anne was wrongfully executed on the accusation of witchcraft and myriad other silly things. She was unable to produce a male heir (because women were totally in charge of that, you know) and she suffered a series of terrible miscarriages (again, the complete fault of the woman on account of her witchcraftiness). Oh the importance of modern medicine!

Whatever really happened back then, Anne Boleyn remains an important piece of the Protestant Reformation, as well as a crucial role in the validity and success of Elizabeth I.

This marriage tapestry represents the marriage of Henry VIII’s sister, Mary Tudor, to King Louis. 

A few rooms of the manor reflected early 20th Century decor, as this was a private home for the Astor family. 

Interestingly, Winston Churchill was acquainted with the Astor family and often visited Hever to visit and paint. 

The grounds were beautifully manicured and beginning to burst with autumn color. Again, I was so thankful for the clear weather.

One of my favorite memories will always be feeding the ducks at Hever Castle. It was like that moment was crafted specifically for me. 

Like I said, Hever Castle wasn’t our only stop on Day 3, but it was an important one for me.

Up next: Mermaid Street in Rye, the White Cliffs of Dover, and dinner in Canterbury

The UK Trip: Days 1 and 2

I’ve already confessed to the number of photos I took throughout our 12-day trip. I’m not embarrassed or ashamed, but whew – I’m overwhelmed. On top of my regular tasks and assignments, I will attempt to edit a chunk each day and post them within a reasonable time. (This goes against the temptation to pull an all-nighter and get them edited in one fell swoop.) 

Day 1, October 5/6: Chuck and I flew out of our hometown, a decision that warranted a little more money but paid off when we realized that, upon landing, we’d be home in 15 minutes. Well worth it! The connecting flight between here and Heathrow was Atlanta, and since Corey happened to be flying home from a business trip at the same time we were dropping in, we met near our gate for a quick goodbye dinner.

The flight was uneventful, minus the fact that I slept exactly zero minutes. Already a fitful sleeper, the Valium I took only helped me not freak out during take-off, flying over the ocean, and landing. I might have dozed here and there, but I didn’t sleep. Chuck didn’t do much better, so we knew a nap was going to be necessary once we got to the hotel. We landed just before 11 a.m. on Saturday, so we grabbed our luggage and headed to the rental car park.

‘Cause yeah – we rented a car!

I’m here to tell you that Chuck had no problem driving on the opposite side of the car or on the opposite side of the road. Only two or three times throughout the whole trip did we have to re-circle a roundabout because we missed our exit. (“Look, kids! Parliament!”) We guessed on the road signs and used the GPS to get us where we needed to be. We drove everywhere except to London since the train was more efficient.

Our first three nights were spent in Kingston-Upon-Thames, a market town about 12 miles west of London, home to Hampton Court, plenty of shopping, and where I ran my 21st race. Before checking into our hotel, we went to packet pickup so I could get my bib and chip. The last thing I wanted was to get lost and miss out. My body can handle only so much anxiety at once.

I didn’t know you could live on a riverboat on the Thames, but alas, you can.

After our nap, we explored Kingston and grabbed a meal at Gourmet Burger Kitchen, a UK chain, then perused a five-story shopping mall to stretch our legs. However, since I was going to run a half marathon the next morning, we grabbed a dessert to go and went back to the hotel to rest.

Day 2, October 7: I woke up the morning of our 18th wedding anniversary refreshed and ready to run. This is not normal for me, as I have consistently slept poorly the night before a race for more than a decade. Not sleeping on the plane combined with not sleeping the night before our trip meant I slept like a baby exactly when I needed to. 

Also, the weather was perfect, a detail I did not anticipate for a half marathon in England.

And then I saw a Packers fan across the square. Her name is Elle and she’s been a fan of American football for ten years. I was HAPPY HAPPY HAPPY to meet her and she was sweet to take a photo with an American stranger. 

I wasn’t worried about my running time because I knew I’d stop to take photos of Hampton Court, a favorite of Henry VIII’s. I was so pleased to see it was along the route.

Medal No. 21:

There was no rest for the weary because we had plans to tackle London on our anniversary. I showered and ate breakfast as quickly as I could, then we caught the train to Waterloo. 

Dobby was also going to Waterloo.

The primary thing I learned while in London is that I am indeed a country mouse. Much of London reminded me of New York City, a city I enjoy visiting but would never want to call home. Neither my brain nor my body is built for that level of chaos or that number of warm bodies. 

That being said, we enjoyed everything London had to offer in the single day we visited. The Tower was a must-see, but the rest I was happy to tour on foot as a passerby.

One interesting thing we learned was that the Beefeaters, the Yeomen Warders of Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress of the Tower, live on site. The Tower is its own little community where the Yeomen Warders and their families live and work. 

I was particularly interested to view this site, a marker for the beheading of Queen Anne Boleyn (among others). Her remains are buried inside the church on site (Chapel Royal of St. Peter ad Vincula, or “Peter in Chains”).

We passed on waiting in line to see the Crown Jewels because, from the looks of it, we could’ve stood in line for several hours. Neither of us wanted to waste that kind of time. (Not to mention that I’d just run a half marathon, so standing in line sounded like Torture in the Tower to me.)

So, off we went to explore more of London.

I love me some flower boxes.

We walked by Westminster Abbey, where both Her Majesty the Queen and Prince Philip and William and Kate were married, plus where dozens of royals are buried. 

I couldn’t get enough of the flower boxes. Give me all the flower boxes. 

Jennie’s kid, Winston: 

Lunch was at a gloriously packed pub with football (soccer) on every screen. Fish and chips with cider became a favorite meal.

We walked by Buckingham Palace, but the Queen wasn’t home. Presumably, she was prepping for her granddaughter Eugenie’s wedding, which was later in the week. 

We took a series of selfies at the palace and Chuck decided to make a crown of fingers for himself. He was being a good sport with all of my monarchy obsessions. God bless him and his good spirits! 

A walk past the National Gallery provided us a quick view of street art we knew our little vexillologist would love. Indeed, Jackson enjoyed this photo of every national flag in chalk. 

George was there, too.

The sun was setting soon and we had plans to watch the Packers-Lions game at the Hippodrome Casino, an NFL ticket hub for Americans and fans of American football. It isn’t the most romantic way to spend an anniversary, but we make our own rules. 

The game did not end the way we wanted it to, but there, in London, on a dream trip together, it really didn’t matter. We grabbed the train back to Kingston and collapsed into bed. October 8 would have plenty of adventure on its own.

Up next: Hever Castle

700 photos later…

In 2006, Chuck and I started talking about taking a trip to the UK. Until last week, it had always remained a conversation, a daydream, or thing that would happen eventually. 

However, earlier this year we decided it was time to stop making excuses and instead it was time to go. We’d been waiting for the right time, whatever that meant, and then we realized there would never be a perfect time. When is it a perfect time for anything, really? There are always sacrifices to make, commitments to rearrange, and money to spend elsewhere.  

We booked the flights and a smattering of hotel rooms and AirBNBs. We rented a car and mapped out an ambitious itinerary. How much could we see and do in 11 days? What would we forgo for another time to see the things we’ve wanted to see for years

We went from one end of the UK to the other, from the White Cliffs of Dover to the coast of the North Sea. We traveled nearly 1,500 miles by car and even more by plane. I ran a half marathon in England and we visited the tiniest towns in Scotland where a few of Chuck’s ancestors lived.

We traipsed castles where royalty still lives and explored ruins from centuries ago. We ate our weight in meat pies and washed it down with barrels of cider. It rained a bit, but not nearly what I feared it would. We made the most of every second and capped off the trip with a one-night layover in Amsterdam. 

The magic happened in the UK though, and I have 700 photos of proof. It will take me ages to edit the best ones and morph them into a video, not to mention posting them here. (For record-keeping, I’ll post a smattering of photos for each day we spent there. The wanderlusts and super curious are welcome back to view them.)

For now, though, I must force my brain back into work mode and sync it to Eastern time, but all I really want to do is lay in bed and enjoy my American kitchen. 

If you’re ready, start here. 

When you don’t take your own advice

Chuck and I are going on a trip, but before we leave I have eleventy billion tasks to complete. I’m not entirely sure how I got here, but I’m certain it has to do with the number of times I said yes compared to the zero times I said no. 

This is exactly what I tell others not to do. 

When I should be looking forward to our vacation and planning itineraries, I am managing tension headaches and working at my desk from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. almost every day scratching items off my to-do list.  In between assignments and the professional work I’ve committed to, I’m training for my 21st race, getting the boys to their respective places,  and tending to myriad daily details, such as making food for people to eat.

Some of this is expected. There’s always a rush of tasks before a trip, and if you’re like me, in order to leave with a clear head, everything must be in order – from finishing laundry and restocking toiletries to paying bills early and thinking of all the things that could happen and mitigating potential disasters ahead of time. 

It’s nonsensical.

Something’s gotta give, so I’m going to spend the next few weeks discerning what needs to change because since our school year started I’ve spent exactly zero minutes writing fiction. I’ve spent no time querying. I’ve done the bare minimum when it comes to race training, so I’m legitimately concerned about suffering an injury on the days I increase mileage to double digits. I’m not cooking the kind of meals I prefer to feed my family and instead am piecing together quick and easy bites. That’s fine sometimes, but…

Something’s gotta give.

Maybe the problem is more about how I manage my time and less about the assignments I accept (or give myself). Or, maybe I’m just doing too much and my inability to handle the workload proves that I am, in fact, not Wonder Woman. 

I could’ve sworn I was.

I deleted my professional Facebook page last week, which is a start, because I no longer want to advertise photography and work with strangers. Instead, I’ll keep photographing friends and family as my schedule allows and leave it at that.

I also need to devise effective strategies for assignments I give in the four co-op classes I teach. It is a colossal mistake on my part to assign papers in three classes with due dates at the same time. The single thing I dislike about teaching is grading, so I do myself no favors to have 40+ papers to read and grade in only a few days. (Seriously, Jennie! What were you thinking?)

I will never be the girl who gets up at 5 a.m. to run, but I need to reevaluate my exercise routine and carve out non-negotiable time to focus entirely on running. Despite reaching my goal of running 20 races by 40 years old, I have no reason to stop. I’m running my 21st race on Sunday and have already registered for a local half marathon in December. I love it, it’s good for me, and I need to make it a priority.

Finally, I need to be selective about the freelance assignments I accept so I can be more available to help the boys with their co-op classes. (High school is no joke.) This is probably the most essential reconfiguration because it’s the main source of time suckage. 

I am desperate for downtime, fleeting moments when I can turn off my brain and let it rest. Recently I interviewed a professional with a local Alzheimer’s foundation and she said the constant go-go-go and juggling ten thoughts at once (which is basically the description of every mom I know) is not good for our brains. Instead of strengthening our brain function, it’s taxing. It was like a two-by-four to the head. Not only does my frazzled disposition shift the energy in the house, I’m actually hurting my own health in the long run.

So, all this is to say that if I tell you no in the near future, it’s not personal to you. It’s personal to me. 

Summer is in the rearview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This guy still poses with Mom though: 

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

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

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

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

Let’s hope this guy is ready too: 

Brewers vs. Braves: A Victory

We’d gone out to dinner one night this summer to one of those restaurants with TVs scattered throughout the room. Baseball, soccer, and other summertime games blared over our conversation. At one point Jackson says, “I’d love to go to a Brewers game,” and I casually, almost thoughtlessly, replied, “Well, see if they’re playing the Braves anytime soon and we’ll go.” 

Don’t you know he checked the schedule as soon as we got home, and sure enough, the Brewers were going to play Atlanta in August. 

Please know that Jackson is the only one in the family who cares two beans about baseball.

But I’d said the words and I wasn’t going to take them back.

It was HOT, HOT, HOT. 

I bought tickets for our family of four, as well as Corey, Gwen, and Alex, so we could attend the game together. This was an important decision, not only for obvious friendship reasons, but because Gwen is a baseball fan and Jackson was going to need a buddy for the game while the rest of us occupied ourselves during the 18 million hours it was going to take those guys to play nine innings. 

To say I was grateful for Gwen doesn’t even scratch the surface. We were excited as a group whenever the Brewers scored, but hells bells that was a long game and Jackson needed another baseball fan there who could keep up.

My favorite photo from the night: 

Neither Chuck, Jeremy, nor I own any baseball paraphernalia whatsoever, so we weren’t able to support Jackson with Brewers gear, but I made sure to wear a Packers shirt, a smart choice on account of all the “Go Pack!” camaraderie I experienced walking around Suntrust Park. 

Jeremy was pleased to support Atlanta United FC (thanks, Corey!).

Despite the game lasting an entire day of my life, I think we all had a good time. We bought cheap seats, which meant the sun was in our faces for the first hour or so, but once it tucked behind the ball park the temperatures were tolerable. I was grateful it didn’t rain. 

To our complete and utter delight, the Brewers pulled out a win and Jackson cried with joy. Every second of that experience was worth it. 

I’m not sure if we’ll ever make it to another MLB game unless we get air conditioned seats with a wait staff, but I’m thankful this one worked out schedule-wise AND score-wise. Happy Jack was SO HAPPY. 

Equine therapy and Jackson’s first horse show

Last fall, after Jackson finished nearly three months of occupational therapy to help with his spatial awareness, fine motor skills, and core strength, I was less than impressed with the results. He still cannot tie his shoes, and his handwriting is sad shade of chicken scratch. I didn’t anticipate three months of therapy would “fix” the specific issues he struggles with, but I expected… something

Needless to say, I looked for other options, and that’s how we landed on the waiting list for equine therapy. We sat on the list for months, not that they didn’t call and offer a spot to him every so often, but the options almost always conflicted with standing obligations. It wasn’t until June that he finally got started. 

The hour-long sessions are simple: 30 minutes of tack (grooming the horse, buckling the saddle and reins) plus 30 minutes of riding. After the first session, Jackson announced that he’d no longer call it “equine therapy” but instead refer to it as “Horse Hangout Hour,” or “Triple H” for short.

As the summer session wound down, the instructor started mentioning the horse show, which is essentially an opportunity for students to show parents, friends, and supporters what they’ve achieved and compete against one another with what they’ve learned. 

We got to the stables earlier than necessary on Saturday, but that afforded Jackson time to watch other competitors and adjust his expectations. He had already been told he wouldn’t be riding Otter, his usual horse, who had injured himself late last week. His replacement horse was Amigo, with whom Jackson had no experience, so this increased Jackson’s anxiety about competing.

Amigo ended up being perfectly suited for Jackson, a bit smaller than Otter, but just as amiable. He started the competition by walking through the obstacle course and finished with general equitation.

My understanding is that as he goes along in the program he’ll become more independent with the horse, eliminating the need to have handlers on either side. We’ve already signed him up for a fall session.

Jackson placed third in the obstacle course and sixth in equitation, receiving a yellow and green ribbon each, a detail he identified readily as the colors of the Green Bay Packers. 

In lieu of participating in team sports this year, we’re sticking with equine therapy – uh, I mean Horse Hangout Hour. 

Santa Fe with Michele

Earlier this year, Chuck started asking me what I wanted to do to celebrate turning 40 years old. Figuring that I wanted a party of some sort, he came back to that idea a few times – venues and guests lists. Nope, I reassured him. That’s not what I wanted. What I really wanted to was to go back to Amarillo and visit Michele

We met in 2009 when I responded to an ad for a features writer for the city’s magazine. We’d been freshly transplanted from North Georgia to the Texas panhandle, which meant I had given up my column of eight years in the Chattanooga Times Free Press. It was a natural thing to look for a job since homeschooling wasn’t on the horizon and the boys were approaching school age. When I interviewed with Michele, I felt an instant connection – not just that I wanted to work for her but that I wanted to be friends with her.

I was hired by March, and I knew right away that working at the Globe-News, specifically Amarillo Magazine, was going to help me adjust to the high plains, an area of the country unlike anywhere I’ve lived before. Michele became my boss and, soon after, my friend. She helped me find my way around Amarillo, helped me find a doctor, helped me navigate the school system, helped me feel not so lonely. 

Our mutual friend April picked me up from the airport! What a nice surprise!

Michele and I worked in sync and had a blast while doing so, but with much at stake for our family, I knew I couldn’t stay. We needed – and wanted – to move back home to Tennessee. So, three years after meeting Michele and enjoying every bit of my job as the features writer for Amarillo Magazine, I said goodbye.


The week before 40

I texted her in May or June (I can’t remember now) about visiting her during the summer. We wouldn’t stay in Amarillo, but I would fly there and we’d drive to Santa Fe, the best little retreat three and half hours from the panhandle. We used to run away to Santa Fe when we lived in Amarillo. In fact, my favorite camping trip ever was just north of the city at Hyde Memorial State Park.  We also spent the first Christmas without my mother-in-law in Santa Fe, an attempt at grieving and figuring out what happens to a family after the matriarch passes away. 

We settled on dates and I immediately starting looking forward to the trip. We moved away in 2011 but I went back there in 2014 – also for my birthday. That’s the last time Michele and I saw each other in person.

While I was eager for many things, the most important first thing I had to do upon arriving in Amarillo was meet Wilson F., Michele’s dog. 

The first night in Amarillo was relaxing, which set the tone for the next four days. We never moved too fast but that was intentionally.  We didn’t want to spill our wine.

Crush // Amarillo

Santa Fe

I didn’t take my camera on the trip so as to not distract myself from present company, but I snapped plenty of photos with my cell phone, which does a fine job of capturing things I don’t want to forget – like this place:

Las Palomas // Santa Fe

Our lodging for two nights was a delightful boutique hideaway near the main square, but that’s actually what every worthwhile thing is in Santa Fe – hideaways. Little restaurants and hotels are tucked away behind unsuspecting doors and corners. You have to take a chance on everything because facades are deceiving.

Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi

We had no agenda, other than to patronize the short list of shops I wanted to revisit – The Collected Works Bookstore & Coffeehouse, Double Take (the best consignment store I’ve ever known), and wherever the wine was good.

We returned to Amarillo Tuesday afternoon so I could catch the Wednesday morning flight home, assuring I could spend my actual birthday with Chuck and the boys. 

We grabbed dinner at 575 Pizzeria, a favorite of mine when I lived there. As a bonus, Andy Chase Cundiff was on the calendar to perform – another favorite – whose artwork currently hangs in my home office. He is one of the sweetest men I’ve ever known. (As a third bonus, the first song he sang was “Crazy Love” by Van Morrison, which is the song Chuck and I danced to at our wedding reception nearly 18 years ago. I wept.)

My dinner dates!

Thank you, Michele and Jerry, for being perfect hosts, and thank you, Amarillo, for welcoming this outsider. Thank you, Santa Fe, for being beautiful and inspiring, and thank you, boys (all five of you), for letting me get away for a few days.

And thank you, Wilson F., for sitting so perfectly for this photo: