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. ūüôā 

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:

We rented a boat and loved it

We’ve caught a bad bug.

Something happened this summer, and I can’t necessarily pinpoint when everything shifted. The idea of owning a boat has always been there, floating around, if you will, but it’s not been a significant goal in this season of raising kids and climbing professional ladders and whatnot. It’s been a distant goal, a post-raising kids goal. It’s long since been on the list of things to do “When the Kids Move Out.”

But something has shifted. Be it the unfortunate number of deaths we’ve either been closely tied to or loosely connected to, or even the distant ones that are nevertheless heartbreaking, or the realization that the boys would enjoy the boat now just as much as we’d enjoy the boat in the future. Whatever the reason, we are more serious about buying a boat now instead of waiting for later.

We’d been tossing around the idea of renting a boat for months, again thinking it was something we’d eventually do. WHY WE WERE WAITING, I do not know. So we rented one last weekend and took the hours we could on the Little Tennessee River, soaking in the sun before afternoon storms pushed us home.

Of course it was wonderful. We love everything about living in East Tennessee, and we’ve spent a lot of time exploring on land, but lakes and rivers are the last unchartered territories for us. It’s the one area we’ve only half-experienced, fishing from the shore and camping nearby. We’ve not spent nearly enough time on the water, and it seems like we can’t shake the thought of it.

The boys loved our boat experience from the start. They weren’t nervous or timid or bored. Within minutes of leaving the No Wake Zone, they were asking when we could get a boat of our own.

It’s hard to answer that question since we have a list of must-haves and non-negotiables, and it’s not a decision made lightly. It may happen this year, or it may not if we don’t find the right one, but the important lesson here is that we decided to move a lot of things off the “When the Kids Move Out” list. There are no guarantees we’ll make it that far.

I’m not even kidding.

Life is short, and while I keep screaming this message to everyone I know, I am also saying it to myself. It doesn’t mean you lose all sense of responsibility, but it DOES mean aligning and realigning your life to make it exactly what you want it to be within the realm of what’s possible.

Afternoon storms rolled in eventually and we decided to end our boat rental short, but we had a good four hours on the water, a treat for which I’m grateful.

The week that went by too quickly

While our lifestyle affords us plenty of family time, Chuck and I don’t get a lot of time just the two of us. We have dates here and there, but it usually requires a getaway vacation to secure that good investment. Every few years, we take a trip somewhere without our boys. They give us flak for it, but eventually they’ll realize it benefits them too.

That’s why, when my sister offered to take the boys back to Chicago with them the week of July 4th, we didn’t hesitate. YES ABSOLUTELY YOU CAN HAVE THEM.

We met Becky and Jeff in Nashville at the tail end of their anniversary trip, wished them all well, and hurried out of there before anyone changed their minds.

We spent an obscene amount of money eating out. We slept in. We binged GLOW. We puttered around the house doing our own things. I repotted plants, Chuck reclined. We answered no questions from little people and reminded no one to brush his teeth or put on deodorant. We fought with no one about eating his vegetables. We did no extra laundry or dishes.

I blinked and the week was over, a time-traveling phenomenon I anticipated.

Still, everyone enjoyed themselves tremendously – us here, the boys there. They went to the movies and ate out and spent 4th of July with Jeff’s side of the family. They laughed and played and made sweet memories. They were well taken care of and I didn’t worry about any of it.

Instead of meeting halfway somewhere to get them back, Jeremy and Jackson traveled by themselves on a direct flight from Chicago to Nashville, a convenient way to get them home and I wasn’t worried about that either.

We all got the things we wanted out of that week – time to relax, time to goof around, time away from our regular responsibilities. I’m on board for making this an annual event.

With one month left of summer, I’m feeling the time crunch to finish certain things I hoped to accomplish – namely editing the second novel (following a professional developmental edit) and starting the query process again. I’ve put on another layer of steel in preparation.

I also wanted to plan for the full school year and not just the fall semester. With four classes on my plate, planning and preparation will be key to my sanity.

We have a few visitors planned for July, and I have a quick trip planned at the end of the month for my birthday. Then, summer will end and a new academic year will begin and everything will be different. I’ll be 40 years old and Jeremy will be a freshman in high school. Jackson will start seventh grade and Chuck will spend the next five months reminding me he’s still 39.

So far, this has been exactly the summer I wanted it to be – well-paced and productive, full of friends, family, and lots of reading. May it continue!

Container Gardening + Plant Collecting

Typically, by mid-June, I’d be nurturing a well-groomed garden and plucking off a zucchini here, a tomato there. In previous years, this was the case.

This year is an exception. The recurring late-freezes in April, followed by losing Bill, meant our whole spring was not ideal for lazy days of gardening. By the time I had a mind to plant a few things, the garden space was overgrown with weeds and I didn’t have the time or energy to tackle it.

That’s when my houseplant problem took a turn for the worse.

In between freelance assignments and finishing school for the year, I started picking up a new houseplant on benign trips to Walmart, or splitting a larger plant I already had into two baby plants. I fussed and piddled about.

I even set out two bird feeders just so I’d have something to fiddle with.

It finally occurred to me that I was missing a garden and, instead of making my workspace a complete jungle, I should just plant a container garden to satisfy this need to connect with nature and grow stuff. Why this didn’t occur to me two months ago is a mystery.

I chose herbs for summertime cooking (pesto!), but I also selected three Japanese Eggplants because they are my favorites to grow and eat.

Japanese Eggplant is long and slender, unlike its bulbous American cousin, and is perfect when roasted with herbs. I hope this works because container gardening has already satisfied my springtime/summertime need to fuss in the yard and pick at things.

We eventually cleared out the overgrown garden space (Chuck with his weed-eater and me with my shovel), so perhaps I’ll plant a second season garden in August and cross my fingers for a decent autumn crop.

It’s unclear, though, whether or not container gardening has dampened by houseplant problem. Jury’s still out.

Lastly, how sweet is this boy?

Jackson turns 12

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Girls Weekend June 2018

The original idea for one our 2018 Girls Weekends was to reunite in New York City where our friendship really began. Though we already knew each other from working at the college newspaper, it was that trip to NYC that really solidified our friendship. This photo was taken sometime after we got home. We were 19 and 20 years old:

As the time came for us to nail down travel plans, we realized this wasn’t the year to make that trip happen. Life, as usual, got in the way. Instead of one of us hosting, we opted instead to rent an AirBNB in Middle Tennessee, an approximate midpoint between our cities. It was comfortable, serene, and, most of all, free from responsibility.

The apartment is situated on the second floor of a newly built (non-livestock) barn with an incredible view of the Cumberland River.

The covered porch on the ground floor was comfortable and cool, and it’s where we spent the majority of Saturday lounging in our pajamas.

The apartment was open and clean, though it was home to more antiques than necessary. The couple who runs this property must have been collecting antiques for years.

Though I appreciated much of the decor, I was not a fan of the creepy dolls.

We ventured into town Friday night for Mexican food and groceries, then drove to Granville Saturday evening for lakeside dining.

In previous Girls Weekends, depending on the city, we’d look for Top Chef restaurants or something that got high ratings. (Food is typically the one and only splurge.) However, we kept things as laid back as possible this time. We all wanted to rest and relax.

Unfortunately I made one mistake. I requested to stop and take a photo of this creepy, dilapidated house on an old country road, which meant walking a few feet into overgrown grass.

My souvenir is more chigger bites than I can count.

Otherwise, it was a perfect weekend. I love these ladies and I love our time together.

**I wrote about this friendship and how important it is to nurture your tribe for this month’s post on the Knoxville Moms Blog.

Summer break so far

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

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

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

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

The view was beautiful from above!

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

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

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

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

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

I’m darn proud.

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

Medal No. 20

Eleven years ago I entertained a personal physical challenge: could I run 13.1 miles? 

For some, that was a reasonable, attainable goal.¬†For me, I wasn’t so sure. Never had I been an athlete. I grew up an overweight child and topped the scales at nearly 240 pounds by 14 years old.

Academic? Yes. Athletic? Not even a little.

By the time I graduated high school I’d dropped the weight but in the most unhealthy way. Though I eventually came to enjoy exercise, I also used it to punish myself. It was a cycle of nonsense that lasted throughout my college years.

After getting married and becoming a mother, I watched my body change slowly and caught a glimpse of the unhealthy girl I used to be. Even though I exercised moderately and ate reasonably, I knew I was a hop, skip, and a jump to a size and shape I didn’t want to be.

Then I saw one of my best friends train for and run a half marathon. Astounded and impressed, I wondered Рcould I do that? Could I run that far? 

As it turns out, I could. I ran the Country Music Half Marathon in Nashville in 2007 and was hooked immediately. Bawling at the finish line with a prize in hand that I earned through physical activity, I was ALL IN.¬†¬†I ran¬†another half in Louisville that year, followed by¬†Chattanooga’s Scenic City Half in 2008.¬†Encouraged and steadfast,¬†I went back to Nashville that April for the Country Music Marathon – all 26.2 miles of it. I turned 30 that year and moved to Texas, and though I was tempted to let running wane on account of high elevation, dry air, and the craziest wind I’d ever experienced, I didn’t quit. I ran Oklahoma City, Albuquerque, and Dallas. I flew to Chicago and ran there too.¬†

Back to Tennessee we moved and I kept running. Knoxville, Atlanta, and Oak Ridge. Murfreesboro, Townsend, and Sevierville. At some point I decided I wanted 20 medals by the time I turned 40, and since I hate running in the blazing, suffocating heat of summer, I knew I needed to figure it out no later than May 2018.

Maryville, Farragut, and the Chickamauga Battlefield.

I remember when my sister and brother-in-law ran the Flying Pig Half Marathon years ago. They said the whole weekend was worthwhile, not just the race, and when I polled other runners online, the Flying Pig was mentioned again. A quick search revealed that 2018 would be the 20th anniversary of the race. 

Well, what do you know about that? Twenty is a good number, but I still needed Medal No. 19 if my goal to was make the Flying Pig my 20th. Off I went to Charleston, West Virginia.

In between 19 and 20, we lost Bill. I considered that maybe it wasn’t meant to be. Perhaps I shouldn’t go. The business of death in the aftermath can be lengthy, as many of us know. I questioned my priorities.

But then, getting out of town for a night offered a nice distraction. Plans had been made and I had trained. Logistically, it was doable.¬†Cincinnati wasn’t necessarily close, but it wasn’t far either. We could zip in and out. Couldn’t we?

Yes.

The city overflowed, but that’s to be expected when a race draws 43,000+ runners on the same weekend as a Cincinnati Reds home game. Restaurants were packed, so we opted for quick meals and played pool back at the hotel. (Correction: the boys played pool while I stirred. My pre-race brain is singularly focused.)

Mercifully, I slept well and arrived at the start line with time to spare. Unlike the “no frills” races I’ve grown to love, the Flying Pig is ALL FRILLS. The energy in the air was palpable from start to finish.¬†As always, the corrals were filled with people of all ages and abilities, people half my size and twice my size, serious runners and just-for-fun runners. If you think you can’t run a half marathon, then you haven’t seen a half marathon.¬†These events are for everyone.

Miles one through three were a blur because I was too excited to think about it. I saw my family on the sidelines between miles four and five, so that carried me through mile six.

Then came the hills. VERY TALL STEEP KILLER HILLS. I had to walk a little, but that was fine because I ended up taking a photograph of the view from atop Mount Adams, an elevated suburb of Cincinnati. (See the bridge? The start line was well past it.)

What goes up must come down, so miles nine through twelve were pure delight. I made up for the walking and scurried back down to the city with no time to waste.

A few hundred feet from the finish line I saw my family again and started crying. I honest-to-goodness ugly cried.

Then I received my 20th medal and cried some more.

My official time was 2:21, which is typical for me. Not fast, not slow. Just right there in the middle. I stopped caring about my time ten races ago, so when¬†I saw a shirt at the expo that said World’s Okayist Runner, I thought it was perfectly suited for me.¬†I am totally the World’s Okayist Runner.

Of course, I don’t think I’ll stop at 20 medals. I’m eyeballing two more races this year because I have no reason not to run them. If they bring me this much joy, why not? Maybe I’ll run another 20 by the time I’m 50, or maybe I’ll stop counting races and make goals for other things.

Like headstands.

Twelve Years Later

There are good things that happen during a time of mourning – favorite stories are told, family members gather to comfort one another and offer affirmations, and friends from seasons past come back around to pay respects.

We aren’t entirely out of touch with the Pennys and Valovcins, so it isn’t that we haven’t seen each other in 12 years. However, our three families haven’t sat down for a meal in a long time, and we certainly haven’t taken photos of the group when we’ve been together.

After Bill’s funeral on Sunday, we went to dinner together, along with Karin and Ethan, and marveled at how old our children have become.

This photo was taken a few days before Christmas in 2006. From left to right, in order of age: Lauren, Grace, Jeremy, Christian, Jake, and Jackson, who was a mere six months old.

Pennys, 2006:

Jillyan wasn’t born until the following September:

Valovcins, 2006:

And us, 2006:

Going back even further, here’s a picture (of a picture) of the three dads with their first borns in 2004:

And now in 2018:

We spent a lot of time together in those days, but by the end of 2008, we left Chattanooga for Amarillo and we haven’t lived in the same city since.

Now the guys and I are facing 40 (Amy and Christy have a few more years to go), and our oldest kiddos are 14 and 15 years old.

High school. Driving. Dating. Conversations about college.

What in the world.

So yeah, there are good things that come during times of mourning. It was wonderful to see our old friends, to hug their necks, to laugh and remember how easy parenting used to be. 

We’re doing all right. Thanks, friends, for being with us this week. We love you dearly.