Oh, 2016. I’m already tired.

I got in late last night – 2 a.m., to be exact – after attending a college conference at Montreat as a discussion group facilitator. Montreat is a 4,000-acre retreat center outside Asheville, North Carolina, affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and a beloved place for many folks that I know. (Click here for a hundred years of history.) I’d never been to Montreat before this week so my expectations were all over the place. One thing is for sure: I should’ve packed a better winter coat.

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One of the first things I noticed upon getting my feet wet at Montreat was that I am indeed a whole generation apart from the attendees. I’m not sure why that fact didn’t register earlier in my brain, but when I did the math and realized that Jeremy is only six years younger than the college freshmen, while I am a solid twenty years older, it put the entire event into perspective. While we’re all still sorting out aspects of our faith and belief systems well into adulthood, most of these students are closer to the starting line. I remember that place. It’s both scary and beautiful.

As a board member at UKirk UTK and supporter of the retreat concept itself, I applied to be a group facilitator months ago along with my board co-chair. The fact that Nadia Bolz-Weber was one of the keynote speakers offered a slight pull. (I don’t identify as a Nadia groupie, which is a real thing, but I enjoy her perspective for the most part.)

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And though I may be in the minority, I also enjoyed and appreciated the other keynote speaker, Jason Brown, former center for the St. Louis Rams, who spoke about his evangelical interpretation of John 3:16 and how leaving the NFL to start a farm to feed the hungry was an act of wild obedience.

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As a discussion facilitator, my primary roll was to ask questions, to encourage discussion, and tuck little nuggets of thought into the brains of young people. I led them to no conclusions, minus two: 1) Loving one another is our greatest and hardest calling, and 2) Live in the tension between faith and doubt because that’s where growth happens.

The organizers of the conference made sure we were placed in groups with strangers, which meant no UTK students were in my group and none of group members knew one another prior to the event. Since I can be honest in my own internet space, I’ll tell you that some of the discussion remarks gave me pause. Some students said things I disagreed with, while a couple of students said things that worried me. A few said things that made me want to question aloud whether or not they had ever truly suffered. But I kept all those thoughts to myself and continued to give them an open floor to speak. That was my job, after all. I silently loved them through the disagreements, knowing full well that some of their – and my – hardcore tenets have yet to be tested.

The tests are coming though.

On the whole, I enjoyed my first experience at Montreat. I loved meeting other UKirk folks and I especially enjoyed getting to know our own UTK students a little better. I really do care for them. I want the world for them, and I’m happy to play the tiniest roll in their journey.

For now, I need a good nights’ sleep. A really good one. I need to get my boys back on track with school and I need a date with the hubs. This was a great way to start a new year. Cheers to 2016 and whatever it may hold.

Hilton Head Photo Dump No. 4

Last batch of Christmas photos, friends. In this first picture, Jackson’s excitement is all about getting a Green Bay Packers hat from his big brother.

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Christmas Eve s’mores!

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I would’ve loved a full moon photo on Christmas Day, but the fog was just too thick. Christmas Eve will have to do.

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Merry Christmas!

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Our Smoky Mountain dog loved the beach.

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Millers versus the Przyluckis in a bocce ball tourney – the North wins!

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So the boys took to playing soccer. It was a draw.

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The short walk back to the house for our final evening:

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Cheers to 2016!

Hilton Head Photo Dump No. 3

Are you tired of Hilton Head pictures yet? Because here’s another photo dump.

We went to Savannah on Christmas Eve to have lunch at The Pirates’ House and browse River Street shops. It’s a nostalgic city for the Treadways since my sister and I were born nearby.

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Some of us shopped, some of us waited.

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The original four:

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Last batch here.

Christmas in Hilton Head

For people who live on the coast, Christmas at the beach is no big deal. For mountain and city folk, it requires a shift in expectation. We decided to do Christmas differently this year, and while it was strange not to put up a tree or prepare a huge holiday feast, I got used to it quickly. I’m sold on it, actually. I’m looking to make a tradition out of non-traditional Christmas.

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We arrived in Hilton Head on Monday and after settling into the AirBNB rental house we headed straight for the ocean. It was a two-block walk underneath Palmetto trees and Spanish moss.

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The beach was scarcely populated, which gave Major plenty of room to run around. It was his first experience seaside and he loved every bit of it.

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The boys took straight to playing. Despite the cooler temperatures, they dabbled in the ocean and built sanctuaries for sand crabs. We took long walks and rented bikes and spent a day in Savannah. We ate seafood and watched Harry Potter movies. We all slept in and stayed up late.

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We exchanged smaller gifts on Christmas morning and spent the afternoon on the beach playing bocce ball and soaking up the last few hours we had together.

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If I had the power, I would’ve lifted the fog in exchange for some sunshine, but other than that, I can’t think of what else I would change. I’ll post photos throughout the week as I get them edited.

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Next batch here…

A little Christmas

I put on my big girl pants and added a little Christmas decor around the house. The boys like it, and I do too. This morning we played some Christmas music during school. It’s helping.

Nutcrackers on the mantle are my favorite. I try to get a new one each year once the sales hit.

Christmas Mantle

Of course, there are doves.

Dove tail

Little owl

This ceramic house was part of a Christmas village Brenda (my mother-in-law) started to collect many years back. I’m not sure she would’ve followed through on collecting the whole village since that wasn’t really her style, but the house is adorable. And fitting.

Miller house

Red nutcracker

Welcome back, Timmy. Make this month a good one.

Timmy 2015

The rain is not helping

I’m trying hard to unearth some Christmas spirit, but so far it hasn’t arrived. Thanksgiving came and went without Tami, which is still very strange and hard to understand. Dare I say it still doesn’t feel real? I thought that it would feel real when the holidays came around but I cooked all day with people in the house and caught myself thinking, “Nope. Still doesn’t feel real.”

Also, today marks one year that Aunt Debbie has been gone, and I’m reminded that I need to get another dove for our Christmas tree. Off to Hobby Lobby I go.

Doves on Christmas trees

Since we are doing a non-traditional Christmas this year and won’t be putting up a tree, I’ll pull out a few decorations from the basement so our house is somewhat festive. I have two small decorative trees that I’ll adorn with doves so we can remember those who aren’t with us anymore. I’ll pull out the nutcrackers and the Christmas books and, of course, we can’t forget Timmy. I refuse to let my fog affect the boys. At 12 and 9 years old, Christmas should still be wondrous and exciting. We still need to acknowledge Advent and carry on with a few of our traditions.

But I swear this rain isn’t helping. The weather man says it’s going to stick around for a few days. If only the temperature would drop thirty degrees.

Blog Challenge Day 21: Missing something

What’s something I miss? 

Chuck and Jeff, don’t even bother reading this. I’m sorry you both married into a family that obsesses about Christmas in Germany.

But you want to know what I miss?

Christmas in Germany.

Christmas in Germany

If you are a military brat that spent any time in Europe, it’s likely that you have fond memories of Christmastime. I’m as American as the next girl, but I gotta say – Europeans do Christmas better.

Whenever my family gathers for Christmas, the four of us reminisce (while Chuck and Jeff tune out). We talk about the Christkindlmarkt in Nuremburg because every single one of us wants to go back and do it all over again. We want the bratwursts and the ornaments, the glühwein and the wooden toys. We want to ride the train into town and peruse the white and red striped tents that fill the market square. Surrounded by churches built in the middle ages, we want to buy a new angel for our Christmas tree and watch the parade with the Christkind and Father Christmas. We want volksmarches and old hymns and the reverence that Christmas is still about the birth of Christ.

There is truly nothing like it.

Throwback to camping, and hello autumn

Hey, remember when we used to go camping? Circa 2012?

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I am so ready for this again.

It’s nearly my favorite month and there’s much to look forward to. Our wedding anniversary, SEC conference football, an evening with Liz Gilbert. My heart swells at the thought.

Come October 1, I’ll officially be in the holiday spirit – the sort of spirit that enjoys eating copious amounts Brach’s candy corn while ignoring tooth pain. The kind of spirit that burns autumn harvest candles and orders Salted Caramel Mochas. The kind of spirit that opens up all the windows in the house so the temperature drops to brisk 60 degrees. Hello fuzzy blankets and wool socks! Hello boots and skinny jeans! Hello chili on the stove and slow-cooked roast in the oven!

Hello, autumn. I’m so glad you finally showed up.

xoxo

The hermits emerge

This has been the quietest, calmest holiday season we’ve had in a while, and though it’s allowed plenty of time for LEGO building, football watching, and reading, being in the house for days on end feels a bit hermit-like. We haven’t even gone to the movies, which I was sure we’d do by now.

Oh well!

Just to prove we’re alive and thriving, I coerced the family into taking a photo.

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When dogs and cats go shopping

My sister and I didn’t grow up in a household that taught us that Santa Claus was real. We knew full well that our parents purchased every gift under the tree and that the idea of Santa Claus was derived from the real Saint Nicholas, the Bishop of Myra. Yet that didn’t stop my parents from making a grand reveal on Christmas morning or my mother from writing a myriad of oddball names on the gift tags. For many years sister and I received presents from Bugs Bunny, Mickey Mouse, and Tweety Bird. We’d also receive gifts from whomever our pets were at the time — Peanut, Heidi, Rascal, Max — all names written in my mother’s distinct printed cursive.

In my youngest years, I thought it was funny, but when she continued to sign packages this way when I was a teenager, I rolled my eyes. (Of course I rolled my eyes!) Why didn’t she just sign Mom and Dad or even Santa, which was far more relevant than Daffy Duck and Goofy? However, without fail, the pets always gave us gifts, and I always found it endearing.

All this being said, you can imagine the surge of nostalgia I experienced the other day when sorting through a mishmash of recycled wrapping paper in a holiday gift bag and found this little gem:

To Jen from the cats

After the nostalgia wore off I paused to consider the fact that I’d hung on to a gift tag from the late 1990s. Both Precious (my cat) and Rascal (Mom’s cat) have been dead for more than a decade, and if this gift was given from them as a pair, the last time they lived together was just before I got married in 2000.

Let’s pause to consider that maybe I should clean out the bag of recycled wrapping paper more often.

“Like Mother, Like Daughter” doesn’t always apply to my mother and me, but when it does the phrase refers to our smiles, our laughs, and our persistent love of animals. Oh, and our habit of giving gifts on behalf of our pets:

To Jackson from Major

To be clear, Jeremy already rolls his eyes at me and shakes his head as he tears open the gifts from Salem and Major. Jackson, on the other hand, believes his pets have a genuine interest in giving him gifts and he always thanks them properly.

I’d like to say that I’ll stop writing gift tags this way sometime soon, but if I had to make an honest bet, I think our pets will be shopping for the kids as long as I’m alive.

Gingerbread Houses 2014

Like the tree, we were late getting to the Gingerbread Houses. No matter how I try to slow things down, it’s not working. Christmas is indeed in three days.

We invited a couple of neighborhood friends to join us for construction, so there were plenty of sugar rushes and giggles to fill the house. Major enjoyed every piece of candy they dropped on the floor.
Timmy wants to build houses

Worms for a fenceA mess of candy

Jackson abandoned his house after thirty minutes and read, so I was happy to take over and organize the candy in a way that made me calm.

the J House


In website news, I’m mostly finished moving everything over from the old site, so if there are a few wonky bits and broken links, feel free to let me know. (There’s an email link on the top menu bar in the righthand corner.) One thing I know still needs to be resolved is transferring subscribers. Hang in there, folks. I’ll sort it out eventually.

The last week has been a big lesson for me in domains, name servers, and other terms that tie my brain in a knot. Special thanks to those of you who helped me!

Throwback Thursday: Gingerbread House in 2010

You guys, I can’t believe we’re two weeks away from Christmas and I’m this behind. We don’t have a Christmas tree yet (the doves are on two small artificial trees in the office) and we’ve not built our Gingerbread house. We’re barely getting Timmy moved each night and I missed both the first and second Sunday of Advent at church.

December is going too quickly, or maybe I’m too busy, or both. Whatever the cause, I’m going to slow things down this weekend, otherwise I’ll blink and it will be 2015.

Here is seven-year-old Jeremy starting on our 2010 Gingerbread house while Salem supervises:

TBT Gingerbread

 

 

Doves on Christmas Trees

Yesterday’s Instagram photo yielded a few questions about placing doves on Christmas trees to remember loved ones, so I thought I’d add some history to it.

Doves on Christmas trees

It’s a tradition that started with Brenda, my mother-in-law, when she put four doves on her Christmas tree each year to remember her parents and Bill’s parents. Then, when Brenda passed away in 2010, Bill had seven doves placed on a large flower spray at her service, one dove from each of us. We brought home the four doves from our family and put one on our tree to honor Brenda each Christmas. This dove went alongside two others: one for my Papaw and one for Jeremy L., Chuck’s childhood best friend who passed away in 1999, whom our Jeremy is named after.

The white dove in the above photo is for Aunt Debbie.

Thanksgiving Family Photo 2014

Years ago my sister and I settled into a holiday rotation for hosting and being together so both sides of our families get equal shares of each other. We’re together for Thanksgiving one year and Christmas the next and vice versa.

This year we met at my sister’s house for Thanksgiving, including my parents and Mamaw. Per usual, the week went by too quickly but I’m left feeling ever thankful that we had the time at all.
Family photo high resThis is my last week of graduate school. It’s not even going to be a full week since the novel (my capstone project) is due Thursday. I have one remaining assignment for Genre Writing and then I’m officially done. I’ll take a short break to enjoy Christmas and then I’ll start writing query letters (and crossing my fingers, and rubbing a rabbit’s foot, and looking for four-leaf clovers, and picking up pennies when I find them on the street…)

Being December 1 and all, Timmy showed up. I admit that I wasn’t prepared for Timmy to show up so soon, but we made it work. Thanks, Mom, for providing Timmy’s first treat to the boys.

Timmy on December 1

Beach fun

We are zombies today after a long drive home from Amelia Island in the pouring rain. It’s been a gloriously sunny week of strolling the beach, jumping through waves, and eating seafood. I have more than 600 photos to show how much fun we had.

Moonlight

We also made a stop in Savannah and Jesup, Georgia, to do a little research for my novel, but more on that later. Y’all, it was perfect. SO perfect.

Today is all about catch-up. Laundry, grocery shopping, picking up Major from doggy camp… As I do all of these tasks, I’ll dwell in place of gratitude for the time we had together. This will be a busy summer, but at least we’ve started it out right.

Fernandina Beach 2014