August 2019

We’re only halfway through the month, but the momentum of the new school is already giving me whiplash. Is summer really over? For real?

At the tail end of July, we celebrated my Mom’s birthday with dinner on the river, then presents and homemade carrot cake back at our house.

The following week was MY birthday, and we were together again on the river since Chuck rented a boat for the day and the weather was completely perfect.

Corey came up to spend the weekend with me too, so we spent my actual birthday lounging with mimosas and doing a little shopping. We became best friends at 14, but I gotta say we look better now at 41.

But back to the river. We keep daydreaming about getting a boat, but honestly, we think renting a few times each summer is the way to go for now. We’re too busy and we want to keep traveling as much as possible. Perhaps owning a boat will be part of our retirement plan, or at least a “The boys moved out! Let’s celebrate!” plan.

We officially started our ninth year of homeschooling on Monday, August 12, and I swear I’m going to take professional photos of the boys. I used to be good about that, but if you know what it’s like to have teenagers, then you understand that taking pictures of them is a crapshoot. Sometimes they’re down for it, but most of the time they’re not.

Our first day of school at home was complete with Salem laying on top of their French work. It reminded me of Henri, le Chat Noir.

Jeremy is in 10th grade and taking the usual suspects: Chemistry, Geometry, English, and American History. He also has French, a Bible class, and chess. Jackson is in 8th grade, also taking French, English, and American History. He’s doing Algebra at home, and Life Science with Dissection at our co-op. We’re only a week in, so no casualties yet.

The weekend before we started school was a complete joy from beginning to end. It was our second Girls Weekend of the year, so hopefully, we’ll grab one more before the close of 2019.

The summer was lovely, a perfect mixture of busy and still. There were a few steaming, hot weeks, as well as that fall-like weather in July (wasn’t it divine?). I kept busy with freelance work, prepping for the school year (I teach four classes), and catching up on reading fiction.

I have to admit – I’m still thinking about our European vacation in May, and sometimes I catch myself wondering if it was real. We are dedicated low-fare hunters now, TRAVELERS ON THE CHEAP. We are looking and booking and daydreaming about what’s to come. And, since I never shared the video I made from our trip to England, Italy, France, and Monaco, here is it for you to enjoy:

Mother’s Day 2019

Several years ago, as a gift to myself, I decided that as long as we are homeschooling our academic year would end the Friday before Mother’s Day and not resume until after my birthday in August. I am so good about making that happen.

We wrapped the 2018-2019 school year last week, and though we’ll continue with our French lessons and math review throughout the summer, the boys’ final grades have been turned it. Glory be, it’s summer!

For Mother’s Day, I woke up to the start of the Barcelona Grand Prix, which was exciting, and then we met at Grandpa’s apartment for lunch.

It was a relaxing day, for the most part. We went to a couple of shops and hung around the house. That’s all I want for Mother’s Day – little to no responsibility.

I can’t remember the last time I saw my mom in person for Mother’s Day, but now that we live near each other again, we should have no problem arranging it!

Look at my teenager, y’all.

And this one will officially be a teenager in less than a month, though I told him that after 12, we start counting backwards, which means he’ll turn 11 in June. He doesn’t believe me.

We have a few things planned for the beginning of summer, but otherwise it should be a slow-moving couple of months. Jeremy will continue his part-time job with the pool business, I’ll work on freelance assignments and other writing projects, and Jackson is determined to watch and review as many movies as possible.

If you missed my latest post for the Knoxville Moms Blog, click here.

Cheers! Happy Summer, everyone!

F1: A New Obsession

I don’t know if this is a short-lived phase or the beginning of something, but I’ve become a Formula 1 fan, and it’s pretty bad.

It all started when Chuck texted me from the den on Friday, March 8.

Don’t you love that threat at the end? I don’t waste time on bad television, so yeah – It better be good.

We finished the short series in a matter of days, and I am here for it.

Since March 8, I have Googled a million questions about Formula 1, researched teams and drivers, learned what chassis and front wing means, and studied the 2019 World Championship Race Calendar. F1’s 1000th race happens this weekend in China, and I cannot wait to watch it.

I’ve lived in the south for the bulk of my life, and not once have I been interested in Nascar. Even when Chuck texted “documentary about Formula 1,” I had to clarify, “Racing?”

But hoo-boy is Formula 1 exciting! The money, the speed, the personalities and brands, the travel – all of it. I’m all in. I’m downloading podcasts and watching YouTube videos and reading Wikipedia pages at every turn. I’m pulling for Haas, the only American-owned team, but I’m also keeping my fingers crossed for Williams, a team that’s experiencing a slump but has an exceptional racing legacy and is run by the only female deputy team principal in the sport.

I fully acknowledge that I could get burned out and lose interest, but so far, I’m going strong. I’m throwing out terms like I’ve known them my whole life, critiquing slow pit stops and holding my breath when a driver overtakes on a tough turn. I’m acting like this is how it’s always been.

But really, it’s not even been two months, and I’m biting my fingernails wondering how it’s gonna go down in China this weekend.

Monaco Grand Prix

Just when I thought I’d be bored until football season, I have ten races between now and September to keep me satisfied.

Warning: Watch “Drive to Survive” at your own risk. You too could get sucked in to the world of Formula 1.

Mumford & Sons on their Delta Tour

When I became a Mumford & Sons fan, Chuck and I were in the midst of trying to move back to Tennessee after living in Texas for two years. He was already back home, but the boys and I were stuck in Amarillo waiting for our house to sell. I don’t remember the exact phone call, but at some point in the fall of 2010, Chuck told me about a song he’d heard on the radio, and he thought I’d like it. As soon as I listened to “Little Lion Man,” I was hooked.

I wore out Sigh No More immediately, and, after moving back to East Tennessee in March 2011, Chuck and I drove to Asheville in June 2011 to see the band in concert. We were blown away by their energy on stage. They sounded exactly as they did on the album, which is always a sure sign of a good artist.

When Babel was released in 2012, it was a fast favorite. The band went on their Gentlemen of the Road tour in 2013, and I drove down to Atlanta with Karin to see them a second time. The band went in a new direction with Wilder Mind, which I didn’t mind, and when Delta came out last year, they did it again with another new sound. No matter what they do, I love it. (I feel the same way about The Killers, the other band I’ll always pay to see.)

We headed to Nashville Friday afternoon in time to grab dinner and drinks before sunset.

It was windy on that rooftop bar, so when I tried to take our photo, a gust of wind rolled through at the exact moment the camera snapped, whisking away the menu. I couldn’t have staged a better photo if I tried. This image captures our marriage perfectly – Chuck is calm and collected. I am freaking out. It’s all about balance.

This was the view across from our hotel, which was nicely situated next to Bridgestone Arena. I stared at the museum for several minutes before realizing the reflection showed piano keys in the design.

But onto the most important news: The concert. It was a low-frills show, a centered stage with modest lights. That didn’t bother me because I don’t go to see the band. I mainly want to hear them. Minus one song (which isn’t really a song but instead a recitation of Paradise Lost), I loved everything I heard. I sang and jumped and clapped and smiled. It was marvelous.

The only song I captured fully on my cell phone was their cover of “Hurt” – which I anticipated them playing since I’ve been following their set lists the entire tour. Originally a Nine Inch Nails song, which is great on its own, Johnny Cash also covered the song on American IV: The Man Comes Around.

To hear Marcus sing it gives me chills.

T’was a perfect night with my favorite guy.

Gregory Alan Isakov in concert

I have a short list of artists I want to see in concert. As a fan of not wasting time or money, I’m picky. There are two bands I will always pay money to see in person: The Killers and Mumford & Sons. I’ve seen both of them twice and will see Mumford again in a few months.

However, there are two other artists who’ve been on my list to see, and one nearly happened last year. I bought tickets for Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats as a birthday gift to Chuck last year, but a work conflict left us unable to go, so I sold the tickets and put them back on the To See Live list.

The other artist was Gregory Alan Isakov, a singer/songwriter who’s less well known than the other three. I stumbled upon his music in 2013 when I started working on my first novel. I wanted calm, steady background music, and after perusing iTunes for a bit I found “The Stable Song.” That was it. I was hooked.

Several albums later, I listen to his music when I’m driving long distances or settling in for a long bout of work or writing. It soothes me, and I love his lyrics. Until recently, I never considered that I’d catch him on tour near me, but when his last album dropped and I checked the tour schedule, voila! He was going to be in several cities within easy driving distance. I had to make it work.

I bought tickets for the only weekend show I could attend, this one in Asheville. My parents could keep the boys, and Chuck and I could make a weekend out of it. Perfect.

Then came the flu.

Jackson woke up Monday morning with a fever, something that’s happened only a few times in his life. I might be tempting fate here, but we are rarely sick. Maybe once a year? Once every other year? We already had an appointment scheduled on Tuesday to establish with a new family doctor, and funnily enough, it was my suggestion to test him for the flu. (The nurse said it looked like Strep.) It came back positive, and she came back into the room with facemasks.

Wednesday morning Jeremy woke up groggy, sniffly, and that’s when I decided the concert that Saturday was for sure not happening for me. What if we all got sick? What if we starting falling like dominos, one right after the other? I canceled our AirBNB, told Mom she was off the hook, and wondered how I could sell my concert tickets.

However, by Wednesday night Jackson was fever-free and Jeremy seemed fine. We were all on Tamiflu as a preventative, and the illness I felt confident was coming our way didn’t seem to be showing up. By Thursday night, I was heartbroken, the irony not lost on me. We didn’t succumb to the flu, for which I was grateful, but the upcoming weekend in Asheville was a bust.

Enter my sweet friend, Kori, who offered herself up as a traveling companion along with a hotel room via points. She had no clue who this Gregory guy was, but she was game. I argued with her, stupidly, but then I realized she was giving me a precious gift and I’d be foolish to reject it. Chuck stayed home with the boys (Jackson still had a smoker’s cough), and off Kori and I went to Asheville.

The Orange Peel is a small venue with mostly standing room, though there were a few barstools in the back for those who showed up early. I was not interested in standing for two hours, nor was Kori, and mercifully, there were two stools available when we made it inside.

I kept telling her that it would be a mellow concert, that his music was so chill that you could practically fall asleep to it. Sure enough, at one point during the concert, Gregory joked that he’s popular at preschool naptimes and yoga studios. 🙂

I’d checked the set lists from his previous concerts, and he regularly started with “She Always Takes it Black,” which is a favorite of mine. As soon as he took the stage, he strummed a few lines of music that everyone recognized as that song, and we all cheered.

He played a handful of favorites, and despite a few tall people who kept standing in front of us, I was pleased with the whole event. I’m not sure my phone captured the sound perfectly, but in person he sounded just like he sounds on his albums.

The encore was “The Stable Song,” and everyone sang along.

I don’t need to see him again unless he actually comes here (then I’ll want to), but I’m grateful for Kori’s willingness to tag along, for Chuck’s willingness to hang back, and for the opportunity to scratch Gregory off my To See Live list. It was all worth it.

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. 

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

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: 

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:

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.

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 – could 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.

Medal No. 19

Are you ready for the longest race report ever?

There are a dozen reasons why I shouldn’t have run this half marathon. Yes, I was trained for it, or at least as trained as I get these days. The entry fee was low, it was a “flat and fast” course, and, with it being in Charleston, West Virginia, I could stay with Mamaw and visit my Aunt Gloria. Those were the things that convinced me to run it in the first place.

But things started to fall apart, as they sometimes do, and I considered not going just days before I was supposed to leave.

First, Chuck’s work week got extended, which meant he wouldn’t be home. No problem, I thought. I can take the boys with me! They need to visit their great-Mamaw anyway!

But then Salem got sick again – another block – and this time, the medicinal intervention wasn’t working. It all started late in the evening on Good Friday. We were waiting for family to arrive from Disney and I noticed Salem was crouching in odd places around the house. He grimaced, wouldn’t settle, and when I touched his belly, it was hard as a rock. I knew.

Off to the emergency vet we went at midnight, where he was catheterized to relieve the pressure off his bladder. By 6:30 a.m. I was paying the bill and transferring him to our regular vet, who spent the next two days treating him. By Monday, it wasn’t working. Pulling the catheter only made him block again, so a decision had to be made: Let him go or take him to the emergency vet in Knoxville for reconstructive surgery.

I wasn’t ready to let him go.

By Wednesday he was home with newly reconstructed urinary tract, stitches, and an Elizabethan collar (i.e., the Cone of Shame). I was to leave in two days for my race, but seeing as how he was heavily medicated and still wandering like a zombie, how could I leave?

More important than my cat’s health is my father-in-law’s health, and he is not well. Needless to say, there is a lot going on here. 

As I toyed with the decision to stay or go I got wind that my Aunt Gloria had fallen in the night and fractured her pelvis in three places. She was in a rehab center, so the pull to go to Charleston was now not just the race but also visiting her. I was torn.

Enter stage left: The BFF. Corey texted that she was ready and willing to come up Thursday night from Atlanta and stay through the weekend so I could run the race and visit my aunt in the hospital.

For real? She would keep the boys? Take care of Salem? Spend the last few days of Alex’s spring break in Tennessee?

Immediately I thought no way. That’s too much! It’s too much help. It’s silly! I could stay home. I should stay home. I’ll just stay home.

But no, she meant it, as best friends often do, so I accepted. She and Alex showed up late Thursday night, and after taking the boys to visit their Papaw, who’d been released from the hospital into hospice care, I packed my car and set off for a brief 24-hour stay in Charleston. I visited Aunt Gloria as soon as I arrived and stayed up for a short while talking with Mamaw. The race didn’t started until 8 a.m., but I’d missed the cut-off time for packet pick-up, so I needed to get to the University of Charleston no later than 7 a.m. to get my bib.

Naturally, since the lead-up to the race had already been tumultuous, I started to feel poorly as I went to bed Friday night. My stomach was wrecked, and I felt weak. What in the world was this cosmic punishment? I couldn’t settle in, couldn’t get comfortable. It felt like a million needles were penetrating my abdomen.

I barely slept. When I wasn’t writhing in bed I was on the floor of my Mamaw’s guest room holding yoga poses to ease the pain. When the alarm went off at 6:15 a.m., I’d dozed for few hours but didn’t sleep a wink.

This isn’t unusual, by the way. I rarely sleep well the night before a race, and it’s been this way for a decade, so nothing has improved in that area. I’m too nervous about potentially sleeping through my alarm, being late, and not being allowed to run. Personally, I think the pre-race anxiety helps me.

But feeling ill? That never helps. SOMEHOW, mercifully, despite the pain I suffered all night and the threat of snow that had me anxious, the race went well. I finished in my standard time frame, usually falling somewhere between 2:15 and 2:25. (The official time was 2:21.) Also, the pain in my abdomen subsided, which was curious considering how bad it was throughout the night. It did snow, but only a little, and the freezing temperatures were tolerable and kept me from overheating. (Give me a cold run over a hot run any day!)

West Virginia’s State Capitol with snow-capped trees behind it:

The University of Charleston is situated directly across from the capitol building on the other side of the Kanawha River, which made for a beautiful run. I’m sure the event organizers would’ve appreciated warmer weather.

Corey sent me photos from home, a sweet reassurance that all was well.

Salem made himself comfortable, per usual. This was Corey’s view Friday evening:

After a long, steaming hot shower, I had a quick bite of lunch with Mamaw and packed my things to go. My original plan was to stay much longer, but the original plan was long gone. I got on the road and headed home.

This should be the end of the story, but that’s hardly the case. My father in law continues to decline, and Salem is still wearing his Elizabethan Collar because his stitches haven’t been removed. I went to the doctor on Monday to see what in the world is going on with my insides, and Corey went home only to have her own family emergency unfold. Her wife, Gwen, fractured her tibial plateau – the very important load-bearing top of her tibia – at a training exercise for work, and now she’s facing multiple surgeries and months of recovery. It is a huge blow, particularly since Gwen, a police officer and exercise fiend, is not well-suited to a life of low-to-no mobility. 🙁

Yet, we all press on because that’s life. Lord willing, which I’ve learned to say more frequently now, I’ll run my 20th race in May. Should things fall apart again, maybe I won’t. Who knows?

My Least Favorite Question: “How is the writing going?”

Five years ago I was accosted by a girl in my head. She showed up uninvited, as if she’d been waiting for the opportunity to pounce. She told me her name, her story, and then sat down to wait as I considered it.

In secret, I started to type.

Within days I came out to my husband as a wannabe novelist – a surprise to both of us – and confessed that I had no clue what I was doing. Could he still love me if I followed a crazy dream? Did he think I had potential? Can a nobody journalist just morph into a somebody novelist? Furthermore, why do people show up in your brain if you’re not meant to do anything with them? 

He nudged me forward. Yes, do it. OF COURSE DO IT. So I did, and that’s how Leona came to be. Then Mallory showed up two years later, and now a third cast of people have arrived. The new ones are still in progress, but frankly, so are Leona and Mallory because I’m still learning about them. Just today, while on a long run, I discovered something else that belongs in Novel No. 2. Like a sweet gift, she whispered something in my ear and I ran harder to mull it over properly.

This dream is not gone, not even a little. In between the freelance writing, the homeschooling, the teaching, the photography… I am still thinking of my characters. I carry them with me. I know which chapters need trimming. I know which plot points need attention. I know these matters will be tended to at the correct time.

But oh, some of you still ask, and you are dear to me. You are. Please know that I covet your support in that rooted, quiet way. When my time comes, I know some of you will race to buy a copy my book. You’ll jump at the chance. THANK GOD FOR YOU. Yet, I cannot bear to answer this question – “How is the writing going?” – because it nearly kills me every time. There is no suitable answer.

How do I summarize the hours I’ve spent crafting these stories, or the hours I’ve spent just thinking about them? How do I explain the many query letters I’ve sent out only to receive rejections in return? How do I describe the requests for full manuscripts – real jolts of hope – only to be told that something is not quite right? How do I harness the encouraging feedback from industry professionals and churn that into a better story? 

And how, please tell me, do I balance the things I must do with the things I long to do? That is something I’m sure you all understand.

Perhaps I should return to the monastery. Something about that feels right.

So yes. I’m still writing. OF COURSE I AM. There is no need to ask. Until further notice, assume EVERYTHING FORWARD.

That time I was questioned by the police

A couple of days ago I was on a six-mile run while listening to West Cork, an Audible True Crime series, which is set up like a podcast. (If you enjoyed Serial and S-Town, I recommend you give it a try.) The particular episode I was listening to centered around the Irish Garda’s (police) questioning of a murder suspect, and suddenly I was struck by the memory that I, too, had been questioned by the police.

Not for murder, mind you. For fraud, forgery, and theft.

This was me in college. I was an A/B student – only one C, thank you very much, and it was in Geology,  a mind-numbing class about rocks.

This photo was taken in 1998 in my office when I served as editor of the university newspaper. Behind my head on the wall is a poster of Jon Bon Jovi. To my right, on the shelf, is a framed photo of Chuck and me. I was the student who got up early to exercise, rode my bike to campus, hung out in the newsroom when I had free time, and studied hard for every exam. In addition to the newspaper, I also worked part-time at the front desk of a local hotel, an ideal job for a college student because I could study when not helping guests. I had nary a blemish on my record.

Imagine my disbelief, then, when I was called in to the Murfreesboro Police Department for questioning. I had no clue why I’d been contacted, so I started recounting my steps for weeks and months on end. Had I gone somewhere? Had I seen something? Had I done something? Why do police officers look so scary in interview rooms? 

I sat down at the table and the two male officers looked back at me. I remember clearly a distinct silence before a file was opened and one of the officers took a breath to speak.

“Do you know why we wanted to talk to you?”

I either shook my head or said no.

The officer read my address to me and asked if I lived in that particular apartment. I said I did. (As a reward for earning the editor position, I moved off campus into my own one-bedroom apartment. The rent was $390 per month and my cat, Precious, was able to live with me.) He asked how long I’d lived in that apartment, and at the time, it had been less than a year.

Then he placed in front of me a series of checks written out to various stores in the local mall. They weren’t checks from my bank account, and my name wasn’t on any of them. He asked if I recognized the checks, and I said no.

He asked, “Are you sure?”

I examined them more closely. They belonged to a woman, evident by the printed name in the top left-hand corner, and they’d been filled out by a woman, evident by the big, loopy cursive handwriting. Still, they weren’t mine, nor were they filled out by me. I either shook my head or said no.

The officer explained that a box of checks had been delivered to my apartment – or rather, the metal mailbox associated with my apartment located at the front of the complex.

“I don’t use that mailbox,” I said. Relief washed over me. “The lock doesn’t work so the door just hangs open. I only use my campus mailbox.”

Another bout of silence.

“Only junk mail gets delivered to the apartment. I don’t use that mailbox. I don’t even check it.”

My relief faded. I realized that whether or not I used the mailbox for my own mail didn’t matter. If a box of blank checks had been delivered there, in theory, I still could’ve taken them and used them.

“I didn’t take the checks. I didn’t do this.”

The checks were collected and set aside, and a blank notepad and pen were placed in front of me. I was to sign my name several times, then sign the name of the person whose name had been forged.

A handwriting sample.

This was the real deal. I was a suspect in a crime. (Cue Law & Order gavel.)

I panicked as I started to sign my own name because I was certain they’d doubt me. As a 20-year-old creative person, my signature was known to change shape. It depended on my mood, my effort, the time I had to sign something. Sometimes it was coiled and messy, other times it was neat and professional.

I endeavored to sign my name authentically. Then, I moved on to the stranger’s name. I signed it over and over again, each on a new line, then I pushed the notepad back across the table so the police officer could inspect it.

Then he said something I will never forget.

“I have to say – this looks very similar.”

He brought the checks back to the center of the table and placed the notepad next to them. Yes, they looked similar, in that twirling, spiraling way every girl’s handwriting looks similar at 20 years old. My heart pounded.

“I didn’t take those checks. It wasn’t me.

While I have no idea what I looked like sitting at that table, I’m confident I looked a mess. I’ve never been able to hide my emotions. What you see is what you get. Surely, they could’ve interpreted my fear as guilt. The truth was that I wanted to cry and call my parents. 

Then, I looked at the dates on the checks and thought of my work schedule at the hotel. Suddenly, it occurred to me that my time could be accounted for. 

“You can look at my time cards,” I offered, “at the hotel. I’m sure I was working on those days.”

I went on to recount my work schedule, knowing my time cards would validate that I was seated at the front desk on the clock when the real thief was clothes shopping with someone else’s money. I gave them my boss’ name and number and told them to verify that what I was saying was true.

They let me go with the warning that if my time couldn’t be accounted for I would be contacted again. 

Thankfully, my boss provided the life-saving time cards that coincided with the dates written on the stolen checks. I was both grateful my name had been cleared and mortified that it had been associated with a crime in the first place.

I never heard from the police again.

The last thing I did was call the leasing office at the apartment complex to tell them what hell I’d just been through and to get the dang lock fixed on my mailbox.

A year and a half later, when I moved out of the apartment, the lock was still broken and the mailbox continued to be stuffed with junk mail address to “Current Resident.”

Part Three: Don’t Waste Time

You can start here if you like. You can also start with Part One where I talk about the importance of self-care and move through Part Two, which is about caring for those closest to you, but starting here is fine because this is a rule I adhere to with fervency. I push it onto everyone I know. I am the pusher of Don’t Waste Time. It is likely I’ve said this to you in person if our paths cross in any way.

A history: I am a recovering Yes Person. I spent my 20s working in church nurseries because I was asked to. I helped with children’s choir, despite the fact that I cannot sing. I agreed to participate in groups and outings and events because I felt obligated to. I went places I didn’t want to go and did things I didn’t want to do because I was a people pleaser, and HEAVEN FORBID SOMEONE NOT LIKE ME.

By my 30s, I began to recognize that I have certain skill sets and running children’s choir was not one of them. By the time we joined our current church almost six years ago, I was able to say with confidence, “I am not interested in working with children, but I’m happy to help with communications and photography.” This wasn’t just about using my time and talents wisely; rather, it was about recognizing that I had wasted a lot of time doing things that were not meant for me, and I no longer wanted to do that.

It was a personal prison, and it wasn’t exclusive to volunteer or work-related choices. I’d hung on to friendships that weren’t really friendships. I engaged in conversations that were not my concern, and I spent a lot of energy worrying about inconsequential, unimportant things. I cannot calculate how much bad television I have watched. 

It nagged me as my 30s unfolded. Why hadn’t I learned the power of No earlier? Perhaps that’s the natural progression of things. You don’t understand how necessary No is until you’ve wasted so many Yeses.

Then something happened in our family that anchored Don’t Waste Time so deep in my gut that I started saying it loudly and clearly to anyone who would listen. My sister-in-law, Tami, died suddenly at 47 years old. One day she was moving along in her wonderful life. The next day, gone. Just like that. At 47.

What. the. hell.

In the shock of her death I stamped out an email to my closest girlfriends telling them all sorts of things that should happen if I die suddenly – an actual list of things to do – and OH MY GOODNESS how does this happen to someone who is ONLY 47.

From that moment on, to the best of my ability, I have not wasted time. I’ve said no to the things I don’t want to do and YES to the things I know will be good for me or good for others. It’s rampant, I tell you. I AM ALL ABOUT IT.

No, I will not serve on that board right now, but ask me again in a year.

No, I will not teach elementary age classes at co-op, but yes, I will teach high school.

Yes, I would love to take a group photo for your non-profit for free.

No, I will not watch This Is Us anymore because I’m tired of being manipulated each week.

Yes, I will accept this freelance assignment, but no, I won’t accept that one.

On and on it goes. My No is No and my Yes is Yes. Occasionally, I will take time to consider my options and make a decision after some thought, but my instincts are strong. I know what’s meant for me and I know what is not. When I’ve been unclear, a quick chat with Chuck or my sister or a close friend clears it right up.

How does this connect to self-care?

In a dozen different ways. Consider your time and energy like a bank account. How much you spend and where you spend it is a reflection of your priorities. Are you investing in what matters to you most? Or are you blowing your precious, limited time on a bunch of life-sucking nonsense because you lack the confidence or courage to say no?

Hear me: Don’t Waste Time.

Don’t waste time on relationships that aren’t mutual and restorative. Be friendly to all and be generous when you can, but don’t dig into the reserves of your time and energy when the returns aren’t there.

Don’t waste time on projects, activities, and other participation-based events that don’t align with your priorities, talents, and availability. Don’t say yes out of obligation. Don’t agree to something when your gut is screaming no. Please, oh please hear me on this. Say yes only when you know you’ve got the time, energy, and passion to devote to it.

Don’t waste time on bad television, bad food, and bad company. Junk in, junk out. It’s that simple.

Don’t waste time wishing something would come your way. CLAW AT IT. Be aggressive. You have a dream? Turn it into a plan. What in the world are you waiting for?

Don’t waste time scrolling. I’m still learning this, if I’m honest. I enjoy social media, but at the same time, I despise it. We are meant for personal connection, and social media is not personal connection. People are not interchangeable with screens.

A few more things…

Rest is not wasting time. Rest is restoration, a necessary recharge. How I rest may not be how you rest, so I won’t tell you how you should rest. Just know that it’s important to find a way to log off, shut down, and be still.

Time spent thinking and waiting is not wasting time. Did you know that Bill Gates schedules time specifically dedicated to thinking? He weeds out all distractions and funnels his energy into thinking. He’ll read, go for walks, have light, easy meals, and think. There’s a lesson to be learned here, especially since our society is entirely too focused on glorifying how busy we are. If you need time to think, take it.

Finally, trying something new is not wasting time. Don’t be too quick on the no. Say yes to things you’re not sure about because you may learn something. Don’t like it? Never do it again. Love it? Make it your new hobby. Going through the experience of trying something new, no matter the outcome, is time well spent.

I think I’m done here. I’ve written down all the things I keep saying to people in real life. It is from my deepest heart that something has resonated with you or helped in some way. God bless you for hanging in there and reaching the last paragraph. I hope, sincerely, that I’ve not wasted your time.

xoxo

Part Two: Caring for Others

Read Part One first.

The reason to take care of yourself first can be summed up with a simple analogy: You can’t draw water from an empty well.  How well (or poorly) I care for my family is almost directly connected to how well (or poorly) I care for myself.

If I’m not good mind, body, and soul, they suffer for it. It’s that simple.

So why, when talking about self-care, do I even consider other people? They aren’t me, nor do I expect them to be like me, but their lives are wholly intertwined with mine. These precious people – my husband, my children, my dearest friends – are an extension of me. Their wellness, on varying levels, is directly connected to mine. When they hurt, I hurt for them. When they need help, I want to offer a hand. When they need a hug, I want to be first in line.

Because my personal hierarchy of care moves from me to my husband, we’ll go there next.

You might read these questions and think, “Wow, girl. Sounds like it’s all about him!” That would be true if 1) I wasn’t already taking care of myself, and 2) he wasn’t already an attentive, connected husband.

In truth, caring for my spouse works because he is caring for me in tandem. These things parallel each other in an ideal world – we’re both listening to each other, we’re both making one another a priority, we’re both saying what needs to be said and keeping quiet on stuff that doesn’t matter. We aren’t perfect in this arena but THANK THE SWEET LORD ALMIGHTY we have learned from our mistakes and try hard not to repeat them.

[Note: In fractured marriages, it is exponentially difficult to know what to do, what to say, and how to behave. When matters are dire, a check-list of questions for self-awareness isn’t enough. Seek help. Go to a professional. Yes, take care of yourself, but please – move outside the circle and wave a red flag.]

In our house, the marriage comes before the kids, barring emergencies and individual circumstances. We are careful about this too, rotating between family trips together and vacations where we leave the kids with family members to run off by ourselves. We balance date nights and family outings. We consult each other on big decisions because even if we know what the other parent will say we want the boys to see that Mom and Dad are a team. Over and over again we’ve put this hierarchy to the test and it has never failed us. Not once have we regretted it.

So what about the kids, these little people who require so much of our time, energy, and emotional strength? They have needs, big and small, and for me to be the best mother I can be, both my marriage and I need to be in their best possible shape.

Raising kids is hard, y’all. HARD, HARD, HARD. What makes it manageable, however, is being intentional, present, and willing to work through whatever is thrown our way. If I want to care for my sons in the way I feel called to, then I must pay attention to their whole being. I need to make clear our household priorities are and then draft a workable plan. I need to be flexible (because plot twists happen) and I must be willing to back up, re-evaluate, and try again.

Have I mentioned that parenting is hard? Wasn’t sure if I made that clear. (Now you see why self-care is crucial.)

If my home is at some level of peace (we aren’t talking high scores here, folks. We’re talking manageable), then I’m best equipped to care for my dearest friends and family. My tribe of girlfriends is precious to me, and they have carried me through low times. When I am healthy, I am able to help carry them. Like a marriage, these relationships work in tandem.

To have a tribe of people outside of your spouse and children means you have a touchstone for celebrating good times and a reliable place to land when everything crumbles. These relationships do not exist without their own need for nourishment. When I invest in my friendships, the returns are incalculable. 

All of these thoughts and questions were born from a couple of hours with a notepad. They may not be grand revelations for some of you, and I realize certain situations call for different questions.

However, the importance of self-care can’t be overstated. No one can take care of you like you can. Before you run on empty caring for everyone else, fill up your own tank. Invest in the short, sweet life you’ve been given and stop wasting time on what’s not meant for you.

Part Three: Don’t Waste Time.

Part One: On the Importance of Self-Care

I’ve been sitting on this post for a while. Sometimes it’s hard for me to know when to share something or if I should keep it to myself altogether.

Today is both Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday, a perfect combination if you think about it, so it seemed like the best possible day to speak on vulnerable things. 

Last summer, sometime around my birthday, I started doodling on a notepad. I was deep in thought about how to take better care of myself – a mundane topic for some, but monumentally important to me. As someone who’s always struggled with a depressive side, it can take an extra effort to move through the day intentionally, to resist the urge to crawl into bed and introvert so hard that a sturdy wall builds between the rest of the world and me.

Years ago I talked about this depressive streak with my grandmother. She, too, lives with the same little curse. She said, “I guess I’m just turned this way,” and it was then that I realized depression isn’t a cold. You don’t catch it a couple of times a year. It’s always stirring under the surface. Sometimes you feel it coming on slow and steady like a hurricane, and sometimes it pops up like a tornado, fast and furious, and you aren’t prepared at all.

There I sat doodling, drawing circles and lines and names, trying to discern how best to care for my mind, my body, my home, my relationships. Without medication (I’ve been there) and counseling (I’ve done that) and draining the energy out of my husband and closest friends (thanks y’all), I tried to figure out what is absolutely necessary to give myself the best possible chance of success in most circumstances.

While there are times when medication, professional counseling, and reaching out for external help are crucial, I have learned that how I care for myself has the greatest impact on how I move through the world. It is the core from which all the other stuff flows. 

Therefore, it starts with me, and since I’m married and view marriage as a fortress that must be rooted and built up, my husband comes next. Then come the boys, and after that, my closest friendships and family members.

This flow of care is controversial, no doubt. I know many moms whose flow of care is arranged differently, and I don’t intend to tackle or speak to their reasons why. Each woman (and man, for that matter) is capable of arranging her own hierarchies as she sees fit. Also, some of you are single with kids, or married without kids, or in various other ages and stages of life. The hierarchy shifts as life does. Of course!

WHICH IS TO SAY the hierarchy of care is fluid. There are times when care shifts depending on need, but when relationships are in good health, those shifts don’t shatter the system. Simply having a newborn shifts the hierarchy of the house temporarily. Basically, if I need to put more energy into myself, my husband, a friend, etc., I do.

So what does it look like inside each of the circles? I doodled those too.

Me First

While this goes against what we teach our children (“Others First”), I’m curious to know if we’ve made a wrong turn somewhere, like we’ve given no room for caveats. How can we care for others when we are not well ourselves? I keep coming back to this question: If I am struggling to stay above water, how can I be a reliable life jacket for any one else?

So, if my goal is to be the best possible person, the healthiest and most helpful to those I love, I need to address all aspects of my well-being (spiritual, emotional, physical, relational, and personal) with a list of specific questions.

First, the spiritual self.

This is the core of the core, the deepest heart space that needs the most attention. For me, it’s my relationship with God. It’s not a perfect relationship, but it’s an intentional one. When I feel the most disconnected from actual life, I can usually point back to a disconnection in my spiritual life.

Second, the emotional self.

If I let them, the burdens of the world will put me prostrate. Burdens I create for myself keep me comatose. Holding grudges, repeating mistakes, hanging on to shame – these emotional bags wear us down, so we must learn to recognize what’s poisoning the well and deal with them accordingly.

Next, the physical self.

Almost as important as my spiritual and emotional life is the attention I place on physical health. Yes, we live in a constant state of dying, but I’m not talking about physical fitness here. Body dysmorphia is my cross to carry in this world, so daily exercise isn’t about fitting into jeans or losing those last ten pounds. For me, tending to the body is the same as tending to the mind. Exercise is my best medicine, and there has been plenty of research to prove it can mentally benefit everyone. Additionally, physical care is about how we nourish our body and how we rest it. 

Then, the personal self.

We’re all given talents and gifts, passions and interests, and it can take a lifetime of sorting through those things to make the most of them. Whether they transpire as full-on careers, lifelong hobbies, or bouts of effort over periods of time, our personal work is important. I was lucky to discern my love and talent for writing early on, but it’s not always been clear what I’m supposed to do with it. When it comes to my whole health, though, I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge how necessary personal work is.

Finally, the relational self.

We aren’t meant to move through life alone, which can be a challenging truth for hardcore introverts. Connecting with people isn’t what’s key; it’s how we connect with them that matters. Am I doing my part? Am I being used? Who or what am I neglecting? Living in conflict crowds the mind, and frankly, life is too short to let contention grow.

When one or more of these areas is out of balance, I’m not my best self and that leaves the door open for other areas of my life to suffer. It seems like common sense now, but it’s taken me years to recognize my poor attitude or season of depression was related to one or more of these areas being ignored. Never has my life been unmanageable, but many difficult seasons could’ve been better handled had I tended to my own well-being with intention. This may be old news to you, but for me, it’s been a two-by-four to the head.

I don’t think there’s ever a time when all of these questions are answered affirmatively. We are never 100 percent, are we? Yet, if working heartily on these areas of self-care with diligence, then we’re setting ourselves up to be better partners, parents, and friends.

Next up: caring for my spouse, my children, and those I love most.

Skincare staples at almost 40

This post probably feels random for most of you, but bear with me.

One of the things I decided to do when I turned 30 was take better care of my skin. I noticed it was changing, and it was only going to change more as I aged. Drugstore products worked mostly well, so I started using a retinol to counteract the crow’s feet and laugh lines. I used scrubs, foaming washes, whatever was on sale. For most of my teen and adult years, using “whatever was on sale” worked.

However, when I turned 35, my hormones threw a party. As someone who never dealt with acne as a teenager, minus a spot here and there, I was appalled and offended that at 35 years old my face had lost its mind. It wasn’t even regular, run-of-the-mill acne. It was cystic acne, that painful, deep-rooted, takes-a-week-to-surface acne that flanked the sides of my face. It was painful and ugly, and I didn’t know how to fix it.

Fast forward five years and my skin feels normal again. I still get a spot now and again, but not only have I learned how to take care of my skin, I’ve also learned how to prevent more spots (so far).

Part of it, I believe, is diet and general healthcare. I drink a lot of water. I try not to eat a lot of sugar. I don’t touch my face a lot. I exercise, get enough sleep, and so on. Basic healthy things.

The other part of it is skin care. The first thing I did when I switched up my skin care routine was stop exfoliating. No more scrubbing and scratching my face because I needed it to CALM THE HECK DOWN. I also needed an antibacterial component to attack the acne, so I started using Cetaphil and I haven’t looked back.

[Not pictured is the Cetaphil antibacterial bar soap I use in the shower.] I use the foam wash morning and night at the sink, followed by the unscented lotion to moisturize. If I need to use makeup remover, I do that first, but I’m not using anything else to actually wash my face. Cetaphil is amazing and it’s enough.

Each morning after washing my face, I apply Mario Badescu’s Glycolic Eye Cream underneath and around my eyes, even above and between my eyebrows. If I’m going somewhere right away and want to apply makeup, I skip the eye cream and use It Cosmetics Feel the Moment Primer Serum all over my face instead.

At night, I use the Peptide Renewal Serum in the same places, as well as my neck. If I feel an acne spot starting to form, I use the Drying Lotion. If you catch the spot early enough, it will never surface. It’s weird magic.

These products are small but mighty. A little goes a long way, so while I normally wouldn’t spend $45 on a tiny dropper bottle of something, I can tell you honestly that I used the same Peptide Renewal Serum from July 2017 to mid-January 2018.

To help combat the dark scarring (thanks cystic acne!), I’ve used Murad’s Spot Serum with a lot of success. (This is a travel size. I’ve never bought the full size.)

Finally, I recently discovered a makeup product that I love, love, love. NARS tinted moisturizer is the ideal answer for someone who doesn’t want full-coverage foundation but prefers a little “veil of color.” Added bonus – it has sunscreen in it. It works like a BB Cream, but it’s actually a moisturizer.

I recognize that my skin is likely to change even further after I turn 40, but right now, it’s holding up. Minimal fuss with a little attention to trouble spots seems to do the trick. 

The Killers Concert, Atlanta 2018

It all began with “Mr. Brightside” and Hot Fuss in 2004. It was a new sound, something I hadn’t heard before, and when Sam’s Town came out two years later, I knew The Killers were a different sort of band and I was going to love them indefinitely. Then came Sawdust, Day & Age, and Battle Born, and then there were Brandon Flower’s solo albumsFlamingo and The Desired Effect – and now we have Wonderful, Wonderful.

What is this kind of music anyway? Rock, yes. But some songs take me five or six tries to fully embrace them. I don’t get the melody or the lyrics are strange. (That’s Brandon Flowers for you.)

Sure enough, once they’re embraced, it’s concrete. I’ve run hundreds of miles to the sound of The Killers.

Short of one song I’d love to hear live (“Miss Atomic Bomb“), they played everything I hoped they would.

From “Dustland Fairytale” and “Jenny Was a Friend of Mine” to “When We Were Young” and “Mr. Brightside,” even “Run for Cover,” my favorite on Wonderful, Wonderful, I sang along to every single word. I loved it. I. LOVED. IT.

(Other songs on the playlist – “Human,” “Read My Mind,” “Somebody Told Me,” “Spaceman,” “The Way It Was,” “I Can’t Stay,” “Smile Like You Mean It,” “For Reasons Unknown,” “Rut,” “Runaways,” “All These Things That I Have Done,” “The Calling,” and “This River is Wild” – which is a huge favorite!)

The encore was the most fun. They’d left the stage so we could lure them back. Instead of lighters, we held up our cell phones. I couldn’t believe we produced enough light to illuminate the entire arena.

They were back on stage for four more songs, and we lost our minds all over again.

Brandon Flowers was notes away from losing his voice, but the crowd was on fire. We were thunderous. We sang the words for him. How could we not?

I don’t go to a lot of concerts, but when I do, it’s for my favorites (and with my favorites).

SensaCalm Weighted Blankets

When I was approached by my friend, Donna, to consider reviewing the weighted blankets she sells, I readily agreed. I’m not the habit of reviewing products or services on this site, but what she didn’t realize is that I have a 14 year old who really struggles to fall and stay asleep. He has a busy brain and will lay awake at night trying to quiet his thoughts. Even when he manages to fall asleep quickly, he often wakes up during the night and struggles to fall asleep all over again.

Granted, there are a lot of reasons this happens and there are many ways to treat it. Short of giving him sleep medication every night, I’ve tried a lot of things! Yet, I never considered a weighted blanket. Prior to researching SensaCalm, my knowledge of weighted blankets was that they were for kids with autism and/or ADHD who struggle with sleep. It didn’t occur to me that general insomnia and restlessness might be mitigated with a weighted blanket.

Similar to being swaddled like an infant, weighted blankets are said to trigger pressure points in the body and release serotonin, which has a calming effect. For those who wrestle with anxiety and have disrupted sleep as a result, I can see the benefits to using a weighted blanket at night.

When the blankets arrived the boys were immediately excited. They were heavier than I expected, but as soon as I’d unpacked them and laid them across Jeremy and Jackson’s bodies, they were giddy. They said it felt as if they were being hugged. They actually couldn’t wait to go to bed that night to see what it felt like to sleep under their new blankets.

The first night was a challenge! It took some getting used to, particularly since the blanket is not over-sized. They aren’t meant to cover the size of the bed but rather cover the size of your body. A couple of times their blankets fell to the ground, so they had to pull them back up and readjust.

However, that was the only hurdle. After a month of use, both boys say they are falling asleep more quickly and staying asleep more easily. They love feeling “hugged” by their blankets.

The twin-size, 13-pound blankets are made up of a grid of pockets with pellets inside as weight. Covering the blanket is a soft “cuddle” fleece that adds even more warmth and comfort.

The duvet is held in place by strategically-placed snaps. That’s handy for washing!

Ultimately the blankets are a success! And while the traditional weighted blankets aren’t travel-friendly, small lap-size blankets might do the trick.