The UK Trip: Day 5 in Oxford and the Cotswolds

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

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

The map for the day: 

Ambitious? Yes, of course!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I would like to live here, please. 

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

Up next: An unexpected night with new friends

The UK Trip: Day 4 in Windsor and Dorset

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

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

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

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

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

A statue of Queen Victoria welcomes visitors to Windsor Castle.

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

The castle is every bit as grand as I anticipated. 

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

A marker for Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth I: 

View of Windsor from atop the castle: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Up next: Oxford and the Cotwolds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The remains:

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

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

Coming up next: Windsor and Dorset

The UK Trip: Day 3 at Hever Castle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The UK Trip: Days 1 and 2

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

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

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

‘Cause yeah – we rented a car!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Medal No. 21:

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

Dobby was also going to Waterloo.

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

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

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

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

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

So, off we went to explore more of London.

I love me some flower boxes.

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

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

Jennie’s kid, Winston: 

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

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

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

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

George was there, too.

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

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

Up next: Hever Castle

700 photos later…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you’re ready, start here.¬†

The week that went by too quickly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Signs of Life Day Twenty-Seven

It was a crap-tastic day, the Mondayist Monday ever. I could be a real live Superwoman, what with all my super-powered self-restraint. I am amazingly restrained.

This evening I collapsed on the couch in the den with Chuck so we could swap our bad day stories. We both felt defeated, like Monday had played a cruel joke and pulled the rug from underneath our feet. The gray sky fit our blah moods.

Suddenly I remembered the date.

“Do you want to know something good?” I asked.

His eyebrows rose and he gave me a knowing side-eye.

“Today is the twenty-first anniversary of you asking me out and me saying yes.”

Chuck and I¬†met at an after-school job we both had at a¬†local deli. We’d hang out in the parking lot after hours, talking, laughing, and squeezing out every last minute we had together. We went¬†to different high schools, so these lingering after-hour evenings were coveted. Our friendship had turned into a flirtation, but as much as he asked for more, I kept saying¬†no. I was going away to college and didn’t want a complicated, long-distance relationship.

Nevertheless, he persisted.

After closing the deli on Tuesday, February 27, 1996, we drove to a basketball goal behind a nearby Lutheran church to hang out before the sun set.¬†Something about¬†this day felt different. I don’t remember¬†what it was exactly, but it was… something. He knew it too, because tucked away in his truck was a single red rose.

Again, he asked if we could go out, and finally, I said, “Yes. Okay.”

Out came the rose, for I had been wooed.

It¬†wouldn’t be the last time either. Two decades later, this singular memory was the shiniest¬†part of our¬†terrible, no-good day.¬†Among the bad attitudes, the frustrating national news, and the constant uphill battle of larger struggles, this memory¬†was the one good thing I needed to see and feel.¬†

I’ll take it.

Signs of Life is a blog series I’m writing¬†for February 2017. It was born out of desire to replace the negativity and despair that’s been bogging down our friendships, families, and communities after a tumultuous election season. This series won’t solve the world’s problems, but I hope it will¬†create a speck¬†of light and positivity when and where it is needed.¬†

16 Things I Learned in 2016

Over the last week, and then again today while on a run, I sorted through 2016 and whittled down a collection of lessons I’ve learned in the last year. I’ve never been keen on setting resolutions, but in recent years I’ve worked hard to be mindful of my mistakes and efforted not to repeat them. I look critically at myself, at how I’ve behaved, at things I’ve said, and resolved, in a way, not to repeat them when they’ve not been helpful. I fail, of course, like we all do, but I endeavor to be better anyway.

2016 was a mostly good year for our family. Last night during dinner we went around naming the things we loved Рfrom the boys turning 10 and 13, to Jeremy getting his first deer, to our anniversary trip to Key West and the unmatched experience at Lambeau Field. In 2016, I started teaching at the homeschool co-op, and I ran a relay race in April and got my 15th medal at a half marathon in December. I spent a long, pensive weekend at a monastery in July and had photo sessions in the double digits. Jeremy saved up his own money to buy an iPod, rode roller coasters with his brother at Hershey Park, and Jackson saw firsthand what it might be like to be a sports statistician.  Chuck has excelled in his job too, though I cannot disclose those details here. Just know that he continues to be amazing.

So yeah, 2016 was mostly very good. I am thankful, but I am also watchful. There are always areas in which to improve and grow. With that, here are 16 things I learned in 2016:

No. 1 Parenting evolves. We have a teenager in the house now. A baby teenager, but a teenager nonetheless. We are now in constant negotiations with Jeremy over what we allow, what we don’t, what will benefit him, what won’t. Chuck and I talk regularly about how things are changing with our oldest son, comparing how it was when we were 13, comparing how it is with other teenagers we know. We are doing our best, I am sure, but long gone are the days of nap times and lessons about sharing.

No. 2 But it also stays the same.¬†Regardless of the boys’ age and stage, the Miller House Rules are the same as ever: Family first, be kind to everyone, work hard, do your best, tell the truth. Obey Mom and Dad, and remember that privileges are earned, not freely given. There is nothing you can do to lose our love, but you will probably never know the WiFi password.

No. 3 Faith evolves. It is good to have your faith challenged, even when the process is painful and seemingly unending. Read books that challenge your ideas and be in conversation with others who believe differently than you. I have never lost my faith, but it has evolved a dozen times. Each time I’m stretched and twisted, and even when I’ve recoiled, I settle into a deeper understanding of what it means to follow Christ.

No. 4 But God stays the same. It is humbling and reassuring to know that God sees me, hears me, knows me, and still loves me. If I know nothing else, then this must be enough.

No. 5 We are not promised time. Death is a curious, cruel thing, and when those we love pass on from this world, death seems to linger and take up space where it is not wanted. Several friends have lost parents, siblings, and children in the last few years, reminding me again and again that we are not promised a single moment beyond right now. When we live like we have endless time we deceive ourselves. Better to look at the truth of our mortality and make decisions accordingly. For example…

No. 6 Don’t waste time. Don’t waste time on bad television, bad company, and bad food. Read good books, and drink good coffee. Choose friendships that have reciprocal benefits and strive to keep those friendships thriving. Work hard and play harder. Take care of yourself. Take care of your kids. Take care of your spouse. Travel and exercise and get enough sleep. These things are time well spent.

No. 7 It’s okay to say no. The older I get, the more emboldened I feel to say no. Saying no means several things, such as “If I say yes, then I’m overcommitted and I can’t keep doing that anymore,” and “I don’t feel the way you do about this thing, so I need to say no,” and “This doesn’t align with my priorities, so I’m saying no.” Saying no doesn’t mean you’re a curmudgeon or that you’re selfish or that you think your time is more important than someone else’s. It just means you are careful with your time, that you don’t have endless talents and efforts to spread around thinly. Invest your whole self where you can, where you desire to, and say no to the rest. IT’S OKAY.

No. 8 My body is different now. For someone who’s struggled with body dysmorphia for more than 20 years, this is a hard truth to swallow. I still run, lift, stretch, and sweat, and I am thankful that I can still do these things, but my body is not what it was even five years ago. It is more important than ever that I’m careful, watchful. It is essential that I eat well, that I rest when my body begs for it, that I remain thankful for all of my abilities, even though I’m not as fast as I want to be, as skinny as I want to be, as strong as I want to be. Health is a multi-faceted thing, and today, I am healthy.

No. 9 Yoga is amazing. Once I finally committed to a regular yoga practice and was over the hump of it being “too hard,” I fell in love. I love yoga. I LOVE YOGA. I am thankful for the online resources that afford me a variety of practices so I never get bored. I am also glad that I finally bought a mat. Yoga on a mat is better than yoga on carpet. But yoga on carpet is better than no yoga at all. You heard it here first.

No. 10 I don’t want to give up on being published. There is much to say on this matter, but this isn’t the place. I am still writing. I am still working. The dream is a plan. I covet your support.

No. 11 I love teaching. This is one of the surprising realizations of 2016. When I submitted an idea to teach creative writing at our homeschool co-op, it was done with grandiose ideas and a tiny bit of confidence. Now, a full semester later, heading into the next semester with two classes instead of one, I am pleased as punch to say that I love teaching. It’s an unexpected treasure to discover you enjoy something.

No. 12 I do not value my skills as much as I should, and I’m primarily referencing photography. I am the queen of underpricing and overdelivering. Oh, how I wish I could set rates that reflect what I provide! If the money didn’t matter, I’d do it all for free. But the money does matter, so it’s something I need to fix. If any of these are actual resolutions, then this is one.

No. 13 Personal relationships¬†are more important than politics. More surprising that Donald Trump’s presidential win was the splitting and fracturing of personal relationships in the brutal aftermath. While my family is still in tact, I know families and friendships that aren’t. It grieves me deeply, and while some may argue “principles over people,” I believe the greatest principle is to love one another. After all, when we are struggling, we don’t call Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. We call our people. So yeah, don’t break up with your people.

No. 14 My husband really loves me. If you know us in real life, then you are shaking your head. Silly girl, of course he loves you! This isn’t a realization I came to suddenly, nor did it only materialize this year. We have more than 20 years in the books, which means I’ve been on the receiving end of many gifts, gestures, and many more¬†I love yous. Still, there’ve been a dozen times in 2016 alone where I saw my husband as more than a spouse. We really are friends. Best friends. We love being together. As introverts, we love our time alone, but when we’re ready for conversation, we often choose each other. We love to travel together, to daydream and make plans. I am immensely grateful.

No. 15 Teaching my boys to serve is worthwhile. Regular volunteer work is as important as school. Maybe more important. Do it, do it, do it.

No. 16 No matter what happens in 2017, life is good as long as we choose to find the good. We do well to remember that.

Third and last photo dump from Key West

Each morning began by the pool, which isn’t a bad way to start a day.

last-lay-by-the-pool

On our last full day in Key West we walked to Ft. Zachary Taylor Beach and enjoyed a late lunch/early dinner at Sloppy Joe’s.

white-flowers-on-the-street

ft-zach-taylor-trees

ft-zachary-taylor-beach

That is Lesli and Jimmy enjoying the calm water and loving how not crowded it was.

lesli-and-jimmy-at-ft-zach-taylor

visitor-on-the-beach

anniversary-group-at-ft-taylor-beach

The last time Chuck and I went to Sloppy Joe’s we were 18 years old, which meant we went to a historical bar and ordered a couple of Cokes. This time, we enjoyed being over 21.

old-enough-to-drink-at-sloppy-joes

sloppy-joes

We saw these other beautiful things on the island too…

ut-on-a-cocnut

green-bay-on-a-coconut

Before heading out for the evening we had someone at the hotel take our photo:

last-night-out

Then we took a less formal one:

last-hurrah

Though our first trip to Key West will always be a warm spot of nostalgia in my heart, it¬†was better the second time around, and not just because we were with friends. It’s truly a place for adults to cut loose and leave responsibility at home.

I’m thankful for this man, who’s¬†kept me laughing and loved for two decades straight. I couldn’t ask for a better partner.

last-photo-in-key-west

Thank you to our mothers (my mom and Jimmy’s mom) who kept our children happy and safe so we could escape reality for a few days and celebrate our anniversaries.

Second photo dump from Key West

We rented scooters to get to Higgs Beach, which meant it was time for Chuck and I to recreate our 1997 Key West photo that we love so dearly. Ignore the time stamp – it was not 1994. I didn’t know how to change the date on my¬†35mm camera, so on record every event happened in January 1994. This photo was taken in July 1997 – a selfie before selfies existed – on a scooter.

TBT 1997 Key West

This one was taken on October 9, 2016 – a legit selfie – on a scooter.

remake-of-our-1997-photo

Higgs Beach was calm with a delightful breeze. We got in the water only briefly, then scooted around the island drunk on nostalgia.

higgs-beach

wilson-at-higgs-beach

On Monday we opted for a four-hour sailboat cruise with snorkeling and kayaking and happy hour. We even caught the sunset. (I didn’t snorkel or kayak since I’ve been there/done that and I’m happy to sip wine on a boat.)

But first, I enjoyed a slice of Chocolate-Covered Key Lime Pie on a stick:

chocolate-covered-key-lime-pie-on-a-stick

sailing2

mast

The afternoon got more beautiful as it went along.

sailing1jimmy-and-lesli-on-the-sailboatus-on-a-sailboat-in-key-west

headed-towards-sunset

sunset-on-october-10-key-west

the-other-sailboat

Third and last photo dump…¬†

First photo dump from Key West

I didn’t take an abnormal amount of photos during our trip to Key West (who needs evidence, right?), but I brought my camera along when I knew the scenery would be worthwhile. We went sailing, visited two beaches, and strolled the Old Town each day and evening. Every part of the trip was wonderful, weather included.

We spent five days/four nights on the island with our dear friends – Lesli and Jimmy – who were also celebrating 16 years of marriage (our weddings were one week apart). We divided our time between hanging out together and doing couple things. One thing was consistent: We weren’t in a rush for anything. For parents and professionals, having no timeline was a dream.

Our home away from home, The Cabana Inn:

the-cabana-inn view-from-the-lobby

Our view from the third floor:

view-from-our-room pick-a-spot

beautiful-trees

dog-life-on-key-west

orchids

We arrived in Key West shortly before the Tennessee-Texas A&M game. We caught the first quarter, then we unplugged.

tennessee-game-in-key-west

This was the first night’s sunset from the patio outside our room. I took it as a good omen.

first-sunset-in-key-west

And this was our view on the first morning as we ate breakfast by the pool. Did I mention The Cabana is adults-only? As in no kids? Aside from the roosters, which are protected and even endearing after a while, the property was tranquil.

first-morning-by-the-pool

slow-morning-by-the-pool-at-the-cabana

On to the second photo dump…

The disagreement we’ve been having for 16 years

Like many¬†marriages, Chuck and I have had wonderful years together paired with those times when we’d like to kill one another and hide the body. We’ve been close, we’ve been distant, we’ve crawled down into the pit with one another to make it through a difficult season. We’ve seen several¬†sides to this marriage thing and yet we’re still together by choice. Marriage, if I could describe it with just one word, is a decision.

We decide to overlook the things that annoy us.

We decide to put the other’s needs before our own.

We decide to put our marriage before the kids.

We decide to speak up when something is too important to let go.

Every day is fraught with decisions. Do I tell him I’m feeling hormonally nuts or do I let him figure it out on his own? Do I fold his laundry to be nice or just let that shit go because I have other stuff to do? Do I remind the boys that Daddy deserves the last piece of cake because he works so hard for¬†us or do I let them split it? Or do I eat it myself?¬†

Every day. Decisions.

Almost 15 years

That is why I cannot wrap my brain around Chuck’s continued decision to walk in on me taking a shower. This decision, my friends, is the disagreement we’ve been having for 16 years, and it came to a head yesterday when he heard the water running and thought he’d pop into the bathroom.

Unfortunately I wasn’t in the shower just yet. I was close – fully naked, but not under water because I was doing a charcoal mask on my face while listening to a podcast.

One glance of that dark paste on my face was all it took. Chuck tore into laughter as I slammed the door and told him to bug off.

Sixteen years.

His argument: You’re my wife. You’re beautiful. I love you. It’s okay if I see you in the shower. I like to see you in the shower.

My argument: I don’t like to be seen in the shower. Nor do I like to be seen plucking, tweezing, shaving, facial-ing, coloring, or any other type of grooming. If I have to hang on to the very essence of my youth well into adulthood, THEN I’D LIKE SOME PRIVACY WHILST DOING IT.

His argument: But nudity.

My argument: But no.

Him: But.

Me: Nope.

And yet we continue.

For¬†what it’s worth, there are a dozen¬†other things we could be arguing about that carry far more weight than whether or not Chuck walks in on me shaving (or plucking or facial-ing or coloring or tweezing or battling¬†my adult-onset acne with charcoal). Despite my frustration, I am pleased as punch that he still finds me attractive and weaves complicated plots to sneak a peek of me in the shower. Glory be.¬†

But I’m terrifically shy. I do not change clothes in front of my husband¬†or anyone else. I have never given birth or breastfed (hey hey adoption!), so I never went through that time when you “lose all modesty” or whatever happens when women give birth. Precious few people have seen my bits. Part of it is body dysmorphia, but part of it is just shyness.

Once I was out of the shower and dressed (a finished product), I confronted my dearest love in his recliner. The closer I got, the more he tried to choke down his laughter. I sat down across from him and he was full-on snickering.

You have to stop.

But you’re my wife.

And so on, and so on. Yes, it was funny. Yes, I looked a fright with a charcoal face. Yes, I’m flattered that he loves me so.

But. 

If we are still fighting about this in another 16 years, then our marriage will be a success. It will mean that we still act like teenagers and still chase each other around the house. It will mean we still care about what the other person thinks. Our marriage will still be made up of all the little decisions we make each day, and Chuck will still choose to surprise me in the shower.

Hey, it could be worse. It could be that he doesn’t want to see me naked.

anniversary-shot-2

Kid-Free Day in Downtown Philly

Our daily life and routine is unique, so date nights are rare, which is unfortunate because Chuck and I really enjoy dating each other. It’s one of our favorite hobbies.

With childcare secured (yay grandparents!), my husband and I were able to spend about nine hours (NINE HOURS) without the boys. We went to King of Prussia (Primark!) and then to downtown Philly to tool around in whatever we could find. No real agenda, but that’s pretty much how we roll on vacation.

Being so close to Independence Day, Philadelphia was properly decorated.

American flags in Philly

American flags in Chinatown

Steeple

Smoke stacks Malice and charity

Brick drawings

The most interesting area we saw was Elfreth’s Alley in Old City, the country’s oldest continually inhabited residential street. It’s been lovingly kept to standard.

Elfreths American flags on Elfreth Patriotic windows

Elfreths's Alley

The drizzle¬†was annoying, but we missed any sort of downpour. That¬†meant the streets weren’t packed with tourists and locals. We roamed around Old City until our feet hurt.

Looking at Camden Old City at night


Date night in Philly

A Father’s Day Poem to my Husband, even though I don’t read, write, or enjoy poetry

I’m not a poet
And you’ll quickly know it
But I thought I’d give it a¬†whirl

Because my husband is great
And it’s never too late
To give thanks from his favorite girl

Chuck naps 1996

Little did I know
That a long time ago
We’d start an adventure together

It’s¬†been a great ride
And I cannot deny
We’ve had good and hard times to weather

Burying chuck chuck and andrew at the zoo

As a team we keep going
Because the love keeps on flowing
And there’s no where¬†else I’d rather be

Than right next to him
Through thick and through thin
As we raise these boys faithfully

chuck and J1 after c's race Chuck and Jackson May October 2012

Twenty years as a couple
Might lend itself to trouble
Especially with two boys in tow

But we keep things light
And resolve each fight
Because there’s one solid thing that we know

Chuck and Jeremy 1-4-15 Chuck and Jeremy at the Air and Space

It’s that life¬†can¬†get messy
Which makes everyone stressy
So you need a good match for your heart

That’s what I found
When this man came around
Both together and when we’re apart

chuck and jeremy on the hill chuck and jeremy play video games

He shines as a dad
And only sometimes makes me mad
When he wrestles with the boys too roughly

But get over it, I will
Because time doesn’t stand still
And the boys will be gone so abruptly

Chuck and the Boys Canoeing Jeremy and Chuck in the one day blizzard

So, Babe, enjoy your day
In rest or in play
And know that I love you dearly

This road would be lonely
Without my one and only
I mean that, whole hearted and sincerely

My favorite three boys

Boys on the beach

Twenty years ago today

It was a brisk Tuesday in late-February, during the spring semester of my senior year, that 17-year-old Chuck drove 17-year-old me to a basketball court behind a church. We’d met one another about¬†six months prior at an after-school job. We attended separate schools in seemingly separate worlds, but we had a ball together at The Daily Bagel¬†– laughing, goofing around, and, eventually, flirting.

According to my terrifically embarrassing journal entries, I was smitten with this boy early on, but I was determined to stay unattached so I could go off to college in the fall without anyone holding me back.

Yet, this boy was persistent and we talked often about starting a relationship. The journal entries Рagain, so embarrassing Рare lengthy sermons to myself about keeping things close but friendly. I had a whole life to live and it was going to start promptly after high school.

But then that Tuesday rolled around. February 27, 1996. It was shortly before sundown and¬†we’d just left work for the night. Per usual, we didn’t want to say goodbye yet, so we played a few minutes of basketball and talked about relationship stuff again. This time, I didn’t argue or deflect or be that wishy-washy girl I’d been¬†those last few weeks.

Instead, 17-year-old me told 17-year-old him that I was ready to be boyfriend and girlfriend, to which he responded, “Well then let’s do this right.”

He went to his truck and pulled out a rose. Dang it all. I was hooked.

We went back to that same basketball court the following year and took this photo:

February 1997

Forgive me for the cliché, but it applies: And the rest is history.

Anniversary No. 15

We had so many ideas for¬†how we could celebrate our fifteenth wedding anniversary and none of them panned out. Instead, we’re storing those ideas for later and choosing instead to commemorate the day with a high five and a “yay us!” (We also got massages over the weekend, which¬†was lovely.)

Wedding day 2000

To appease my sentimentality, I made a video full of photos from our earliest years to now. And by early, I mean circa 1996 when we started dating. Are there fanny packs in this video? High-waisted pants? Bad hair? Prom photos?

Hmmm.

Happy 15th Anniversary to us.¬†ÔÄĄ

Throwback to 1997 when we were adults and ran off to Key West

God bless our parents and their incredible restraint to not wring our necks.

In the summer of 1997, just after Chuck graduated high school and I had finished my freshman year of college, we took a trip – by ourselves – to Key West. Because, you know, we were adults and could make adult decisions.

Eye roll.

It was one of the best trips we’ve ever taken as a couple. Truly. And no matter how much I cringe when I think of what our parents must have thought at the time, I remember having a fabulous time with my boyfriend, walking up and down Duval Street, watching the sideshow acts on Mallory Square, and touring Hemingway’s house for the second time. We ate at Sloppy Joe’s and watched the sunset at the Southernmost Point of the Continental U.S.A.

This photo is one of my favorites of us: We rented a moped and looped the island without a care in the world. At some point during our ride, I whipped out my 35mm camera, held it at arm’s length, and snapped a picture – a selfie in a pre-selfie era. (The time stamp in the righthand corner is incorrect as I could not figure out how to change the date internally. It was indeed 1997, not 1994.)

TBT 1997 Key West

God help me if Jeremy or Jackson do what we did when they are 18. Remind me to hide this post when they hit puberty.

A love letter to my husband

Dearest,

You were already a long-suffering, understanding husband and now your wife wants to be fiction writer.

God bless you.

You’ve been supportive and encouraging, wise in your advice and patient in the process.¬†So when you received my text message this morning saying I’d just gotten my sixth rejection, no doubt you felt my pain.

You know these rejections are little stabs in my hot air balloon and yet you continue to add fuel to my fire. You are my underpinning, my weight-bearing beam. You offer words of validation and warm embraces. And today, you offered doughnuts.

doughnuts

You knew that I’d want to eat my feelings this afternoon and you took the extra step to make sure I could. How funny, then, that¬†I picked up cupcakes on my way home. How blissfully ironic that now we have both treats with which to medicate ourselves because six literary agents turned down my novel.

cupcakes

We are only¬†at the beginning of this marathon, and¬†I’m guaranteed more heartache. The good news is that sometimes I’ll self-medicate with a long run or maybe a good cry so we don’t have to worry about adult onset diabetes.

Regardless of my coping mechanism¬†I hope we’ll always be in sync. Thank you for the doughnuts and for knowing what I needed today.

The Boston Creme Pie Cupcake is for you.

Happiest Day to my Sweetheart

It’s this guy’s¬†birthday:

Handsomeist

He doesn’t¬†surface on this¬†site often and probably won’t like this attention either, but oh well about that! I love him and it’s his birthday, so today’s post is for my husband. Happy Birthday, darling. You are my favorite.¬†

Pinterest for Anniversary No. 14

I could post old photos of us from the last 18 years of being together, 14 of which have been as a married couple, but I’ve done that a dozen times. Here’s last year¬†from Vegas, here’s the year before that when we were camping. Here’s a photo that was taken about five months after we started dating in 1996.

Instead, I’ll share with you a few of my favorite things I’ve pinned to my husband-specific board on Pinterest. It’s a dumping ground for building furniture, Mad Men references, and homages to beards and tattoos. Occasionally, I post something sweet to remind myself (and him) that this journey we’re on is the best. Continue reading “Pinterest for Anniversary No. 14”