Father’s Day 2020

The Przyluckis came in town to celebrate Becky’s birthday and Father’s Day, so we soaked in more family time over the weekend. As an extra special treat, Mamaw arrived on Saturday and will stay with Mom and Dad for a little while. No doubt Dad will enjoy having his mom around the house.

We hoped to get in some fishing time, but the weather was spotty. Instead, we ended up sitting on Mom and Dad’s back porch for hours, and then we had everyone over here for dinner on Father’s Day.

Again, we avoided public places, especially in Sevierville.

Jacob and Owen stayed with us, so we took the opportunity to take them hiking Saturday morning.

Chuck and I love hosting people at our house, and we didn’t miss an opportunity to take photos together to commemorate the day.

Treadway Party of Four
Jeremy, 16, Jackson, 14, Jacob, 19, and Owen, 16

The best photo is this singular image I captured with my DSLR. The timer was being goofy, but all we needed was one good shot:

Dad’s health has been extra challenging lately with the addition of daily chemotherapy pills. He had tons of strength and stamina during six weeks of treatment at UT Cancer Institute, but these pills are throwing him off balance in more ways that one. We hope he’ll be able to endure the medication so tumor regrowth can be delayed.

None of us knows what the rest of this year holds, and that’s across the board! What a year 2020 has been so far, and we’re not even halfway done. Thanks to everyone who’s remembered my father in prayer. We are grateful.

Of course, I can’t leave this post without mentioning how wonderful my husband is. I wish I could’ve taken him to Antibes for Father’s Day or surprised him with a brand new Ferrari. Those are the gifts I dream of giving him. Until life presents those opportunities to us, I’ll continue to love him the best I can and praise him for the wonderful father and husband he is. I wouldn’t want to walk this road with anyone else.

Miller Quarantine Vacation House and Jackson Turns 14

We’ve had back-to-back weekends of house guests, first with Karin and the kids, then Corey and Alex, and finally, my side of the family for Father’s Day weekend. People have been anxious to get out of their houses but not eager enough to attempt beach trips or other overly-crowded spaces. We are happy to host people in our home and spend time outdoors together.

We are still avoiding public spaces outside of the grocery store, where I (happily) wear a mask. It’s not hard for us to keep our distance from the crowd because we live our life like that anyway!

We took Karin and the kids to the Wye for a couple of hours, which was less crowded than we anticipated. We hung around the house the rest of the weekend.

In between our house guests, Jackson turned 14! I know it’s time for him to have a deeper voice, to grow taller than me, and so on, but it’s throwing me for a loop.

We crafted a scavenger hunt (per his request) to find his presents, and then two of his friends came over to make tie-dyed t-shirts and hang out for a while.

One of the things Jackson wanted to do for his birthday was rent a pontoon boat, so Corey and Alex got to enjoy the lake with us.

Time with my girlfriends has been the ONLY thing I’ve missed during the pandemic. Sure, it would be nice to go to the movies, but I’ve had everything I needed right here at home. My girls were the only missing pieces.

First Boat Day of the Season

Despite all of the temptation to buy a boat, we’ve decided to spend another summer season renting one. (It is significantly less expensive to rent a boat every few weekends throughout the summer than it is to own a boat year-round.) We live in a spectacular place – where lakes and rivers weave around mountains. The first boat day of 2020 was glorious, and we had the added bonus of having my parents join us during the last couple of hours.

Weather-wise, it was perfectly comfortable. We got on the water by 10 a.m., a smart move considering how busy it was by the end of the day. We fished a little, put our feet up, and enjoyed the breeze.

Jackson is not a fisherman, but he loves a good nap. The rocking of a boat and the sound of water lapping on the shore is the perfect white noise for our boat lounger.

Jackson attempted to swim, and it didn’t matter that we warned him the water would be cold. He jumped in to see for himself and promptly climbed right back out. Jeremy remembered how cold it was swimming in the Mediterranean Sea last May, so he didn’t even risk it.

We picked up my parents a little before 4 p.m., which gave us a couple of hours to ride them around and find a cove where Dad could fish. He’s been itching to fish, and frankly, we weren’t sure how he’d manage to cast a line and reel it in post-stroke. While there is still a cardiac sarcoma to tend to, the stroke is proving to be the daily struggle for him.

With a little help, he managed better than we expected. The secret was to help him keep the lines untangled and then stay out of his way!

The first boat day of the season was successful, and it was a welcome break from the monotony of staying home during our “Safer At Home” orders. Even though restrictions are lifting and the temptation to travel domestically is strong (Destin, we miss you), we’re staying home this summer and renting boats. Our plans to travel internationally were thwarted by COVID-19, so we’re staying home and seeing what transpires next year.

Also, this is our last week of school, praise God. As a rule, I aim to finish the school year by Mother’s Day as a gift to myself. The boys have tests to take, I have dozens of papers and tests to grade, and then I have to turn everything into the co-op and our umbrella school.

But then, as God as my witness, it’s going to be summer, and I’m going to take a long, hard break.

Which means by June I’ll be planning next year’s syllabus because I can’t help myself.

A Hike in the Woods

Almost daily I feel overwhelming gratitude for where we live. Not just America, not just East Tennessee. I love our little town, our corner of the county, our neighborhood, and our home. I recognize this is a huge blessing, as many people wish they lived elsewhere in the country, elsewhere in their city, elsewhere in their county.

We are doing what we’ve been told to help flatten the curve of COVID-19 transmission: We are keeping to ourselves unless it’s absolutely necessary to go out. Obviously, I’m still accompanying Dad to radiation (today begins Week 4 of 6). We have made quick trips to the store, and we’ve ordered take-out from our favorite Mexican restaurant. Otherwise, we’re laying low.

Yesterday we had a break in the rain, so we took the opportunity to surgically remove the boys from electronics and go for a hike. Jeremy drove us!

This was my first time riding with him other than a quick spin around the mall parking lot months ago. Chuck has been handling all the instruction, and I’m happy to report that I felt safe and secure in the back seat with my seatbelt on. It helped that the roads were mostly empty.

The trail we walked is a 13-mile drive from our house.

When Major was younger, we’d let him run off the leash and wear out his energy on trails like these. He’d never go too far ahead of us or stay too far behind, but with his nose to the ground, he’d enjoy the adventure. Now, at almost seven and a half, Major’s energy wanes more quickly. Yet, he’s still an explorer and always plays around in the water if he can get to it.

Thankfully, the boys didn’t resist the hike. They didn’t even complain. Perhaps they too realized the air in our house had become stale and a walk in the fresh air would do them some good.

It still looks like winter in places where we live, but spring is poking through. There were little tufts of green scattered throughout the forest. In a matter of weeks, green will replace all the brown and create a canopy of shade over the trails.

I thought this felled tree looked like a dragon’s head.

A quick song for the forest animals:

We went roughly three miles, and honestly, we could’ve stayed out longer. We have all kinds of time on the weekends since we can’t visit my dad and everything is closed (rightfully so).

Today we get back to homeschooling, working from home, and taking almost-daily trips to the UT Cancer Institute. I have no idea how long this quarantine will continue, but I have a sneaking suspicion that our spring semester will end like this – communicating online and participating in virtual classrooms. It’s not a huge adjustment for us since we’ve been homeschooling since 2012, but it’s not what we prefer.

If you’d told me 2020 was going to look like this, I never would’ve believed you. How is it only March?

Where in the world have I been

In my former life, blogging was an almost-every-other-day thing. I had so much to say, so much to post, so much to SHARE about our life. It was easier then, when my world was a little less public and there were fewer eyes reading the posts. I didn’t care to share (almost) everything. This site has been a scrapbook of sorts, and I remain immensely grateful for the ability to look back several years, even a decade if I want to, and catch a glimpse at where we were.

Today, however, it’s a little more complicated. I’m sensitive to the boys’ privacy, I’m careful with my own, and I want to be sure that, while I’m more selective about what I share, I am still showing you what is real and true.

That being said, here’s a quick glimpse into 2019 so far:

Jackson continues to enjoy equine therapy (aka, “Horse Hangout Hour’) and finally found the courage to trot! It was a huge hurdle for him to cross since trotting makes him feel off balance and the fear of falling off the horse entirely is real. A couple of weeks ago, after tons of encouragement, he finally did it. You can see a video here.

Yesterday, the weather was so delightful that the class rode their horses in the field next to the barn. It was a beautiful way to wrap up the winter session.

Jeremy has been enjoying success on the local chess tournament circuit. After playing chess for several years at our co-op, and finally getting a quality chess coach, he entered a few tournaments recently and has had a great time playing other students in the area. The most recent win was a team win, and since I don’t have permission to post other kiddos’ photos in this space, I’ve blurred their faces. ūüôā

We are nearing that time of year when we’re tired of school and aching for summer, a level of academic fatigue that comes full circle in April. Still, I’m enjoying my role as an English teacher at our co-op and am already preparing for next year’s courses. It is still a surprise to me that I like teaching, but I also recognize that I get to teach in a space with limited restraints (unlike the traditional school system). Perhaps that’s made all the difference. Plus, it’s only once a week.

On co-op days, I’ve made a habit of using my lunch break to visit Grandpa Thomas, who moved here in January. I still can’t believe he’s here, actually. (Hi, Grandpa!) I’ve never lived in the same city as any of my grandparents, and I’m still getting used to the fact that my parents are only 45 minutes away. If you’d told me this time last year that both Grandpa and my parents would be here with us, I wouldn’t have believed you.

Finally, East Tennessee received a beating on Saturday with a record-setting 17+ inches of rainfall. By Sunday morning, entire neighborhoods and streets were underwater. Our neighborhood, mercifully, was spared any damage, but that isn’t the case for thousands of other Tennesseans. In fact, on the way home from equine therapy last night, a couple of the roads we usually take were still underwater, along with adjacent homes.

Chuck and I took time to drive the missing link Sunday afternoon and stopped by the Townsend Wye to see what the water levels looked like. The usual Class I and II rapids were easily Class III and IV on account of all the water. The area in the photo below is typically a calm pool for swimming in the summertime. Not the case this week!

Finally, there’s an addition to this website, but it’s not my personal work. Jackson decided he wanted to start writing book and movie reviews for tweens and teens, and I made his year by telling him I’d post them on the blog. Overjoyed, he got right to work on The Reviewing Rabbit. I assume the quality of content will improve over time, but he’s already doing a good job! He’s created a backlog of posts, and three are already live.

That being said, if there’s an age-appropriate film or book you’d like Jackson to review, please email me and I’ll pass it along to him. ūüôā

We rented a boat and loved it

We’ve caught a bad bug.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m not even kidding.

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

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

Container Gardening + Plant Collecting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lastly, how sweet is this boy?

Summer break so far

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

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

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

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

The view was beautiful from above!

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

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

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

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

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

I’m darn proud.

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

A Midday Escape

Yesterday was a bad day of school. Those days happen. Sometimes it’s on account of bad moods, other times it’s that the level of exhaustion is so high that we just can’t get it together. Yesterday was a perfect mixture of poor attitude, fatigue, and being so done with the school year that the finish line is close but not close enough.

So today, after math and French, we ran off to the mountains. Everything else could wait.

The mountains were particularly tempting to visit because it’s FINALLY warm. Maybe our month of cold snaps has passed.

Days like this are valuable to me. It’s partly why I love homeschooling — the freedom to GO and DO is too hard to resist.

After our hike we visited the Townsend Wye so the boys could skip rocks and I could sit still for a while and listen to the rushing water.

I love this place, particularly when it’s not swarming with tourists. Come late-May, this river will be full of swimmers, tubers, and kayakers and we’ll have to run off to a lesser-known spot.

But today? It was all ours.

We shared our space with the butterflies.

We lingered for a while longer, until hunger set in and everything had been explored.

We have about four more weeks of school and today seemed like exactly what we needed to re-energize our efforts. It’s the same story every April, and running off to the mountains seems to do the trick.

We also visited my father in law today, both on our way in and out of the national park since his house is on the way. If you are praying for him, please continue to do so. We are grateful for the time we have left to spend with him.

First Snow of 2018

Parts of Tennessee got its first snow of the year last week, but we weren’t that lucky. Yesterday, however, we scored a few inches (yay!) and it’s cold enough today that the accumulation lingered.

Northerners will look at these piddly flakes and roll their eyes, but Southerners have a different experience with winter. Snow is rare and, therefore, magical. It has the power to shut down entire cities with one threat.

This morning it was still spitting, so I grabbed my camera and went for a short walk to visit our neighbors.

I love when they see me coming. My voice and figure are recognizable to them now, so once I’ve called their names, they come to the fence line to greet me and to see if I’ve brought them treats.

He smells apples!

We still do school work on snow days, which is the only way to stay on track. It isn’t without complaint and struggle, but we are always glad to reach the end of the school year and not have to extend our calendar. We can be done when it’s time to be done.

For now, the boys have finished their work (and gnashing of teeth), so they are outside sledding and expelling their energy. The temperatures will be in the 40s by Friday and the upper-50s by the weekend, so this first wash of snow will be short-lived.

By the look of the blog of late, it seems as though all I’ve done in 2018 is read. [That is partly true.] I am swimming in freelance work, so I’ve had to save my words for other things. Co-op classes are back in session, so that’s also taking a bit of my time. Fortunately, I’m keeping the promise I made to myself last year – saying yes to what I want to do and saying no to what I don’t. That is a freedom I dreamt about in my 20s and early 30s. As I approach 40, it’s old hat. It’s the norm. I love it.

Medal No. 18 and it’s finally fall in Tennessee

I ran a beautiful, dry half marathon Saturday afternoon and earned my 18th medal. My time was totally average, and my (new) phone survived because it did not rain.

Each year the Chickamauga Battlefield race medal represents an infantry from a different state, and I’m loving that this year the chosen state was Wisconsin.

The course was comfortable and well-paced. The uphills were slight and balanced by sloping downhills. The 360-degree views were a bonus.

You can’t tell from the photo above, which was taken with my phone, but the fall foliage finally showed up in the southeast. TOOK LONG ENOUGH. All of October went by and nothing happened. It was too warm, it was too dry.

But then November arrived and BOOM.

And then, Grandma showed up! I love surprise visits.

Anniversary week and fall break

Our anniversary fell on a Saturday this year, and while last year’s anniversary celebration was bigger and better, this year was just as sweet. There was no trip, no big event to signify No. 17, no big gifts or hurrahs. Just a lazy day at home and a lovely dinner in town, just the two of us. Contentment means life is good wherever you are.

Our anniversary kicked off fall break, so the week has been punctuated by long runs (me), hunting (Chuck and Jeremy), and lots of sleeping in and reading (Jackson).

Yesterday we went to Dollywood, the one thing we said we’d do over fall break. We had season passes in 2011, and I’m pretty sure we took the boys again in 2012 or 2013, but my memory fails me so I can’t be sure. Regardless, it’s been a minute since we’ve been to Dollywood.

Much like our experience last summer at Hershey Park, we rode a few coasters together, then the old people bowed out. Jeremy and Jackson love riding roller coasters together, which is a gift to these two parents. Have at it, boys. Have at it.

As the day wore down and the crowds increased, we ran into Jimmy and the kids (Lesli arrived later, but we missed her!). Since Jimmy was flying solo for a couple of hours, we stepped in as co-pilots for a few rides.

Be still my heart when Catherine, the sweet, shy introvert who takes her time with people, insisted I ride a kiddie coaster with her! Foolish to resist, I agreed enthusiastically and off we went to stand in line. She instructed me on how to hold her close on the ride – just like Mama does – and even held her arms in the air on the last go around. I’ve been around this little one since birth, since she eagle-eyed me in the hospital:¬†

Now she snaps pictures with me willingly, not shy, not reserved, and I couldn’t be happier:

The other thing I’ve done over fall break is clean out the boys’ closets and dressers. They are blessed with so many hand-me-downs that I haven’t bought clothes for them in years. After sorting through the many things I found underneath Jackson’s bed, I held my breath at this last little gem – a note from Jeremy to Jackson, many years old now:

It is a sweet reminder that while we may be in a rough season of picking and prodding, there is love there. Thank goodness, y’all, because 11 and 14 are tough ages. I’ll take every reminder I can get.

That time Jackson got a high five from Peyton Manning

It was a beautiful day for college football. Jackson and I were on campus to volunteer at the UKirk house (the Presbyterian Campus Ministry where I serve on the board of directors). We intended to skip over to Peyton Manning Pass, the road that leads directly to Neyland Stadium, to participate in the Vol Walk. We’ve done this several times before. Jackson loves to see the football players, and I love the Pride of the Southland Band. It’s win-win.

However, on Saturday, the Vol Walk seemed extra packed. Sure, it was the Tennessee-Georgia game day, and that’s a big rivalry. But, wow. It was crowded.

The crowd is hard to manage as a tall person, but it is painfully challenging for an 11-year-old. Fortunately, after locating an older woman who I hoped was a grandmother, and therefore understanding, I tapped her on the shoulder and asked if Jackson could stand next to her as the football team walked by. She smiled and said yes and took Jackson into her care. I stood several rows of people behind them. I didn’t need the front row experience, but I wanted it for my son.

Soon the band was playing Rocky Top, and we all looked up the street awaiting the team’s walk towards Neyland. There was yelling and whistling, and the crowd grew with excitement. The Volunteer mascot whooshed by, which meant the team was next.

But the team wasn’t next, at least not yet.

I saw Phillip Fulmer first and Peyton Manning second, and then my heart jumped into my throat because Jackson was about to get a high-five from the Greatest Of All Time.

I wish I could post a photo of the moment when the high-five occurred, but I was wedged behind a tall man who was working on getting his own high-five, so I only caught the second before and the moment after.

If you look directly above the iPhone, you’ll see Jackson’s little hand. Right above him is Peyton Manning. Jackson was next in line.

In a split second, it was over.

The football team was right behind him, so Jackson went on to high-five every player he could.

When the Vol Walk was over, Jackson and I scurried out of the crowd to fully assess WHAT JUST HAPPENED.

“Did Peyton Manning give you a high-five?”

“YES. OH, MY GOODNESS. I CAN’T BELIEVE IT.”

“I can’t believe it!”

“NO, I CAN’T BELIEVE IT EITHER.”

This went on several more times because we had no idea Peyton Manning was going to be there. Jackson had already met Phillip Fulmer,¬†and he had a wonderful random run-in with Josh Dobbs (where hugs were exchanged), but a high-five from Peyton Manning was never on the radar. I quickly set him down on a stone wall and said, “We have to capture this moment.”

On the way back to the UKirk house I received a text from a friend saying Brett Favre was also on campus that day. Since I didn’t know about it beforehand, we missed an opportunity to meet him and get an autograph. I can’t even tell you how bummed I was about that.

And yet, the feeling of disappointment didn’t linger because Jackson was flying high and the smile on his face was quite enough.

Friday in Nashville

Jeremy woke up with an unsettled stomach Friday morning, so despite the mound of food on his plate below, he didn’t eat much of it. Whatever stomach bug he had lasted throughout the day and into the weekend. Fortunately he kept his spirits up and we enjoyed Day Two in Nashville.

These boys love hotel breakfast!

First on the agenda was a quick stop at Vanderbilt to see the final stadium on Jackson’s list. He particularly loved the Barnes and Noble around the corner that had a large collection of Commodore goodies, where he bought himself a t-shirt.

Next was a quick look at the Parthenon:

Finally it was Jeremy’s turn to enjoy something specifically for him – The LEGO Store. It was the only time throughout the whole weekend when Jeremy wasn’t playful or talking. He got very quiet and serious while among the LEGO bricks. He had a strategy in mind and wanted to the make the most of his spending money. (Funny how that happens when it’s their own money!)

The last thing we had planned was a walk around The Hermitage, Andrew Jackson’s family home and resting place. Though Chuck had been to The Hermitage as a kid, the rest of us have never been.

Photography wasn’t allowed inside the house, which is a crying shame. I was so tempted to cheat, but I definitely would’ve been caught and the boys would’ve never let me forget it.

By far my favorite part was the garden:

Andrew and his wife, Rachel, are buried in the garden.

Directly next to theirs is the grave of Uncle Alfred, Jackson’s personal servant, who’d been enslaved by the Jackson family since birth. After Emancipation, Alfred returned to the family farm as a tenant farmer and even purchased some furniture from the Jackson home. He died at 99, and per his request, he was buried next to the Jacksons.

The final part of our Hermitage experience was to watch a reenactment of a duel and a retelling of the famous duel between Andrew Jackson and Charles Dickinson. The host did a fabulous job of explaining the gentlemanly art of a duel – that it’s not a brawl or fight or spur-of-the-moment scuffle in the street. Rather, it’s an organized confrontation designed to preserve honor and dignity.

Unfortunately a thunderstorm hit before shots were fired, so the duel (and its audience) promptly moved into the education center.

The rain continued throughout the afternoon, which made the drive home less enjoyable, but for the most part we had a great two days in Nashville and feel well-prepared to start the school year. This is our last week of summer, and though we don’t have anything planned, we intend to make the most of it.

Thursday in Nashville

We decided to take the boys on one last hurrah before school starts, so we went to Nashville for two days after my birthday.  Jackson has been asking to see stadiums, and Jeremy has had a hole burning in his wallet for the LEGO store at Opry Mills, so Nashville made a lot of sense.

We left Thursday morning and drove straight to Tennessee Tech. None of us have an affiliation to Tennessee Tech, but they have a stadium and that’s all that mattered.

Then we swung down to my alma mater, Middle Tennessee State University, where the gates to Floyd Stadium were wide open.

Jackson was so happy to touch the turf.

He used an old, unused iPhone to take his own pictures.

On we went to Nashville and checked into the hotel. Chuck secured a strange but spacious corner room that had one heck of a view.

After dropping off our bags we walked across the street to the Tennessee State Museum – a three-floor smattering of detailed exhibits completely free to the public.

18th Century medical advice:

Early journalism:

John Sevier:

William Blount:

Old Andrew Jackson:

Scary doll that comes alive at night and wanders the museum:

The only evidence that Chuck and I were on this trip:

The Battle of Chickamauga:

City money:

Stunning portrait of Ida B. Wells:

(More on Ida here.)

We stayed at the museum until it closed and then walked a few blocks to Puckett’s for dinner. If you’re ever in Nashville (or Franklin, or Chattanooga, or Murfreesboro, or Columbia), eat there. It’s delish!

From there, all we had to do was let the boys experience Broadway, which gave Jackson access to Bridgestone Arena and Nissan Stadium.

We capped off the night with swimming in the hotel pool, followed by checkers and chess on the patio.

After a few episodes of Shark Tank, we zonked out and went fast to sleep. I’d like to report that it was a perfect night’s sleep in comfortable hotel beds, but Jeremy got bit by a stomach bug and woke us up early with many trips to the restroom. While he was able to carry on with Friday activities, he didn’t feel 100% until sometime over the weekend.

Friday in Nashville.

Swimming at the Townsend Wye

Yesterday we took advantage of beautiful weather and went to the Townsend Wye, a popular swimming hole just inside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Jackson was at basketball camp, so Mom and I took Jeremy, Jacob, and Owen for a dip.

The mountain water was chilly, something locals understand but Chicagoans don’t.

There were serious reservations about swimming, particularly on Owen’s part. He spent much of the morning saying he wasn’t going to have fun at the river, that he didn’t want to go, but we reassured him that he WOULD have fun and that it would be worth it.

Once they got used to the temperature, they opened up to the possibility of cliff jumping. Jeremy went first.

Jacob watched others jump in – even dive in – so he stood on the edge until he was mentally ready.

Even Owen jumped! The kid who said he wasn’t going to have fun JUMPED OFF A BOULDER.

Then Jacob started diving.

They swam for an hour or so, until their bodies were sufficiently numb.

Here’s a side view of Jacob diving into the Little River.

Jeremy and Owen swam across the river to a little island to explore and skip rocks.

I am most proud of Owen! He was nervous and in a negative head space about swimming in a cold river, but I swear he had a good time once he went for it!

Despite the temperatures, the water was crystal clear and perfect for swimming.

On our way home we picked up Major from his boarding camp and brought home a very sleepy puppy.

Signs of Life Day Twenty-Two

In October 2000, a 14-year-old girl who’d concealed her pregnancy secretly gave birth and placed the newborn in a shed. The baby died from severe dehydration and the young mother was sentenced to state custody. It was then that two women in our county, along with state officials, decided to act, and in June 2001, Tennessee’s State Haven Law went into effect.

In late 2015, ¬†my associate pastor suggested I look into volunteering at¬†A Secret Safe Place for Newborns of Tennessee.¬†Not knowing what it was, I did a quick look online and found that it’s a local nonprofit organization that supports and assists facilities where mothers can surrender their newborn babies (up to three days old), no questions asked.

It also operates a 24-hour helpline to answer questions and educate young women across the state about this legal alternative to infant abandonment. 

Immediately I filled out the contact form on the site and inquired about volunteer opportunities. As an adoptive mom and woman who believes every life has potential, I viewed any effort I made in this arena as worthwhile.  

After meeting with the director and clarifying to her what I was capable of providing, I soon became the organization’s on-hand graphic designer. In the last year I’ve designed event fliers, invitations, and other marketing materials, as well as proofread¬†a few press releases when needed. The director sends me info and I crank it out. I’m never in the office or at any meetings, but instead I’m in my home, doing the things I always do, but contributing what I can to the cause.

To date, 89 infants have been safely surrendered in the state of Tennessee, and while that may not seem like a lot on the surface, those are 89 lives that were given a chance. Their birth mothers made a brave choice, a sacrifice unlike any other. I am proud to contribute even in this small way so women may know that the option of surrender is available if necessary.

If you’re looking for Signs of Life in this¬†troubling world, then I hope this post encourages you.

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.¬†

 

Signs of Life Days Seventeen through Twenty

When Friday morning rolled around and I’d finished a laundry list of things to do, including laundry, I hibernated in my bedroom for two hours awaiting my best friend and her family to arrive. I was going into a weekend with house guests and their four-month-old puppy. For an introvert and lover of all things neat and tidy, I needed a little bit of time to prepare mentally.

That may sound terrible, like I don’t enjoy having company, but that isn’t true at all. I love hospitality and I certainly love hosting people who are important to me, but I need to ready my brain for a house to be in disarray, for extra mess in the kitchen, for an increase in overall noise. Throw in a puppy and we’ve got a busy household. Because I love these people and their dog, it’s a no-brainer! It just means I need a minute.

Corey, Gwen, Alex, and four-month-old Wrigley showed up late Friday night. In my animal-loving fantasies, I anticipated Major and Wrigley running circles around each other, spending hours in the backyard, and wearing each other out, and out-snoring each other in marathon napping sessions.

Nope. That’s not at all what happened. Despite Wrigley’s attempts, Major wasn’t having it. It’s like he knew Wrigley was a Georgia dog, and in this Tennessee house, this¬†wasn’t okay. While Wrigley puttered around the house, Major secluded himself to my bedroom and whined.¬†This might be the closest they got to one another.

His loss! Wrigley Chubb is a sweetie pie.

We all went to the dog park and Greenway on Sunday afternoon so both dogs and both 13-year-olds could get out some energy. Jackson wore his Georgia Bulldogs hat in solidarity.

That’s Jeremy (on the bike) and Alex (on the skateboard) and Major following them inside the dog park. Poor¬†fella wanted to run alongside them.

Our families have strong ties to one another, so anytime we can plug in and make memories, it’s worth it. Though Major didn’t make the family photo (he was hiding in the bedroom), Salem was a big boy and suffered through¬†it. He kept his eye on Wrigley the whole time.

Before they headed back to Atlanta this morning, we had one more visitor to welcome. My family lived in Atlanta from 1990 to 1993, and while¬†Corey’s friendship is one I’ve kept since living there, my sister has hung on to a few friendships as well. Andre was like a big brother to me. In fact, all of my sister’s friends treated me like I was their little sister. I felt special, loved, included, all of it. This is where social media has been a blessing to people like my sister and me – it’s enabled us¬†to keep tabs on folks¬†from everywhere we’ve lived.

So when I read a Facebook update from Andre saying he was going to Gatlinburg for the weekend, I jumped on it. COME SEE ME! What’s it been – 18¬†years? More? I don’t even remember.

Of course, this means he knew Corey too, because she was always at our house and we all went to the same high school. They were seniors, we were freshman.

How does this happen exactly? To go decades without being in touch and then see someone again and it feels like no time has passed? Or even if you realize time has passed, it just doesn’t matter.

Sitting next to Andre on the couch in my grown-up living room, in a home I share with my husband and children, it was all I could to not act like a 14-year-old girl and talk about how special I felt riding around in his red Chevrolet Tracker. He was so sweet to me, and I never forgot it.

This is the stuff that makes life GOOD¬†and worthwhile. Deep and abiding relationships, making memories with people you love, loyalty that spans decades…

And puppies. We cannot forget the goodness of puppies.

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.¬†

Escape after the 2016 Election

I spent Tuesday binging on Netflix (“River” is an excellent show). After seeing Tweets and texts that told me Trump might win, I turned on the television a little before midnight. By 4 a.m., I forced myself to go to sleep.

That’s hard to do when you’re in shock.

The shock wasn’t because I wanted Hillary to win, but rather, I’d resigned to the fact that she would win. I’d been preparing for it because there was no way Trump, or the candidate I wrote in, would win.¬†Like so many others, I believed the media.

This is how we started homeschooling on Wednesday morning – watching the news and answering questions.

homeschooling-after-the-election

By Wednesday afternoon I’d already cried, gotten angry, gotten sad, and read dozens of articles. I processed.

By Thursday I’d centered my brain enough to meet a friend for coffee to talk about this stuff and teach my class at the homeschool co-op.

By Friday I was back to feeling like we were in an alternate reality, as well as being irritated by the violent protests that were being covered ad nauseam on the news. I texted Chuck, who was out of town, that I wanted to unplug on Saturday. Forget football (gasp!) and escape.

So we did.

We drove to the North Carolina/Tennessee state line near Erwin, TN, where the Appalachian Trails crosses Unaka Mountain. Chuck’s been here before and had been wanting to take us there. Though we’d missed the peak colors, and much of East Tennessee is under a cloud of smoke from wildfires, the scenery was just what my soul needed.

beauty-spot

shadows-on-the-at

Not a cloud in the sky means lots of sun in the eyes:

sunny-face

three-favorite-men

home-base

throwing-rocks

The non-fishermen:

me-and-jackrabbit

traipse

Chuck in his happy place:

chuck-in-his-happy-place

autumn-burst autumn-yellow fungi evergreen

heads-up

Protecting us from wild animals who want to eat us:

jack-the-protector

collection-of-trees

Creepers gonna creep…

creepers-gonna-creep

This smile tells me we made the right call.

pure-happy

When people ask, “What am I supposed to tell my kids?” you tell them that they are loved, that family is first, and that life will go on. Sometimes that’s all you can say and it’s enough.

Like new little baby teeth

You know how exciting it is when those first few teeth pop through your precious baby’s tender gums? You knew it was coming, you saw all the signs. Then suddenly one morning, there’s a tiny white speck. Eureka!

That’s how excited I feel when my newly planted vegetables take root and grow twice their size in under a week.

It brings me such happiness to go in the backyard and see new life growing.

Okra – never grown okra before, but it’s darling:

okra

Sweet Georgia Onions. Can’t wait to saut√© them:

onions

Surprise sprout of potatoes, left over from last year. I decided to leave it:

potatoes

Japanese eggplant, my favorite:

Japanese eggplant

Pickling cucumbers:

cucumbers

Sweet basil for a summer of pesto:

basil

Never-grown-before artichoke. No idea what this will look like:

artichoke

The pets are loving the warm sun as much as I am and always join me outside. Look at our gorgeous boy! Major is three years old and far more chilled out than he was a year ago. Thank goodness.

Major May 2016

Salem – God bless – looks completely stoned. But hey – he’s alive.

Salem May 2016

Napping in the sun

Jeremy and I took a moment to mourn this beautiful white moth. RIP pretty thing.

RIP white moth

Though there’s a cold snap this week with temperatures in the 50s and 60s, summer is indeed on its way. Three more days of school and then I’m off the hook for a while. Amen, and amen.

Backstage at the Orange and White Game

A few weeks ago, an opportunity was presented to us for Jackson to meet the University of Tennessee, Knoxville statisticians – the guys who keep track of every yard, every punt, every point for the home football games – a career possibility that Chuck and I have encouraged for Jackson. He’s an excellent math student and has an unquenchable passion for sports. When Jackson realized that a real person¬†was responsible for those recording numbers, all those tiny details that he loves to read and memorize, he latched on to the idea of becoming a statistician.

So, did he want to meet the UT Vols statistician? ABSOLUTELY YES.

Better still, would you like to meet him at the Orange and White Game and sit in the press box and learn all about being a statistician?

There were no words, just one huge smile and eyes that welled with tears. A definite YES. 

Fan Day 2016

Charles¬†Child has been keeping the Vols’ stats for three decades, and in recent years he’s been joined by his son, Brian, and son-in-law, David. We met them a couple of hours before kick-off to get a tour of the press box and the field.

Going on the field

Two brace faces on the field

SEC Pylon

Press box at Neyland

We watched the players practice and saw¬†what the stands look like from the ground level. The stadium wasn’t full like it normally is on game day, but it was still impressive.

Time to practice

College footballs

Peyton Manning hall

We met Tim Priest, the familiar voice of the Vol Radio Network and former Tennessee player coached by Doug Dickey.

Tim Priest

We ate lunch and enjoyed ice cream and took our seats in the press box as Charles, Brian, and David readied themselves for the game. They were generous to give the boys plenty of media guides and record sheets Рpiles of information for Jackson to study.

Jack in the press box

Jeremy and I aren’t stats people, but we¬†enjoyed the special treatment nonetheless.

Jeremy in the press box

Members of the U.S. Navy Parachute Team, the Leap Frogs, kicked off the game by landing on the field. It was beautiful! (Here’s a video.)

Navy Seals

Steve Spurrier received the Neyland Award, a short ceremony that received both cheers and jeers. (More cheers, though.)

Steve Spurrier

Then my favorite – Smokey – took the field and the game was officially on the clock.

Smokey and the gang

They team was split into orange and white, but there were a handful of players in gray. Why? Because gray meant “Do Not Touch.”

Gray is no touch

Of course, it wasn’t a regular game but rather a scrimmage. A “let’s show them how we’re doing” sort of game. The view from the press box was great.

Orange and White

Orange and White at Neyland

Smokey in the checkerboard

It wasn’t just about the perks. We learned all about how serious the statistician’s work is, how folks from ESPN hover over them on game days to get all the numbers to all the stations. Though the stats wind up computerized, they keep official records the old-fashioned way – pencil and paper.

Stats sheet

While the game is going, all excitement and frustration is tabled. They are record-keeping, not rooting. Aside from high-level math, this is the hurdle Jackson will have to jump. He kept mostly quiet during the scrimmage, but that wouldn’t be the case in a real game. This is the kid who asked to leave the Tennessee-Arkansas game early last year because he was getting too emotional and knew he was going to blow.

Statisticians

On the way home on Saturday, Jackson said that the whole experience had been a dream come true. He didn’t stop smiling the entire day, and while most of us wouldn’t care about¬†the mounds of stats and records, Jackson has been reading them at length and regurgitating random facts like revelations.

So many times I’ve looked at the face of this sweet child and wondered, “Where will you end up? Where will you go? What will you do?” Perhaps those questions got answered on Saturday.