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?

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.

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.

Our New Neighbors

When we bought our house in 2012, the plot of land across the street from our neighborhood was empty. It’s been empty for the last four years. Several months ago we saw a For Sale sign pop up on the land and immediately started speculating who might buy it and what might they do with the 6+ acres.

Two days ago we got our answer.

New neighbors

You guys. YOU GUYS. If you don’t know how significant this is for me, then you need to read these blog posts: First and Second.

I’m trying not to be the person who reads everything as a sign. I’m really trying.

But seriously.

SERIOUSLY.

Today we met the people who will eventually be building a house on the property, but in the meantime they’re letting their three beauties get used the plot and graze on the freshly razed land.  We swapped phone numbers and I told the owner that I’d be happy to keep an eye on the horses while they are away. I don’t know beans about the care and keeping of horses, but I’m happy to learn.

So yeah. We have the most beautiful new neighbors, and I can’t hardly believe it.

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 sauté 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.

East Tennessee Autumn

Despite the drizzle, we spent yesterday afternoon in the mountains. Chuck did a bit of fly fishing and the boys threw rocks in the Little River. We hiked a little. Mostly, we enjoyed the scenery. It won’t be like this for much longer.

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Autumnal Sunday Afternoon

We’ve gone to this corn maze every year since moving back to East Tennessee. I’m sure there are other good ones in the area, but we are creatures of habit.

It pains me to acknowledge that October is nearly over. It just flew by and I’m fighting a little sadness about it. To cope, I’m focusing on what’s coming down the road, namely the holidays, seeing my family, and NaNoWriMo.

Neighborhood foliage

Pumpkins

Wings

Problem solving in the maze

Bringing up the back

Cheater, cheater, pumpkin eater. Jeremy strayed off the path.

Cheater cheater pumpkin eater

bumble bee

fall colors 2015

Field trip to the fair and museum of art

One of our neighbors had free tickets to the fair but could not use them, so we were the lucky recipients. Our schedule didn’t allow us to go when the rides were in service, but we still got to see the farm animals, a comedian, and a quick acrobatics show. We also ate a bit of fair food, which clogged our arteries on impact.

Fair food

Up up and away

At first I was eager to see the animals in the 4H division of the fair, but then I couldn’t handle it. Animals in cages make me anxious and sad, and even if I know they’re well cared for, I still don’t like it.

I really wanted to take this precious baby home with me.

Duck in a cage

Rooster in a cage

This fella was friendly, so we gave him some love.

Wooly sheep

Having never been to the fair grounds before, it was all new to the boys and perfect for exploring. We remarked at how good these ducks and geese must have it – cage-free living with all those funnel cake scraps.

Visiting geese

Once we’d walked the fair grounds we still had a bit of time before we had somewhere to be, so we stopped at the Knoxville Museum of Art for a quick go-around.

Third floor of the Knox Museum

Glacier

At first I thought this glacier piece was made of glass tile, but nope. Sequins!

Sequins

The consensus is that the upside down Mona Lisa is our favorite work. First, it’s made of individual spools of thread. Can you see them now that I’ve told you? They’re hanging on wires.

Mona upside down

Second, there’s a glass ball positioned in front of the thread that re-positions Mona right side up. By shrinking the work, the spools work together to make the image of Mona Lisa much clearer. The whole contraption is genius.

Mona right side up

Observation at the Knox Museum

Field trip to Knox Museum

Even though we lost a morning of book work, we gained time together seeing things and places we normally wouldn’t have. I’ve said it before, so I’ll say it again: the best thing about homeschooling is the freedom.

Worlds Fair Park

The Day Josh Dobbs hugged Jackson

The forecast for the Tennessee Vols Orange and White Game was not good. On Friday evening, my Weather Channel app showed 100 percent change of rain and thunderstorms. Chuck announced that he would not endure a thunderstorm, and Saturday morning, Jeremy announced the same thing. Jackson and I looked at each other during breakfast and decided we would risk it. With jackets and ponchos in hand, we set off for Neyland Stadium for Fan Day with our fingers crossed.

That finger crossing thing must have worked because not a single drop of rain fell from the sky. In fact, by the end of our seven hours in Knoxville, both Jackson and I were hot and sunburned. Furthermore, upon arriving on campus we saw a very small crowd of maybe thirty people standing around Quarterback Joshua Dobbs. Jackson and I lost our minds, found a parking spot, and ran straight to him.

It took about twenty minutes to have any sort of contact with him, but that’s primarily because I insisted Jackson and I not push our way through people. “We aren’t going to be rude,” I kept telling my son. “We will wait our turn.” Not everyone functioned that way, which was embarrassing, particularly for the adults who shoved kids aside (one child was in a wheelchair, for goodness sakes) for an autograph and selfie.

Knowing that Josh Dobbs wouldn’t stand there indefinitely, I leaned down to Jackson and whispered, “You just need to be bold and catch his attention with your voice. He can’t stand here much longer.”

Then, from the bottom of a crowd of people calling for autographs and photos, Jackson yells, “EXCUSE ME, MR. DOBBS, CAN I HAVE A HUG?”

The quarterback turned our way and said, “Sure, no problem.”

Hugging Josh Dobbs

Be still my heart, y’all. Jackson gave him a tight squeeze, said thank you, and then nearly exploded from excitement. If our Fan Day experience had ended right then, it still would’ve been worth it.


As expected, there was a lots of standing in line, which is hard for everyone but especially hard for kids. It’s especially hard for a kid whose mother was ill-prepared for three hours of standing and brought no snacks or drinks. Thankfully, a nice man behind us forfeited his program, so that gave Jackson reading material for a while.

Reading the program

By the time we got inside the stadium for Fan Day, Jackson and I were rejuvenated. There is something very cool about walking onto the checkerboard end zones and touching the grass where college football is played.

Jackson in Neyland

There was more standing to do inside the stadium, but this time it didn’t end with a photo or autograph. The line to meet Coach Jones was painfully long, and even though we were closer to the front (as opposed to closer to the back), we still didn’t get to meet him.

Waiting for Coach Jones

Just as tears welled in Jackson’s eyes, I spotted a group of cheerleaders. That put a huge smile on his face. (We all know how much Jackson likes cheerleaders.)

Jackson with Smokey and the Cheerleaders

It had been six hours since breakfast, so after this photo was taken we ran for the concession stand. With a wide view of the field and only an hour until the Orange and White Game was starting, we scarfed down junk food as if we’d not eaten in days.

Neyland Stadium

We also enjoyed watching Peyton Manning roam the field while the players warmed up. (Y’all know the stadium lost its mind when Peyton walked out. He’s Tennessee Royalty.)

Peyton comes to visit

We only stayed for the first quarter of the game because exhaustion had set in fully and the eight year old was fading. He said it had been one of the best days of his life, that he was glad to spend it with me, and that meeting Josh Dobbs was his favorite part. Jackson’s eyes glistened as he said these things, telling me that the sunburns and achy feet and hours of standing in line was worth it.

I always think it’s worth it when we get to see Smokey. 

Running the checkerboard

Hey Spring Break

My sinuses hate everything about right now, but the scenery is gorgeous.

bud pinky purpley white and pink

The boys are working double time on their school work today to ensure their spring break starts tomorrow instead of Monday. We have big plans for the coming week, specifically that Jeremy is going to Disney World. Just Jeremy, you ask? Yes, because Chuck and I are totally uncool and will not take our kids to Disney, so my sister is. They will swing down from Chicago, pick up our 11-year-old, and take him to the happiest place on earth. Two years from now, when Jackson is 11, they’ll do the same with him.

Chuck and I get off scot-free. We don’t have to wade through pools of loud children or stand in line for hours or hear It’s a Small World over and over and over again. We’re totally dancing a jig.

It sounds bad, but the honest part is that we’re a different sort of traveler. We’d rather camp or wander around a new city without a timetable. We prefer places where we’re not outnumbered by stranger kids and food isn’t outrageously over-priced. There is charm and magic at Disney World, but it’s not the kind of charm and magic we’re interested in. We’re very grateful to have family members who will do this great task for us and give our children a wonderful experience.

Meanwhile, we have our own plans to make Jackson’s spring break memorable. He’s pretty excited about being an only child for a week. His first request?

“Can I stay up ’til 10?”

You sure can, buddy. 

Ice, then snow, then cabin fever

What a week. Lost power, restored power, ice, ice, more ice. No internet, a quickie blizzard, serious cabin fever.

It’s been mostly fun for the boys since they could gather with the neighborhood kids and enjoy all the hills and slippery surfaces. The neighborhood kids were out of school all week but I was the mean mom who made her kids do school four out of the five days. It wasn’t without major pouting and arguing, which resulted in a day’s worth of grounding and restriction and more sulking. Homeschooled kids can do school in their PJs and sleep in and take a lot of breaks, but they don’t get snow days. This is not new information, so when I reminded them that they would at least do math and vocabulary, they lost their minds.

Did I mention cabin fever?

The ground is still frozen at single-digit degrees and there are solid sheets of ice where the afternoon sun doesn’t reach. We are eternally grateful that our power loss was short-lived and we didn’t lose the two weeks worth of groceries that I’d just purchased. We are also grateful for the gas fireplace that kept us warm in the dark.

Since our internet has been restored, we’ve felt a wave of rejuvenation and feel like no winter weather can keep us down. God bless the creator of WiFi.

Frozen grass

Ice storm 2015

Up the hill

Sledding

Jack on the sled

Tractor pull

Tractor pull2

Skating in the driveway

Quick blizzard

Major in the snow

Our garden grows

The garden has exploded, which feels my heart with pride and joy. I made a huge mistake by planting the strawberries too close together, so I’ll be snipping the vines as we go along in the season. Live and learn.

They are pretty little things, though.

first strawberries

We’re also having success with the buttercrunch lettuce. Gorgeous and great for wraps!

Lettuce

The sweet onions and tomatoes are doing well, just like last year. The only thing I’m not sure about is the eggplant. We’re having a bug problem there. Otherwise, this year’s garden is quite lovely.

Sweet onions

Tomatoes

Happy Weekend, friends! If you haven’t yet watched Jackson’s second movie, Iron Cat and Thicken, please do so! He’d love to hear your feedback. ♥

Sunshine Love

This weekend was perfect. The weather was sublime, I planted the garden, the boys went to the Orange and White game, and we lounged outside on the patio like we’ve been longing to do since October. It was absolute perfection.

Today is a different story weather-wise, but let’s focus on the good.

In the garden are sweet Georgia onions, rosemary, thyme, three types of tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, eggplants, buttercrunch lettuce, and strawberries. The strawberries and lettuce are experiments. We’ll see what happens.

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Continue reading “Sunshine Love”

Hey Spring!

So glad you showed up.

Dogwoods

Pink

Violets

The garden is nearly prepped, so more goodness will be growing soon. Spring is happiness.

 

A hint of spring

first flower

I know this is a weed, but it’s also a hint of things to come.  A week ago we were sledding  in a foot of snow. Today, I’m on the verge of turning on the air conditioner. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say we were living in Amarillo again. (Remember the one-day blizzards? Ca-razy.)

Riding the high of a snow day

Finally, we’ve had a good snow. You’d think snow was a regular winter thing at the foot of the Great Smoky Mountains, but no. It’s rare, and when it happens, it’s like a sprinkling of powdered sugar.

Yesterday, we got a big ‘ole heap of it. Since we homeschool and our usual Tuesday activities were cancelled, we didn’t have to leave the house. The same goes for today. I’m almost out of milk, but we have electricity, which means we have the Internet and a working coffee maker. The necessary provisions are stocked.

It’s not lost on me how fortunate we are. So many families were separated last night because roads and highways were clogged with wrecks or simply impassable. The stories out of Atlanta and Chattanooga are tragic. Kids were stranded at school, people had to sleep in their cars. Many abandoned their cars and walked home. Commutes that usually took 15 minutes were stretched to eight hours or longer. No, it’s not lost on me how fortunate we are.

We finished school as fast as we could yesterday and went outside to play. It was beauty-full.

LightpostMagnoliaWe don’t have a sled, but it didn’t matter. Heavy duty garbage bags work just fine.Snow dayDown the hillWipe outJack goes down the hillJeremy goes down the hillHappinessEven the beast liked the snow. Blue tickCute? Yes. Major loves the snowBut so naughty! (He steals gloves.) Cute but naughty

City people in the mountains

On my sister’s last day in Tennessee, we took the Chicagoans to Gatlinburg, taking the scenic route through the national park. I don’t love Gatlinburg, but I love the drive to get there.

Pokemon cards on the wayJacob loves Tennessee

City boy at the river

Sis and bro-in-law

Come here

Sycamore

Roots and moss

The road to Gatlinburg

Plotting on a walk

This is our neighborhood. Well, sort of. It’s the space behind our actual neighborhood where I like to walk Major. Recently, it’s been in this space that I’ve created much of novel’s plot. It’s nearly four miles to the end and back, and the time it takes  to circle around depends on whether I’m walking or running, or if Major gets sidetracked by squirrels and curious cows.

East Tennessee is most beautiful right now, so I thought you should see it.    camera_20131107163836374_20131107171647368NaNoWriMo Word Count to date: 20,350 (out of 50,000)