Santa Fe with Michele

Earlier this year, Chuck started asking me what I wanted to do to celebrate turning 40 years old. Figuring that I wanted a party of some sort, he came back to that idea a few times – venues and guests lists. Nope, I reassured him. That’s not what I wanted. What I really wanted to was to go back to Amarillo and visit Michele

We met in 2009 when I responded to an ad for a features writer for the city’s magazine. We’d been freshly transplanted from North Georgia to the Texas panhandle, which meant I had given up my column of eight years in the Chattanooga Times Free Press. It was a natural thing to look for a job since homeschooling wasn’t on the horizon and the boys were approaching school age. When I interviewed with Michele, I felt an instant connection – not just that I wanted to work for her but that I wanted to be friends with her.

I was hired by March, and I knew right away that working at the Globe-News, specifically Amarillo Magazine, was going to help me adjust to the high plains, an area of the country unlike anywhere I’ve lived before. Michele became my boss and, soon after, my friend. She helped me find my way around Amarillo, helped me find a doctor, helped me navigate the school system, helped me feel not so lonely. 

Our mutual friend April picked me up from the airport! What a nice surprise!

Michele and I worked in sync and had a blast while doing so, but with much at stake for our family, I knew I couldn’t stay. We needed – and wanted – to move back home to Tennessee. So, three years after meeting Michele and enjoying every bit of my job as the features writer for Amarillo Magazine, I said goodbye.


The week before 40

I texted her in May or June (I can’t remember now) about visiting her during the summer. We wouldn’t stay in Amarillo, but I would fly there and we’d drive to Santa Fe, the best little retreat three and half hours from the panhandle. We used to run away to Santa Fe when we lived in Amarillo. In fact, my favorite camping trip ever was just north of the city at Hyde Memorial State Park.  We also spent the first Christmas without my mother-in-law in Santa Fe, an attempt at grieving and figuring out what happens to a family after the matriarch passes away. 

We settled on dates and I immediately starting looking forward to the trip. We moved away in 2011 but I went back there in 2014 – also for my birthday. That’s the last time Michele and I saw each other in person.

While I was eager for many things, the most important first thing I had to do upon arriving in Amarillo was meet Wilson F., Michele’s dog. 

The first night in Amarillo was relaxing, which set the tone for the next four days. We never moved too fast but that was intentionally.  We didn’t want to spill our wine.

Crush // Amarillo

Santa Fe

I didn’t take my camera on the trip so as to not distract myself from present company, but I snapped plenty of photos with my cell phone, which does a fine job of capturing things I don’t want to forget – like this place:

Las Palomas // Santa Fe

Our lodging for two nights was a delightful boutique hideaway near the main square, but that’s actually what every worthwhile thing is in Santa Fe – hideaways. Little restaurants and hotels are tucked away behind unsuspecting doors and corners. You have to take a chance on everything because facades are deceiving.

Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi

We had no agenda, other than to patronize the short list of shops I wanted to revisit – The Collected Works Bookstore & Coffeehouse, Double Take (the best consignment store I’ve ever known), and wherever the wine was good.

We returned to Amarillo Tuesday afternoon so I could catch the Wednesday morning flight home, assuring I could spend my actual birthday with Chuck and the boys. 

We grabbed dinner at 575 Pizzeria, a favorite of mine when I lived there. As a bonus, Andy Chase Cundiff was on the calendar to perform – another favorite – whose artwork currently hangs in my home office. He is one of the sweetest men I’ve ever known. (As a third bonus, the first song he sang was “Crazy Love” by Van Morrison, which is the song Chuck and I danced to at our wedding reception nearly 18 years ago. I wept.)

My dinner dates!

Thank you, Michele and Jerry, for being perfect hosts, and thank you, Amarillo, for welcoming this outsider. Thank you, Santa Fe, for being beautiful and inspiring, and thank you, boys (all five of you), for letting me get away for a few days.

And thank you, Wilson F., for sitting so perfectly for this photo:

Amarillo Bound

I gotta say – I never thought I’d go back to the Texas Panhandle, much less to celebrate my birthday. When we packed up our things in March 2011 and headed east, I was sure that I’d never return. Living in Amarillo was one of the strangest detours of my life, one that created a lot of heartache, but also one that landed me a fantastic job where I met some wonderful people. Still, when I said goodbye to Amarillo, I didn’t look back. Not even once.

It was foolish to presume that I’d never return, particularly since one of my dearest friends lives there. Michele started out as my boss, but it didn’t take long for her to become my closest confidant. We worked well together at Amarillo Magazine, so well that I sobbed some hard tears after turning in my notice. Despite how badly I wanted to move back to Tennessee and be closer to my family and other friends, I didn’t want to leave Michele or my job. (Seriously, who can say that about a job?)

Growing up an Army brat, I learned early on how to keep in touch with people. I knew distance wouldn’t affect our friendship. She came to visit me in October 2012 and now it’s my turn to do the visiting. I’ve been giddy about it for weeks.

Michele and Me, 2010

 

Michele and Jennie, Maryville 2012Despite my excitement, I’m getting tons of flack from my boys about leaving.

You won’t be here for your birthday? What are we gonna do with Dad? Can I come? When will you be home? How many days will you be gone? 

And so on.

For the record, I’m not the least worried about the boys. Chuck is a great dad. They’ll eat junk food and walk around freely in their underwear.

(I am a little worried about the pets, though. And the garden. No one loves them like I do.)

I leave tomorrow morning. ♥

 

Everything forward.

Giving proper credit, this mantra came from an article in Runner’s World called “Run and Retweet.” Runners were asked to give their best advice in 140 characters or less and I loved just about every one of them. Run the mile you are in. Never make decisions while going up a hill. Don’t say anything to yourself that you wouldn’t say to a friend. And more like those.

One Tweet, which I originally applied to running, has become my personal mantra for November. Everything forward

Saying “everything forward” on a ten mile run makes total sense, but it also applies when you’re nearing 15,000 words of a 50,000-word novel. Just keep writing. Keep going. However you can. Everything forward. 

This photo was taken in October 2009 when I wrote a story for Amarillo Magazine about hot air ballooning. It was my first and only experience in a hot air balloon and it was so beautiful that I haven’t forgotten a single detail. The thing about navigating a hot air balloon is that you can’t. There is no steering wheel, no brake, and certainly no air bags. You turn on the flame and go up. The wind does the rest.

I’m not sure what direction I’m going with this novel as far as the whole project is concerned, but my plot is moving forward and my word count, as of last night, is 13,729. Everything is moving forward, and as long as I’ve got a fire in my soul to fuel it, I’ll keep going that direction.

Michele in the Smoky Mountains

The most bizarre thing occurred on Friday morning as Michele flew from the Texas Panhandle to East Tennessee. A dust storm from Oklahoma blew eastward smothering Tennessee and surrounding states with a thin layer of grit and dirt. I could hear the wind beating our house when I woke up that morning, and as soon as we pulled out of the garage to pick her up from the airport, we noticed that the usually very blue sky was a murky brown. Son of a gun, I thought. Michele’s bringing panhandle weather with her.

It was a bummer, too, because all of my blabbing about the beauty of East Tennessee is wasted breath if Michele couldn’t see past the first layer of the Foothills. What irony! Fortunately, it all blew away overnight and the rest of the weekend was picture perfect.

We spent a lot of time outside enjoying the breeze, the trees and the rainbow of vibrant colors. As if on cue, Michele arrived in East Tennessee when fall foliage hit its peak.

She and the boys enjoyed a chat in the grass at the park when I went to grab my camera:

I drove her along the Foothills Parkway, which offers some of the most pristine views of the Smoky Mountains:And then we stopped at our favorite watering hole where the boys often swim in the summer:

It was perfect:

Michele and I ate dinner at Cafe 4 on Saturday, and then Chuck and the boys joined us at Tupelo Honey Cafe on Sunday, which just opened in Knoxville a few days ago. I so enjoyed showing Michele all sides of East Tennessee. It’s a wonderful mixture of rural and urban, rich with history while always looking forward to what might be next.

I lived in her hometown for two years, so I was most happy to show her my town, if only for a few days.

Michele arrives today!

I’m super duper excited about my former boss and best buddy from Amarillo coming for a visit this weekend. Having never been to East Tennessee or anywhere like it, I’m thrilled to show her every single one of my favorite spots in town and in the Smoky Mountains. She was born and raised in the open high plains of the Texas Panhandle, so I anticipate a little suffocation from all the trees and car sickness from the winding roads. It’ll be a blast!

Here is an example of us when we worked:

This is how we worked when no one was looking:

(Actually, that whole scenario can be seen on my previous blog. Hilarious!)

We really had a great time together. We worked hard and all, but man we laughed a lot. It was hard to say goodbye to Michele when we moved back to Tennessee. I still miss those mornings when we’d drag ourselves to the office and wake up over coffee and conversation.But she’s on her way now and I suspect we won’t get too much sleep because we’ve got a year and a half of living apart to catch up on. Plus there’s wine to drink.

Happy Weekend to you! Go Vols!

A little spot in the February Issue

(see Amarillo Magazine article here)

Then I Knew They Were Mine

I remember that Sunday quite perfectly.

It was Mother’s Day, 2003, and my husband and I were in our second year of reeling from infertility. We longed to adopt a child. We were surrounded by friends who were getting pregnant with ease, and on this particular Sunday we were surrounded by a congregation of mothers at church.

“We want to recognize all of the mothers in this room,” rang the pastor. “So if you’ve had the privilege and joy of being a mother, please stand up!”

The room erupted in applause, but I sat bitterly in the pew with my hands clenched. I couldn’t raise my eyes for nary a second. I choked back tears and steamed with jealous anger.

To be told you cannot conceive a child is something out of this world. The words come out of the doctor’s mouth and float around the room before stabbing you right in the heart. What once represented hope and anticipation was suddenly a ripping of what should have been natural and easy. You grow up, you get married, you get pregnant and make a family. It felt as if we’d been robbed.

What I didn’t know, as I pouted in the church pew, was that there was a plan already in motion. Unbeknownst to us, our son was already growing in his birth mother’s belly, and in early August, we were introduced to her by a mutual friend. By September, she gave birth and placed in our hands a most treasured gift. Finally, I was a mother.

All of the bitterness I held on to for two years was instantly replaced by an immeasurable well of love. I had not carried him tenderly inside me for nine months, but from the moment I laid eyes on Jeremy’s tiny body, I knew he was mine.

By his fourth month, I had to defend my position as Jeremy’s mother. He was scheduled for a minor day surgery, and on the early morning of his procedure, we sat in the hospital room filling out all of the standard paperwork. When I arrived at the spot to fill in his social security number, I called for the nurse. We were two months from the adoption being final, so Jeremy didn’t have a number yet. The nurse went across the hall to the physician and my face went flush as I eavesdropped.

“We can’t do this surgery,” said the doctor, “unless we have permission from his real mother.”

Instinctively I stormed into the hallway and before I could censor myself, the words flew out of my mouth for the whole floor to hear: “I am his real mother.”

They stood there in shock before gently explaining their legal dilemma. The solution was an early morning phone call to our lawyer who provided custody documents on our behalf. Though Jeremy’s surgery went about as planned, I fumed for a solid week on the doctor’s tactless slip of the tongue.

Nearly three years later, we were delighted again to receive a second son. This time, instead of having the luxury of four weeks to prepare for a baby, we had 24 hours. We woke on a Saturday morning an oblivious family of three, but by Sunday night we had grown to a family of four. Even in the rush of his birth, being chosen as his parents and meeting him for the first time, from the moment I saw six-hour-old Jackson through the hospital nursery window, I knew he was mine.

Fast forward seven and four years respectively. Our house is busy, noisy, and, depending on the day, it is a galaxy far, far away, a battlefield for Army men or a super-speeding race track. It is a place where laughter fixes nearly every problem and table manners may never be achieved. It is place of properly set boundaries, where hugs are given free and clear, and one bite of your vegetables is good enough for now.

It is also where we talk openly about their adoptions, using words like sacrifice, gift, and, above all else, love. It is because of love that you are here.

With Jeremy, we’ve reached a pivotal place of starting to answer hard questions, and we agreed a long time ago that we’d always answer them as honestly as possible and with age-appropriate information. Our conversations are sweet and mostly benign, which confirms that the hardest challenges are yet to come. It is never far from my mind to affirm both boys of their place in our family.

In the quieter moments of this bestowed motherhood, I imagine my boys at an age of rebellion, when they are looking for answers that I cannot give, and it’s then that I imagine the worst. It’s a fear every adoptive parent harbors. There could come a day, when in anger, they might yell at me, “You aren’t my real mother.”

Now, I can’t say for sure what the context of this argument may be, and I can’t say for sure how I will respond as a whole, but if my instincts are correct and my love is still strong, then I’m certain I’ll begin with, “Oh yes I am.”