Thanksgiving 2019

We were happy to host family for Thanksgiving dinner, and it ended up being the first year we mixed both sides of the family. Unfortunately, Hayli couldn’t make it, but we had Tom Jr. here alongside my parents, Grandpa Thomas, and Mamaw. I was happy to cook, happy to serve, and happy to have people in our home. Of course, I was wiped out after the fact, but that’s what comes with the territory.

Mamaw was a surprise late addition to our Thanksgiving dinner, but I’ll always take what I can get when it comes to spending time with her! This photo was the only group photo I took.

The only other photo I captured from Thanksgiving was this one of my and Mamaw’s wedding rings. I never realized how similar our rings are, and in truth, this isn’t Mamaw’s original wedding band. She said they traded in her original bands for this one years ago.

My ring is on the left, hers is on the right.

We had two extra visitors for the holiday, though they didn’t join us for dinner. We were pleased to open the Hamster Hotel for our sweet friends who were traveling for a week. Thankfully, Major and Salem are uninterested in the hamsters!

Bruno is on the left and Starr is on the right.

Being nocturnal, they’d sleep all day in their cozy houses and roll around in their balls at night.

Starr is on the run!

They left this morning, and I honestly miss them.

As you can see from the photo, we’ve decorated for Christmas. This is the earliest we’ve ever put up a tree, that I can recall. Again, we’ll host family for Christmas and I couldn’t be more pleased about it. I can’t wait to have my nephews here.

We have a few more weeks of school and then we’re tapping out. We’re all exhausted and ready for a slow-down. I, especially, need to pull back and realign. I did a poor job in 2019 limiting the things I said “yes” to. I broke my own inner vows about being less busy. I got tired of hearing myself tell other people that I was too busy. It’s all so counter-productive. As I plan for the spring semester and map out story ideas for the magazine, I need to work smarter and not harder. I’m pretty sure that will be my New Year’s resolution.

My Week Alone

Earlier in the spring, my sister asked me if Jeremy wanted to join Owen on his summer youth trip, and I immediately said yes. I asked no questions, so the camp could’ve been in another country for all I knew. Alas, it was only at Wheaton College, which is less than an hour from where they live.

One thing led to another and suddenly the boys were going to Chicago for a week in July, and then I learned that Chuck had a work trip that same week, and that’s when the most delightful realization washed over me: I would have a full five days entirely to myself.

For this introverted homeschooling mom, I hit the jackpot.

To sweeten the deal, Chuck and I would have a couple of days together on either end of that week. It was perfect.

Unlike last year when the boys flew alone for the first time, I wasn’t nervous in the slightest. Off they went, and less than two hours later, Jeremy and Jackson were safely with my sister.

My week consisted of speaking only when I wanted to, working on freelance assignments, and catching up on podcasts. I ended up doing a lot of work from bed, which is something I haven’t stopped doing because I’m desperately trying to hang onto that slow summer feeling.

I ended up finishing a year’s worth of quizzes and assignments for my middle school English class at our co-op, and I’m well on my way to finishing the high school class. I’m “helping my future self,” as Chuck likes to say.

I did see a couple of friends, but I also kept my schedule as light as possible. I wanted to retreat, to lay low, to keep quiet. Those were restorative days for me, and had I been too busy, it would’ve had the opposite effect.

The one activity I planned for myself was a Sip & Stitch at an event center owned by another Knoxville Moms Blog writer. I’ve been teaching myself how to cross-stitch, but you can only learn so much from videos. So, exactly one time, I did my hair and makeup and went out in the world during my week alone. I’m so happy with my creation.

Meanwhile, Jackson enjoyed a week of being spoiled with bookstores and Starbucks.

It doesn’t take much to make this boy happy. I know Jackson enjoyed an alternative “big brother” experience with Jacob, one in which there’s no fighting or silly competition.

Jeremy and Owen had a great time at camp. These two have been “best cousins” from birth since they are only six months apart. They’ve grown into two very different personalities, as you can see from this photo, but they always love being together.

When it was time to get our boys back, we all met in Mason, Ohio, at the Great Wolf Lodge, which we had not been to in ages. The first time we went to a Great Wolf Lodge was in 2009 when we lived in Amarillo and drove to meet my sister and her family at the GWL in Kansas City. Here’s a photo from that weekend:

And here we are from two weeks ago:

The water slides are just as fun at 15 as they are at 5. Jackson doesn’t remember going to the GWL in Kansas City, so it was like the first time for him. He LOVED it.

In fact, he missed out on this photo because he didn’t want to leave the wave pool:

We had 24 hours of swimming, laying by the pool, and enjoying each other’s company. Since we won’t see them again until Christmas, it was important to have a little bit of time together instead of just flying the boys home (which would’ve been quicker and cheaper).

Love them so much!

Thanksgiving 2018

My parents are moving back to Tennessee, and since they are already in the process of the move, it made sense for my sister and her family to spend Thanksgiving here. It helps that I don’t mind hosting and cooking and making everyone as comfortable as possible. 

I made all the usual dishes, including the same turkey recipe I’ve been using since 2007 – Tyler Florence’s Maple-Roasted Turkey with Sage and Bacon (minus the stuffing). I’ve been tempted to try other recipes, but so far, trying new things doesn’t get enough votes. 

We spent time doing all the usual things – watching football, playing games, and eating until our pants get tight. I tried to make enough food so that we’d have leftovers for a second full day. I was mostly successful!

I also took a few photos of Jacob since it’s his senior year, a reality that I’ve yet to accept. It’s hard to believe the first grandchild in the family is graduating high school. We are all so proud of him!

This is my favorite photo from the long weekend: 

We drove to Sevierville to let the boys swim and to check out my parents’ new rental house. I am beyond thrilled that they’re moving back to this wonderful state, particularly since I haven’t lived near my family since 2005. They should be settled in by Christmas.

Other than the fact that none of the teams we root for won this weekend (minus MTSU), we had a lovely, relaxing Thanksgiving together. As always, the time goes by too quickly. 

Summer is in the rearview

We are fully immersed in the fall schedule – homeschool co-op classes, soccer for Jeremy, another round of equine therapy for Jack, and other extracurriculars that give us little breathing room. Jeremy worked about 20 to 25 hours a week during the summer months, but he’s back down to 10 or 12, a more manageable number. Now that he’s in high school and the demands on him are greater, time management will be the ultimate task this year. Fingers crossed. These are necessary growing pains.

Jeremy’s two greatest loves are soccer and LEGO, so he’s entirely consistent with the person he’s been from the start. He plays for a local private school along with a smattering of other homeschooled kids, including one of his best friends, which means Chuck and I are officially soccer parents. I still don’t recognize fouls, and I can’t tell you a lot about certain positions, but I’m paying attention and learning. 

Jackson will be back in the saddle this week for equine therapy, or Horse Hangout Hour, as he calls it, and we couldn’t be more pleased with our experience in the program. 

Before the summer wound down for good, we took the boys and their friends to Brickmania, a LEGO convention, in August. Jeremy and Foster melted into the crowd immediately, plenty old enough to explore and walk around on their own. Jackson and Libby stayed with Chuck and me, as they are not quite old enough to maneuver the convention center without help. (They are two peas in a pod though!) 

I love the LEGO convention, but this year’s exhibits weren’t nearly as impressive as last year’s. 

There were also fewer vendors, to Jeremy’s dismay, though that didn’t keep him from spending more than $100 on mini-figures and whatever else he bought. (This is where the part-time job comes in handy!)

I don’t have a single photo of Jeremy from the LEGO convention because, at almost 15, he’s over it. I could press him to stand and smile for me, but the sheer panic and embarrassment is ever-present on his face. I’m learning to leave him be and not succumb to the pressure to document everything.

This guy still poses with Mom though: 

I am busier than ever, and I’m trying to figure out whether I’m over-committed or still trying to hone my own time management skills. I wrote a ton over the summer – editing the novel and freelance writing, along with settling into a position I accepted in May as editorial coordinator of a new local magazine. Now I’m in the classroom teaching four English classes at our co-op – English for 9th and 10th grade, Composition for middle grades, Literature and Creative Writing for middle grades, and Grammar/Mechanics of Writing for upper elementary/lower middle grades. It is true when I say I love everything I’m doing, but it is also true that my brain has little down time. Gosh, has it ever? 

For the curious, the works I’m teaching this year are We Have Always Lived in the Castle, Fahrenheit 451, Frankenstein, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Great Divorce, The Giver, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, Wonderstruck, Black Beauty, I am Malala, A Study in Scarlet, and a hefty collection of short stories from various eras, ethnicities, and genres. 

There is reprieve coming soon though. Chuck and I finally booked the trip we’ve been wanting to take for well more than a decade. No more waiting. Time, for all we know, is short. 

In the meantime, FOOTBALL SEASON IS BACK and the Packers play the Bears on Sunday. I am ready. 

Let’s hope this guy is ready too: 

Papaw

I don’t remember the first time I met my future father-in-law, but it was sometime in the early spring of 1996. I was a senior in high school and he was already retired on account of heart trouble that had long plagued him. I didn’t know Bill before long naps in the recliner, hours of NASCAR races on a weekend, and telling me what food I should eat to put hair on my chest, but I didn’t need to know him prior to 1996. Bill Miller was one of the most consistent people I’ve ever known. Funny, friendly, outgoing. He’d talk to anyone, tease them, laugh and make them feel welcome. Bill’s voice filled every space he inhabited, whether a small living room or acres on a campground. If Bill was there, everyone knew it.

And that was a good thing because I don’t think there was ever a person who didn’t like Bill Miller. He loved his family and was fiercely loyal. Perhaps that’s what happens when you grow up with a litter of siblings. I knew the Miller Clan was a good one to join when I met them all for the first time at the 1996 summertime family reunion in Maryville. (I remember thinking how Maryville would be a wonderful place to live one day. Funny how things work out.)

I learned that Bill’s warmth and magnetism was a Miller trait and not exclusive to him, although perhaps we can all agree that his volume and presence was specific to him. When Bill showed up to family events, he announced his own arrival, not that he needed to.

When Bill became my father in law officially in 2000, I couldn’t have been more pleased. He and I had a dear relationship. (I can’t believe I’ll never hear him say, “Hey, Jennie Faye” again. Faye is not my middle name; rather, it was my mother-in-law’s, yet I found this nickname endearing.) We teased each other mercilessly, but it was all in good fun and we both knew it. That stubborn Democrat kept a George W. Bush presidential magnet I gave him as a joke on his refrigerator for nearly two decades.

Bill was already a loving, doting Papaw to our niece Hayli, but when Chuck and I finally presented him with a grandson, you would’ve thought he won the lottery. To give him a second grandson was icing on the cake. He was proud of them and spoiled them appropriately.

Bill and Brenda were outstanding grandparents, and to know that we’ve lost them both is a grief I cannot understand. I’ve said before that I feel we’ve been robbed, and there’s still no better phrase. Tami, too. My husband has lost both of his parents and his sister at 39 years old. How does that even happen?

We had the privilege of living in the same city as Bill again during these last seven years after moving back to Tennessee from Texas. We’ve watched his health decline bit by bit over the years, but I’m convinced that the overwhelming grief of Tami’s death in 2015 became a point of no return for him. How does one ever resolve the heartache of losing a child, particularly when your heart is already burdened by poor health?

Still, at family functions and holidays, his humor and good spirits continued. True as ever. Same ol’ Bill.

When I look at Bill’s life, or at least what I know of it, it was a good one. He was well-loved, and frankly, you can’t ask for much more than that. He didn’t travel the world or build skyscrapers, but he was a man whose family and friends rallied around him. Oh, the parties he and Brenda used to the throw! The stories he told with people gathered around him! The belly laughs and eye rolls… All worth it.

We will miss you, Papaw. This was going to be our year, wasn’t it? You at 75, me at 40. We were going to have a big party, but honestly, to know you are reunited with Brenda and Tami is better than any party we could have thrown, lemon cake or not.

Thank you for blessing our family with good stories, big smiles, and a larger than life presence that cannot be replicated.

See you in the stars. – xoxo

Medal No. 19

Are you ready for the longest race report ever?

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

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

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

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

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

I wasn’t ready to let him go.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christmas in Wisconsin 2017

Since our experience in Hilton Head two Christmases ago was so positive, we decided to do it again. However, instead of warm, we went cold. Wisconsin cold.

We met in Chicago first to regroup and make cookies, then we caravanned north.

We stayed in Lake Geneva, courtesy of my sister’s in-law’s timeshare (Thank you, Mary Ann and Ed!). We did all of the things one might do over the Christmas holiday: puzzling, reading, board games, eating more sweets than necessary…

To our delight, it snowed on Christmas Eve, which made our time in Lake Geneva more beautiful.

We went for a walk around the quiet town on Christmas Eve just as everything was closing for the night.

It was SO COLD, so we wrapped up our evening walk and went back to the hotel to get back in pajamas and settle in for the night. Come Christmas morning, we had no new snow, but the frozen tundra of Wisconsin was still gloriously white.

The four boys woke up ready to open presents!

Because they had already been given so much this year and every year, I did well to stick to the Four Gift Rule – something they want, something to read, something to wear, something they need. To have a small pile of gifts and not hear complaining is a GLORIOUS THING.

Iceland beanie!

My sister honored my grandmother, who passed away in March, by having some of her collectible spoons made into jewelry for my mother, herself, and me.

And when the gift-giving was over, we disbursed to read and work on the puzzle, which we were determined to finish by Christmas night.

We left Wisconsin the next morning and returned to Chicago, where we had one more day together before going our separate ways. I value our time together so dearly since we don’t live close to one another.

We all know what happened next. The drive home on Wednesday was overshadowed by my growing fever and vomiting in the car. The next day Chuck came down with the flu, and the day after that, it was Jeremy’s turn. We were fever-free by New Year’s Eve, but the whole of last week is a complete fog. Somehow it turned into 2018.

Ultimately, I’m thankful we were all well for Christmas! Where shall we go in 2019?

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 – from 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.

Christmas 2016

Christmas celebrations began on Saturday night with Jeremy and Jackson exchanging their brother gifts – a tradition my sister and I had and one we’ve passed on to both sets of boys. They use their own money and we take them out separately to shop.

Christmas morning was slow-moving. Because the Packers game in early December was the big family gift, the boys knew that wrapped gifts would be minimal. Per the Four Gift Rule, they both still received a book, clothing (Packers socks), and something they needed (an iPod charger for Jeremy, pajamas for Jackson).

There were fun things in their stockings – a particular favorite were these goofy glasses. Thank you, Corey!

Jackson was so pleased to receive some South Dakota State University gear from my parents. Random team, you say? Nah. Jackson loves the SDSU Jackrabbits!

We had one other surprise for the boys and that was an upgraded game system for the whole family. We all enjoy playing video games, and the last time we bought a new system was in 2009. They didn’t see that one coming for sure.

Christmas was mostly good, but it was also challenging. It’s hard to celebrate a holiday when there are two people missing from the family. There’s a tender balance between forcing Christmas cheer and making sure your kids’ holiday isn’t overshadowed by immense grief.

Still, we are thankful for those who are still here and happy to share a warm meal with as much gratitude as we can muster.

We tried very hard for a family photo of all six of us – the pets included – but Major is wholly uncomfortable sitting in close proximity to Salem. Hence, the ever watchful side-eye.

Merry Christmas from our family to yours! Many blessings for a fruitful, healthy New Year. 

 

Pre-Christmas Fun

Desperate to find Christmas spirit (whatever that actually means), we fled to Pigeon Forge last night to enjoy the holiday lights. That was my original goal. Since neighborhoods don’t collectively provide outdoor illumination displays the way they used to (we are guilty of this), driving longer distances to see Christmas lights is necessary, and Pigeon Forge knows how to do it.

We drove up and down the strip, then parked at The Island so we could walk around a bit and find dinner.

The lights and fountain were lovely, exactly what I wanted to see.

Though we had no intention of shopping, Jackson discovered the Build-a-Bear shop almost immediately and began his lengthy speech about how he’s always wanted a Build-a-Bear (true), how Jeremy has one and he doesn’t (true), and how happy he’d be to help pay for it with his own money (sure!).

Meet Joshua:

We also picked up a new shirt for Two, Jeremy’s monkey, who used to have a more prominent role in Jeremy’s life. Here they are on a plane together in 2010:

Anyway, we’re happy to welcome Joshua into the family, and Jackson is very excited to introduce Joshua to Jelly, Owen’s faithful bear who is well-traveled.

Dinner happened at Dick’s Last Resort, a highly inappropriate restaurant if you don’t have a sense of humor. I won’t share all the photos from dinner but rather confess that what I needed more than Christmas lights was a lot of laughter. Mission accomplished.

My heart feels lighter after last night’s excursion, so it was the right call to go (thanks, babe!).

After uploading photos I realized I still had some images that I didn’t share from our brief trip through Chicago earlier in the month, particularly from the morning we spent at the Naperville Christmas Market. (Jacob was at a swim meet and unable to go with us! Boo!)

While there, Jeremy learned that freshly made marshmallows (dipped in chocolate) are WAY BETTER than store-bought.

I miss these people all the time. So thankful we had an extra few days with them… 

Thanksgiving 2016

My goal for Thanksgiving was simple: Keep it low key. Even though I cooked the full meal and didn’t skimp on the menu, the rest of Thanksgiving was simple and laid back. My sister and her family came into town, we shopped, she helped in the kitchen, and we saw a movie. Things just flowed along, and I didn’t bring out my camera once, evident by the poor quality photo of our dinner, complete with catching Jackson mid-blink.

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I wanted to enjoy myself, so that meant keeping plans to a minimum. It worked, too, because we had a lovely few days together.

When Jeremy and Owen weren’t gaming, they were enjoying their mounds of Pokemon cards.

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Jacob DROVE me to get donuts. I wasn’t nervous at all because he’s an excellent driver. It was weird though, because it’s Jacob. He was just born a few years ago, right?

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Jackson used his money to buy another pillow pet – this time, he chose a West Virginia Mountaineer. I was pleased!

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And Jeremy finally saved enough money to buy an iPod Touch. He’s been waiting nearly two years for this moment.

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In hindsight it might have been nice to set up the tripod and capture a full family photo with all eight of us, but I really liked keeping my duties to a minimum. Maybe next time 🙂

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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.

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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.

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

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The non-fishermen:

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Chuck in his happy place:

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autumn-burst autumn-yellow fungi evergreen

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Protecting us from wild animals who want to eat us:

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Creepers gonna creep…

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This smile tells me we made the right call.

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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.

A Night at Hershey Park

Keeping our fingers crossed for no rain, we drove an hour and a half northwestward to Hershey, Pennsylvania, for discounted evening tickets to the theme park. After 5 p.m. patrons can buy “sunset tickets” (i.e., half price) and still have a good five hours of roller coaster riding. There ended up being little bits of rain, but nothing that made us pack up and leave.

Milton Hershey Hershey World of Chocolate Jackson and Reeses

The first thing we did was go into Hershey’s World of Chocolate, and the second thing we did was leave Hershey’s World of Chocolate. Expensive, overpriced activities and long lines weren’t worth it. Yes, we forewent spending $22 to “Make your own chocolate bar.” I considered very briefly that I’d pay for both boys to make their own chocolate bar, but when I was told that I couldn’t accompany them in the assembly line (for picture-taking, for keeping an eye on my children) without paying my own $22, even if I didn’t make a chocolate bar, I said, “Nope!” and off we went to the rides.

The rest of the experience was worthwhile. The lines weren’t long, the brief bit of rain cooled everyone off, and both boys were stoked to ride everything they could. In the photo below, Jeremy and Jackson are in the front seats and Chuck is in the second. Arms up!

First two rows

Chuck is done with roller coasters

Mom and I took it easy on the ferris wheel and other slower-paced rides that allowed us to take an obscene amount of photos from above.

Me and Mom at Hershey Park

Ferris Wheel from below On the swings

This is Chuck making fun of our picture-taking. Sheesh! Tourists.

Chuck making fun

Hershey Park is a unique combination of theme park and water park. We didn’t do the water park bit since it closes at 8 p.m., but that’s the part that makes sense for being there all day. Ride a few things, go to the water park area, go back to the coasters, etc. Paying $60+ for full day tickets seem worth it for two-parks-in-one.

Over Hershey Park

Okay, let’s take a moment to observe Fahrenheit, a ride that starts with a significant vertical drop. Jeremy and Chuck rode it first, then Chuck dropped out of that nonsense and Jackson joined in. The boys rode it several times like crazy people.

Fahrenheit

Fahrenheit from above

Yeah, I didn’t ride that one, but I loved seeing the boys’ enthusiasm for roller coasters. More so, I loved that they rode them together.

The only roller coasters I enjoy are the old-school up-and-down wooden rails, none of this upside-down, curly-fry stuff. Which is why there was no way I was going to ride Storm Runner. It had an insane take-off. They are in the fourth row:

For a stellar point of view of this ride (from someone else), here it is in full:

The best photos I took at Hershey Park are of Jeremy and Jackson on Wildcat. I snuck in the queue (which was empty) and positioned myself to see them on a downturn. They are in the front row. Priceless.

Boys in the front seat

Best photo on the roller coaster

Before the park closed at 10 p.m. we enjoyed deep-fried funnel cake smothered in Hershey’s chocolate syrup, Reese’s cups, and God knows what else. I ate two fried Oreos entirely on my own. At the end of the night we were exhausted with sore feet and stiff backs, but the sunset tickets were absolutely worth it.

Swings at night

Hilton Head Photo Dump No. 4

Last batch of Christmas photos, friends. In this first picture, Jackson’s excitement is all about getting a Green Bay Packers hat from his big brother.

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Christmas Eve s’mores!

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I would’ve loved a full moon photo on Christmas Day, but the fog was just too thick. Christmas Eve will have to do.

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Merry Christmas!

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Our Smoky Mountain dog loved the beach.

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Millers versus the Przyluckis in a bocce ball tourney – the North wins!

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So the boys took to playing soccer. It was a draw.

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The short walk back to the house for our final evening:

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Cheers to 2016!

Hilton Head Photo Dump No. 3

Are you tired of Hilton Head pictures yet? Because here’s another photo dump.

We went to Savannah on Christmas Eve to have lunch at The Pirates’ House and browse River Street shops. It’s a nostalgic city for the Treadways since my sister and I were born nearby.

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Some of us shopped, some of us waited.

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The original four:

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Last batch here.

To the Atlantic and back

We took a minute and quickly went to Hilton Head.

Splash Jeremy

Splash Jackson

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Taking a walk

If you know us in real life, then you know how crazy our schedule can be. When we have family time, it’s intentional. Most people wouldn’t consider 24 hours at the beach to be worthwhile, but we do.

Almost 15 years
The boys at Hilton Head 2015

They swam until sundown. Why not, right?

Night swimming

Whenever I’m at the beach, I get up at whatever time necessary to see the sunrise.

Peek of sunrise

At that first peek of light, I stand still and watch the day officially begin.

Peek of sunrise

Then the entire space glows orange and everything feels new.

sunrise at Hilton Head 2015

Worth it every time.

Good morning Hilton Head

This poor fella didn’t make it out alive.

Dead crabs

One more snapshot before heading home…

Until next time HH

No videos games all summer.

Do you know how badly I want to say that? SO BADLY.

I understand that we live in a high-tech world and there are lots of cool stuff out there. I concede that video games are fun and Minecraft is God’s gift to young minds. I know how cool it is to have all the gadgets.

But.

I cringe when they ask for more time or another turn or an extra turn or some other version of asking for more electronics, and when I deny them more time (or any time) then I am the recipient of eye rolling, petitioning, appealing, stomping, crying, pouting, and so on. It’s a delight.

summer is here

Granted, let me give the boys some credit. Jeremy loves to play outside with friends, and given the opportunity, he would spend 12+ hours running around the yard with them. Jackson isn’t such a fan of the outdoors, but he’s a ferocious reader and could lounge on the couch all day with a good book. Going to the pool and taking Major to the dog park are always activities they love. So yes, there are other things that occupy their brains.

But.

When it comes to electronics, they morph into these whiny creatures that stab me with their angry eyes and weigh me down with their “that’s not fair” mentality. Then they say, “But YOU’RE on the computer, why can’t I be on the computer?” to which I answer, “I’m PAYING BILLS! You want to take over? Have at it.”

This cannot be our summer. It CANNOT. That being said, I also refuse to bulk up our schedule with activities in order to avoid the confrontation of video games and time on the computer. We need to devise a plan and stick to it.

Parents, what are your rules for electronics? Hourly cap on video games? Required activities before video games are an option? Loss of electronics as the first consequence for discipline? I’m open to suggestions because I truly want my kids to have the best of both worlds – an active summer outside with friends and creativity and imagination, plus the perks of compelling technology. Where is that happy medium?

Jeremy’s first trip to Disney World

Do I even have to tell you that he had a wonderful time?

Jeremy at the Disney castle

Jeremy is now suffering a post-Disney depression, which I’ve tried to mitigate by indulging stories about all the things he loved about Disney World and reminding him that he can go back when he’s older. “When I grow up, I’m definitely taking my kids to Disney World,” he says.

Jedi training

Fighting Darth Vader

I’m glad he went with people who know that place inside out (my sister and her family), so Jeremy’s time was well-managed and he was able to hit all the high points. He did Jedi training and ate breakfast with characters. He raced a car he created and rode all the big rides. He even went on the Tower of Terror. Jeremy did not want the week to end.

On a ride with Jacob

But of course the vacation ended, as they always do. In two years, Jackson will go to Disney World and I have no doubt his experience will be equally as magical.

Before our family headed back north, we made an evening trip to Menchie’s, where another patron took our photo. I hate that it’s blurry, but I’m grateful for the time spent with these precious people. The geographical distance between us is just too far.

Millers Przyluckis April 2015

We are now in the home stretch of the school year and you can tell this by our lack of enthusiasm. Truth be told, Jackson will be finished with his math curriculum this week and he’s already started fourth grade vocabulary… He could be done with third grade by Friday, but I can’t fathom that long of a break in school years – April to August? So we’ll spend the remaining time in review and working to master the skills he learned this year.

If you’re ready for summer, raise your hand.

Finding the joy in sadness

It takes a very selfless, mature person to view death as a a joyful reunion with the Lord – a transition from painful to painless, from earthly to heavenly. I’m trying very hard to be that sort of person, but between you and me, I’m quite sad over the passing of my Aunt Debbie. She left us early this morning, and even though we all knew the cancer would eventually be unbeatable, it feels like this all happened too soon.

But it does us no good to dwell. Continue reading “Finding the joy in sadness”