Twelve Years Later

There are good things that happen during a time of mourning – favorite stories are told, family members gather to comfort one another and offer affirmations, and friends from seasons past come back around to pay respects.

We aren’t entirely out of touch with the Pennys and Valovcins, so it isn’t that we haven’t seen each other in 12 years. However, our three families haven’t sat down for a meal in a long time, and we certainly haven’t taken photos of the group when we’ve been together.

After Bill’s funeral on Sunday, we went to dinner together, along with Karin and Ethan, and marveled at how old our children have become.

This photo was taken a few days before Christmas in 2006. From left to right, in order of age: Lauren, Grace, Jeremy, Christian, Jake, and Jackson, who was a mere six months old.

Pennys, 2006:

Jillyan wasn’t born until the following September:

Valovcins, 2006:

And us, 2006:

Going back even further, here’s a picture (of a picture) of the three dads with their first borns in 2004:

And now in 2018:

We spent a lot of time together in those days, but by the end of 2008, we left Chattanooga for Amarillo and we haven’t lived in the same city since.

Now the guys and I are facing 40 (Amy and Christy have a few more years to go), and our oldest kiddos are 14 and 15 years old.

High school. Driving. Dating. Conversations about college.

What in the world.

So yeah, there are good things that come during times of mourning. It was wonderful to see our old friends, to hug their necks, to laugh and remember how easy parenting used to be. 

We’re doing all right. Thanks, friends, for being with us this week. We love you dearly.

In the path of totality

We were some of the lucky ones whose house was situated in the path of totality, so a handful of friends from Knoxville and Chattanooga joined us for the eclipse yesterday. Before the solar party got started, the boys played outside and got all hot and sweaty. We had plenty of water and pizza to keep everyone hydrated and happy.

They each had glasses, so occasionally they’d stop to check the status of the moon’s progress.

Before totality hit, our neighbor rode over on her horse, which was a huge treat for all of us.

You don’t go into a total eclipse thinking you’ll also get to pet a horse!

Catherine was excited to feed Shera some clover.

As the time neared for totality, we all gathered on the back patio for a good view.

Right before the moon fully covered the sun, all the kids jumped on the retaining wall.

We reached totality! I wish I’d had the forethought to videotape everyone’s reactions. All the “oohs” and “ahhs” from kids and adults alike…

Glasses off! I didn’t want to use a flash and ruin the view, so this photo was taken with only the dimmest light from the dark sky:

What a treat! We witnessed something that can’t be described with ordinary words. While science explains a total eclipse with accuracy, I felt we experienced God’s creativity at its finest.

And since I never make it into these photos, thank you, Karin, for capturing this one!

Catherine was less interested in the eclipse and more interested in exploring my house and enjoying snacks. I didn’t mind one bit! Love her!

Thanks to everyone who joined us! We were happy to have you!

Miller Camp for Boys 2017

Last summer Jake came to stay with us, and this summer it only felt right to have him here again. Jake belongs to Matt and Amy, our besties from Chattanooga, whom we’ve parented alongside from the beginning. Jeremy and Grace were born two months apart,  then came Jake two years later and Jackson a year after that. These kiddos don’t see each other often, but you wouldn’t know it. As soon as we’re together, it’s like we never moved away.

We picked up Jake on a Tuesday night and returned him Friday, but in those four short days, they accomplished a lot. It all started Tuesday evening with Jake introducing us to the strangest movie I’ve seen in a long time: Trolls.

I don’t know what to say about Trolls other than it’s completely weird. The music was fun, and the cloud guy was funny, but otherwise, I’m at a loss. The kids enjoyed it, which is all that matters!

Wednesday brought a few hours of pool time with another favorite family of ours. The weather was perfect!

We brought home with us another of Jeremy’s friends, which meant I was outnumbered four to one. The boys exhausted themselves in the heat outside, cooled off inside with video games, and stayed up late that night with a board game marathon. The next morning, they made themselves breakfast and cleaned up afterward.

On Thursday Jake was a good sport and suffered alongside me at the boys’ orthodontic appointments. He and Jeremy worked on card tricks in the waiting room.

We wrapped up Jake’s visit with more board games. This time, I joined them in a two-hour Monopoly session.

We should’ve planned for a longer stay, and honestly, we should’ve had Grace with us. When I look at this photo, she is glaringly absent.

I continue to be thankful for the friendships we’ve maintained since our earliest days as a couple. It means our kids are growing up with friends who are more like family. It means our tribe of people is rooted in loyalty and love. I will never forget when Matt and Amy told us they were pregnant with Grace, and then came Jake, and soon we had this squad of four beautiful children who played together seamlessly.

These two were the sweet pair from birth to Kindergarten.

Excuse me while I go mourn the early years.

Oh, and the Miller Camp for Boys 2017 continues next week when my nephews arrive. Woohoo!

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. 

The Miller Camp for Boys

Miller Camp for Boys

This week marks the start of The Miller Camp for Boys, which is my way of bookmarking two weeks of having house guests from out of town. From August to May, we are The Miller School for Boys, so this makes total sense in my brain.

Our first camper is Jake, the son of our best friends in Chattanooga, folks we’ve known and loved before any of us were married. When we see each other, it’s usually both families getting together, with all for kids in a lump sum – Grace and Jake, Jeremy and Jackson – but this is a house for boys, and while I’d love to take Grace to Ulta and spend a fortune, she’d be terrifically bored the rest of the time.

So Jake is here and the boys have been going non-stop since he arrived last night – playing outside, group video gaming, and board games during down time. They are hardly stopping to eat. We plan to see The Secret Life of Pets and either get to a swimming pool or creek for cooling off. We’ll get pizza one night and I might let them loose with the water hose. Whatever we do, it’s wonderful to have Jake here so we can continue making deposits in this long-distance friendship.

Plus, it’s really fun to walk around saying, “Jake, from State Farm,” to which Jeremy replies, “She sounds hideous.”

Boys of summer

Also, it doesn’t hurt to have another face around the house to split the tension between Jeremy and Jackson. Those two? They could use some space from one another. #brothers

Medal No. 14

I ran in the Covenant Health Knoxville Marathon yesterday morning as part of a relay team, which is the first time I’ve ever run a race with partners. Usually running is my singular thing – no teamwork required, just me from start to finish. However, a few months ago I started asking my running friends if they’d be interested in running on a relay team. I had no idea what the logistics would be, but as long as a I got a medal, I figured it was worth it.

It was, by the way. It was totally worth it. Even though Chuck and Tracy’s husband had to taxi us to relay points, even though I had to run with my cell phone (which I never do) to stay in communication with my team, and even though I fretted over innumerable possibilities that would ensure relay failure, it was all worth it. In the end, it was just fine.

There we are crossing the finish line two by two – Tracy and me in front, Lesli and Hayley behind.

Approaching the finishline

The finish line is in Neyland Stadium, which is my favorite feature about this race. (I earned Medal No. 10 in this race four years ago.) The announcer calls out your name as you cross over and your finish moment is displayed on the Jumbotron. (Thanks for snapping the photo, babe.)

On the jumbotron

Our overall time was 5:09:30, which is a bit faster than when I ran a full marathon in 2008. The legs distances varied – 6.3, 6.5, 7.5 (my leg), and 5.9. Regardless of who ran which distance, we all got to cross the finish line together and enjoy the euphoria of getting medals placed around our necks. There is nothing like it.

Group photo in Neyland

Will I run another relay? Perhaps. I would run another relay with these ladies, for sure. If anything, I’m on the right track towards getting Medal No. 15.

Today is not that day

Besties in Atlanta

Our Atlanta weekend getaway was long overdue. In fact, we were supposed to go in January, but Salem’s last hospitalization nixed that. Instead, we capped off our spring break with a few days with some of our best friends.

Corey and me March 2016

We ate good food, went bowling, and hung around the condo. Corey and I escaped to Ulta and Nordstrom Rack, and some of us napped. The boys played Nerf and video games, goofing off and not showering. We went to IKEA, where the boys nearly died of boredom. It was a close one.

Waiting around IKEA

As usual, I love how the boys reconnect so easily after so much time apart. We don’t force their friendship but rather facilitate it. Eventually their relationship will look and function differently, but for now, it works.

A word about Jeremy’s face in the photo below: He’s being a goofball. This is what happens when your mother is a photographer and says, “Smile” way too often. I think he looks like a Muppet (and promptly told him so).

Jeremy Alex and Jackson 2016

My favorite photo from the weekend, however, is this last one. Rarely does my husband let me take his picture, but when he does, it’s always a good one:

Chuck is awesome

A Week of Yes

It’s spring break, friends! Can I get an amen?

We aren’t at the beach, we aren’t on a cruise. We aren’t across the country on a Rocky Mountain excursion. Those things would be nice, but we have summer plans and other plans, so spring break is simply that – a break. It’s a break from school and early bedtimes and formal meals. Ultimately it’s a break from routine, and there is no better way to break the routine than with a sleepover.

We have three extra boys in the house tonight. They played outside, ate junk food, played outside some more, and now they’re burning their eyeballs on electronics. The laughter is fantastic. I’m saying yes to ALL THE THINGS because that’s what a break is all about.

Playing outside

Tablets

I forced them to bathe, but I’ve insisted upon precious little. Yes to cookies, yes to chips. Yes, you all can sleep in the living room.

Xbox time

Even without the sleepover, I’m saying yes to extras. I bought sugary breakfast cereal and let them have Sprite with their lunch. They can play Minecraft first thing in the morning and again in the afternoon. Fruity Cheerios before bed? Yes, yes, yes.

When poor attitudes materialize, all it takes is a gentle reminder that toilets always need cleaning, bedtimes can be restored, and electronics can be unplugged. Miraculously, they straighten right up.

This Week of Yes is important because our day-to-day life is fairly rigid when it comes to all the things I mentioned above. We don’t allow video games on school days or sleeping anywhere else but their beds. We eat mostly healthy and have dinner at the table each night as a family. Structure and boundaries are important, but so is letting loose.

Besides, after a few days of indulging like this, my boys self-regulate and put themselves to bed early, choose healthy snacks over sugar, and even tire of screen time. It’s a process I love to watch. We binge, then we retract.

Side note: I am currently stowed away in the bedroom watching election returns and listening to season two of the Serial Podcast. Thank goodness I made cookies today because self-medicating is a must.

First Snow Day of 2016

It wasn’t a substantial snow, but for East Tennesseans it was a big deal. The neighborhood kiddos got out of school, so once my boys finished a few subjects they were able to spend the rest of the afternoon outside.

Snowball

These photos were taken yesterday just as the snow got started. We scarcely got an inch, but they made the most of it.

Neighborhood crew

You know this guy was happy…

Major in January snow

…especially since his friends came out to play too.

Major and Zeus in the snow

We’re supposed to get more on Friday and Saturday. Fingers crossed!

Grace, age 12

It is a weird phenomena to see the face of a child I met at birth and also see a glimmer of the woman she will become. Grace and Jeremy were born the same year, two months apart, and she has been beautiful the whole time. When the family visited us a couple of weeks ago, I took Grace outside for a few photos. She turns 13 this year. I cannot believe it.

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I’ve always thought she favored Emma Watson.

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Her hair 

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We love you, Grace! Thanks for letting me take your picture.

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Fall Break Guest No. 1

This is a week of house guests, starting with Ethan for four days. Love this boy so much! He and Jeremy have been friends since birth because Karin and I made sure of it. 

Today I took the boys bouldering.

Big cliff

Bouldering

Squeeze

The older boys in black and white

The view of Maryville

Major loved it, but he tuckered out after an hour and found a spot to rest. He could watch all of us from this point, which is an endearing quality he has. He’s noticeably happier when everyone is together.

Major goes bouldering

Group shot bouldering

Other than bouldering, the boys have played outside most of the time and binged on Minecraft at night. Ethan calls me his second mom, which is the best compliment ever. He’s already asked to stay an extra night. 

Weekend Recovery

I’m off my routine and fumbling. I can’t blame the holidays anymore but I do blame back-to-back weekends of travel and sleep deprivation. All of our fun has been super fun, but recovering from fun is way hard. You know what I mean. Organizing a thought takes extra effort.

The boys and I went to Chattanooga for a night and then to Atlanta for two. We were zombies by Monday evening when we got home and spent the majority of yesterday still in a state of fatigue and snippiness. The boys were so exhausted that they didn’t argue when I put them to bed at 8:30 two nights in a row. They surrendered willingly.

I took tons of pictures of the boys with their friends, but I have to share this one first. Chato is the sweetest little bulldog ever. And so calm. SO CALM. (Do you hear me, Major? CALM.)

Chato and his twinWe’re still in a bit of recovery this morning, based on the amount of tattling I’ve already had, so I’m off to wrangle two children and change their tones. Before I do, I’m going to adjust my own attitude with a little music and another cup of coffee. First coffee, then children. Always.

Happiness is…

…best friends coming in town for a much-needed visit:

Millers and Valocvins 2013

Jennie and Amy 2013

Chuck and Matt 2013

Grace 2013

Jeremy 2013

Jake 2013

Jack 2013

…sitting by the fire:Fire…and watching your garden grow:Red Bell Pepper

Parsley

LavendarHappiness is also finding out that the dog finally vomited that sweat sock he swallowed four days ago, but I don’t have any pictures of that.

No time to blog!

I’m too busy this week wrangling three boys and a four-month-old puppy to spend five seconds on the internet. (For the record, the puppy is harder to manage than the three boys combined. The cat is by far my favorite today.) Sincerest apologies to my Words with Friends opponents. I will get to all of you later tonight.

Corey, Gwen, and Alex arrived yesterday and the house went into complete chaos because the dog lost his mind and the boys were overjoyed to see each other. The noise was unreal. BUT, once the sun set, all boys calmed down – including Major – and the three adults were able to enjoy uninterrupted conversation. It was fantastic. I love this family. There is nothing like having your oldest, dearest friend in the same room even if it’s just for a few hours.

Corey and Gwen ran off to the mountains today and will head home to Atlanta this evening, leaving Alex to spend his spring break with us. It’s a very special treat for Jeremy to spend this much time with a long-distance friend, so there’s been non-stop action among the boys since yesterday afternoon. It is additionally difficult for them to stop chatting long enough to fall asleep. Benadryl, anyone?

Corey, Gwen, and me

Three boys