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.

Autumn 2019

More has gone on here than our trip to England and Wales, so it would be a shame to make it seem like that’s been the entirety of our October and November. It would be terrible if you missed Jackson’s Halloween costume when he dressed up at a retired clown.

He and his friend, Libby, trick-or-treated together again this year, and Jackson received many compliments on his costume!

Jeremy competed in another chess tournament and brought home two more trophies. Between soccer and chess, the shelves in his bedroom are filling up quickly!

In early November, we went to see Ryan Bingham at the Tennessee Theatre, which was a fancy venue for his style of music, I have to say. But that meant Corey came to visit and that’s always worthwhile!

The following weekend we took a quick trip to Chattanooga to celebrate Matt’s 41st birthday, which meant I got some time with Amy!

We became instant friends after Matt started dating her in 2000. So much of my early years of motherhood unfolded alongside Amy’s. Now, whenever we squeeze in a visit, we unload all the toils and joys of raising teenagers, which is a far cry from naptimes, midnight feedings, and what happened on the latest episode of The Backyardigans.

These three have been friends since middle and high school.

In other news, Jackson wrapped his fall session of equine therapy, and Jeremy finally got a proper haircut. I decided it was time he started seeing my stylist. His hair deserves it, after all.

Peak colors didn’t show up in East Tennessee until early November, but when they finally popped, they were bright and vibrant. I snapped this photo while on a run one foggy morning.

Lastly, we had a brief and glorious snowfall that dropped the same day as Disney+. It was a Tuesday, but it felt just like Christmas morning. Somehow we managed to do some school work.

However, I did notice that this was the first year that the boys didn’t race to play in the snow upon waking up. The last time we had a decent snowfall was January of this year. It was gorgeous, and the boys couldn’t wait to play in it. This time, however, they didn’t mention sledding or a snowball fight. They didn’t even have the curiosity to go outside and touch the flakes. It felt significant, like a piece of their childhood was over.

Maybe that won’t be the case if we get another big snowfall, something grander and long-lasting. Or maybe it means I need to suit up and go out with them.

Thanksgiving is this week, and we’re going to have a full house of family members on Thursday. For the first time in 20 years, we’re mixing sides. We’ve always taken turns – Thanksgiving with one side, Christmas with the other. We’re on the same rotation as my sister and her family, and doing it this way kept holidays fair and uncomplicated.

But as family members have passed away, and others have moved closer to us, it seems silly to keep things separated. We can all be together. We can all share the table. On Thursday, we’ll have ten people here, and I’m happy to cook for all of 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.


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.


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?


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


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


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 ūüôā


Where November went

It has been the strangest month, and I blame the election for stealing half of it. While on the phone last week with my sister, she said something about “Thanksgiving” and “next week,” a combination of words that jolted me out of¬†whatever timeframe I thought I was in. I didn’t realize we’d already arrived at Thanksgiving, a sign that 2016 was heading rapidly towards its finish line.

If you don’t live in my part of the country, or even in this specific region, then you probably didn’t realize that east Tennessee (and North Georgia) is in the midst of a terrible drought. We’ve gone weeks without rain, and that gave a few people the idea to start wildfires. For weeks we’ve been under a cloud of smoke, and just when it looked to be improving, another fire started just ten miles down the road, close to¬†the eastern edge of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

A week ago we had a brief drizzle, but it wasn’t enough to douse the fires.


Over the weekend we had another rain, but it too wasn’t enough. Driving home from the orthodontist yesterday, the smoke from Walland was still wafting. The fire is painfully close to an elementary school, many homes, a historic Bed and Breakfast, and the place where we board Major. There are many people and animals in harm’s way.

Then, yesterday afternoon we got word that a school bus accident in Chattanooga resulted in the death of five young elementary students, potentially six, with many more injured and in the hospital. How does that happen the week of Thanksgiving? How does that happen at all?

The bright spot of this month so far has been getting together with some of our dearest friends (our Fred and Ethel Mertz) and photographing a beautiful, intimate wedding.


It’s a reminder that there is still love in the world. There is still happiness and friendship.


And somewhere, I have to believe, there is hope.

In your prayers around the dinner table on Thursday, please remember Chattanooga, the Tennessee Valley, and our country.

Ever Thankful

When we go to Chattanooga, we squeeze in every moment we can with friends and family. It used to be our home, so not only is the city nostalgic, it’s also home to some of our favorite people.

This year Thanksgiving was with Chuck’s family. I admit that I was glad to be a guest and not a host, but only because November has been a tiresome month. Normally, I enjoy all the cooking and whatnot. This month, ¬†I enjoyed lounging.

Miller Family ThanksgivingDo you think these two are related?


So grateful Tami and Jeff could host this year. I can’t say that everyone was well-behaved (Chuck), but that’s how little brothers are (Chuck). ¬†SiblingsOrnament reflection

Before we stuffed our bellies with turkey and dressing, Chuck and I got up early to meet Karin and run the Turkey Trot 8K. It was Karin’s first road race and I was so happy to run alongside her.

Turkey Trot 8K

On Black Friday, while everyone was blowing cash and fighting lines, we were with our Fred and Ethel Mertz.

Valovcins and MillersValovcin and Miller kids

We also drove down to Santa Land Tree Farm to get our Christmas trees. That’s right – plural. As in two trees. I’ll post pictures of that tomorrow.

Finally, for those who are wondering, I haven’t finished the novel but I’m in the 70,000-word range. I completed NaNoWriMo, which was really satisfying, but I have a little less than two weeks to finish the story and turn it in to my creative writing professor. So far, so good.

Thanksgiving 2012

If there is one thing my sister and I are grateful for it is our boys’ ability to interact with one another as if they see each other all the time and not just twice a year. They love each other so dearly despite the distance. There have never been reintroductions or urgings to play. As soon as these four are in the same room, they are off and running. And then there are major tears when it’s time to leave. As usual, Thanksgiving went ¬†by too quickly.

Photos from the 2012 North vs. South game tomorrow!

Happy Thanksgiving from us to you

I’m taking a few days off to cook, eat, laugh, and enjoy my family. But I hope you have a wonderful time of it in your home, doing the same things and being thankful for all that we’ve been unduly blessed with. Be good to one another and savor the time you have with those you love.

And for a Thanksgiving funny, this Anne Taintor treasure is dedicated to all the moms and grandmothers who will spend Wednesday evening and most of Thursday preparing food for your brood – some of whom may be too picky to survive the day.

Tough love, people. Tough love. ♥


I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday! We sure did, and our tight pants can prove it.

We had Thanksgiving with the Millers this year (minus Tami and Hayli, plus a couple more) and I was happy to cook my little heart out. The Maple Bacon-Wrapped Turkey never gets old.

On display for dinner were the boys’ thankfulness posters, and since some of them are hard to see, I’ll list for you each of the things for which Jeremy and Jackson are grateful.

Jeremy is thankful for:
1. Daddy, who throws the football with him
2. Trees, to provide us oxygen
3. Rain, which makes Tennessee beautiful
4. Veterans, who protected our country
5. Ribs, which protect our lungs so we can breathe
6. Our house, which has a playground in the back
7. Grandma and Grandpa, just for existing
8. Green Bay beat the Vikings (random, I know)
9. Thanksgiving dinner, which is delicious
10. Mom, for no specific reason
11. Jackson, who plays with him

Jackson is thankful for:
1. Jeremy, who is a great big brother
2. Star Wars video game, for obvious reasons
3. Phineas and Ferb, who are his best friends
4. Orisinal, his favorite computer game
5. Salem, the most awesome cat
6. Mary Alison, his cousin and favorite babysitter
7. Friends, who are scattered around the country
8. Curious George, who is a funny monkey
9. Tom Jr., who joined us for Thanksgiving
10. Mom and Dad, who are the best in the world

So there you have it. I have two thankful boys who I am very thankful for.

Bring on the Christmas!

Slipping into vacation mode

The good thing about homeschooling is that I have virtually total control over our schedule. The bad thing about homeschooling is that I have virtually total control over our schedule.

Thanksgiving is tomorrow, so my brain is slowly slipping away from Math-U-See videos and Sight Word Bingo to gluten-free gravy recipes and a maple-glazed turkey. But that’s okay, I figure, because if we lag behind then we’ll make it up later or tack on an extra hour a day until we’re back on track. See? Total control.

I’ve also started thinking more about Christmas presents for the boys and have decided that we’re going to choose experience over stuff and quality over quantity. I’m eyeballing a few Lego sales and buying the new Llama Llama book¬†(because that series is the best!), and wondering if I’ll ever find the Smokey Pillow Pet for less than 30 bucks. We’ll put up some Christmas decorations this weekend but hold off on cutting down the tree for another couple of weeks so it’s alive and fresh when my family arrives next month.

It’s not lost on me that last year’s holidays were somber and a little lonesome, following Brenda’s passing and our cross-country separation. I’m resolved to make this year more memorable and special with a little creativity and appreciation for the little things.

I think I’ll start by muddling through two math lessons and then officially declaring our the start of our Thanksgiving holiday. Sound good?

Over the River and Through the Woods

To Grandmother’s house we went. And I’m pooped.

Our Thanksgiving trip to West Virginia began as a far-off idea, one that I’d eventually nail down for details and form into a concrete plan. As September and October rolled by, I realized that flying to Charleston wasn’t an option, nor was having a driving buddy to share the burden of a 2,400-mile roundtrip trek.¬†¬†Come last Saturday morning, it was me and¬†the boys and a very long road ahead.

The key to our successful trip was a multi-layered plan of attack. First, the boys needed to sit separately (we have an optional third row, yee-haw!) with their own box of travel-friendly toys (quiet and small). Then we needed snacks divied out in plastic baggies that could be passed back easily without stopping the car. Then I laid down the ground rules: We will alternate movies and music, two hours for you and two hours for me. Keep your mess to a minimum and I will try not to yell at you. I’m just as miserable as you are, so hang in there and I might get you a treat at Starbucks.

We were fortunate to find one great rest area after another with clean bathrooms and even playgrounds. Every time we stopped I made the boys run laps around the grassy areas or do jumping jacks on the sidewalk. If I was uncomfortable in my cushy bucket seat, then they had to be cramped in their boosters. I’m happy to say both boys are great travelers and it was only in the last two hours of our 42-HOUR, double-weekend drive that they lost their minds. And really, since we’re battling colds and exhaustion, I couldn’t blame them.

Sufficed to say I’m not doing that again for a very, very long time. Especially since we sometimes had to stop to use the restroom and could only find single-seaters. You just do the best you can, right?

Boys, don’t look. Mommy has to go potty.

We got home around 7:30 p.m. yesterday and Salem was waiting for me in the middle of the kitchen floor. He gave me a long lecture via intimidating cat stare about being gone for nine days but quickly forgave me and became my shadow for the rest of the night.

This week begins my attempt to make all of our Christmas decorations from scratch. The challenge isn’t necessarily¬†being creative with what I make but rather how I make them. If I spend too much money on supplies, then I might as well have bought all new decorations, right?¬†Instead, I need to see what I already have and figure out a way to repurpose old things into new decorations. I could go broke at Hobby Lobby buying glitter and glue sticks and balls of twine.

Hmm. That just gave me an idea.