Tuesday, December 31, 2019

2019: It was a doozy

I came across last year’s Christmas letter, and I had to laugh at this line: "I think 2018 was a year for us to breathe a little, because 2019 is going to be a doozy. “

I had no idea just what a doozy 2019 would be. So many changes, both expected and unexpected. Amazing, joyous celebrations and not-so-fun health issues. We had lots of endings and some amazing new beginnings—an unusual number of milestones in 12 short months. And so, here we go:

1. Randy and I celebrated 30 YEARS of marriage. 
THIRTY! All I can say is: I do, I do, I do.

2. The end of homeschooling. 
For 19 years we’ve been doing this. A whole career! These pictures still get me weepy: Duncan during his last week of school, curled up on the couch, reading, like hundreds of other days; Duncan and me on his last official day; and all three kids on our very last, last-day-of-school celebration. I could write pages and pages and pages about these nearly 2 decades of homeschooling, but I’ll save that for a blog series…one of these days.

3. Two graduations:  
Duncan from high school (our last high school graduate!) and Laurel from Lipscomb University with her BA in psychology (summa cum laude).


4. Wedding!
Our daughter, a beautiful bride…and our new son-in-law. This was the most perfect wedding, the most glorious, joy-filled day. What a celebration! I’ll never get tired of looking at these photos and remembering this day.

5. S I C K. 
I spent a few days in the hospital and then the entire summer recovering from pericarditis. It was a long, slow recovery that basically required me to do absolutely nothing but read and watch Netflix for six weeks. Trust me: that sounds a lot more fun than it actually is. 

 6. New floors! 
While I was recovering, Randy was renovating. Not only did he rip up the carpet and refinish the hardwood floors we found beneath, but he painted the whole living room and gave us a gorgeous new space to create our new life of empty nesting.

7. School, school, and more school. 
August brought new adventures for all our kids. Duncan started college; Laurel and Hunter both started graduate school; and Jesse started law school. So proud of all of them!

8. Engaged! 
We recovered from Laurel and Hunter’s wedding just in time to start planning Jesse and Summer’s, coming on July 4, 2020!

 9. Fix ‘em up! 
Our precious parents: broken arm, broken ribs, broken-ish toe. We’ve become well-acquainted with doctors’ offices, home health care, and rehab facilities this year. Mom’s all healed now; Dad and Pat (Randy’s mom) are works in progress. We love them all so dearly.

 10. Empty nest.  
I could share of photo of Randy and me sitting on the couch, watching reruns of ER every night, to illustrate our empty nest; but I’ll go with this. For the first time in over 20 years, I’m no longer driving a minivan. And I have to say: I don’t miss the van one bit!

So there we go. What a year! 

Can’t wait to see what 2020 brings…I think!

Friday, November 29, 2019

Thanksgiving, All Grown Up

 No melted crayon leaves shining in the windows. No "I'm thankful for..." tree decorated with orange, yellow, and brown leaves that say MOM, DAD, CANDY, and PLAYSTATION. No storybooks or history lessons or discussion about the real meaning of Thanksgiving. 

There's no "Pick up your Legos" or "Do NOT make a mess in the living room! I just cleaned!"

None of that.

We're all grown up around here.


The day before Thanksgiving, I bawled my eyes out. I mean, I sobbed and sobbed. It's because of music. I had the grand idea to listen to CDs while I baked. And then a whole album made me think of when were first married, and all our college friends and how much fun that was. I didn't cry then. Not even close. Thinking of college friends comes with pangs of anxiety and betrayal, almost always. Not that day—I just had a happy feeling.

But then I put in another CD--a compilation—and suddenly I was hit with such a longing that I just sobbed. Because this is the first year that my daughter wasn't home, and I miss her. I miss how pretty she'd make things, and I miss asking her opinion and, sure, I miss her help. I love when she would be dusting in the living room while watching Netflix, how she'd make things just so.

But we're all grown up around here, and she's in Nashville with her husband and his family this year. She's making her own pies and figuring out how to roast a turkey and cleaning her own house. She's making her own traditions.

I stopped listening to music and watched New Girl instead while I baked a cherry/cranberry pie. And I thought about my father, as I always do when I make pies, and how every holiday feels like it could be the last one with him. And how will I cope... how will I... how? 

And back to New Girl, which is silly and sweet and utterly not sob-inducing.


Thanksgiving day started quietly. No Macy's Day parade, no dog show. Those were things the kids became enamored with just the past several years, so without them here, we left the TV off. Duncan went to his girlfriend's house early. Randy prepared the food; I prepared the house.

I drove across town to pick his mom up. This past month, she's fallen deeper and faster into dementia. Alzheimer's most likely, like her own mother. She was "so surprised" to see me; she had "no idea" we were coming for her. We tried and failed to find her purse, her keys, and her phone (she's taken to wrapping things up and putting them in suitcases), but we successfully found the cat. 

All grown up now, parents to our parents. 

 One by one the cars pulled in: Jesse and his fiancée, one family, another family, Duncan and his girlfriend, my parents. Champagne punch all around, and the house if full to bursting. Dad turns off his hearing aids; it's all just mumbling noise to him. Mom, the original party girl, is thrilled. 
"How many people are here?" she asks over and over.
"Fifteen," we remind her.
"Fifteen! I beat our neighbor. He was having 11 people over. I can brag to him!"
"You can!" we encourage her. A few minutes later she asks it all again. 

 We pray, we feast, we exclaim over each and every dish. It's glorious, this mix of family and friends who are family. 

I don't let myself think too often of our girl. I don't let myself think that this may be the last year my parents, now 92 and 94, are with us, or how far gone Randy's mom might be by this time next year. I look at my handsome boys and listen to stories. We laugh a lot.

Dad's usual after-dinner nap


It's not so bad being all grown up; in fact, it's lovely for friends to stay late and play board games. The punch bowl gets refilled again and again. We nibble at the turkey again, have more pie and whipped cream, break out the cheese board and homemade Chex mix. The teenagers go out Black Friday shopping but return within an hour or two. "It was boring," they report. "No fights. No lines. No crowds."


Before I go to bed, I text my girl. She's had a wonderful day, she says. She's sent photos throughout the day, so I've seen her turkey and pies and, most of all, her beautiful smile. 

I was dreading it just a tiny bit, this first Thanksgiving all grown up, but it was actually one of my favorites ever. I am deeply blessed by this life, by the sight of my parents across the table from me still, by my children love to come home and be with us, by friends who make themselves at home and linger well into the evening. 

Grateful, as always, to the giver of all good gifts.

The Gift

Be still, my soul, and steadfast.
Earth and heaven both are still watching
though time is draining from the clock
and your walk, that was confident and quick,
has become slow.

So, be slow if you must, but let
the heart still play its true part.
Love still as once you loved, deeply
and without patience. Let God and the world
know you are grateful. That the gift has been given.
{Mary Oliver}

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Things I Learned This Summer

I can't begin to count the number of times Randy and I looked at each other these past few months and said, "This is the weirdest summer ever." Here are a few things I've learned this very strange summer.

1. You can make it through your daughter's wedding (the most perfect wedding ever) without sobbing uncontrollably.
When I imagined my daughter's wedding day, I was sure I would have these moments throughout the whole day when I would not be able to stop the tears. Happy tears, tears of melancholy, tears of joy—all the tears that come when your child transitions to a new season. Because we all know that a new season for a child changes the shape of the family. But when the day really came, I was filled with joy. Sure, I had moments when I got choked up, but I never wept, never had mascara-running tears. I distinctly remember smiling as my handsome sons walked me down the aisle, looking at all the guests and loving each one of them, appreciating our village, our family, our new friends. I made it through with joy and gladness, from these first moments to the toasts to the father-daughter dance. What a beautiful evening it was.

2. I was not having anxiety attacks.
When I first went to the ER with chest pains back in late April, I was assured that I was not having a heart attack. A follow-up visit with my doctor confirmed this. She suggested that I was most likely having an anxiety attack, which made total sense with all the huge things in my life in the past year: planning a wedding, planning a graduation ceremony for our homeschooling group, Laurel's graduation, Duncan's graduation, coming to the end of 19 years of homeschooling, all three kids starting new chapters, caring for my aging parents as well as Randy's mother, becoming empty nesters, and on and on. Anxiety made sense. But, I told her, I am really not an anxious person. I am relaxed, laid back. Even though I certainly feel stress, I've never been incapacitated by it. I've always been thankful for this gift of optimism and trust that things will work out. My doctor explained that sometimes the most relaxed people could experience the worst cases of sudden anxiety. Again, that made sense.

So when it happened again at Laurel's graduation, I attributed the pains to stress and moved on. When it happened a couple weeks later, between Duncan's graduation and Laurel's wedding, it made sense. I prayed that I would not experience that searing pain on Laurel's wedding day, and I did not. I breathed easily, enjoyed every minute of the day, and hoped that, with all the big stresses now done, the pains would be done, too.

And then a week after Laurel's wedding, I had another episode, and this time the pain didn't go away. I went back to the doctor, really seeking reassurance that this was anxiety. This time she ran another blood test and the results prompted her to send me to the hospital for a possible blood clot. A WHAT? CT-scan, x-rays, a heparin drip, and finally the diagnosis: pericarditis (in short, inflammation of the pericardium). Pericarditis feels like a heart attack, or, as one friend put it, "torture of the torso."

{Y'know, I should have trusted my gut more. I just couldn't get on board with the anxiety attacks, but it really did make sense. TRUST YOUR GUT. Will I ever learn that lesson??}

And so, after being in the hospital for a couple of days, I was released for my long recovery: some anti-inflammatory meds and 6 weeks of rest.

3. A whole summer of reading and watching Netflix isn't as blissful as it sounds.
No housework, says the cardiologist. No heavy lifting.  No yard work. Sounds like a dream, right?
No working out. (Like, none?) Nothing that will raise your heart rate.
No hiking. No walks with friends in the park. No anything.

I sat on the couch all summer.
I read a lot of books (17 between June-August). I watched many hours of Netflix, Hulu, and Prime. (My favorite: The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. Oh, how I love that series!! Also, I only watched season 1 of Outlander but I really hated the last episodes so much that I couldn't watch but one or two episodes of season 2.) And that's about all I did, for real. I thought I would use that time to do a lot of writing, catch up on photo albums, publish lesson plans, etc. but I was just so tired all the time. Brain tired. Heart tired. I napped a lot.

4. It is wearisome and worrisome to be sick.
I have developed tremendous empathy for people who are chronically ill. I have friends who struggle with this, and I will admit that I have been annoyed sometimes, thinking "Just get out and DO something and you'll feel better!" I have learned that, even as you begin feeling physically better, it is just hard to get back into the swing of things. You feel lonely, anxious, and just not yourself. I can see how my sick-self could take over my "real" self, how I could succumb to choosing a nap over coffee with a friend, even when my body says it is okay. When you are sick all the time, you live way too much in your own head. We need friends to shake us out of that, to remind us of what we have to offer the world. I have been re-entering the world these past 4 weeks—going to church, walking with a friend, even going on a short trip with another friend. Those things have been so healing for me!

5. This is a BIG one: Preparing to be empty-nesters was one of the smartest things we have ever done.
Last year, Randy and I looked at our very tall baby and realized that he would be leaving the nest soon. Your baby leaving home is traumatic enough, but I have been homeschooling for 19 years—and that meant that I would essentially be out of a job. Retired. We have been blessed with an incredible homeschooling community, and my ties with that would essentially end. (But we have an amazing group of friends—a whole village—we've cultivated from that group over the years. That certainly hasn't ended!) So we started getting ready. We began embracing our soon-to-be empty nest rather than dreading it. Our son was working 25 hours a week and finishing his senior year of high school, so he wasn't around much, providing us with a perfect practice year. We joined a hiking challenge group. We called friends to meet us for drinks at a local brewery. We started being regulars at a Wednesday night music event. We kayaked and walked and went on a few weekend trips, just the two of us. We were intentional about moving into the next season of our life with anticipation and joy, rather than feeling lost and lonely. Our son left for college nearly three weeks ago, and this has by far been the easiest transition. We miss him, of course. We have moments when we look around our house and hear the voices of our children shouting to each other, imagine their laughter and their little feet. But we DID it! We raised three beautiful human beings who are kind, compassionate, and truly enjoyable adults—people that we love to hang out with.

This is taken right before we left our youngest at college! We're not crying!

6. "Normal" is elusive.
Oh, it is so very, very slippery.
For months now, we've been saying "After the wedding, things will get back to normal." Hahaha! Hello, pericarditis. Or after I'm feeling better, things will be normal. Yeah, well, I forgot to mention that we ("we" being Randy) launched a massive renovating project right after the wedding but before my pericarditis diagnosis. I mean, I was planning to help him, but instead I watched as he prepped and sanded and painted. We slept in our attached apartment, ate dinner with boxes of books piled all around us, and said goodbye to 19 years of carpet and wallpaper. Our living room is livable now and, while it's not quite finished, I absolutely adore it, by the way.

But things cannot be normal when your last child is leaving home. We purchased and packed and had a goodbye party or two and then dropped our sweet boy off.

We were ready to embrace our new normal. But wouldn't you know it? Just as we pulled out of his college and got back on the interstate, we got a text from my Dad saying that Mom had fallen and was in the hospital with a broken arm. That's a big deal when you're 92. Normal slipped away again. The next couple weeks were a blur of overnights in the hospital and then the rehab center with Mom. My brother, father, and I took turns sleeping in the room with her, as we were afraid she would get up at night and fall. Also, she just really loved our company.

She is home now, and I hesitate to say it but... life is feeling a little more normal this week. We are developing a rhythm to our new life, just Randy and me. I know, I know. It's only been a few days, but somehow life seems just a little slower this week, and I can almost feel a sense of normal. Almost.

7. My kids have grown up.

I mean, look at them.
One started college. Our baby!
My daughter and her husband (HER HUSBAND! My baby girl is married!) started graduate school.
Our oldest (he was our little Jesse Bear, our first little love!) is now in law school—and planning a wedding!

Duncan and his girlfriend, as he moves into his dorm room

Hunter, who began his MDiv, and Laurel, who began her master's in marriage and family therapy
Our future lawyer!
And also, Jesse and his future wife!

They are grown, and they are such wonderful people. We like them SO MUCH! We are still adjusting to having adult children, but I am really liking this concept.

What a crazy summer this has been. What a blur, what a time of transition! Things have just been weird, and I have to say at this point how incredibly grateful I am to my husband. He has been an absolute ROCK through all of this. He's made me laugh, cooked nearly all our meals, sanded and painted like crazy, held my hand, encouraged me and our kids, taken care of his own mother, and so much more. He is the kindest, gentlest, and funniest man I know, and I am so glad he is mine. I learned that a LONG time ago, though.

And so, that's what I've learned this very weird summer. I'm joining lots of others at Emily Freeman's blog, sharing what they've learned, too!

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Surprise! Scoutmaster Retirement/Appreciation Party


It's hard keeping a secret (although much less so as I get older, which is kind of interesting).

Tremendous thanks to all the Scouts and leaders, past and current, and families who organized and came out to surprise and celebrate Randy with a night of appreciation and lots of storytelling about things Randy didn't actually know, including alligator wrestling, 2 a.m. covert trips to Waffle House, and how the phone really got dropped in the submarine.

It's no surprise to me that he has impacted so many lives in his 20 years of leadership in Scouting, but hearing these boys/men and parents express his influence was truly extraordinary. We're so blessed to have raised our kids in this amazing village.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

The Most Perfect Wedding Ever

It seems like a dream, really. 

Every time I think about their wedding, I see a floating white veil, shimmering summer green grass, and smiles so bright they could light up a city.

I see my daughter, excited and nervous, too, but with a confidence that speaks volumes: she is more than ready to marry this man. She is radiant. She glows, she floats, she beams. She sees herself in the mirror and knows she is beautiful.

 She laughs, cries, prays with her bridesmaids; they wait on her hand and foot. This is her day.

On this day, I don't think about the little girl she was in cowboy boots and a ruffled dress. I enjoy every single moment, immersed only in the day. I can't keep my eyes off her, to be honest: the wave of her hair around her face, her brown eyes like some exquisite piece of art, her smooth skin, her beautiful smile. Her wedding dress is perfect, and for just one second, I let myself glimpse her in a white Cinderella dress, age three or four—just for one second.

My princess.

I zip her up. I put the flowers in her hair. She gives me a delicate mother/daughter necklace, with a card that makes me cry.

She meets her father, taps him on the shoulder. He turns and breaks into a smile as he sees his girl transformed into a bride. She gives him a gift she used to give to him when she was a little girl: handkerchiefs she embroidered with tiny hearts. He cries.

And so the day progresses, from moment to moment...

The details, so tailored to fit their personalities, who they are as individuals and as a couple.

The first look between Laurel and Hunter.

The incredibly fun wedding party. What fabulous bridesmaids and groomsmen!

And then the ceremony. Walking down the aisle with a son on either side, seeing chairs filled with friends and family who love us. My mother, the flower girl, and Laurel's cousin (the second to youngest grandchild), the ringbearer. And then the walk down the aisle, my daughter and my husband.

The readings by their brothers. Poems read by Laurel's brothers: "I Carry Your Heart With Me" by e.e. cummings and "Coming Home" by Mary Oliver. Scripture read by Hunter's brother: 1 Peter 4:8-11, "Above all, love each other deeply..."

The ceremony was truly a perfect blend of smiles and tears, laughter and solemnity. Their precious vows that they had written (seriously, the best I've ever heard), their shared communion, a few jokes, and lots of blessings: what a joyful celebration!


Ah, and the reception. What a party! The food, the drinks, the music, the toasts, the cake, the dancing: everything about the evening was wrapped in happiness, tied up with joy. So much dancing! The June evening was clear and just warm enough, the lights twinkled, we soaked in the love of tables filled with our friends, our families, and their joy in our joy.


It sounds idyllic, I know. I could go into all the details—the months of planning and all that entailed— but the end result was the most magical day without, for me, one single moment of stress.  I will say that I'm so thankful for our wedding planner, Megan. She made all the difference between a stressful event and one in which all the parents could just sit back and revel in every moment.

The wedding was glorious, it's true. But a hundredfold more than the candlelight and the flowers, the tender toasts and the exuberant dancing, are the vows these two made to each other, before all of us, as they committed their lives to each other and their marriage to God. Their trust in each other and their faith in Christ is tangible and strong, and they are clearly excited to grow together in every way.

I think of the words of Hannah from 1 Samuel 27: "I prayed for this child..." Of course I covered my girl in prayer since before she was born, but I also prayed for her future husband through the years: that he would be having a happy childhood, that he would be kind and generous and compassionate, gentle and funny and Spirit-filled. The rest of the verse goes like this: "the Lord has granted me what I asked of him." Hunter is all of that and more, and I love to watch them embracing this life together.

 Our family of 5 is now a family of 6, and I couldn't be happier.

 And we got some pretty amazing in-laws, too!

If you read all the way to the bottom of this, THANKS FOR SHARING this special day with me!

Photography: Jamie Pratt Photos
Planning, Coordination, and Decor: Margaret Claire’s Weddings and Events
Venue: The Stables at Strawberry Creek, Knoxville
DJ: Margaret Claire’s DJ Services
Floral Design: Echelon Florist
Catering: Best Bites
Bartending: The Pour Guys
Bride’s Cake: Publix
Groom’s Cake: Bees Knees Bakery