Friday, July 1, 2016

Farewell to Something Really Sweet

{I started this letter the last official day of homeschooling and I just couldn’t do it.  I was raw-- as raw as I had ever been as a parent.  Humbled and dependent on God in a way only parenting can bring about.  Blurry eyed, I had to stop ....... and pack for our road trip the next day.  If you are debating on whether or not to homeschool, maybe don’t read this and certainly don’t look at the pictures.  There will be no turning back for you.  It IS a sweet thing-- but don’t dare do it unless you know you are being asked by the Lord to do it.  And that you have your husband’s FULL support.  You will need it everyday.  I’ll write another day on why we are making a change.....after I write about the hundred other things I’ve thought about for the last 6 months!}

Dear Julia and Brighton,

When I walked into the dark-ish kitchen this morning to switch over the laundry, the little stack on the “present spot” on the kitchen table surprised me.  It’s not Valentines, Easter, Mother’s Day or my birthday!  And then I saw the note from Jeff.  Well.  I decided really quickly there wasn’t time to be emotional— we leave for VACATION tomorrow!!  Why else would I be changing the laundry over when it is still dark-ish?!


I made you binders each year to hold all of your work for the year.  You guys were pretty proud of those.  And this is the year you wanted uniforms......at home. ; )


Gone are the days you can go to school with bedhead, B.  You had some doozies.  {Veritas History}

Nine years.  And you two don’t remember it like I do.  I said yes to this whole homeschooling thing with fear and trembling.  As normal as it had become when I started, even I thought I was a little bit crazy.  But, yet, I had a desire to keep you with me a bit longer, to maybe help structure a foundation beneath you that might serve you well later:   Spiritually- to help you form a Biblical worldview from which you would shape your ideas about God and our culture, Emotionally- to walk with you as you experienced new feelings— good or bad— and to learn for myself how you responded in different situations, Socially— contrary to popular opinion the “social” capabilities are directly related to how social a family is.  We have NEVER lacked for social interaction.  Protecting the calendar feels a little like holding back the tide.  We FIGHT for those blank white squares!  Mentally— to teach you core school subjects but with my LIMITED knowledge to expose you to classic artists, composers and authors that have given us gifts of beauty for hundreds and hundreds of years.  Idealistic expectations?  Maybe.  But I really, really enjoyed trying.


We had Museum Week the end of February.  It was a great time for a break.  We would hit as many museums we could in Fort Worth or Dallas.




The big library downtown always had a great exhibit of some kind to add to our week.


Drama.



One year of Museum Week, it ICED and we couldn’t go anywhere.  We were SORELY disappointed. We made something yummy and made up our own museum day with art books and poetry!

It’s hard to get my mind around the fact that the season of doing our school at home is over.  I think we knew we wouldn’t go all the way but there is no way of knowing when it’s actually going to be over— and Daddy kept telling us that, didn’t he?  Especially as you got older on the days when he’d come home and we were all a little war-weary…. mad and irritated with one another.  He kept saying, “Don’t waste these days.  You will miss this.  I promise you will.”



A quick review of cursive.   That pink still looks great on you.


B’s first book was my first book.  Little Bear.

I honestly couldn’t take it all in these past weeks.  This last semester proved to be our hardest and I have been concentrating on getting by minute to minute.  I have had no room for processing extra emotions.  The thing I thought of that would be the last - regular- thing was our breakfast time devotionals.  I will so miss that.  Not that we won’t ever have breakfast together again but the regularity of sitting down with our Bible study binder is really over.  The two of you will have different schedules now— with different school start times and practices before school starts etc.  I will miss this time the most.  I can’t tell you how many times I was stunned by how applicable our “lessons” would be to our last few moments or struggles over the last few days. Honestly, some days, I’d feel badly for one of you thinking, “They are going to think I found these pages specifically for them and for today,” when I really had just turned to the bookmark and picked up where we left off.  God was {and is} working whether we thought He was or not.  That 15 or 20 minutes across the table from each other could go a few ways— some mornings we all sat down completely frustrated with one another.  Angry words had already flown and the tone of our home had spiraled down…. and then we’d have to pray before eating.  Other days, we’d all be sleepy or distracted and you’d give rote answers to the question based curriculum.  But then, there were days when I wished we’d never have to leave the table.  Your answers were thought through.  You asked questions that made me think hard— and ponder later.  You guys would be vulnerable about your struggles and you’d actually listen to and empathize with each other.  Those were gifts to me— gifts that encouraged me to not stop.  To keep going no matter how many careless words had been tossed around before 8:45.  I needed that time.  It kept my heart on track.  And maybe yours?



So glad I got this picture that day-- but certainly an ordinary day of baseball and ballet-- and a trip to the beloved library.


Second school room in the rental while we built the house we are in now.  Close quarters, for sure.



I will miss this flexibility-- a Royal Wedding Watch Party.  What a fun day this was!  You girls were mesmerized much like I was when Charles and Diana were married.  



Abraham Lincoln, of course.  He is a great man to study.


If I remember correctly, this was a doll with a mud face and a grass skirt.  You both were so proud.

I have a slew of memories and without thinking long, the first picture that comes to mind is the two of you sitting at your desks in the playroom turned school room, feet swinging because they didn’t touch the ground, heads down and pencils wobbling, intent on doing a good job.  Then I remember being on the floor doing our math fact competitions and how worked up you would get, Brighton— tongue tied because you were trying to go too fast.  And ALL THE LAUGHTER from both of you.  And Julia, how you could memorize everything so fast, I’ll never understand.  You knew poems that we’d read maybe twice?  {I miss the poetry.  You both do too, but you will NEVER admit it!}  




Always shenanigans....


Your head must have been cold, but NOT your feet!

Other memories I have are times in the window seat reading and reading and reading— me reading to you, you reading silently, math with pictures, RECESS, sewing with Mrs. Cox, history through picture books- {I learned so much!} homemade museum week {I wish we could still do this!}, Panera days, the multiple exciting Amazon deliveries in August, Barbie and Ken mummies when we studied Egypt, when you wanted uniforms at home, line time with two students, trips to the library, Mrs. Winsor and Science Etc. “Miss” Barbara, online classes with Veritas. and how AMAZINGLY CUTE you both were. {I opted for science somewhere else because I’m not a big fan of “mess”.  I really do wish I were that mom sometimes, but alas, I am not.}


I always considered a musical instrument a part of their schooling.  For now, it’s piano.


Putting his history cards in order getting ready for a test


MUMMIES!


You two walked Gabe every morning before school-- adventures galore and the most memorable.... EMERGENCY!!!!!!!!  EMERGENCY!!!!!!!!!!






RECESS!  chalk, jumprope, homemade kites-- others were riding bikes, wagon contraptions and wrestling in the grass

Kids, we have had so much fun.  Every step of the way was a learning process for all of us. These last few years have seen some crazy days— especially as schoolwork has gotten harder and you two started producing hormones that cause you to act like aliens— but even in the midst of that, we’ve been together and I’ve learned to love aliens.  Hours and hours and hours we’ve spent together.  And I know you better…. and you know each other better……. and you know me better.  Better than you ever wished for, I am sure.  Reality will hit sometime in the fall, I am sure and I will miss you.  But that’s probably healthy— oh, I know it is.  {I can read Robert Louis Stevenson’s Garden of Verses without you.  So there.}  I will be ready for you when you come home— excited to hear about your day when you are ready to tell me.


Dude.  3-D.


Mrs. Cox’s girls.  Amazing woman.  She LOVED these girls--even mine in a position SO OUT OF CHARACTER.  Makes me laugh out loud.  What IS that?


Another example of flexibility.... school at the lake, like in October...


And Panera-- with cinnamon roll motivation no momma can touch.


First time we bought school supplies when they switched to CLPS {University model school}


First day of CLPS


Oh, let me just tell you...I only have about a gazillion reading pictures.  Nothing stopped this momma’s heart like her child sitting and reading quietly.  Look!  He has a stack beside him.  However, this did not stick with this one, but I can look at the pictures and remember...


Even better together...



Even better, better when she’d read to him....



Our first and favorite school room-- I worked extra days at Walgreens so we could build these desks.  Thanks to Jeff for getting it done!




The blanket....

It was a great nine years.  I am a different person because of the time spent with you— a better person.  I have learned so much about myself and what I am and am not capable of.  I’ve watched you two grow into very interesting, beautiful, well-adjusted kids—- NORMAL, maybe?  But, really, what’s normal?  I love you two— whatever you are.  Mine. That I know. I’d do it all again, a thousand times.  Maybe by the 999th time, I’d get it right.

Love,
Momma


Be still my heart... 

Friday, May 6, 2016

Deleting or Keeping?

Very rarely do I lose anything on my trusty Mac.  I had a mind riveting post for you to read today-- but, alas, it’s gone.  I went to touch it up and it’s nowhere to be found-- searched for weird words like “spatula”, “efficiency”, “toothbrush” and “idol” ..... and nothing.  It’s like one of my kids highlighted their mom’s priceless words and just hit “DELETE”.  {And did it again in the trashcan.}  I do believe this is exactly what happened.  You think I’d be used to that, right?

Me: “lalalalalalalalalalalalalala"
Kids:  {delete, delete, delete}

I think almost everything I say is priceless--especially at home--  of course, I do.  Even this morning, my integrity was called into question by one of my children {yes, one is that bold} and I delivered a passionate monologue on exactly why that was so offensive to me.  That one should have been recorded, because, friends, it was good.  I have no idea why one went away crying and one profusely apologized.... Maybe I could have simmered down a bit but it was before 9am.  I was full of energy.

Fingers in the face.  Yes, that’s the ticket. This wasn’t memorable either.

But something tells me, they don’t remember anything but the look on my offended face as I delivered my speech.  Delete, delete, delete.  And again in the trash.  

I already know it-- I use too many.  I’ve always used too many.  If you’ve read here much, you know I’m long.  I can’t do short.  In school, summaries were my worst nightmare.  There was just no way.  The details are WAY TOO IMPORTANT.  What’s a story without the details?  Boring, bland, blah, banal, and bad black and white.  And I can never just tell someone “no”.  Following my “no” is always a long explanation of the why.  I’ve been called out on that before  {Don’t complain and don’t explain.} so I try not to do it but the words are just in me. Dying to come out.  So I do this with my kids.  To a fault.  Like to where they know too much-- like, the way my mind works and then they are smart enough to play with it.  

But back to that delete button, so what words stick?  What lessons do they mull over and decide to keep?  What will be the thing they say after, “My mom always said......................”  With my luck it will be, “Don’t bring the dog in!”  or “You call this clean?” or “That shirt does not cover your bottom.” {The decade leggings were marketed as pants.  We mom of teens who give a rip for our daughter’s modesty won’t soon forget it.}  or "{sniff sniff} Have you showered?” I wish I had given this more thought-- to know the brevity of the time I have to plant these words in them.

Here’s my investment so far-- I just asked Julia what she thinks I say all the time-- with no time for her to think-- she said, “Kill them with kindness.” Oh my.  Just what you’d imagine a sharp tongued Southern girl would say often, yes?  I laughed clear out loud embarrassing her in the quiet coffee shop.  To my defense, I just KNOW I was thinking the whole “heap burning coals on their heads”-- somewhere in the New Testament!! Hebrews?! No, Romans.  12.  Of course, I was. 

I think I might cut this one short. 

Last words to myself-- time is running out.  I need to choose my words carefully.  Speak words worth keeping.  Keep the rest to myself.

Lord, save me from the sins of my tongue and the flaws of character that fuel them.  Make my words honest {by taking away my fear}, few {by taking away my self-importance}, wise {by taking away my thoughtlessness} and kind {by taking away my indifference and irritability}.  Amen. 

~from a devo sent to me this morning from B’s small group leader 

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

What I’ve Kept


Jeff gives great gifts.  I am not sure how he does it but his gifts are thoughtful {sigh….}, or it becomes one of the things you don’t know how you functioned without it, or it’s just plain fun— or interesting- though he never likes for me to use that word to describe a gift he’s given me. For me to tell you he gave me a book with 642 ideas of things to write about might not seem very thoughtful to you but it was to me— so very thoughtful.  And here is why.  He’s my biggest fan— in all things, but especially my writing.  And he knows I have struggled as the kids have gotten older— and that I feel like I don’t know what the heck I am doing with these emerging teenagers!!  Anyhow, he saw this book and thought it might spur on new thoughts— something other than children, parenting, disciplining, homework, training, failing {daily}, coaching, school grades, consequences or no consequences, justice or mercy— EVERY. SINGLE. DAY!!  He thought a little frivolity coursing through my brain might be a nice break. And it’s not easy to put that huge chunk of my life aside and think about …….. a few of the 642 suggestions are, “The carpenter who brought candy” {A little creepy if you ask me.} or “Write ten new cheers for a high-school cheerleading squad” {I’d rather clean toilets.} or, “Toto, if we’re not in Kansas anymore, where are we?”  {Oz!!!  Isn’t that what the whole LONG movie was about?!?}  I am just too practical!  I could go on and on with those— things I will NEVER write about, but the book has some good ideas.  I have never used it— until today.

Because I miss writing.  And it’s quiet here today.

So.  If you miss all the parenting stuff— send your kids or grandkids back here in about 15-20 years when I can write about all of the juicy stuff I can’t write about now.  You can learn then from ALL of my mistakes and pitfalls made in the name of parenting to the best of my ability— and all the while trying to learn what it truly means to walk in the Spirit.  The Lord is my helper.

Today, I get to write about “What I’ve Kept”.  Well, I’ve got to start somewhere.  It may not be frivolous but this will come easy to me.  One thing’s for sure.  I’ve kept too much and even I don’t want to think through every little thing.  There are the kept things that we might see often or even use daily but then there are the things no one ever sees— and that we only see when we move— and we wonder, “Do I really need to keep this?”  We have mementos from high school and college. I have some wedding things- dress, guest book, honeymoon things.  I have some things of my grandparents.  I’ve kept some baby clothes, nursery items, and certain toys.  It seems strange to just throw them away so I keep them.  In a box,…  in the attic…in hopes that one day something of it might bring someone some joy— or joggle a memory— or make someone feel treasured because I kept it.  

But I do wonder if I could get it all in a room, laid out so I could see everything at once, what would be the things that drew me in?  Seeing it all out like that, would it be easier to narrow down the true keepers?

The letters.  I come across those often because of where I keep them.  And I even pull some out from time to time.  A few from my parents, a few more from my brother {most recently the one he wrote when I turned 40 and can’t read it again because, well, I just can’t.  Too sweet.  Too gracious.}, from Jeff who stole my heart with words, from mentors who beamed the light of Jesus into my life, from Julia and Brighton with their sweet handwriting and, lastly, friends.  Oh, I have been so blessed with encouraging friends.  I can’t throw heart felt words away.  “Kept”, for sure.

My Bible.  I know.  Sounds like a no-brainer but what else have I kept since I was a teenager that I use almost every day?  Even at 14 I knew I wanted it to be my forever Bible.  I asked for the nicest one— the best binding and I asked my parents NOT to have it monogrammed because I didn’t want my 14 year old initials to be outdated one day.  I know— I was weird then and I am weird now.  No teenager should think like that.  It’s the one I open most mornings.  30 years of living and growing with that treasure I’ve kept.  It’s been rebound, has coffee stains, even a few Pop Tart stains {frosted strawberry} from college, torn pages and random pen marks from young campers and VBS littles.  I have notes in the side margins from those teenage years that hint at beginning stages of faith, things that were of vital importance then, notes from my pastor in college and the pastor Jeff and I served under out first year of marriage and notes from when I had the privilege of sitting under Jeff’s preaching week after week.  There are marker verses throughout— house church, church plants, baby promises, house promises, new ministry promises…. He’s faithful. And this Bible reminds me of our story.  This thing I have kept for almost 32 years.

Photos, I’ve kept.  Of course.  We all have.  I love the old ones and the new ones.  To look at B’s bright, happy face at 2 years old does something to bolster my heart.  And to see Julia’s wide eyed wonder at 4 in a frame on my wall….. it reminds me of the vulnerability still underneath as her outward appearance looks full grown.  Then to see us laughing at the lake or cutting up on the beach— or a picture of mine and Jeff’s first date.  This is our family.  It’s pieces of history that no one truly cares about except us.  They will survive about 2 maybe 3 generations and then discarded and forgotten.  And that’s okay.  They are kept for now and provide much joy.

Newborn clothes.  See?  I can’t NOT write about my kids.  I think we all have a soft spot for those little clothes, reminding us when they were just a little peanut.  And we were so in love— our hearts were full to bursting and we didn’t think we could contain it?  Those clothes remind us of sweetness.  And tiny-ness.  I had waited long.  And 21 months later when Brighton came along, the magic baby dust had NOT worn off.  I was smitten on top of my smitten-ness with Julia.  Those clothes are in the attic— and I don’t open that box when I am up there looking for the camping tote.  Maybe I should from time to time— to remember my heart towards them then-  and how they possibly could use a little MORE of that tenderness now.

I’m grateful I have things to keep-- that there has been the richness and kindness of God throughout my life through people, even things and memories I don’t want to forget.  Those boxes in the attic or that big envelope in my nightstand tell parts of a story I am not living right now.  They speak of seasons God has had me live and seasons that have prepared me for the one I am in now-- and will enter in.  The notes of encouragement remind me I am very loved and supported no matter what happens.  Those tiny clothes remind me of the faithfulness of God and how His purposes and timing are perfect.  The photos remind me of those people who I love and who have loved me and the blessing of even being together for a time for a photo.

Kept things are good things.  Kept things remind me of Who keeps me.

The LORD is your keeper; The LORD is your shade on your right hand. Psalm 121:5

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Teenagers, Vulnerabilities, and the List You’ve Always Wanted {but didn’t know it}

Only my computer trash knows how many times I have photographed THIS expression.
{Shameless Easter Selfie}
Heads on our pillows the other night, before Jeff slipped into blissful dreamland, he stated, “You haven’t been writing.”  I wanted to say, “And???”  But I knew by the slurred tone in which he’d made the statement, I wouldn’t get an answer before he fell asleep.  So here I sit trying to think of something other than my teenage girl and my 6-months-away-from-teenage boy.  I cannot do it.  It’s consuming, these kids and their methods and their rooms and their hormones and their  clothes and their aromas {maybe one in particular} and their complete vulnerability as they are trying to figure out this growing up thing.  This is what headlines my thoughts.



If you need a refresher on the definition of the word “vulnerability” it is:  capable of or susceptible to being wounded or hurt.  That’s true of all of us but especially true of our teenage kids.  I need to remember this every single day.  I am not excusing them from very foolish decisions, mouths that utter snarky words at the most unfortunate times,  less than ideal work ethics, the inability to remember much of anything ….. but to realize what all is going on within them can help me to take the chaos in a little more stride.

What I see and discover makes me a little concerned for their brains.  I know things happen to our brains all of our lives but this………I think this is unprecedented.  It has to be.  I think you can only live through this once.  The best picture I have for what I think their brains look like at this stage would be B’s back pack.  Or a majority of 12 year old boys’ backpacks.  I refuse to think that B’s is the only one.  Papers………. LOOSE papers………. everywhere.  Paper Palooza!  Paper Party!  Paper Powerhouse!  Wrinkled gobs of papers sprouting from the zipper!  Yours for the taking!  No matter if they are homework due yesterday or four yesterdays ago!  The only plus is that on a hot day, you can reach {with much caution} to the very bottom of the pack and pull out a naturally occurring paper fan and create a small breeze for yourself.  And maybe review your Pre-Algebra simultaneously.  Back to the brain analogy— it’s a mess.  Nothing seems to be where it’s supposed to be or used to be or has completely disappeared altogether.  The only things they seem to remember is if it’s their day to sit in the front seat or it’s NOT their morning to cook breakfast.  New things have appeared but haven’t been put in their place yet where it can actually be helpful when you need it— like a fierce desire for independence.  This seems to backfire on them the most often.  Independence is good when it comes to school or chores, not so good when it comes to abiding by house rules or looking to serve family members.  Add in their insecurities— their questions about who they are, what do they want to become, who is their friend, where is the deodorant and what to wear tomorrow— these kids are vulnerable.  Susceptible to being hurt.  And that causes my compassion to surface.  {And my mother bear instinct which has caused me to offer up many prayers of repentance as I’ve responded to my kids being wounded by kids who are in the same boat—— no, kayak in the rapids.}



So, what can we do about this— all of this maddening misplaced independence, the chunks of information that has seemingly selectively fallen out of their memory, their failure to respond to training and discipline—  and still stay compassionate, patient and loving?!?!  And sane.  Beg Jesus to come back?!?!  NOW!!!!  I’ve said more times than I can count over the last few months, “I thought I knew something about parenting, but I know nothing.”  I know that’s not completely true but it’s completely HOW I FEEL much of the time.  I stand and stare at the kids looking back at me— and I stare because I have no idea what to say.  I am puzzled and I am ignorant.  And for the record, I need to stare more often— stare with eyes open and mouth shut, because when I open my mouth I say things that are followed up with phones calls from the kids to Jeff and I am referred to as “your wife”,  Nice.  {Only one of my children does this…..One out of two ain’t bad.}

I was talking to a friend this morning and the idea came to me how helpful it would be to ME to list out the things I could not control.  This list is obvious but when wired like I am, this is helpful for me to see in black and white.

Scripture—- that’s what I’ve got.  Scripture—- that’s what I know.



The List You’ve Always Wanted {but didn’t know it}

I cannot control their tongues.  By HIs grace, I can control my own.  
Colossians 4:6 Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.  {No staring mentioned here.}

I cannot carry out their responsibilities.  By His grace, I can carry out mine.  
Ephesians 2:10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

I cannot make them serve. By His grace, I can serve.
Ephesians 6:7 Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people. 

I cannot control their work ethic.  By His grace, I can control mine.  
Colossains 3:17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

I cannot control their level of contentment. By His grace, I can control my own.
Philippians 4:11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 

I cannot control their responses.  By His grace, I can control mine.
Ephesians 4:2-3 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 

I cannot control their attitude.  By His grace, I can control my own.
Philippians 2:3-4  Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. 

I cannot control thought patterns that seem to rule them.  By His grace, I can control my own.
Psalm 19:14  Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart Be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, my rock and my Redeemer.
2 Corinthians 10:5  We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

I cannot, at all times, protect them, their vulnerabilities, but I know who can.  
Psalm 71:3 Be my rock of refuge, to which I can always go; give the command to save me, for you are my rock and my fortress. 
Psalm 61:3  For you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the foe.
Psalm 31:19 How abundant are the good things that you have stored up for those who fear you, that you bestow in the sight of all, on those who take refuge in you.
Psalm 46:1  God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.
Psalm 71:1 In you, LORD, I have taken refuge; let me never be put to shame.

So more and more, God is showing me this parenting thing is really more about Him and me than it is about the kids and me.  Yes, we need to speak into the lives of our children.  We are their primary “disciplers” {not sure that is a word}—the one discipling them in the ways of Christ.  Yes, we need to spend gobs of time with them, engage their hearts and at this age, giving them more and more freedom as they prove they are ready.  But more importantly, we need to model in front of them the ways of Christ- selflessness, graceful words, hard-working, gentleness, humility, patience, peacemaking, contentedness, purity of mind and heart, intentionality— and all the other ways modeled to us by Him.  They need to see us submitting to the Word, giving Christ our wholehearted devotion.  They need this SO MUCH MORE than all my words.  The security my kids could gain from my commitment to His ways could root them deep, protecting some of their vulnerable spots and propel them forward in strength and confidence in the Lord.

Yes, that’s what I’m after.

They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of His splendor.  Isaiah 61:3




Monday, March 21, 2016

Spring Break: Eastern Style


After two Spring Breaks in sleepy {read that “AMAZINGLY DIVINE” in my vocabulary} Rockport, Texas, we decided to do something different this go ‘round.  We headed to Atlanta to spend back to back weekends with Jeff’s parents and stuff the week between with a little touring.

After celebrating Michael’s birthday and getting some cousin, in-law, sibling time in, we headed to Helen, a little German influenced town in north Georgia.




Jeff’s mom’s name is Betty. ; )
We talked his parents and sister’s family into going with us-- and I’m so glad they did.  Everything is more fun with some more Sanders-- and Moyes!


Boiled peanuts-- 2 votes, yes.  1 vote, no.



It was a gorgeous day to see north Georgia.  I forget we have some mountains-- thanks to the Appalachains.



Trying out some authentic German food with their cousins


This girl loves a little thrift shop. A German one is even better.


Taken for the sole benefit of her cousin, Hunter.


This store was a favorite for all of us.



Only Jeff and I cared for this one. ; )



And, oh yes, we made it to another national park and it was a beauty.  The trees hadn’t yet greened out but they were trying.   It was our first park with all the rivers and small falls.  The fog was enchanting.


Cades Cove was dreamy in the early morning hours. So glad we got our lazy selves out of bed to do it! 


Laurel Falls - we loved all the water in the Smokies. 


This girl comes alive in these parks- just like she used to when I'd push her around in a stroller.



I loved the history still standing in this park- churches and homesteads and clubs. We especially liked the churches.



Here is Julia's reaction to the early morning history lesson....and here is B's....

Boots?  Why boots, you say?  Well, it’s the only pair he packed--the ones he had on his feet. 



Part of the old Appalachain Club-- interesting history if you like that sort of thing...




And then on to white water rafting-- The Pigeon River!


Excuse the quality here- I already had my phone in its high tech super duper water proof case! I have to admit -- I kind of enjoyed seeing my 12 and 14 year old a little scared.  
(Cocky teenagers get on my nerves) 



The kids did great.  They really didn't have a choice because our AMAZING GUIDE kept them busy the entire time! They obeyed his every command ---- and I told him he should lead parenting conferences. 





A good friend reminded me it was National Pi Day so that seemed the perfect excuse to find a good place for pie. 


And B gave us a 12 year old boy pose.


When you make reservations online and trust the pictures on the sites, it can be a little scary.  Jeff usually does this for us so all of the pressure is on him.  Our drive to this place, I can imagine he felt like a hot tea kettle about to screech. We all got a bit worried as we drove the rain guttered, pot holed roads up, up, up and up. I have no words to describe the, ummm, colorful, eclectic homes we rock and rolled beside on our trek up the mountain.  When greeted by dogs, goats, chickens and an albino turkey, Jeff never even stopped when the sign clearly read "STOP HERE. Check in HERE. Go no further." He bowled right on through and up the mountain to check out the cabin he'd rented online- and thankfully, the cabin checked out fine.  So then he obeyed and we drove-carefully-back down the mountain to be greeted by Miss Mary and her menagerie of animals- owner of Randall Glen Farms. Once we figured it all out, it was a magical place. It is a working ranch of sorts -- I'll let her describe it:

You can see the cabins above.  It was a wonderful place.
"Randall Glen is located just outside Asheville in the historic farming community of Big Sandy Mush. Completely isolated by mountains, this picture postcard valley is still farmed by original settler families and has no commercial development at all. We’re on Newfound Mountain at the very end of the valley, and have over a hundred acres of mountainside and rolling pasture filled with wildflowers, creeks, and forest. We’re surrounded by thousands of acres of conservancy land, and wildlife flourishes here. Our home farm, Randall Cove Farm, is at an elevation of 3100 feet and our Randall Glen mountaintop is at 3600 feet, giving us wonderfully cool summer air and great snow in the winter. We’re so high, in fact, that sometimes we’re actually surrounded by clouds.”

                  










When I was there I kept thinking I would have loved to have stayed there when the kids were little.
She invites the kids to come down early and help the ranch hands feed the animals.  Julia accepted the invitation- actually, we all did.






When I went on a walk by myself, I got to watch a baby goat being born and watch the mother get it to its feet so she could birth her second one. Of course, I didn't take my camera on the walk.

We highly recommend this place but book early. Miss Mary is busy. 




We left the farm to get some good grub AND to see the Biltmore House.  Both the Biltmore and the Tupelo Honey Cafe were super-- if I had to RE-visit one, it’d be the Tupelo Honey Cafe. ; )



Our next stop was Congaree National Park!!! Aren't you pumped about that for us ?!? Yes, Congaree. I know you've never heard of it. Neither had I!
















Here's the deal-- or here is why it's a big deal:

"Astonishing biodiversity exists in Congaree National Park, the largest intact expanse of old growth bottomland hardwood forest remaining in the southeastern United States.  Waters from the Congaree and Wateree Rivers sweep through the floodplain, carrying nutrients and sediments that nourish and rejuvenate this ecosystem and support the growth of national and state champion trees."
Those are smart conservationist people words and but it was really beautiful. It was a bright blue sunny day- a beautiful walk through this unusual forest. Brighton still talks about how much he loved it. 


The greens were budding out at all heights. And I love greens -- especially on a back drop of blue. I'm so glad we had this day in the Congaree.










Sweet moment-- rare and treasured......


And a VERY TYPICAL ENDING!!!!!

We spent the end of trip back in Atlanta and took Jeff’s parents out on the town.  We hit The Pig and Pearl and met some sweet friends from home who were in the area too.  I’ll never forget Meema ordering sweet potatoes and creme brulee as her meal!



We then saw the city by Ferris Wheel.  Atlanta is a beautiful town.




It’d been a long time since I’d been to The Varsity so it was a stop we had to make.




I’m so grateful for these years to make memories with our kids.  My parents did a great job of planning things for us to-- vacations and such.  Those are the times we seem to remember the most-- not the day to day.  Jeff started counting the summers a couple of years ago and realized we didn’t have many left.  So this has become priority. And we are having a ball!