The rain was unexpected. Not the fact that it rained today but the volume of the water that flowed from the downpour was impressive.

I laughed with Parker that he needed to get a float and raft the creek running through our backyard. It was tempting. The water was outside the banks. It was the color of mud and all we could do was watch it run fast and wild. We felt safe in our spot but there is a recklessness that wrestles just at the surface.

There are so many unpredictable things that take place around us. Science is a wonder. Weather is not something we can control. This new world of not being able to contain the virus has so many of us watching the power of what may happen. Out west, fires rage and water is scarce.

Meanwhile, we water our yards and take long showers with little understanding of what might happen because of our choices.

The word enough becomes subjective…we have enough. There is enough.

I’ve had enough. Is it an exit strategy or is it a mantra? The stormy waters will move depending on the weather. The virus will take hold depending on the elements it encounters. We watch the clouds and hedge our bets.

Us? What is driving our next move? Will we watch, will we invade or will we stand idly at the banks? It’s all moving fast. That’s the constant for now.

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In trying…I’m surrounded

In trying to explain where I was on the race course, I felt a long ways away. While Tommy straddled the bike saddle to ride the epic races he’s so well prepared to ride, I’m thinking about when I can lie down to “recharge” my back. The feeling lingers as I come home to the ongoing madness of class meetings, practices for my kids, sports events, and the needs of the business we run. I feel stretched, like so many of my friends, knowing the place we are is not always the place we want to be.

I may be too vulnerable here, but I’m disappointed on every level about where I am. The pandemic has challenged every goal I scripted for my bakery dreams. It’s messy and hard. The numbers don’t add up but the effort is astronomical from all of the talent I have hired. I’m no longer in the driver seat.

I’m also not healing nearly as fast as I had planned. I feel humiliated because I can do very little (according to my original baseline) but I’m told I’m doing well in my progress. Perspective is a canny thing. My first PT was a series of tiny exercises that are meant to build my core. Really, they just make me feel so incapable. For all of the big efforts of controlling my health goals in the past year, I’m stripped down to the basics. I fully understand baby steps but they should be for babies. My back was so bothered after these tiny movements and I find myself realizing it is such a silent ache, a feeling no one but me will be able to temper or fully understand. I try to rock the moments. Don’t we all?

Let me be abundantly clear. This is not a sympathy post in any way. This is a personal mental exercise I created to make a space for my negative thinking and hopefully give audience to the part of the brain that antagonizes every best effort. For all of the forward progress, my brain creates the most comfortable space of self pity. It’s a dangerous place because it’s not accurate at all levels. It’s a place where the mirror is enlarged and all things are skewed. It’s a place of brutal judgement that when I can step away, I’m actually surrounded by acceptance. If you are clear headed and pay close attention, you are surrounded by people who loved you first and will love you through the heartache.

So I may be feeling disappointed, but I am feeling surrounded. (And for the record, I wear this sweatshirt to remind myself…choose happy!)

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It’s a First

It’s the first time I have missed the first day of school for my kids. Wilson started high school and Parker started 4th grade.

It’s a first without our first too. Stuart just finished his first week of college football training. I’ve made sure they are all ready for this week.

My reality is they can set their alarms, dress themselves and even make their own breakfast and pack a lunch. In some ways, they don’t really need me to dote over them and tell them how big they are. They know how important pictures are to the tradition of first days of schools and Wilson surprised me with the selfie with her little brother.

To make the first day happen, they really only needed someone to drive them to the school door. We had grandparents more than willing to do that.

So instead of spending this weekend thinking about the end of summer and stacking up supplies and helping with what outfits to wear, I watched Tommy start and finish this big effort called LeadBoat. He’s put in 9 months of work and it paid off. It’s the equivalent of his own school year so I chose his graduation over the start of the academic year. I do often call him my 4th child.

We may have ended summer for the kids but his summer just kicked off and he crushed his goals. If numbers were something we needed to pay attention to instead of grades, it would be a success. 2 days of racing. 250 miles. 12,000 ft of climbing. 8 amazing friends and family a part of the official support crew. Less than 50 finishers. Bravo.

But…if there was a real prize being handed out, I’d get #1 fan.

For any big effort there is a rival effort. I’ve laughed all weekend that being a part of the support crew is maybe just as difficult as the effort itself. I didn’t train for it. Arguably I was thrown into the elements with little preparation. Spectating should get more acknowledgments. Numbers works here too…a collective 17 hours of baking in the sun, 1450 miles of flying and driving to the race destinations, over 150 texts and emails to manage what’s happening back at home, two rounds of steroid dose pack and a nerve block coupled with 5 days of utter focus on someone else’s needs. Winning at being a wife…check.

The prize for me? This moment my brother in law captured: Tommy’s pointing at me when he crosses. And that’s what I call a photo finish. We did it.

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Burst Bubble

If there could be a picture of expectation, I would imagine it would look a lot like this moment I captured. Bubbles, of all sizes, float around the young girl grasping at what she can catch. She is fueled by the innocent hope of reaching farther. In an instant, expectations are met, burst, or simply disappear.

I’m not sure why we hold so many expectations of ourselves and particularly of others. If we really spend time thinking about those moments of harnessed energy that are largely made up of fictitious rules, grand overtures and elevated emotions. We are met with the harsh reality these expectations can be unattainable. They can destroy us and our relationships with others.

This summer held a lot of expectations for all of us. For me, it was supposed to be a lot of things..a big adventure trip, growth goals for the bakery, camping as a family of 5, college send off, and more. I set mental plans in motions. I blew a lot of bubbles feeling the giddy excitement of coming together. But bubbles burst one by one in a slow showcase of changes in everything around me; changes in health, changes in desires, changes in plans.

Our city is stretched with not just the Delta variant and cases rising, but the harsh truth of violent crime on the rise. I find myself holding my breath a bit tighter, my people a bit closer, wondering what change might come next. The bubble I created about life and loss and humanity burst way back on a hot day in July of 2001 but I can still feel the good energy it held. I allow myself to recreate it. I try to reform the ideas I held then but understand them in new ways.

Many of us might like living in the bubbles we create but maybe we don’t always know what is best. Maybe it’s what we breathe into the space that has us working too hard to keep up the entertainment. Maybe we’ve floated so far from reality we know we’re likely to burst. We can practice breathing new thinking into our space and watch the joy we can spread or the harm we can create.

We can set the boundaries of what we expect or don’t expect. It can be life changing to open up our view. We can use our spheres of influence to bubble up goodness or discontent.

In order to even create a bubble, it takes drawing in for a deep breath. Maybe for today just stop there. For today, don’t exhale the expectation. Just breathe and see what comes next.

Listen, are you breathing just a little, and calling it a life…Mary Oliver.

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The Show Must Go On

Family send off to Leadville

It’s a tradition that does not seem right to stop just because life has to change. For years, we have spent the two weeks of “dead period” where summer sports are suspended, traveling as a family of five out west exporting national parks. I built this blog around the concept that we connect as a family of five through the outdoors. This summer is the first exception. With Stuart graduating, work was his priority. Wilson had an incredible adventure camp and a trip to the beach with friends and Parker kicked off the summer with camp and has tagged along wherever we needed him to go ever since. This has been a summer of what I deemed splintered moments and second options. Really our only family photo of the summer was the above. It was our send off before Tommy hit the road alone to prepare for his bike race called LeadBoat. A grueling two days of 250 miles in the mountains of Colorado of cycling in rough terrains and high elevations.

Bed views for days

A tiny tear in my spine and ruptured disc late June leveled me. It’s by far the most pain I’ve ever experienced, far beyond 3 childbirths. It has rattled my ability to do much by the way of fun (as I had envisioned) for over 7 weeks. I’ve tried to remind myself the goal is participating in life. I can now walk and sit for short periods of time (and got back behind the wheel after 5 weeks) but the pain has been persistent. I’m told time is the ultimate healer and I’m doing my best to trust the process and enjoy short walks to the garden and take in views (mostly lying down) at a much slower pace.

Patience is a virtue

After wallowing for far too long in self pity, I’ve been taking notes of the views from lying down. More importantly, thinking about the lessons of being still. I thought I’d at least explore the innermost corners of my brain and where it has taken me this summer. It’s important to reflect on how we can still learn from nature in the shifting winds of change.

Looking for the breakthrough in my thinking

For those of you who know me, I’m not one to take life on lying down. I’m a doer. I’m always in constant motion. I like to take on projects and be the one to fix things. I’ve had to completely reevaluate my wiring when those things I love to do are taken away and not possible. I’ve resorted to organizing drawers and matching up socks. I’ve had to find the satisfaction in the simple acts I can complete to say I’ve done something for the day. It’s exhausting to do very little. However, in this time I’ve been taking mental notes about what is happening in my space and here are a few take aways:

1. Community shows up when you need it.

I was lucky to have several visitors who came to the bedside in the first few days and a husband who helped me do literally everything through a lot of tears. After a few days, I got some great smiles and laughter in, despite the pain I was experiencing. I have taken in a lot of family time lying on the couch, lying in a beach chair or time lounging at the pool. I’ve taken in listening to stories from camp, extended family trips and strolling memory lane before we took Stuart to college. Normally, I likely would have been fussing around in the kitchen cooking up something for the meals to be shared. Then, I would spend lots of time cleaning up…but these visits we ordered in food and lingered long, the way in which being present should be.

Surprise visitors!
Cousin time for the win!
Memory lane couch conversations.

2. People do have my back, even if my own back let me down.

I have an incredible core team at the bakery who have been relentless in keeping the store going despite my no absence.  We are very small business and feeling all of the thresholds of staffing shortage, life changes and team members balancing the unknowns.  We are having to daily navigate what is best for our group.  I’m incredibly grateful for each of them and I know they know who they are.

Sweet LaLa’s Bakery team cranking greatness!

I also had to completely change the plans made to move Stuart into the University of Dayton. With no one way rentals available coupled with my inability to be in a car for a long ride, we rented the only Uhaul available and my in laws helped get the move done in 24 hours while my parents and Tommy’s cousins kept the little kids entertained. It takes a village and I love my village.

3. We learn best in a state of humility.
We are beings meant to rely on each other.  We are not capable on our own and my faith reminds me two are better than one and a cord of three strands cannot be unbroken. God wants us to rely on His provisions -and they come in all shapes, sizes, and moments -and they are meant to uplift us if we let them.  I was able to witness and attend the birthday of my Grandaddy who turned 100.  For all he has accomplished in his war days, for all he has lost and sacrificed and witnessed in his many years, even he has had to understand the need for reliance on others too. 

I am covered up in support. We all are. It’s all around us like the clouds moving above us telling us to look for something more.  We have to be willing to bathe in the blanket of these great big skies and be still. We can rest assured a bigger plan is always at work.   

I had a day at Shelby Farms watching clouds while he ran through the sprinklers with his cousin Guion and I was reminded how vast and wide our opportunities are even when feeling horizontal and motionless for too long.  

Surprisingly, despite what people may say, you can take life on lying down. Sometimes, it just may be the best view of what’s to come. 

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Happy Reunion

Now, more than ever, time with cousins is savored. With the way travel has changed in the last few months, it’s not certain when we might all be together again. It’s also been great to reflect on the changes of age and the increased level of independence of not just my kids but my niece and nephews. After a beautiful drive through Blackhawk, we settled in for more outdoor living.

Exploring the outdoors allows for so much learning. Parker takes a tumble on his bike and is left with a road rash reminder of the effects of gravity. All of the kids take on the hills and the altitude of the Colorado landscape. As fun as riding on a bike downhill can be, going up is far harder.

Remnants of animals who have traveled through create anticipation they might show again. The harsh reality of life and death surfaces in the eerie shadows of the aspens making known the circle of life. Parker asks about heaven and I feel stumped in my answer. This world tells us very little about the next because there will be no more pain, no more sorrow…that alone is hard to imagine but my belief is it will be true.

Small mountain showers dust us twice but they don’t keep us from hiking. Mountain blue birds dart across the landscape and an immature bald eagle soars over the lake. Even the faint lines of a rainbow appear briefly, bringing the promise of hope and better days ahead.

We spend the evening taking in the flight of the hummingbird diving for bugs, feeding its small and tiny self all day to keep up the beat of its wings. I was able to capture this moment of rest.

We feed our tired selves too and call it a day.

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I couldn’t resist using the word of 2020 for this caption. We have all been bracing ourselves for more changes and it’s nearly impossible to keep up. Disappointment is about the only thing I can expect right now. If I could write the next version of Alanis Morrissette’s song Ironic , I lived it yesterday. Like the candy paid for that hung in the metal clip of the vending machine even after lots of banging, yesterday was not adding up in my favor.

The rain and cold didn’t lift. Wilson reminisced the moment of poor parenting and near hypothermia trying to swim to the big rock a few years back. Despite the signs saying wildlife was in the area, we never spotted them after three hours of driving. We didn’t make the hike to our family spot on Jenny Lake for our family photo. The day felt heavy as the clouds hung suspended over us.

We made a fast decision to hit the road for warmer weather and get into a new space. On the way out of Jackson Hole, I ran the rental into a concrete post. Unlucky in every way. Some days it just feels like the universe is against us. Or if I’m being truly honest, I’m not paying attention to the right things.

The effects of Covid-19 certainly hasn’t been any kinder or made our lives much easier. If anything, I know it’s exacerbating my emotions. I ache for my kids who have to rewrite weekly their expectations for summer, fall and winter. There is still so much uncertainty as it relates to connecting to friends, if and when school will start, or how athletics will be impacted. It’s easy to feel the rug is being pulled out from under us or that we are being stripped from some of the simple pleasures we’ve always enjoyed.

I was on a call with our school early on when schools moved online before the school year ended. The questions centered around managing screen time and I recall the advice from our administrator …it was to flip the script. Instead of managing the screens in a way that causes frustration and discord, determine what your family goals are for the day or the week and manage those desired outcomes. It feels far more freeing to me to operate with this mindset. It’s a daily mantra now for me to put in the right energy to get out the right energy. That’s where the balance can be found and the colors come to life.

It’s far easier to me to set small goals of time to connect…over dinner, watching a movie, taking a hike, playing a game, or having an important conversation. It may mean one family member gets more of me than the other on any given stretch. There is a ten years spread between the oldest and youngest so there are different needs on different days. The point is to make the time matter, however short it might be.

I’ve often said I don’t want to parent out of control, but out of conversation. I think ultimately it helps my kids become thinkers and doers for themselves. I’m a believer in natural consequences. You binge watch a show all night, you are going to be tired the next day. You eat too much of anything, you will have an upset stomach. I don’t have to say it for it to be true. They are finding a lot of things out on their own, whether I want them to or not.

If I purposely set this time as sacred, I can go to bed knowing I’ve had meaningful time with my family even if only in short bursts. I’ve found that it creates the space for my kids to crave the next trip and make up their own type of fun.

I’ve always said the time on the road has been the key to our family connecting in better ways than we do in our normal routines at home. We can be more spontaneous but we are also more intentional about what we are doing. The hard decisions, the distractions, the disappointments…they will always be there.

I want them to know I will be there too.

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Fully Charged

We are riding in hot, so to speak, as we move quickly across Colorado, through Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and back to Tennessee. We take a route home uncharted to us before closing the gap on our two weeks stint Out West. When we pull into Memphis we will have logged 3,781 miles in our rig.

We whet our appetites for more national parks and spend hours looking at routes to Glacier, Guadalupe and Black Gunnison. All close enough by our standards if we had more time on the road. We also consider the newly designated Indiana Dunes National Park outside of Lake Michigan as an option for when we launch from Memphis. Canada is what we thought we’d be exploring this summer but Covid-19 changed our course.

It’s a big world out there. We have so much more to see and time is not on our side at the moment to extend our trip. On the way home it’s fun to think about where we will go next. Some trips will require lots of planning and plenty of days and others may be quick strikes or long weekends. There are limitless options. Although we added a few new stickers to our map, we have a lot more to collect.

If you ask the kids about what they loved most, it would be the animal sightings. Despite the road signs often telling us to be alert, we would never see them. When we did, they were so unexpected. It felt special and unique to witness nature in full view, untainted.

Not only did we take in the wild stomping of a protective mama moose and her baby, we watched a mama coyote keep a watchful eye on her pups. We saw elk carefully cross together over a busy road. We witnessed a nursing bison and her hungry calf demand her milk with a big shove underneath. We saw several bear, mostly foraging for food. I spotted one while driving over a mountain pass and Tommy pulled over on an incline to let us stop and find it. She was a beauty and kept her eyes on us too.

They were all wild encounters. I hope each of them sparked the interest and love for animals for our kids, while also understanding the need to preserve their natural habitats…not just for our life time but far beyond it.

I want this trip to be the charge we each need to connect the dots. Nature speaks a harsh truth: survival of the fittest is on display daily. Not every animal is able to weather the changing seasons or navigate the elevations to find the sustenance necessary to sustain its body’s needs. Some choose to travel in packs while others are wired for isolation. Lives get compromised with the fight or flight instincts.We are a different breed. We are a people designed completely to have everything within us to work brilliantly and collectively for good. (Yes we are a broken people, but He who works within us does a good work in us – Philippians 2:13). Like the crack in this mirror stretching across the glass, we can easily destroy ourselves and hurt others and shatter in a million pieces.

Or, we can start the necessary repair or even entire replacement and start anew. We have the resources, the energy, the capital, the compassion, brain power and the gravitas to do exactly the opposite of wild animals. We can’t be pressed to conform to anything else.

We have a community of support within arms reach to tackle life’s toughest issues. We have the power.

We just have to use it for good because all of our lives depend on it.

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If you have been following along, I was in a mood for the last 48 hours. Partly charged by bad attitudes and lack of appreciation for all the effort T and I put in to make a day right and partly because the world kind of sucks right now.

Yesterday was uneventful and frustrating on so many levels. I actually want to appreciate our country’s history so I was proud we opted to take our kids to Mesa Verde National Park. Upon arrival, it appeared we rented the park out all to ourselves.

Our crew approached it with the enthusiasm of a turtle crossing the road…slow, unaware, disinterested, and possibly willing to die for no real reason. The one hour drive to the first site, Far Views, was a series of turns and hills that hung on the edge of the valley. The boys played the Xbox throughout the drive. At the visitor’s center, it didn’t help that I paid little attention to the informational brochures and bought them in Deutsch, French and American. At least the place we planned to hit was in English.

It seems the world (and my family) is less interested in the past than I had expected. We arrived at Far View and we didn’t know what we were looking for. It turns out our rig was too big for the driveway to explore Far View so we trekked another 5 miles down the road and parked in an empty parking lot.

The only walkable site with no ticket required, Spruce Tree Lodge, was closed for viewing. Out tiny window into the Pueblo people was less than exhilarating and sadly didn’t inspire anyone in my family to learn more. Our only walk about ended in two of my kids being yelled out from across the valley “to get back on the trails!” This is all Wilson will remember from this brief moment. Not that hundreds of years ago a resourceful people worked hard to build their dwellings and lived a hard, meaningful life creating tools from bone and rock and made spectacular pottery that stood the test of time. She will remember a park ranger yelling across a valley that she broke the rules when the signs marking the pathway weren’t very clear in the first place.

We made it out of Mesa Verde likely never to return as a family. I’m not proud of this, it’s just the facts of how the trip happened for us. It felt like a long ride to our next destination. Going to the Great Sand Dunes National Park is a bucket list spot for Wilson, and we rallied to find a path home to make it happen.

I told my family I was ready to hit the reset button. I was done feeling irritated and I knew we all needed a shift. At check in, I discovered the spot we were staying in had a grill on site. I ordered dinner for the whole family. Fried comfort. No cooking. No cleaning. Food comas for all.

Reset can mean all sorts of things. Like a hard drive sometimes needs a full shutdown and reboot, we do too. It’s important to reset priorities, attitudes, ideas, and goals when the wirings of our thoughts are overloaded. We have to find what that reset looks like for us and do it.

We raced out the next morning with our sand boards and a skip in our step as we walked across the hot sand. We created the first steps of the day across the dune we claimed. A new mindset to try something new. A reset.

We found out sand boarding was a whole lot harder than we expected. We stopped and started. We fell a lot. We expended more energy and effort than we had in a while. We loved every minute of it. We celebrated the little victories of sliding partly down and the big victories of Wilson conquering the stand up board. Tommy helped Parker learn about getting back up, one step at a time.

We had a blast. We were in a place we have never been. It was worth finding sand in every crevice. It was just the day we needed to reset our time together, especially knowing we have the long drive home.

On the day centered around freedom, we felt it here. Nothing has felt more patriotic than hitting 6 National Parks in two weeks. It’s a beautiful country we live in and it’s a beautiful freedom to be able to explore it.

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Hot or Cold

We bolted out of Jackson Hole because we had enough of the cold. It was summer and the temperatures fell in the thirties. I love a cool crisp night with a fire but those temperatures were asking a lot of us and put a damper on our sense of adventure. We found the heat in Utah. A full 60 degree swing to the 90s and in less than 24 hours we all wondered why we couldn’t take the cold as we sweated our way to set up camp in our new spot.

I remember growing up wishing I had curly hair like mom and my sister. I went as far as to get a semi-perm in 6th grade, back when there was a chemical option to create loose curls but not full blown curls. I had never been so disappointed with the results. For all of the wishing and wanting, I wanted my straight hair back. It was going to be a minute for that to happen.

That’s how life happens. We spend a lot of time thinking we want something else. Order envy maybe. We think we want a new home, a new job, a new car, a new style …you fill in the blank. It’s so easy to think something is better or will provide more satisfaction if only you could make it happen. So we fixate on how we will get there and stop enjoying what’s sitting right in front of us. With social media at our fingertips, we all look so content in our posts and it drives a dangerous story line. Like the pixels that make up the picture, they are fragmented images pieced together. It is not the full truth.

It is merely an angle. A small window into a moment.

If you know me, you know I have big emotions. Some days I’m rocking the new normal, matching my mask to my outfit and pumping my hand sanitizer like I won’t run out. Some days I just want to rewind the clock before Covid, hit the spa, put on a fancy dress, and have a nice meal I didn’t cook.

Hot or cold.

We set up camp outside Arches National Park and I wanted the night to fall in place. The kids who had logged all of the changes and long drives were restless in their own ways. I felt my temperature rising and it wasn’t just the heat outside. I don’t always follow along with their humor or their sarcasm and I had enough for the day. We’ve been together every day; quite literally for over 5 months and counting. As much as I love my crew, a little moment to pamper myself seems far away. . . and no, I don’t count closing the bathroom door anymore as a getaway.

T and I ate date night style on the picnic table while the kids took to avoid my bad mood indoors on their own. I decided to focus the rest of the evening studying the stars. I knew these night skies along our trips could produce magic, but wow. It was a perfect way to bring a level of calm to my brain that was in overdrive.

I focused on learning the big constellations in the order I found them…Leo, Big Ursa, Little Ursa, Cassiopeia, Cignus, Hercules, and the planet Jupiter beaming brightly. It would take me a second night to make the full round to Sagittarius, Libra, Virgo and others.

It was grounding to think that the stars and the moon have been in place for hundreds of thousands of years and have not changed. Whether seeing them from the hot sandy rocks of Utah or the cold mountainous ridge of Wyoming, they hold tight to their positions, owning their place and knowing they help hold the balance of all the others.

You may be like me…emotions all over the map, but the stars and moon are not. They were placed in space by design and so are we. We could take a few notes about holding our place for the sake of others. Maybe, I can learn to be okay with all that is in me and around me and just shine brightly.

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