Auld Lang Syne to the Good Times

In a few hours and with a flip of the calendar, it’ll be 2020.

Just like that, we’re already closing the door on the first 20 years of the 21st century.

And don’t look now, but here comes a leap year, an Olympics year and another election year. I won’t necessarily leap; I definitely won’t take the field of athletic competition; and the last time I ran for an election was as a freshman senator in college.

On this occasion to see one year out and a new year in, I’m stopping to remember all the good that came my way in 2019. Set aside the fact we’re also rolling over into a new decade, 12 months is long enough to recount.

Hank, Bill, Jerry, me, Woody, Hank and Don

First, in chronological order, Bill and I got to spend a long January weekend with some exceptionally good, and good-hearted, people. Also known as “the Porch Gang,” for the group’s virtual–if not often, actual–gathering to support, pray with and encourage one another. It’s like the five best uncles I could have: two Hanks, a Woody, a Don and a Jerry. Plus Bill. Plus me.

We got together at Hank’s family’s mountain cabin. We cooked, we ate, we talked, we laughed, we hiked and we shared prayer concerns and prayers of thanksgiving.

The time was precious.

Then came the annual “Ladies Night” for us women alumni of the Knoxville News Sentinel. Sadly, only one of us still works at the newspaper, but we share a bond as friends, not just former co-workers, that brings us together once a year for the sole purpose of catching up. This year marks 20 since I left the paper, and I look forward more every year to gathering with this feisty bunch.

Springtime in the Great Smoky Mountains brought a day among the wildflowers with the most fun pair of hiking wildflower experts I know. Living in Chattanooga keeps me from getting to hike with Tami and Jennifer as much as I’d like, so I jump at any chance.

Chase Bradley Lankford at 2 weeks old.
Yes! She did it!

Almost too many good things to count came in May, starting with this little guy’s entry into the world. Pleased to meet you, Chase Bradley Lankford.

At work, I officially staffed spring commencement for the first time in May. A perk of the job, in my opinion. I took this photo and, every time I look at it, I remember having this feeling myself, though I never took my shoes off when I graduated.

At the two-week period in late May and early June when our wedding anniversary comes in between our birthdays, Bill and I treated ourselves to a long weekend at Cataloochee Ranch. It’s a patch of paradise high on the North Carolina side of the Smoky Mountains. The treat was because May 22 wasn’t just any anniversary–it was our 25th.

That’s right. The Big Two Five. The Silver Showdown. Celebrating Cataloochee-style was just our speed: Scratch-made meals; a cabin for two under starry skies; wildflower-lined hiking trails; and Hemphill Bald.

25th anniversary sky at Cataloochee Ranch

If you ever have the chance to go there, run, don’t walk.

 

And while we were in the neighborhood, we also got to swing by and visit with some of our favorite people and hiking partners–who kept the celebration rolling.

Good times with good people at work

Speaking of anniversaries, I marked my first at UTC, too. It had been a good year and I get to work with good people, so what to do? Order a delicious custom cake baked by the exceptionally talented partner of one of my co-workers, of course.

As summer got going, Bill and I got adventurous–looking up and checking out the trails to be hiked in, around and beyond the Scenic City. We hiked Signal Mountain; Lookout Mountain; the Chickamauga Creek greenways; Cold Mountain, North Carolina; Fort Mountain, Georgia; Sewanee, Tennessee; and even the infamous Fiery Gizzard trail on Monteagle Mountain.

Here’s a secret people who haven’t hiked the Fiery Gizzard don’t know: It’s not as bad as its reputation. Keep that to yourself, though–there’s a legend to maintain.

But the Mac-Daddy adventure of our entire summer came on July 3. That’s when we buckled up life jackets, climbed into kayaks for the first time, paddled three miles down the Tennessee River to downtown Chattanooga and took in the fireworks show from the water. Bobbling in comfort under the rockets’ red glare. That remains the most fun thing we’ve yet done in Chattanooga, and it was a good time I’ll never forget.

You can check it out here:

We also enjoyed visits from old, dear friends. We loved getting to see them and eagerly await the next times.

Tucked beneath “Umbrella Rock”

Where my enthusiasm for hiking and my job met, I took on the opportunity to talk about hiking with Chattanooga’s public radio audience. WUTC-FM is the Chattanooga National Public Radio affiliate and on the UTC campus. Its oversight is part of the Communications and Marketing Division–of which I’m a part–and when asked to contribute regular hiking segments to the daily interview program Scenic Roots I got to work.

Spending a little more time with the radio station team gave me a greater exposure to some of their special projects and underwriting partners. Voila! I learned about an annual benefit for Point Park, part of the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park Site. Bill and I went to the informal party on the mountaintop and got to know more about this local gem and other gem-appreciating people.

Plus, we got to go behind the locked gate to “Umbrella Rock” — unlocked on this one day each year — and check out the remarkable balancing boulder up close for ourselves.

View from Mount Cammerer, stunning in any color.

We looked forward to hosting Thanksgiving for the first time at our place in Chattanooga and stayed busy through fall working to finish some projects on the house and make it ready for company.

But we still made time to get back to Great Smoky Mountains National Park for a hike up Mount Cammerer in all its fall glory.

Only summer didn’t know when to quit and temperatures were reaching 95 and 100 degrees even in the first week of October.

That put fall glory at least a couple of weeks late, but what are you gonna do? I had the time we had planned for the third week in October, and that’s when we went. Mount Cammerer was still glorious, even if not in a full fall foliage kind of way.

Next thing you know, Thanksgiving was here and we had a lot of fun feeding family and friends around our table.

And, since Thanksgiving came right at the end of November this year, Christmas got here just three weeks later.

We had a good one, better than we deserved and every bit appreciated.

On this last day of the year which also ends a decade, I’m remembering hearing of a New Year’s Eve tradition once when we spent that holiday with dear old friends who then lived in Columbia, Missouri.

The city’s organized festivities included an opportunity to write your burdens of the year ending onto pieces of paper and then toss them into a fire–symbolically casting off those burdens and starting the new year with a clean slate.

I’ve been intrigued by that notion ever since. I’ve wondered if its origins might be in this verse from the 55th Psalm, verse 22:

“Cast your burden on the Lord,
And He shall sustain you;
He shall never permit the righteous to be moved.”

I’m not always good at remembering to leave things to God or that what happens is according to His will, but in the year ahead I want to strengthen my prayer life toward being more in step with and seeking His will. Because whether there are pictures or video to prove it, every day of every year brings a blessing.

 

 

 

 

Happy birthday, Jack

Trying not to get hit by a football, 2015.

On this date a few decades ago, I got a two-fer: a baby brother who grew up to be one of my favorite friends.

Jack is the only person in the world who calls me “Sis,” and today is his birthday.

With Jack on our wedding day, May 22, 1994.

I am four and a half years older than Jack, so I can only vaguely recall meeting him for the first time. What I remember is that my older brother and I had spent the night with our grandparents, and we were having our breakfast of gravy and biscuits when our parents pulled up to take us home. We dashed out into snow flurries swirling as we climbed into the backseat of the car. My mother had a big bundle of blanket in her lap, and Jack was inside that bundle.

I liked holding him, giving him his bottle–though I did get in trouble once for giving him Pepsi in his bottle–and kissing him goodnight.

We played together a fair amount as little kids, but he was quick to push my hand away whenever I tried to put my arm around his shoulder as we might be walking along somewhere.

Until he was well into elementary school, he refused to eat much of anything except French fries–one of many indulgences given as the baby of the family. Oh yes, he definitely was spoiled, but it didn’t hurt him in the long run.

About to climb Mt. Cammerer, 2011.

He was popular in high school–voted “cutest” boy in his senior class. The cutest boy never lacked female companionship, either.

I should have graduated from college at least a year before Jack graduated from high school, but my life took a couple of turns that prevented that from happening. Jack even lived with me for about a year while I was on one of those turns.

One of the funniest things he and I have ever laughed about happened during that time. I had a house cat, and Jack came home late one night with his dinner in a McDonald’s drive-through bag. Preparing to spread out on the floor in front of the TV, he took out his burger, opened it to add salt and discovered he didn’t have any salt packets. He stood up and went to get the salt shaker and, when he returned, he found a growling cat dragging away the hamburger patty.

Jack and Carrie, people who show up for the big things.

He moved back to our hometown and started college and, not long after, I moved back close to there and resumed college. We were both going to Tennessee Tech and when we ended up taking an English lit class together, that was one of the most fun experiences of my time in college.

We’ve gone to football games, baseball games, bowl games, movies, concerts, beaches and mountains together. We have a knack for making one another laugh.

We aren’t 100 percent, exactly alike, but we have a lot more in common than blood.

Today, I’m very glad to say, he has been married for barely more than one year. After spending the majority of his adult life as a self-employed bachelor and being OK with that, he met Carrie through a business transaction. After a while, they began dating and after a few years, they got married in December 2018. He’s a guy who can take care of himself, but he has a big heart, too. It makes me glad to see him in such a strong and loving relationship, one in which his big heart is happy.

So, happy, happy birthday to my (big) little brother!

 

‘Twas the Night After Christmas

We’ve had ourselves a merry little Christmas.

Just the right size after another fast-paced, busy year. Not to mention we just celebrated Christmas with my family on Sunday, and three weeks earlier, we did Thanksgiving up right. Here at home.

We went to our first Christmas Eve church service here in Chattanooga last night. It not only felt right, it felt like a turning point. Like when we were finally ready for Christmas church in Chattanooga, we finally had a place to go. We haven’t come close to a decision on a congregation to join, but at least there are a couple of places we feel familiar and good about going.

And the church service we attended last night was just right–lessons and carols–wonderful to hear and sing along with them.

To me, there’s nothing as special as going to bed on Christmas Eve following time spent in Luke reviewing how the Light of the world came to be in the world to change the future of the world.

I hope your Christmas brought you some of what is most special and meaningful to you, too.

 

‘Twas the night after Christmas,

Bellies full–make that fat,

Not a creature was stirring,

Not even one cat.

With I in my gym pants,

and Bill in his sweats,

We settled right in

To watch movies and rest.

The day started late,

After plenty of sleep,

An extravagant breakfast,

And small gifts to keep.

Bill gave socks, tights and earrings,

Just as I’d asked,

And for him I had boxers,

A warm scarf and warm hat.

All year we’ve been gifting

Ourselves through our house.

Nothing else really needed,

Not a shoe, book or blouse.

The kitties got treats, 

As we did from our neighbors.

We took a long walk,

The weather all in our favor.

There were calls and messages

From family all day,

And on social media friends and loved ones

Had plenty to say.

We didn’t go to a gathering,

Just kept to ourselves.

It’s been a Merry Little Christmas

And a Joyous Noel.

             *****

Déja Vu All Oven Again

I can’t remember the last time before this year that Bill and I hosted for Thanksgiving. But I’ll never forget the first time.

We’d been married just a little more than two years; we’d rented a table and some extra chairs to accommodate the 15 who were coming; and we were both registered to run the Thanksgiving morning Turkey Trot 5K. Enough about the easy stuff.

Wednesday night, less than 24 hours before we would open the door to both our families, we began preparing for the star of the show–an oven-roasted turkey. As 6 p.m. approached, I was up to my elbows in a kitchen sink full of warm water, unwrapping a nearly-thawed turkey, digging for the package of parts hidden deep in the “cavity.” Bill asked what he could do to help, and I asked him to start the oven preheating and gave him the recommended temperature.

In that kitchen set-up, the stove and sink faced each other, so my back was to the oven when Bill asked if it was supposed to “sparkle.”

Of course not, I told him, assuming he was making a joke.

“Well, it is,” he said.

In no mood for jokes, I turned around just in time to look through the oven window and see the bright-orange burner turning to black just behind the ball of sparks winding its way from one end of the burner to the other. Just like a lit 4th of July sparkler. I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it myself and, even so, I still had trouble believing it. How do you cook a turkey–much less, Thanksgiving dinner–without an oven?

Well, how we did it was to load up the raw turkey and its roasting pan and drive the six miles or so to Bill’s niece and nephew’s house. They were coming to our house the next day, so their oven was available. Even better, it worked!

All we had to do was return in about four hours to take the turkey out of their oven and get it and its hot pan and juices safely into and out of our car six miles later. Success.

Next morning, we went ahead and actually ran the 8 a.m. 5K, then came home and began trying to see how good a broiler was in place of an oven. The answer is not very, but between the broiler and the microwave, we managed.

Over the years since, we’ve done Thanksgiving in every way imaginable. At our house with a few people, a lot of people, just us, and away at the homes of various family members.

This year, we wanted to give our family members a reason to visit us in our new place in Chattanooga so we put the word out that would be hosting for Thanksgiving.

Not to whine, but I’m just being honest when I say that getting our new nest made has seemed like almost a second job ever since we moved here. After two unsuccessful attempts at buying bookshelves from furniture stores, we had built-ins made for a space that needed them.

We worked in the yard, installed pavers for the gas grill to stand on, planted bulbs, hung ceiling fans, hung curtains, hung sun-blocking shades on our back porch, wall-size printed a few of my photographs to hang here and there. Then came the big decision.

You can’t see surround sound, but sit here and you’ll hear it.

After putting it off since moving in, we went ahead and got surround sound installed in the upstairs “TV room” and family room downstairs that were pre-wired for it.

Seems like most weekends of 2019 were spent on one or more of the above.

Then, as Thanksgiving approached, there were weekends of extra-detail cleaning with the weekend before Thanksgiving devoted to grocery shopping and baking.

We were gonna have turkey AND ham and all the trimmings. We prepped and cooked on Wednesday, and we started again bright and early Thanksgiving morning. And unlike all those years ago in Knoxville, we decided to forgo the neighborhood run that morning. Experience has taught me that people who have time to go out and run a 5K on Thanksgiving morning either are not hosting, or they’re much better at it than I am.

Finally, 1 p.m. came and so did our guests. We had my parents and my younger brother and his wife; and Bill’s nephew and niece–of can-we-borrow-your-oven fame, and their son. We had loads of laughs–including at the life-size Darth Vader Christmas inflatable standing guard next door. Pam brought some amazing corn and my mother brought her homemade pecan pie that can’t be beat.

I have a new appreciation for my mother and all her years of hosting my entire extended family. Same as her, I wouldn’t have allowed my guests to clean the kitchen and I wouldn’t have gone to bed that night unless the kitchen was spotless. But that really took some doing. By the time we were finally finished, Bill and I both felt like we’d had our hands in dishwater since 1974.

None of our guests stayed over, so Friday was a day to rest and re-load for the second, but smaller, round on Saturday.

Bill’s daughter, Rita, and her son and daughter-in-law–expecting Rita’s first grandchild–arrived about noon Saturday. We’d cooked a couple of new dishes on the stove top and were able to fit most everything else, including the plentiful leftover turkey and ham into the oven to warm.

Then, guess what. Go ahead, guess.

We discovered the oven wasn’t working. No kidding.

This time it was a gas model, so no burner sparkling, but the stove is barely 18 months old! Same as more than 18 years ago, we still had a broiler, so there we were, warming the very tops of the piles of ham and turkey and zapping everything else in the microwave. Again.

I mean, what are the chances? Tell me how many times you’ve had people for Thanksgiving and how many of those times your oven died, and I’m pretty sure our ratio will have you beat.

Carrie, Jack, Bill and me, back row. Pam, Trey, Mother and Dad, front row. (Photo by Cecil, not pictured)

Still, it was special, both times.

My dad’s not in the best health these days, so I’m just glad they were able to make the trip. I don’t know how many more of those he has in him. My brother, Jack, and his wife, Carrie, were just on the eve of their first wedding anniversary. Cecil had visited Bill once before, but Pam and Trey hadn’t yet been here.

Rita had come to visit her dad for lunch a while back, but her son, Austin, and his wife, Melissa, hadn’t been here yet, and we hadn’t gotten to see them since she learned she’s expecting in February.

It was a great time, even if we do have the worst luck with ovens.