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Hello, 2018!

PUBLISHED: Jan. 1, 2018

I am fortunate to have been blessed with two grandmothers who lived well into my adulthood. In our family, each was called “granny”–a good ol’ Scottish appellation of Appalachia. Unfortunately, my paternal grandmother, Ruby Stafford, died in 2010. Followed by my last surviving grandparent, Allie Cantrell, who died in 2014.

The reason for mentioning them both at the beginning of a post about New Year’s Day 2018 has to do with my Granny Cantrell. Like my Granny Stafford, she was a mentor, a protector, a confidant and an advocate. Granny Cantrell also had a superstition for every occasion and New Year’s Day was no exception.

I remember Granny’s New Year’s Day superstition most of all, and it said whatever you do on that day is what you will do all year long. So you didn’t want to be sick, or sad or argue. You wanted to have the best day possible, preferably doing something you would love to do the entire year.

Most of my friends know that I approach New Year’s Day with this in mind, seeking to set the tone for the whole year ahead. Since hiking is a love of mine, I’m always looking to have a great time doing that on New Year’s Day, and with old or new friends, or both.

Sneaky Selfie!

New Year’s Day 2018 was just such an opportunity.

My friend, Hank, rounded up about a dozen hiking enthusiasts, and my husband, Bill, and I joined the group with a big Yeti jug of hot chocolate.

Temperatures were in the teens as we met up at 9 am just outside Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Townsend. For whatever reason (there was no snow on the ground and the roads were clear and dry), the park was closed to vehicles. So we parked ours just outside the gates at the Townsend Wye, where there is a modest-sized swimming hole on the Little River–more to come about that, later.



Snow flurries danced on a sharp little wind as we walked up to a pretty landmark, a tunnel on Little River Road. Twice on what was less than a one-mile stretch of road, we were passed by a Park Service snow plow truck. The plow was scraping nothing but the top-most layer of asphalt on the dry road and spreading a thin veil of sand behind it.



The little tunnel was decked out with some of the most impressive icicles I’ve ever seen. Before we could fully inspect them, we had to move to the shoulders of the road again–this time for a park ranger vehicle escorting a convoy of campers from Cades Cove Campground and out of the park.



After the requisite photos, we turned back. Some headed for their parked cars. Others of us turned down Tremont Road when we reached it, intending to go to a scenic bridge over the Little River and look for otters in the water.



No otters, but by that time several of us were feeling the need to make water. The morning coffee and hot chocolate were posing the challenge of needing to answer nature’s call when covered in three or four layers and temps only in the upper teens. I think the men were able to work it out. I and the other women decided to wait for plumbing.

NY2018_Plunge1Back at the Wye, a small party was forming. We saw towels and people in sandals gathering possibly to contemplate the swimming hole.

I’m confident the only difference in that water between New Year’s Day and the middle of August is that there was some ice on top yesterday. No water anywhere in that park is ever at a tolerable temp for humans.

Which is why I didn’t believe it when someone suggested maybe the gathering party was there to jump in the swimming hole. But I was wrong.

As long as we were there, we figured we might as well get our first in-person viewing of a Polar Bear Plunge happening right before our eyes.



No, in case you’re wondering, there is no way I would ever be tempted to jump in with the Polar Plungers. I don’t do mountain streams even in the hottest weather.



If somebody told me I had to strip down in 15 degrees and jump from a rock into the Little River in January, I’d tell that person he would just have to shoot me.





I don’t know if the Plungers are hoping to spend the rest of 2018 defying death, but I do know I had a great day. I was with great people doing something I greatly love. I really hope to do that all year long. 🙂

Turning The Calendar

I’m going to be blogging in 2018, starting with a 2017 Year in Review.

PUBLISHED: Dec. 31, 2017

It’s just a new page on the calendar, but the transition from one year to another also is a moment full of possibility.

If the year ending was disappointing, it feels good to put it in the books. If the year was rewarding, pausing to remember the high points also feels good. I’ve heard of a tradition of writing the year’s disappointments on small pieces of paper and then, literally, setting fire to your burdens in a celebratory New Year’s Eve blaze. I haven’t yet done that, but I like the idea.

Standing on the threshold of a brand-new year, the 12 months ahead are as full of promise as they will ever be. The slate is clean. Goals can be set. And tackled fresh. Even so, this post is more of a year in review as we put 2017 to bed.

As years go, the one that just wrapped gave me some great memories to hang on to.

Starting with a couple of special weddings.

Bride and groom take the floor for their first dance.

On March 18, one half of the best twins I know married a fine young man in Donovan Lankford and became Kasie Phelps Lankford.

The wedding was more than a milestone.

It also was beautiful.

And fabulous. Perfect.

In every way.

Maid of Honor and twin sister of the bride, Karie, shares a secret with Bill.


With freshly married Austin and Melissa Hendrick.







Then, almost exactly seven months later, the twins’ cousin, Austin Hendrick, married the lovely Melissa Bradley on October 15.

Another beautiful family wedding.

Another lakeside outdoor ceremony.

Another happy time to see a happy couple officially begin their lives together.

In the case of both weddings, the vows were being said by special people I’ve known since they were babies–or little more than babies.

You don’t often get two such happy occasions in one year.


We also got to catch up with some of our oldest and dearest friends, Rich and Lisa Richardson, when we met in Cincinnati in June for a Reds game (it was a forgettable game in another forgettable season).


It tells you something about the state of the Reds that we chose to visit the local art museum rather than go to a second game. We enjoyed clowning around more than usual.


Meeting in Cincinnati came the day after a night in Louisville for our latest experience at a U2 concert: the 2017 tour for the 30th Anniversary of The Joshua Tree.



Excitement builds along with the opening chords to “Where the Streets Have No Name.”

We also got to see the great Tom Petty again in Nashville in April. He was touring to mark his band’s 40th anniversary and, sadly, it turned out to be his final tour. Tom died too soon in October.

“Don’t Come Around Here No More”

There were a few — much fewer than usual — local hiking outings with the usual suspects, but the ones that happened were high in quality if not quantity.







My single most-memorable day in the Great Smoky Mountains in 2017, though, may have been the Solar Eclipse of Aug. 21. Bill and I were joined by new friends and fellow hikers, Jennifer, Hannah and William, and we all learned the astronomical meaning of “totality” as we watched Cades Cove go dark at 2 in the afternoon.



Time-lapse of daylight to dark and back again:



At the end of Solar Eclipse week, Bill and I headed off to vacation in Colorado. Our latest national park excursion was to Rocky Mountain National Park, by way of Breckenridge for a few days at first, followed by Great Sand Dunes after, and a Colorado Rockies game in between.

Breckenridge is at 10,000′ elevation, and Bill came down with altitude sickness our first night there. After a midnight trip to the local E.R. which sent us away with an oxygen tank, we were good to go for the rest of our time there and in Colorado (we didn’t need the oxygen after Breck).

View from almost 13,000′ looking down on a beautiful day and on beautiful Breckenridge.



Quandary Peak on the horizon. My first-ever 14’er hike.

Looking down on the ascent to Quandary Peak at 14,000’+
















RMNP and Estes Park were perfect. Now, for a palate-cleansing visit to Coors Field.


Day trip to Great Sand Dunes.







37104461671_359e83f34e_o21366928_10212609938236218_7736569729650008100_o21273510_10212609951596552_1244116288114855846_oFinal Colorado stunner: Garden of the Gods

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Back at work, October brought the 100th anniversary of continuous publication of Tennessee Alumnus magazine. One of those times you feel lucky to be one of the caretakers of the moment.



Fireworks to cap off the celebration.

In November, the Vols hosted LSU on Rocky Top, and that turned out to be a great excuse for us to host my dear cousin, Karen, and her sweet husband, Matt, and two of their three boys, Morgan and Dustin, all up from just outside New Orleans to go to the game.

We had a blast sharing a mountain cabin, watching the sun set at Clingmans Dome, and endured a literal storm blast at Neyland Stadium. The time we got to spend with them is definitely one of my 2017 highlights, and I’m hoping we’ll find opportunity to do so again soon.

Sunset at Clingman’s Dome



Work did not go into the typical year-end slowdown in 2017, but that would be another entire blog post. Thanksgiving and Christmas finally came, and I savored every minute of down time, friends and family gatherings, extra sleep, and celebrations of the season.

Children of Grace Christmas Eve Program

I’m thankful for a good team on the job. I’m excited about what we’ll get to tackle in 2018. And about where Bill and I may get to go on our travels. I’ll keep you posted. 😉