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!

 

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.

Last of a Long Goodbye

Mary Arthur Anderson would have turned 91 years old on August 31, had she not passed away this year on Easter Sunday.

She was the first of five siblings that include Bill, of which he is second-to-last born. His younger sister, Hazel, and he are the two surviving siblings.

Mary was a faithful wife of 50 years to her husband, Cecil, on whom she waited and cared for when his health declined toward the end of his life. After his death, her strong bond with her children and grandchildren grew stronger as they drew even closer to her, making sure she never had a need nor a moment of loneliness.

Mary came to know a gentleman friend who kept her company, under the ever-watchful eye of her family. She was, hands-down, Bill’s favorite cook, whose versions of fried chicken, chicken and dumplings, rhubarb pie and banana pudding were his favorites. Look up the word “pistol,” as used to describe a human and not a firearm, and you’ll see Mary.

I wish I had a dollar for every time she told me how glad she was Bill and I had found each other.

Bill with his father, brother and sisters at our wedding.

She and Bill adored each other, her from a maternal orientation. Her father died when Mary was a small child, and several years passed before her mother married Bill’s father. After their parents had a baby boy, then a boy who died as a toddler, Bill finally came along. He was a toddler still sleeping in a crib when Mary married Cecil. On her wedding night, she made her new husband take her to her parents’ house so that she could kiss baby Bill goodnight and tuck him in.

Celebrating Mary’s birthday with her grandson, three sons, brother and man friend.
Birthday kiss

Her birthday was celebrated almost every year up to the last three or four, when her memory began to fade.

When memory loss progressed to the point she could no longer recall how to cook her family-favorite classics, or much else, her three sons arranged for a home health aide to stay with her over the work week. Her sons shared rotating duty for sitting with her on weekends.

Along with memory, time stole some of her pistol quality, but her eyes never lost their twinkle.

They looked out on Douglas Lake from her house with that spectacular view.

Her three sons and their Uncle Bill and I spent a Saturday there a couple of weeks ago, at the estate sale of her belongings and home furnishings–minus everybody’s sentimental favorites and heirlooms.

As much as such family business is routine and happening every day, somewhere, it still felt really personal and a little strange.

Strangers pulling up, walking through a grandmother’s home, turning over rugs and sliding clothes hangers over rods, picking up knick knacks and stacking up dishes.

I don’t have to tell you how odd it feels to answer a buyer’s question about an object at the same time it conjures a memory you’re keeping to yourself.

Or to stand by as people walk through parts of Mary’s house few but she and her husband ever occupied.

The day was hot, the sun relentless and the stream of buyers steady. We were scheduled to shut down at 4 p.m., but people were still buying until at least 5 p.m. Lots of buyers also were interested in the house. Which isn’t for sale, yet, but I expect to sell quickly, based on the number of inquiries. Not to mention the incredible, lakeside location.

Family birthday party, 2014.

We made the 2.5-hour drive up from Chattanooga that morning, and we were returning that night. On our way home, first, a Taste of Dandridge. That’s the actual name of the restaurant picked out by Mary’s son, Mike, where we had dinner before heading off on our separate ways. With Mike and his wife, Velina, that would be home in Strawberry Plains. Mary’s eldest, Cecil Jr., and his wife, Pam, live in Farragut. Her son, Mark, and his wife, Linda, live in Dandridge, only a few miles from Mary’s house.

The restaurant was good, so was the food, and the company was even better. It was a perfect ending to the day. We shared stories about Mary that still make us laugh.

If she’d been there, she would have laughed loudest.

 

 

Looking Back at 25

Bill and I met in 1993, when we both worked at the Knoxville News-Sentinel. He in circulation, me in the newsroom. About 18 months later, we were married. I don’t know if–in the swirl of finding and buying a house, planning a wedding and a honeymoon–lots of marrying people imagine a future when that marriage will be decades old, but I didn’t.

In our case, it seems 25 years later came a lot sooner than I could have imagined.

Just like all married couples, we got busy working our jobs, handling family matters and living our lives. The “busy” part–I think that’s the key to the years slipping up on you. On our anniversary this year, May 22, 2019, we counted 25 years gone by.

Bill taught me to appreciate baseball. I taught him to appreciate hiking. We both really love to travel, and we have thoroughly enjoyed doing a lot of that, often in pursuit of another of Major League Baseball’s 30 parks or another of the National Park Service’s 59 national parks.

While he plugged away at one employer throughout his life–the News Sentinel–until retiring in 2008, I pursued another opportunity in healthcare public relations, then another in higher ed communication, and the latest, where I am now at UT Chattanooga. Meantime, I also entered grad school and finished a master’s degree while working full time.

Karie (left), Kasie and I graduated in 2007. They from high school, me from UT.

That was one of the most-demanding goals I ever set, but I made it in 2007.

There have been births, weddings and funerals. Both of Bill’s parents, his brother and two of his three sisters have passed away since we’ve been married, and I have lost both of my beloved grandmothers.

Hiking with members of our beloved Knoxville church family.

We were part of an absolutely beloved church family for more than 20 years. Denominational policy changes led a majority of that group to form a new church that we were part of until we moved from Knoxville to Chattanooga in 2018.

Looky who made the Jumbotron for my UT System going-away party!

Oh yeah, and after living in the same house for the “first 24” years of our marriage, we sold it and bought one in the Chattanooga suburb of Hixson.

Bill’s had three major surgeries and I’ve had two. Otherwise, we’ve been fortunate to have enjoyed good health. To help people survive leukemia–after we came to know friends who lost a baby girl to leukemia at 18 months old–we both got heavily involved for several years as bicyclists and fundraisers for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Training, fundraising and long-distance bicycling in honor of leukemia patients still stand in my mind as the best and most important things I’ll ever do.

All in all, we’ve been fortunate to walk through life and the milestones it brings together, happily and within a cherished circle of family and friends.

Forty-four states, 22 MLB ballparks, 21 national parks, 18 foreign countries, thousands of miles on bicycles and hundreds of miles in hiking boots–we packed a lot into our first 25 years. They haven’t all been perfect, but mostly, they’ve been really good.

Thanks for the Memories

Ever spent 24 consecutive years in the same house?

My husband and I just did–the house we moved into when we came home from our honeymoon. We sold it in June and moved to Chattanooga, which we are loving, by the way.

Moving forces you to purge. The prospect of hauling stuff to a new place makes you evaluate its necessity, and not everything–no matter how useful it once seemed–makes the cut. With 24 years’ worth of stuff accumulated in the basement, the attic, the garage and the closets, I knew we had a big purge coming.

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Perhaps the single-best decision my husband made in prepping our house for sale was to rent a “dumpster” into which we could chuck the stuff that wasn’t going along to Chattanooga.

Considering the volume of stuff we tossed into the dumpster–parked in our driveway for a week, which our neighbors must have loved–we saved a lot of time and countless trips to Knox County trash dumps.

Some stuff was obvious dumpster material. Why did we have a hula hoop in the basement, for example? You got me.

Some stuff took a little longer to reach its inevitable dumpster status. IMG_0347

Such as the majorette uniform I wore as a 9-year-old in the local hometown Christmas parade and in a “halftime show” at a high school basketball game.

 

 

That little body suit has been all over the state with me, but I finally decided to hang up my sequins for good.

I can’t tell you where the baton ended up.

Time, itself, had made some stuff no longer useful.42094839861_74455b95d8_o

Do you still have a VCR? Neither do I. Fifty or 60 VHS tapes with recorded movies: To the dumpster you go.

And there was stuff I couldn’t believe had ever seemed like a good idea.

Twenty years ago, I wore my hair long. Really long. Below my waist long. Contrary to what people often think, one-length, waist-length hair is in many ways lower-maintenance for a woman than almost any other option. My hair was long because I found it easier to maintain–except when it came to bicycling, aerobics classes and some other fitness activities. If you spend hours on a bicycle–as I frequently have–long hair can turn into a massive hair ball if it’s not tightly restrained.

42094839921_489183d148_oWhich brings us to the Braidini. As seen on TV.

Magically–like Houdini, get it?–this contraption was supposed to help you braid your own hair. I could braid my hair into a ponytail. That’s easy. What I could never manage though, was the French braid, an advanced technique of braiding from the scalp downward. A hurricane couldn’t mess up hair in a tight French braid.

Even with the included demonstration video–on a VHS tape–I never figured out how to use the Braidini. But for whatever reason, I must have held out hope because I kept the thing. At least I didn’t fall for the whole Hairdini collection.

Deciding the fate of 24 years of accumulated detritus also led to some happy discoveries, recoveries of valued items with especially great sentimental value. Great memories.

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Such as the section of my hometown newspaper that carried on its cover a feature on Bill and me and my 100-mile bicycle ride in honor of leukemia patient Alison McFerrin, the 11-year-old daughter of a former high school classmate of mine, to benefit the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society in 2000.

I’m very happy to report that Alison had a successful stem cell transplant and went on to be valedictorian of her high school class, attended Auburn University on a full scholarship, earned a journalism degree and is now happily married–and I got to attend the wedding!

42049896882_afb49b9bf1_o.jpgThen there was the newspaper “rack card,” the name for the promotional signs on vending machines for printed papers. Remember those? Printed newspapers, I mean.

I saved the rack card because it referenced a weeklong series of stories I, as a Knoxville News-Sentinel reporter, along with my colleague News Sentinel photographer Margaret Bentlage, filed daily from Stockholm, Sweden for a week in August 1997. We were on assignment following up on the lone survivor–a toddler–of a horrendous shooting earlier that year.

And here’s the company newsletter noting that fact.

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Here’s a photo of Margaret and me today:

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Margaret and I got to do some very cool stuff as a team for the News Sentinel. I’d forgotten about this picture she took when we traveled with the Tennessee Air National Guard to cover its work on U.S. Defense Department outreach via rebuilding a hospital in Bulgaria. In the photo, I’m on the wing of the KC-135 Stratotanker we flew on with the Guard. The picture was made in Seville, Spain–a stopover on our flight to the Bulgarian capital, Sofia. What a fun assignment.

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I was extra glad to find this photo with friends and News Sentinel co-workers after we’d run the Knoxville Expo 10K/5K together. “Together,” isn’t exactly accurate, since I was slow and Bill was slower and he only participated under duress.

And we ran the 5K.

And our colleagues ran the 10K.

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L-R: John Stiles, Randy Kenner, Bill, Gina, John North, and in front: Kasie and Karie Phelps.

Sadly, John Stiles, passed away a few years ago following a long battle with Parkinson’s disease. Randy Kenner now works for Knox County Courts. John North is an editor at WBIR-TV. The newspaper used to sponsor the Knoxville Track Club, so employees didn’t have to pay entry fees. Can you believe that persuaded me–and Bill–to run 5Ks? His twin granddaughters, just 7 years old at the time, ran the 1-mile “fun” run. Now grown up, they don’t think running is fun anymore.

The picture, along with the rest of the stuff–kept and discarded–brought back a lot of long-forgotten memories.

40194185170_7798eba2ae_oAnd despite how big and cavernous the dumpster seemed at first, when it was time for the rental company to come and haul it away a week later, it was heaping full.

Topped by old lawn furniture, at least a couple of pairs of crutches (why?), a rusted bicycle, a broken lamp, dusty boxes and–oh yeah, a hula hoop.

Twenty-four years in the same house makes for the accumulation of a lot of…well, junk.

But now it’s gone.

Including the Braidini.

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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.

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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.

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

 

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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).

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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.

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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.

 

 

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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.

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“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).

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

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Quandary Peak on the horizon. My first-ever 14’er hike.
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Looking down on the ascent to Quandary Peak at 14,000’+

 

 

 

 

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

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Day trip to Great Sand Dunes.

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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.

 

 

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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.

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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. 😉