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.

 

 

 

 

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.

The Top 18 of 2018

‘Tis the season: As a year winds down, lists pile up.

Top-grossing movies: Topped in 2018 by “Black Panther” (Haven’t seen it).

Biggest food fads: Avocado gelato, anyone? (I’ll pass)

Best moments in sports: Way too subjective–forget that.

2018 has been a game-changer for me with a list of blessings way longer than I deserve, but I took ’em all and I’m still grateful for every day of every one. Besides the tendency to take stock as a year comes to an end, one of the reasons I find myself trying to count my blessings is one of my new year’s resolutions for 2019: Be grateful.

Grateful.

It’s a thought you may recognize,”In every thing give thanks…” from 1 Thessalonians 5:18. I have found it’s also a fact that gratitude can change your attitude, your perspective, your outlook.

I encourage you to join me in a renewed focus on gratitude for all things, those you may have hoped for and those you didn’t. Because one thing I’m grateful to have learned anew in the last few years is that there are lessons in every experience, good and bad, and I’m working on trying to be better at learning from all of them.

Gratitude also helps me with patience–never one of my strong suits. Such as, being grateful even in disappointment for whatever the plan is that made the disappointing outcome the right one…at that time.

To kick off a 2019 of gratitude, without further ado, here are the (roughly) 18 top moments of 2018 for which I’m most grateful. They’re also in no particular order because it would be impossible to rank them–all being so special and important to me.

New job, new opportunity, new work friends

UTC Day 1Bill and I moved from Knoxville to Chattanooga in June, when I began serving as the UTC assistant vice chancellor for marketing and communications. It’s been a great opportunity for me and I’ve joined a team that is talented but doesn’t take itself too seriously, that works hard but has fun doing it.

 

Sweet sendoffs

Before Bill and I left Knoxville, the nicest friends from my job and the nicest friends from everywhere else celebrated with us, made us feel cared about and sent us away with a lifetime’s worth of the warm fuzzies.

Sold a house, bought a house

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After months of hard work getting our Knoxville home of 24 years ready to go on the market, it sold the first day it was listed for sale.

With closing set for 30 days later, we had to find a place in Chattanooga that we could also close on in 30 days and get our belongings moved into by roughly the same time. That was the single-most stressful 30 days of my adult life, but it ended with us finding and moving into a new house that we love.

IMG_9974U2 in Nashville

Did I mention that during the most stressful 30 days of my life, we went ahead with longstanding plans to spend two nights in Nashville and sit in the two great seats we had to U2’s May concert in Bridgestone Arena?

We did. And it was the second time we got to see U2 in less than a year–in 2017 we saw them in June in Louisville for the 30th anniversary of The Joshua Tree album. In 2018, they had a whole new album of songs to perform in Nashville and as incredible a show to put on as they did in Louisville.

Dylan in Chattanooga: Just a Wink Away

DylanAs long as he keeps touring and I can afford the tickets, I’ll be smiling down front whenever Bob Dylan is playing. I’ve seen him several times and in multiple cities but, after moving to Chattanooga, 2018 brought my first date with him at the Tivoli Theatre.

I was on the second row and he was at the piano turning “Like A Rolling Stone” inside out when we made eye contact and he winked at me. Yes, it happened: Bob Dylan felt like winking, and he winked at me.

 

Met nice people, rode the Choo Choo

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Shortly after I began the new job at UTC, the single-largest private gift in the University’s history–$40 million–was made official and was to the College of Business by one of its obviously most-successful alumni, Gary Rollins, and his wife, Kathleen. In September, they were the guests of honor for a day of festivities to thank and celebrate them for their generosity. Busy people like that always have tight schedules, but they were willing to sit with me for an interview that would make a feature in the UTC magazine, online and in video. They were kind, gracious and unassuming, and talking with them will always be a career highlight for me.

ChooChooYou don’t think UTC would be a university in the heart of Chattanooga and not have its own Choo Choo, do you? It does, and throughout football season, the Choo Choo rolls up and down parking lots and tailgating areas around the stadium, tunes (including the one for which it’s named) wafting from loudspeakers on the “train engine” and people in school colors handing out swag. Turns out, my new office is responsible for driving the train and sharing the swag. Which Bill and I got to do one Saturday in October as my colleague, Shawn Ryan, drove us between the cars and, unfortunately, over a “corn hole” game set. Can’t be playing when the train’s coming, kids–but no injuries were sustained in the destruction of the game set, which has since been replaced with its owner, by the way. Once Bill came out of his shell, he enjoyed the opportunity to socialize.

Celebrated Joe DiPietro’s retirement

I was there from “Day 1” on Jan. 3, 2011 for now-retired former UT President Joe DiPietro. Even though I had moved on by the time he announced his November 2018 retirement, I got to reunite with former co-workers, old friends and with Joe and his incomparable wife, Deb, at a really nice party to celebrate him and their move to be closer to children and grandchildren in Illinois. Bittersweet to see him step down, but the evening of catching up and seeing people I hadn’t seen in months but used to see every day was a highlight of the year.

My new friend on the Tennessee Supreme Court

IMG_7280Speaking of my old job, almost every year in January when the governor gives his State of the State address, I would join the UT president in traveling to Nashville for the speech. In 2018, riding along with us was–no kidding–Tennessee Supreme Court Justice Sharon Lee, who lives in Madisonville. She and I hadn’t met before that evening, and the travel time gave us opportunity to become acquainted. Justice Lee is remarkably gracious and a very interesting person to get to chat with. We have since found each other on social media, and it makes my day every time I get one of her thoughtful and kind acknowledgments there. I’m also looking forward to the next opportunity I have to spend time with her and hope to make that possible by engaging her in something she generously commits her time to: encouraging and enabling effective young people, especially young women students.

Knoxville News Sentinel Ladies Night

LadiesNightThe Knoxville News Sentinel is what brought me to Knoxville in 1992. It’s the place where I cut my teeth, professionally, when my career began as a reporter there. It’s also where I made some of my oldest and best friends, a sorority of  journalists. Today, 1992 is a long time ago in more ways than one–not least of which is what has happened to the print news business since then. Last January though, it was time for News Sentinel Ladies Night to bring us back together. I loved, loved, loved catching up with so many special women friends–part of what I always describe as the best people, “newspaper people.” My first editor, Jan Event; Margaret Bentlage, the photographer who covered and captured and traveled with me to Sweden and back on what was voted by AP the biggest story in Tennessee in 1997 (the Lillelid murders); Idonna Bryson, our office manager; Vivian Vega, the expert copy editor; the incomparable Georgiana Vines, who hosted us in her home; and a dozen or more other good, old friends. I’ll be back in Knoxville the next time there’s a Ladies Night.

My brother got married, y’all!

JackMost people who know us both know that my brother Jack is at least as much a favorite friend of mine as he is my younger brother. He’s been single virtually all of his adult life and, until he started dating Ms. Carrie Thompson about six years ago, he may have intended to stay single. This fall, though, he proposed to Carrie, so then the question was only one of how long the engagement might be. They answered that in one of the most-successful surprise weddings ever, on Dec. 1, when Bill and I were asked to come up for a party “to see their Christmas decorations.” Only my (and Jack’s) parents and hers were on hand for the civil ceremony in Jack’s living room. When Bill and I, among the first to arrive, walked in, Jack said they had a surprise to tell us about. Understatement of the year. Welcome to the family, Carrie!

Kasie’s pregnant

KasieSpeaking of family news, one of Bill’s twin granddaughters–both of whom I’ve known and been fortunate to have spent extensive time with since they were 4–is now expecting her first child. A boy, due May 31st.

We were there for her wedding to Donovan Lankford in March 2017, and they have been nothing but two peas in their happy little pod ever since they got married. Now, the pod is about to get a little bigger when Baby Boy Lankford arrives.

Foothills Parkway: Missing Link no more

One of the biggest news stories in East Tennessee for decades, in November the unfinished segment of the scenic Foothills Parkway through the Great Smoky Mountains was finally completed and opened to the public. This is a federally funded road project that, literally, has been on again, off again for decades. As a reporter in 1995, I even covered a press conference with Tennessee’s U.S. Sen. Jim Sasser and Transportation Secretary Federico Peña in which both said the “missing link” would be built. They didn’t say it would take 23 years, but better late than never, I guess.

Bill and I took in the stunning drive over Thanksgiving weekend. If you’re ever in the area (near Walland, Tennessee), you should, too.

More from the Mountains

Much as I love me some Great Smoky Mountains, it’s no surprise that multiple of my best 2018 moments originated there.

43642991800_5169cf350e_oOvernight on LeConte: In October, we had the rare and exceptional experience that is hiking to and staying overnight on LeConte. The fact it doubled as a reunion with eight friends from where we attended church in Knoxville for many years made it even more special.

SnowWhite Christmas: OK, so it was December 22, but there was snow on the trail and it got deeper as we got higher when Hank and Margaret Dye and I hiked the Anthony Creek Trail from near Cades Cove. Snow is always iffy in Tennessee and there’s no guarantee of it showing up at Christmastime, but it was there that day, and so were we.

NY2018_18Kicked off 2018 the right way: If you know me well, you know my story of my beloved, late Granny who always held that “Whatever you do on New Year’s Day, you’ll do all year long.” Though I know it’s just superstition, I can’t not try to follow her thinking on New Year’s Day, which is to try to have the best day possible to get the year off right.

On Jan. 1, my friend, Hank, rounded up a whole posse of folks to try to set up 2018 as a good year for hiking by leading us on brutally cold (highs in the teens) New Year’s Day 2018. I wouldn’t have had it any other way and, in fact, I’ll be doing the same New Year’s Day ritual again for Jan. 1, 2019.

With gratitude,

Happy New Year!

 

Ladies Night

Newspaper people.

What can you say about them?

KNSLadies1They work hard. Crazy hours (see, especially, “sports” or “election night”). Weekends. Holidays. Regardless of the weather and, sometimes, because of the weather.

They care about the truth. They comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. They uphold democracy by holding government accountable.

What they can’t do with numbers, they more than make up for with words. Writing. Editing. And designing. With news judgment.

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With the co-hostesses with the mostestess, Georgiana Vines and Vivian Vega.

They are under-appreciated, sometimes disliked, often criticized, and their pay is disproportional to what is a fair amount of power they hold.

They are also, in my humble but accurate opinion, the best people. Not because, looking at the field of journalism more broadly, they are better people than TV or radio journalists. Those are fine people, too. Newspaper people are my people and some of my favorites because of what I learned from beginning my career as one.

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Betsy, Cathy and Jan.

I learned not to take anybody, including myself, too seriously. I learned to take nothing at face value. I learned there is a whole community of people, like me, to whom words really matter. I learned to be comfortable working under pressure, in a din of ringing phones and shouting, swearing voices.

I learned to take criticism with a thick skin and with the understanding that the goal was getting the best work onto the page.

I learned to write better, faster, and according to three rules: 1. Accuracy. 2. Accuracy. 3. Accuracy.

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Kristi, with Susan over her shoulder.

I’m not a newspaper person anymore and, because of the tumult the business is in, neither are many of the newspaper people who used to be my colleagues. But I like to believe all of them are still my friends.

And on Saturday night, I had a wonderful time visiting, laughing, noshing and catching up with about 20 of them. All women. At what has for years been called “Knoxville News Sentinel Ladies Night,” and which happens much less often these days than it did years ago when a lot of us still worked together.

It did my heart and soul good to spend the evening with a sorority, of sorts, of women who almost assuredly were too independent–OK, maybe even cynical–as college journalism majors to have been members of an actual sorority.

IMG_7273Of the 21 of us who brought potluck yumminess to share, only one remains currently a working, professional journalist, and back in the day, all but one or two of us worked together at the same time.

A couple of us moved on for new opportunities. Several had retired. The rest–except for Kristi, who continues to cover health and medicine–had been laid off from their newspaper jobs.

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With Jan.

Jan, the kind, patient and talented editor who was my very first supervisor, now is mostly retired and a freelance copy editor.

Betsy has a handful of freelance gigs, takes care of her 90+ year-old mother, and sells Mary Kay products.

Margaret went back to school and now works as an occupational therapy assistant, but she still shoots photos professionally.

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With Margaret, my Stockholm roommate and partner.

Jennifer works in communications at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge. Christina works in marketing for an IT company.

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With Lisa.

Lisa is director of development for the local Sertoma Center. Chrystal manages a chiropractor office. Cathy starts a new job at Radio Systems on Monday. Rebecca is enjoying being retired, as is Susan, who I think is still plotting her next move. Idonna, who used to run the office/newsroom, is now helping manage her husband’s business. Marti enjoys spending a lot of time with her grandchildren.

Vivian, our co-host, is greatly enjoying–thank you, very much–the retirement she took a few months earlier than planned.

Georgiana, our co-host who invited us all into her home, has been retired for a while but hasn’t slowed down–she’s been a political columnist, an adjunct college instructor, a board member of the East Tennessee Society for Professional Journalists (she was also once national SPJ president), and is a devoted grandmother.

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Margaret gets a snapshot of George and Kylie.
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George and granddaughter Kylie.

We were fortunate to get a brief cameo by George’s granddaughter Kylie–about whom I remember the excited announcement in the newsroom of her birth–who is now a college freshman.

I looked forward to last night for weeks and I relished the time we had together. Lisa’s comment in her Facebook post was dead on: “…amazing, resilient women…a treasure.”

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And as another, very clever comment put it: “The Mohicans.”

I sure hope they/we aren’t the last. But I do think they’re the best. 😉