Sunday, May 28, 2017

The Simple Pleasure of Family

A momentous day: our oldest son's middle school graduation.

Papa and Memaw's first grandson to enter high school.  (Shout out to Grandparents Wood for sending a sweet card and gift.)

Clutching our proud graduate.

Let them eat cake...when they graduate!

Baby shower brunch for cousin Taylor's wife Kellen at this beautiful barn.

The female half of our family (note I have no one to bring:)).

Family with the beautiful mom to be.

The good stuff!

I think we were placed at the kid table:).

Outside the barn and next to the orchard sat a "trampoline pillow."

For those concerned, we "old folks" were allowed to jump too.

 As you can see, we didn't have a bit of fun.

 Love this one.


 Cooper spent most of the afternoon circling the pond looking for critters.

Sweet cousin Taylor"chauffeured" the younger set around the farm.

Taylor was very popular among the kids.

The backdrop for the party.

This spitfire (Great Uncle Bud) is a totally healthy 97 year old!  He drove himself to the party!

Cousins.  I actually hate how I look in this photo, but I love the people in the picture.  (Do you ever look at a picture and think "I should have rethought that outfit?")

Yesterday, the family descended on my aunt and uncle's farm to celebrate my cousin's weekend return home from the Air Force and his wife's pregnancy.

In the morning, we celebrated the mother-to-be at a baby shower.  The loft of a nearby apple orchard was the perfect spot to dine on a brunch and visit with relatives.  

Under the rustic wooden beams and among the fruit trees, we sat around tables and feasted on yogurt parfaits and mini muffins.  The room filled with lively chatter, the sort that is best had between family and lifelong friends.  The gifts were dear, baby books that seemed to hold a special place to each and every giver.

After the last present was opened and the guests had trickled out, the core family returned to the farm.  Because there is never enough food at family functions, a cheese platter, a crockpot of ham, and an assortment of other goodies filled the dining room.  We piled up our plates again.  It's a rule, I believe, that calories don't count at family functions.   When our bellies felt like they would burst, we fluttered around the yard.

The four wheeler was dragged out of the barn.  Cousin Taylor patiently took child after child on a mobile tour of the grounds.  Each passenger returned windblown and giddy.  Other children tossed a football and kicked a soccer ball out by where the old outhouse used to sit.

The adult relatives found chairs in the shade and drank Coke out of plastic cups.  They freely exchanged memories, opinions, and life updates.  Great Uncle Bud, age 97, seemed to steal the show.

My son pointed to his Great-Great Uncle and asked me, "What's the secret to him getting to 97?"

After a moment of reflection, I hushed back, "I think it's because he is grateful."

Cooper and my nephew Will spent most of their time enthralled with the simple pleasures found at the farm.  The pond. The wildlife. The rocks. The trees.

Cooper, Will, and I circled the farm's pond.  They were on a hunt for any sort of scaly or creepy (my words) creature.  The pond appeared to be teeming with possibilities.  On more than one occasion, a frog popped out from among the brush and algae.  Much to their dismay, the boys' quick reflexes were no match for the scared-out-of-their-wits' frogs.

Cooper moved closer to the edge.  I suggested he refrain from entering the mud.  Before I had a chance to utter the word mud, I heard the slosh of a foot being sucked into the gooey sludge.

Did I really think Cooper would adhere to my warning against the mud?  Asking Cooper to skirt the mud was like suggesting he abstain from breathing. 

In fact, Cooper was practically doing snow angels in the mud when Will uttered, "There is so much grass out here."

Welcome to the country Will.

Eyeing my happy (muddy) son and my immortal Great Uncle, I thought about how I too was grateful.

I was grateful for a day with the best simple pleasure of all: family.

Thursday, May 25, 2017


Our dapper famous Hoosier.

Our favorite second grade teacher with both of his (soon to be) former students.

Collin adores his second grade teacher.

Chris and I sat in pint-sized chairs within inches of the blackboard. Mr. Truitt, Collin's teacher, took his post at the front of the classroom.  It was second grade graduation night, an evening where Mr. Truitt honored each individual student with a special award based on their perceived gifts.

I anticipated the night to be emotional.  I envisioned myself as the blubbering mother holding back sobs in the corner.  I did not imagine, however, that Chris would be more of a watery mess.  (I think he mentioned allergies, but I'm no fool.)

Early in the program, Mr. Truitt called up Collin.  He handed him a certificate and announced that Collin received the steadfastness award.

"There could be a tornado going on and it would not shake Collin," Mr. Truitt laughed.  "He could be in the middle of a crowd going wild, he would sit there calmly."

Chris and I couldn't stifle our sideline giggles.  Being the fourth son, he's learned to remain calm in the midst of chaos since infancy.    

Mr. Truitt continued, "Parents, you know how many storms come in life.  Being steadfast as an adult will be an asset."

The floodgate of tears were unleashed.  There are few things that would make us prouder than raising a son who could withstand life's storms.

After the presentation, we thanked Mr. Truitt profusely.  He shot back kind words and praised our stellar parenting of our four boys.  Then, he asked for a picture with Collin and Cooper (his former student).

We walked out into the hall to grab Cooper only to find him in tears, clutching a bloody nose.  Apparently two sons engaged in a fiery squabble that left Cooper a wreck.

(Sidenote: Rarely does a disagreement get to this level.  Apparently, they save their best behavior for special occasions in public.)

(Second sidenote:  The moment of pride after being called "stellar parents" diminished in record time.)

So the evening ended in lots of tears and punishments.  The car ride home was lively.  All the while, Collin sat quietly in his car seat clutching his certificate....being steadfast in the midst of a storm.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Middle School Graduate

Baby Caleb.  Despite his age, this is how I still see him most days.

How he really looks today.  Still my baby, but just bigger.

As I'm adding Caleb's pictures to my blog, I'm swatting away tears. On a week like this, the fleeting nature of my children's childhood seems apparent.  

My oldest son is graduating from middle school in two days.  That means he is a high school student.  

I'm making a big fuss over his middle school graduation.  There will be a present and a cake.  Caleb shoos away my sappy gestures by assuring me that a middle school graduation is inconsequential in the grand scheme of life.

That's when I'm aware that my child doesn't even know me.  Everything in my children's lives is an occasion for sappiness and reflection.  And a middle school graduation (for my oldest child) is enough to spiral me into an emotional tizzy.

This week I'm reflecting on my oldest son.  

As a mom of four sons, I'm a believer that each boy was born with a unique personality that became apparent once the pregnancy test registered positive.

For Caleb, his personality showed quickly.  Early on, he exhibited a zest for learning and absorbing new information.  I vividly remember Caleb, age four, enthralled with a National Geographic article on the malaria crisis in Africa.  Of course, he was quick to share his newfound information on the malaria crisis in Africa to his pint-size playmates (who tuned-out his wacky chatter in favor of another episode of Thomas the Train).

Another early observation is that Caleb displayed what I'd like to call "spirit" or "grit."  When he was in early elementary school, I announced that bed making would be part of our morning routine.  Caleb clearly thought bed making was superfluous.  (We're getting right back in it the bed in a matter of hours, he cried.)  

I held my ground.  

So did he.  

For the next six months, he slept in a sleeping bag on top of a made bed.

From this interaction, I knew he had "grit."  (And because I held my ground too, I knew from which parent Caleb inherited his grit.)

Through these early years, the "grit" and the "spirit" led to squabbles and tears (on both of our ends).  On some of the worst nights, I feared the teenager he could become in a few short years.  (Big kid, big problems, right.)  On those nights when the anxieties over his future stifled my sleep, I hit my knees and prayed.  Theses were earnest prayers.  The sort of prayers where your knees rub the carpet raw and your hands feel gelled together by a mixture of sweat and tears.

Looking at Caleb now is like watching a living, breathing answer to prayer.  He is responsible, hardworking, witty, faith-filled, and (most importantly) kind.  When walking into buildings, he opens the door for his mother and other women.  He says "thank you" and "please" to servers at restaurants.  When he sees his mother overrun with dishes and laundry, he lends a hand.

There are so many things I could say about Caleb, but those last few lines are my proudest as a parent.

I made him promise that he will stay in this sweet state until he turns 18.  He promises.  Time will tell.  But from what we see now, we're turning out a kid that will change the world, for the better.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Day of Dread: Garage Sale Day

To the boys, one day ranks right up there with Christmas: Neighborhood Garage Sale Day.  For our neighborhood, we have one designated day in which all the homes in our hood sell their junk belongings.  

The boys wake up giddy on garage sale day.  They have about $4 in quarters burning a hole in their piggy banks and a neighborhood teeming with 25 cent treasures.  A matchbox car with one wheel?  Score!  A book with a few pages missing.  Good deal!  A battery-operated car that looks like it landed under a thick tire.  Oh Lucky Day!

I hold a different opinion on garage sale day.  I guess it's because we try our best not to look like hoarders.  Unfortunately, garage sale day seems to replenish our house with the same amount of junk belongings that I spent a year purging.

This year, the boys decided to not just be consumers, but also sellers.  They set up a makeshift table at the edge of the driveway and quickly filled the top with a collection of plastic doodads and other equally valuable items.

The sale did not start off well.

The problem was the neighbor kid was having a competing garage sale.  His table was filled with rocks found in Lake Michigan and geodes from Lake Monroe.

Who can compete with that?

(Side note: That's when I caught Cooper in our pantry trying to sell our food.)

I suggested Cooper find some way to distinguish himself from other neighbor sales.

So, Cooper decided he needed a gimmick to attract customers.  Quickly he popped a bag of popcorn and raced outside.  He shouted at all potential customers, "Free popcorn with purchase."

This caught the ear of a few customers.  He quickly raised his profits by $2.25.

But neighbor Stephen was still leading in sales.

Collin, observing Stephen making bank, was no fool.  Collin (aka Benedict Arnold) jumped ship to join Stephen's salesforce.  (As an added bonus, Stephen offered Collin a commission for each sale...25 cents for every dollar sold!)

As of the writing of this blog, Cooper has racked in $5 for hours of work.  

I'm beginning to think it's not about the amount of cash he places in his wallet.  For Cooper, I think, it's the thrill of the sale.

Seeing my budding capitalist happy makes me tolerate enjoy garage sale day.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Being Bored

About five minutes after arriving home from school, Collin announced that he was bored.  BORED.

I stared at him a good whole minute and debated how to respond.

Bored sounds pretty divine.

I barely remember bored.

My ability to be bored has been blocked by a slew of less than pleasant (but necessary) activities.  The list includes a bottomless pit of laundry, dishes that seem to multiply, carpets that collect dust and dirt like a boss, food that constantly needs to be prepared (and then disappears in the span of a blink).  And on and on.

After Collin lamented his woes, I decided "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em."

I took Collin by the arm, and we nestled into the hammock together.  My intent was that we would be so bored that I would cry (tears of joy).

Let me tell you....bored is glorious.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Why I Ran An Ultramarathon for Mother's Day

Minutes before race start, we lined up with a crew of equally ambitious (crazy) runners.

 The Gnaw Bone 50K, which cut through Brown County State Park, was anything but flat.

 We walked the stairs.

In our drop bags, we planted fresh shoes.  Guess which ones are fresh?  Notice the cuts and scrapes thanks to a few wipe outs on the trails.

We said our goodbyes to these shoes/socks and thanked them for their service.

Perhaps our race time would have been better if we nixed the many photo opps.  

We couldn't help capturing a few silly moments.

The recent monsoon conditions left the trails caked in gooey mud and downed trees.

Obstacles or opportunities for more adventure?  You be the judge.

We became creative on finding ways to pass through the trails and avoid mud patches.

The terrain was ever-changing.  At the end, it turned into grassy meadows with impressive vistas.

We're on the cusp of 30 miles here and still smiling!

Almost to 30 1/2 miles.  The mud would not let up.

At the very end, a river separated us from the finish line.

We didn't have any choice but to plunge into the water.

It actually was refreshing and a fun way to end the race.

 Plus, it cleaned the mud off our shoes!

Ultramarathon finishers!  31.3 miles in 7 hours and 40 minutes.  Enough to earn a 3rd and 4th page age group win and 10th and 11th overall female finishers. We'll take it.

Back to reality, I was able to celebrate Mother's Day with my boys at church.

Between church service (yes, between), I cheered Connor's team on to a championship win.

To celebrate Mother's Day, many moms want spa trips, movie dates, or special lunches.

My taste differ.

My mother's day request involved mud, but not the sort of mud you'd find in a spa mask.

For Mother's Day, I asked to have several hours alone to run an ultra marathon.  It was a bucket list item for me.  An experience that always intrigued me and left me questioning if this runner could handle the strain and demand of a few extra miles past the marathon.

My husband agreed to my wacky demand.  (Perhaps it was because the ultra marathon registration fee was much less than a trip to a jewelry store.)  And so, I signed up for the Gnaw Bone 50K (31 miler) race.

This Saturday, my alarm cut buzzed at 3:40 a.m.  I jolted awake, tossed on some clothes, and raced out the door.  A few minutes, I was sitting in my friend Nicole's driveway.  She popped out of the door at 4 a.m., and we hightailed it south.

After a 90 minute commute, we landed at Mike's Dance Bar in the tiny southern Indiana town of Gnaw Bone.  We joined a motley crew of runners congregating in the dark around the make-shift start and finish line.  We tried to squash our uneasiness.  Although neither one of us would verbalize it, a trip to the dentist seemed like a more enjoyable option at that moment.

Before we had time to capitalize on our second-guessing, the race started.  The running pack surged forward.  We fell into a comfortable pace for about a half mile.  The terrain was level and comfortable.  But not for long.

For the last several weeks, monsoon-like conditions have hit Indiana.  Gnaw Bone received its share.  The formerly dusty trails were caked in gooey, slippery mud.  Before we reached the first mile mark, we knew what we had in store: mud, mud, and more mud.

For the next 31 miles, we battled mud and downed trees along with other obstacles.  Roots and rocks made footing tricky and caused me to fall twice.  The hills were relentless.  Who said Indiana was flat?  

From this diatribe, one may assume it was a bad experience.

Just the opposite.

Running an ultra marathon through the trails in southern Indiana was one of the most amazing experiences of my life.  If you probed as to why, I'd have to think about my response.

For 31 miles, we learned things.  

We were taught how to be an ultra marathon runner from our fellow competitors.  It was a friendly group who was happy to impart their wisdom as we trailed behind an assortment of runners.  They liked to swap stories.  Many of them had racked up an incredible amount of races.  They coached us on the basics: walk the hills, run the downhill and flat.  Another runner informed me that falling was inevitable.  (I proved him right.) 

At the aid stations where the food spread resembled a Golden Corral buffet line, the more experienced runners recommended we 
"eat what sounds good."  On that advice, we feasted on pretzels, chips, candy, coke, and sprite.  (Clearly a race diet that would make most cringe.)

Nicole and I learned about each other.  Our conversation varied based on whether we were racing alone or with a group.  With a group, we discussed the fine points of racing.  (In fact, one runner identified us as "dts," defined as "designated talkers.") When alone, we dove into an assortment of light and heavy topics.  Running in the woods was a bit like sitting in a therapist chair.  Truth and emotion tumbled out the longer our feet hit the trail.

I think the most important thing we learned was about ourselves. With some degree of confidence (and not an ounce of humility), I can call us tough mothers.  We entered into the 50K race with a line of fears.  I had one too many visions about stumbling onto a snake or getting lost deep into the woods.  Perhaps my biggest fear was being unable to finish the course.

We beat our fears.  

We stayed the course.  

We finished the race.

We are ultra marathoners.

We are mothers. 

We are better because we are both.

 l loved my Mother's Day gift.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Sixteenth Wedding Anniversary

Due to an influx of rain, my regular running path looked more like a swimming pool.

Sixteen year anniversary picture.

A trip to Cake Bake for an anniversary cake slice makes both of us giddy.

Love this guy.

Since my last post, it has rained in a relentless, stubborn fashion.  Our basement (knock on wood) has remained dry.  But it seems to be in the minority.  The local baseball diamonds and farmer fields are saturated to the point they resemble swimming pools.  

When I took the boys to survey the damage, Cooper grabbed a beach towel.  

Just in case, he explained.

I do appreciate his preparedness.

Along with the rain, the temperature has nosedived.

This is unsurprising as I stored all of our hats and gloves in the basement the day before the cold made its appearance.

Of course.

The cold and the rain didn't stop us from celebrating our sixteenth wedding anniversary.  Chris and I headed to a hippish (to us) restaurant.  We munched on guacamole and homemade chips while we exchanged memories of our wedding day.

Halfway through the guacamole, my neighbor texted me.  She thought I'd like to know that Cooper was peddling his wares (toys, books, and such) outside our house to the likely two people that passed by his makeshift stand.

"Was that all right?" my neighbor asked.

I replied  "Yes, as long as he wasn't selling priceless family heirlooms or our china set."

Life has drastically changed in sixteen years.

But, Chris has been the constant.  

Eighteen years ago, I fell in love with his bright mind, big heart, and great sense of humor.

Even though both of our appearances have shifted through the years (hello wrinkles), the inner beauty remains.

Happy Anniversary sweet Chris.  I'm grateful for many years filled with laughter and memories.