Tuesday, February 15, 2022

A Sense of Place


Saying goodbye to my beloved grandmother—a lifelong treasure and our last surviving grandparent—brings waves of another grief that has been unexpected yet profound. Pleasantries of conversation turn awkward when someone asks, “Where are you from?” Having resided in five states and thirteen cities over the course of my life, I don’t find it an easy question to answer and usually respond by stumbling over an abbreviated geographical timeline of my past.

In my heart, though, there was always Jacksonville. Both of my parents grew up in this small city nestled in the foothills of the Appalachians, and it was home to all four grandparents. When I was in elementary school, our immediate family lived in the area for a time, but before, after, and always, this was the place that we returned to for vacations and holidays. Despite setting up housekeeping, over their nearly four decades of marriage, in destinations as far flung as California, North Dakota, and North Carolina, my parents settled in northeast Alabama near the end of my mother’s life, and she actually took her last breath in the same hospital where she had taken her first.

Today, the road to Grandma’s leads me through meandering paths of memory, evoking images of countless childhood trips in the family station wagon. To pass the hours, my sister and I took turns choosing sites along the way as our future houses. The game would slow, however, as we approached the familiar landmarks of Anniston because the city’s tree-lined boulevard promised a historic church that looked, to our young eyes, like a sprawling castle. Whoever missed out on that prime piece of real estate had little time to wait, though, before laying claim to the elegant Victorian hotel perched on a nearby hilltop.

In Jacksonville, the town square is first to extend a welcome, showcasing new businesses alongside tried-and-true establishments. Up ahead, hallowed halls of the university beckon with knowledge of our maternal grandfather, who was a professor of economics, and our maternal grandmother, a librarian. Though Mema and Papa died years ago, their cottage, set within walking distance of campus, stands as a happy reminder of the affection that once filled its cozy quarters. I’m surprised to survey their tidy lawn and realize its modest size; in my earliest days, it was a vast wonderland to explore as well as a football field for twirling batons or cheerleading and an amphitheater for regaling relatives with dazzling impromptu theatrical productions.

Just a few blocks away, 901 Fourth Avenue beckons. This little brick charmer, built by my paternal grandparents in the 1960s, brims with keepsakes from a life well loved. Mugs collected over seventy years of marriage edge the ceiling, family photos line the walls, and furnishings built by Granddad showcase Grandma’s creative pastimes, including painting, sewing, crochet, and ceramics. In the living room, hymnals rest on the piano, ready to play. Outside, a weathered basketball faintly echoes the steady percussive beat of pickup games among generations of neighborhood boys—sons who are now fathers and grandfathers.

No matter how many times my address changed over the years, it was comforting to have a spot on the globe that remained constant. No matter how far we wandered in the name of educational or professional pursuits, our pin in the map was Jacksonville, and we could always go home.

That sense of connection was shaken over the weekend with the news that Grandma, whose health had declined steadily since she became a widow, took a turn for the worse and was not expected to recover. The final pilgrimage to her bedside felt like a heartbreaking farewell, not only to my precious grandmother but also to the adopted hometown of my subconscious. For days, I felt uprooted, ungrounded, unmoored.

With so many loved ones gone, where in the world do I belong?

Comfort has finally come in reframing reflections from where I grew up to how. That shift allows me to reflect on people instead of place, proclaiming the bountiful blessings of my upbringing. In truth, I’m from deeply rooted faith: listening to my father preach the message of amazing grace, reciting memory verses in Sunday school, singing devotional songs around the bonfire at church camp, praying for those in need, and saying “I care” through poppyseed chicken casserole. I’m from close-knit family: reading books with Daddy before bedtime; harmonizing with Mother as she strummed the guitar; playing house, hospital, and school with the little sister who turned into my best friend; and doting on a baby brother who is still the apple of my eye. And I’m from traditions: Thanksgivings that look like aunts, uncles, and cousins gathering from afar, taste like tables laden with time-honored recipes, smell like autumn leaves, and sound like oft-repeated tales that grow sweeter in the retelling. Mostly, though, I’m from gratitude: thankful that God placed me—gently, thoughtfully, lovingly—right where I was meant to be.


Photo by Alba Conejero GutiƩrrez/JSU. Used with Permission.

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Carson and Mallory's Engagement


If you visited A Little Loveliness years ago, may find yourself as surprised as I am that those sweet little ones who grew up in this space are now spreading their wings as teenagers and young adults. Our oldest son, Carson, proposed to his childhood sweetheart, Mallory, over Christmas break, and I am happy to share these photos from their special day.





Mallory and Carson met at ages 13 and 14, respectively. The pair dated for a year and a half in high school and then again for six months while in college. Even during times when they weren't dating, they always seemed to be drawn back together as best friends. 




Carson realized early in 2020 that Mallory is the love of his life. While he was in basic training for the army, the two began corresponding via letters. Their relationship has only grown stronger in the months since, and they soon realized that this is true love.




When Carson came home for Christmas -- such a thrill for us since, due to Covid, we were unable to see him for nine months -- he wanted to propose. Under the guise of a family photo shoot for New Year's cards, we invited Mallory to join but then let the two of them get a head start on the outing. Photographer Rebecca Long was in on the surprise, so when the lighting was just right, she posed Mallory and told Carson to get behind her to run in for a hug.




But this was actually the moment when he got down on one knee.

"Mallory," he called.





"Will you marry me?"




She said yes!





We are so happy for these childhood sweethearts who have found their forever home in each other.





Wedding plans are well underway, so you can count on seeing details of the festivities here.





I love these two so very much and can't wait to watch them start their life together!


"Love must be as much a light as a flame." ~ Henry David Thoreau

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Happy New Year!



We pray God's richest blessings on you and yours in 2021.




This year, we look forward to adding a new daughter to our family, as Carson weds his childhood sweetheart, Mallory. In my next post, I will be sharing photos from this family photo shoot-turned-surprise proposal. This exciting event ended a challenging year with the sweetest of celebrations.


"A new year is simply the turn of a calendar page -- and a beautiful chance for us to turn over a new leaf."
~ Terri Guillemets

Monday, August 17, 2020

Christian's Senior Portraits




Although son Christian began his first day of college classes today, I am taking a moment to reminisce over his senior portraits since I have not shared them here yet. We are so proud of this young man and pray for his next steps in the exciting journey that has just begun. 











































"My son, do not let wisdom and understanding out of your sight, preserve sound judgment and discretion; they will be life for you, an ornament to grace your neck" (Proverbs 3:21-22).


Photos by Allison Hilyer Photography. Used with permission.


Friday, August 14, 2020

A Letter to My Son





My dear Christian,

 

What a blessing you are to my life. From the first moment I looked into your angelic blue eyes and you snuggled peacefully into my arms, you have had my heart. Your purity and sweetness have been evident from the beginning and have only grown along with you through the years. As you prepare to embark on the next chapter in your life, I want to share my hopes for your future while reminiscing about the qualities I admire most in you.

 

From the beginning, it seemed that our job as your parents was less about guiding you to the right path than preserving your innate goodness. When I think of your preschool days, I remember a precious little boy who set his own standard of behavior at being so good that he would earn three treats every day. After all, he had two little sisters to provide for at home. My favorite moment from Lads to Leaders was when you noticed that Mary Ashley’s new shoes were hurting her feet and, without a word, picked her up and carried her through the convention hotel. May you always strive to do your best and maintain a heart for serving others.

 

When you were about three years old and riding in the car with Dad, you questioned a turn that he made, and when he retorted that he was a daddy and daddies know everything, you quietly replied, “You don’t know the mind of God.” At six, when you wanted to become a Christian but we weren’t sure you were old enough to understand the decision, you began praying aloud that your earthly parents would allow you to be baptized. More recently, you have looked for opportunities to share your faith and, in determining your next steps, considered where and how you can have the most influence. May you always have a spiritual outlook and a faith that grows stronger, deeper and richer every day.

 

You have brought so much laughter to our home! From the joke you delivered with a toothless grin in kindergarten—“There are three types of people in the world: those who can count and those who can’t!”—to today’s witty observations and endless supply of memes, you keep us constantly entertained. May you always look for the joy in the world around you and strive to share that sunshine with others.

 

When you leave for college, I’m not sure how I will survive without my daily Christian hugs. I savored each one during your younger years, realizing that when you were older, you might not run across the school cafeteria to greet me and would likely be embarrassed to show affection in front of your friends. As time has passed, though, your devotion has never wavered. Just as I have always tried to wrap you in maternal love, you have given me that same feeling of abiding security and comfort. May you always be so free in sharing your heart, and may you be loved fiercely and faithfully in return.

 

As you have done throughout your high school career, I hope that you will continue to embrace the opportunities before you. It has been our pleasure to watch you succeed in the classroom, take a lead in the youth group, and sing and dance on the stage, knowing that you were giving your all in every endeavor. As much as I have enjoyed the victories along the way, even more I have been inspired by your tenacity. The indomitable spirit that helped you rise on the middle-school wrestling mat will continue to serve you well, whatever challenges lie ahead. You can be sure that your dad and I will always be in your corner to offer support, guidance and strength.

 

Our greatest hope has always been that you would live up to your name, and I will be cheering you on, even through my tears, as you embark on the special path that He has planned for you.

 

I love you,

Mommy

 

Photo by Allison Hilyer Photography. Used with permission.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Easy and Delicious Doughnut Recipe



"New mysteries. New day. Fresh doughnuts."
~ David Lynch

Our art director for Victoria plans the most wonderful crafting and culinary projects for her children, and when she shared photos of doughnuts that her family made for their Friday morning breakfast, I knew immediately that I could not let the weekend pass without trying out her recipe. Using refrigerated biscuit dough makes this a super-easy endeavor, and a simple glaze adds the perfect finishing touch. Read on for the details!





Easy Doughnuts

Makes 8

Vegetable oil, for frying
1 (16-ounce) can refrigerated buttermilk biscuit dough*
1 cup confectioners' sugar
3 tablespoons milk

1. Fill a frying pan to a depth of approximately 2 inches with oil. Heat over medium-high heat.

2. Open can and separate biscuits. Using a small round or heart-shaped cookie cutter, cut center from each biscuit.

3. In batches, add doughnuts and holes to pan, cooking until golden, about 1 minute per side. Remove to paper towels to let cool slightly.

4. In a small bowl, stir confectioners' sugar and milk until smooth. Drizzle over warm doughnuts and holes, and serve immediately.


*We used Pillsbury Grands! Southern Homestyle Buttermilk Biscuits, and I plan to use Grands! Flaky Layers Buttermilk Biscuits next time.






These easy and delicious doughnuts made for a quick and satisfying quarantine breakfast before we gathered for Sunday morning worship in the living room. Over time, I look forward to experimenting with different biscuit doughs, glazes and toppings. Please let me know if you have a favorite combination to suggest!


"Life, within doors, has few pleasanter prospects than a neatly arranged and well-provisioned breakfast-table."
~ Nathaniel Hawthorne

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

As Seen in Victoria Magazine



As a longtime reader of Victoria before I had the privilege of joining the editorial staff, you can imagine my delight at finding some familiar faces in our current issue. Our team has enjoyed bringing fashion features back to the pages of the magazine, and you are certain to love the romantic billows showcased in the May/June story "Lasting Impressions." Christian was out of town when this photo shoot took place last summer, but you will spy Mary Ashley, Emma and Carson on the third spread and then the girls on the following page. A subscriber from Texas reached out to ask if these were my children, so I am wondering if anyone else recognized these cuties?
















What a lovely opportunity for my three and our other models! Find the May/June 2020 issue, absolutely brimming with gorgeous content, on newsstands or at victoriamag.com.


"Beauty is a nectar which intoxicates the soul."
~ T.C. Henley

Monday, April 20, 2020

Among the Wisteria


"In pale moonlight
the wisteria's scent
comes from far away."
~ Yosa Buson


Honestly, I took it really hard when last month's trip to the beach was cancelled. I needed to sit with this news for a while before saying it aloud, but Carson has enlisted with the army and was scheduled to leave for basic training in March. With his departure date looming and Christian heading off to college soon, I could see the sands of time with all four children slipping out of the hourglass and was heartbroken to lose what was possibly our last opportunity to get away together. But these past few weeks with everyone home have brought their own sweetness with family meals, game nights, and plenty of singing, laughing and teasing. The slower cadence has allowed me to really savor each moment. And although I didn't get the seaside pictures I had originally envisioned taking to mark this end of an era, as we settled into the new normal of quarantine, God draped our trees with wisteria and gave us a golden sunset, allowing me to capture a few more precious memories of these babies that I will hold in my heart forever.
























Carson's departure date, originally rescheduled for late July, has been moved to today. Although it has been difficult to think about him leaving the nest, I am grateful that we were given a little more time with him and understand that he is eager to embark on this new adventure. I ask for your prayers as Carson begins this new chapter of his life. During this transition, how thankful I am for precious moments captured among the wisteria.


"When you look at your life, the greatest happinesses are family happinesses."
~ Joyce Brothers

Saturday, April 18, 2020

An Easter Table Abloom in Pink and Yellow


"Easter says you can put truth in a grave, but it won't stay there."
~ Clarence W. Hall

With this year's celebration of Easter taking place at home, I looked forward to creating some special memories around our table. During my grocery shopping for the occasion, I was so pleased to find lush pink roses, sunny yellow tulips and snowy white hydrangeas. Arranging these pretty flowers in favorite wire birdhouses offered a subtle reminder that beauty can always bloom, even during a season of confinement due to quarantine. Enjoy these glimpses of spring loveliness!




































"It is the hour to rend thy chains,
The blossom time of souls."
~ Katherine Lee Bates

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