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Well that was quite a year…

2016 certainly didn’t happen like we’d planned — our worlds were upended on March 21 with a breast cancer diagnosis — but as Bill and I reflected back on the year recently, we realized that though it was definitely a HARD year, 2016 was not a BAD year.

When I called my friend Mandy — someone who knows too much about cancer — to tell her my news, she told me that there would be joy in times that I couldn’t imagine there being joy. She’s been right: over and over again, joy pops up, just in time. Maybe at some point, I’ll be ready to write about the experiences of this year, but right now, they’re still too raw. I have a bit of a pit in my stomach, even as I type right now.

For now, though, a few highlights of 2016:

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Me, Mandy and the Patti Pie — one of those joy-filled moments

  1. I felt so supported and loved by countless people. I can’t even begin to list all the cards, gifts, food, prayers, and ways that people reminded our family that we were not alone. Friendships were deepened and new friendships created in ways that only happens in the midst of struggle.
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My girls celebrating my birthday in Lubbock.

2. My awesome kids kept being awesome. Both girls were all sorts of brave in 2016: JA competed in high jump, performed with her choir at the Texas Music Educators Association convention, attended Maker Academy at ACU, participated in a church mission trip, moved up to pointe in ballet, and was appointed to leadership team at her school.

Molly read 9 million words, went to overnight camp at ACU, ran for mayor of her elementary school, joined the handbell choir, and learned to sew.

 

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3. We had an amazing vacation in Western Colorado. Our original summer plans had included a month-long vacation to Canada, but chemo postponed that trip until 2017. We were able, however, to take a two-week vacation to Colorado, spending a few days in Mesa Verde National Park and 11-days in Ouray. We hiked, and hiked, and hiked (one of our family’s favorite pastimes), explored new places, worked puzzles, played games, and enjoyed being together.

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We’d been in the car a while at this point…

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Hiking to the cliff dwellings

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IN the cliff dwellings

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Skipping rocks at Blue Lake

4. I’m still me. That may sound weird, but one of my fears this year would be that cancer — and all the accompanying treatments — would change me, and, of course, there are ways it has. At my core, though, I’m still the same. I’ve worked, exercised, taught my classes, been a mom, traveled, laughed, gotten angry and thrown fits (one on the top of a mountain in Colorado), and been my goofy self day in and day out. (Even as my hair grows back, my same cowlicks are still there — something I was surprisingly relieved to discover.)

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During a weekend with Susie in October, doing what we do best — talk, walk, and drink chai.

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Thanksgiving shenanigans

5. We’re ready for a new year. Cancer is SO 2016. I finished radiation in December, and now we learn to live in a post-cancer world. We figure out how to keep the anxiety and fears at bay, live in the present, and continue to seek joy.

The girls are back at school this week, and Bill and I are prepping for a new semester. Before we settle too far into the rhythms of a new year, we do have a little celebrating to do. Stay tuned…

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Nostalgia

On our last day with the Paunans before we headed further north, we spend the day in Milwaukee reminiscing about the two years we spent there.

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Bill and I both did graduate degrees at Marquette University, moving up there when we’d only been married a few months. I don’t think either of us were prepared for the cold, or the loneliness, or how hard it would be.  We also weren’t prepared for how incredibly beautiful it was, what amazing friends we would make, or how it would strengthen our marriage.

After two years in Milwaukee, we were very ready to move to the warmer climes of College Station. I wouldn’t miss the bitterly cold 8-block walk from our apartment to campus or the awful grey snow that lingers into April, but we would miss our long hikes at one of the many Wisconsin state parks, our strolls along the lakefront on long summer nights, our sweet little church that nurtured and fed us, and the new adventure that we had braved.

I hadn’t been back to Milwaukee since Bill defended his dissertation in 2005, and we were excited to show parts of the city and campus to the girls.

We started outside our apartment on Wisconsin Avenue; it had cleaned up a bit — no bars on the windows!

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We walked down to campus after that, noticing how many things were the same and how much had changed.  The flower shop that reminded me I was almost home was just a grassy lot, but when we cut through the Engineering Building (for a bathroom break this time. I used to cut through to have a few moments out of the cold) it looked very much as it did when I taught my very first college classes there.

Campus was stunning as always. We visited St. Joan of Arc Chapel (the pic at the top of this post), which had always been our favorite place on campus, the new library, and the student union, where JA scored a new sweatshirt.

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After lunch we headed to the lakefront, and the girls played in the (cold!) water and collected rocks.  It was fun to start our Great Lakes part of our trip at a place that holds so many fond memories for us. I loved getting to share this day with the Paunans, too, because this is where our dear, dear friendship began.

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After a few other really fun new places (The Urban Ecology Center to see Susie’s sister and The Waxwing for some local artist shopping), we headed to get some frozen custard and — the worst part — to say goodbye. I hate this part. So thankful for good memories and good friends. (And that Susie and I have our next adventure planned…)

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Our July Adventure Part 1

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After we wrapped up our June responsibilities, it was time to hit the road for a few weeks.  I love a long road trip because it affords a chance to slow down, see new things, and have all my people trapped in the car with me.  We packed snacks and books and movies and headed north bright and early on July 3rd.

Our first stop was lunch with my long-time best friend, Alyssa, and her family.  It’s hard to believe we’ve known each other for 25 years!  We ate pizza, chatted, and watched the kids play before hitting the road again towards Chicago.

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Day two of our trip we arrived at the Paunans’ house, ready to spend the week with John, Susie, Sydney and Addy.  We visit Chicago every other summer, and during the other summers they’re lucky enough to come to Abilene! The fours girls played — lots of imagining Harry Potter world — and read and shared secrets, and the adults stayed up way too late each night playing our log-running game of canasta.  (It was a banner year for Susie and me! I think the tide is turning!)

Susie had planned several fun outings for us, the first of which was the Morton Arboretum.  We hiked, picnicked and climbed all over this lovely spot.

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On a particularly hot day, we drove downtown to the Museum of Science and Industry. It’s a fun, hands-on place and the girls all had a great time learning about avalanches, planes, tornadoes, and many other cool scientific phenomenon.  I think we could have stayed all day if the hanger hadn’t set in.  We found a sandwich shop for lunch and watched it pour out the window as the cool front moved in.

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The one Chicago activity that the girls requested was to volunteer at Feed My Starving Children again. The loved this service project in 2013 and were excited to fill food packs again.

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I think my favorite outing was the Northshore Sculpture Park. Susie printed activity guides for the girls and we strolled along learning about the art, discussing what it meant, and taking silly pictures. The day was cool and sunny and we followed up our walk with some yummy burgers. Perfect.

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It’s so fun to have friends who live in such fun places — we love getting to hang out in Chicago every other year — but we’d really like it better if the Paunans lived a lot closer.


Um, August? (A June Recap)

It’s hard to believe that today is August 1st and our summer is winding down. June and July have absolutely flown by.

We started the summer of at full speed.  I started my in my new position as Director of Faculty Development in the Adams Center for Teaching and Learning on June 1.  While this new role doesn’t require a lot of work in the summer, I was on campus more than usual trying to get my feet under me and learn the ins and outs of my responsibilities.  Right now I’m working on planning the New Faculty Orientation and a mini-conference for faculty before school starts.  I’m looking forward to getting to work with faculty all across campus.

The girls started off June with activities as well.  In addition to preparing for their recital, Jane Anne attended ACU’s Maker Academy, where her team built and raced a go cart! She loved all the hands-on projects and getting to experience ACU’s Maker Lab.  Meanwhile, Molly was across campus at ACU’s soccer camp.

The first Sunday in June was the girls’ recital. I say this every year, but I love watching them do something they love.  And each year I’m amazed at how much they’ve developed as  dancers.  They each had two ballet classes, Molly had jazz, and JA had lyrical.

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And my niece and sister-in-law got to come to the recital as well! Izzy is definitely one of the the girls’ biggest fans!

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My brother’s family stayed in Abilene for about a week, and we got to hangout with them.  The cousins had a great time playing together and one of the highlights of the week was a fun (if hot) trip to the Abilene Zoo.

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After they left, Molly and I took a night away to Fort Worth while Bill and JA stayed home to play games and watch the Avengers. We went to the art activity at the Kimbell, relaxed at the hotel, had a dinner date, wandered Sundance Square, and explored the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History.  It was great to go at Molly’s pace (which isn’t very fast) and get to do EXACTLY what she wanted.

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A few days later, I headed to Chicago.  (Phew — I’m beginning to see why it feels like summer flew by!) Bill had gotten Mumford and Sons tickets for my friend Susie and me.  We had such a relaxing girls week — taking walks, sipping chai, shopping, and just chatting — and Mumford was a blast!  A great concert. (And, yes, we’re wearing sweatshirts. In June. Glorious.)

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It was easy to say goodbye to Susie, knowing we’d be back in a couple weeks on our family vacation.

The last couple weeks of June were a bit calmer: some work, some lazy days, time with friends.  We spent much of July traveling, so more about that in a couple of days!

 


5 months later

We’ve now been back home almost as long as we were gone.  Our days have been filled with quotidian rhythms: school, work, dance, soccer, choir. It’s been blissfully ordinary. In some ways, it’s been hard, too.  We miss walking everywhere and spending lots of time together as a family.  Some days I really long for the slow pace that Oxford afforded.

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On the other hand, we love being back with friends, in our house, and having some semblance of a schedule.  (Not that I minded a schedule that involved training to London for the day; it’s just not sustainable.)

Over the past five months, we’ve settled into the new house and actually hung things on the walls.  We’ve watched our flower gardens explode with color and sat under the twinkling lights on our back patio. We’ve driven Texas backroads and drunk in the expanse of sky. We’ve cheered JA’s first choir concert and Molly’s first games.  We’ve celebrated a 12 year old and a 9 year old.  We’ve shared meals with dear friends.  We’ve eaten gallons of salsa.  And we’ve planned future adventures.

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But today was the girls last day of school! (We were dragging ourselves to the finish line — I’m not sure Molly was on time to school one day this week!) So we’re back to a little slower pace.  The girls have some activities this summer and I’ve got plans for our summer learning schedule. For today, though, we’ll swim, sleep in, read, and enjoy the slower pace.  (And I’ll make a promise to blog more regularly than every 5 months.)

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Last Stop: Salzburg

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We’ve been home just over a month — more about that later — but this post has been sitting in my drafts box for that whole time as we’ve tried to adjust back to life in the states.

Though we stopped briefly in Munich and London before making it back to Abilene, Salzburg was our last destination.  Our plan for Salzburg was to relax, go on a few surprise outings, and celebrate Christmas, and it was an absolutely perfect end to our adventure.

The first days we arrived were unseasonably warm, so we took advantage of the weather to explore the Old Town, wander through Mirabell Gardens, and play outside on a playground with a HUGE slide.

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Most Austrians celebrate Christmas on Christmas Eve, so knowing most things would be closed, we booked a salt mine tour. For centuries, salt (or salz) was the driving force in the Salzburg economy, and we got the chance to visit one of the old mines.  After donning “miner clothes,” we rode a train into the mine, crossed the German border several hundred meters below ground, slid down two long (27 and 42 meters) wooden slides, rode a boat across a salt river, and saw some cheesy films.  It was great fun!

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When we returned to the hotel, they had lit the (real!) candles on their (real!) tree.  It was stunning.

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We nestled ourselves into bed and settled in for the night.  Christmas day was quiet: we opened a few presents after breakfast, read, played games, ate a picnic lunch in the room, and talked to our families.  That afternoon we walked into town to seek out the ice rink.  The ice was terrible and the skates were terrible, which made skating really hard.  JA, Bill and I tired of it after just a few minutes, but Molly loved it! She went round and round and round until we finally made her stop.  She thought it was “magical,” and is now insisting I take her to the Galleria to ice skate.  We walked back to the hotel that evening enjoying the city decorated for Christmas.

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The next day — our last full day in Salzburg and our last non-travel day of our trip — we had booked a sleigh ride in the mountains.  The tour took us about an hour southeast of Salzburg to the alpine resort of Ramsau.  We had some time to wander around the cute village and enjoy the snow, and then we boarded the sleigh for the ride.  The ride was VERY cold, and for much of it they had to use wheels intend of runners, but it was delightful.  We enjoyed the jingling of the horses’ bells, the gorgeous alpine scenery around us, and the opportunity to warm us with some hot chocolate at the end!

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Salzburg was a great way to end our adventure and a wonderful Christmas memory.

We are so glad to be home with family and friends and pets!  It’s been a hard re-entry, but we’re settling into routines and finding our family rhythm.  Thanks for reading about our adventures while we were in Europe.  I’ll keep blogging here about our family’s (mis)adventures stateside, so feel free to keep reading.  🙂


Hello, Vienna!

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We really wanted our family to experience Christmas in Europe, and there didn’t seem a better place to do that than Austria, especially since we loved Salzburg so much on our last visit.  We decided to start in Vienna, though, since we have several friends who love it and we didn’t get a chance to visit it last time.

The architecture here in Vienna is amazing, from the Opera House to St. Stephen’s cathedral to the Hofsburg, beautiful buildings abound.  We spent most of our first day here getting our bearings and gawking at the gorgeous buildings.

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We were also really excited about exploring the Christmas markets — and there seems to be one on every corner.  The first evening, we visited the largest on in front of the town hall (the Rathaus).  We wandered around looking at all the lights, letting the girls ride the ponies and the carousel, and trying different foods, but we were really disappointed by the stalls.  We had hoped for handcrafted items, but almost everything seemed to be mass produced.  After a couple of hours, we grabbed bratwurst and some warm punsch and headed back to the apartment.

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Our destination the next day was Schloss Schönbrunn, a 17th-century Hapsburg Palace.  The palace complex is huge, but we were able to tour the imperial rooms, explore the gardens and visit the zoo.  In the palace courtyard, though, was another Christmas market.  This market was smaller and much less flashy, but it had what we were hoping for: booth after booth of handmade wares — wooden ornaments and toys, olive oils, candles and soaps, crystal, and, of course, food.  We had a blast picking up some gifts and souvenirs (and getting some snacks and punsch).

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The palace was full of baroque extravagance — so much gilding — and we’d opted out of the audio tour, so the girls and I had great fun making up explanations for the rooms as we moved through them.  Far more fun than the audioguide, I’m sure! (Seriously, what 8-year-old moves at that pace? Actually, who am I kidding, this 39-year-old thinks they move too slow!)

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Afterward, we hiked over to the zoo — the oldest Baroque zoo still in existence —  and visited a few of the animals before deciding we were too tired and too cold and needed to go back to the flat.  It was quite a lovely zoo, though.

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Sunday morning we surprised the girls with an early Christmas present: tickets to a performance at the Spanish Riding School, home of the waltzing Lippizaner Stallions.  The show was fantastic; my favorite was the quadrille eight horses performed to end the show.

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On Monday, JA requested we visit the exhibit at the Belvedere showcasing Monet and Austrian artists that Monet inspired.  The exhibit was fascinating, showcasing different styles of Monet and some breathtaking Klimts.

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Afterward, we wandered the gorgeous grounds at the Belvedere and found ourselves in, you guessed it, another Christmas market.

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We loved our time in Vienna and feel like there is so much we left undone.  I would love to come back sometime when the gardens and park are in bloom and explore more outside.  What a lovely place!

This morning, we boarded a train rode through gorgeous Alpine countryside to Salzburg where we’ll stay through Saturday.  We have a couple more surprises for the girls while we’re here, and then we’ll train to Munich to start our journey HOME!