You Can Drink the Hemlock

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Christmas came and went quickly this time, and 2017 quietly wound down with time spent at home. January, however, has found us off and going and we’ve already experienced a variety of activities.

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To kick off the New Year, the boys and I participated in a guided hike at Burgess Falls State Park, where we got to see the three falls in all their normal glory, with the addition of some beautiful ice formations. The rangers shared the local history of the park’s formation with us, and also educated us on the park’s flora and

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fauna. Guess what…the hemlock trees we have here in the south-east are not the same as the hemlock that Socrates used to poison himself. In fact, our hemlock is a good source of vitamin C!

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Burgess Falls lies south of Cookeville, just over the White County line. The Fall Water River winds through the park, and crashes over three beautiful waterfalls. On our hike, we learned that the park was originally owned by Thomas Burgess, who was gifted with the land in response to his Revolutionary War efforts. The river at different times powered a grist mill and even a sawmill. Later, construction of a flume line carried water through a powerhouse below the bottom falls. This powered Cookeville with electricity until TVA took over in 1944.

The Kisers spend a lot of time at Burgess Falls. The hike is relatively easy, but extremely

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gratifying. You can’t ask for better scenery. The rangers who take care of this park are always happy to answer questions and work hard to keep everyone safe. They’re constantly making improvements to the park, particularly with improving the footing on the hiking trail. Ian also loves the playground at the main entrance of the park, and splashing in the small streams along the trail and road.

FB_IMG_1516824497923.jpgIf you ever find yourself in the Upper Cumberland and need to kill an hour or two, stop by and check Burgess out. If you’re trying to think of a full day activity for your family, pack a picnic basket and make the drive. I promise that you won’t regret it.

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Christmas Time’s a Comin’

Doesn’t it seem like time really accelerates about mid October? Once the fall festivals hit, it just seems like a roller coaster of events clear through to Martin Luther King Junior Day. We’ve already zoomed past so many fun events that I’ve failed to bookmark. Hopefully during the dreary days of February I’ll get a chance  and find those images to share.

Kid in a binNow that we’ve turned the Thanksgiving corner of the track, we’re hurtling straight toward Christmas and so far, it seems like our plans are right on track. This time last year we were dealing with insurance battles, MRIs, car repairs, and pain. In comparison, this year has been absolutely blissful and my family has been extremely fortunate to enjoy making some great memories early in the holiday season.

We began our Christmas enfestivation with a double duty birthday trip and visited Rock RC3City’s Enchanted Garden of Lights. As always, the lights and views from Lookout Mountain stole our breath and gave us warm fuzzies to inspire Christmas shopping and party planning. We discovered a new favorite this year in the mushroom patch, and Ian set his heart on building a bear in the new area by the gem mining shop, welcoming “Greenie” to the family. Mogwai happily wandered the trail with us but had to wait outside while Ian ducked in to meet Mrs. Clause. The weather remained cool, but not cold, with a beautiful clear sky. In years past, we’ve had to bundle up in giant layers and stumble along awkwardly through the narrow passages, but instead, this time we wore long sleeves and vests and stayed fairly comfortable.

cornbineMeanwhile, back at home we’ve had a few goings on. Ian has been saving his chore money since summer towards the purchase of a John Deer “cornbine.” Through repeated trips to dump items on the compost pile, sweeping the porch, feeding the cow, putting away laundry, and checking the mail, the little man finally saved up the hefty price and we made a trip to Tractor Supply. While it’s awfully close to Christmas for toy shopping, he earned this one, and I would hate to have made him wait another month for the goal he’s worked so solidly towards.

While Ian has worked away at his chore list, Brinn has also been catching up on a few gasket repairchores. Winter paddling season is just around the corner (if it will ever rain), so Brinn has been busy replacing gaskets on drysuits. Our living room has a nice aquaseal aroma to it if anyone needs a whiff for nostalgia’s sake. I’m sure now that Brinn’s removed the shredded gaskets and put nice tight ones on, the skies will open and keep the creeks filled all winter, right? Just like it never rains when farmers cut hay… Anyone else need a gasket replaced? Now’s the time to swing by the house. I’ve been roasting venison tenderloins to tweak a recipe and Brinn’s stretching latex amidst glue fumes…

RC2Tomorrow will find us at another of Ian’s favorite holiday traditions. When we pick him up from school, he’ll join Marilyn and me at Walmart to help us ring the bell while asking for donations to the Cookeville Rescue Mission. I can’t remember the exact number, but I think they shared with us that thirty percent of their operating budget comes from Christmas bucket donations. That’s huge! Think of how many other organizations are out there ringing the bell this holiday season. It might not feel like the loose change rolling around in the bottom of your purse would actually amount to anything, but obviously it does! “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?” I think you know the rest of the story.

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“We Can Take My Flashlights”

Ian CheoahSpring CreekIt rained in middle Tennessee this week. A lot. So of course all of the creeks jumped up and the paddlers rejoiced. But daylight savings time ended this week, leaving Cookeville in darkness by 5:00 PM, with no hope of after work paddling trips. While driving Ian to school Tuesday morning, he looked out the jeep window at water sheeting across the road next to an overflowing ditch and exclaimed, “Mama, I sure do hope Spring Creek fills up!”

It warms my heart every time I hear Ian express an interest in the pursuits that Brinn and I follow, so I quickly answered him, “Me too, baby, me too.”

But he took it one further and arrived at a genius conclusion: “Hey mama, I know, do you Ian gonogowant to go kayaking today?” I certainly wished we could go kayaking this week, but I work until 4:30 most days, and would lose the light before we could even put on the water! On top of that, deer season has hit, so Brinn pretty much works ’round the clock all of November.
TurtleI reluctantly explained our situation to Ian and reminded him that we had an obligation at the rescue mission for that evening and wouldn’t be home until after dark. He immediately replied, “well, we will just go tomorrow!” And again, I had to review the hours of daylight with him to help him understand the time constraints, but Ian would not be daunted. “I know, Mama! We can take my flashlights. I’ll take my turtle light, and you can take my blue flash light. And I’ll go in front of you and show you the way because I know where to go.”

I knew when Brinn and I decided to start a family, that at some point, I would no longer22883469_10156292145230656_507655648_n be teaching junior how to paddle, and he would eventually be babysitting his mama on the water. I just had the assumption that this situation would not occur until our child was… you know… out of kindergarten?

Ian ClearSo there you have it, folks. If you’re looking for a guide down Upper Spring Creek, Ian knows the way and can show you day or night. And oh yeah, the turtle flashlight he’s carrying? That’s for my benefit so I can see where he goes. He clarified this for me as he insisted that he won’t need the light for himself because he has light-up eyes that see really good at night.

By the way… we did not go kayaking in the dark on Spring Creek this week.

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Let’s Get This Show Going!

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The sound of fish hitting the surface of the water and birds chirping as yellow and red leaves fluttered down from the autumn trees provided a calming backdrop for our evening after a busy day. Ian participated in the Tomahawk Trot fundraiser at his school today (soliciting pledges from his family members for donations to his cotsschool for each lap he ran around a course) while Brinn and I ran our annual booth at Cooking on the Square. The three of us were up early and out the door by 7:00 to get moving with our exciting days. After running out of venison stew and my grandma’s broccoli cheese soup, Brinn and I flew home, packed our gear, threw boats on top of the jeep, and left the truck at our take-out while we were in route to pick Ian up from school.

It feels like the day consisted of hurry up, hurry up, then hurry up some more. After we grabbed Ian from the pick-up line, we threw snacks in the backseat to him and bolted to the put-in. We yanked him out of his booster 22854857_10156292144705656_427669104_nseat and stuffed him in his hydroskins, slapped a helmet and pfd on, and hustled through the weeds to battle the beggar’s lice with our boats sliding in front of us to beat down a path so we could actually walk through the brush. After all this rush, rush, rush, we finally made it to the water with enough daylight remaining that we all took a deep breath, and slowed down to properly enjoy the significance of this trip.

While we’ve gone down this section of Spring Creek as a family about a dozen times, we 22854632_10156292119025656_1632239467_nenjoyed today more than all those other times put together. You see, today Ian made his debut descent in a hard boat! He has paddled Kachow on the lake, and even through a couple of rapids on Spring Creek, but until today, he had not run from put-in to take-out as a solo boater.

22883469_10156292145230656_507655648_nWe floated through the first few “rapids” with Brinn leading Ian through his lines, but Ian soon decided that he could pick his own lines. For the most part, this worked fine as Ian has progressed in his ability to read water, but he’s not had a lot of practice at boat scouting yet. All went well until he refused to listen to his daddy and he drove himself against a rock too big to splat, and he failed to lean into the rock. Since he’s still paddling skirtless, Kachow took on a good bit of water when he partially flipped. Fortunately the water was shallow enough that he was able to hold a good brace against the bottom of the creek to hold himself up while mom grabbed his stern and rolled him back up so he could climb out on the offending rock while dad drained his boat.

While Brinn and I revealed in the beauty of autumn in all its glory, and the experience of 22854752_10156292144990656_225231747_nour family hard boating together, Ian had other goals for the trip. Obviously his long day at school took a toll and left him pretty tuckered out before we got on the water, but cold weather moves in tonight, and today had the best weather we’re going to see for a while, so we asked him to soldier on and he happily agreed until we hit flat water. Brinn tried to encourage Ian to set his paddle down on his cockpit and enjoy taking a break while floating, but Ian had other plans. He pulled a sweep stroke to spin his boat around and declared, “let’s get this show going!” Then he paddled away and we had to hustle to catch him before the next small feature.

22854793_10156292145085656_1201612145_nWith the final release of the Ocoee this weekend, river running season in the southeast effectively draws to a close, but creeking season will soon begin. The Almanac predicts that Tennessee should have a chilly winter this year, so it looks like I need to get a move-on and get a youth drysuit ordered soon!

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Ian’s Ocoee PFD

DSC_0013All the time I hear friends jokingly talk about how it takes a village to raise a kid, especially from our like-minded friends who tend toward more free-range parenting. I would say that Ian’s upbringing also takes a village, but these days I feel more like Ian requires a navy.

DCIM100GOPROAfter a bit of excitement to start our Labor Day weekend, we were finally able to begin packing Saturday evening to get ready for our Ocoee day trip. We’ve made this journey about a million times, but this time was special. Ian had finally convinced us that he could handle the rapids on the Ocoee, and talked us into let him make his first descent down Brinn’s home river.  We woke up early, threw the raft and a couple of gear bags in the back of the truck, and took off to meet our group and pick up Mrs. Anderson.

Brinn went back and forth deliberating how to get Ian down the Ocoee in the safest 21317582_1510351039003982_3826426803095113404_nmanner. He reasoned that Ian could handle the top half of the middle section, with the exception of Grumpy’s. We recruited Mrs. Anderson to come along as well because she’s a great paddler, and well, she’s family. Brinn dithered on the benefits of having Wes and Rachel in the raft versus the benefits of taking down a lighter boat that he could push around more easily. Ultimately, Brinn decided on a lighter boat, but asked Wes and Rachel to paddle down separately as safety boat. Upon arriving at the Ocoee, Brinn decided that one more paddler would provide a bit more power to our boat and free me up to hold on to Ian, so Billy found himself drafted to help push rubber.

21271092_1510351182337301_1830489773574077546_nAfter setting shuttle, pushing our giant boat down the rails, and hefting it over some rocks, we finally were able to situate ourselves and head down through Gonzole Sholes. Initially Brinn and I tried sitting in the middle of the raft, as if we were R2ing, with Ian in between us and Anne and Billy directly behind us. We made our way down river in these seats for a short time, then stopped to rearrange so that Brinn could sit in the guide seat and steer a little more effectively. I think that he just wanted to be the one closest to Ian until the rest of us proved that we could adequately hold onto our small charge through Broken Nose.

To get Ian down his biggest river to date, Brinn installed a handy (get it?) thwart handle DCIM100GOPROaround the middle thwart, and had Ian kneel in the floor directly behind this thwart while holding onto the handle with both hands. We did let Ian sit up on the tube and paddle through some of the smaller rapids, like Dixie Drive and Slingshot, and even at Torpedo, but he went back in the floor for Hell Hole and Powerhouse.

DCIM100GOPROIan proved to take this promotion quite seriously, and tried hard to be a good listener for the entire trip, but after watching other boats around us, he did pitch a small fit about wanting to ride the bull through rapids. Maybe he’s ready for that step, but considering this was his first time down, my heart wasn’t ready to see that happen. During quite stretches, Ian did tell me several times that this is his favorite river, but I suspect that if you ask him what his favorite part was, I’m pretty certain he would tell you it was the peanut M&M’s that Rachel pulled out at Goforth.

So here’s what you don’t see in the images or the video:

  1. The scouting trips we did down the Ocoee this summer to ascertain what would be the best lines to take Ian down. We rafted and funyaked the Ocoee (which Brinn already knows like the back of his hand) with new eyes, looking specifically for hazards that could trip up a 45 pound boy.
  2. The messages back and forth with Wes. Wes helped us make plans and patiently waited on standby for Brinn to decide what would be the best set up to guide Ian down with the most support but the least weight.
  3. The endless swim practice. Ian worked all summer at the creek and in the pool to practice his white water swim position. He took 3 rounds of swimming classes at the university over the summer to become more comfortable under water. We also took him to Spring Creek repeatedly so that he could practice floating in the current wearing his pfd and helmet. He worked extremely hard on learning his barrel rolls and feet downstream.
  4. The Nantahala practice. Ian rafted the Nantahala two more times to practice bracing in and listening through Lesser Wesser to prove that he could be a good listener and was tough enough to hang through class IIIs.
  5. Lots and lots of money on gear. I’m a firm believer that the more comfortable a21271361_1510351389003947_3206359880330963080_n child is, the better a time he will have. There are some corners you can cut when selecting paddling gear, but with Ian’s safety and body temperature on the line, I’m just not willing to compromise. Since Christmas, we’ve been slowly saving and improving his personal collection of paddling gear a few pieces at a time. Some friends have helped us find great deals on good gear, and we lucked out to find some items through local Facebook groups. Despite the baller prices we happened upon for some items, the cost of gear still adds up and was quite an investment. (Side note, expect to see used youth gear coming up for sale periodically over the next 10 years!)
  6. And most importantly, the years and years of experience. Brinn has been an Ocoee guide for 19 years now (Holy Moly!). Wes and Rachel have been through multiple swift water rescue courses and Billy and Mrs. Anderson are both accomplished kayakers who make class V look like a leisurely float. I’m good at packing.

21369191_1510352432337176_3656361705049008157_nLetting Ian jump on the Ocoee means a lot to Brinn and I, not just because Ocoee is the local whitewater Mecca, but because this is where our family began. If not for the Ocoee, Brinn and I would have never met, never married, and certainly never had our junior raft guide in training. Now that Ian can paddle this river with us, our family truly feels complete. For the cycle to come full circle, I’m just waiting for the day when Ian can guide his mom down the Ocoee and become admiral of the navy that helped raise him.

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5 Methods that Helped Us Introduce Our Kid Under 5 to Whitewater

 

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IMPORTANT
This entry is not meant to be a substitute for common sense, or a treatise on child care. The purpose is to provide suggestions as what has worked successfully for my family and friends who have ventured into the water with their kids.

So here are the five rules Ian has trained us to follow with him on whitewater:

1.Safety First.

Ian and Brinn.JPGThis is the absolute most important rule in our family. No one is going to have any fun if there are injuries or major scares. For us, this means that we have to have the right boat (See the last post on how we decided on the correct boat for Ian), which often means taking the raft the first few times on a new run or a bigger run, and taking the funyak on runs Ian has become comfortable with. This also means that sometimes we get out and walk around certain rapids with Ian, depending on the cfs and how Ian is feeling that particular day. Some trips he wants to run the Grunch on Clear Creek, while other days he asks to walk around instead, or Brinn makes the decision for him. We never want to push him to do something he’s not comfortable with, so anytime he asks to avoid something, that becomes the priority. And finally, safety first means that we all have to have the right gear: helmets, PFDs, and footwear for every trip.

When we first introduced Ian to flat water in the canoe, we began making him wear a Ian and Brinn2.JPGhelmet, and believe me, he was not a hat kid. He absolutely refused to wear cute little sun hats for pictures as a baby, and as a toddler he had no interest in wearing a ball cap. We knew that getting him to wear a helmet in whitewater was going to be a beast, so we started with flat water and just made it part of his water ensemble. If he wanted to go out on the lake to float and swim, he had to wear a helmet, end of story. This helped the transition to white water go so much more smoothly because by the time he was two, he’d become accustomed to always wearing the helmet. A lot of parents don’t require their child to wear a helmet when they’re in an open boat, but Brinn is not very negotiable on this safety feature for Ian, especially since our squirmy little dude sometimes forgets to brace in and we’re always worried that he might roll out of his boat and into some rocks. On a class II trip down Nantahala this summer, I forgot to toss our helmets in the raft before Brinn left with the jeep to set up shuttle.  I still hear about this transgression frequently, and believe me, I have not committed a repeat offense.

Ian and momBrinn always insists that we wear our helmets with Ian –even in the raft on class 2 runs, because he feels that it’s important to model safe behaviors. Along with always wearing our helmets, we always insist on well fitting PFDs that go on before getting near the water. If Ian wants to play in the water at the put in while we’re getting ready to paddle, that’s great, but he’s going to have a PFD on the entire time. He’s also going to have on paddling footwear. During hotter months, we make the occasional exception to shoes and let him wear Chacos, but most of the time, he’s in closed toed and closed heeled NRS booties. While Ian’s been lucky to avoid a swim so far, we all know it’s coming at some point, and we want him to be as protected as possible from rocks.

2. Dress comfortably

In our experience, if a ki750_1924.JPGd is not comfortable, then no one is going to have any fun at all on that trip. For Ian, this is all about keeping him warm. He’s just as cold natured as his mama when it comes to the water, so even in July he has to have plenty of layers on the Nantahala. What has helped us to get familiar with Ian’s comfort levels regarding temperature, and be prepared for temperature changes. For hot, sunny days, we keep him in a thin rashguard and leggings with UV protection to keep him coRainy Day on the Hiwasseeol and protect him from sunburn. If we’re going to a dam controlled release, we’re going to be layering this kid up. We always take extra layers in a dry bag to add or change into just in case the weather changes. A wetsuit in July has proven to be our best friend during the sudden monsoon that blew up on the Hiwassee last year that left most of the adults in our group freezing, yet Ian’s core stayed warm and kept his complaints at minimum during the deluge.

GOPR2306.JPGThis year we’ve seen a direct correlation between Ian’s level of bravery and the number
of layers he’s wearing. During our 2016 Nantahala trips, Ian tended to spend most of each trip sitting on a thwart in the middle of the raft. He enjoyed the trip, but he did not particularly care for the mind numbing cold of the splashes. This year, we’ve added fleece underneath Ian’s wetsuit layer, and spray gear on top of that. Now he’s gone from sitting near the middle of the raft, to leaning over the bow of the funyak to take the waves head on. Huge difference!

3. Feed kids

We always try to eat a good meal full of protein on our way to the river, but it never fails GOPR1396.JPGthat within 5 minutes of putting on the water, Ian always pipes up with “I’m hungry.” Every. Single. Time. We’ve learned that the best way to insure a happy and agreeable little boy on the water is to pack as many snacks as we can possibly carry. This past spring, Wes and Rachel even got Ian his own little dry bag, so now we let Ian help refill his dry bag before every paddling trip. The extra benefit is that by keeping Ian’s bag filled with more than he can possibly eat in one trip, he has extras to share with friends and if we happen to forget snacks, there are usually some leftovers from the last trip still in the dry bag buried in one of our gear bags. I also make it a habit to keep an Ian snack and in my pfd pocket. Having snacks handy can absolutely make the difference when your little dude or dudette is about to go into full meltdown mode. It’s amazing to see a cliff bar fly into action and soothe a charged scene.

4. Take friends

GOPR1369.JPGIan enjoys riding over rapids, and he enjoys spending time on the water with his parents and Mogwai, but some days he’s not feeling the vibe as strongly as others. Those days usually find an excessively tired little boy who may not have slept well the night before or a cranky kid in the middle of a painful growth spurt. Either way, sometimes he just wants to be grumpy. The addition of friends close to his age transforms his attitude and GOPR2304.JPGexperience. Not only does Ian have more fun by sharing the experience with friends, but he also builds on their enthusiasm. Small rapids that he found boring are now fun again when he gets to see a small friend laugh about the splash. Bigger rapids that used to be intimidating become exciting after seeing an older friend ride the bull through them.

5. Be flexible

DCIM100GOPROWe have to remind ourselves that no matter how well we prepare the situation, sometimes nothing will run to plan and small children just can’t hang. The hardest part of paddling with my kid along has been learning that I can’t control everything about the trip, and sometimes we’re just going to have to change our plans, especially at the last minute. This past July we put on the Nantahala for an exciting day on the water. Our group was outfitted with throw ropes, safety boaters, and variety of water vessels including rafts, slices, kayaks, and funyaks. Ian was dressed with fleece and polypro base layers, hydroskin pants, jacket, and socks, his NRS splash top and splash pants, booties, and his WRSI helmet. His dry bag was filled with applesauce, cliff bars, capri suns, and a secret candy bar. Our day began to a great start, then Ian began to fatigue.

As Brinn and I watched Ian begin to droop, we made the choice to split off from our GOPR2338.JPGgroup and travel at a faster pace towards the take-out. Unfortunately we just didn’t make it, and I ended up taking out at the ramp above Nantahala Falls. Brinn jumped in my demo boat to paddle it back down to the NOC and pick up our jeep while I stayed at the ramp with a sleeping Ian. We’ve had some Hiwassee trips like this as well. When kids get tired, they’re tired, and there’s just not much to do about this except let them sleep. It means that sometimes our trip is cut short, or our time with the group is limited, but that’s okay. Because at the end of the day, we still got to spend some time on the water as a family and that’s what our priority has become these days.

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Class of 2030

grad photoGrowing up happens in a heartbeat. One day you’re in diapers; the next day you’re gone. But the memories of childhood stay with you for the long haul.     

The Wonder Years

Parents belong to a club. This club requires tears and sweat, anxiety and worry for its graddues. Veteran members of this club love to impart their sage advice, cultured in experience, upon novice members. Sometimes the novices hang on every last shared word, and other times they scoff. I remember to my early novice days filled with exhaustion and long nights, thinking how crazy the veterans must be to tell me that these days will fly by. That I would blink and find that my baby is gone, and a little man would be left in his place. Those days of teething and diaper changes felt longer than the standard 24 hour model. How could such long days pass quickly? But yet, the veterans were right. And here we are, five years later, and I can only find my baby during brief moments when the little boy snuggles up next to me for a hug or falls asleep in my lap. Gone are the diapers and teething rings, and in their place are trucks, jets, and bulldozers.

img_20170328_164013546.jpgKindergarten now looms ahead of us, and preschool will quickly become another memory for the Kisers. We attended Kindergarten roundup this spring, and learned all about Kindergarten preparedness. From this giant event, we moved on to preschool graduation. Rather than resisting change, Ian eagerly looks forward to the move to his big new school. He insists that Kindergarten will be great and he won’t miss his momma at all. And that’s okay. I am thrilled to have a little boy who is so confident in himself and those around him that he feels ready to tackle these new adventures with no fear.

grad tired

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Puh-puh-puh Paw Patrol!

750_1874As Ian approached the big 5, he decided that he wanted to have a Paw-Patrol birthday party playing laser tag. With the help of Amazon, Joy, Lauren, and Cookeville Cyber Tag, this was not a hard feat to pull off. Ian’s requests were pretty simple this year: play laser with his friends and have a Marshall cake. Mission accomplished!

750_1897.JPGIn the last few months, the pups of Adventure Bay invaded our house. Ian usually does most of his cartoon-watching on his kindle when we’re on the road for long drives. Ian first met Paw Patrol two Christmases ago when Charlie gave Ian a Marshall along with his fire truck. Then last Christmas, Alanna and Rodney gifted Ian with an Adventure Bay play set. Most recently, I purchased a season of Paw-Patrol for Ian to watch on our way to and from my grandmother’s house over this winter since Ian seemed so taken with the Paw-Patrol toys he’d received. After making it through season one, we’ve gone on to buy a couple more seasons and Ian can now name each one of the pups along with their catch phrase. Chase is on the case! Marshall is all fired up! Rubble is on the double! Rocky says: “Green means go!” Zuma shouts: “Let’s dive in!” Skye invites: “Let’s take to the sky!” Ian can also clearly explain to you how each pup has their own house that converts to a particular kind of vehicle that can be driven to the site of a problem in Adventure Bay.

Marshall has emerged as the – for Ian’s affections, and he requested Marshall18449875_10155798647305656_1588319498_n.jpg items for his birthday party. Joy saved the day by coordinating a Marshall cake with a bakery near her home. Lauren made Ian’s dreams come true by designing and creating a Marshall birthday shirt. Amazon finished off the party with Prime’s awesome two-day shipping for party supplies.

Laser tag is always an exciting way to spend a couple of hours. Add four boys to the mix, and it’s down-right hilarious! We greatly enjoyed watching Ian and his friends run around the floor while racking up points, and hiding behind walls to avoid shots.

750_1890.JPGIan’s friends and family are always too generous with gifts, and this year proved to be no exception. And can you guess what toys Ian received the most of? That’s right, Paw Patrol! Ian now has each pup along with its coordinating vehicle and the Paw-Patroler, and even a Paw-Patrol camping chair! The water gun will be a fun addition to our paddling gear, and will pull double as a park toy as well.

Another birthday has come and gone, leaving us with a big five-year-old boy. This little 750_1871.JPGdude just keeps getting bigger and more fun, but otherwise he’s changed very little. He still looks just like his daddy, and loves the color green best. His favorite flavor remains chocolate, and he’d rather eat carbs or raw veggies than anything else. We love our little booger, and can’t wait to see how much his fifth year with us will be.

 

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15 Years

fb_img_1492737621163.jpg15 years ago today, a raft guide yanked me out of my boat and dropped me in the Ocoee. 15 years ago today I agreed to a first date with a raft guide. 15 years ago today my life forever altered on its course.

15 years ago found me heading to the Ocoee with my brother and our friend Charlie to celebrate Charlie’s birthday with a rafting trip. Charlie was teaching Preston and me to kayak with the insistence that kayaking was so much better than rafting. Preston and I wanted Charlie to experience at least one rafting trip so that he would at least know what he was knocking. Reluctantly he agreed to give it a try, and his birthday seemed like a great chance for us to go. We loaded up in Charlie’s Volvo and headed down to Outland to meet up with our friend Josh, who had agreed to take us down the river for the day.

Josh had introduced me to Brinn a few weeks earlier. While hanging with Josh one fb_img_1492737600137.jpgevening before going out to dinner, this crazy beater came bouncing into Josh’s house to tell us all about his epic beat-down at Grumpy’s after snapping a Werner and chasing a borrowed canoe all the way below the ledge. Then he proceeded to share all of his bruises with us. While boaters have to deal with quite a bit of nudity as we are often changing quickly on the side of a road in cold temperatures, let me remind you that I was still a new boater at this point, and not at all comfortable with random guys letting their full moon shine. It was an eye-opening (or burning?) experience, for sure. Brinn managed to invite himself along to our dinner, and thus began his attempts to ask me out.

From there, Brinn and I didn’t manage to run into each other too often, as I lived an hour and half away and didn’t make it down to the Ocoee all that often as my beginner self tended to stick to local class II runs. Unbeknownst to me, Brinn had attempted to acquire my phone number during this period, but was denied by all he confronted. But he persisted, and finally we ran into each other again.

fb_img_1492734307657.jpgWhile out on the water for Charlie’s birthday, Brinn happen to notice Josh had a gal in his boat who wasn’t wearing gumby gear. To hear him tell the story, he told Country (another raft guide buddy) and some other friends who were out on a training trip with him, that they had to catch up with Josh’s boat to see who was in it. Brinn doesn’t believe in doing anything half way, nor does he just dip his toe in. This applies to flirting and swimming. He literally believes in diving in the deep end, which in this case meant pulling off a back flip into Torpedo right in front of our boat. Again, as a novice boater, I had no idea about Mystery Move, and had a slight heart attack when Josh’s crazy friend disappeared into the Ocoee. This crazy beater managed to pop up a few yards down river and got back to his raft and caught up with us once again just past Powerhouse. This time, when he paddled up to our raft, he leaned in as if he were going to speak to me, and proceeded to grab the back of my Lotus vest and yank me out of my boat. As he and his crew paddled away to a safe distance, he called out, “When are you going to let me take you out?” Josh promptly responded: “When they serve snow cones in hell!”

Josh’s retort must have stuck, because Brinn didn’t ask me out again after this, but he did magically show up at Outland later in the day while we were still around. I had decided to stay with my friend Alanna that night, and was looking for something to occupy myself with the next day since she had trips. She had her Ultrafuge with her, which was identical to mine and fit me like my own, so Brinn piped up and volunteered to take me down the river. When the next morning came around, however, he ended up spending most of his day passed out on a picnic table sleeping off his adventures from the night before, so I ended up spending the day in a book. Later that afternoon, a groggy Brinn apologized and insisted that I did not want him to lead me down the river that day. He missed out on taking me paddling that day, but he did leave with my phone number and a first date for the next Saturday.

fb_img_1492733855250.jpgSince that cold plunge into the Ocoee 15 years ago, I’ve swam on that river at least a dozen times, and Brinn’s been there to haul me out of the river every single time. We’ve been on countless ski trips together, dozens of movies (some bad, some good), concerts, and many adventures skiing on the lake. He’s sat through countless jump rounds at horse shows to watch my goes, and even taken care of the “honey hold” horse show boyfriend duties. I’ve watched him paddle big rivers, and he’s led me down small rivers. I helped him start a business while he saw me through two degrees. We bought our first house, and completed many of the renovations ourselves, with many still left ahead of us! Through the many good times, we’ve had each other, and even through the bad. I’ve sat in the waiting room through four surgeries now, and Brinn has sat in the ER with me as well.

Big things come in fives for Brinn and I. We married one another after dating 5 years, then had Ian five years after that. Now here we are at 15 years! I’m not sure what life altering events are in store for us this year, but I have a wealth of memories to look back on at this point. Words cannot even describe how much I love this beater who flashed me with his bruised rear when we first met. He pushes me out of my comfort zone and I make him use big words. He’s my person.

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And Out Like a Lamb

img_20170312_153155829.jpgWhile March may have roared in with rain and snow, it has yielded to a mild and dry spring as it exits quietly. The middle and end of this month have flown by with some of the most fun that we’ve had so far this year. Who thought that a family with two injured adults could stay so busy?

img_20170312_120520027.jpgWe celebrated Saint Patty’s day early this year with a quick trip to our favorite stand by, Rock City –or in this case, Shamrock City. Green currently holds rank as Ian’s most favorite color. I think brand awareness has quite a bit to do with this. Thanks John Deere. So of course Shamrock City completely satisfies Ian’s green obsession with the green waterfall, green kettle-corn, and green shamrock beads given out. The absolute best part of our Rock City visit was spending it with Amy and Charlie! We got to see Charlie right before his big birthday. I can’t believe he is a big five-year-old now!

From Rock City, we slid on through the month and made it to a Saturday dinner with some of img_20170318_204627075.jpgour favorite cousins, the Ziegler! Brent grilled the most amazing steaks, and Karen provided us with a beautiful salad with so many sides that I think I’m still full. They didn’t warn me in time that Emily was going to make a mouth-watering strawberry strudel that I had to eat despite coming close to exploding. They also didn’t warn us that we had walked into an active war zone. After arming a four-year-old with a Nerf gun and foam bullets, Emily explained that there was a closet dedicated to this sport, and the entire family participated in battle, cousins not exempt. As the acting field journalist, I managed to catch quite a bit of friendly fire, but I’m pretty sure Brinn spent the evening without thinking about his sore elbow at all. And Ian slept the entire drive home to Cookeville and well into the next morning. Thanks guys! We were happy to sleep in on Sunday!

fb_img_1490648911906.jpgLast weekend the Muddy River Festival took place on Spring Creek, our home creek that runs just a few miles past our house. A local festival meant lots of boaters around our parts! While the surgeon has told Brinn he could begin doing some light paddling, Brinn was ready to get back on the water. Terry rolled into town Thursday night, so he and Brinn were able to take Ian out for his first ducky trip down Clear Creek, then Ian was off to his Nana’s to spend the weekend on the sailboat. Ian also managed to get in a trip to the aquarium in Gatlinburg, and quite a bit of time at a park on the lake. I’d like to think that he missed his parents, but largely he was too busy having fun with his Nana to spend any time talking on the phone with us. After the departure of Ian, we spent Saturday hanging out with good friends around the creek, Brinn ran Spring img_20170325_174723663.jpgCreek with a giant group of our friends, then many of those friends made their way back to our house for a very informal, loosely planned dinner. It was chaotic and disorganized, two conditions that typically make me insane, but actually we had the most amazing time. Wes and Rachel sautéed peppers, mushrooms, and onions in a ton of butter with Worcestershire to go on our sandwiches while Racheal and Wayne brought fresh deli rolls and so many chips (I may have eaten half a bag of black pepper chips by myself). I’d left a crockpot going all day while we were at the creek so we had warm shredded Italian Drip Beef to pack into the rolls and smoother with cheese. Alanna made three calorie loaded desserts, and darn if they weren’t all delicious! The last I’d heard, Todd had decided not to come to the festival, but then he magically showed up in the living room behind me. We ate in shifts as people arrived, and I’m pretty sure I ate with each new person that walked through the door. I’m sensing a theme with my food intake every weekend.

As the festival wound down, Brinn and I found ourselves faced with half of a Sunday with no child. While compulsion encouraged us to go pick up Ian early, we trespassed on Nana’s patience a little longer, and we went to lunch together to a restaurant with no children’s menu! Amazing how much fun two adults can have doing nothing but eating and talking when all they have to worry about is eating and talking. We look forward to be able revisit the Bull and Thistle again soon, and hopefully when one of our friends is playing there with his band.

img_20170329_165039537.jpgBefore March has totally disappeared for good, Ian managed to add a little more variety to our lives by bringing home two ducklings from Tractor Supply. Brinn swears that he had left Ian looking at the ducks while he went to find an item he needed to purchase. When he came back, Ian had talked someone into boxing up two of the baby birds for him to take to the front register. Angie, are you reading this? I suspect you may have had a hand in this adoption scheme 😉 So now Ian has two baby ducks he’s caring for…in my living room. I feel like we just got his last batch of chicks out of the living room, but now the heat lamp and water trough is back. Ian’s a little older and a little more careful this time around, so now he has birds that run to him instead of away from him. He’s been enjoying taking the ducks outside for walks and watching them waddle across the yard to catch up with him. Unfortunately Ian woke us up at 5:00 AM this morning to inform us that he’d been up to check on his babies and they were doing good. To be honest, at 5:00 AM I would not have been upset if they were not well.

So here’s hoping for an April that’s just as busy with friends and family, but maybe with fewer avians.

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