2019: The Year in Review

2019 definitely was a year of transition for my family. This has a lot to do with where we are now in life — Our youngest two kids have reached the tween/teen years, our parents are getting older, and so are the rest of the adults in our extended family. We’ve had to handle some hard stuff over the last few years, but looking around, it’s no different from what many of my friends are dealing with, so I try to limit my public whining. No one warned me that once you reach your forties, shit starts to get real, and honestly, it has taken me a few years to come to terms with that.

With the hard stuff, though, comes a major silver lining. Over the past couple of years, I’ve learned to appreciate the good things in life more than ever before. As our kids begin to pull away, Dennis and I are fortunately growing even closer. We savor all the sweet moments in our lives now, both big and small, and try to create as many new ones, both as a couple and as a family, as possible. Looking back over all we’ve done in 2019, I see so much evidence of this and it makes me happy. It makes me feel like we’re on the right track. And that’s a good thing.

But enough with the soul searching. Here’s a look back at the year that was.

 

We started off the year with a family trip to Birmingham for a Scary Mommy travel post. Birmingham turned out to be a fantastic place for a winter getaway — The weather is mild and there’s plenty to do. I was completely bowled over by the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute; it’s worth the drive from Nashville all on its own. I also discovered one of my all-time favorite meals here: the sweet tea chicken sandwich at Saw’s BBQ. It was so good that it was the first place we went when we found ourselves back in Birmingham later in the year!

 

Soon after, we were invited for a visit to Chattanooga so that I could write about all the best things to do in Chattanooga with kids. As some of you know, my two grown stepdaughters live in Chattanooga and have since their college days — We’ve visited often enough to consider the city our second home, so I had no trouble writing about it! This trip included a visit to Ruby Falls, which we’d never managed to fit in before. My whole family loved it. Seeing this massive underground waterfall is definitely worth the cost of admission! The post I wrote about Chattanooga is one my all-time favorite travel posts and it’s also one of the most popular on my blog now — Check it out if you’re planning a visit!

 

Hanging on to that rock for dear life! The petroglyph is on the rock right in front of me.

Back home, my newfound hiking obsession continued. One of the big changes this year is that the kids are old enough now to stay home on their own, so Dennis and I made the most of it by doing more things as a couple when the kids weren’t interested in joining us. We often hike together on the weekends now and try out new trails, and one of my favorite moments was climbing up to May’s Mace Bluff — This ancient Native American petroglyph is just a few minutes from our home and it’s on public property, but it’s almost impossible to find without detailed instructions. A friend gave me those instructions and after a little searching, we found the trail that led to the petroglyph! As excited as I was to see it, I was equally excited to face my fear of heights in order to get there — The hike is steep and the trail runs along the edge of a cliff. My brain willed my body to turn back the entire time we were on the trail, but I kept forcing myself to put one foot in front of the other, and I eventually made it. I was really proud of myself at the top. Also terrified. But mainly proud.

 

In early spring, we headed to North Georgia. Along with my dad and his wonderful wife, we took the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway to McCaysville, Georgia. This was another bucket list item for me and I’m glad we got to do it with family. Dennis and I also hiked Raven Cliff Falls, which features 7 waterfalls in three miles. I wrote a post about this amazing hike here.

 

A few weeks later, we headed to Clarksville, Tennessee for a family weekend getaway, which I wrote about on this blog. Although we’ve been to Clarksville before, we’ve never really taken the time to experience all it has to offer, and I have completely fallen in love with this town. There. Is. So. Much. To. Do. Seriously. Check out my post and you’ll be amazed. I’ll be working with Clarkville’s tourism office more this upcoming year and I can’t wait.

 

I love spring a little.

We made the most of the beautiful spring weather by going on guided hikes to see the woodcock mating ritual at the Couchville Cedar Glade (another bucket list item – I’m starting to feel like a nerd now) and to watch beavers at dusk at Shelby Park (we saw a little more on that hike than we bargained for!). This was the first spring season I made serious time for hiking and cycling and I was rewarded with an absolutely enchanting solo wildflower hike  at Owl’s Hill Nature Sanctuary, hundreds of butterflies among the flowers at Timberland Park, incredible honeysuckle bowers at Burch Reserve, acres of yellow daisies on the Harpeth Greenway, and just general gorgeousness that I hadn’t realized existed until 2019. If you follow me on Instagram, you’ve had to deal with my newfound nature obsession and for that, I apologize.

 

Dennis and I enjoyed a weekend getaway in Murfreesboro at the Carriage Lane Inn, a bed and breakfast near downtown where I’ve always wanted to spend a few nights. It did not disappoint! I’ve been working with Rutherford County for several years now and have covered lots of family-friendly activities, but this was the first time we’ve stayed there as a couple and I enjoyed seeing a more adult side of the city, which is another of my absolute favorite places in Middle Tennessee. We loved seeing Oaklands Mansion (the tour of this historic home is one of the best I’ve been on in the state) and seeing a comedy show at Mayday Brewery, and we found a new favorite restaurant in Middle Tennessee: Dallas & Jane. You can see all my recommendations in the post I wrote about our visit.

 

My daughter asked for a weekend trip with her sisters in Athens, GA for her birthday, so we rented a very comfortable Airbnb that could hold our family of six and had a fantastic weekend in this amazing city. I wrote one of my all-time favorite travel posts for StyleBlueprint about Athens — Read it and you’ll understand why I’m obsessed with this town.

 

Before the weather got too warm, we made time for a wagon tour of Ethridge, Tennessee — home to the largest (and most strict) Amish settlement in the south. This was our second time going on the tour and it was no less amazing than our first visit. Going on this tour is truly like heading back in time and the benefit of taking the tour instead of driving through Ethridge on your own is that the tour guide knows the Amish families and has gained their trust, so you have more interaction with them than you would on your own. Dennis ended up returning later in the year and doing a story on the tour for FOX 17.

 

At the end of May, we headed to Savage Gulf and hiked to a gorgeous waterfall. Next time, we’ll bring our swimsuits. This is an excellent swimming hole! Dennis and I explored Marcelle Vivrette Smith Park in Brentwood, Cedars of Lebanon, Montgomery Bell State Park, and the Mossy Ridge Trail in Warner Park in May and savored the cool, albeit muddy, weather.

 

We started off summer break with a trip to Tupelo for another travel post on Scary Mommy. We took the Natchez Trace Parkway all the way to Tupelo (it’s only a 3 ½ hour drive!) and enjoyed making stops at the Parkway’s points of interest along the way. Tupelo had to be the most Southern of southern towns I’ve ever visited. It’s slower pace was a perfect way to launch our summer vacation. We also discovered what really has to be the world’s best burger at a restaurant/butcher shop there called the Neon Pig. Try it the next time you’re in town and see if you don’t agree with me!

 

Our summer included trips to pick strawberries and blueberries and plenty of swim days at the Maryland Farms YMCA. Dennis and I discovered the Franklin Farmer’s Market and became obsessed with going on Saturday mornings. My son spent his third annual week at summer camp and came home with no ticks. VICTORY!

 

We spent a night in a Conestoga wagon for a FOX17 story at the Sheltowee Trace Adventure Resort. The wagon was air conditioned and had a fridge and microwave, so it was glamping at its finest. The next day, we went white water rafting on the Cumberland River and had an absolute BLAST. Check out Dennis’s story to see all the details on this trip — It is a perfect family-friendly rafting trip and I highly recommend it.

 

Next, Dennis and I spent a few nights in Rugby, Tennessee for another news story.  Rugby’s history rivals anything you’ve seen on Downton Abbey and I can’t get enough of this historic ghost town a few hours from Nashville. It was my fourth visit! This time, we stayed at the Grey Gables Bed & Breakfast and were thoroughly charmed by our gracious host, Linda Brooks Jones.

I squeezed in a quick trip to see my parents over the summer and took my mom to lunch in the basement of Neiman Marcus in Atlanta. It was a favorite secret spot for the two of us when I was growing up and I was thrilled to find that all the old (kind of strange) favorites were still on the menu, even though the name of the restaurant had changed.

 

The most exotic trip of the summer came in the form of a press trip to Paradise Island in the Bahamas, which included stays at Baha Mar and the Atlantis Resort. I got to take my son on this trip and we had the time of our lives. You can read all about it in the post I wrote here. We are eagerly plotting a return visit as soon as possible!

 

After we got back, Dennis and I took a sponsored trip to Bloomington, Indiana. We had a blast exploring the town’s shops, restaurants, and outdoor features and we loved that it’s an easy drive away from Nashville. You can read about all our favorite things to do in this progressive college town here.

 

Next up was my birthday present trip — an overnight ghost hunt at the Thomas House Hotel in Red Boiling Springs, Tennessee — It’s said to be one of the most haunted hotels in the U.S. and after spending a night there, I have to agree! I put together an Instagram Story about the trip that gives you a good idea of what happened. You can watch it here.

 

We took a break from traveling when my stepbrother, Chuck, passed away from colon cancer.  I wrote this post on Facebook shortly after his death, and I think it’s worth sharing here:

After a long and valiant battle with cancer, my stepbrother Chuck McDowell triumphantly passed from this life into heaven last night. Chuck wrote often about his thoughts and emotions after his diagnosis four years ago and his words have been life-changing for me and many others who were lucky enough to read them. Here’s a very small sample, written shortly after his diagnosis:

“A few years back, our Monday morning discipleship group asked John Musselman to speak to us about a book he wrote. One of the guys in our group asked John, “I get nobody actually knows, but when do you think Jesus will return?”

“John slightly smiled at the question before he said, “The best answer I’ve ever heard is plan for it to be 70 years but live like it’s today.”

“It really doesn’t matter if Jesus returns or I go to see Him. Planning for 70 years but living like it’s today makes sense either way. It is also amazingly freeing. None of us know when “the day” is for us. It could be today. There were a bunch of people yesterday who woke up not knowing it was their day. We’ve all got a day coming where we will either go or He will come. If we knew today was our day, would we embrace it a certain way? Since today could be our day, why not embrace it the same way?

“That mindset was helpful both before I found out I have cancer and now that I know. God has been so gracious in preparing me for the day. It may be today or it may decades or anywhere in between. God knows the number of days so I don’t have to worry about it. Because of Jesus, I am confident. My job before cancer was to love God and love people. Now that I have cancer my job is to love God and love people. From that perspective, cancer has made my job much easier. 🙂

Not only did Chuck’s attitude remain unchanged as the cancer progressed, he actually lived out these words after writing them. He spent the last four years writing, recording and performing wonderful music, traveling the world, and prioritizing time with friends and family. He wrote often about the unexplainable God-given peace he felt throughout his cancer battle even when things got unimaginably tough, and his words gave us all hope. Through his example, Chuck strengthened my faith and made me see every single day as a priceless gift. He created a roadmap for all of us on how to respond when the worst happens and I am so grateful for it.

I am devastated for everyone feeling his absence today. But I also have absolutely no doubt that he is celebrating a well-earned victory at this moment in heaven, and that gives me cause for joy.

We canceled a planned week-long trip to Pennsylvania to attend Chuck’s funeral and help my parents get through everything. I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

 

Our end-of-summer vacation to Gulf Shores a few weeks later came at a perfect time — Clearly, we stay busy on the majority of our ‘vacations’ — but for the last two years, we’ve booked a week in Gulf Shores and planned absolutely nothing. We go the week before school starts and come home rested, tanned, and ready to start the school year.

 

So bored with regular school…

This particular summer, I definitely needed the beach break. After attending private school the last two years, my daughter was adamant that she preferred the hybrid homeschool method we’d used during 5th-7th grades to traditional school. We found a two-day-a-week high school tutorial we liked and let her make the switch. Although it meant a lot more work for me since I’m now in charge of her World Literature, P.E., and Bible classes and I have a new responsibility to get her out of the house and make sure she’s still getting in socialization time with friends and activities, it really has proven to be best for her and I’m glad I let her follow her heart. Her teachers are marvelous — 3 out of four teach at colleges in Middle Tennessee as well and the 4th taught for years at a local private school we admire — and she’s much happier than she was in a traditional school environment. I’m glad she’s kept her friends from her old school as well. So far, so good! My stress may have shown a bit in an incident at my son’s school, however…

 

The new school model means we’ve had lots of opportunities to check out coffeehouses around town. Our favorites this past year were The Coffeehouse at 2nd and Main, Slow Hand, Cafe Coco, Herban Market, and Barista Parlor. Top Honors go to The Good Cup, which is a total neighborhood joint and everything a coffeehouse should be. I’ve also discovered the Brentwood Library — It’s amazing and beautiful and did you know anyone can be a member for $65 a year? I spent many hours working here in 2019 while my daughter was at school, and figured it was worth the money since I was saving a small fortune on lattes I’d have to buy in order to work at a coffeeshop.

 

In September, Dennis and I took an amazing trip to Montreal and the Eastern Townships. It was our second trip to Quebec and we’ve discovered we are French Canadian at heart — We always have the best time here, especially in the small towns surrounding the big cities. I’ll write about the area on the blog soon, but in the meantime, check out my Instagram story on our trip to see some of what made it so utterly delightful.

 

We were invited back to Chattanooga in October based on the success of my post for them earlier in the year — This time, Dennis and I took the kids to their sister’s apartment and spent a little time on our own. I wrote a post for an adult getaway in Chattanooga this time around. The kids generally spend a night with their sister whenever we visit, so Dennis and I have been getting to experience more of Chattanooga’s nightlife and I really enjoyed writing this ‘adults version’ post on things to do in Chattanooga.

 

Dennis and I also went to the Talladega Superspeedway for the first time in October and got to stand in the pit to watch Rackley Roofing driver Clay Greenfield compete in a race. It was incredibly exciting and so much fun. Clay ended up being involved in a gigantic crash- along with about 7 other cars – at the end of the race, so I was just glad he came out of it uninjured.

Amid all these trips and homeschooling, I made three separate trips to Atlanta in September and October to help my parents through the process of getting a health diagnosis. Dennis was fantastic about keeping the kids on schedule while I was gone. He’s been visiting his mom a couple of times a year lately to help her out as she’s getting older, so this is becoming our new normal. It’s not easy making the trips, but we’re both grateful we’re in a position to help our parents out when they need it.

 

In November, we went back to Clarksville for another weekend getaway — I’ll be writing a big wrap-up post this spring. The weather was perfect during our visit and we loved hiking, biking, and checking out Clarksville’s historic Civil War park and interpretive center.

 

At the end of the month, we made our annual Thanksgiving trip to LA to visit Dennis’s mom and prepare the family’s Thanksgiving feast. It’s always good to see everyone in California and spend time on the Pacific coast — You can see the ocean from his mom’s patio, as well as the mountains, the Hollywood sign, and downtown LA! Normally, we bask in the warmer weather but this year, the weather was exactly the same as it was in Nashville. Other than some major turkey troubles, the visit was a success.

 

December was spent cramming all our Christmas activities into a shorter than usual holiday season. We hosted family and friends, played games, saw Die Hard and the new Star Wars movie at the theater, ate very well, decorated the inside and outside of our house like never before, finished up a busy school semester, and of course, went on lots of hikes. I clocked in more than 60 miles of hiking in December alone and felt pretty good about that!

 

Living in Nashville, Dennis and I got to see some great concerts. My favorite (possibly my favorite of all time) was seeing Lizzo at Cannery. Cannery is a very small venue and she’ll probably only play in huge venues from now on, so I felt really lucky to see her just as she was becoming a superstar. I surprised Dennis with front row seats to see Lucinda Williams play her Car Wheels on a Gravel Road album at the Ryman, which was one of our favorite albums when we started dating. We also saw Lord Huron at the Ryman and thought they were phenomenal — It’s always a pleasure to see performers who sound as good live as they do on their album. We attended a fundraiser dinner in Franklin with a special musical guest who happened to be Sheryl Crow. That’s so Nashville, isn’t it? And at The Tokens annual Christmas show at the Ryman, I saw Audrey Assad perform for the first time — She’s been on repeat play on my stereo ever since.

TPAC is having a moment and we’ve been fortunate to experience some of the best shows I’ve ever seen there, including Miss Saigon (which was every bit as good as I remember it being in high school), Dear Evan Hansen, The Book of Mormon, and The Spongebob Musical,  Once on This Island– At that show, we got to join about 20 other audience members and sit ON THE STAGE. I will never forget that! I’m really looking forward to more great shows this year. We’re seeing Hamilton tonight for the first time and I’m incredibly excited about The Color Purple and the Blue Man Group returning to TPAC this year. Both were two of my all-time favorite TPAC shows in years past.

 

Now that we no longer need a sitter, Dennis and I have been able to have many more date nights and we’ve had fun having dinner and drinks around town. In 2019, our date nights included Pearl Diver, Mangia for Valentine’s Day dinner, True Food Kitchen, Emmy Squared, the Oak Bar, Steam Boys, Virago, Chaatable, Two Ten Jack, The Greenhouse, Saint Anejo, Attaboy, Tavern, Ember, Honeyfire Barbecue for a collaboration dinner with Husk, City House, L.A. Jackson, Sperry’s, 16-Bit Bar, Avo, Kawai Poke Co., Poke Bros. (I’m not ashamed to admit to a poke obsession), and more places I can’t even remember now off the top of my head! This city’s food game has definitely improved over the last few years and I’m HERE FOR IT.

Now that we’re going so many places, Dennis decided to start his own blog called Ferrier Favorites on the FOX17 website, and I’ll be contributing to it as well. We just started writing posts for it last week and we’re excited to share all the things we love to do, eat, and see in Middle Tennessee. As for my personal life, I met my goal of reading 60 books this year (barely- I finished my last book at 11pm on December 31st!) and I’m making a concerted effort to become fluent in French. I’ve been transitioning our family to a mostly Paleo menu (with dairy because we needs our cheese!) which is going well, and I’ll definitely keep hiking — My goal is 15-20 miles a week. Don’t get the wrong idea, though — Generally speaking, I still fall squarely into the ‘hot mess’ category. My kids still eat waaaay more junk food than I’d like and they’ve started calling me Boomer (they claim Gen X doesn’t actually exist?!), I fall far short of all my lofty goals on a disturbingly regular basis, and the teenage years are so hard, man. Some days, I really just want to run away. Possibly to Baja Mar. But I don’t. I keep trying, just like all the rest of you. And I appreciate the good times  and count my blessings more than ever before.

I made the decision a few years ago to prioritize my kids and family right now and to be really careful about the amount of work I take on. Although I love traveling all over the world and plan to continue doing so, I’ve also discovered a real passion for exposing local and regional gems to a wider audience (as I’m sure you can tell if you read this blog and follow me on social media!) and I’m excited about the partnerships I have with tourism offices for 2020. I feel so lucky to be able to only take on projects I truly believe in and I think I have the greatest job in the world — for me, anyway — as well as the best and most loyal readers. 🙂 You are the reason I’m able to do what I do and I am so very grateful for each and every one of you.

May 2020 be your best year yet. You deserve it.

 

 

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2019: The Year in Review