Today I got to see my Aunt Karen! My mom’s sister lives in Sioux Falls; she met us for lunch at Falls Park. It was great to catch up and walk around and enjoy this beautiful space. Sioux Falls, the largest city in South Dakota, reminded us a lot of Greenville, SC. There is a fun, quirky downtown area mixed with natural beauty.
After lunch, we headed WEST up I90. Most of South Dakota is very remote. Where do people buy toilet paper here??? Lots of corn, hay, and cattle for as far as you can see–and you can see FAR. We stopped at two rest areas and a gas station in 250 miles. There really wasn’t much else.
As we got closer to the Badlands, the topography started to change. Suddenly, there were rolling hills. We got to the Badlands visitor’s center 3 minutes before closing time. (I’ve been cutting it close with getting my Passport book stamped!) Y’all the Badlands are SO interesting. We got some good photos, but it’s so hard to capture the openness and vastness with a cell phone camera.
Next stop was Wall Drug. You can’t drive across South Dakota and NOT stop at Wall Drug. There are signs for hundreds of miles counting down the distance and advertising their wares. We used the bathroom (again) and got fresh doughnuts.
Now we are on to Custer State Park where was are staying in a 2-bedroom housekeeping cabin at Sylvan Lake Lodge. We have 7:30pm reservations at the Sylvan Lake Lodge restaurant. Buffalo…it’s for dinner. I think we will be rolling in on two wheels to make it by then. Mont has been reminding me since 5:30 EST that it would be dinner time back home. Poor boy; he must be growing!
Today was the first day of our two week adventure with our family through Western U.S.A amidst COVID-19. Would you like to take our road trip with us? You can let us navigate the travel restrictions, mask-wearing regulations, and break up the sibling fights. Hop onto our virtual-luggage rack and sight-see with us.
We’ve been planning this trip for nearly a year! Originally, we were driving from Georgia. When airline prices continued to drop, we changed things up a bit and decided to fly. The kids would have less time in the car each day and we could shave two days off of our travel time. We took a two leg flight–from Atlanta into St. Louis and then into Omaha.
I would never have attempted this if my kids weren’t already expert travelers and airport navigators, but I felt like a Rock Star by the time we boarded the first plane. I don’t think my kids touched a thing that they weren’t supposed to touch. We had drilled. I had my “COVID kit” of masks, hand-wipes, and travel towels. We wiped down all the touchable surfaces on the plane. I took the little kids one at a time to the restroom so that I could monitor easier. Kids are really so adaptable; they didn’t even complain about wearing their masks all morning.
After hopping in our rented Ford Expedition in Omaha, we headed North to our first official stop, the Missouri National Recreational River. We made it 12 miles from the airport before we had to stop for lunch and bathrooms. McDonald’s. It was closed to dine-in customers so we picnicked in the grass out in the parking lot. (It was pretty much like Georgia’s McDonald’s. They even had Sweet Tea.)
Driving through Iowa, we marveled at the black dirt and the enormous tractors. Hay bales line the sides of the highway amidst miles and miles of corn. We entertained the idea of Kevin getting a pilot’s license and becoming a crop-duster and buying a bunch of land and becoming farmers. Edwin didn’t appreciate our dream…so we abandoned it.
We reached the visitor’s center for the Missouri National Recreational River in Yankton, SD just 15 minutes before it closed. The park ranger was gracious with his time! He loaded Lillie and Morgan up with a coloring book and stickers. I got my stamps for my National Park Passport book collection. We watched a movie with the older kids in the lobby showing the highlights of the history of the Missouri River.
The ranger gave us directions to a bridge a few blocks away that we could walk across to observe the river. Needing to stretch our legs from a long day of travel, we took his advice. This bridge was so cool! It was a “love lock” bridge. It had locks all over where people had inscribed memories of loved ones. I had never seen one of these before; Edwin and I were fascinated by the untold stories.
We drove on to Sioux Falls and stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn Downtown on the river. We had two adjoining rooms–Edwin and Mont got the queen beds in one room, Kevin and I claimed the king bed in the other, and Lillie and Morgan shared the pull-out couch. We have a great view of the water from the porch off of our suite.
Walking around downtown to find dinner, we were delighted at the city’s Sculpturewalk. There are over 60 sculptures dotting the downtown area. These sculptures are generally traded out annually, but the process had to be adapted this year. We found an Irish Pub for dinner–delicious food and great service. Bangers and mash, anyone?
When I took typing in high school (on an ACTUAL typewriter), I was taught to leave two spaces after a period. I’m not sure when that changed, but, now, it is proper to leave only one. That’s where we are right now; we are inside the space after the period.
I can’t tell you how much I have enjoyed this time. I squeezed in close to my kids; I bought some chicks and started a garden. Pulling-up-the-drawbridge healed something in me that I didn’t know was broken. I found the margin.
This time will be forever-divided into before and after. Before this began, we came off of a (GASP!) cruise to the Caribbean. My kids were in the middle of rehearsals for two plays. Edwin, my oldest, had the leading role in both of them. We were juggling homeschooling, Adventure-schooling, guitar lessons, voice lessons, dance lessons, and 4-H clubs. My amazing husband and I also own a sixty-year-old furniture store in our small-town of Clarkesville, Georgia. I had TWO nannies and a housekeeper. Life was so busy!
Change is in the air. At the beginning of 2020, we made the huge decision to send our kids to school next year. They will all be attending Rabun Gap Nacoochee School nearly an hour from our home. This is the first time that I have publicly declared this information. I feel the weight of judgement that this decision brings. Why did you stop homeschooling? Why aren’t you sending your kids to public school? Why didn’t you choose the Other private school? How could you put your Pre-K’er on a bus and send him an hour away to school?
You don’t need to ask me, because I’ve already gone through all of this myself.
I’m so nervous, y’all. My family is the greatest thing since sliced-bread. Seriously. We ROCK. I’ve got these amazing kids. Our teenager actually likes us. My kids love spending time with one another. I don’t want to mess this up! I’ve been at this Mom-gig for fifteen years now. I have fourteen more to go before the last one leaves the nest. When I had two kids that I was homeschooling (and no outside work), it was manageable for me. This year, I added teaching-a-kindergartener-to-read and learning-a-new-career to the balls that I was juggling. Next year, a pre-K’er will be tossed into the mix, as well. I. Can’t. Do. It. All. Anymore. Whew! There I said it.
I have some paths that I want to explore. For ME. It felt selfish to want anything more than the perfection that I have, but I need to explore some interests of my own. A couple of weeks ago, we went to drive-in church. Our pastor was talking about using this time to explore career changes. I think he was probably directing this towards people who are out of work–thankfully, that isn’t me, but I listened anyway. He said, “What would you PAY someone to let you do? Do you have a talent for it?” An idea popped into my head. I’m still tossing it around. Kevin knows. My kids know. It’s something that I want to explore, but I needed the space to see it.
I can feel life revving up again. I know that it won’t be long, now, before we find our “new normal” in the world of the virus. What will be my Takeaway from all of this? Will I repack our calendars and to-do lists or will I sit in this holy, creative space a little longer? It’s so much easier to hear God’s whisper when we sit still, isn’t it? I pray, as I sit here inside the empty space between the Stop and the Start, that I find the right place to begin again.
I’m really angry at this virus. Almost overnight, it managed to take away one of the most powerful tools that we have as humans. It turned the healing power of touch upside down and vilified it and demonized it. It’s keeping us from worshiping together and laying hands on the sick and the burdened. All good and responsible people, except those on the front-lines of this madness, are told to stay home, stay apart from one another. It’s our duty. We are now scared to touch one another! How can something be this powerful??? It’s craziness that in order to save ourselves and our families, we have to give up such an important piece of our humanity.
Yes, we have our internet connections. I know that we are all doing the best that we can with our virtual meet-ups. (My kids are even practicing for a play online!) Unfortunately, technology doesn’t replace the physical connection between people. We know this and have preached it to our kids, if we’ve been wise parents.
I’m just not sure that it’s what Jesus would have done. He’s the Healer, though. He would have been with the doctors, I suppose. He wasn’t scared of the lepers and the bleeding woman who touched him in the crowd of people. (No pushing crowds of people around here, huh?) I am encouraged, however, that Jesus’ healing didn’t always require his touch. There were many times that people were healed by faith alone–even from a distance!
The Bible gives us hope for this isolated situation in John 16:32-33. This is the part of Jesus’ story when Jesus is talking to his disciples about his impending death and resurrection. This is what Jesus said. “Look: An hour is coming, and has come, when each of you will be scattered to his own home, and you will leave Me alone. Yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me. I have told you these things so that in Me you may have peace. you will have suffering in this world. Be courageous! I have conquered the world.” Of course, Jesus is talking about how he will die on the cross and the disciples won’t be there for him–they will be huddled up in their homes fearing for their lives because of their association with Jesus. God the Father will be with him, though. He’s not talking about being home alone, under quarantine, so we don’t risk passing a potentially-deadly virus to one another, but my take-away from this message is that we don’t have to be alone. God is with US, also. (I don’t think that this connection is too big of a stretch!)
Love on those in your home that you are permitted to love on. Respect the laws and mandates that the government provides, but don’t live in a spirit of fear. We are commanded to love our neighbors. If we are needed, we should go! I will now hop down off of my virtual soapbox with my hands properly washed. Peace be with you all.
This year has been a roller coaster! Walk with me back over 2019 as I reflect on this year and what it has meant to our family. Thank you so much to our friends new and old for your support this year–our first year as owners of Wood’s in Downtown Clarkesville.
January 1, 2019 We helped the staff of Woods Furniture conduct inventory (for the last time without a computer system).
January 3, 2019 We closed on Woods Furniture.
January 4, 2019 We opened the doors as the new owners of Woods Furniture.
January 2019 Our daughter, Lillie turned 5.
February 2019 Our older boys were in Oliver at Habersham Community Theater.
February 2019 Our son, Mont, turned 10.
February 10, 2019 We went to Las Vegas for a buying group trade-show. Although we had been to many trade-shows in Vegas in the carwash industry, this was our first in furniture.
February 26, 2019 Our re-branding company, Parisleaf, revealed our new logo.
March 2019 Our son, Morgan, turned 3.
March 10, 2019 We had family photos taken for marketing.
March 23, 2019 Our son, Edwin and his team from The Torch placed first in the Northeast Georgia Bible Quiz Championship.
March 30, 2019 Our Wood’s Mercantile logo was publicly displayed for the first time at Dancing with the Stars for Hope.
April 6, 2019 We attended High Point Market for the first time.
April 17, 2019 We vacationed in Washington D.C. celebrating Passover and Easter with friends.
May 2019 Edwin and Mont were in Into the Wood, Jr.
May 18, 2019 We had a great time as a Wood’s family at the Mountain Laurel Festival.
May 23, 2019 Demolition began inside Wood’s. Walls came down; pegboard was removed.
June 12, 2019 Entrance flooring completed.
June 21-22, 2019 Annual Sale Event/Our kids’ summer-camp drama production.
June 24, 2019 Family cruise from New York City to Bermuda.
July 12, 2019 Our 13-year-old son, Edwin, is officially taller than Kevin.
July 13, 2019 Our kids try out for The Sound of Music. Lillie gets the role of Gretyl!
July 17, 2019 The showroom floor gets reset with items from market. Everything is looking amazing!
July 21, 2019 We took the kids fishing at Papa and Grandma’s.
August 1, 2019 Kevin and I toured the La-Z-Boy factory in Tennessee.
August 2, 2019 Our son, Edwin, becomes the International Bible Quiz Champion for The Church of God at Teen Talent.
August 9, 2019 Edwin, Mont, and Lillie begin classes at The Adventure School.
August 19, 2019 Kevin and I attended our second buying group show; this one was in New Orleans.
August 2019 Our annual family vacation to Jamaica.
September 5, 2019 Lillie’s first dance class.
September 2019 The Hills Are Alive…We had three weeks of Sound of Music performances. Lillian was Gretyl and I was the stage mom–working backstage making sure everyone got into their (MANY) costumes and onstage.
September 2019 Lillie got a kitten. She named her Storm.
October 2019 Our oldest son, Edwin, turned 14.
October 20, 2019 We attended our SECOND High Point Market.
October 31, 2019 Trick or Treating in Downtown Clarkesville was a huge success!
November 3, 2019 My older sons helped me with our Clarkesville Kiwanis Zombie Run event.
November 8, 2019 Our friends from Washington D.C. stayed with us for a few days. They live in a D.C. suburb, so our Georgia farm was a new experience for them!
November 18, 2019 Kevin and I had a belated anniversary trip to Asheville.
November 22, 2019 …Then we took the kids to Dollywood in our motorhome.
November 27, 2019 Christmas lights go up at Wood’s.
November 30, 2019 My 44 birthday…I spoke at a friend’s funeral. (This was to be the first funeral of three during this holiday season. This was heart-breaking time for our friends and family.)
December 4, 2019 Edwin and Mont performed in Willy Wonka.
December 13, 2019 Habersham Chamber of Commerce Ribbon Cutting Ceremony for the Grand Opening of our La-Z-Boy Comfort Studio.
December 15, 2019 Wood’s Christmas Party at out home.
December 20, 2019 Back to Dollywood.
December 23, 2019 Another funeral…this one for my children’s 12-year old friend. She was in Willy Wonka with them just two weeks before she died. Families piled into our little theater to honor her short life.
December 25, 2019 Christmas Day
January 1, 2020 We completed a First Day Hike and then had friends over for a traditional, Southern New Year’s dinner of black-eyed peas and collards.
January 2, 2020 Another funeral…this time for the mother of our 16-year-old employee, Cole. This was such a tragedy for our Wood’s family!!!
When I look back at this year, I give myself permission to be tired… We have accomplished so much in a short period of time. Our kids have grown and gotten to have a lot of wonderful experiences. Our business got a POS system, updated branding, and remodeled inside; I learned how to market a business. Kevin and I feel blessed and thankful–and look forward to 2020!
Anyone who knows me even a little bit will know that I am crazy about my husband. We get along well and enjoy just being together. A lot. When I looked back at this wild, beautiful year that we have had at Wood’s Mercantile, I am humbled by our little space that we have carved out together in this world.
We had our ribbon-cutting for our new La-Z-Boy Comfort Studio yesterday. We were surrounded by our family, friends, and community members who have supported us this year. I was overwhelmed with gratitude for ALL of it.
…Then we took off on a date together.
We have four really amazing kids: Edwin, 14, Mont, 10, Lillian, 5, and Morgan 3. For the last twelve years or so, we have had a weekly date night. We very seldom miss it. The weeks that we have had to miss for some reason, we try to make it up some way–we have lunch together or send the kids upstairs so we can cook together and listen to music in the kitchen. We are very protective of this time…and it has been SUCH a blessing to our marriage. Sometimes date night is a trip through COSTCO followed by a quick dinner at Chipolte. For a couple of years, we used to go to the local auction every Friday night. Recently, I have made more intentional dates for us a couple of times a month to get us away from work for an evening. What we are “into” has changed over the years…but we continue to be “into” one another.
There isn’t any greater gift that you can give your kids than to spend time with your spouse. Our kids feel secure knowing that in an uncertain world, our home is a safe place to fall. Kevin and I will back one another up; they don’t try to play us against one another because they see us as one unit. We flirt in front of them. We respect one another. We make our marriage a top priority.
I thanked him this morning for always making me feel secure in my place by his side. In the sixteen years that I have been with him, never once has he given me reason to doubt his love and respect for me as a woman. Never once. He’s solid, y’all.
Kevin and I aren’t Gift People. I haven’t bought him the first thing for Christmas and I know that he hasn’t bought anything for me either. This isn’t how we show our love for one another. It adds to that One-More-Thing-To-Do during this already overly-busy season.
So this year, I wanted to dedicate this space to My Love.
Kevin, I love Us. Every. Single. Day. Thank you for bringing honor and goodness into the world. You are an amazing husband, father, and friend. You are everything I could wish for every Christmas and New Year of my life.
Merry Christmas, Sweetheart.
Today is my 44th birthday and I just finished writing a eulogy for a friend who lost her battle with cancer on Thanksgiving. I am to deliver it tomorrow during the funeral.
It’s also Small Business Saturday. This is my first year marketing…well, anything. Preparing a retail store for the Christmas-shopping season feels like a Big Deal. It’s like the finish line of my year-long, marketing-learning marathon. Will we finish strong?
Then death happened…forcing me to stop. God has a way of doing that to me. Writing about and speaking-in-front-of-a-whole-bunch-of people about the life of a friend–what their life meant to you–you have to stop and change gears. I have had just over 24 hours to prepare–to summarize the life of this beautiful woman as I knew her to be in less than five minutes. What a great honor and privilege I have been given. Slow down, Melissa. Breathe deeply.
The last time that I spoke at a funeral, it was for my little brother. Another one who died Too Young and Too Full-of-Life. Andy gave me a lot of fuel. We had a lifetime of funny stories and inside jokes! Through the process of preparing that speech and sharing his testimony, even in the heart-break, I found Joy. That was three years ago.
Death grabs our attention, doesn’t it? It forces us to pause the busyness and reflect on the beauty of life. It reminds us that we only get one shot at this thing. How are we going to use our days…how are we going to use EACH day?
How can I love bigger? How can I serve better? How can I be a better Me? How can I walk closer with God–learning his will for my life? How can I lean in a little deeper? God, I ask You to order my steps today.
I am thankful for this opportunity to reflect, not only on Michele’s life, but on my own. Even in her death, Michele stretches me to be a better version of myself.
Y’all, I think I just found my Birthday Wish.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed during the holiday season! This year, in addition to the normal Christmas frenzy that comes with a busy household with four kids, I am entering my first holiday season with Wood’s Mercantile. I have been trying to figure out how to create new traditions for our store, while maintaining the history of Wood’s as an important holiday fixture in the Downtown Clarkesville Christmas events.
With our beautiful showroom remodel, we opened up the large picture windows at the front of the store. This let in tons of nature light and gives our staff and customers a great view of the square. However, it did away with the smaller cubbies that were part of the Windows at Woods tradition in recent years. What would be our new contribution to the community this Christmas?
Kevin came back from the Main Street meeting last week and approached me with an idea…Could we do a storytelling time? YES! This suggestion made my heart sing. I was a school librarian in my former life and I have homeschooled my own children. Reading aloud is HUGE in our family. So this year, Wood’s contribution to Downtown Clarkesville Christmas will be storytelling followed by a simple make-and-take craft at the top and bottom of the hour. This will take place on Saturday, December 14 from 6:00-8:00. Our store will also be open during the event; this will give customers extended hours to shop with us.
There will be a lot of fun events going on that evening. My littlest love, Morgan, can hang out at the store and listen to the stories (and eat Christmas cookies) while my older three participate as downtown carolers with their music teacher, LeAnne Challenger owner of Challenger Music in Clarkesville. Community involvement is an important family value for us!
Confession: In spite of owning an amazing design-centered store, decorating is not my thing! I am thankful for the talented people and groups who have come along beside me and helped me with this during this busy holiday season. Kathy Walker, former owner of the amazing Cody Road Furniture workshop and store created and executed a vision of simple holiday decor that compliments our showroom. Christmas Decor with Bill Haynes will be decorating the outside of Wood’s the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. My gifted friend, Keila Nichols, will be working her skills inside of our home to get it ready for our staff Christmas party. Lorna Hunter with JRM Management will be setting the floor with our new High Point Market accessories in time for our ribbon-cutting ceremony with the Habersham Chamber of Commerce on December 13. My sweet friend, Jessica Baltimore, is helping out with the organization, unboxing, and tagging of all of these accessory items; moving hundreds of items from our warehouse to the showroom floor is a huge undertaking. Our hard-working staff always supports our mission and work seamlessly to execute it daily. It takes a village to pull off all the holiday magic!
I am writing this to you from the privacy and relative comfort of our RV in High Point, North Carolina. This is Market week in the furniture and home fashion world. We are spending time this week shopping new products for our store. Back at home, my kids have two birthday parties this weekend, guitar lessons, voice lessons, dance lessons, 4-H, and play practice.
Before we left I was checking off the list of all of the things I needed to arrange for the kids before we went out of town. On the list: Buy present for Lily (age 4) and buy present for Aiden (age 14). Early one morning while sipping my coffee at my kitchen island, I quickly flipped up my computer, typed in Amazon and searched “Gifts for 4 Year Old Girls”. Pink plastic junk filled my screen. I stopped. What am I doing? Yes, this is the easy way. It will show up in a box on my door in two days and my babysitter and children will have a gift to present in my absence. But…I was not Practicing What I Preach!
Later that day, I walked across the street to The Adventure Store while I was at lunch. I got to see my amazing kids briefly who were off with their school crew to explore the Clarkesville Greenway. (They go to The Adventure School that is based out of the store.) I kept my daughter, Lillian, behind a few minutes to help me shop for birthday presents. We found an adorable UNICORN neck pillow for Lily (a different Lily than MY Lillie). For Aiden, we chose an amazingly soft Adventure Store-themed sweatshirt along with a compass/camping tool/fire-starting thingie that my daughter explained to me started fire without matches. I thought it would be perfect for a Boy Scout. We got all three items along with a card Lillian picked out and a $10 sale t-shirt for Edwin. I asked for two of The Adventure Store bags to use for gift bags. We visited briefly with the two sons of the store owners who were working the register and I drove my daughter to the Greenway to meet up with her classmates.
It took me twenty minutes.
In that twenty minutes, I bonded with my daughter. I supported my friends’ business and my children’s teachers. I conversed with a couple of awesome teenage boys. I got some exercise and fresh air. AND I found some really wonderful gifts that got to my home before Amazon could have delivered them.
Fast forward to yesterday. My daughter went to the party. Since I am still in High Point, my babysitter filled me in. It was a UNICORN-Themed party. Get out. They were greeted at the door by Lily in a UNICORN shirt with tutu. My daughter whispered in our babysitter’s ear, “She’s going to LOVE her present.” I had no idea that our gift would be the PERFECT thing for this Unicorn-Loving-Princess.
Today is Aiden’s party. It’s tough to buy for fourteen-year-old boys. I know…I have one. I am hopeful, though, that he will wear the amazingly-soft sweatshirt and think that the camping tool is pretty sweet?…cool?…rad?…dope? (I have no idea what the right word is, but I’m fairly confident that all of these are wrong.)
I am going to finish up here at my make-shift work station. It’s POURING outside. We have to meet for accessory buying in an hour and I am still in my PJs! I encourage you to Shop Small. Christmas is coming and there are so many amazing little stores in your town. Build connections. Build your community. Shop small. I promise that it will make you feel good. Blessings to you and yours!
I need to reflect on my busiest-of-autumns so far. I have spent my days getting my work done for Wood’s and planning our second High Point Market visit this month; my evenings have been filled with The Sound of Music. My five-year-old daughter, Lillian, was cast as Gretyl in our community theater’s production of the beloved musical. We are now in our third and final weekend. I have been acting as stage mom to a group of amazing kids. Lillie says, “Mama helps people get dressed.” Yes. Yes, I do. There are seven Von-Trapp children who change clothes nine times during the show. I am also helping Maria with her quick changes and whatever else I am asked to do. This role has given me much joy this month; I have found much satisfaction in helping others stand in the spotlight.
My Favorite Things has been one of my favorite songs since my childhood; I have sung it to my own children at bedtime. Having heard it many, many times over the last few months, it has made me reflect on my own favorite-things list. The first thing on my list is my planner. I have used tons of calendars/planners/journals over the last few years. I have used them for journaling and as photo books in addition to calendar-keeping. My current favorite is my Erin Condren planner. I keep up with work, kids’ activities, meal-planning, baby-sitter schedules, and to-do lists all one place. It’s pretty, too. Pretty things make me happy.
My next favorite thing is my daily 5:00 AM email from Encounter. This is a daily Christian meditation. It focuses on a short, simple verse that you pray through in a guided way. It may sound silly, but it allows me to calm my overly-active brain first thing in the morning and focus on what is most important. It takes about fifteen-minutes. The mornings that start this way are always calmer! When I wake up before my three-year-old Morgan and get this done first, I am always thankful I did it!
My final favorite thing for this list is my Saeco XSmall Espresso Machine. I love strong, black coffee. I drink far too much of it. I developed a taste for espresso on a cruise Kevin and I took to Cuba a couple of years ago. Last year for Christmas, this was our only gift to one another. It grinds coffee for each individual cup and can also make a lovely, frothy latte if you choose. One simple present that changed my life. OK. That’s an exaggeration, but it DID make my favorite things list!