I didn’t realize we hadn’t been to the Biltmore house in over two years. Because of how much my family and I have been traveling lately, Mom and Dad gave up the seasonal passes we once took advantage of. There was a time when you could find us at Biltmore once or twice a season. Because of this, my siblings and I were convinced that we could recreate the house in Minecraft from memory (that is until we toured the house (again) with this thought in mind). 😂😂 Thanks to passes given to us by a former neighbor, we were able to visit once more.
The drive to Biltmore (which I completed) was one hour to our traditional Zaxby’s lunch stop and 50 minutes from there to our parking spot in Deer Park. It was not as hard as I expected. Dad introduced me to Cruise Control which is pretty much the coolest feature ever. My stiffening legs were very grateful.
We walked through the house in which costumes from movie adaptations of books George Vanderbilt (the founder of Biltmore) read were being displayed, like a few that have been worn by Keira Knightley and Robert Downey Jr. themselves. How cool is that? Let me just say, a lot of actors are a whole lot shorter than they appear to be in their movies. 😂😂
Dad drove from Deer Park to the Gardens parking (where we waited for Mom to find a tree) and from there to Antler Village. Sometime during this journey, a squirrel dashed across the road and Dad (being Dad) announced the creature’s presence before pretending to run over it. Ansa, a lover of all things, screamed in protest. “Don’t you dare destroy God’s beautiful creation!” She declared.
We all laughed along with Dad who exclaimed. “She drew the God card on us!” Oh, my. 😂😂
It was in Antler Village that we came across the most prominent change of all: a new hotel. It is huge and so has changed the face of Antler Village, which is what caused us to feel very disorientated. On top of the that, the winery is being wholly rethought (part of it already has been). Of course, this made Ansa, who dislikes change and loves tradition, very displeased. I personally fancy how they’re redoing the winery. It looks very modern. However, I do not like how the new hotel butts up against Antler Village. I feel like it takes away from the outdoorsy theme, making the area look more like a little city rather than an organic, environment-friendly village. Oh, well.
After playing several rounds of bingo, my family and I left the Antler Village parking lot at 8:05 PM. I drove for a straight hour and 30 minutes until I reached our garage. Exhausted from this much needed (according to Dad) escape from the house, everyone headed straight for bed. Thank you, Mrs. Amy, for the opportunity to visit this familiar, but different place!
2016 was an astounding year full of new adventures stretching from Alaska to New York, bonding with friends old and new, unpleasant surprises, but also plenty of memories that I will treasure forever. I can’t wait to discover what more amazing adventures God has in store for my family this coming year.
Every New Year’s Eve my siblings and I pull an all-nighter (the ultimate goal being to stay awake until the time you awoke on New Year’s Eve). As long as we don’t make a ruckus, Mom and Dad are content with our wishes, so our habits haven’t been a problem. However, this year Mom requested that we skip our tradition since New Year’s Eve was on a Saturday so staying up all night meant that we would be exhausted during the church service Sunday morning. Despite Mom’s appeals, I held firm to the belief that we can’t forsake unwritten law. Any after effects would be silently suffered. Besides, the consequences will only help create memories we will laugh about later. So the tradition continued.
3:58 AM – Ansa, recognizing the increase of weight in her eyelids, took it upon herself to eat an Extreme Warhead (a candy so sour simply thinking about it will make your mouth tingle). She didn’t fall asleep.
4:00 AM – Not having a phone of my own, I borrowed my mom’s (to take pictures), so it was my siblings and me who were alerted when Mom’s pill alarm went off. Ansa made the journey across the house to repeat the message.
4:13 AM – My siblings and I were playing Minecraft and other electronic games on our devices.
6:06 AM – Growling stomaches prompted a venture downstairs to the kitchen fridge where we fetched leftover cheese pizza.
7:40 AM – My siblings and I went into craft time when we made characters out of toilet paper tubes (a product I hope to one day make a living on).
8:00 AM – Another of Mom’s pill alarms went off and, again, Ansa got up to deliver the message only to find Mom already awake.
8:48 AM – Haydn bid Alexa a good morning, and we discovered that her New Year resolutions include keeping up vocal exercises. Her first work out was different.
Maybe it was all the sparkling grape juice I consumed, but I was never sleepy. I felt the need to snooze under my eyes, but not in my head (thank goodness). Haydn got a bit cozy at times, and Ansa had to dip into our supply of instant waker-uppers, but we pulled through and, at 9:30 AM, we were ready to leave for church. Unsurprisingly, Mom was right: it was during worship when exhaustion punched me in the face. 😅 😅 However, I did not fall asleep. Happy New Year!!! 🎉 🎉 🎉
I found the week before Christmas Day exhausting as I worked around the clock to finish making gifts for my best friend and her family. Only when the Rawlings ran out of their home to greet us (and Mrs. Rawlings and Noah verbally expressed their amazement) did I realize the multitude of gifts I bore. I suppose one, handmade present for each member of their family is a lot. 😅 😅
After placing the gifts under one of the Rawlings’ two Christmas trees, Noah fetched the rest of his family while I gave into Abi’s insistence that I open her present for me: a black frame containing a burlap background which depicted our friendship. The gratitude and praise I expressed to her did not accurately communicate my profuse love for her sweet, creative, and thoughtful gift (which also included a bar of dark chocolate and multiple bookmarks). Once home, I placed the present on the headboard of my bed and noticed that, since doing so, an overwhelming emotion fills me when I see the frame upon entering my room: joy. Today was the first time I fully realized how happy Abi and my friendship with her makes me. I am forever grateful for both and don’t deserve either.
Once the rest of the Rawlings had been rounded up, the youngest children opened my gift to their family: a cross-stitch of an eagle. With one glance Mrs. Rawlings, Abi, and Sarah knew the thought and effort that went into this gift and so their praise, comments, and questions were the first to reach my ears. The more time that passed after the cross-stitch had been revealed, the more Mr. Rawlings and Noah squinted. The closer their faces came to the gift, the more they realized the long and complicated process required to produce such a piece. Each family member was amazed. Despite her few words, it was Mrs. Rawlings who expressed full knowledge of the loyalty, love, appreciation, and kindness I sewed in every stitch, the effort that made my gift so much more than string and cloth.
Breaking from tradition, it was the day before Christmas that my mom’s side of the family gathered at my grandparent’s house for dinner and a gift exchange. One humorous gift included a bucket of golf balls for Uncle John (each of which was individually wrapped), but the highlight of my evening occurred shortly after Haydn unwrapped a VR (Virtual Reality) Headset.
Appropriately, my brother was the first to experience a virtual reality: a roller coaster ride. In the real world, he held onto a doorway like he was tied to the mast of a ship and only left this position when explaining to me what he was seeing and where it was. “And the seats,” Haydn continued. “Their red and black.” He lowered himself to the floor and patted the space around him. “And they’re right here.” Following my voice, my brother did a bit of exploring (which landed him on the armrest of the couch) before returning to the staircase where he contentedly plopped down for the rest of his ride.
Haydn was quick to share his gift with the rest of the family, so the VR headset made its way around the room thrilling whoever dared to put it on. When the device reached my Aunt Chris, she turned around in her seat and stood in her chair on her knees. “Ooh.” She said.
“Christina,” my dad gave voice. “This looks quite awkward.” Aunt Chris did not seem to hear.
“Whoah!” She exclaimed, stretching her arms into the air and swaying back and forth. 😂 😂 I love my family.
Santa outdid himself this year. The lengthy list of presents he left had me (at least) sincerely believing that I am spoiled. My family and I are truly blessed.
One of the items my dad put on his wish list (besides 3 John 1:4) was an Amazon Echo Dot speaker (the smaller version of Alexa which is basically another rendition of Siri), so Grandpa and Grandma bought him one (which my Dad received on Christmas Eve). On Christmas morning, Dad opened a present to find that Mom, too, had bought him an Echo Dot. Minutes later Dad opened two more gifts (both, also, from Mom) each of which included another Echo Dot, bringing his total up to four. Apparently, they were on sale and Mom didn’t know Grandpa and Grandma had purchased one. 😂 😂 Sharing the love, Dad gave one each to Mom, Haydn, and me.
Once darkness blanketed our town once more, my family and I left our cozy home to experience the Roper Mountain Holiday Lights (a family tradition). Upon our return, having requested and received permission, my siblings and I grabbed our ENOs and some additional bedding in preparation for another adventure: camping out under our back porch. Only in the south can you get away with sleeping outside on Christmas night. 😂 😂 Happy holidays, everyone!!!
A little while before my birthday, Grandma mentioned that Bob Jones University would be putting on Little Women in a couple of months. She then asked if I would like to go (and maybe the family, too) for my birthday present. I heartily agreed but soon forgot about the entire proposition.
Tuesday, November 15 was a usual day at school except for the fact that I wouldn’t be home until dark due to a field trip. Those plans, however, changed during fourth when Mom texted me through a friend (since I don’t have a phone). Apparently, Grandma had bought Little Women tickets for that night but Mom had misheard the date. One very stressful conversation later, I decided that family is more important than an extra credit opportunity.
Little Women the Broadway Musical was amazing! Ansa and I had recently watched the movie so it was really cool to see the story unfold under a different light. I am so glad we got to see it. Thank you, Grandma!
Although this year’s trip to the Sky Top Orchard was shorter than our past visits, my family and I did not fail to complete our traditions:
getting donuts (yum!)
taking pictures throughout the play area
feeding the animals
running through the bamboo forest
buying apple cider
taking pictures in front of the wooden “how tall this fall” tree
How tall are we this fall? I measured up to about five and a half feet. Haydn hit somewhere in between five and a quarter and five and a half while Ansa came in at about four and three quarters. So I am still the tallest. However, I suspect these measurements will be drastically different by this time next year (@HaydnThomas). 😂 😂
Haydn’s co-op ends at 2:55 PM. Dad picks him up, and then they sit in the Greenville Tech parking lot until 3:40 when my college class ends. Knowing this, you can understand my confusion when I exited the building to find the van nowhere in sight. I did not worry, at first. I was released a little early, and they probably got stuck in traffic or something.
I walked up the sidewalk along the parking lot and stopped under the shade of some trees. I scanned and re-scanned the parking lot, just in case Dad parked somewhere else and I missed him. Nothing. I watched the Cross-Country team run from GMC to the field in front of the college where they usually practice. I noted that they tend to be on the field when I leave so I must have been released earlier than I thought. However, as each minute passed, I became more and more tempted to worry rather than trust God.
It only takes 10 minutes to get from UHC to GMC and Dad is NEVER late so, even if there was traffic, this did not explain his absence. Determined to trust God and not worry, I looked away from the road and acknowledge the clouds floating above my high school. They were HUGE. As I stood in awe of God’s beauty, I couldn’t help but imagine what a great picture it would make. Sadly, I did not have my camera (aka, Mom’s phone).
By now several minutes had passed, and I attempted to calmly run through the day’s schedule for my family: after school, we were going to stop by Krispy Kreme for Pirate Day. However, I drew a blank when I could not recall the final decision about who, how, and when. Dad and Mom planned on attending the 9th and 10th Grade Parent Information Meeting that evening at 6:00 and I made another mental note to remind them that we did not need to go. Something was going on in the afternoon, but I couldn’t remember exactly what. Again, I began to worry, so I quietly sang the first worship song that popped into my head (I do not recall what it was). Finally, I sat down on a nearby bench and returned my gaze to the clouds.
By the time I spotted Kaylee and Olivia (friends from my high school) exiting the college, I had already begun considering that something must have happened. What type of something? I only had one idea: a wreck. My eyes began to water. What if Dad is hurt? What if he died? I stopped. No. I thought. I’m not going to go there. I glanced at the road again and noticed Kaylee and Olivia walking on the far sidewalk. I hopped up, pulled on my backpack, and began walking towards them as they saw me and waved.
I had planned on asking Kaylee if I could text my mom, but I never did. Before the whistle that morning (which is blown by our principal five minutes before the first bell) Kaylee had asked Becca if she could walk home with her. Becca said Kaylee could if Becca didn’t have to work. “Did you not walk home with Becca?” I asked Kaylee. No, because in the middle of first period Becca’s boss texted her asking if she could work. Of course, Becca said yes despite really wanting to go home to complete her homework and study for a college test on Wednesday. “I’d say we could take you home, but I don’t know where my dad is,” I explained. We had a brief conversation about Pirate Day, they continued walking toward the high school, Olivia asked about the Geometry homework, they kept walking, and then I asked about the time: 3:45, much earlier than I had supposed. Reluctantly, I returned to the bench half expecting Dad to pull up right then and give a perfectly reasonable explanation for why he was late. But he didn’t.
I pulled out “The Kite Runner” (a book I was reading for Literature & Film) and began to peruse where I left off in class that morning. My reading was quite bumpy as I kept glancing at the road to examine each passing vehicle. As each minute dragged on the feeling that my family had been in a car wreck became more and more prominent in my mind. I focused on the words I was looking at: “‘I’ll come back with your morphine and glass of water, Kaka Jan,’ Soraya said. ‘Not tonight,’ he said. ‘There is no pain tonight.’ ‘Okay,’ she said. She pulled up his blanket. We closed the door. Baba never woke up” (Khaled Hosseini, The Kite Runner). And then the sirens sounded.
Firetrucks and police cars, but (I prayed) no ambulances. Their noise was so loud I knew they were driving along the roads that box in Greenville Tech and GMC. I beat the feeling but, in the end, I could not ignore it: my family had been in a wreck. There was no other explanation.
My eyes began to water, but I fought back the tears and prayed. Oh, what a desperate prayer I prayed. “Lord, please let them be all right. Please let them be all right.” And then I reminded myself that God has everything under control. Everything will be alright, no matter what happens. Everything will be alright… “God is good,” I whispered to myself, remembering a quote from God’s not Dead. “All the time. And all the time, God is good.” I blinked away the last of my tears, took a deep breath, and turned back to my book.
Moments later a red car came to a halt several feet away. I did not pay much attention to it until it honked and my mom got out of the passenger’s seat. She motioned me to come so I dropped my book into my backpack, zipped it up, and obeyed. Once by her side she gave me a hug and said, “We were in a wreck. Everyone is okay, but Ansa is a little shaken up.” She then explained that “this nice lady,” the driver, had checked to see if they were alright and offered to come pick me up. Once introduced I was directed to the back seat and we made our way to the point of impact.
Mom and Ansa had picked Haydn up from UHC and then gone to Krispy Kreme for Pirate Day. From there they went home to pick up Dad (who was doing a podcast) and drop off their four dozen donuts (three for dressing up and one for sharing a picture on SnapChat). Then all four of them came to get me.
Despite being in a conversation about college, Dad missed the main entrance for Greenville Tech. Instead of taking the back way, he decided to turn around by making a left into someone’s driveway. Mid-turn, my family was T-Boned by a white truck Dad had not noticed.
Dad banged his head against his window, Mom was slung so hard that her sunglasses flew off her head and landed in the back, Haydn was thrown towards his window but caught himself before contact was made, and Ansa was tossed. By the time I arrived at the site, Dad had a headache, Mom felt as if she had been punched in the jaw, Haydn was okay, and Ansa was suffering through the first of many headaches due to a likely concussion.
After hearing of the minor injuries and examining the burst tire, missing window, jammed doors, and various other damages, I could no longer hold back my tears. God was with my family that day. He could have easily taken them all home but, instead, He answered my prayer.
I will never be able to adequately express or justly describe my gratitude. “Thank You, Lord. Thank You.” The only words I was able to speak in between my silent sobs. Ansa, who was as pink as the shirt she was wearing, crawled into the back with me and we held each other as the tears continued to flow. God IS good. I thought. All the time. And all the time, God IS good.
To see more photos from this event, click here. Once in Flickr, click the arrow on your right to view the next picture. Thanks!
September 15 is Free Queso Day at Moe’s, the one day a year on which Moe’s employees give away bowls full of queso (a cheese like dipping sauce). All you have to do is stop by your local Moe’s, tell them you want queso, and they will give you one bowl per person along with several bags of chips. That’s it. No fine print or other purchases necessary. So mark your calendars, this is a deal you do not want to miss! Unless of course, you do not like queso.
To view more photos from this event, click here. Thanks!
Having participated in the 2013 Goodwill Mud Run, Dad, Mom, Haydn, and I were prompted to do it again three years later. Since Ansa was now (in our eyes) old enough to do it, and she felt ready, she too joined us.
The muddy course stretched just over three miles and led you through, under, or over 35 obstacles. These challenges ranged from swinging on a rope over a pool of mud to army crawling your way under low strung wire. During the year this course is used to train those seeking to join the military. Ansa was terrific by remaining her joyful, full energy self the entire time.
Sadly, due to a thunderstorm, we were not able to complete the last leg of the course. Though somewhat disappointed, we were okay. Besides, since we were among the final people present, we were able to take advantage of the food that had been up for sale but was now up for grabs. Yum! 😋 😋
After the church service, my family and I went to my Grandparent’s house for Easter dinner. Once stuffed full of Grandma’s delicious cooking, we opened up an egg decorating package. It was fun to mix up the colors and experiment with different ways to apply them to the eggs as we worked together in trying to decipher which way worked best. In the end, we had a patriotic egg, an egg sprinkled with gold, and many other eggs of various colors. Happy Easter!
My dad agreed to do a conference at Soldotna Bible Chapel in Alaska during February in the year 2016. Naturally, he looked into the possibility of the entire family going with him which ended up working out in our favor. We left our home in Greenville, South Carolina on February 6th and began the week-long journey. Everything was smooth waters until one delay in Detroit threw off our entire schedule causing the rest of the day to be quite stressful. One change to our plan caused us to have to spend the night in Seattle, Washington instead of already having arrived and settled in Alaska. Delta, to make up for the trouble, was very gracious and paid for our hotel room and gave us 150 something dollars to spend on food in the airport within the next 24 hours. Let me tell you, it is not easy to eat that much food in that amount of time.
February 7th we awoke, caught a ride to the airport and left Seattle. The flight brought many breathtaking clouds and rainbows to our attention along with our first glimpse of Alaska’s breathtaking mountains. One of the pastor’s of the church Dad would be speaking at, and his family picked us up from the airport in Anchorage and drove us the two hours it took to reach Soldotna. Along the way, we made occasional stops to view local wildlife or the indescribable mountains. To reach Soldotna, we had to drive through a mountain pass which gave my siblings and me our first experience with snow several feet deep. We didn’t waste time inquiring about snow boots, we went out in our own boots, jeans, shorts, and sandals and stumbled around amazed by the beauty around us. Around 6:00 we arrived at “the cabin” and settled into our temporary home.
The next day the same pastor who picked us up the day before took us on our first full day of touring Alaska. The breathtaking drive, surrounded by the awe-inspiring mountains, took us to ice covered parking lots, turquoise colored rivers, frozen lakes, black rivers, black-sand covered beaches, and dinner.
On February ninth the youth pastor from the church Dad would be speaking at took us on another tour. Our first stop was the local dumpster. Yep. Do you know what we found there? More than 15 Bald Eagles perched in nearby trees on the lookout for their next meal. The rest of the day consisted of more ice covered parking lots, frozen rivers, mountains, bays, rock-covered shores, a moose sighting, and the achievement of driving to North America’s most “Westerly Highway Point.”
The day after was spent at “the cabin.” My siblings and I suited up and went out to explore the beds of the creek down the hill from “the cabin” along with the partially frozen over Kenai River. Across the creek, we worked hard to build a bridge because one risked missing the opposite bank if one dared to jump across the stream, and the only one brave enough to jump across (and continually succeed) was Haydn. So, a bridge we made. My siblings and I explored the edge of the Kenai River and had an unofficial photo shoot before heading back across the minefield (a field of wheat leveled out by snow).
The next few days were spent at “the cabin” or the surrounding area as Dad worked and I caught up on schoolwork. On the 14th my Dad spoke at Soldotna Bible Church’s Valentine’s Day conference. Afterward, we met up with the church staff for pizza. Dad also spoke the next morning during the church service. That afternoon (an hour before we were due to be at the airport), we accepted a last-minute offer to ride a snowmobile. I personally think it was a little nerve-wracking since the lake did not freeze smoothly and the driver (who shall remain unnamed) was driving really fast.
The trip home went by fairly smooth (besides the fact that no one slept) and we were thankful to God for that. My family and I very much enjoyed this trip and hope that we will return to Alaska someday in the future.
To see more photos from this trip, click here. Thanks!