Thursday, September 13, 2018

Hello from Crazytown

It has been an eventful week or two for us. This past Friday (was that really only five days ago?!?) I picked Delaney up from school early so that we could drive to Asheville and meet my parents on Saturday. They gave us our long-awaited puppy, a girl Frenchton we named Willow, and Delaney's dearest wish from the time she was two, came true. We had in fact promised her a dog when she turned 10, and she never forgot that. The dream had to be deferred for a year while we moved to and from Japan in seven months, and at last my mom was able to get in contact with the breeder she'd gotten her own dog from (Georgie, the best dog ever!). A puppy, like a baby, is a fun thing to dream about and anticipate.

Then everyone went to work and school on Monday, and it was like puppy boot camp for me. I had scarcely begun to wrap my mind around the upheaval that this adorable bat-eared creature had brought into my life, when the hurricane I'd been refusing to take seriously the past couple days started to become real and it was time to start making plans.

Here we go again, I thought. Monday was spent trying to decide where to evacuate, and trying to find a decent hotel that accepted pets. Then once we chose Winston-Salem, we second-guessed the decision, wondering if it was far enough inland to improve our lives at all. Things were filling up quickly. I spent all day Tuesday running around like a chicken with my head cut off. I needed to get Joey to preschool. I could have skipped it, but he loves it and he only gets to go two mornings a week as it is. It was also our turn to bring snack. I had to get my tank topped off, but all the gas stations were out of gas, ratcheting up my anxiety. Fortunately Tim had filled it up right after I'd gotten back from Asheville, and I had a little over 3/4 of a tank. I had to find more water and more snacks in case we got stuck in traffic. Walmart was a madhouse, but I wanted to go there to get puppy pads for the hotel room. I needed to cook us one last dinner to eat, with chicken that would probably end up going to waste otherwise. I needed to organize and pack, make checklists, and do laundry. I sometimes found myself staring into space, or bursting into tears. I hadn't slept well since the days leading up to the trip to Asheville (things like that cause me to lose sleep for no other reason than that they are major changes in my routine). Then Willow was waking me up twice a night, and I was bringing her out to the backyard on a leash so she could poke around and chew on leaves. Then she'd bark and yap and whine at 3:30 when I'd put her back in her crate.

I'd only just gotten Joey to sleep consistently through the night, and now this.

The house was a wreck. I hadn't cleaned in days. I just followed Willow around, trying to get her outside in time to do her business. I felt guilty leaving her alone too long, and that Tuesday morning I was gone two-and-a-half continuous hours. I was not prepared for this. I texted my mom that if I survived this, I was never getting another puppy. Please grow up, puppy, and let me live again. I would forget to eat, I fretted over that dog so much. I kept her in a play yard with towels under her so that I could get things done, but I didn't get much done because I was overwhelmed and anxious about EVERYTHING.

I tried to find silver linings in this evacuation situation. Maybe being in a smaller space would help us all to keep a better eye on Willow, and help her potty train, albeit on the yucky pee pad and not outside. I figured we'd be gone at least a week, considering we were gone a solid week after we evacuated Parris Island for Hurricane Matthew, and that ended up not even being a big hurricane. I thought this could be an opportunity for Delaney to really bond with Willow and make her her dog, since they'd be together all this time. The way things were going, I was the one with her most of the time, and I was going to be the one Willow ended up following around (If I could ever take my eyes off her!).

The morning we left, we got up at 4, and I had Delaney feed her a half a Dramamine tablet to make sure she wouldn't get sick during the trip. That morning our county issued a mandatory evacuation order, and that affirmed for me that it really was the best idea for us to leave town. A lot of our neighbors stayed anyway. We were on the road by 5, and discovered when we made a pit stop near Raleigh, that one of our children who was old enough to know better, had managed to leave the house that morning without shoes on. Just how?
Our kids think that being in a hotel room is a lot of fun, and being the first one to the elevator to press the button is the best. They take off at a gallop down the long hall. Joey got scolded by a lady several doors down as he ran along behind, always last. She opened the door and said to him, "Can we not run in the hallway?" She glared at me and I just stared at her disbelievingly, saying slowly, "Yeah, can we not.." then a grimacing "sorry." We are 'those people.' My stampeding kids were only the beginning of her problems that night, I'm sure. As I lay in bed that night, I heard conversation and slamming doors up and down the corridor late into the night. Every time someone walked down the hallway, it sounded like they were trying to bounce a bowling ball. As Tim put it, "We ALL signed up for the same misery." So get used to it -- ha. Maybe the hotel should have a jar of earplugs at the front desk instead of dog biscuits.

Annie wanted to hold Willow's leash in the sporting goods store that allows pets. That was one of the places we tried to kill time before our rooms were ready. I saw Willow get into pooping position near the entrance, ran over and scooped her up, saying, "Nuh-uh, outside, outside, outside!" I ran out, dragging Annie along who was still holding the leash. Then when it was time to pick up the poop, Annie said, "I never wanted a dog."
I hate stressful times like this, but they give me something to blog about. It helps to remember there are people who have it worse, way worse. One of my Parris Island neighbors just had her third baby. She was discharged early from the hospital so she and her husband could take the baby home, throw their kids and everything they could think of into the car, and drive for 9 hours -- separate vehicles, both of them driving the whole way. I can not even imagine. Then there are many more people worse off than that. I hope and pray that everyone stays safe this weekend, and that the storm is not as destructive as it looks.🙏

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Secrets of a Penny-Pinching Dad (Guest Post by Tim)

A few days ago I was surprised and delighted to open my email and find this gem. Tim and I have not always been on the same page when it comes to money. At the time we got together I was a 20-something who lived entirely in the present. I figured as long as I wasn't in debt, I was doing well enough. I had paltry savings and no financial goals whatsoever. It took awhile, a lot of patience on Tim's part, and plenty of heart-to-hearts, before I finally came around. It's still hard sometimes. Sometimes it seems needlessly difficult. The sacrifices we make now are small, sometimes laughably so (though they may not seem that way in the moment), but they pay off big time in years to come. Tim has been subjected to a lot of ribbing over the years for his frugality but honestly, he's one of the most generous people I've ever known. He's only stingy with himself, and I do give him a hard time for that. I look around at our life and can truly say that I have everything I've ever wanted and don't feel like I'm missing out on anything else money can buy. I am grateful for the perspective he had then that's gotten us to where we are now.

The people who stand to gain the most from heeding his wisdom are the younger ones like his Marines, who live in the world of immediate gratification and assume they'll always be young the way I did. They're most likely to nod along politely and least likely to take any of this to heart. Delaney, Annie, Timmy and Joey: do yourselves a huge favor and listen to your father.

For the longest time, Rachael has asked me to write a “guest” post for her blog. I’ve only ever written
one blog post and I didn’t think I would ever be able to top that one. Additionally, I didn’t think that I
had anything useful to say. I’m not a finance “guy”. I haven’t studied investment strategies formally or informally. I couldn’t even tell you the difference between a yield and a dividend. But what I did know was in order to live comfortably in retirement, I (and it’s an intentional “I” that I will get to in a minute) would need to save, save, and save. So let me start where I think this all began.
Tim (right) and Derek in 1991
I remember even as a young kid that I always enjoyed saving. I tell the story of when my Mom worked at the bank in the center of our small town, I would look forward to taking my paper route money there to deposit. The cashier would take my money and my passbook and using either the machine or pen, would jot down my deposits and I could watch my savings grow. It was the best. Don’t get me wrong, I would spend on silly things like a pair of cool Air Jordan’s, but it was my money: I earned it, I saved it, and I spent it. For the most part though, I was frugal for as long as I can remember. Don’t believe me? Call my best friend Derek and he can tell you. It wasn’t until I was getting ready to graduate college and commission into the Marine Corps did my savings habit really start to be a competition with myself to always save more.

I have been truly blessed in all aspects of life. Professionally, the Marine Corps has provided me
opportunities I would have never thought imaginable. After attempting college for a couple years, I
decided to enlist in the Marines. About three years into my service I was given the chance to attend college while remaining on active duty, in the pursuit of a commission as a second lieutenant. It was on the precipice of that commission that a conversation with my father changed the course of my/our financial lives forever.

The Question that Changed Everything
Commissioning day with proud Mom and Dad in 2000
I’m not exactly sure how the conversation went word for word, but this is how I tell it now when I am
encouraging Marines (and anyone who will listen) to start their own saving strategy. When I was in college I was Sergeant Brady. With that came all the pay and allowances afforded a single sergeant in the Marines. I can honestly say I lived rather comfortably and enjoyed my years in school immensely. My savings plan really didn’t exist but I was happy. So as graduation approached and my commission (and nice jump in pay) was on the horizon, my dad approached me about investing. Essentially he said, "If you are living a high quality of life now, and you are happy, why spend the pay raise?" I had to admit he was right. Now, the smart thing to do would have been to take every last penny of that pay increase and sock it away, but I was still 25 after all, and enjoyed splurging now and then. Still, he'd gotten my attention so I headed to Morgan Stanley with him so that I could come up with a savings/investment strategy.

Walking into Morgan Stanley I didn’t know what to expect, and I definitely can’t remember a single thing the financial adviser told me. This was at the height of the dot.com boom and let’s just say my first couple investments essentially tanked. But I was hooked. I did pick up on “dollar cost averaging” and “compounding interest”, so I stuck to a plan and every month would put a portion of my pay into a couple mutual funds. At this time (early 2000s) the Marine Corps did not have any retirement plan outside our pension and it wouldn’t be until 2002 that the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) would be open to service members. I did my best to become informed over the next couple years, even opening a brokerage account with USAA to dabble in some stocks (not recommended). I was single, making good money with little to no bills, so I had room to take some risk. I made some money and lost more, in the process solidifying myself as a bona fide saver/investor. I was in it for the long haul.
Tim and his friend Murph in Iraq. It was Murph's little daughter who would one day say to me, "You have too many, Brady!"
In November 2002 I deployed to Kuwait prior to the invasion of Iraq. In Kuwait I had a lot of time on my hands, I used it to get as smart as I could on improving my investment strategy. The first step I took was opening up (and maxing out) the TSP when it became available to service members during one of the open seasons. Looking back, this is probably one of the best decisions I made. My only regret is reducing my contributions when I was transitioning from a single captain in 2006 to a married captain in 2007 with our first kid on the way and only one income. Fear of not being able to provide for my family in the “now” overruled my desire to save for the “then”. Fortunately this was short-lived as we would learn to live well within our means and get back to investing in full.

Our next best financial move was when I was selected for major in December 2009 and I looked at
Rachael and asked her the very same question my dad had asked me when I was getting ready to
commission: "Are you happy with the quality of our life now?" She might have looked at me like I was crazy but I asked her to trust me. I let her know that together we can be sure that our family will never want for anything and we can still live a very comfortable life; but in order to secure our future and the uncertainty that comes with it, I want us to save as much money as we possibly can. I don't want to be in the position of NEEDING to work after my retirement from the Marines. I also know that while money doesn’t buy happiness, it does provide peace of mind in knowing we should be able to weather almost any storm. So when I got promoted to major we continued to live on my income as captain.
Tim and Annie in 2009
This trend continued when selected for lieutenant colonel of basically living well below our means with an eye on the future. Now with retirement a couple years away we’ve set our sights on trying to achieve a net worth over $1,000,000.* Crazy, right? The infamous they will tell you that you can’t get “rich” serving in the Marines. Most people believe this falsehood and therefore never try. Reaching this goal is going to depend largely on the market and our investments performing well, but our monthly savings amount will be key and that is the one thing we can control.

*This is strictly investments (retirement and non-retirement only). We don’t own property yet and have no debt, so we have zero liabilities. This will obviously change post retirement but that is a separate post.

The Numbers

I’ve always disliked when I read a blog post or article like this one and there is not one ounce of real
information, just folks giving out a lot of advice and talking around their actual income and investments. I'm sure they have their reasons, but in order to make this more tangible and something most anyone can relate to, I’m going to use our actual data. Now, it’s also pretty easy for anyone to see how much money we make simply by Googling 'military pay charts'. Mind you this has been a 24-year career to date and we weren’t always at our current salary.

I will use three reference points to show how we got it done:
2012- Post deployment on a Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) as a major
2015- First full year stationed and living on Parris Island as a major
2018- Command Tour as a lieutenant colonel

***I would be remiss if I didn’t mention again how blessed we have been in our lives and we do our best to recognize that every day.***

So here goes:

2012
2015
2018
Monthly Inc
$7,161.90
$7,430.10
$9,820.20
Housing
$1,908.00
$0.00
$1,759.00
BAS
$239.96
$253.38
$254.39
Total
$9,309.86
$7,683.48
$11,833.59
Deductions (tax, FICA, medicare, etc)
$937.18
$1,107.71
$1,376.50
Total Inflows
$8,372.68
$6,575.77
$10,457.09
Monthly Charity Donations
$252.00
$129.00
$500.00
Monthly TSP+Roth IRA
$1,540.00
$1,786.00
$1999.67
Monthly Non-retirement Investments
$1,140.00
$1,300.00
$1,900.00
% of Pay Invested
28.79%
40.16%
32.95%
Yearly Contributions
$32,160.00
$37,032.00
$46,788.00

*Housing allowance is based on duty station and we always strive to have rent/housing costs
mostly covered by the allowance. Living on base as was the case from 2014-2017 is always the best option since everything minus TV/Internet/phone is usually covered by the allowance.
**2015 was the year of Joey.  We had to pay for the midwife out of pocket so our investing in non-retirement took a bit of back seat.  We did continue to max out our TSP and my Roth IRA and once Joey was born we reinvested in our Vanguard accounts.

Note: Although we receive dividends from our current non-retirement investments, those are all re-
invested automatically, so we have no other sources of income coming into our household.

Monthly Charitable Donations.  We strive to increase the amount each year. We feel a responsibility and obligation as Christians to do as much as we can to help others and to support causes we believe in.

Our current investments:
TSP 1541.67/month (max out at 18,500) 50% to C Fund, 30% to S Fund, 20% to I Fund
Roth IRA 458/month (max out at 5500) all to Vanguard S&P 500 VFIAX
Kids UGMA 100 (25/kid x 4 kids) all to USAA Mutual Fund Cornerstone UCEQX
Vanguard Funds 1800/month (this is a non-retirement account) split among 4 Funds (VWIGX, VGSTX, VWIAX, VWENX)
TOTAL 3899.67/month

These haven’t always been this aggressive. With each pay raise and promotion over the years
we are able to set aside more and more. Also, as I've mentioned, we are challenging ourselves to save even more as we reach the end of our road in the Marine Corps. It's not always easy, but adhering to some simple principles I’ll mention in a minute makes this an attainable goal for anyone.

How we do it

Because we have been disciplined in tracking our spending through the years we have been able to save an average of 30% of our total income. Any additional deposits from tax refunds, travel pay associated with my PCS orders or TAD assignments, deployment pay, etc. are usually not spent and continue to add to our net worth. And because we have been so good saving/investing, when it does come time for a big ticket purchase such as a new set of leather couches or handmade dining room table, their impact on our overall net worth is minimal. For a small glimpse on how we can get this done, I’ve come up with a few easy tips:

 •  Quicken. If you aren’t using a tracking system to know where every PENNY goes, you will not
succeed. I know it sounds harsh, but it's true. You'd be amazed at the way the little things add up. Track every penny and you'll see how much you're wasting, and also figure out what your priorities are.

 •  Eliminate excess. If we don’t need it to fuel our bodies or our cars, then we stop and think about it before we buy it. That doesn't mean we don't buy it, only that we do it mindfully and we plan ahead for larger things.

 •  Budget. We don’t have one per se. Since we pay ourselves first with our savings, then
take care of known, recurring, and predictable expenses next ( i.e. rent, cable, phone, etc.), I tell Rachael we can spend every single other dollar left over on whatever we want. In our family, food spending is the lever that controls the whole month's discretionary spending. For example, "Hey, I want a $100 pair of Birkenstock sandals."  Ok, great.  Figure out how to spend less on groceries and other things (for example, was that $25 arch window shade for the boys' room really necessary?), and it's easy to find money to buy the things you want. But -- and this is the toughest part -- we try to wait till the end of the month to buy the extras, to ensure any pop-up expenses are covered.

 •  Spending freeze. Every January we try to initiate a spending freeze. This means zero spending
outside food and gas (if possible). This ensures we start the year off on the right foot with a
possible “surplus”. I will also talk with Rachael at other times in the year in which if while
watching our finances I feel we need to buckle down or redirect funds but for the most part we
only do this once a year.

 •  Vacations. We go on a yearly beach vacation with Rachael’s family. It is a calculated expense
and starting with the January freeze, I try to knock off a little by little each month. The goal is to
not touch any savings to pay for current year leisure.

 •  Cars. Both of ours have been paid off for years -- mine since 2009 and hers since 2013. This has
been a huge help in achieving our goals. I will admit I am tempted ALL THE TIME to buy a new shiny piece of metal with wheels. Rachael can tell you how crazy I will drive her when it comes to car shopping, but fortunately I haven’t pulled the trigger, and my 16-year-old pickup still gets me
from A to B (and it’s a bad a$$ ride).

Tim's big white truck a.k.a. his first wife
Over the years/Conclusion

This didn’t happen overnight. I went back today to look and see where we started and I was struck by how far we've come. In December 2001 as a brand new second lieutenant with no true worries in life, I had a net worth of $5,418.88. The nearly 17 years that have followed have seen a lot of living -- our wedding, the births of our four kids (two of which were homebirths and paid for out of pocket), the ever-increasing expenses that come raising kids, a lot of vacations, a couple new cars, and the list goes on. Throughout all of this our net worth has increased over 13,561%!! No second job. No “get rich quick” schemes. No unmentioned passive income. Just a young officer with a vision into the future and realizing early on what sacrifice it would take. This didn’t happen because I was an officer. It happened because I was grabbed by the ears early on by my father who pointed me down a path towards financial independence. ANYONE can do this. I may have started this journey alone but it requires a TEAM effort for us to have achieved this. We are proud of this not because of the value of our net worth, but because we know that come what may, we're going to be able to take care of our family and continue to share our blessings with others.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Since summer is just about over, I thought it might be a good time for an update.

For Tim, Joey and me it was a very quiet July. We sent the Big 3 up north again to stay with their grandparents for a month. Delaney got to go to the long-anticipated sled dog camp with her cousin Alexa in western MA. Delaney and Alexa had a blast at that smelly dog camp, from everything I've heard. They spent five days and four nights camping and playing with huskies. They roughed it together in a two-man tent with only baby wipes to clean up with until their ineffective solar shower before being picked up. Tim Sr was there for pickup on Friday, and he said the whole place stunk. I got the pictures Sam (Tim's sister, Alexa's mom) took the day she dropped them off, but then I didn't get any more. I was miffed about that because after what it cost for her to go, I felt kind of entitled to some pictures. I watched their Facebook page all week, and they only posted three pictures, none of Delaney and Alexa. But they sure did look cute -- and clean -- on drop-off day. I was and am really happy for Delaney to have this opportunity. She is a lucky girl.
The packing list was insane.
Delaney tells me her favorite parts of sled dog camp were primitive skills and playing with the dogs. When I asked her what primitive skills are, she told me making their own dinners by the campfire. One night they heated up chicken and vegetable wraps inside foil over the fire. The next night they made their own stew with herbs they picked themselves. Another night was pizza they made over mini fires. She picked up the dogs' poop, fed them, and let the dogs pull them across the river. 
They each got to go on their little camps and excursions, but what made me happiest was them getting to spend time with family and getting to be outside a lot. They could step outside any time of day and play in the pool or throw a ball around the backyard. Here in the south it gets way too hot and humid. Summer reaches its expiration pretty quickly around here where all there is to do is pool in the morning, have lunch, Joey's nap, and spend all afternoon inside in the air-conditioning. I give in to them being on devices way too much, but there are only so many games of Uno we can play, and we kind of get tired of one another. Add to that the incessant rain and thunderstorms we had for the second half of July, which took away the best thing about summer -- swimming. I was really glad they weren't here for that.
I'm going to stop here and give a shout out to Tim Sr, Carolyn, Kathy and Brett, Sam and Karen for making this possible: getting them up there, keeping them, taking them places, and bringing them back to us. You're all the best. These kids had a fun and memorable July, and it's thanks to you.❤️

Joey didn't seem sad without his siblings even though he talked about them all the time. We Skyped often, and he loved talking to them. I think he kind of liked the undivided attention he got from Tim and me.
Dinner for 3
They got back August 1, and school starts the 27th. We are back to our regular summer routines, and it's not too bad now that the rain has taken a break. On any given day we might do an errand or two, and then go to the pool at the Y.  I started a once-a-week library habit when it was just Joey and me, and now that they're all back we're continuing it. I read this book right before they got home, and that lit a fire under me to start read-alouds again with them. I used to read to the older kids all the time, books like the Little House series and The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. Then as time went by and they got to be such good readers themselves, I thought they didn't need or want me reading to them anymore. I realized after reading this book that I was completely wrong about that, and 'duh' since I have fond memories of having my mom read with me when I was Delaney's age and older. I decided to begin again asap. What better time than the doldrums of summer! We finished our first read-aloud which was one of the author's recommendations: My Father's Dragon. Those of us who could read each took a turn reading a chapter until we were done. I hadn't heard Timmy read out loud more than the occasional short storybook, so I was impressed by his fluency -- no stumbling at all. I was not crazy about the book; I found it to be just OK. The kids seemed to like it. Next up is one of my old favorites, Cheaper by the Dozen.
Spot It -- a game that makes me feel like my brain is paralyzed
Cow Cafe with Grandpa
Every day after dinner we walk the neighborhood loop and the kids ride bikes or a scooter. I really enjoy these walks, as sweaty as they are. They are good family time. Thankfully, even during the rainy weeks we had, it was usually clear for just long enough for us to squeeze it in. Sometimes we run when Tim makes me.
Sometimes it can feel overwhelming having them all home every day, bickering and making all their noise. But the other night as I sat there finishing up dinner -- alone, as usual, because I'm the slowest eater of all time -- I took in the scene around me. Delaney and Timmy were clearing the table and loading the dishwasher. Annie was upstairs starting a bath for Joey. A couple years ago I could hardly picture the possibility of this. They are growing up and they have the ability to lighten our load. Whatever we're doing is working!

Next week Delaney will spend a few mornings learning how to play clarinet at band camp, and we have some other things here and there to take us through the rest of the month. I'm hoping we can fit in a couple more beach days and enjoy the lull before the craziness of back to school. 

On September 8, we'll meet my parents in Asheville to pick up Willow, our Frenchton puppy. Brace yourself for an onslaught of puppy pictures! I'll leave you here with a couple because I can't resist:

We are now annoying dog people.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Cincy trip and Sophie's wedding

Joey and I flew up to Cincinnati for a week to go to my baby sister* Sophie's wedding. The trip went well despite my having made it as logistically difficult as possible for myself. The first time I flew by alone with Joey, I hand-carried the car seat through the airports, and I was like, nope, not doing that again. As soon as I got back from that trip I got one of these wheeled things to strap the car seat to. Then I could just pull it around like a piece of luggage. It worked like a dream on the trip back from Okinawa, although we didn't keep him in a car seat -- we kept him in an umbrella stroller. Still, for getting that car seat one place to the next, and having him secured on the plane, it was a lifesaver.

So I was convinced this was the best solution for this latest trip. What I hadn't counted on was having to disconnect the car seat from the cart and put them both on the conveyor belt to get through security. Then having to disconnect them yet again in order to get on and off the plane, carrying them up and down that narrow little aisle. You really need another adult to make that manageable. Do the math: I've got a two-year-old + gigantic Britax Frontier + the cart. And I've got two arms.
I sat there at the gate in New Bern sweating as they called groups for boarding. I hoped maybe they'd call for anyone traveling with small kids who needed extra time, but they never did. I was in the second to last group called, and I had to make my way with Joey and all that gear out the door, across about 200 feet of tarmac, then up the stairs onto the plane. Another passenger offered to take my car seat ahead of me and to my seat. I didn't hesitate in my reply: "Thanks! We're 15D and 15F."

Throughout the whole process, New Bern to Charlotte to Cincinnati, and then reverse a week later, it was other passengers who saved my life every step of the way. It was humbling, it really was, to both need the help so much and to accept it with gratitude. I had someone help unbuckle the car seat when I couldn't; I had someone offer to carry one thing or another on or off the plane; I had someone to help herd Joey onto the plane in Charlotte on the way home. (Charlotte was a little crazy because when we went out the gate there were roped off walkways leading to several planes. I was carrying all the stuff, and Joey was trotting along behind me like he was on a Sunday stroll.) I literally could not have done it without each of the 10 or 15 kind strangers who always stepped in when I needed it. It made me think to myself that I really hope that the next time I'm flying with my hands not so full, that I'm looking around and noticing if others are struggling, and paying it forward.

If I had to do it over again, I'd take nothing but our little umbrella stroller and gate check it. I'd have Mom and Dad borrow a car seat from one of my siblings. Live and learn.

We stayed at Mom and Dad's house again, and it was really nice. It did call for a lot of flexibility on my part; I had to completely throw out any idea of bedtime or naptime for Joey.  He would crash when and where he needed to. With all the activity, and just having toys he wasn't used to, he was too excited to stay put when I put him to bed. That first night I brought him upstairs and tucked him in, only to have him appear a few minutes later. There's no door. This happened about 10 more times. At one point he simply followed me back down the stairs. Finally I threw my hands up and said, "Alright, Joe, go sit with Papa." He was like, "Yay!" Tim was like oh boy when I'd tell him he was staying up until I went to bed, about 11 or so. But if I get a choice between enforcing bedtime for a week or relaxing and enjoying the limited time I have to spend there, I do what I have to do! Just crack open a beer and go with it. Life is short.
Anna's new front porch -- so pretty
My sister Anna now lives right around the corner from Mom and Dad, so we got to see her and her family quite a bit. Joey idolized his cousins Miles and John Paul. Mom and I stayed at the house while Anna and Grace went out to pick flowers for Sophie's wedding. I couldn't wait to see what they would come up with. They did not disappoint.
Sophie's wedding took place in a pavilion at a nearby park. Anna and Grace had gone there the night before and worked their magic, hanging lights, garlands and gauzy curtains to set the mood. Sophie was gorgeous in her lacy black gown. She and Mike had a handfasting ceremony, which is a Celtic tradition.**
Their friends' band performed a hauntingly beautiful rendition of Lovesong by The Cure, for their first dance. I loved it.
'90s babies that they are, the bride and groom chose for the occasion a playlist that was entirely '80s New Wave. It got a thumbs up from me.
The best part of this photo is Mom's face. That's the face of someone who just married off her last kid!
Best cake topper ever!
After that night, everyone was like phew -- on with the rest of summer.
Zoo trip
Tuckered out from hours in the pool
First sparkler!
We went to Scotty and Faith's to celebrate the 4th. This is a terrible picture I took of all the kids, but look at Joe's happy little face in the middle.
Oh, and I almost forgot -- while we were in town, Delaney picked out a puppy from a litter of Frenchton puppies born in Falmouth, KY. Long story, but this breeder was the same one that Mom and Dad got Georgie from. So this litter is actually nephews and nieces of Georgie's. If we were ever going to get a dog -- and we were, because DELANEY -- I wanted it to be a Frenchton like Georgie. So Mom got in contact with the breeder this past spring, and she happily agreed to let us pick one from the next litter that Georgie's sister was going to be having in June. Four pups were born on my birthday, June 25, and Delaney picked the only girl. Mom and Dad will pick her up on August 25, and then on September 8 we will meet up in Asheville, NC to get her from them. Delaney named her Willow. Is she not the cutest little thing?

I'm glad to be back home, but I sure do miss them all. I'm grateful for every visit we have, and as always for the chance to see a sibling tie the knot. It looks like Sophie found the guy who knows her through and through and loves her, quirks and all. Speaking from 11+ years of experience, I can tell you what a wonderful thing that is. Nobody else could put up with Tim the way I do.😉

* When I say "baby sister", I mean it. She's the last of us, born 13 years after me.

** Sophie later told me how, since she and Mike were having their rings tattooed on, she had thought of having the tattoo artist at the ceremony. Instead, they opted on the handfasting in place of the exchange of rings. Good choice! The handfasting was a lot more romantic to watch than the tattooing of rings🤣.