The Pleasant Farm

Life & Family

Dear (Kindergarten) Trent August 14, 2017

Filed under: My kid's growing up!,Uncategorized — Jess Z. @ 10:55 pm
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Dear (Kindergarten) Trent,
I’m typically pretty on top of getting things done, known for having birthday cards and gifts bought months ahead of time and being one of the first to have Christmas cards in the mail as soon as it can be considered (somewhat) appropriate.  But when I got the information I needed to start the registration process online for you to start kindergarten, there was no fire under my rear to get it done.
After weeks of partially forgetting and partially thinking I never had the time at the present moment to deal with it, I finally moved it off the To Do list.  But in the middle of all the mundane, blah blah blah questions, they had a box to answer the question: Please describe your child.

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I’m pretty sure my memory tells me there was a limit to how long I could have gone on to describe you.  While I expect they were looking for things like “Might have trouble seeing/hearing” or “Can’t be separated from Mom without bawling” or “Has a penchant for lighting fires”, I wrote an incredibly abbreviated version of things I wanted them to know and then ended it with short sentence to sum it up: No special needs.  That last line was probably the only part that didn’t generate an eye roll.

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There are so many adjectives I could use to describe you, and so much I want your teacher to know… yet I don’t think any of this is what the registration form was necessarily looking for.  I want her to know that you’re so open and loving that it can catch a person off-guard.  With the hundreds (thousands?) of kisses you’ve given me, it’s still sometimes a surprise to get a wet smooch as I’m distracted with getting you buckled in the car.  I want her to know that you’re so sensitive to how other people are feeling, she should be aware that someone else’s bad day or misfortune might throw a wrench in your own day.  I want her to know that you love doing things on your own that you know you can, but that things that seem difficult to you once you get started will sometimes prevent you from continuing to try.  I want her to know that you love picking flowers (or weeds) for your mom, have no problem trodding through ankle-high cow manure, love wrestling with your dad, and don’t hesitate sharing kisses with dogs.  I want her to know you have your future outlined already: work as train engineer, and then help your brother farm on your days off.  I want her to know what it looks like to see you smile proudly when you’ve done well, and recognize the warning signs that you’re getting frustrated with a project or getting worried about someone else’s predicament.  I want her to know that sometimes when you get upset, your eyes will start to tear up but you’ll gladly listen to words of encouragement and understanding, while you scrunch up your mouth and nod along, soaking up the words and keeping the tears from actually falling.  I want her to know that often, you seem years beyond the 5 years and 11/12 months that you’ve been on this earth.  I would describe you as an all-American boy, loving balls and bicycles and running around crazy, all with a heart of gold that gives you the ability to make those around you feel special.

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I can’t say how it will feel to “send you off to Kindergarten” although it helps that you have so many false starts that it’s hard to label one day as The One Where He Left Me.  It wasn’t quite tonight, when your daddy took you to drop of school supplies and check out your classroom.  It isn’t quite Wednesday, when we’ll go together for a couple hours of orientation.  It’s kind of maybe Friday, when you’ll meet the bus in the morning for the first time and go to school all day—with only half of the students.  So it’s also kind of the following Monday, when you’ll take the bus to school and have a full day of school with all your peers.  At some point, I might get weepy because it’s most certainly a big step to disappear to school all day.  But it would be silly of me not to think of the exciting door that is really opening up in front of you: learning new things, going new places, meeting the people who will be your friends and the people who will help you grow and even the people who will make you wonder why they go through life making others feel bad.  It’s all a part of childhood; a crazy journey towards who you really are that is hopefully full of more happy times than tough times.  You are so ready to move forward and while I won’t be pushing you out the door, I’m excited to watch you make the jump.

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Yes, I’m excited.  I’m ready to watch you grow, volunteer for field trips, and let others realize how truly special of a kid you are.  What I’m scared of is the influence that others might have on you.  I’m scared of the common concerns like bullying, not loving school, or having a hard time fitting in.  I’m scared you might learn how to make others feel bad instead of nurturing your knack for making people feel good.  I’m scared you’ll find reasons to believe I’m holding you back from “all the fun things” instead of being your favorite one to smooch and cuddle.  I’m scared you’ll test what it would be like to try to conform to how other kids act and the things they like, rather than stay strong to who you are regardless of the opinions of others.  I’m scared you’ll decide to keep the tough stuff a secret instead of letting me be a rock for help and advice.

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I pray you’ll love school and I pray that I’ll find ways to cope if you don’t.  I pray you will be tough enough to ignore bullies and soft enough to be the one others go to for encouragement.  I pray you will be safe.  I pray you won’t think anything bad about taking a bus and I pray that I’ll get you to the durn stop on time.  I pray you find a love for learning things, even the things that seem tough at first.  I pray you eat at least some of your lunch.  I pray you have the strong foundation from a family who loves you to grow stronger, even amidst people who might want to tear you down just to feel taller.  I pray you never wonder whether or not you’re loved, even when you find yourself in a building bustling with people going every direction and you feel like a tiny, insignificant dot.

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Yeah, the box asking me to describe you didn’t have nearly enough room.  Because you, Trent Allen, are one in a million.  You are kind.  You are loving.  You are smart and incredibly aware of how others are feeling.  You are fun to be around and love helping others.  I know you will kick ass in kindergarten because in everything you do, you make us proud.  Congratulations, Kiddo, on another big step in life.  I love you so much!

Love,
Mommy

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Watching the Go! St. Louis Marathon April 14, 2017

Filed under: Random,Uncategorized — Jess Z. @ 9:14 pm
Tags: , ,

Let’s admit it… running a marathon (that’s 26.2 miles for those not quite sure what level of crazy I’m referencing) is NUTS.  People who run half-marathons regularly for fun also seem unstable to me.  But watching these events is actually kind of… fun.

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First of all, I was surrounded by thousands of people anxious about the race.  We’re talking ginormous lines for porta-potties (anxiety is released as bowel movements, dontcha know).  But I was cool as a cucumber, meandering away from where I left Todd to find his starting corral, while meeting hundreds of people rushing towards the starting line.  Maybe they didn’t leave themselves quite enough time to make it to the porta-potty?

So while those thousands of people lined up to start the early morning race, I started walking to my first stop– St. Louis Bread Company.  Because I needed my breakfast fuel for this spectator business!

After my breakfast stop, I found my first perch for waiting.  It ended up being just past the 5-mile mark and I was plenty early.  I had printed a course map and outlined estimated times that I thought Todd should hit each mile based on an 8-minute mile, leaving space to update my estimates based on real time.  So with my extra time, I set up our Bluetooth radio to some Pandora jams, picked out my first poster (“Smile!  You paid for this!”), and finished sipping my caramel latte.

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The first runners came by and I couldn’t help but think “Whatever.  You’re only running the half.”  The orange numbers designated the 13.1-milers, while the green numbers designated the true crazies running the full marathon.  I didn’t have to wait too much longer to get my first glimpse of Todd in the race.  I stuck around a little longer after he passed because I finally got to cheer on some runners who thought my sign was just hilarious.  Then it was off to my next stop.

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During my jog to the next stop, let me just say– those runners were lucky they didn’t have to run up that part of Chouteau.  Annnnnnnnd I was lucky I wasn’t running any freaking race.

I had hoped to get race updates sent to my phone, but we somehow missed signing up for that option correctly.  Luckily, Todd continued to prove how un-human he is and he actually texted me most of his mile markers.  I made it to my next perch without too much extra time (I guess I spent too much time humoring the racers who laughed at my last sign, or took too long jogging up Chouteau) and updated the mile estimates on my map.  This stop was right before the 10-mile mark, where the half marathon racers continued straight towards their finish line and the marathon runners turned to get further away from the finish.  I held my sign that read “Harder!  Faster!  Stronger!  (That’s what she said)” but I was on the side of the street closer to all the marathoners making their turn, and they were a serious bunch.

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Off I walked from there, heading towards the 16-mile mark where the runners would come out of running to and from Tower Grove Park, but before their trip to Forest Park.  My running legs weren’t opposed to jogging, but my shoulders were against it as the backpack started to feel heavier.  So I walked, carrying the radio connected to Pandora from my phone.   The “Running (Radio Mix) Radio” channel was a hit, because I got a lot of appreciation for the music from the runners.  I knew to pack snacks, water, and my posters but I will never watch another race without that Bluetooth radio.

Here I broke out this poster:

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A handful of runners validated this as motivation so I like to think I helped them with their goals.  Ha!  And of course Todd came through like he hadn’t reached a struggle yet.

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My next stop was super easy– I crossed the street.  That marked where the runners came out of Forest Park to head back to downtown, at mile 21.  I got to cheer on the speedy people looking at only having 5 miles to go, as well as the normal people hitting that 16-mile mark on the other side.  But after Todd ran by, saying “I’ve got a 7:08 pace”, I knew I was running out of time to see him finish.

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The last part of my plan was to hop on the MetroLink to beat Todd to the finish line.  Long story short (long, frustrating, impatient story short), that part of my plan failed.  I actually didn’t even see him finish his first marathon.  Luckily, I’ve got people in all sorts of surprising places so I do have some pics documenting his last mile.  And I’ve learned that if I try to see him in the farthest places on the course, I need to come up with some other mode of transportation to get me back.  Possibly a jet or bullet train.  Oh— and I need to assume that he might actually start running faster at the end and screw up all of my estimates.

So are you going to watch a marathon?  Wear your running shoes.  Find a roomy but comfy backpack.  Google or Pinterest for the funniest and most motivating posters, and I highly recommend a Bluetooth radio.  Pack yourself a snack and some water.  And you will most definitely need a well-charged smartphone to keep yourself on the course, find the nearest MetroLink station, or at least find a latte.

And let’s not forget– be prepared to feel uplifted and encouraged.  Watching these “crazy” people reaching for their goals will make you feel a part of something much bigger than just being a spectator.

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Next up: qualify for Boston???  I’ve got some posters I haven’t busted out yet!

 

Dear (One More Year… Hallelujah!) Trent August 25, 2016

Filed under: My kid's growing up!,Uncategorized — Jess Z. @ 8:10 pm
Tags: , ,

Dear (One More Year… Hallelujah!) Trent,

It’s almost time for you to start preschool again.  And let me just say that I’m so glad you (I?) have one more year before the Land of Kindergarten!  I assure you—you are smart as a whip and would probably do just fine in a kindergarten-type setting, but oh shucks they have those durn cut-off dates.   So you will turn 5 years old on your second day of the 4-year-old Class at Peppermint Preschool and I will bask in the fact that I have you for one more year.

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One more year of days together, where we can take advantage of weekday trips to the zoo and other attractions and avoid the crazies on the weekends.  One more year of afternoon cuddles on the couch, where I try to sleep through whatever crap you might be watching (seriously, Dino Trucks?  Angry Birds???) while you excitedly narrate it all.  One more year of that little taste of freedom while you’re at school, that really isn’t quite enough independence to even get out of town before it’s pick-up time.

One more year before you realize how different your family is… before anyone tries to figure out whether or not you have a stay-at-home mom, and what it means that your dad works for 24 hours at a time.  One more year before trying to explain that too often, goodnight kisses are through Skype but we always make up for it.  One more year before the other kids influence you to want some sort of craptastic toy that my own mother would have never wasted a penny on for me, and peers start bringing new words to your vocabulary that I probably won’t like.   One more year for you to be unabashedly you, so smart and funny, but also so incredibly sweet.  One more year for me to be on the receiving end of your random coats of kisses, another year before you might realize the other kids might not do the same thing.

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You are such an amazing kid, and you hear it so often that I hope I’m not swelling your head.  It makes me feel so warm and fuzzy all over to see how you and your little brother interact.  If he is scared of an unfamiliar place or a goofy dog, you calm his fears with your words of encouragement and by so often reaching for his hand.  You are the epitome of the phrase “big brother” and I know that when he feels unsure about starting his own preschool class, we will bring him peace by assuring him you are right down the hall.  You will see some kids from last year, and make new friends too.  And for any of the kids that aren’t quite your cup of tea, or don’t fancy you to be theirs, remember that you don’t have to be buddies to be kind.  Please be kind.

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I’m excited to see where another year of preschool takes you, because it was amazing to watch your progress last year.  I will fill another binder with your projects and pictures, and you will probably tell me “I can’t tell you” when I ask about how school went—even though apparently little girls love to share all the details from their day.

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So off you will go, to a land of letters and crayons and Playdoh and silly songs.  And while it’s such a privilege to watch you grow and learn, I’ll continue celebrating the fact that while so many moms are braving kindergarten, I have one more year with my baby.

I love you, I’m proud of you, please keep the kisses coming,

Mommy

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Dear (Broken-Arm) Tyson May 31, 2016

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jess Z. @ 2:55 pm
Tags: ,

Dear Tyson,

Do you want to know how much I regret that I told you “I can’t right now” when you said “I want to hold you” this morning?  I should’ve picked up you up and squeezed you tight & dealt with everything else I was doing at the time a little later.

Our normal Tuesday morning is chores, then to the gym so I can get a workout in while you & Trent play at the daycare there before we all go to the pool.  Then we usually go to Ninth Street for lunch because I’m lazy & I still tend to hope you might fall asleep on the way home, even though it’s been awhile since that’s actually happened.  This morning was different because you’re potty training, so I left bootcamp twice to get you to the potty.  You were a champ & kept your big boy undies dry!  Then just as I was headed to rinse off & get in my swimsuit, they paged me to the daycare.  I laughed (not a true happy-laugh, but an ironic-laugh) and asked your aunt Julie if we thought it was poop or pee they were calling me for, assuming you had a potty accident.  But then another friend came in & asked if they’d gotten a hold of me yet because you were hurt & that super-sucky feeling of my heart sinking to my toes hit hard.

You were crying & they said you hurt your arm on the slide.  I thought it was surely no big deal, but it looked just a little goofy right above your elbow.  So your paramedic mom, who is the first to stand on a soapbox and say “take your hurt kid to the pediatric hospital and do not pass go at the community one” carried you to my truck while you screamed & I tried to hold your arm in place, and drove you the mile to the little hospital.  You didn’t stop screaming.   I hoped that they might say it was a tiny dislocation that they could fix, but after listening to you scream in a way that my tough little boy doesn’t scream, I feared we’d be headed to a pediatric hospital anyway.  Of course I wouldn’t want you to have to make the trip in an ambulance but that’s what we did– with you saying “Mommy come with me in the ambulance!” while they placed you on their stretcher.  Oh sweet boy, they weren’t taking you anywhere without ME.

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So here we are, sitting at the ER at Cardinal Glennon.  It’s now been over 4 hours since I thought we were headed to the pool.  At this point, we know you fractured your humerus right above the elbow & they want to do surgery to place a pin.  But we don’t know when & the waiting game is terrible.

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You’re sleeping, covered in the baby blanket your aunt made you & with your froggy in your good arm– both of which your awesome grandma brought to us at the first hospital because we are so blessed that she will drop everything & run to us.  Listening to you softly snore is a reminder that you will truly be okay, and there are roughly 600,388 other things that could be happening to you that would easily fall into the category of WORSE THAN A BROKEN BONE.

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Thankfully, your aunt was at the rec center to take care of your brother so that stinker still got to go to the pool.  And thankfully, your grandma came to hold you at the ER when I had to run to the potty.  And thankfully, a whole slew of friends & family have texted to ask how they can help us out.  And thankfully, we got an ambulance with an awesome crew who didn’t make me feel like crap for not taking my hurt kid straight to the pediatric hospital.  And thankfully, your daddy was able to leave his fire academy for a bit to meet us right at the ambulance when we made it across the river.  Little man, you & I are incredibly blessed.

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While we wait, I’ll pray.  While you snore, I’ll get my priorities straight.  While the doctors make a plan, I’ll pray some more & remember all the things we are thankful for.

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It’s just a bone.  It is a crappy way to start summer & I really have no idea what we’re in for.  But hallelujah, it’s just a bone.  So together, we’ll carry on & have some stories to tell!

Love you forever & ever, and here to cover you with kisses until they kick me out,

Mommy

 

Finding Happiness (on the Bourbon Trail & a river) July 11, 2015

We hadn’t been on the road for long after heading towards home from West Virginia, when I was skimming through the last magazine on the stash that I had brought along for our road trip.  Along with Todd and myself, two other couples had made plans for a vacation to white water raft in West Virginia while spending plenty of time along the Craft Bourbon Trail.  While we completed the Kentucky Bourbon Trail last summer, we wanted to revisit a couple of those stops and hit some new ones.  The magazine article was on happiness.  I had just spent 4 days with some of my favorite people in this world, but spent a lot of money and missed my kiddos to make it happen.  But this article told me that “the number one predictor of happiness is the amount of time we spend with people who care about us, and social media and the internet increasingly take us away from that… having 1,000 Facebook friends is still no substitute for one really good friend who’s there for you.”  Ahhhhh!  It was proof that this vacation really did make my life happy, because being surrounded by these people who care about me and will pull me out of white water rapids make that happiness a reality.

Day 1

The first order of business after hitting the road was to lay the ground rules of vacation, since we had 2 newbies with us.  No socks, no shaving faces (women were asked to keep on shaving their extremities), no eating at a chain restaurant, and no mentioning the names of people who would induce stress just by a simple mention of their durn name.  We had a new activity where each traveler prepared a 5-song playlist to present to the group.  There was an attempt at a scoring system which basically amounted to nothing, so no one “won” but we did make a lot of progress on the road with the distraction… until we hit stopped traffic just outside of Louisville.  That was a terrible distraction.  After dealing with some rain to walk to lunch (who lets it rain on vacation???), we headed to the Mega Caverns which is listed as a top tourist destination.

I think Lindsey was enthralled!

I think Lindsey was enthralled!

An example of a man next to the cavern wall.

An example of a man next to the cavern wall.

The tram, pulled by a Jeep.

The tram, pulled by a Jeep.

The Mega Caverns are a man-made cavern that is part of 17 miles of corridors located beneath the city of Louisville.  They were mined from the 1930’s until the early 1970’s and remain an average of 58-degrees inside (not welcomed because it certainly wasn’t over 70 degrees outside, and I was freezing!).  While parts of the tour were interesting, it really wasn’t thrilling.  Maybe because they didn’t serve bourbon on the tram?  After the Mega Caverns, we hit the outlet mall.  At the time, I thought it was so kind of the men on the trip to allow time to shop.  Later on in the trip, I realized that what I saw as kindness was really just their justification for nearly killing us on the river a couple days later.

Joe may have had the most fun at the outlet mall!

Joe may have had the most fun at the outlet mall!

That evening, we went to dinner at Doc Crow’s on Whiskey Row.  We had considered it for lunch, and found that it had been closed down due to a massive fire on Whiskey Row the previous afternoon.  When we found out it was to reopen for dinner, we couldn’t wait to check it out.  The Louisville Fire Department was still on-scene, working to secure the area.  Who knew we’d get such awesome entertainment right outside our window during dinner?

Fire on Whiskey Row

Fire on Whiskey Row

Dinner at Doc Crow's

Dinner at Doc Crow’s

For the record, Jerod ate a cow, pig, and a chicken for dinner that night.  And didn’t live it down for the remainder of the trip.

A half-pound hamburger, mound of pulled pork, and an egg.  On a bun.

A half-pound hamburger, mound of pulled pork, and an egg. On a bun.

Day 2

On the second day, we packed up from Louisville to head through Bourbon Country.  Our trip advisor (Joe), had chosen Willett Distillery in Bardstown as our first stop.  We visited Willett the previous summer but had missed out on a formal tour, so we were excited to go back and “pop the cherry” of distilleries for Jerod and Lindsey.

Willett Bourbon is easy to pick out of a lineup, because of its iconic bottle.

Willett Bourbon is easy to pick out of a lineup, because of its iconic bottle.

The group on the tour, checking out a step of the fermentation process.

The group on the tour, checking out a step of the fermentation process.

Lindsey & Jerod pose in front of the copper pot still.

Lindsey & Jerod pose in front of the copper pot still.

This stencil is used to ink the Willett information onto their new, oak barrels.  To be classified as bourbon, it must be placed in a NEW oak barrel that is charred inside.

This stencil is used to ink the Willett information onto their new, oak barrels. To be classified as bourbon, it must be placed in a NEW oak barrel that is charred inside.

A few of their 8 warehouses.

A few of their 8 warehouses.

It looks beautiful, and smells like heaven!

It looks beautiful, and smells like heaven!

These are hams that will hang for a total of 2 years.  If it turns out that the Angel's Share permeates them into the best ham ever made on earth, more will likely be hung in between barrels of bourbon in the warehouses.

These are hams that will hang for a total of 2 years. If it turns out that the Angel’s Share permeates them into the best ham ever made on earth, more will likely be hung in between barrels of bourbon in the warehouses.

The ladies having a taste.

The ladies having a taste.

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Best Friends Forever

Best Friends Forever

The group, at the entrance to the distillery grounds.

The group, at the entrance to the distillery grounds.

Willett Distillery is on the smaller scale, which places them on the Craft Bourbon Tour.  While they don’t have as much output as the bigger names, they have many bourbons that put them on the map including Pure Kentucky, Rowan’s Creek, Noah’s Mill, and of course Willett Bourbon in the iconic bottle that mimics a copper pot still.  This company was started in 1936 and is still family owned.

A group shot of all 6 of us at Willett Distillery.

A group shot of all 6 of us at Willett Distillery.

So what was our next stop?  You would probably think another stellar distillery, but no.  The men insisted on stopping at a Haix Boots distribution warehouse.  Guess what sort of boots they sell there?  Firefighter boots.  The ladies were not impressed.

That one might not be your size...

That one might not be your size…

Next was Town Branch Distillery in downtown Lexington.  This stop is on the Bourbon Trail and was also visited last time, but was another “miss” on the list of formal tours.  This time we toured their brewery (yawn) which makes them big bucks with a product called Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale.  Since the charred, oak barrels used for aging bourbon cannot be reused for bourbon again, companies are finding clever ways to recycle them.  In this case, they age their ale in bourbon barrels and apparently it’s a big hit.

Todd & Jerod sample some of the beers offered at Town Branch.

Todd & Jerod sample some of the beers offered at Town Branch.

Stop Joe, it's not time to taste yet!

Stop Joe, it’s not time to taste yet!

Joe & Mary... a week past their 9 year anniversary!

Joe & Mary… a week past their 9 year anniversary!

Sampling options.

Sampling options.

Double Trouble at the bar.

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Double trouble at the bar. Someone help that poor woman.

Todd & Jess.  It's hard to believe he was just days away from being 30 when this was taken!

Todd & Jess. It’s hard to believe he was just days away from being 30 when this was taken!

Jerod & Lindsey

Jerod & Lindsey

On the bourbon side, they are especially known for 4 products: Pearse Lyons Reserve, Town Branch Bourbon, Rye Town Branch Bourbon, and a coffee-infused bourbon liquor called Bluegrass Sundown.  They have a beautiful and modern building.

Their

Their “Grunt Style” pose.

Our next stop was a small business on the Craft Bourbon Trail called Barrell House Distilling Company, also in Lexington.  They are a very small operation which usually makes the tours so much more fun… and that was definitely the case.  We got to see one of their few employees hand-labeling the bottles and all the other action.  Here, they do other spirits like vodka and rum in addition to bourbon.  They age their rum in a retired bourbon barrel for a unique taste.

Bottling bourbon by hand at Barrel House Distilling Company.

Bottling bourbon by hand at Barrel House Distilling Company.

Bottling bourbon by hand at Barrel House Distilling Company.

Bottling bourbon by hand at Barrel House Distilling Company.

Attentive tourists.

Attentive tourists.

A barrel of rum aging in a retired barrel from Buffalo Trace.

A barrel of rum aging in a retired barrel from Buffalo Trace.

Time for a taste!

Time for a taste!

At each stop, we got our passports stamped.  After we visit all the stops along the Craft Bourbon Trail, we get a prize!

At each stop, we got our passports stamped. After we visit all the stops along the Craft Bourbon Trail, we get a prize!

We ended up visiting Huntington, West Virginia for dinner then traveled a little further down the road to Barboursville where we would spend the next 2 nights of our vacation.  Time to rest up for white water rafting!

Day 3

Departure time on July 9, 2015 was 6am for the 2 hour drive to Minden, West Virginia, which is home to ACE Adventure Resort.  It’s basically in the middle of nowhere.  See?

Minden, WV

Minden, WV

Even though 4 of us had rafted the New River with ACE 5 years ago, nothing really looked familiar while we drove winding, narrow gravel roads nearly the entire time.  The New River trip was fun and thrilling, but apparently not quite exciting enough for the two riddled with testosterone.  Once we arrived, we checked in and headed to the tent where groups meet to have their debriefing before it’s time to go.  There, we met Alisa, a river guide with 28 years of experience who warned us about everything we were signing up for, including but not limited to death and dismemberment.  While she listed all the warnings and we signed our lives away on paper, Lindsey and I shot evil glares to Joe while Todd was doing jumps for joy at the thought of almost-but-not-quite-dying.  Lindsey and Jerod had never been white water rafting before and were skipping any of the beginners trips!  We all filled out the paperwork to rent wet suits, since the water temperature would be somewhere around 53-degrees… something none of us had considered or dressed appropriately for.  We were told not to take anything with us, because “if you bring along your keys, the river will take your shorts to get your keys.”  Todd, always the one to revolt, decided against buying a strap for his sunglasses (the girls decided to just leave the durn sunglasses in the car and not bother).  Guess who lost his sunglasses?

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After we were properly warned on all the dangers of the Gauley River, we got fitted into our wet suits and grabbed a helmet, personal flotation device (since we can’t expect it to actually save our life), and a paddle.  We then hopped on the short bus with a driver named Hank, 3 guides, and 9 others signed up for the Lower Gauley experience.

Load up!

Load  up!

On the long bus ride, Alisa went in-depth on all we need to know for our trip.  If you “go swimming” (which sounds so much better than saying if you “fall in” or “get thrown over”), form into a ball to avoid getting your feet trapped in rocks and to allow your life vest to pull you to the top, then swim like hell.  Listen to the commands to know whether you need to swim left, right, or to the middle.  Avoid rocks.  She also explained how the Gauley River is controlled.  A massive dam, called the Summersville Dam, is the second-largest rock-filled dam in the Eastern US and it controls the Summersville Lake, which is the largest lake in West Virginia.  The dam controls flooding in the watershed of the Gauley and Kanawha Rivers.  The Gauley River is fed through the outlet of the dam, which opens and closes depending on the water level of the lake.  During the summer, the release of the dam into the Gauley will vary but in July, will average approximately 1,000 cubic feet per second (cfs).  There was at one point a federal mandate put into place where every September and October, the Corps of Engineers would open the dam to a rate of 2,800 cfs for 22 days which would create world-class white water rafting rapids, drawing thousands of people from around the world to experience the Gauley River, which has several nicknames such as “The Beast of the East” and “The Grand Canyon of the East.”  Because of the endless rain we have all experienced this summer, Alisa warned that the water levels of the Gauley would be significantly up, creating a different experience than is typical for July.  Since even the guides didn’t know what the water level would end up being until we got there, we would have to wait to find out.  We did know that the water level on the Lower Gauley wouldn’t exceed the cut-off for allowing us to continue on the trip; the water level on the Upper Gauley couldn’t be commercially rafted over 5,000 cps so those trips couldn’t be offered today (although I’m sure some of these guides have done it all!).

Summersville Dam

Summersville Dam

Once Hank made it to our starting point, we got ourselves appropriately dressed while the guides outfitted the rafts.  Three rafts would be in our group along with one guide in a kayak, who would buzz ahead of us to catch footage on his camera of our trip.  Our 14-foot raft would be made of up the 6 of us and Alisa.  She went over how to paddle while we sat on shore, and discussed the meaning of the phrases she would be using on the river (I mostly remember “DIG! DIG! DIG!” maybe because we heard it so much).  We were told then that we were having a 1 in a million experience with the river levels, which made the men giddy and made me pee my pants a little.  After we were successfully on the river, we did some practice paddling while our first rapid gushed just ahead of us.

Lower Gauley River

Lower Gauley River

Before each rapid, Alisa told us the name of it and any history behind it.  We were told where the dangers lie and, if we went “swimming”, which direction we needed to swim (or avoid) for each particular rapid.  She also described how different the water was that day; one rock peaking above the water was actually 2 stories tall, and when she guides trips on a “normal” day and says that she has seen it with water gushing over it, no one believes her.  We stopped for lunch along some flat rocks, a spot she was afraid might have been under water but we lucked out (and got to eat!).  For the first time on our entire trip, the sun shone during that lunch.  Both Lindsey and I both wanted to ask how much longer we had to raft but neither wanted to be the wimpy one who was ready to be done, but at that breaking point we had already seen some amazing and terrifying rapids.

It was during our lunch break that our guide was able to use certain rocks as points of reference and determine that on this day, rather than the 2,800 cps to make the river exhilarating in the fall, we were experiencing the Gauley at 10,000 cps. Whoa.

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At some points, our guide explained certain directions of the river that couldn’t be traveled so we would instead “stay to the left of center” for example.  After crashing through the rapid, she would have us look back to see what exactly we had avoided and I would pee my pants some more.  The boys took turns at who the 2 were at the very front of the raft, since those were the positions that got to see exactly what we were going into (and a position I most definitely did not want).  I went over each rapid staring at the person in front of me, trying to match their paddle stroke, and praying.  After some of the more intense rapids, we would cheer and clap our paddles above us in the middle of the raft.  Alisa told some jokes, such as:

  • What’s the difference between Sasquatch and a female river guide?  One is hairy, smelly, and has huge feet.  The other is a myth.
  • How do you tell a male river guide at night?  It isn’t hard.  (Get it, it isn’t hard?)
  • How do you tell a female river guide at night?  It’s easy.
When I saw this picture after Googling

When I saw this picture after Googling “Fall Gauley Images”, I asked Todd if that’s what it really looked like. He said yeah and I peed my pants a little.

There came a point where we entered a rapid, and Mary and I “went swimming.”  I remember thinking “Oh shit”, feeling my tightly-strapped water shoes be sucked off my feet, and somehow remembering to curl into a ball.  Once I emerged, I saw the huge rock that the current was pushing me to that we were told to avoid and swim to the right of.  We swam like hell to the right, and our raft caught up with us and pulled us back on-board.  Another raft in our group was able to reclaim our paddles (there was no way in hell I could remember to hang onto that).

“Going swimming”

This was the point where, if I had the option, I probably would’ve opted to stop the trip and head back to base.  But out on the river, that isn’t an option.  No matter if you fell out, broke your nose, or knocked out your own teeth, your only option is to suck it up.  You have to get back in the raft, go through all the rapids still ahead of you, and finish the trip.  Mary wants a picture hung in her office of our raft on the river with the words “Suck it Up, Buttercup” because really, doesn’t that mentality fit into a lot of parts of life?  I guess at this point, we all started thinking very deeply.

A 6-person raft.

Luckily, we had a handful of giant rapids and one more Class 5 while it rained, and we were done.  I say luckily, but I’m sure “the men” were disappointed to hear we’d reached the point where we would paddle to the shore and get out.  But I was getting physically tired of hanging into the boat with my legs and “DIG!”-ging with my arms and shoulders, and mentally tired of the what-ifs.  It was an amazing experience that I’m thankful for, and bonded me closer with my friends.  A true friend will know when it’s time to joke and when it’s not (Joe figured out that after I got back in the raft was NOT yet time to joke) and tell you how well you did exactly what you’d been told to do in that crappy situation.  We made incredible, amazing, breathtaking memories!

koontz-flume-rapid

The bus ride back to ACE felt like forever but the warm shower when we got there was great (poor Lindsey got stuck with a cool cold shower).  We returned our gear, decided not to wait an hour to see what footage the guide in the kayak had gotten, I popped a bottle of a little bourbon-flavored medicine for any leftover anxiety, and back towards the hotel we went.

It was also at this point that I forgot my waterproof, disposable camera on the freaking bus.  If it ever gets returned, I will be happy to share the real pictures, although I’m sure they’re much less quality than what Google shared with me!

Before we retired for the night, we shared some shots from Joe’s recent purchase of Johnny Drum and relaxed in the hot tub.  That’s where the best quote of the entire trip popped up from a giddy Joe, when he exclaimed “I made that river my bitch!”  Why yes, you did!

Day 4

On the last day, we loaded up the Enclave, enjoyed breakfast, and hit the road back through the Kentucky.  This time, we traveled on the north edge towards Cincinnati and ended up visiting Old Pogue along the way, another distillery on the Craft Bourbon Trail.  Old Pogue is in Maysville, Kentucky and has a beautiful view of the Ohio River.  They’re known for small batch bourbon and a rye whisky.  There is a historic home next to their distillery that is full of memorabilia that the family has kept for decades.  Their recipe is said to be dated back to the Civil War.

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The Men, on the porch of the historic Pogue home, overlooking the Ohio River.

The Men, on the porch of the historic Pogue home, overlooking the Ohio River.

The Ladies, relaxing on the porch.

The Ladies, relaxing on the porch.

Old Pogue Distillery

Old Pogue Distillery

Jerod & Lindsey

Jerod & Lindsey

Joe & Mary

Joe & Mary

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From here, we continued towards Cincinnati where we stopped long enough at a Craft Bourbon Trail stop named Newiff to have our passports stamped.  Unfortunately, due to construction, we would’ve had to wait over 4 hours to be included on a tour and tasting there.  Instead, we had lunch and made the rest of the road trip towards home a priority.

“Happy people live longer and are healthier than not-so-happy people.  They deal with stress better and have better relationships and marriages.”  Cheers to my friends who make my life happy!  I will spend the money and find the babysitters to keep friendships strong, and can’t wait for all the memories to come!

But those memories won’t likely be back on the Gauley River.

 

Support Our Teachers August 29, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jess Z. @ 11:59 am

I’m the first person to agree that opinions are like assholes… we all have one.

I’ve been following the information on the potential teacher strike for Highland Community Schools.  When it comes to parts of the discussion that I don’t understand, I ask questions or rely on the opinion of those who I trust, are educated on the subject, and do follow & understand.  Here’s my asshole.  I mean… my opinion.

My kids are (almost) 3 and 1 years old.  They’re not school age, but they will one day be students of the public school system in Highland.  My hope is that once they get there, they will have amazing teachers who are not only qualified but committed to my childrens’ education.  What’s that going to take?

It’s going to take a community, school board, and group of administrators who believe in our teachers.  Who pay them what they’re worth so those teachers stay & invest their time and energy all the way to OUR kids.

It’s not about a salary next to a name and position; that doesn’t tell the story of that person’s degrees, qualifications, and years of experience.  It’s definitely not about fall sports.  It’s not about being greedy.

Did you know our Highland teachers are among the lowest paid in our area?  And that our administrators are among the highest paid?  How can we draw the best teachers to our community and expect them to stick around, if we’re not willing to support them to receive fair salaries?

Support our teachers.  Support our kids.  Support the future of our schools.   The potential strike is not about now, it’s about the long-term success of the Highland Community Schools.

 

Daddy June 13, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jess Z. @ 8:16 pm
Tags: ,

I always knew Todd would make a great father because first and foremost, he likes kids.  He likes them a whole lot more than I do.  Before we had our own, I totally recognized his abilities to interact with little kids (which basically highlighted my discomfort around them, and my inability to have a conversation with a toddler).  His crazy energy and fun personality led me to believe he’d be great as a daddy too… someday.

Well, I was right.  In all the ways I worry about schedules and baths and meals, Todd is the perfect balance.  Yes, he cares about the boring stuff too, but he doesn’t get tied up in the specifics and is a reminder that the details often aren’t worth stressing over.  He’s the one who Trent wants to play outside with because he’s so much better at play than I am.  Todd can toss the boys around on the couch, chase them all over the house, and become a man-made swing.

When there are Daddy Days at our house, I can’t help but to imagine that I’m not missed much.  Trent winds up wearing a 1st birthday hat.  Tyson winds up with hiccups from giggling.  Chances are someone (or everyone) winds up with a bruise.  All of a sudden there’s  a tent pitched in the basement and a fort of blankets on the couch and a shortage of suckers.

I like this quote: “Anyone can be a father, but it takes a lot to be a daddy.”  Maybe it’s cliché, but I think a daddy should be fun, spontaneous, and tough.  He should love cuddles on the couch and reading books too.  I’m so thankful that my boys have a bona fide daddy who will pause to soak up the hugs and kisses, but will also wrestle on the floor and expect a boo-boo from time to time.   My kids will never thank me for making sure they had their nightly bath and got their teeth brushed, and that’s okay because I’ll do it anyway.  I have a feeling their best memories will be of rough-housing with Daddy, who mixes giggles and happy screams, scrapes with kisses, and games of tag with cuddling.

Trent and Tyson can’t thank him yet, so I’ll do it for him.  Thank you, Todd, for being a daddy to our boys.

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