Monday, June 19, 2017

Family, Family, and Father's Day

I do not think that it would have been possible to squeeze in more family time this past weekend, and I wouldn't have it any other way....well, unless we were all trekking through Europe together, then maybe.

The family-packed weekend began with a Runnells family dinner followed by a trip to the Humboldt Park Beer Garden. While I am certainly lack in the 'beer drinking skills' department, I do my best to make up for it in the 'chat with everyone about everything' department, so our trip to the Beer Garden was not a wasted one.  It was filled with lots of catching up with not only my in-laws but extended family, too.  I got to hear about puppy parenthood, school years, and service work in Guatemala; and I got to reminisce about eating and drinking my way from Rome to Sorrento.

On Saturday, after a quick trip to the gym, Brian and I headed to my parents' house for our second annual Unti Summer Gathering.  While we were missing a few of the crew, quite a few Untis spent the afternoon together; per usual, plenty of stories were told, and laughs were had by all.  We're a diverse group, no doubt, but ever the Italian family, we're a tight-knit, we've-got-your-back family. And while all Unti gatherings will feel a little less complete now that we don't have Grandma with us, I am certain that her love, her memory, her spirit is in us all - and if you look closely enough at her kids, you see that sparkle in her eye shining through it theirs.  By the time we headed home Saturday evening, I was tired beyond belief and had sore cheeks from smiling and laughing all day long.  That, I would say, is a measure of a successful family gathering.

Sunday found us heading back to MukTown.  Our first stop of the morning was for pancakes and  planes.  My father-in-law, who is a very talented man,  flies planes, so we got to spend a bit of Father's Day at his favorite hang-out once again, the Palmyra Airport. There were three generations of Runnells men present, as Brian's grandpa came out for the flying fun, too.  Grandpa closed out our visit by reminding us all that a day at the airport is never wasted.  While the literal meaning was obvious, I also could not help but think of one of the last conversations Brian and I had with Grandma and Grandpa Runnells; we discussed their many adventures, and both of them encouraged us to never stop pursuing our dreams, to never stop exploring this, I think it's time to board a plane soon - one that is much bigger than those we saw Sunday morning - and check another place or two off our to-visit list! 

Three generations of Runnells men

After leaving the airport, we headed back to my parents' house to celebrate both Father's Day and my dad's birthday.  Father's Day is surely about taking a moment to honor the person you call dad, and I certainly was not about to miss the chance to do exactly that.  For as long as I can remember, nothing has made me happier than spending time with my dad.  There may have been a short time in life when I didn't much like sharing him with my brother and sough any and every chance to have my dad to myself, and while I still love dad-daughter time, like we had Thursday when we went shopping for the family party, I have come to accept that he isn't all mine.  He's an amazing parent to both my brother and me; he respects the ways in which his children are similar and is equally aware of how each of us is unique; and he, like my mom, is wonderful to my husband and always has been (let's not take too much time to remember the trip to Disney when all of the aforementioned individuals left me sick and alone in the hotel to ride Tower of Terror a dozen times in a row....and to purchase commemorative pictures of it).  While everyone tells me I look just like my mom, anyone who knows the both of us will tell you I am just like my dad, and I take that as a mighty fine compliment!  I don't know that I'll ever be able to express just how important my dad is to me, but it was nice to have the time - and a double-celebration day - devoted to doing exactly that.  

my dad, my hero (ignore the MU business)

Friday, June 9, 2017

School's Out for Summer - Round 10!!

Somehow, another school year has come and gone.  And in those 180+ days that made up the now-finalized 2016-17 school year, I managed to keep my sanity intact and my passion for education and innovation alive - because keeping it the same ol' is boring.  And I believe I may have also managed to teach my students a thing or two.  There may be comma splices in their futures still, but I think, together, we learned enough about life and learning (I think...I hope...) to call this year a successful one!

As I look back on what was a wonderful year and look ahead to the 2017-18 school year, a year that will bring more changes than any other before it, I am excited for all that will come my way!  And I do believe I finally feel like I know what the heck I'm doing. Education is hard work, and it's scary work sometimes; yet it's some of the most important work a person can do!  To think that I just wrapped up 10 years of teaching and learning is both unbelievable and encouraging -- I can do it!  There have been plenty of times along this journey where I wondered if I was good enough for my students or right for the school, the class, or the profession itself.  And while I still have those moments from time to time, more of my days are filled with inspiration and laughter, lots of laughter (teenagers, man!). Education has changed my life.  I have learned so much about the world, about people, about learning; I have met some of my best friends; I have seen young people find their strengths, find hope, and find inspiration. I have been profoundly impacted by people I would never otherwise have known.  A profession that gives and shows that much surely is a worthy one!  

So after 1,800+ days and nearly 1,9000 students, it's safe to say that I'm just getting started!  And....I do believe I've earned at least a few days - or weeks - off before it's time to jump into building a 2017-18 English classroom I can be proud to call Runnells' room! 

First I was a Red Devil

And then I was a Hawk

And now I am a Wolverine (Go, Eugene!) 

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Fun Friday Nights and Family Time

Last weekend, I somehow managed to stay up well past my bedtime on more than one occasion.  Friday night's concert at the Pabst was occasion enough to see the other side of 11pm.  Being in the second row certainly helped, too.  It felt an awful lot like a private show -- if you ignored the weird cat-calling/painful howling that came from somewhere in the lower balcony -- and was amazing from start to finish.

It seems that this has become the year of music in our household: between at-home concerts courtesy of Brian and mostly out-of-town trips to see the likes of Tedeschi Trucks Band,  Of Monsters and Men, John Mayer, and now David Gray, there has no shortage of good music in our lives, and Friday's show made me all the more excited for our summer trip to Red Rocks (we have tickets for two evenings with TTB thanks to an 'accidental' purchase, or so Brian says).  I was so inspired, in fact, that I attempted to play a few chords on the guitar - that lasted all of 12 seconds, though, as my child-sized hands didn't quite do what they were supposed to or reach the right places - there goes my second career...

On Saturday, Brian and I headed to Delavan to visit with my dad's family.  Most of his cousins from his mom's side of the family, many of whom I have not seen for a very, very long time (or ever??), were in town, and so too were all of my Unti aunts and uncles.  It was a really great time to catch up with everyone and to see a few of my own cousins, too.  As is the case any time I get to spend time with my dad's family, I heard my fair share of stories, some of which make me wonder how my uncles ever survived their teenage years (or moreover, why my grandparents kept them around!).  I am beyond blessed to have such a great family and to be so close to so many of my cousins, and it was clear that the value I find in those connections is something I have learned from my own parents' relationships with their siblings and cousins.  I had all sorts of warm feels Saturday - I'm blessed!

Somehow Memorial Day weekend is just around the corner, which means we will be spending more time with both friends and family, and I cannot wait.  Also, there will only be eight
days of school after Memorial Day, so that's a pretty good thing :) I'm looking forward to summer - more time for more guitar lessons - hah!

Monday, May 15, 2017

The Weekend of Mom(s)

This past weekend we got to celebrate all the moms, among them one of my favorite people, my own mom, and not just because it was Mother's Day.

On Saturday, we pulled off quite the fabulous surprise, which we had been planning for several months. To celebrate Mom's birthday, Elaine tricked her into heading to the Delafield Brewhaus, where friends and family waited - some of us quite anxiously - to spend some time celebrating the person who doesn't take nearly enough time to do that, celebrate how wonderful she is! I had become nearly...almost...maybe... certain that our cover was blow and the gig was up, but it was clear Mom had no idea!  Call me sentimental or sappy, but the big squeeze she shared with my brother, Dad, and me was the best part of the night. 

As a family, we've seen our way through all sorts of things, good and bad, beautiful and painful. Along the way, Mom and Dad have instilled in us the belief that we are each other's biggest allies, strongest supporters, best friends, and true to that, I am certain there isn't a thing in the world my brother and I would not do for one another - job well done, parents. The night was full of stories, laughter, hugs, and baby snuggles (thanks to Winston and Piper!!). And to be sure this was a right, proper affair, a few family members, who shall remain unnamed, kept a family tradition alive with a round of 'family shots', toasting to the very best of all things in our lives, each other. Traditions, people, you have to honor them....

I have to especially thank Elaine for her help - that term is so inadequate - with everything for the party, which was flawless. The party would not have been what it was had it not been for you and all you did! What a fabulous friendship you and Mom have. And how lucky I am to count you - and all the Jarvis ladies - among the wonderful, inspirational, immensely important women in my world (but we can't leave the Jarvis/Bullis men out, either.  They're a cut above!) Thank you so much to everyone who came by - for a little bit or a long while - to celebrate with us.  Mom deserved nothing less, and we are all blessed to have each of you in our lives.


calling her innocent children and her husband "Liars" - we didn't lie so much as omit the truth

The weekend of Moms continued Sunday with what has become an annual trek to the zoo - this year we did not have to wait for hours to get to it the parking lot, so it was already a success. The day was made better by the fact that we also got to share it with Grandma Navarrete. I come from a line of strong women - I tell you, Mexican and Italian women should run the world! - and my Grandma N. has done more to demonstrate strength, integrity, and heart than any other person I know! 

She did good work - 
the moms and all the kid
Happy Mother's Day!

Post-zoo excursion, we headed back to MukTown for a visit with another mom in my world, my mom-in-law. I love that we can chat about so many things, including Scandal and school-related shenanigans, and I must say she's done quite a fine job in the mom department considering my sis-in-law is great company, a friend as much as a sister, and my husband is pretty much the best guy around (when he isn't making me listen to 20-minute long guitar solos or finishing the last of our 'shared' bubble water). It was great to spend some time with Mom R. on this special weekend, too. 

This weekend was fantastic, and it made me all the more excited for all the family time we have planned in the coming weeks and months. Life truly is made better by the people we surround ourselves with....and my people are amazing. 

Monday, May 8, 2017

Keeping Busy

Since returning from our awesomely enjoyable trip to Europe, Brian and I have been keeping plenty busy stateside.  Our May, which seemed quiet and quite open filled up quickly, and now, I'm looking to June when I get to fill up all the days, not just the precious few that are work-free (yay, summer!).

We started our time back home with a trip away from home and made our way to Vegas, where we got to spend some time with my not-so-secret crush, John Mayer.  By "spend time" I really mean that I got to stare dreamily at JM and Brian got to quietly admired his guitar playing skills while attempting to drown out my incessant commentary ("Isn't he so handsome?" and "He's so talented." and "You know that I'd leave for your JM, right?" and.....). It was a great show and I'm pretty certain it inspired Brian to finally deliver on his promise to learn to play his own guitar just like John Mayer plays his.

We used the following weekend to celebrate Mom's birthday.  She and Dad had just returned from a trip of their own, so while we enjoyed burgers and fries, we shared travel stories and I continued my now long-unsuccessful attempts at convincing our parents to head overseas with us....I will succeed one day, I will!

This past weekend, we were invited to the ever-entertaining Casa del Nimmer, so after Runnells family dinner, we made our way over the the Nimmers' home, one of the best places to hang out!  It was a bit like time traveling since we were able to see the Nimmer family, who we haven't seen nearly enough of as of late, and who we used to spend a lot of time with, especially when we claimed one of their kids as our own while we were coaching the climbing team.  We practically claimed their home as our own, too, between regularly heading over there after climbing, stopping by for dinner, or spending Sundays there watching the Packers and drinking chai.  On Friday, we spend time by the fire, shared cat stories  - cats are weird creatures and highly entertaining - and gym stories, and stayed up way past our bedtime.  It was great!

We spent Saturday evening with our friends, the Cliffords.  Danny, Jenna, Brian, and I go way back and have spent plenty of time on plenty of climbing trips together.  It was great to catch up and spend time with their adorable little guy, Nico.  It was especially fun to talk about all our old gym antics.  Jenna and I had quite the gym routine - gosh, our husbands must have been in awe of our focus. I can't wait to get together again - maybe we'll even attempt a gym date.

Sunday, to complete the weekend that revolved around climbing but not actually physically climbing, we headed to Devil's Lake.  After the prerequisite fairy ride, we headed for the CCC trail.  The weather was amazingly perfect and we quickly made our way up the bluffs and around the lake.  It gave us lots of time to plan for the rest of our spring and for summer and to enjoy the fresh air and sunshine.  It also made me really excited for the end of the year and more stress-free time (I'm sure Brian will be pleased, too, when he can trade in Teacher Amy for Fun/Summer Amy).

this view never gets old

It has been a great stretch of weekends for BR and AR, and I am looking forward to next weekend and more time with friends and family! It pays to have good people in your world!

Monday, May 1, 2017

Spring Break, Part III: Germany

Our final Spring Break destination was Germany. We made our way there via Luxembourg, which was absolutely lovely - and definitely worth (a longer) return visit. Our drive to Cochem, Germany was reminiscent of the many, many trips we've made through the rolling Kentucky countryside - except we never found bourbon distilleries or massive climbing areas. In Luxembourg, we took in the sights high above town and also visited the Luxembourg American Cemetery and the German WWII Cemetery - like Normandy, both cemeteries were powerful sights.  It is impossible to immersed in history and avoid thinking about the vast sacrifices made in order to preserve the lives we get to lead as American citizens. I am very glad we made the stop and took some time to pay our respects.  

high above town
Luxembourg American Cemetery

German Cemetery

Cochem is an adorable little town, complete with tiny cobblestone streets, an ancient castle, and a gelato shop (also many Italian restaurants, which turned out to be a 'thing' in Amsterdam and Belgium, too). The town itself isn't packed with tons to see or do, but neighboring villages all have their draws, which happen to be castles of various ages and sizes.  We hiked to and walked about Berg (Castle) Eltz one day - after we found the road to the parking lot - and one of us enjoyed a bratwurst - yuck! 😝 In Cochem, we walked along the river, ate chocolate and biscottinos, and enjoyed one of the best meals of our entire trip. We also made a day trip to Frankfurt (where I shattered my phone screen when it met with the cobblestone square). Despite the overcast skies and the difficulty of navigating a town when the street signs are indecipherable, we had a great time in Germany - relaxing (we never do that on 'vacation'), sightseeing, and enjoying beer and pretzels.  

Berg Eltz

the castle high above Cochem
Cochem's quiet cobblestone streets

our Easter basket, which the German Easter Bunny left outside our hotel door
the castle on a sunny evening - a great parting sight
We have never planned a trip and thought, "Boy that will be too much time in place/country X," but by the end of our Spring Break trip, like others, home sounded very nice. We had an amazing trip and definitely cannot wait to plan another travel adventure, but life is made by the people with whom you share it, and it was nice to get home to friends and family, especially considering we had a string of adventures and get-togethers planned stateside. 

Monday, April 24, 2017

Spring Break, Part II: Belgium

From Amsterdam, we made our way to Belgium via a series of trains - we have become quite competent at train, metro, and bus travel and it always makes me want to sell our cars and move somewhere where we can hop a Metro to work (well, except that I really like my new car). Our first stop, for lunch and afternoon exploration, was in Ghent. The city center, like so many we have visited, was a  be-speckling of long uninhabited building and pristine churches - along with the touches of , shall we say, modernity - carnival rides and McDonald's restaurants. We did what we were best at this trip - we walked to and fro, up and down alleyways, along canals, and toward the smells, sights, and sounds that make Europe great.  


Belgium has its share of great canals, too

Balls and Glory, a meatball restaurant 

After our midday meal, our choice of one of four daily special meatballs, yep, that's a thing - we made our way back to the Metro station and then onto Brugge, which proved to be my favorite Belgian town (despite my long-held desire to visit Brussels). Our hotel was just off the city square and had a fabulous canal view.  We checked into our new digs and immediately headed out to explore.  Brugge was bustling with life - and one morning, when we headed out to breakfast, we even happened across a mid-week market with plenty of local treats: fruit, cheese, meat, waffles, you name it. 

Bourgognes des Flandres Brewery Tour

We spent our few days in Brugge walking, biking, and relaxing in true European fashion (well, aside from the cigarettes). I was a bit uncertain about biking around town - mostly because watching the bikers in Amsterdam dodge other bikers, tourists, and vehicles gave my heart palpitations - but I was really glad Brian suggested we pedal about town.  We biked nearly 10 miles, which for a pair of non-bikers who were making their way across cobblestone streets, wasn't bad.  Before heading out of town, we also made it a point to stop off at a local brewery.  While I am no beer fan, Brian was a big fan of the post-tour tasting, and the whole experience reminded us of our trip down the Kentucky Bourbon Trail - time to make a trip back there, I'd say... 

sights from our bike trip  around and through town

As much as I was looking forward to Brussels, I certainly didn't want to leave Brugge.  I loved it there, and would happily return (the same holds true for Amsterdam).  When we arrived in Brussels, I was immediately struck by the contrasts - the centuries-old buildings and the modern multi-story buildings; the busy streets and the quiet park-side paths; the quaint little restaurants and the series of chains.  Despite the fact that I would have happily headed straight back to simple, sweet Brugge,  I was so thrilled to make my way to Brussels. The spirit of exploration was strong this trip as we ambled about from one town to the next. 

We were sure to reward ourselves for all the hard work (walking all over everywhere) with just the right rotation of fry cones, waffles, and gelato.  During our few days in Brussels, we checked off all the must-see items (aside from taking a tour of the EU Parliament building -- they were not in session, so the tours were not running), including a meet-and-greet with the Mannequin Pis (what a strangle little fountain that is replicated in every souvenir shop the whole town over) and a stop-off at the Parliamentarium, which was loads of interactive fun.  Learning all about the EU reminded us of just how many places we still need to visit.  

With that in mind, we closed out our time in Belgium and got set to make our way to our next and final destination for Spring Break 2017, Germany. 


Mannequin Pis - a little guy taking a tinkle draws quite a crowd in Brussels