Gobble, gobble! Happy Thanksgiving! I wonder if these wild turkeys we came across in Asheville a few weeks ago survived the holiday. They look delectable, don't they?
We have much for which to be grateful this year, and family and friends are always first and foremost on our list. In May we lost a beautiful fixture in our lives, my grandma, Ruth Leslie Bean. She lived so long and so fully that her passing still surprises me—I have to remind myself every time I think of her that she is really gone. Grateful is not a deep enough word to describe how I feel about Grandma; it's too simple to describe the legacy she left behind or how much any of us misses her. But grateful will have to do for today, because I can't think of a word that could possibly cover the complexity of her imprint on those of us she left behind. (And my table will be set today with many of her treasures, too.)
When I think back through the year, two other circumstances flash like beacons in my memory. We are thankful for a Good Samaritan who risked his life to rescue a loved one from drowning in a riptide. If this man, a stranger, had hesitated even a moment (I wish I were exaggerating), our family would be ending this year in heartbreak and hardship. Instead our hearts are jittery but filled with gratitude for this stranger and the life he saved.
The other circumstance is one I thought I would have written about by now, but it's taken more of an emotional toll on me than I expected. We learned several years ago that Cricket has a peanut allergy. In June she began a 3-year clinical trial, IMPACT, which is testing a method called oral immunotherapy to build up a tolerance against peanuts. (I'll explain the process later, but as one witty friend observed, "So it's basically the method used with the poison in The Princess Bride, right?" Yes, yes indeed.) Starting the trial was one of the most difficult parenting decisions we've had to make; to try to improve Cricket's quality of life on a daily basis and, most importantly, keep her alive, we had to start the trial with a huge hurdle: a peanut challenge (feeding her enough peanuts, in a clinical setting, to spur an allergic reaction) to get her immune system firing.
It took us more than a year to find the courage to begin the trial. What our decision finally boiled down to was our confidence in the study team at UNC. They made it clear from the beginning that the science behind this technique is young—Cricket would be a pioneer—but we would get through it together. And when it came down to that initial peanut challenge and some side effects over the following months, they stayed true to their word; they held our hands and propped us up (quite literally) while showing us the ropes of the laborious and sometimes terrifying process. And equally as important, they won the hearts of our girls, showering them with treats, remembering every detail of their lives and making them excited to visit the clinic every other week—no short order when it comes to my introverts. Who knows whether this process will prove successful for Cricket. We have a long road ahead, though we have reason to believe we're moving in the right direction. Regardless, we are beyond grateful to our team at UNC for the work they are doing and the compassion with which they are accomplishing it. They are changing lives, and we are fortunate to be along for the ride.
Now go give thanks and eat some turkey. Happy Thanksgiving!
We have a tradition of spending a fall mountain weekend with my sister and her family in Asheville, which involves activities like apple picking, hiking and baking. Each year we set the date in hopes that our trip will coincide with peaking foliage. Some years we've hit it on the nose; other years we're off by a week or two. This year we could smell success as we drove west toward the mountains, color erupting around us.
What we didn't anticipate was a freak winter storm that blew in on Halloween night and dropped snow over the brilliant leaves. My sister and I, Minnesota natives, couldn't remember a single time in our lives we had seen snow accumulate over peaking leaves—and certainly not in the subtropical state of North Carolina.
But let's back up a moment. Here is what her backyard looked like on the afternoon of Halloween.
My sister and I took a walk that afternoon. She showed me a slave graveyard, tucked into these peaceful woods. In all the years I've visited her in Asheville, I never knew this graveyard was a stone's throw from her home.
The littles requested that instead of trick-or-treating, we hide the candy around the yard like the Easter egg hunt we did earlier this year. It was a smashing victory for all. Then we went to sleep and woke up to an inch of snow—just enough to cover the ground and add stunning contrast to the changing leaves.
The snow was perfectly sticky for snowballs. Poor Nora had forgotten what it felt like to be cold and started to cry in confusion over why her hands hurt.
We tried to drive the girls up to the Blue Ridge Parkway so we could take in the view while they napped, but we only made it a few hundred feet before finding it closed due to weather.
By midday the snow (and winter) had melted in the valley, and we were back to blustery fall day.
We've been on a fall travel binge with two mountain trips over the last two weeks and a blustery beach trip just ahead. How lucky we are to have family sprinkled across the country in so many beautiful places. Our area doesn't typically have a dramatic leaf peak, so we headed up to Virginia's Shenandoah Valley for some color and cousin time. (You can find posts on our last summer trip to Virginia here and our last winter trip here.)
I've become a serial drive-by photographer. Jeff drives (and rolls his eyes at me) while I take photos out the window with my iPhone. Here are a few shots from our late afternoon drive over the mountains and into the Shenandoah Valley.
The leaves weren't quite peaking in the valley, but as we drove up the mountain to Shenandoah National Park for a hike, we wove through bands of red, yellow and orange. By the time we reached the park's highest elevations, the leaves had mostly fallen.
No hike is complete without getting a lift from your older cousin along the way, right?
I kept walking around a bend to find my niece waiting for me, ready to pose for a photo.
On our way out of town, we stopped at Carter Mountain Orchard in Charlottesville to pick apples. Cricket was so excited she choreographed an apple dance.
We've been on the road and in the skies so much this year that I haven't gotten a chance to post about each trip, but I've been spending a lot of time on Instagram. You can find me at @jsoplop. (You don't need an Instagram account to view my photos.)
I'm Julia Soplop, writer and photographer. I believe there is something profound in bearing witness to moments of joy and pain in others’ lives. My husband, three girls and I live outside of Chapel Hill, NC. You can read more about me here.
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