This was the year. I made a resolution to document the best things that happened every day on January 1, 2010, and I did not miss a day until I decided to say goodbye on December 31, 2017. It’s now been a year without writing here for you to see our daily minutiae, the first year of Helen’s life, but I’ve kept one privately just for us. Though I stopped the practice of writing here, the urge never left me. I didn’t want to forget her milestones that I will not remember 10 years from now, but I did not want to feel pressured to write here when I was experiencing such a new kind of deep physical and emotional exhaustion. I’m glad I took the time to be present with her, to keep her life private in that way, to realize that even if I didn’t write it down publicly, those good and gracious moments happened. If a tree falls in the woods and no one is there to hear it, it does still make a sound. This was our year in a stream of consciousness nutshell, without flowery language or deep thoughts, and I’m glad that these milestones will at least be googleable need-be. Helen, if you’re reading this years from now, thank you for forcing us to slow down. We needed you for so many reasons.
Helen was born almost 3 weeks early on January 3rd just as the final manuscript for our book was coming due, during the worst flu epidemic in a decade, a week before the season 2 premiere of Home Town. That month was incredible and difficult and sweet and lonesome as we burrowed ourselves at home, away from the world, while we found our footing as parents and watched movie after movie from the 90s mostly, as a distraction from how tired we were. Ben made a playlist for the 1 mile ride home from the hospital, and we didn’t make it far past the song Half Acre by Hem without major tears. Delivery was not scary after all, and I built it up to be this terrifying thing my entire life. January was about putting my biggest fears to bed forever. 10 days after Helen was born, Josh and Emily welcomed their first baby girl, too. And so, we’ll always share this, raising these baby girls into women. At the end of the month, we took Helen down to the beach for her first visit ever. Mama was happy to watch over her while we took our first date night out as parents to the movies and dinner in Orange Beach.
Season 3 of Home Town was ordered and we breathed a sigh of relief as the vision for what the rest of our year would look like came into focus. We got the 1999 Suburban Ben has been wanting for years when we found the exact one he wanted here in Laurel, by some chance, as we were leaving town for Helen's first beach trip. For Valentine’s Day, Ben surprised me with Lou Malnatti’s deep dish pizza delivered frozen from Chicago that we baked and had a romantic dinner at home with Helen cooing in her swaddle, and he built us the gorgeous oak coffee table with spooled legs he designed that I’ve wanted for years. I went for my first run since Helen was born, with her in the stroller and I felt like myself again as she started sleeping through the night around 7 weeks old. I took her to the studio with me every day as I plugged away at designing our book jacket for Make Something Good Today and she was so good, always snoozing in her carseat beside me.
We finally finished Helen’s nursery and her short little arms were my favorite photo of the month. We lost our dear friend, Brandon, days before the season finale of Home Town. He had organized the event weeks before, and it felt like a celebration for him more than anything. Though we were all still reeling, a week later the framily took a trip up to Virginia for our first meeting with the Bassett family as our furniture line collaboration was becoming finalized with Vaughan-Bassett. It was Helen’s first road trip. Later that month, Helen, Ben and I did our first 5k pushing her in a stroller and she was a champ and finally got to announce to the world that our first book together, a memoir based on these online journals, would be coming in October! Make Something Good Today was officially no longer a secret.
Our first Easter came with our first new Easter tradition as a family—Helen got a basket from the bunny and Ben picked up breakfast for us from Waffle House to eat at home. A few days later, Helen made her first trip to Oxford where we spoke at Ole Miss and then she made her first trip to New York City with us and Ben’s mama. We got to go to the upfronts and knew we couldn’t leave her behind for that long, so we all went as a family. We made our first trip to High Point for pre-market and because of weather, our flight home was cancelled which forced us to spend our first night away from Helen. Fortunately, Aunt Pal and Uncle Jimmy adopted her for the night! But just a few days later we were speaking in Georgia and we had to leave her for one night once again, but this time with my parents. I was working so hard in between all this traveling to design our book’s interior pages. It was the most fun I’ve ever had designing, hands down, and I threw myself into it every free moment I possibly could. Around this time, Helen’s nanny, Mimi, started coming on a regular basis. I’ve known her my whole life since she was my babysitter when she was just a teenager, and she quickly became family to us once we saw the way she loved and cared for Helen every day. Andy Barron came to town and took photos for our furniture launch so we got to know him a bit better and found a new friend in him.
We spoke and had a pop up shop at the Mississippi Mercantile event again. One year earlier, we were there and I was pregnant with Helen and didn’t yet know it. Helen began rolling over and I began to feel I could finally juggle having a baby and working, getting things done around the house with a baby strapped to me in the Ergo. Helen made her second big trip to the beach since she was 3 weeks old, but this time we got to have some fun! We went swimming and down to the ocean, and she was the sweetest beach bunny, taking her nap on Ben’s chest under the umbrella. I couldn’t put down All Over But the Shoutin’ by Rick Bragg which I would now call one of my all-time favorite books. We also finally turned Trustmark Park into a little art park with a slide hill and swings with the help of Josh and Safety 1st, an American-made stroller company. Finally, filming season 3 of Home Town began, and though it hurt to be missing one important member of the crew family without Brandon, it felt good to be back together with our team.
Summer always begins with Ben’s family reunion which was Helen’s first, and also we had our first family portrait taken for the church directory, which is to this day possibly my favorite photo of Helen. It’s a good thing you couldn’t see how bald she was on the back of her head by then. With filming back in progress, we did little else but go for swims at Jim and Mallorie’s. On Father’s Day weekend, we had so much going on with Ben’s parents in town to baptize Helen on Father’s Day, and they stayed at our house with her the night we went to Brandon for the Chris Stapleton show, with backstage passes thanks to Andy. We got to know Chris’s in-laws, Bop Bop, ZZ and Suss, who happened to be fans of the show and we had the best experience ever, watching the concert from behind the sound booth. The next morning, tired as we were, it was Helen’s baptism day and one of the sweetest in my life. Ben’s parents led a special service just for the occasion and our baby girl became part of the Methodist church.
4th of July, cherries were back in the grocery store, the first block of season 3 reveals were happening, we recorded our audiobook, and we had the harrowing week when Mimi went out of town, our backup babysitter (Aunt Lauren) came down with stomach flu, and we had to piece meal the week of work and childcare together with my mama’s help even though she is still realtoring and keeping Walker a couple days a week. It was tough, but the reward of waffles and grape juice in a hot Epsom salt bath made me feel better about things.
We took another trip to Oxford, this time just for fun, and we took Helen to all of our favorite places all over town. A couple weeks later, we got to take photos with Larsen & Talbert for our Guideposts cover story. Taking photos for such an important project is fun, but working with Mike and Tracy is always and forever a treat for us. We also filmed the Christmas promotions for season 3 in the dead heat of August, but the photos turned out so beautifully! We were in the midst of final design edits to the first furniture launch for the fall furniture market at High Point and most of my photos from the month involve sketches from my iPad of changes to finish colors and furniture drawings. We opened the Scotsman General Store & Woodshop finally after many months of the framily working hard behind the scenes to bring it to life. By month’s end, we were revealing the houses of block 2 and I was turning 33 years old, Ben surprised me with a gorgeous hand turned cake stand he made, and we were making the final selections for bedding for the fall furniture market for our brand new bedroom line! For the second year in a row, because of Helen, I no longer dreaded turning a year older. The biological clock stopped ticking, and that peace and quiet was a welcome friend.
We celebrated Helen’s 8-month birthday by putting her in her jumper in the front yard and playing under the waterhose on the sprinkler setting. She had so much fun jumping and splashing, and then we spent the afternoon playing with her on the front porch. I took some of my favorite Polaroids that day. Later in the month, our friends Bop Bop, ZZ, and Suss came from Nashville to stay the weekend in Laurel, and I became very sad because Helen was outgrowing my favorite of her pajamas—the ones with the ballet slipper footies, but the upside to all this growing was seeing how often she wanted to play with her books. Ben turned 35 and we celebrated at Ole Miss with my parents and led the Hotty Toddy on the jumbotron at the game and spending a day with his parents in Eupora. Most exciting, we got our first copies of Make Something Good Today and could finally see all our hard work coming to fruition.
This was the month of travel as we hit the road promoting our book and the furniture launch. The book tour took us to New York City, Austin, New Orleans, Jackson, Oxford, and Greensboro, while the fall furniture market in High Point had the whole framily busy launching our first ever bedroom and dining furniture lines, all made in the USA by Vaughan-Bassett in Virginia. We met so many people and got to hug the necks of the folks who’ve gone out of their way to support us, our show, our book and our brands. This month took a toll on us and left us bone-tired by Halloween, but we still took our little Super Bunny for her first downtown Laurel trick-or-treat party at Uncle Jimmy and Aunt Pal’s house. Helen began to cruise around the furniture in our house, and we expected her to take her first steps by Thanksgiving.
November began with a book signing and speaking engagement in Boston at the JFK Library and Trident Booksellers, and both were a dream for us. We never could have imagined 5 years ago that our work would take us to these kinds of places. When we returned home, we got to work designing the spring collection for our bedroom furniture line and got to film more for the season 3 HGTV promos. We finished out the month with our tenth wedding anniversary and a trip to Lieper’s Fork, TN that we will never forget as long as we live where we stayed with Bop Bop and ZZ with my parents. We had our final long distance book signing that weekend in Franklin where at least 1,000 people waited in a line around the block to have their books signed by us at White’s Mercantile. I couldn’t believe it. It didn’t seem possible that that many people care about what we do here in little Laurel, Mississippi. That the seeds of this very blog would be planted in 2010 and bear this fruit 8 years later. What a blessing.
With December came the end of filming season 3 and the beginning of the Christmas season, with Helen learning to say “ho ho ho!” at the mention of Santa or Christmas, or anything Christmas related. We said goodbye for now to our film crew with a wild going away party at Slowboat Brewery that involved a mechanical bull, which I did not ride, though I did borrow the band’s guitar to sing Janis Joplin for Big, because it makes him so happy. The pancake and parade day was warm and humid this year, but Ben’s parents and Jesse and Lauren came along for it and I came down with the worst cold of my life—I’m guessing all that travel over the fall had taken its toll. We made our final work trip of the year back to NYC for an appearance on Good Morning America, and while we were gone—Helen did it. She took her first steps. With my mama. It made me happy to know she got to experience that moment, I know it was the best Christmas gift she could have asked for, but I was also heartsick for missing it. On Christmas morning, we brought her downstairs to see what Ho Ho brought her: a 5 foot tall stuffed bunny rabbit, a plastic drum and shaker set, a baby doll named Stella, a little Schylling cowboy guitar, and a wooden rocking chair. So far, she’s found the rocking chair to be the best place to do her rocking and reading each day, all day.
And that was the macro view of 2018. In a few days Helen will turn one year old, and I'm trying not to miss the baby she was but look forward to the little person she is becoming.