But on Friday, it all got very real…

My husband and I just celebrated ten years of marriage with a trip to the Ozark Mountains. We started out toward Hot Springs and stopped at this adorable feed store in Texarkana where we ate lunch with a friendly Turkey and a whole bunch of chickens.

Be sure to check out Three Chicks Feed & Seed if you are ever on the Arkansas side of Texarkana.
Turtle the turkey literally followed me all over the premises.

The next stop was Hot Springs at The Waters Hotel, which is our favorite place right across from Bathhouse Row. I’m going to tell you all about the great parts of the trip, but first I need to fast forward to halfway through, when the fur hit the fan ON our anniversary, AT the dinner table.

Minutes before the bomb got dropped

I worked hard to have tons of PTO saved up and an awesome team so I was able to leave for our trip and not look back for the most part. I work for a family-owned healthcare consulting company that has been around for about fifty years. Three generations of my family have worked with these fine folks, so I have always felt a strong bond with and obligation to this company and the family who owned it. Just a few days into the trip, my boss called while we were at dinner on our anniversary day (we had our fancy dinner the night before since we would be on the road again on the big day). He told me to go where it was quiet so I stepped outside of the tiny Mexican restaurant in nowheresville, AR. The company had been acquired, he told me, and the change of hands would take place the very next week with the big announcement to follow. The short explanation was a blur and what I gleaned from it was I was very fortunate to be keeping my job and a heck of a lot of new responsibility placed certainly on my shoulders. Between the first few minutes my thoughts raced…I wasn’t ready to retire just yet but if I had to, we’d be ok…what about my beloved employees? Am I going to have to move back to an office? Could I tolerate that? Few details aside, I was left with so many questions and told to follow up with a good work buddy who could tell me more since my boss was also traveling and needed to hang up quickly.

I walked back into the restaurant, breathing deeply and not knowing whether I was about to cry in public. I told my husband what I gathered and choked down a little food. I know it’s just a job, but I take so much pride in my work and my career that this was a bombshell for me and I knew it would be for my co-workers.

A few times in my tenure, my company had absorbed employees from other institutions when we got their accounts, and I remember well when those folks came to interview to keep their jobs. They were all so nervous. Now I knew what they had felt as their roots were jerked to the surface and they faced transplant shock.

After dinner, we took the winding mountain roads back to our second stay over of the trip at breath taking Whitney Mountain. From 700 feet above the fingers of Beaver Lake, I surmised what my possibilities were and tried to chill and shift gears back to vaca mode. That sure didn’t happen.

I didn’t sleep that night. We woke up super early to catch the sunrise over the lake and it did not disappoint. Our inn keeper set out a lovely breakfast buffet and we got to dine near another vista as I wondered aloud just what would happen with my job. As much as I tried to set it aside so I didn’t burden my husband with talk of nothing but, I just couldn’t shake the uneasiness.

Fast forward through the rest of the trip, more toss and turn nights and a general damper on my mood. After a couple of days in the odd little town of Eureka Springs, we moved on to Branson and checked into a pretty cool resort on Table Rock Lake. Yes, I booked all the water front properties for this trip. It’s a big deal for me to stray from my beloved beach locales, so I approximated the views as well as I could.

After checking into our last stay of the trip, we went to Silver Dollar City where my whole outlook changed. I booked a premium lantern cave tour without really reading up on what it entailed. I really should have done that. I thought we would be kind of bored at an amusement park, so I only allowed for a few hours there although I wish now we had allowed a full day. The cave tour lined up at 4:50 PM, so I had just enough time to choke down a two foot long corn dog since we missed lunch. I’ll call that my two annual corn dogs since we haven’t been to a fair since 2019.

Believe it or not, this was the least embarrassing photo of the whole corn dog meal, which I did wind up sharing with my husband.

Once we lined up for the cave tour, we had to pass through a low entrance in a wall to be sure we would fit through the smallest space in the cave. That got me halfway concerned. Next we were handed lanterns and advised if we had bad knees or bad night vision to go back home. Well obviously that is me, but I knew this would be a really cool diversion so I sucked it up and got to the front of the line as we forged outside.

Little did I know that we would be descending into pitch darkness down a 500-foot, shaky metal staircase. I honestly had to pause and breathe deeply, pray some vague prayers from Catholic school a million years ago and muster all my iron will. The only way I could get down was to hang onto the railing and hold my LED lantern all the way down by my feet, stooping a little as we moved.

Once we got all the way down and looked back up, I was shocked at how we actually got down into the bowels of this cave. The light above was the last natural light we would see for an hour and a half.

I stuck close to the first guide because I could see a little more from his flashlight sweeping the ground. My own lantern literally showed just a little bit of my feet. I am still shocked to death that I didn’t have some sort of incident given my accident-prone nature and all my broken and replacement parts. This was a true test to my new ankle and it didn’t let me down. Down and down we went, pausing for stories and some pretty cool history of the Marvel Cave. Twice our guides flipped a switch to turn on accent lights and I wished we could be seeing the entire beautiful surroundings.

The cave used to be home to a half million bats. Yes, no exaggeration! Now there were around 40,000 due to an epidemic of an itchy nose disorder that kept bats awake during hibernation time. The poor little fellows basically starved since their bodies didn’t wind down like they needed to. We only encountered a couple although I am sure there were tons overhead that we just didn’t see due to the darkness. One did buzz my head about halfway through and I only noticed a breeze until I heard someone say “Duck!” That would have been my undoing, so no doubt my prayers were heard all the way through as I faced my anxieties in the dark. When we got to the end of the tour I asked the guides what the difference was between this and the free tour. The free tour has the lights on…I shook my head and laughed as we boarded the cable car that would climb back up 500 feet to get us to the land of daylight and humans and likely thousands and thousands of pumpkins in the park.

The Fall Festival at Silver Dollar City satiated my pumpkin obsession.
Don’t you know this place must be incredible at Christmas time? We will definitely be back!

Facing my worries in the dark and emerging unscathed (and surprised) was cathartic. My heart still hurt that my company was changing and my boss was retiring, but a glimmer of hope remained that I could really do some good to help usher us into the next phase of business. After another day in Branson, I was pretty much ready to get home and see what was going on on the interim. The next week or three—really three—were still nerve wracking, but I finally decided that I was safe in my job. I have dug in so hard and worked long days to cover as much ground as I can on my current projects and perpetual responsibilities. The home cooked meals haven’t been quite as consistent during this time, but I planned ahead so we would have good leftovers on days when I knew I’d be too exhausted to stand over a stove.

Plan, plan, plan is my current mantra. I thought I was juggling hard months ago with my day job and the boutique and home and horses…that’s worth a little chuckle. Closing the boutique was God’s timing and I know I couldn’t have possibly held onto all my obligations if I hadn’t closed that book. That broke my heart, too and now I see it all turned out ok. I trust that this transition in my career will be for the best also. Until that becomes readily apparent, we are now searching for a live-in housekeeper, Hallelujah!! I’ll tell you all about that and more travel stories next week.

I hope you all have a gorgeous week and know that whatever is happening now will reveal its purpose as time goes on. To have peace, you just have to have faith that you’ll make it through and you’ll be your best when that chapter is done.

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