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I sat at my desk, head down, long hair hiding my face.  On the blue folder in front of me, in Catholic-school cursive, I wrote the word miserable over and over again, covering the folder in a graphite cri de couer, addressed to no one in particular.

I was in the 8th grade, and my best friend had—as I saw it–abandoned me.  The visceral memory of those friendless days still hurts, decades later.  Being friendless in grade school meant being picked last in gym class, going partnerless for class room activities, sitting alone at lunch.

I’d enjoyed the company of a succession of what they now call BFFs from the time I started Montessori school at three until that point.  I’d counted on having that one person who liked me best.  After that heartbreaking half year (until high school began and I landed in a close circle of friends), I never wanted to feel loneliness like that again.

Read the rest at Everyday Ediths!

blog hop may

A couple of years ago I started creating quotation images of the Blessed Mother to share on my blog’s Facebook page during the month of May.  I’ve been meaning to gather them into one post, and this month’s CWBN blog hop, with a theme of Mary, My Mother, is the perfect occasion for that.

All the photographs are mine, taken with my iPhone.

ve Maria, gratia plena!

This was taken at the grotto at Spring Hill College in Mobile, Alabama.  My oldest child, Emily, graduated in 2013.

Do not marvel at the novelty of the thing, if a Virgin gives birth to God.- Saint Jerome

This comes from the grotto at the University of Notre Dame.  Our middle son, Teddy, graduated in May 2017.  Some day I hope I can return to Lourdes to take some pictures of the original grotto.  The ones I took with my little Kodak camera in 1984 aren’t up to my current standards. 😉

Hail Mary, full of grace! The Lord is with you.

This statue is in the flowerbed in front of our house.  For some reason, my younger kids think that Mary likes to be decorated with lots and lots of handmade rosaries.

Behold the handmaid of the Lord. Let it be done unto me according to thy word.

We are not parishioners at All Saints, which is the closest church to our home, but we do enjoy walking there.  This statue is in their Marian garden right along the walking trail.

Bring flowers of the fairest, bring flowers of the rarest . . .

Another shot of our statue, which was originally a housewarming gift when we moved into our second home in December 2001.

“In trial or difficulty I have recourse to Mother Mary, whose glance alone is enough to dissipate every fear.”--Saint Therese of Lisieux

The picture in this photograph hangs in the art museum on the Notre Dame campus.

Always stay close to this Heavenly Mother.- St. Padre Pio

Emily gave me this icon for Christmas a couple of years ago.  I can’t even describe how much I love it.

Dear

We don’t have that sweet little kitten anymore, but the statue was one of the few things that survived our house fire in 2001.  It was far enough away from the house not to suffer any damage.

Do whatever He tells you.

This hangs on a wall in the student center at Notre Dame.

Hail, holy Queen, Mother of mercy, hail, our life, our sweetness and our hope.

I took this one in the garden of a downtown Dallas church when I was visiting my sister there.

Let us run to Mary, and, as her little children, cast ourselves into her arms with a perfect confidence.--Saint Francis de Sales

This picture of Lorelei and William was taken in our church basement many years ago when they were participating in a play during the annual Advent Workshop.

My soul magnifies the Lord.

Late summer in my garden.

Never be afraid of loving the Blessed Virgin too much. You can never love her more than Jesus did.”--Saint Maximilian Kolbe

This statue is also located in the art museum at Notre Dame.

Queen of the Angels, Queen of the May

The statue of the Blessed Mother at my own parish, Immaculate Conception, relocated from her usual spot for the annual May Crowning.

-She is more Mother than Queen.---Saint Therese of Lisieux

A detail from another picture from Notre Dame’s museum.

What a joy to remember that Mary is our Mother!- St. Therese de Lisieux

This is another view of the statue in the Marian garden at All Saints.

mary conceived without sin

I love this picture because of the icicles and snow, which I don’t often get a chance to photograph.

Let us then cast ourselves at the feet of this good Mother . . .- St. Bernard of Clairvaux

Another shot of Notre Dame’s grotto.  Don’t miss it if you ever visit the campus.

spring hill grotto

And finally, one last look at Our Lady of Spring Hill.

I will update this post as I create new images.  Do you have any special quotations about Mary that you would suggest?

This post is part of the CWBN Siena Sisters Blog Hop.  Please click the image below for more posts about Mary, My Mother.

siena-sisters

I was eight years old, curled up on the naugahyde sofa in my grandmother’s basement, when I found my great-grandmother’s copy of Gone with the Wind, the commemorative movie edition.   I read it literally to pieces and I can recite the entire first paragraph by heart.

gone with the wind cover

In grade school I was taught that the Civil War, to my surprise at the time, was NOT inspired primarily by the desire to continue to enslave African-Americans, but by an argument over States’ Rights.

My great-great-great-grandfather was a Confederate brigadier general, and I was raised on family legends of his valor.

Col. James Hagan

My ggggrandfather Confederate General James D. Hagan, who was born in Ireland.

Up until my house burned down, I owned a small Confederate battle flag, which at one time I displayed along with the flags of the United States, Scotland, and Ireland, a small tribute to my ethnic heritage as I understood it at the time.

This is where I come from.  I am proud to be a Southerner.  In my blog bio, I describe myself first of all as “Catholic and Southern.”  That’s at the core of who I am.

Like many Southerners, particularly those with ancestors who served in the Confederate army, I feel an attachment to statues like the one in Charlottesville.  But the character of those who rallied on Saturday in protest prove that its removal is necessary.  This confederacy of dunces would have been denounced by General Lee, who was not even in favor of secession, and by James Hagan, who was repatriated and worked for the U.S. government for the fifteen years prior to his death.

Emily on the General's Grave

My oldest child, Emily, at the grave of her great-great-great-great-grandfather, General James D. Hagan

 

As his descendant, I disavow and repudiate the Unite the Right protesters and anyone who shares their hateful beliefs in the strongest of terms, and I call upon all descendants of Confederate soldiers to join me in condemning them.  They don’t represent the South and we don’t need these modern-day Carpetbaggers to tell us how best to preserve our heritage.

We do no honor to the memory of the Confederate dead by supporting disgusting displays of racism.  I do not judge my ancestors as harshly as some might– they were the product of a different time.  But that time is long past.  If you feel that Robert E. Lee deserves to be honored and remembered for valiantly fighting for what he believed in–his home state of Virginia–then do what he asked after the fighting ended: “Remember, we are all one country now. Dismiss from your mind all sectional feeling, and bring [your children] up to be Americans.

 

Disclaimer: This is a sponsored post, y’all.  But as always, compensated or not, my opinions are my own.

I don’t buy many things for me or for my home.  Losing everything when my house burned down forced me into a minimalism that I’ve found hard to shake.  But as we move closer to buying the house we’ve been renting for almost six years now, I find myself wanting to add a few touches that reflect my own taste and personality.

I hate going shopping and buy almost everything online–and so I’m excited to have learned about Uncommon Goods, a company that can supply all my decorating needs.  I am slightly crazy about candles, for example.  My first purchase is going to be one of their Literary Candles.  I also love the Homesick Candles (although there isn’t one for Tennessee yet!).  And I think the various tea light troughs would look great on my mantel.  Actually, I love almost everything in this section and if you like decorating with candles you will too.

 

Now let’s talk about their collection of decorations for the garden.  It’s no secret to anyone who reads this blog that I love gardening!  My eventual plan for this yard is to go full on cottage garden with no grass in sight.  So I will be needing more garden art in the future and now I know where I can find some unusual conversation pieces.  I’m especially captivated by the sea serpent and the octopus, and the gnome be gone tickled my fancy as well.

 

 

 

Finally let me say a little about decorative accents for the home, of which Uncommon Goods has pages and pages (and of which my actual home has very few).  Here I found myself captivated by the various bookends and fanciful switchplates.  The choices really are uncommon, and you can tell just by looking that they are well made.

 

 

Which brings me to an interesting point–who makes the products we choose to spend our money on?  Uncommon Goods products don’t come from big factories or giant corporations but rather from artisans and small business owners.  In many case you can click to read more about the actual person who crafted the item you are bringing into your home.  Uncommon Goods really is an uncommon company with values that are incorporated into its business model.   The company strives to be environmentally friendly and socially responsible.  They offer health insurance to all full-time (and most part-time) team members and provide a fair wage.  They  feature products that contain recycled components and sell only products that do no harm to people or animals. They give back by allowing customers to select a non-profit organization to receive a $1 donation at checkout.  You can read more about the company and its mission here.

I feel really good about recommending Uncommon Goods to you, and I am excited about purchasing some of their products in the future.

Would you believe until last year I had never spent a night in Kentucky?  I’ve driven through it on the way to points North, unsurprisingly, but somehow went almost 50 years without vacationing in a state I can drive to in an hour.

We remedied that last October during Fall Break, a modern invention that did exist when I was a youngster.  It’s a great time to travel and we had an entire week off from school.

First we went to Mammoth Cave.  That’s the longest known cave system in the WORLD, y’all.  And it’s a National Park, which means it’s inexpensive to visit.  And you could easily spend days there.

We stayed in nearby Cave City, which is mostly known as the city near Mammoth Cave, or at least that’s the way it looked from the exit where our hotel was located–a strip of hotels and fast food and touristy things.  But we are adventurers and we found the REAL town and explored it.

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Look at that sweet little main street! We walked up and down looking in windows (everything was closed for the evening, sadly) and seeing what there was to see.

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I didn’t get any pictures but one of the charming things–and to William and Lorelei’s delight–several of the shops had cats in residence, hanging out in the window displays.

At one end of town we found a park with a little Civil War history, and also a tiny IGA at which to buy snacks for our room.

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Of course we didn’t come for Cave City; we came for the CAVE, and we spent two days exploring, which included walking around the grounds, taking in the museum exhibits, and going on cave tours.

Here’s some of what we saw above ground.

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The railroad cars are part of the very interesting history of the cave, its discovery, and early tourism.  Would you believe that part of the cave was used as a tuberculosis hospital for a time in the belief that the air would be good for the lungs?

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Look, y’all! A graveyard! I find them everywhere I go!

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When you visit Mammoth Cave, you should plan ahead, unlike us, and book guided tours in advance.  Some of them were unavailable to us because we did not do that.  Also be aware that some of the tours are quite strenuous, with lots of climbing.  But don’t worry, even with those caveats we found plenty to see.

We went on two cave tours, the first one being to see the first cave to be rediscovered in more-or-less modern times.  Native Americans were using it over 5,000 years ago, and we were able to see some extremely well-preserved artifacts.

Here’s the mouth of the cave, seen from above before we went in and then from below as we climbed the stairs back up.

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It was VERY big and VERY dark in there.  Our guide turned off all the lights so we could see what real dark looks like.  Answer:  like nothing.  Wave your hand in front of your face and you will see NOTHING.  Then he lit one match and it was cool to see how our eyes adjusted to see the entire room with just that tiny amount of light.

He also showed us where saltpeter was mined in the cave during the war of 1812.  Due to conditions in the cave, the site doesn’t look as though it was abandoned 200 years ago but remains well-preserved.  Here is a picture from this area of the cave.

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This was an easy hike just to get a feel for the cave.  The next day we did a more picturesque and much harder hike.  It was kind of bizarre to enter a cave through a door into a hill.

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This cave had more of the formations you’d expect to see if you’ve been in “touristy” caves like Ruby Falls.

Whenever we left a cave we had to go through a process of washing the bottoms of our shoes to prevent the spread of white nose syndrome, which has killed a large portion of the bat population.

There is much more of Mammoth Cave to see, and I would love to go back there someday.

Mammoth Cave 1

Our vacation was a two-part affair, with some days planned and some left open.  At our motel we found a brochure for a nearby attraction, and we decided to visit Kentucky Down Under on our way to Louisville.

This was a good choice.  The kids are STILL talking about this place.

Kentucky Down Under is a zoo, but an unusual one.  It’s family-owned, for one thing, and if it’s not obvious from the title, there is a focus on animals from Australia.  But there are other animals here as well, including Great Pyrenees dogs who serve as protectors and roam freely throughout the zoo.

KYDU 3

This was the first animal we saw, just after we left the gift shop.  William was thrilled, because crocodilians are one of his favorite groups of animals.  After we spent some time with him, we hopped into the golf car we’d rented and began to explore.

We got yelled at by talking birds and surreptitiously petted a coati.  Here they are, along with some other animals we saw.

Next we arrived at the more interactive part of the zoo.  We listened to a talk by one of the keepers, and then those of us who wanted to (William) got to pet a snake.

Much more to my liking, we were able to pet some draft horses in their beautiful pasture.  Kentucky is almost as pretty as Tennessee, y’all.

Then we got to watch some sheep-herding in action!

KYDU 29

And finally, the piece de resistance, the part that William is still talking about months later–we got to pet kangaroos! (Also a terrifying emu and some capybaras!)

Seriously, y’all, did you SEE that emu?  Anyway, it was a wonderful experience and I highly recommend this zoo.

Oh, and I almost forgot to include that this zoo has its own cave, Mammoth Onyx Cave, which as far as they know is not linked to the Mammoth Cave system.  It’s not lighted so you get to wear actual head lamps and it was a really pretty cave–with the price of the tour included in zoo admission.

We’d had quite the busy day already as we headed to Louisville, where we were meeting friends and upgrading our lodgings quite a bit by staying in a bed and breakfast called The Inn at Woodhaven.  The four of us stayed in the attic.  Take a look at this place!  These were taken in our attic.

Louisville 21Louisville 19Louisville 18Louisville 17Here are some of the common areas.

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And here are some taken outside.

On our first day in Louisville, we went to another zoo!  We have decided in the past year that we will make it a point to go to the zoo every time we are in a city that has one, since that’s something we all enjoy.

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Now, it would be hard to compete with the peak experience of petting kangaroos! But we did enjoy the Louisville Zoo.  Here are pictures of some of our adventures.

LZoo 2LZoo 13

Louisville seems like an exciting city with a lot of fun places to check out.  Besides the zoo, we also visited downtown to see the Cathedral of the Assumption and to get a bite to eat.

Louisville CathedralLouisville 10Louisville 14Louisville 13Louisville 16Louisville 11

Louisville 9We didn’t get to spend as much time looking around the Cathedral as we would normally because they were practicing for a wedding and we didn’t want to disturb them.  Here are some pictures of the nifty area of restaurants where we found a place to eat, just around the corner.

I’m telling you about the Kentucky trip a little bit out of order because I want to save the best for last, as it were.  So now I’m going to share about the Lincoln day trip we took.  Abraham Lincoln was born in Kentucky, so we visited the site of his birthplace and of his boyhood home, as well as a little town with monuments and a museum.

Here are some photos from the home site, which includes a museum and a super-fancy monument that I’ll bet you never knew existed!

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Lincoln 1

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Three miles down the road lies Hodgenville, Kentucky, with its town center dedicated to Lincoln, and housing a very special museum.

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The museum is in a storefront on the square.  The downstairs has several re-creations of scenes from Lincoln’s life.  The place is a delightful jumble of all kinds of artifacts.

Lincoln 6

Upstairs there is an entire room of art inspired by Lincoln because the town has been hosting an art contest annually for many years and now there is an amazing array of truly creative pictures.  Here are two of my favorites.

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I like this one for its Christian symbolism.

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This one is amazing.  I don’t know whether you can tell but it’s actually made up of other images of things that were important in Lincoln’s life!

Finally, we made a stop at Lincoln’s boyhood home a short distance away, which would have been the first home he remembered.  There is no museum there, but here are some pictures of the fields where he worked and played.

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We loved the Lincoln portion of our trip and could not believe we had been living so close to this important piece of history for so long without visiting.

Now, finally, I am going to tell you about the other planned event of our trip, the whole reason we came to Louisville at precisely this time of year, the annual Louisville Jack O’Lantern Spectacular.  Y’all, it was indeed spectacular.  I could not stop taking pictures, the best of which I will share below.

There was a jack o’lantern to symbolize each of the 50 states

jackolanterns 17

as well as ones commemorating people who had died,

showcasing current events and famous people,

and representing films, pop culture, literature, and fictional characters.

jackolanterns 19

And there were all kinds of more typically carved pumpkins as well.

jackolanterns 13

jackolanterns 14jackolanterns 12Jackolanterns 3

jackolanterns 10

We wandered slowly on a trail through the woodsy park marveling at all the wonders we were seeing.  It was a lot to take in and a perfect way to spend an autumn evening.

So that was our trip to Kentucky, and this was a LONG post.  We squeezed a lot of fun into fall break last year, but there is still more to see and do in Louisville, and I wouldn’t mind spending another weekend in that attic!

OK, y’all, so I only JUST got back from a short vacation (about which more later!), and I’m already wishing I had known what I am about to share with you before I planned it!

I don’t know about you but when it comes to traveling, I am always looking for hotel deals.  Ever since I first discovered Hotwire several years ago, I have made it my business to find the best hotel deals I can.  That’s especially important when our whole family travels together, because the days are long gone when we could cram all the kids in one room.  We need three rooms these days and you can imagine how quickly that adds up.

So I have various sites I frequent, but one thing I had never thought of was Groupon.

https://i1.wp.com/www.usfamilyguide.com/blogpromos/1491/Grouponlogo1.jpg

I’m assuming you’ve heard of Groupon (who hasn’t?).  I’m embarrassed to say that I’ve never used it even though I’m usually pretty savvy about all things online and saving money.  I had some kinds of vague idea about two-for-one deals, but I had no idea that Grouon also had a large coupon code site.  Anyway, if you aren’t familiar, Groupon offers savings at over 9,000 retailers! There are over 70,000 coupons, promo codes and deals to choose from.

Here’s how it works.  Say you want to plan a trip and you generally reserve your lodgings through Orbitz.com (which is my usual favorite).

orbitz.com with Orbitz Promo Code Discounts & Coupon Codes

Don’t go straight to Orbitz–instead, click here.  That will take you directly to the Groupon page for Orbitz where you will find many coupon codes (including one for 15% off most hotels which would have saved me some money last weekend!).

I’ve already mentioned I’m a Hotwire fan.  Take a look here at the available deals.  Travelocity and Expedia are just a couple more of the many travel sites offering deals through Groupon.

I’m focusing on travel sites in this post because that’s where my mind is at the moment and because that’s what historically I’ve been most likely to search for coupons for, but Groupon offers deals for places like Walgreens and Target that it would never have even occurred to me to search for (until now).

Groupon is easy and free (and because I am a US Family Guide blogger, they are compensating ME for telling YOU how to save money–so we are all winning here!).  Check them out and if you have any other great ways to save money shopping online, please tell me in the comments.

Minnesota Memories

By the time this is published it will have been almost a year since our week in Minnesota–St. Paul, to be exact–where we stayed with our friends Renee and Erik and their daughter, Mikaela.

Some background:  Renee and I were roommates all four years in college.  Randomly placed together, we became the best of friends.  John was in her first French class so she’s known him longer than I have.  Renee started dating Erik the summer after John and I became a couple, so this is a friendship of very long standing.  Yet things being the way they are, the last time we saw Renee was when she and Mikaela flew into Knoxville to help me get my house in order before Lorelei arrived (that’s the kind of friends they are) and we hadn’t seen Erik since our last visit to Minnesota which was about 17 years ago!  So this was a much-anticipated reunion.

We could not have asked for better hosts.  They gave us a whole basement to stay in and took us shopping and bought food for the week, taking account of very picky William.  William had a hard time being away from home and routines for a week and they could not have been kinder or more understanding of his needs.  Some days they had to work–in fact, Renee had to go out of town on business for a couple of days–but they made sure we had places to go, things to see, and a home to return to.  We had so much fun!  And I’m going to share some of the highlights with you.

First on our agenda was Como Park, which was just down the road a piece.  First we went to the Conservatory.

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Next we went to the zoo.  Now we’d been to the zoo on our last visit and had joked over the years about how . . . shall we say . . . behind the times it was.  I am happy to say that conditions were vastly improved.  I didn’t take a lot of pictures but I can tell you that we especially enjoyed watching the gorillas and their baby.

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There’s a story behind that polar bear picture.  Last time we visited, the polar bear exhibit was much smaller, and the bear was obviously disturbed–swimming in a particular unvarying pattern over and over again.  We’ve never forgotten about this sad sight, so we were very excited to see that the polar bear exhibit was revamped and the bear was playing with toys and splashing and just having a marvelous time.

But then we learned the rest of the story . . . when we happened to move to the other side of the exhibit and saw that inside the enclosure the original bear was pacing, clearly as sad and disturbed as ever.  I guess the change came too late for him.

You’ve probably heard about all the lakes in Minnesota and we enjoyed several, going swimming in two that were nearby and walking around the one at Como Park.  I don’t know why I didn’t take more pictures.

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The following day we visited the Minneapolis Institute of Art.  We couldn’t see everything, and William has an interest in Asia, so that was the section where we started.   We never made it to the European exhibits. Again, I wish I had taken more pictures.  It’s an incredible museum.

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MIA 1

Teddy joined us midweek–he’d been working in Connecticut–and he came with us to tour the absolutely beautiful St. Paul Cathedral.  It was the perfect place to explore on a rainy afternoon.

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There’s never enough time to really experience a cathedral.  What with all the statues and side chapels and iconography and inscriptions I cold have spent hours there.st paul 3st paul 4st paul 6st paul 7st paul 8st paul 9

It wasn’t the best day for it but the windows were still pretty.

The main altar was stunning, and then behind it were wooden carvings, every one with meaning, that also cast these cool shadows.

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There was a mini-museum downstairs with some of the history of the cathedral, and after we took a look at that we headed out to drive around downtown St. Paul and look for some dinner.

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We ended up in a neat neighborhood with an Ethiopian restaurant and a cool used bookstore right down the street.  William had never had Ethiopian food, and he pronounced it “grand.”

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Our hosts thought we might like a trip to Duluth, which was a bit of a drive, so on one of the days they could accompany us we went on a road trip!  Duluth has lots of cool shops and restaurants so we started off by exploring the town.

Then we went swimming in Lake Superior–wading, really, because it was chilly and the waves were rough.  The kids had never seen a Great Lake before and I think they were pretty impressed.  We had fun chatting and watching them play.

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On our last day in Minnesota we did something I bet you’ve never done–we went to the Corgi races! Yes, you read that right.  We went to a nearby racetrack which was hosting a special event and it was just as cute as you might imagine.  The corgi races were interspersed with horse races, which is something I had never experienced in person so that was also pretty cool.

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That was our last day and the racetrack was actually along the road (the VERY LONG VERY FLAT ROAD) toward home, so we left straight from there.  I’ve left out tons of details from our trip–the non-photogenic ones like going to see the newest Star Trek film together, and shopping at the largest liquor store we’d ever seen, and watching movies together every night, and playing with their sweet elderly cat, and assisting Mikaela as she made homemade pasta–but I think you can tell that it was a wonderful trip with wonderful old friends who we probably shouldn’t wait 15 years to visit again!

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