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To celebrate 30 years of couple-hood, John and I stole a weekend away in Gatlinburg.  Secure in the knowledge that Lorelei and William were in Emily’s capable hands, we headed South on Saturday afternoon.

We are so blessed to live so close to Gatlinburg, which feels like a getaway even though it takes less than an hour to get there.  After getting settled in our lodgings, we went out to explore.  Normally we stay more in the middle of town, but this time we were on the north end which gave us the opportunity to see something new (to us).

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There are several antique shops at the north end of town and both because of their location and the fact that we always have kids with us we’ve never set foot inside a single one.  American Sideshow Antiques was open and we enjoyed browsing through the eclectic wares and meeting Danny, the owner, who told us about his harrowing escape from the recent fires that devastated the area.  He shared with us the support of his regular customers from many states who have come to his aid by ordering from his shop from afar since the fire.  Having experienced similar kindnesses after our own fire, we were moved by his story.

And actually that’s why I’m writing this post, because in our many interactions with the people of Gatlinburg we discovered that businesses are suffering because of rumors that Gatlinburg was leveled by fire and that there is no reason to visit anymore.  This mistaken belief is causing more suffering to those who live and work in Gatlinburg, many who have already lost their homes and belongings.  Whenever possible, I donate money to fire victims–today I am donating my time and this space to convincing as many people as possible to visit Gatlinburg!

After the antique store, we headed to the Smoky Mountain Trout House, a Gatlinburg institution we had never tried before.   When we noticed that the upstairs was closed, the owner told us that he hadn’t needed that space since the fire because tourism is way down.  Let me tell you that people don’t know what they are missing, with super-fresh trout deboned right there at the table and big enough to cover the entire plate, along with the usual fixings.  We only barely managed to eat it all.

The next morning was cloudy but mild.  We enjoyed our motel’s ample free breakfast before setting out to walk along the Parkway.

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When I was a child, Gatlinburg shops consisted primarily of t-shirts and cheap, kitschy items, and if you went in one of them you’d pretty much seen all there was to see.  A lot has changed since then, with multiple outdoor malls showcasing a combination of local crafts and high quality mass-produced merchandise.  Window shopping is always fun, but if you want to buy something you can do it without breaking the budget! And if you don’t want to carry your haul around all day, many merchants will hold items for later pickup.

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Gatlinburg’s main strip was almost untouched by the fire.  There were two or three shops that remain closed, but most everything was in full swing.  I’ll be honest, though–we spent most of our money on alcohol. 🙂

One big change that has come to Gatlinburg in recent years is the proliferation of distilleries and tasting opportunities.  I believe this began with Ole Smoky Moonshine but they are no longer the only game in town.  We warmed up with two wineries, each of which allowed us to try two varieties for free.  But we were just getting started.

At Sugarlands Distilling Co. we learned that a new procedure for tasting has been put in place.  What used to be free now costs $5 per person, but you also get a $5 coupon good toward the purchase of any item in the store.  Since you are definitely going to want to buy some moonshine after you’ve tasted it, this is the cheapest drink in town.  Our bartender was Gyver, and he regaled us with jokes and creative shine recipes.  Gyver was one of many locals who lost his home and possessions in the fire.  He asked us to encourage anyone who wants to help fire victims to vacation in Gatlinburg.

We sampled 12 varieties at Sugarlands and used our coupons on hazelnut rum.

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Moving on down the road we ended up at Ole Smoky, where live music was in full swing.  We took a look at the product in process before heading in to sample the wares.

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D’Brickashawn was our bartender and he won us over by making fun of everyone who didn’t know what snow cream was.  Yes, there is snow cream flavored moonshine and along with blackberry that’s what we used our coupons for.  By now after 24 (small) samples I was a bit tipsy.  That facilitated bonding with our neighbors at the bar who told us that they were high school sweethearts reuniting for the first time in over twenty years.  Gatlinburg is very romantic!

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Our last stop was also Ole Smoky, at their whisky location on the other side of the road.  We got 13 samples there and took home a bottle of Tennessee Mud.  There is one more distillery in town but they weren’t open when we walked by.  That may have been for the best as each tasting was the equivalent of about 3-4 shots!

After more window shopping we walked back to the motel.   In the evening, we drove to The Peddler restaurant, one of the few old homegrown places left in town.  Because there was an hour wait, we went for a drive up the mountain to pass the time.  This is where you see the devastation wrought by the fire–burned foundation after burned foundation.  It’s unbelievable and heartbreaking.

We had a great dinner–worth the wait–and went back to the motel, enjoying the Winterfest lights along the way.

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It was back to Knoxville, reality, and hungry children the next morning but it’s nice to know that an inexpensive and fun weekend is always such a close drive away for us.

Now, you want to help the people of Gatlinburg, don’t you?  Here are two easy ways:  You can schedule a weekend getaway of your own–or a day trip if you are local!  Or you could share this post to let folks around the country know that Gatlinburg is open for business.

How We Lent around Here

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I’m grateful that I’m committed to contributing a post to the Catholic Women Bloggers Network bloghop today, because the truth is  our family has been needing to reevaluate “how we Lent.”  What was once a pretty intense observance has in recent years become fairly cursory and my husband and I are not happy about that.

Why did this happen?  I’m going to blame a combination of factors–our move five years ago to a house half an hour away from our parish church,  no current affiliation with a Catholic school (after 14 years), and having less and less of an inclination to leave home for church events or any other events (caused probably by burnout after years of extreme involvement).

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I often feel out of place when wearing my Catholic blogging hat because (as you will no doubt see if you–as you should!–read the rest of the posts in this hop) the majority of Catholic mom bloggers seem to be living faith-filled lives and setting great examples for their little kids and basically being all Catholic all the time better than I’ve ever been able to manage.  But maybe I am not the only one out there who feels this way and so I’m going to go public as Catholic slacker blogger to encourage all the rest of you to do better this Lent.

Now I am tempted to say, “We are so bad and sinful and we have been doing Lent all wrong! We are going to be so holy for forty days!  We will do all the Lent things there are!”  But I kind of feel like that is a recipe for disaster.  For several years I prided myself on my extremely strict Lenten fasting:  No meat at all–even fish–for forty days (except at the Friday fish fry).  No eating between meals.  No food at all on Ash Wednesday or Good Friday.  Nothing but liquids until supper on every Friday.  And no Sundays off!  I stopped doing that a few years ago and I am not going to do it again.  Honestly, I think that strictness is part of what triggered my “failure” in subsequent Lents.

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So here is what we ARE going to do (insofar as we have planned at this point).  We will all make some form of Lenten sacrifice; we will follow all rules regarding fasting and abstinence; we will go to the Stations of the Cross EVERY Friday; I am going to participate in an online book club; and at least some of us are going to take part in this Lenten meditation.  We may do more, but that will be icing on the cake (presuming no one gives up cake!).

For more ideas for Lent observances, please visit the other posts in the hop by clicking the picture below.

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How do you “do Lent” in your family?  If you want, you can tell me in the comments!

 

Writing about our ObamaCare experiences with the future of the program so much in doubt seems almost pointless, but I did promise to keep honestly updating you so here’s the latest.

Learning that Blue Cross was pulling out of the Marketplace in our area was really scary.  We were used to everything about the plan after three years and were happy with it.  I wasn’t looking forward to getting onto the (terrible, still) Healthcare.gov site and having to compare all the plans like I had to do when we first signed up.

Turns out I didn’t have to worry about that, because when I finally got through the approximately three hours over three days of attempts and two phone calls it took me to update my application (yes, really), I had one choice and one choice only.

We have Humana now and before I get into the nitty gritty of the pros and cons of that, can I just mention that Humana announced that they too will be pulling out of the Marketplace in 2018?  Which will leave us . . . where?  I don’t even exactly know.  If someone else were in charge of the country I’d be confident it would be fixed by then.  As it is . . . well, I am not going to worry about it yet because what’s the point.

So here’s the good, the bad, and the ugly update:

I guess the ugly would be that even though Jake is under 26 and should be eligible to be covered by our insurance, and even though we’ve been allowed to include a non-dependent child of the proper age in the past, the system flat out refused to let me sign up with him included.  And the nice person on the phone said it was because he isn’t a dependent for tax purposes, but right there ON THE WEBSITE INSTRUCTIONS it said he was still eligible.  But none of us were going to get covered if I didn’t take him off.  So then I tried to apply for him on his own, but because our governor in his “wisdom” declined the Medicaid expansion (which is also why we are losing insurers), Jake’s one of the unlucky who fall into the hole between being eligible for Medicaid and qualifying for a subsidy, which makes no sense, but whatever.  So what that means is that he cannot afford to pay for the high deductible catastrophic plan he was offered, and is currently uninsured until he has another opportunity to sign up at work (which he didn’t do at the proper time BECAUSE WE WERE COVERING HIM).  Hopefully he will qualify for one of the many exceptions to the mandate and won’t have to pay a fine come next year’s tax time.

And now for the bad:  Our deductible had been ridiculously low–$300 per person, $600 per family.  We were able to knock it out in a month or two mostly with prescriptions.  This year it’s $900/$1800.  I know that’s still way lower than many people so I shouldn’t complain too much.  The other bad thing is that some of our doctors–specifically, our mental health professionals–are out of network.  And since we are not going to change psychologists, we will be paying out of pocket for that.  Happily, our provider is working with us and charging what insurance would pay him if we had it; but that’s still $45 more a week than we were paying before.  Finally, Walgreens doesn’t take Humana, if you can believe it.  The closest pharmacy that does is Food City.  So I had to transfer about a million (give or take) prescriptions, and will have to actually WALK INSIDE to get our medicines, and do so before 7 p.m.

But there is also some good, some of it actually very good.  Our premium dropped by $450.  We are paying $241 a month! (By the way, this is for four people, as William and Lorelei are still on TennCare even though we have tried to sign them up with the rest of us.)  And there is no deductible for prescriptions–they are covered immediately.  They might be slightly more expensive but I got thirteen medications for about $65 so I’m calling that a good deal.  Of course that means they won’t apply to the deductible so it’s going to take longer to meet it, but all and all I wouldn’t be surprised if our overall costs end up being lower this year.

So there you have it.  We shall enjoy it while we can and I will update you if anything interesting happens. 🙂

P.S.  When anyone calls ObamaCare a failure, direct them here.  It has problems, it needs fixing, but it has helped us and many others.  It needs to be REPAIRED, not REPEALED.

For more of my ObamaCare stories, see below and click away!

The $64,000 Question, Answered

Who Are the Uninsured?

Uninsured No More

ObamaCare Update

ObamaCare Update 2

ObamaCare:  My Latest Update

ObamaCare Revisited

More on Our Journey to Health, Brought to You by Obamacare

It’s Good to Be Insured: An ObamaCare Update

Obamacare in Practice:  An Update

An Open Letter to My Friends Who Want to Repeal ObamaCare

I was having one of those dreams last night.  You know the kind.  They usually happen right before time to wake up, and are inspired by anxiety from the waking world leaking out of the subconscious.

I’ve had variations on this one hundreds of times. but this one took a turn.  Let me tell you about it.

I was in college, and I was late to class.  In fact, I think the class was almost over by the time I arrived.  As I tried to enter the room quietly, I saw that the desks were strewn about the room in no discernible arrangement.  People weren’t in their right seats, having abandoned their stuff at one desk to go sit elsewhere.  So it was hard to determine where I might sit, and I had to walk all the way across the room to find a spot.

The teacher was explaining an assignment, the details of which were pertinent and funny but which have sadly already slipped away from me.  I do remember that, naturally, I couldn’t find a pencil, or paper, or my textbook to help me.  As I settled down to finally start writing, I noticed that the guy next to me had decided to just write a poem instead.  The classroom was in complete chaos, with the teacher, who was sometimes at his desk glaring and other times completely absent from the room, alternately ignoring us and yelling that we would fail the class if we did the assignment wrong.

You probably saw this coming a mile off.  Here’s the teacher:

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Credit: Michael Vadon via Wikimedia Commons

And then I woke up.

You might remember a little over a year ago when I reviewed–very favorably–Page Zaplendam’s Order of the Blood.  I encourage you to click over and read my first review, which also includes an interview with the author.

I enjoyed this far from typical vampire novel very much and so I was thrilled to have the opportunity to read an advance copy of the sequel, The Egyptian Elixir.  I was provided with a free copy in exchange for my honest review.

From the book jacket:  When John Grissom and Van Helsing find themselves witnesses to an assassination attempt on the Marquis of Wellesley, they discover London’s most notorious purveyor of stolen goods at the bottom of it.  But his ability to influence people is odd to say the least.  The vampire and the hunter investigate, but the Egyptian elixir may prove the undoing of them both.

John Grissom is a Catholic, and doctor, and a gentleman, who also happens to be a vampire.  Van Helsing (not THAT one, but rather his ancestor) is a vampire hunter.  They form an unlikely crime-fighting duo in Regency-era England.  Throw in some English aristocrats, a dimwitted giant, and a mysterious Egyptian pharmacist and you’ve got a fast-moving and engaging tale.

I don’t want to give away too much, but I will say that what I enjoyed the most about this installment of the Unofficial Chronicles was the budding friendship between Van Helsing and Grissom.  Henrietta Isherwood, Grissom’s erstwhile assistant and potential love interest, is physically absent from this installment but obviously remains on Grissom’s mind.  She returns in the next book but her absence here allows the author to focus on the “bromance,” a good choice for this volume.

Now THIS is exciting.  To celebrate the release of the new book, you can get a free Kindle edition of Order of the Blood right here.  After you read it I promise you will want to buy the new book, which is available at a very reasonable price here.

If you want to learn more about Page’s work, and keep an eye out for her future stories (hint: there’s another book coming soon!), you can find her website here.

 

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Lorelei and I had the opportunity this week to join in a local march in support of refugees and immigrants.  This peaceful and patriotic event began in Market Square–Knoxville’s downtown gathering spot–with a silent vigil.  Then all of us–over 1,100 people, in the middle of a weekday!–marched to the City-County Building for a brief rally before a delegation carried letters opposing the President’s Executive Order to the lawmakers within.

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As we made the 25-minute drive from our home to downtown Knoxville, I made sure Lorelei understood what we were marching about.  We talked about the signs she had made and what they meant.  We talked about the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy, and the Beatitudes, and the Sermon on the Mount.  I told her that when we turn away immigrants and refugees, we are turning away Christ.

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But we didn’t just talk about religion–we had a civics lesson too.  We talked about the principles our country is founded on, and how it isn’t unpatriotic to try to hold the country to those values.  We talked about the importance of letting our representatives know our position on this and other issues, and on how people coming together can bring about change.  I told her about Yassin Terou, a Syrian refugee who found success here as a restaurateur and has made it a point to give back to his adopted community.  We talked about the message on the Statue of Liberty and about the American dream.

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This wasn’t Lorelei’s first protest–she has taken part in many a March for Life–but this is the first time she knew what she was protesting.  She’s 12 years old, with little patience for or experience with being silent, but she made me proud.  She remained quiet, paid attention, liked pointing out all the signs (she was our sign-maker), and enjoyed the chanting we did at the end of the march.

Lorelei carried this sign:

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It was inspired by the lyrics of the Marty Haugen song.  It’s slightly heretical for singing in church in my opinion, but some of the words seemed tailor-made for this occasion:

Let us build a house where love can dwell
and all can safely live . . .
here the love of Christ shall end divisions.
All are welcome, all are welcome,
all are welcome in this place . . . 
Let us build a house where hands will reach
beyond the wood and stone
to heal and strengthen, serve and teach,
and live the Word they’ve known.
Here the outcast and the stranger
bear the image of God’s face;
let us bring an end to fear and danger.
All are welcome, all are welcome,
all are welcome in this place.

My favorite part of the gathering happened almost at the end, when we recited The New Colossus together.

The New Colossus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,

With conquering limbs astride from land to land;

Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand

A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame

Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name

Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand

Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command

The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she

With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

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I can’t recite that under the most ordinary of circumstances without crying, and those were not ordinary circumstances.

After that, much of the crowd dispersed, chanting “This is what democracy looks like!” And it is.

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That’s what a Facebook friend of mine asked the other day.  It’s no secret that there are lots of liberal Christians but in recent years they’ve been loath to use the Bible to make political points.  The reasons are many, ranging from a strong belief in the separation of Church and State all the way to simply being on the side of an issue that Scripture doesn’t support (which is why faith should transcend party for Catholics, just saying).

But in the present heady moment the “liberals” have all the Scripture on their side, and pretty explicitly too.  Conservative Christians suddenly find themselves in the uncomfortable and unfamiliar position of being targeted by the very pointed words of Christ when they try to defend the recent Executive Order.

Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.’  Then they themselves also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?’ Then He will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’” ~ Matthew 25:41-45

So perhaps it’s very natural that religious folks who lean liberal politically are excited to be able to demonstrate that they read the Bible too, and that they’ve taken these parts of it to heart.  Many American religious leaders have been quick to speak out against the Executive Order, which actually violates the religious freedom of American Christians who are called to welcome the stranger and are being prevented from doing so.

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