2019 in Review: Your Favorites, My Favorites

It’s become a yearly tradition for me to highlight the year’s most-read posts (according to WordPress stats), and also to share my favorite posts from the year.  Many of the most-read posts are oldies-but-goodies, and I choose to celebrate their staying power rather than worrying that perhaps I’ve lost my touch.

But I’ll let y’all decide.  Let me know your favorites in the comments.

YOUR FAVORITES

Dear Mom in the Pew

This post is from 2010 (yes, I have been blogging that long!), and has made this list almost every year.  It also inspired my first viral video!

If during Easter Mass some cranky submarine Catholic turns around and tells you that your babbling toddler is “ruining it for everyone else,” (and yes, this once happened to me) I want you to know that if he thinks that he doesn’t know what “it” is and he is the one who is ruining things.

How to Celebrate Advent When Everyone Thinks It’s Already Christmas

I love writing about Advent.  This 2016 post, which was originally part of the Catholic Women’s Blogging Network monthly blog hop, contains links to many other posts on the topic.

We could shut ourselves away from the world and refuse to participate, but that’s not much fun, is it?  The Christmas concerts and television specials, the tree lightings, the pageants and parades–they will all be over after Christmas Day.

So how to reconcile what the world teaches with what the Church teaches?  How do we keep Advent when the world says it’s already Christmas?

Southern Grammar: It’s Got Rules, Y’all!

Newsflash: I’m a Southerner. 🙂 And I am also a grammar fanatic and lover of language in general.  This 2012 post is dear to me and I am glad it was popular this year.

If you aren’t a Southerner, you may laugh at “y’all,” but you probably say “you guys” yourself.  There are other regional variations–you’uns, youse, you people.  What it comes down to is we NEED a plural form of you and y’all fills the bill nicely.

Mary, My Mother: Quotations and Images

A 2017 post of inspirational Marian quotations paired with photos of statues and portraits of the Blessed Mother.

Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of Go

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.

Liturgical Music II: The 70s

This is another post from way back in 2010, making its second appearance in an end-of-year list.

And as I look back and can see that the songs from the 70s weren’t particularly good songs, while it may be fun to be snarky, it’s important to remember that people were doing the best they could without much guidance to come up with new songs for the new liturgy.  And as for me, even if the songs were “bad” I loved singing them and remember them fondly.

MY FAVORITES

Thirty Years: A Marriage in Pictures

This year my husband and I celebrated 30 years of marriage, and I commemorated the occasion with one picture for each year.

On August 12, 1989, we emerged from Immaculate Conception Church in downtown Knoxville, immediately after the ceremony.  Like any newly married couple, we were starting a journey that we couldn’t have imagined or predicted. 

Illegal or Unthinkable: One Pro-life Catholic’s Perspective on How to End Abortion

I was really scared when I published this one, expecting it to be controversial.  But it seemed to fly under everyone’s radar.  Perhaps I will regret including it in this list.

I know that most pro-life people really do care about babies, but I also understand why many Americans don’t believe that.   When we vote to end abortion but for caging migrant children,  against health care reform,  for removing welfare funds, and against family leave, we don’t seem pro-life.  We don’t look consistent.  We really make it look like “controlling women’s bodies” is all that we care about.  If we can demonstrate through common-sense, compassionate legislation that we really love them both and that our opposition to abortion is rooted in our respect for ALL life, I believe that’s when we will start to change hearts and minds.

Fall Break in New York City

The Fall Break in this post was in 2018, but I didn’t manage to write it up until almost exactly a year later.

Y’all, I may have gone a little crazy taking pictures of the Statue,  but you know what? I don’t care.  I could have stayed there with her all day.  This was by far the most meaningful part of our whole vacation to me.

When to Say Yes and When to Say No: Respecting Your Spiritual Gifts

Short, sweet, and important!

Every ministry in a parish is important.  Every baptized Catholic is gifted in some way for ministry.  Every parishioner should be offering time and talent in service to the Church.  But heed this PSA:  There is nothing wrong with saying NO if you are asked to participate in a ministry that does not align with your God-given gifts.

Five Steps to a Catholic Social Justice Newsfeed

Since I now do most of my reading on Facebook, it is important to me that I curate what I see there.  I have learned a lot by following the steps I write about in this post.

I need more from my Facebook feed than pictures of artistically arranged food and smiling babies and adorable kittens (not that I don’t love those things).  I rely on Facebook for information and spiritual enrichment too.  Because as a faithful Catholic I am passionate about social justice, I purposely create a Facebook feed that forms and informs me regarding what I care about most. 

If you’d like to read highlights from previous years, see below:

2018

2017

2016

2015

2014

12 in 2019: A Year in Pictures

It is time for the first post of 2020, and one of my favorite annual traditions, the past year in pictures! As always, it is difficult to decide whether to choose the most artistic picture of the the month or the one that is most representative of the month, so what you see below will be a mixture of both.

JANUARY

On January 12 my sister had a baby!  This is a picture of William meeting his cousin for the first time.

FEBRUARY

John and I went to San Francisco again in February to visit Teddy.  My next big picture post will be about our visits because I have taken so many beautiful pictures there.  So I am sharing this picture that I took at the Chicago Airport on the way there because I think it is cool.

MARCH

After the Saint Patrick’s Day Parade in downtown Knoxville, Lorelei and her cousin Ella had fun posing and taking pictures in this art-covered alley.

APRIL

I had fun experimenting with the Portrait option on my iPhone this year.  I took this picture of dogwood blossoms during one of my rosary walks before morning Mass.

MAY

Our precious nephew and Godson, Leo, made his First Holy Communion at Sacred Heart Cathedral in May.  I just love his sweet expression.

JUNE

This was taken at one of the parties during my 30-year college Reunion–from the top of the Watergate Hotel, with the sun setting over my alma mater.

JULY

John and I went on a cruise–our -first–to celebrate our 30th anniversary.  This photo was taken in Bermuda.

AUGUST

We went on an impromptu family vacation to Myrtle Beach over the Labor Day weekend.  I love this colorful shot of the boardwalk.

SEPTEMBER

I continue to enjoy sitting on my front porch, even with this nightly visitor, who was inches away from my foot when I took this picture.  I have learned to make no sudden moves, and all has been well, although our cats have not always been so lucky.

OCTOBER

My kids REALLY get into Halloween.  Look closely and you will see that our porch visitor was undeterred by the spooky decor.

NOVEMBER

A rare early November snowfall decorates the first berries ever on this nandina bush, which I transplanted from my grandmother’s garden several years ago.

DECEMBER

Christmas 2019.  All the Sholly kids were home and enjoyed brunch at the Crowne Plaza downtown.

To see photo essays from past years, click the links below:
2013
2014
2015
2016
2017
2018

I am linking up with Revolution of Love.  Click below to see pictures from other bloggers!

Quote Me: Cast Your Cares on God

I’m excited to share that I was recently a guest on a podcastLindsay Schlegel interviewed me for the last episode of the first season of Quote Me, in which guests discuss a favorite quotation and its impact on their lives.

My quotation was “Cast all your cares on God; that anchor holds.” It is from the poem Enoch Arden by Alfred, Lord Tennyson.

That’s not where I first read it, though.  Listen to the podcast to learn more, but I’ll say this much:  it’s related to my obsession with The X-Files.  Once upon a time I wrote fanfiction, and the story I refer to in the podcast is right here, should you be interested.

I hope you will give my interview–and the rest of the season–a listen and let me know what you think!

How to Fit Regular Prayer into Your Busy Life: It’s Not What You Think

For most of my adulthood, my prayer life has consisted of Mass on Sunday, various random calls on God on the saints as necessary throughout the day, and petitions in bed at night–if I did not fall asleep first.  I would marvel at folks who attended Mass daily, or said the rosary regularly, or woke up early for quiet time with God.  How on earth did they find the time?

Over the past few years I have experienced a real longing for holiness, a desire to spend more intentional time in prayer.  And I’ve had some limited success, with help from prayer journaling, a schedule that facilitated weekday Mass attendance, and even Facebook!  A schedule change this year, though, meant I had no reason to leave the house until afternoon.  And without that little boost, and with always so much work to do at home, I just haven’t been able to make myself go to morning Mass even though I really enjoyed it.

Every article about having a regular prayer life says to schedule time with God:  have a prayer appointment at the same time each day.  So I tried.  First I got up earlier in the morning to pray, but fell asleep in my chair the first few mornings and started hitting the snooze button instead.  I tried praying every night before bed (not IN bed!), and I fell asleep then too.  I considered scheduling prayer time mid-morning once I was good and awake, but I just couldn’t make myself go back upstairs (where my prayer space is located) once I had already gotten involved in my work.

As I type all that it sounds pathetic, but I am just being honest!  And this post does have a happy ending (at least for now!).  Here’s what I did:

  • I let go of last year’s schedule.  Just because I had a great thing going last year doesn’t mean it works this year, and that is okay.  Next school year will be different and maybe morning Mass will work for me again.
  • I made a commitment to FIT PRAYER IN.  I chose certain practices, and promised myself I would do them every day, but not necessarily on a particular schedule or at the same time every day.
  • I found tools to make regular prayer as easy as possible.  You can read about them here.
  • I found accountability partners.  Right now I’m participating in the 33 Days of Merciful Love challenge with Catholic Fit Moms for Life.  Regular prayer is one of my goals for the challenge, and the challenge itself includes spiritual reading and journaling.  I am registered for the Pray More Advent Retreat, which will overlap just a bit and then take me all the way to Christmas.

So what does this look like right now?  Once I’m alone in the house, I will usually do my journaling for the 33 Days challenge.  Then I will work for awhile before taking a break to say what I think of as my morning prayers, which I have saved on my phone so I don’t even have to leave my desk.  I listen to Pray As You Go in the car on the way to pick up the kids.  After dinner, when I used to sit on the porch and read, I now retire to my prayer space and do my reading for the challenge and use Hallow to meditate.  And I still say those bedtime prayers.  And if I don’t get to do all those things on a given day, I don’t feel worried or guilty, I just resume on the following day.

And you know what? By my prioritizing fitting prayer in somewhere, somehow, rather than attempting to schedule it, a schedule more or less naturally fell into place on its own!

So if you are a busy person who wants to pray more, and a prayer schedule hasn’t worked for you, try just committing to fitting it in and see how that works for you!

Merry Christmas Gift Guide

Now, I am not one to start Christmasing early.  We celebrate Advent hard and save Christmas for its proper 12 days as much as possible in today’s world.  But part of having a peaceful Advent for me is doing my Christmas shopping in November.  If you want to get an early start too, I’ve got some ideas for you!

Many of the products below were created by folks I know, or were given to me to review in the past.  There are a few (very few!) affiliate links among them.  In many cases I have included links to my reviews so you can learn more.

Let’s start with Catholic gifts. 

I used to think my only option for Catholic gifts was the local Catholic book and gift shop.  It’s still a great option when I need something right away, but there is so much else out there, much of it handmade by Catholic artisans.

I love, love, love Pink Salt Riot products.  You cannot go wrong shopping for your favorite Catholic woman here!  My top recommendation is the design your own bracelet:I wear the one I created most days!

I also love my St. Peter bracelet from Kindred Forest Co.

Visit them for a wonderful product line geared toward helping you be friends with the saints!

I am crazy about SockReligious (especially the clever name!).  There are so many choices that I can’t pick a favorite.  Maybe these?

Stay Close to Christ is another source for all kinds of Catholic gifts, including these adorable tiny saints.  You can get one for free with your $10 purchase if you enter the code LESLIE at check out.

I found these and many other favorite Catholic products via the CatholicsOnline Directory.  Click on the logo to learn more.

The talent of the artisans listed is truly a gift from God and I have been blessed by the products I have purchased.

A couple of my favorite Etsy shops I discovered via Catholics Online are Saongjai (I have bought sturdy, beautiful rosaries there) and No Heart Untouched (love her style and my husband loves the coffee cup I bought for him!).

There are always books on my Christmas list

I’ve already written some posts on Christmas-themed children’s books.  And here’s a link to non-Christmas picture books I love.

The following are a few Catholic books I have reviewed and can recommend.  Links to purchase are in each post:



And here are links to a few that I have not reviewed:

Be Yourself: A Journal for Catholic Girls  (The boys’ version is coming out soon!)

The Gift of Invitation (this is one of a series of Stay Connected journals)

Becoming Holy, One Virtue at a Time (another of the above series, to pre-order)

Made for Greatness (a growth mindset journal for Catholic kids)

Now for a few secular options!

I love the ring I purchased from Mama’s Jewelry, which contains the birthstones of all my children.  There are lots of styles to choose from and they are surprisingly affordable!  

This is the best lipstick I have ever owned.  It’s no longer available from the seller in the linked review, but you can purchase it here.

This next one is a bit pricey, but Healtop health and wellness products are amazing.

Finally, for those-hard-to-shop-for-people-who-have-everything, visit Uncommon Goods.  Honestly,  I love almost everything they sell (especially the candles)!

Let me know in the comments if you found anything here for your Christmas list!

Visiting Zoo Knoxville

As the mother of two animal fanatics, I have visited many remarkable zoos all over the country.  I am especially fond of (and proud of) Zoo Knoxville, which I have watched transform over the past 40+ years since my first visit on a school field trip.

We have had season passes off and on over the years, and now William is an official zoo volunteer, so we go to the zoo often.  I hope you enjoy the pictures of some of our favorite animals and the beautiful habitats created for their enjoyment and visitors’ education.

In my earliest memories, most of the animals were in cages or concrete bunkers.  Now, the majority live in habitats that suit the needs of the animals and please visitors too.  Something new is always under construction:  right now it is a state-of-the-art herpetology facility.  The current home of the reptiles is one of the few things left that has not changed much since my childhood.

The Chinese Alligator above is one of William’s favorite creatures at our zoo.

Many, many years ago the circus came to town and left a gift–a bad-tempered African elephant named Old Diamond.  He later became the father of the first African elephant born in captivity.  Old Diamond lived in a concrete enclosure.  Nowadays the elephants have much nicer digs, with inside and outside viewing areas.

William loves the petting zoo, especially the donkeys.  He is going to have the opportunity to start volunteering there in the next few weeks.

Lorelei especially likes the river otters, who are native to East Tennessee.  They can be elusive, though.

Besides the petting zoo, there are a lot of other “little kid” exhibits and activities in the Kids Cove area of the zoo–where all those concrete bunkers once were! Here are some of the animals you might see there:

Our zoo is known for raising red pandas, and we have a great indoor-outdoor exhibit of them.  I wish I had a better picture, because in my opinion they are about the cutest animals in the zoo and I wish I could cuddle one.

Below are some more of the animals you will see at Zoo Knoxville, as well as some examples of the attractive exhibits and landscaping.  I’m saving my very favorite pictures for the end of the post.

A pile of painted dog pups
These are NOT pigs; they are peccaries, a close relative
No one is really sure how old Big Al is, but he is well over 100

And now for my very favorite exhibit, the Asian Trek.  I just think it is beautifully done, and I love how close you can get to its inhabitants, as you will see.

I hope you enjoyed this virtual tour of Zoo Knoxville!

Saturday 9 November and Sunday 10 November are $5 days at the zoo, and parking is free, but you must purchase tickets ONLINE.

Five ObamaCare Facts and a PSA

For this year’s ObamaCare update, I am sharing five ObamaCare facts.

  1. The Affordable Care Act and ObamaCare refer to the same thing. I hope that’s obvious to you, but it isn’t to everyone–I have seen many a “man on the street” video with folks saying how awful ObamaCare is while in the same breath raving about the healthcare they receive under the Affordable Care Act.
  2. One ObamaCare provision requires your insurer to pay you back a portion of your premiums if they fail to spend a certain amount of their profits on patient care.  This is the second year I have gotten an unexpected check in the mail.
  3. ObamaCare includes a yearly cap on out-of-pocket expenses.  Once you reach that cap, all your care is free.  The cap varies by insurance plan, and this year some of us will should be getting free care in December.
  4. The Affordable Care Act benefits you even if you don’t buy your insurance from the Marketplace or a state exchange.  The ACA made it illegal for insurance companies to refuse to insure you or charge you more due to pre-existing conditions.  This is a big freaking deal, and it is just one example of protections put into place by the ACA that apply to everyone.
  5. Enrollment is NOW OPEN at Healthcare.gov.  If you are already covered by an ACA plan, it’s time to re-enroll.  If you are currently uninsured or unhappy with the insurance you have, you can sign up until December 15, 2019.

For more of my writing on the Affordable Care Act aka ObamaCare, 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
Obamacare Update: Good, Bad, and Ugly
Not Repealed and Not Imploding:  An Obamacare Update
ObamaCare Endures, and for That We Are Grateful

A Labor Day Weekend Visit to Cincinnati

Knoxville (my hometown) is four hours away from Cincinnati. I’ve always heard people saying what a great place Cincinnati is.  But I never did more than drive through (and that not often) until Labor Day weekend two years ago.

We had a particular reason for visiting that weekend–we wanted to see a very special exhibit at the Cincinnati Museum Center.  We bought our tickets just about as soon as we heard about this exhibit and it was every bit as thrilling as we expected.

The Museum Center, which was undergoing extensive renovations at the time

This is a detail of the prior photo, which had a container of the Emperor’s disgusting fingernails.

Since we were in the museum, we decided to take a peek at another exhibit, which turned out to be even more of a thrill for this English major.

A FIRST FOLIO
Me with an actual First Folio of Shakespeare’s play. I assure you I was way more thrilled than I appeared. I would not have posed for a picture with just anything!
There were interactive aspects to this exhibit, as you can see!

After the Museum, we decided to do a little sightseeing.

 

All of the above photos were taken in Fountain Square.  The fountain itself is a Cincinnati icon, and is well-known to anyone who ever watched the opening credits of WKRP in Cincinnati (which was why John wanted to go there).  Anyway, it is a beautiful landmark.

Whenever we visit a new place, we try to go to the Cathedral if there is one.  Cincinnati has a beautiful one, Saint Peter in Chains.

Just across the street from the Cathedral is this magnificent edifice, the Plum Street Temple, one of only two Jewish temples of this style in the country and reminiscent of those destroyed in the Holocaust.

As you can see, we had a really full day.  As was the next one, when we visited the Cincinnati Zoo, the second-oldest zoo in the United States and one of the best in the country.

Like cathedrals, we make it a point to visit zoos wherever we go.  And we take them seriously, trying to make sure we see every exhibit.  We saw every animal in this enormous zoo, and it took us EIGHT HOURS.  The photos below represent only a very small sample.

This and the one below is a condor, which we only saw from far away–but just look at that wingspan!

This sign is the introduction to the nocturnal animal exhibit–considerate for the animals, but difficult for observers!

The tribute to passenger pigeons made us all sad.

At the insect exhibit

And that was the end of our short but very busy visit to Cincinnati.  Have you ever been there?

When to Say Yes and When to Say No: Respecting Your Spiritual Gifts

Several years ago my parish decided to bring the Called and Gifted workshop to our parish to help our members discern their spiritual gifts and to encourage them to use them in parish ministries.  As a member of the organizing committee, I traveled to a neighboring state to experience the program myself.  I also received training in facilitating the follow-up interviews and small group sessions that followed our parish’s workshop.  I became and remain an enthusiastic believer in the existence and importance of spiritual gifts.

And yet when I was asked to take on a church ministry that did not align with my gifts, I said yes.

Being on the church hospitality ministry (read serving doughnuts once a month after the Mass we attend) did not seem like a big deal, and I was flattered (let’s face it) to be asked.  But within just a few days after accepting I had second thoughts.

It may sound ridiculous, but I don’t have the right charism mix for serving doughnuts.  I realized this almost immediately and told my husband I wanted to quit.

But he thought it would be wrong to back out.  He said he would take over the job if I did not want it.

You know what? John does not have the right charism mix either.  He carried on miserably for some time before he finally gave up the job.

If someone had asked me to organize and run the doughnut ministry, I would have rocked that.  I have the charism of Administration.

If someone had asked John to recruit hospitality ministers, he would have rocked that.  He has the charism of Leadership.

Every ministry in a parish is important.  Every baptized Catholic is gifted in some way for ministry.  Every parishioner should be offering time and talent in service to the Church.  But heed this PSA:  There is nothing wrong with saying NO if you are asked to participate in a ministry that does not align with your God-given gifts.

If you are not sure what your spiritual gifts are, here is one online test that is similar to the one used in the Called and Gifted workshop.

Books Worth Reading: Christmas Part II

I’ve written previously about our family’s Christmas book tradition and shared some of our favorites.  Just in time for you to order before Christmas, here are five more of our all-time favorites.

Who Is Coming to Our House

I am pretty sure this was the second Christmas book I bought for Emily, so it has been part of our Christmas for over a quarter of a century!  She loved it so much that she memorized most of it.  A big plus is that nowadays you can get it as a board book!

We Were There

Now, there are lots and lots of books that tell the story of the birth of Jesus from the point of view of the animals in the stable.  But there were other creatures present that you may not have thought of.  This book was–and is–a hit with our youngest two, who love all things creepy crawly; and it is a wonderful reminder that God made ALL creatures, not just the cuddly ones.

Santa and the Christ Child

From a literary standpoint, this one isn’t going to win any awards.  But I still love the story, and it reminds me of my favorite “Kneeling Santa” Christmas decoration.

Christmas Tapestry

We are big Patricia Polacco fans and several of our Christmas books were written by her, but I think this recent acquisition is my favorite.  Although it’s a Christmas miracle story, it’s also ecumenical and historical and heartwarming.

All Creation Waits

Maybe it is cheating a bit to include an Advent book but we got this last year and I cannot tell you how much we loved it.  We read one story every evening as a part of our Advent celebration.  I bought it for my son the animal lover but we were all enthralled and amazed by the beauty of God’s creation as revealed in these stories.

That’s all for this installment! Tell me about your favorites in the comments–I need some ideas for what to order this year!