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.

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?

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!

 

Fall Break in New York City

Growing up in Tennessee, New York City was to me the epitome of everything frightening about Up North: crime, noise, crowds, and unfriendly people.  Two stops in the Port Authority bus terminal while in college confirmed all my worse fears.  I had very little desire to see more of the place.

John had several friends in college who were New York natives, plus he grew up in Baltimore, which is only five hours away, so he had been to the city several times and rightly thought I was silly.  He thought taking the kids there for Fall Break last year would be a great idea–they very much wanted to go–and he was right.

Typically, I took about a million pictures, and that is what most of this post will consist of, with some travel tips and deep thoughts sprinkled throughout. 🙂

Travel tip #1: Have friends in New York who let you stay with them for free. 🙂

Mandi, Sameer, and their three kids live in this beautiful home in an historic Brooklyn neighborhood and they were the most welcoming and generous hosts ever.  Mandi is John’s stepsister’s daughter which I guess makes her my step-niece by marriage, but she just says we are cousins which is a lot easier and more accurately reflects our actual relationship.  We had fun spending time with them and we could not have been more comfortable.

We could have taken the subway, which was right around the corner, but we blew all the money we saved on lodging by Ubering everywhere instead because we are wimps.  Our very first Uber driver spoke only Chinese and did not know how to get to the ferry for the Statue of Liberty, which we all agreed should be our first destination.  We made it though!

Travel tip #2:  Allow each traveler to pick a couple of must-visit attractions, since there is no way to see everything in one trip.  The Statue was one we all agreed on.

Travel tip #3:  City Pass.  We bought these in advance and it guaranteed us tickets to all the things we most wanted to see and saved us money and time in lines.

There is a park where you wait for the ferry, and this sculpture of immigrants to to the United States is prominently displayed there, a visual reminder of the “tired and poor . . . huddled masses . . . and wretched refuse” welcomed for so long by Lady Liberty.

We were grateful for no rain as we approached the island, but sad that visibility was not that great.

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.  We didn’t book early enough to get to go inside the Statue, but we listened to the audio tour, explored the gift shop, had lunch, and walked everywhere we could.  I might have cried a little, thinking about what Lady Liberty stands for and how far our country seems to have strayed from those ideals.  I did not want to leave.

Finally we said good-bye and boarded the ferry for our next stop, Ellis Island.  If I had known there was so much to see there, I might have left the Statue sooner.  There was room upon room of exhibits, full of information about the history of the Island and the people who were processed there on their journey to America.

This is the room where the initial processing of new arrivals took place

Lorelei and William rest on an original bench where immigrants sat waiting to be called

We took one last trip on the ferry back to where we began, and got a good look at the monument below to American soldiers who died in the Atlantic during the Second World War.

It was getting late and we wanted to squeeze a few for sights in before heading back to Brooklyn, which leads to Travel Tip #4:  Visit sites in the same general location on the same day.  I know that sounds like a no-brainer, but it requires figuring out where things are in advance if you are in an unfamiliar place.  The walking directions that Siri provided were helpful in getting us quickly to our last stops of the day, one specifically requested by William and one by Lorelei.

Here is what William wanted to see, and you can tell how happy it made him!

Lorelei wanted to visit the graveyard of Trinity Church to see the grave of Alexander Hamilton, since she was (and nearly a year later remains) obsessed with the musical Hamilton.  Sadly, the churchyard was locked for the evening, but we still got a decent view.

And after that we headed back to Brooklyn to rest up for the next day’s adventures!

We spent the majority of our second day at NYC at Ground Zero.  And yet I did not take nearly as many pictures as I did the other days.  There is something about the 9/11 Museum that demands reverence and attention.  It’s a place I wanted to fully immerse myself in rather than stand outside of and evaluate.  Most of the images below were probably taken within the first hour we were there, then I stopped until we were at the outside portion of the memorial.

The flowers indicate a birthday.  We were especially moved that unborn children were commemorated.

The new World Trade Center building, Freedom Tower, is impressive:

We didn’t go up to the observatory, though–we had different skyscraper plans, as you will see.  We ended day two with dinner in a neighborhood Italian place in Brooklyn.

Bright and early the next morning we got up, ate, and went outside to wait for our Uber.  We had a long day ahead of us.

The Natural History Museum was our first stop.  We spent several hours there.  It wore me out.  I don’t know why but as much as I enjoy them I find museums exhausting.

I am just going to dump a lot of pictures below as I believe they will speak for themselves.

As you can see, we spent most of our time with the dinosaurs.  I have just a few more pictures of some other things we saw:

We walked to our next stop, which was less than a mile away.  We didn’t have time to walk through Central Park but at least we caught a glimpse:

Here’s another famous landmark we happened to pass and were excited to see, which I will admit we all recognized because of Moonstruck, my favorite movie of all time:

Our actual destination was the Church of Saint Paul the Apostle.  This is the Mother Church for the Missionary Society of Saint Paul the Apostle, otherwise known as the Paulist Fathers, the priests who have staffed my parish church since I was a very little girl.  Our former pastor, Father Joe Ciccone, who baptized Lorelei, was the pastor at Saint Paul at the time, although we had slight hopes of seeing him given that it was after five when we arrived.

We took some time to wander around and pray inside the church.  Travel Tip #5, for Catholics anyway, if there’s a cathedral or other notable church where you are vacationing, spend some time there.  It will be beautiful and it’s free!

While the kids and I were wandering around, John made a call and discovered that the office was still open so we decided to go around the corner and see if Father Joe was still around.

He was!  We had a short visit with him–the reason he was still there was that he had a dinner engagement nearby–and then we proceeded to our next BIG event!

I won’t lie–the crowd was big and the lines were long, although our City Pass helped.  But it was worth it!

Wow, that was a long day.  We got home late and exhausted, but we still pressed forward the next morning with more big adventures in store.

Our first stop on our last full day in New York was by William’s request.  William has favorites of many things, and that includes a favorite building, the Chrysler Building.  For many years he has talked about what a beautiful building it is, and we had promised we would make sure to include it in our trip.  The evening before he had already seen it all lighted up from afar as we stood on the observation deck of the Empire State Building, but he wanted to see it up close.

VERY close.

Just see how happy he is!

Unfortunately you can no longer go upstairs in the building unless you have legitimate business there, so we had to content ourselves with spending time in the lobby.

We thought we were humoring William, but the truth is that we were grateful for his obsession because it truly is a beautiful building and we were all glad we got to see it.

After a final good-bye to the Chrysler Building, we headed for the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

You know a person could spend days in here, right?  So we knew we would have to choose where to concentrate our efforts deliberately.

William wanted to see the Egyptian displays, and they were close at hand, so we started there.

Lorelei and I wanted to see paintings.  William did not want to leave Egypt.  So we left him there with John and headed upstairs.

Lorelei was especially interested in seeing the Van Gogh collection.

I cannot express what it is like to be absolutely surrounded by fabulous and famous works of art.  In every direction were works that were very familiar to us.

We were especially excited to see the painting below, a replica of which hangs on our family room wall!

At one point, Lorelei and I sat down in a random room just to rest and when we got up to leave we realized we had been sitting in a room full of priceless Picasso paintings without even noticing!

Having accomplished our main goal, we headed back downstairs to reunite with John and William, get a snack in the museum restaurant, and view some of the medieval collection.

Most of this collection had religious significance of course and we were mesmerized both by that and by the age of some of the pieces which were over 1000 years old.

Then it was sadly time to go back to Brooklyn and pack up to leave the next morning.

John had one final surprise for me.  We made a detour to Queens as we left the next morning and stopped to take a picture of this:

This is the Castorini home in the movie Moonstruck which as I have already mentioned is my favorite film of all time and which also holds special memories for us as we saw it on our first “dating anniversary” in February 1988.

We drove home by way of Baltimore.  John and the kids spent time with his mother while I was fortunate enough to attend a Catholic blogging conference nearby.  It was a magnificent trip and I cannot believe it was already a year ago!

Thirty Years: A Marriage in Pictures

John and I were married thirty years ago today, at 12:30 p.m. to be precise.  To celebrate our anniversary and to reflect on what all those years have meant, I am sharing one picture from each year, with commentary.

August 12, 1989, as 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.  We were 23 and 22 when this picture was taken.

April 1990, at the Tidal Basin in Washington, D.C.  John and I met at Georgetown University, and lived in Alexandria, Virginia just outside D.C. for most of our first year of marriage.  John, who graduated in 1988, was already working as a Federal Investigator and I found a job as Secretary of Georgetown’s Department of History.

Fall 1991.  A lot happened in a year and a half!  We learned we were expecting our first baby.  We decided to move to Knoxville to establish residency so John could attend the University of Tennessee College of Law.  We left good jobs in D.C. for no jobs in Knoxville and settled into a two-bedroom apartment,  I found a job as Secretary of the Liberal Arts Advising Center.  John worked in the UT Traffic Office by day and sold shoes at Proffitt’s (a local, now defunct department store) by night.  Emily was born in February 1991, and John started law school later that year.  We have never regretted this decision.

February 16, 1992, dressed to go out to celebrate our 5th dating anniversary.  We still celebrate that day every year.  At this point we were living on a combination of student loans and part-time jobs.  John was making fundraising phone calls for Tennessee Right to Life and I was the Foster Care Promotional Coordinator for Sertoma Learning Center.  Later that year John started working as a law clerk.  Childcare for Emily was cobbled together: my little sister watched her all summer, my grandmother helped once my sister was back in school, I brought her with me when possible, and she spent one day a week in a Parents Day Out downtown.  I hated having to leave her.

July 1993, New Orleans, where we were taking part in Katrice and Rico’s wedding.  Katrice was one of my best friends in high school.  She and Rico are godparents to our oldest son, and we celebrated their son’s college graduation with them earlier this month.  What I remember about this day is that I was hot and miserable and suffering from morning sickness.  John was getting ready to start his third year of law school and I was preparing to return to grad school and my Graduate Assistant position in the College of Liberal Arts.

May 1994, John’s graduation from law school! I love this picture.  We were very popular in law school because students with babies were rare and ours were spoiled by all our friends.  Jake was three months old when John graduated.  And he was four months old when we found out we were expecting another baby, just days before John took the bar exam.  Thankfully he passed and landed a job in Oak Ridge reviewing OSHA regulations shortly afterwards.  I was able to quit my job and have never worked outside the home since.

Easter 1995, a classic picture and one of my favorites of all time.  Teddy arrived when Jake was 12.5 months old.  He had only learned to walk about two weeks earlier.  Two babies at once were a lot to handle and most of that first year is a blur.

Christmas 1996.  We still had two babies in diapers (and two cribs!) but we also had our first house! A year in a dreadful two-and-a-half bedroom apartment after Teddy arrived spurred us onward to home ownership and we loved our sweet 1940s house in South Knoxville.

Halloween 1997.  The kids were two, three, and six.  They spent most of their time outside, and I spent a lot of time outside as well, having discovered a love of gardening.  By now John had his own solo practice, and I did (and still do) very part-time grant writing and editing for my mother’s non-profit organizing work.

February 4, 1998, John’s 32nd and Emily’s 7th birthday celebration.  Looking back now, those years of being overwhelmed by the needs of little kids seem like the golden years.  It was hard, but it was simpler.

February 1999.  The date is a guess, but this was taken at a restaurant at what was probably a birthday celebration and we have four of those at this time every year.  I make a lot of cakes for awhile!

January 2000, dressed for church.  Teddy’s hat came from a New Year’s Eve celebration John and I had attended at Club LeConte.

March 2001.  And then there were four!  The arrival of William was exciting but rough, as I had postpartum hypertension and had to remain in bed for about a month after he was born, with ten-year-old Emily taking care of her brothers when John was at work.  We were beginning to be very cramped in our 1400 square foot house and our Mercury Sable.  Both were replaced later in the year.

Christmas 2002.  When the big kids were little, every December meant a trip to the portrait studio for Christmas pictures to insert in our Christmas cards.  By this time I was taking a roll of film with my own camera and then sending triple prints.  The closest family members got the worst pictures!  Here the kids are standing in front of the house where we had lived for just over a year, a 3000 square foot Queen Anne Victorian built in 1889, in a non-gentrified but walkable neighborhood just a couple of miles from John’s office downtown.

August 2003, the big kids’ first day of school.  It was the last year they would all attend St. Joseph School together.  Jake was in third grade, Teddy in second, and Emily in sixth, but Jake and Teddy were both homeschooled for their fourth grade year.

November 2004, Lorelei’s first trip to church.  We didn’t know it then, but she would be our last baby and the last family member to get to wear John’s heirloom baby dress.

Christmas 2005 marked the end of a hard year that included periods of unemployment, financial difficulties, and John’s hospitalization.  Looking back now I can see that it was the only beginning of the most difficult period in our family’s life so far.

September 2006, celebrating my mother’s birthday.  This photo includes Ella and Zachary, my sister Anne’s children.  Ella is 17 months younger than William and Zachy is 17 months older, and they grew up playing together.

Spring 2007.  William is wearing his St. Joseph School uniform.  Kindergarten was his only year in Catholic school.  He spent the next year at the public school down the street, then was homeschooled for several years while I struggled to figure out why he wasn’t as easy to teach as Jake and Teddy had been.  We called the back stairs in our kitchen the “snack steps” because that’s where I would sit the little kids to eat something while I was cooking.  You can see evidence in this picture that our old house was starting to crumble a bit.

May 2008, Jake’s graduation from 8th grade, taken next to Holy Ghost Church.  We were all smiles, and very proud of Jake who graduated with straight A’s and won some academic awards, but I was putting on a brave face.  The day before this I was in the hospital undergoing outpatient surgery after having miscarried our last baby.

November 2009.  I’m not sure who snapped this picture of John and me the afternoon of our move into a new home.  It wasn’t a happy move, springing from financial necessity of being upside-down on the mortgage of our disintegrating but much-loved Victorian home.  But I love that the picture shows us supporting each other.

May 2010, Jake’s first prom.  I love this picture for the personality it shows, but also because it was a bright spot in an otherwise difficult stretch where John and Jake (who have a great relationship now) did not get along well at all.  Something else noteworthy about 2010 is that it is when I became John’s legal assistant, working from home to run his office.

September 6, 2011.  Our rental house had just burned down and we lost almost every material possession.  Thanks to the overwhelming kindness of our family and community, we were able to move into the home in which we still live three weeks later.

Fall 2012, Senior Night.  John and I are not athletic, and our kids showed no interest in sports until Teddy wanted to play football in 8th grade.  It was all new and exciting to us and we thoroughly enjoyed those few years as football parents.

May 2013, Emily’s college graduation.  Emily attended Spring Hill College in Mobile, Alabama, graduating with a degree in Creative Writing.  We thoroughly enjoyed our many visits to Mobile, where my mother’s family has roots, especially the seafood!  Just a couple of months later, we sent another kid off to college as Teddy began his freshman year at the University of Notre Dame.

August 12, 2014, a 25th anniversary selfie.  This was taken at Club LeConte, a fancy restaurant on the 27th floor of Knoxville’s tallest building.

July 2015, in a Chicago skyscraper more deserving of the name.  We were in town to attend a wedding and to visit Teddy, who was doing a summer internship there.

March 2016, a Spring Break trip to Chattanooga.  Traveling was starting to get easier.  On our last family trip with all five kids, we had to take two cars and book three motel rooms.

May 2017, Teddy’s graduation from Notre Dame.

March 24, 2018, our first wedding.  Jake and Jessica were married at Frozen Head State Park.  Six months later, they moved to Nashville.

July 2019, our first cruise.  We sailed on Royal Caribbean’s Grandeur of the Seas to Bermuda, in honor of our upcoming anniversary.  I haven’t blogged about the cruise but I plan to.  It was wonderful and we deserved it.

“[Love] is the unity that binds us all together, that makes this earth a family, and all men brothers and the sons of God.”  ~ Thomas Wolfe

June Summer Fun

A quick look at the summer fun the Shollys had in June . . .

The first week of the month, Emily and Lorelei were in Nashville, which made for a very quiet house.  Things got lively mid-week, when Jake and Jessica dropped in for a day to leave their dog, Homer, with us while they went to Bonnaroo.  We had Homer, an energetic young German shepherd, for over a week.

So as soon as Emily and Lorelei returned we started taking the dogs to the park daily.  We  made it more fun by trying a second dog park nearby, this one with a pond.

The weekend after Homer left was Father’s Day.  We all went to Mass, of course, and stopped at McKay’s Used Books on the way home.  We let John choose the agenda, and ended up going to Texas Roadhouse later in the evening.

The following Wednesday was our much anticipated visit to the Chattanooga Zoo, which I highly recommend.  It’s compact–you can see the whole thing in two hours, but packed full of interesting animals, including some–jaguars, an anteater, coyotes, and more–that we had never seen in a zoo before.  And then we treated ourselves to Waffle House on the way home.

Honestly, since then our summer has pretty much looked like this:

And as far as all my ambitious home improvement projects, aside from getting some more pictures hung up (which is actually a pretty big deal) I’ve spent whatever energy I have on the yard, using my new battery-operated weedeater to try to carve some order out of the backyard, some portions of which are almost as tall as I am.

John and I started June with a trip and we are starting July with one as well–our very first cruise, in honor of our upcoming 30th anniversary.  Watch my instagram for pictures! Once again Emily will be in charge of providing summer fun for the kids, but I still have a few things planned for when we return.

Summer Fun Revisited

Remember last summer, when I treated my kids to near-daily adventures from the first day of break to the last?

I sure do, both because it was fun and because it seems like it happened a few weeks ago instead of a year ago.  But if you think I am getting ready to tell you how I am getting ready to do it all again you’d be wrong.

We are going to have some fun this summer, but not quite as often.  And this summer the kids are going to help me more with what I find fun, which is getting the house in shape.

So there won’t be enough going on to justify a weekly blog post, but I’ll pop in from time to time to share this summer’s adventures, starting today.

Summer break started with a bang, with our traditional last-day-of-school ice cream cones:

Which was followed by  super-Catholic way to start vacation, venerating the heart of Saint Jean Vianney:

On Sunday after Mass we had a graduation party to attend which happened to be near the zoo so we dropped the kids there for their first solo trip!  We had a family cookout for Memorial Day, complemented by strawberries Emily grew and Lorelei (mostly) harvested:

The next day we had a fun cousin adventure, including introducing Leo and Ella to the lake:

And being introduced ourselves to Hoskins Drug Store, which has a lunch counter that hasn’t changed since the 1930s:

Emily was responsible for summer fun over the next few days, since John and I were in Washington, DC for my college reunion (about which more later, most likely).  She managed another trip to the zoo, daily visits to the dog park, and the new Godzilla movie.  Right after we returned she and Lorelei left for a week in Nashville and things have been pretty boring around here without them.  John and I are pretending William is an only child.  We took him to the Korean restaurant one night and this evening we are going back to the Godzilla movie!

And under the category of getting the house organized, we have spent an hour cleaning William’s room (more must be done), cleaned and organized one half of the front porch (the dirtier half!), installed two garden hoses and mounts for them, and accomplished a couple of long-overdue projects in the basement.

And I’ve got more planned on both the fun and the organization fronts.  If you find any of this remotely interesting, watch this space for semi-regular updates.

Book Review: 67 Ways to Do the Works of Mercy with Your Kids

As a student in parochial school, I first encountered the Corporal Works of Mercy, as a list to memorize for a religion grade.  Thirty years or so later, I made my homeschooled children memorize them too, write them out in their best handwriting, draw pictures illustrating each one.

There’s nothing wrong with memorizing things, y’all.  But that should really only be the starting point when it comes to something as important and central to the Catholic faith as the Corporal Works of Mercy are supposed to be.

Heidi Indahl’s amazing book, 67 Ways to Do the Works of Mercy with Your Kids, is a comprehensive guide to moving from listing the Works of Mercy to living them as a family.  I’m going to rave for a minute here and tell you that I can’t think of a thing that Heidi could have added to this book to make it any better.  It provides everything you need to learn about, understand, and teach your children about the Works of Mercy, and then it goes on to provide dozens of examples of how you and your kids can do them in your community.

A new idea for me was the Cycle of Service: preparing your family for serving by learning about about the Works of Mercy and discussing projects in advance, acting in the community by serving others, and reflecting on the experience together afterwards.  Something else that was not familiar to me was the designation by Pope Francis of a new, unofficial work of mercy: Care for Our Common Home.

Implementing liturgical living in your Catholic home–celebrating feast days with special meals, lighting an Advent wreath, decorating your home altar, “giving up something” for Lent–is becoming more and more popular among Catholic families.  And that’s great.  But there are lots of ways to be Catholic, and I can’t think of a better one than integrating serving the least of these into your family culture in the mindful way that Heidi writes about in this book.

Heidi is an author, a blogger, and a Catholic homeschooling mother of many.  Along with her husband, she offers homeschooling consulting with a Montessori focus, and if I had known her sooner my adventures in homeschooling would probably have been more successful!  I love her blog, her Instagram, and her Facebook page, from which I frequently nab parenting memes to share because our philosophies are so closely aligned.  She is an authority you can trust.

Want to take a look before you buy?  You can preview and purchase the book right here.

For extra ideas that you won’t find in the book, check out this post on Heidi’s blog, and this Pinterest board.  And for more great books for Catholic families, visit her publisher, Peanut Butter and Grace.

12 in 2018: A Year in Pictures

I love taking pictures, and I love this self-indulgent exercise of sharing my best photos of 2018.  Or maybe not the best, but the most representative–it kind of depends on the month, really.

JANUARY:  A bonfire in our backyard–this one was for the burning of the Christmas tree, and the reason the fire has this cool shape is that our wreath is in there!

FEBRUARY:   It was SO HARD to pick a picture for February, y’all.  We went to San  Francisco to visit Teddy and I took maybe a million beautiful pictures.  I love this one because it was serendipitous–I had gone on a walk alone, knowing nothing of the celebration of the Chinese New Year, and encountered this parade by accident.

MARCH:  Another hard choice.  Jake and Jessica were married on March 24, and I was the photographer.  I think this is my favorite.

APRIL:  Emily had her five-year college reunion in Mobile, Alabama and we tagged along for the food.  While she was busy I took the kids to an alligator preserve. That may not sound like your idea of fun but it was pure heaven for William, who NEVER smiles like this for the camera.

MAY:  Here’s one of Lorelei hiding in a specimen bush at the UT Arboretum, which was one of our first summer adventures.

JUNE:  This is the view from the top of Grandfather Mountain.  We spent almost a week staying with friends at their timeshare in Beech Mountain, North Carolina, and this was definitely a highlight of the vacation.  I took this after walking across the “Mile High Swinging Bridge.”  I don’t even like to stand on chairs so that was a pretty big deal.

JULY:  Another summer adventure.  We discovered this little park through an accidental short cut, and we came back the next week to go swimming.

AUGUST:  From this point on, my camera roll is full of pictures of this guy, who we adopted in August. This picture is also important because it was taken at our new neighborhood park, which we just love.

SEPTEMBER:  This picture has a lot of things I enjoy in it–a cat, my porch chairs, and wine!  For some reason, once they started selling wine at the grocery store we started drinking it with dinner more often. 🙂  I love to take my dinner wine outside to the porch after the meal.  I also enjoy reading–and napping–out there.  It truly is my happy place.

OCTOBER:  Another month with so many pictures it was almost impossible to choose.  I really need to devote an entire post to our trip to New York City.  The Statue of Liberty was my favorite, though.  I was quite misty-eyed and I could happily have stayed there all day.

NOVEMBER:  I love this picture of beautiful downtown Knoxville, my favorite place in the world.

DECEMBER:  This picture was taken at my parish church on Gaudete Sunday.  I thought the church was especially beautiful that day.  We truly did have a joyful Advent so this seems like an appropriate choice.

This was a good year.  It’s nice to look back on the year and feel that way.

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

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

A Knoxville Fall Weekend

Remember summer?  It seems so long ago! Not the hot part–that lasted well into October here–but the not-being-in-school-and-having-daily-adventures part, which ended for us in early August.
We’ve had adventures since then, if not so many; what I lack is the time to share them here.  But since I have a spare moment, I’m going to write a few words about our lovely fall weekend.
I love fall so much that I really can’t stop smiling when I’m outside at this time of year! And I’m blessed to live in a part of the country that really knows how to put on a fall colors show.  Plus there is always something going on every weekend–multiple things, actually.
The Farmer’s Market will only be happening for a few more weeks, so Emily, Lorelei, and I headed downtown first thing on Saturday.   We hadn’t counted on the football game.  No, we didn’t get caught in traffic, but the normally free and plentiful downtown parking sported Event Pricing of $20.  This being Knoxville, that meant we had to park five whole blocks away and pay the meter about three dollars.  On the bright side, it was a beautiful day for a stroll.
fall weekend 3
We had hot apple cider and pumpkin bread, enjoyed free entertainment provided by the various buskers, and bought eggs, cheese, apples, and some vegetables too.  Then we went to the 90th anniversary open house at the Tennessee Theatre.
I first set foot in the Tennessee Theatre in the 1970s, watching Gone with the Wind for the very first time, courtesy of my grandmother.  I was so lucky to be introduced to it in exactly the kind of place it was made to be seen! Knoxville’s “Grand Entertainment Palace” narrowly escaped demolition around 1980, and underwent extensive restoration and renovation in 2005.  It’s truly a treasure and it was such a treat to get to go backstage to explore the dressing rooms and the green room, to see the Mighty Wurlitzer organ up close, and have time to take all the pictures I wanted.
tennessee theatre interior
We dropped off Lorelei to volunteer for Feral Feline Friends of East Tennessee while we had coffee at my sister’s house, then went home and finished off our fall fun by taking the dog to the park.
Sunday morning Lorelei, William, and I went to Mass (John being under the weather).  Our parish has a rosary procession at the Catholic Cemetery on the first Sunday of November, and I wanted to go, but since circumstances did not permit, I decided to honor the dead in my own way.  After we ran errands and I returned the kids and the groceries to the house, I went off to explore a graveyard a bit closer to home.  A reader of one of my other cemetery posts alerted me to the existence of Pleasant Chapel Cemetery.
fall weekend 2.jpg
I will write more about it later after I’ve had a chance to do a little research.  It has been way too long since I visited a new graveyard.  It was so peaceful there.  I wish I could share the smell of the leaves and the dirt and the sounds of chirping insects so you could experience the full atmosphere.  Anyway, I was happy to be there and to say a prayer for all the dead, who are unlikely to be Catholic but would surely appreciate the prayers anyway.
fall weekend 1.jpgThen I came home, made coffee, and sat on the front porch to start reading The Gift of Invitation, which I will be reviewing here this week.
It was a perfect fall weekend, and I am sad to see it end.  Now on to Election Day! (Yikes!)  How do you like to spend fall weekends?

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