More Summer Fun

Well, this has been a busy week!
John and I got back from Georgetown Sunday evening, and I was right back into summer adventures with the kids the following day, when we visited McClung Museum.  This is a mostly unsung treasure on the University of Tennessee campus.  The kids have been there many times but it had been a few years.  Notable to me is that they now take time to read the descriptions on the displays.  We spent two solid hours here.  I loved the temporary exhibit, “Pick Your Poison,” an historical treatment of recreational drug and alcohol use, but as always it was the Egypt exhibit that enthralled Lorelei and William.
summer 7.jpg
Tuesday was hiking day, and because we got a late start we kept it very local, heading to Melton Hill Park about ten minutes away.  William thought it was beautiful although he decried the level of garbage we encountered along the woodland trails, this being the type of park where teenagers (and others) congregate to do sketchy things.  It was also super hot that day and I really thought I might collapse but I soldiered on.
summer 8
Wednesday, as I mentioned before, we have a standing appointment in the morning.  Plus William had yet another dentist appointment that afternoon.  So we again kept it close to where we were already going to be and visited the KARM thrift store in Bearden.  I don’t know if it’s weird but my kids love thrift stores.  On Wednesday I got to have a little summer fun of my own when my cousin quite unexpectedly invited me to go to a Journey/Def Leppard concert!  She was nuts about Journey when we were teenagers and I thought she might have a heart attack!
summer 10
Thursday was animal day this week (Lorelei and William think every day should b e animal day).  We went to the zoo.  William and I had an appointment at 9:00 a.m. to talk to the volunteer coordinator about his plans to volunteer there next year.  This forced us to get there really early and we discovered this is a delightful time to visit the zoo while escaping the afternoon heat.  We also experimented with letting William wander around by himself some in preparation for dropping off at the zoo to spend the day there alone sometime soon.

summer 9
Lorelei and William look for the otters

Today, Friday, I begged off because I was lunching with a friend and attending funeral services later, and also needed time to get work done.  And tomorrow we are hitting the Farmer’s Market again, this time with Emily along.  I think William would enjoy it but I’m not sure whether we will be able to talk him into it.  I’m guessing not.
Tune in next week–I’ve got at least one really exciting thing planned!

The Summer Fun Continues . . .

The first full week of summer break is coming to a close so I thought I’d give y’all an update on our summer of fun.

Sundays are already busy, with the day half gone by the time we get home from 11:30 Mass, plus John and I have a standing meeting on Sunday afternoons, so Sunday is getting no additional fun.  Sorry, kids!

Monday was Memorial Day, so we had a cookout.

Even though we already had an appointment with an oral surgeon Tuesday morning, and I was getting my hair cut in the afternoon, I kept my promise of having some fun, which the kids are already beginning to count on!  Since the oral surgeon is in Oak Ridge, we made a stop at the University of Tennessee Arboretum just down the road, a place I have had on my list for a long time.  There are specimen gardens and many short and easy nature trails.
UT Arboretum 1UT Arboretum 2
The kids especially enjoyed that many trees were marked by type so that we learned to identify a few of them.  They also learned about chestnut blight, which upset William very much.

Wednesday we have a standing morning appointment.  I decided we would do a few things in the area in which we would be as a result.  So we went to the closest Goodwill, one of their favorite things to do.  We followed that up with a trip to McKay’s, the used book store.  Then on the way home we made another ice cream stop–along with running a few errands.  The deal is, we do one fun thing and one chore each time.

This was not a typical week, because Thursday John and I left for Washington, D.C. to attend his 30 year reunion at Georgetown University.  So the rest of this week is devoted to us having fun (and I promise we are!).  But the kids are already asking what we will be doing next week.  Stay tuned!

Why We Can’t Have a 70s Summer and What We Are Doing Instead

You’ve probably seen posts like this and this extolling the virtues of the summers of yore and planning to recreate them.  Heck, I might even have written a post like that myself.

Now, don’t get me wrong–I loved my childhood summers.  It sounds idyllic when I talk about it, and I really think it was.  I remember sleeping late and watching game shows, daily swims at the neighborhood pool, long walks around the subdivision, wearing bathing suits while riding our bikes, chasing lighting bugs and playing games outdoors in the dark, the hum of the streetlights and the songs of the cicadas.  I’d love to go back and do it all again.

But that neighborhood pool shut down years ago, and we live in a neighborhood that comprises three cul-de-sacs.  My kids don’t have friends their age nearby, plus they are also antisocial and frankly don’t care.  It’s also about ten degrees hotter then it was during my childhood and we don’t have a shady yard like the one I grew up with.

I’m all for leaving kids unsupervised and unscheduled while I live my own life, but kids nowadays when left to their own devices are apt to fill that unscheduled time with actual devices.  William likes his computer, Lorelei likes the videos on her phone, and they both like watching movies way more than they are going to like spending time outside in the blazing 90 degree heat.  They do play outside, I promise–but with much more interesting things to do inside than existed back when there were four t.v. channels on a good day, they aren’t going to want to spend a whole day out there.

So this summer I am going to get up early and try to get as much done and then in the afternoons I am going to take them on some kind of adventure.  Some of them will be longer than others but the goal is to do something every weekday so that we don’t all spend the day staring at screens.

School let out Wednesday and our first adventure, a tradition for the last day of school for as long as I can remember, was going out for ice cream.

Thursday I surprised them with a trip to Little Ponderosa Zoo and Rescue.

Friday we checked out the University of Tennessee Trial Gardens.

I’m not insisting they accompany me on the Saturday adventure, since that’s usually my day to do as I please, but Lorelei chose to come with me to the Farmers’ Market this morning.

market 1

I have many more mini-adventures planned, and I’ll keep y’all updated.  It won’t be a 70s summer, but I think it will be a good summer.

The Knox Saint Patrick's Parade: A New Knoxville Tradition

As someone who is very proud of her Irish heritage, I was excited to attend the first annual St. Patrick’s Parade in downtown Knoxville last year.  Because my sister and her husband had a float in the parade, our whole family got front row VIP seats for the event, and I was able to snap lots of great pictures.
Parade 1Parade 2Parade 3Parade 4Parade 5Parade 6Parade 7Parade 8Parade 9Parade 10Parade 11Parade 12Parade 13Parade 14Parade 15Parade 16Parade 17
One of the parade’s organizers, Christy Connor Watkins, is a friend–and she liked these pictures when they appeared on Facebook.  As a result, I’ve got my own VIP pass for tomorrow’s event–which this year includes even more festivities following the parade–so I can take pictures again!
For more information on the parade and the “Cel-O’bragh-tion” to follow, visit the KSPP website.

Catholic Minimalism Challenge: Week Two

Well, it’s been a WEEK, y’all.  And what a week it has been.  Three of us (including me) had the flu, and school was closed three days for snow and super-cold (for Tennessee) weather.  Staying on task under such circumstances was challenging.
But it’s supposed to be a Challenge, right?  So I persevered, with Lorelei’s (somewhat less enthusiastic) assistance.
This week was bathrooms, of which we have FOUR. However, one of those belongs to Emily (that is to say, it’s the one she uses and it’s full of her stuff, even though it’s also the one on the main level that gets the most use overall).  I can’t minimize someone else’s stuff (at least, not an adult someone’s).  I hope she will be inspired by my efforts and do it herself some time soon.  The other bathroom is in the basement, and was Jake’s domain before he moved out, which means all the drawers are still full of his stuff.
So we worked on the two upstairs bathrooms, the master bath and what we call the kids’ (i.e. Lorelei and William) bath.
It was super time-consuming to make all those before-and-after pictures I used last time.  So I’m not doing it, especially since I am already behind posting this.
KIDS’ BATHROOM
bathroom 13bathroom 25
Well, that’s the overview and I don’t blame you for being confused because not much happened there except rearranging things.  I wish I could have convinced Lorelei that we don’t need that Christmas bear to remain on display at all times but “it has always been there” is hard to argue with.  Anyway, the meat of this project was the drawers and cabinets, which I had been wanting to tackle forever but had avoided thinking it would be such a pain and take SO LONG.



Y’all, that took 15 MINUTES, tops.
We threw almost everything away.  I’ll bet we had 20 packages of unopened dental floss in there, just for starters.  (What that says about Lorelei’s dental hygiene shall go unremarked upon.)  Anyway, what wasn’t garbage was either relocated or organized and then it was on to the master bathroom.
MASTER BATHROOM
bathroom 1bathroom 10
Right away you are going to notice two things:  one, there’s not a huge difference; and two, I’m only showing you half of the bathroom.  I’m already fairly organized about my bathroom and all that stuff on the counter is more-or-less regularly used.  I like it out there where I can see it and don’t have to worry about putting it away all the time.  So the biggest change was getting rid of the coffee maker, which was purely aspirational as I have not used it ONCE in the six years it has been sitting there.
As for the other side of the sink, that is John’s side, and it desperately needs minimizing, believe me!  But he is going to have to buy in, and we are still working on that.  However, drawers and cabinets are ALL MINE, so see below:
bathroom 7bathroom 11

There is another cabinet and three more drawers but as you can tell from the picture above I am already pretty organized about the bathroom so there just wasn’t much of a change–not enough to justify pictures, anyway.  Am I oversharing by letting y’all see all that motel lotion I have collected?
I’m really pleased with this last little bit–the area around the bath, which required a little trip to Target. 🙂
bathroom 6bathroom 8
A little more detail:
bathroom 9
And that’s a wrap!  Next up, the kitchen!
Read about Week One: Master Bedroom
Read about Catholic Minimalism

Catholic Minimalism Challenge: Week One

I mentioned in my most recent post that I was embarking upon an eight-week challenge to declutter my home.  As I was taking my before and after pictures this week I thought it might be fun to share the process with you.  Maybe you’ll be inspired to join in!

Week One was the Master Bedroom.  I followed this order (one project each day for six days): Closet Clothes/Shoes; Closet Accessories; Closet Storage; Dressers; Books; Everything Else.

This was an easy week for me because I don’t have a lot of clothes and have not allowed much personal clutter to accumulate in the past six years since I suffered the forced minimalization of our house fire.  The books were the exception, but I’ll get to that.

These aren’t the kind of pictures you’re used to seeing from me, y’all.  They are purely utilitarian with bad lighting and indifferent focus.  But they should serve the purpose.

Day One – I went through all the clothes and shoes in my closet.

Day Two – I went through my jewelry.  I didn’t get rid of any earrings so that drawer is not shown here.

Day Three – I went through the luggage and the ridiculous collection of tote bags and whatever other random things I had in the closet.
TotesLuggage
Day Four – I went through two dressers.  I don’t have a lot in my dressers as you will see, but I do have two “sentiment” drawers, one of which I put every card I think I want to keep, and I was able to get rid of some of those, as well as some things I had saved for sentimental value but could no longer remember what they were supposed to remind me of!

Day Five – OK, y’all, this was the hard day.  One thing I’ve learned since the fire is what “things” are truly important to me.  I can tell what they are because they are what I have accumulated a lot of in six years as opposed to everything else I have refrained from acquiring.  And what they are, mostly, is BOOKS.  So whereas I finished the tasks on the other days in less than an hour per day, the books took two hours and lots of help from Lorelei (she helped most of the other days too!).  Anyway, I was very proud of myself when we were finished!

Before (1)
Day Six – This was easy, a cedar chest and a couple of piles of books so I didn’t take any pictures.

In the end, we removed two miscellaneous bags of clothing and accessories and two full boxes of books that will all leave the house, and we relocated a few items to other places (where we will face them again when we get to their new homes at the appropriate time!).

Next up:  Bathrooms! I am so excited!  I’ll try to post another update next weekend!

12 in 2017: A Year in Pictures

And now for a quick trip through 2017, with some of my favorite pictures!

JANUARY:  Along with millions of women (and men!) around the world, Emily and I participated in the Women’s March.  I wrote about that here and here.  It was pouring down rain–an absolutely miserable day–and I love this picture that shows what a crowd turned out anyway.  This is what democracy looks like!

Best of 2017 - Women's March

FEBRUARY:  John and I took a weekend trip to Gatlinburg, which I wrote about here.  One highlight was moonshine tasting.  Here you can see all that goodness being brewed, right out in public!

Best of 2017 - Gatlinburg

MARCH:  William turned 16.  I chose this picture because I love the look of delight on his face.  He usually wears a rather solemn expression.

Best of 2017 - Willima's birthday

APRIL:  My sister Betsy treated my mother, our other sister, and me to VIP tickets to The Gambler’s Last Deal, the final tour for Kenny Rogers, which I wrote about here.

Best of 2017 - Kenny Rogers

MAY:   Of course the biggest event this month was Teddy’s graduation, but since I already shared so many pictures of that, I’m choosing this favorite from one of several trips to Dollywood.  This is Lorelei with her cousin Ella.

Best of 2017 - Dollywood

JUNE:  A trip to the zoo.  We got season tickets this year.  This is part of the new tiger exhibit, about which more later.

Best of 2017 - Zoo

JULY:  We went on a wonderful trip to Pennsylvania for a family reunion.  I hope to write that up at some point.  For now, this is an animatronic Spinosaurus from our trip to Clyde Peeling’s Reptiland, which was definitely the highlight of the reunion as far as William was concerned.

Best of 2017 - Reptiland

AUGUST:  Another trip to the zoo, where we were able to get up close and personal with the two Malayan tigers.

Best of 2017 - zoo

SEPTEMBER:  In another trip I want to write about this year, we spent a weekend in Cincinnati.  We were there to see the exhibit of original Star Wars costumes, one of which is pictured below.  What a thrill!

Best of 2017 - Cincinnati

OCTOBER:  My porch chairs continue to make me very happy.  Decorating for Autumn is another thing that makes me happy.

best of 2017 - porch

NOVEMBER:   Lorelei, William, and I attended the annual rosary service at Calvary Cemetery, Knoxville’s only Catholic graveyard.  I’ll be going back to take more pictures before I do a long-overdue write up.

Best of 2017 - Calvary Cemetery

DECEMBER:  In 2018, I will get a new title–mother-in-law! Jake asked Jessica to marry him a few days after Christmas, so I will have a wedding to tell you about this spring.

Best of 2017 - engagement

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

I’m linking up at Revolution of Love with other folks who like to do this too.  Click below for more 2017 photos!

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Books Worth Reading: Christmas Edition

It’s Christmas Eve!
In a time of year full of traditions, there is one I think I cherish the most, and it will happen this evening, after Mass and dinner out, when all my kids–even the adult ones–will gather in the living room before the tree to open one present each.
The tradition has its roots in my own childhood.  I don’t know where I got the idea that everyone should be allowed to open one present on Christmas Eve, but I convinced my mother that we, too, should adopt this custom.  And for the first few years, I can remember picking any present I wanted to, which usually meant the biggest one!
Somewhere along the way, our practice changed to opening a specific present that my mother chose, and it was always a chapter book.  The idea was that we would go up to bed and read a few chapters and it would help us fall asleep while waiting for Santa.
Emily was not quite a year old on her first Christmas, and I started the tradition immediately with a picture book I read to her before putting her to bed.   The following year I gave her a Christmas book by Tomie de Paola (described in more detail below).  This gave me the idea that going forward I would give only Christmas books.
As Christmases passed and our family grew, so too did our collection of Christmas picture books.  I started a couple of new traditions–reading a few stories every year in my children’s classrooms, having a bedtime story party for their classmates in our home.  Then our house burned down and we lost them all.  A sweet little girl in Lorelei’s class, remembering the party she had attended the year before, helped us repurchase our favorites, and six years later we again have a full box that we pull out every year.
It became increasingly difficult to find five good-quality Christmas books that we didn’t already have every year!  For awhile I tried buying the big kids chapter books but the Christmas offerings for adults weren’t quite on the same level as the picture books they had loved as children.  So last year I tweaked the tradition yet again, and began giving Emily, Jake, and Teddy each their own copy of one of our favorites for them to begin building their own Christmas library.
We began last year with The Clown of God by Tomie de Paola, our all-time favorite that we read on Christmas Eve every year after we’ve finished the new books.  I cannot get through this sweet retelling of an old legend without crying.  It’s a very Catholic tale of conversion with some Franciscan brothers and a miracle included.
the clown of god
This year they will be receiving The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski.  This redemptive love story is beautifully illustrated and yes, it makes me cry too.
jonathan toomey
The Other Wise Man, a story written originally by Henry van Dyke and adapted for children by Pamela Kennedy, will probably be next year’s gift.  It’s the story of a fourth wise man who missed meeting Jesus in person because he was too busy helping others along the way.
The Other WIse Man
An Appalachian tale based on a true story, Silver Packages by Cynthia Rylant is another touching story about Christmas giving that ends with a tear-inducing twist.
silver packages
The four stories above were among the first Christmas books we collected and they continue to be favorites that the kids–yes, even the big ones–want to hear year after year.  But there have been a few gems that despite their more recent acquisition have captured a spot on our favorites list, like A Small Miracle by Peter Collington, a surprising tale in which a poor woman is repaid for her kindness by some very unexpected visitors.  This is a quirky, wordless story that will hold the attention of every age group.
small miracle
I’ll stop here, because five seems like a good number and then I can do this again next year.  Tell me about your favorites in the comments–and Merry Christmas!

Praying as a Family

Catholic blogger fail confession time–we are not That Catholic Family that does a  morning blessing, says grace before every meal, and prays a nightly rosary.   Not even close.
It’s not that we haven’t had good intentions.  We’ve tried off and on over the many, many years (26 and counting, y’all) of having kids to come up with a family prayer routine that stuck.  But to everything there is a season, and some of our seasons have been more fruitful in this area than others.
Every morning, John prays with William in the car on the way to school.  And he did this with the big kids from the time they were little kids.  I love that he does this.  And right now we are rocking the family evening prayer because Advent.  But we need to do better and I found something that might help.
CFBP-cover-1
 
Gracewatch Media has just published a lovely book by Jerry Windley-Daoust of Peanut Butter and GraceThe Catholic Family Book of Prayers is available for preview and/or purchase in a variety of formats right here.  I was provided with a free copy in exchange for my honest review, and I am going to cherish it always because it is a beautiful book that every Catholic family should have it their library.
Seriously, before I go any further I suggest you buy this book right now if you need a wedding gift, a new baby or baptism gift, or an RCIA gift (or of course a Christmas gift for the Catholic families you know!).
The book is aptly subtitled A Treasury of Prayers and Meditations for Families to Pray Together because it really is a treasure.  The content alone–basically every important Catholic prayer–would be enough to give it this status but this little volume packs in so much more:  illustrations varying in style but all beautiful, explanations of prayers and traditions along with support from the Catechism, suggestions of different ways to pray, and inspirational quotations on prayer from the saints are just some of what you will find within.
I hope this book will help me to continue our family’s evening prayer routine once Advent comes to a close.  Please do your family a favor and buy a copy!
the catholic family book of prayers

“The best form of prayer is one that . . . makes space for the presence of God within us.”

~ Saint Basil the Great

Hopes and Dreams for 2018

I’m a little late with my post for the CWBN blog hop this month.  I’m pretty good about dashing off a post at the last minute, but I felt such a serious topic deserved a little more reflection than that.
Out of the many hopes I have for the coming year, I’ve narrowed my choices to share in this post to two.  I’m having a hard time putting the first one into words without feeling like I am taking myself way too seriously, but this is the truth:  I want to grow in holiness.  Every day I feel sadness at how far the reality of who I am as a person, a Christian, a Catholic, is from what I know God wants me to be.  I’ve made some progress this year, what with Lent, and Confession, and prayer journaling, and my online Catholic groups, and the good Advent I am having, but there’s a lot left to do.  And I don’t want to fall into the trap of spending so much time in contemplation that I forget to put my faith into action in the world.
My second hope is more tangible.  After six years of renting the house we moved into very abruptly when our prior house burned to the ground, we have decided we are ready to become homeowners again.   It’s scary to put down roots again–both literal and figurative–but it finally seems like the right time.  There are a few roadblocks though so I ask for my readers’ prayers in successfully navigating them.
house and garden
Do you have hopes and dreams you’d care to share?  Add them in the comments if you wish.  And to see what some other Catholic bloggers are dreaming about these days, click the picture below.

CWBN december