Category: family

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!

2017in12_logo_640-1

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

 

Waiting for Christmas: Advent Traditions My Family Loves

More than Christmas, more even than Easter, Advent is my very favorite liturgical season.  Part of my affection for Advent stems from my beautiful memories of Catholic school celebrations, but I also love it for how simple it is to incorporate the celebration of this special season into daily life.
When I was very young, opening the doors on our Advent calendar each December morning before school was my earliest introduction to the season of Advent.  This is a delightful way to harness children’s anticipation of Christmas to teach a lesson of joyful and patient waiting.   Over the years there have been times we had a calendar for every kid ready to open on December 1, and other times we weren’t on the ball and managed to find the very last available calendar a week into Advent.  This year I’ve got two all ready to go:  a scriptural retelling of the Christmas story that I bought at Catholic Door and a chocolate one from Trader Joe’s.
gospel-advent-calendar-e1508560073222-180x180
Another treasured tradition in our home is the decorating of the Jesse Tree.  I loved doing this every Advent morning when I was in grade school, and have enjoyed incorporating it into our family celebration.  We got our first set of ornaments at our church’s annual Advent workshop (another long-time tradition), and they were all the more treasured because they were colored by little hands.  When we lost them to fire, I found free printables online–there are many to choose from.  Or you could buy this beautiful set my friend Sara has made.
Most years we manage to have an Advent wreath.  The biggest challenge is having the right color of candles. (Note to self: check Amazon tomorrow for candles)   The next challenge is that we don’t eat dinner together every night, so some nights the candles don’t get lit.  But I like seeing them there just the same.
Probably our most important Advent tradition is what we DON’T do.  While the secular world and mostly Protestant East Tennessee are happily partying long before the guest of honor has even arrived, in our home we continue to wait.  No, we don’t bah humbug all the Christmas events happening outside our home–we go to the downtown tree lighting the day after Thanksgiving as well as many other fun local events that we look forward to year after year.  But at home things are different.
Right after Thanksgiving I remove the gourds and other harvest items from the mantel and put out simple votive lights.  Along with our Advent wreath, these will be our only seasonal decorations until about a week before Christmas, and the tree will go up later than that.  I may not hold off on the Christmas music quite that long, but for at least half the month we will be listening to Advent playlists.
We don’t do all these things every year.  Sometimes we fail at Advent rather spectacularly!  (The one we are the very best at is not putting up the decorations early!)
I’ve written a LOT of posts about Advent, if you’d like to check them out:
Christmastime Is Here . . . NOT
One Year Later
So This Is Christmas
Signs of the Season
Signs of the Season II
Countdown to Christmas
More Advent Memories
How to Celebrate Advent When Everyone Thinks It’s Already Christmas
Celebrating Advent with a Jesse Tree
That Time I Did Not Advent Right
Advent Memories
Tragedy and Traditions
O Come O Come Emmanuel
What about you?  How do you celebrate Advent?  For more ideas, click the picture below to read other posts in the Catholic Women’s Blogging Network blog hop.
cwbn advent
 

Talking about Death with Children

It's so strange that autumn is beautiful, yet everything is dying.- Unknown
As the year dies, it is only natural that our thoughts turn to musings on our own mortality.  For Catholics, Halloween is not only about pumpkins and trick-or-treating; it is the eve of the Feast of All Saints, followed immediately by the Feast of All Souls, days set aside for us to remember and pray for the dead.
As we get older it becomes harder to ignore the fact that every second that passes brings us that much closer to our own deaths.  Children, for whom time seems almost to stand still so that the time between Christmases feels infinite, usually don’t think about the inevitability of death as we do.
But children will encounter death, some sooner than others, and how we prepare them for this and help them deal with it when it comes is important.
There doesn’t have to be some big moment where you sit your kids down and explain death to them.  Better for it to be introduced early, before they can really comprehend it, as a natural process.  You can start with what your kids encounter as they play–dead insects.  If they’ve heard you talking about the fact that an insect is dead from infancy, they’ll always have at least a vague concept of what death is, which you can flesh out later when they have questions.  Tell them that the insect got tired and old and its body couldn’t work anymore, so it was time for it to die.
When they ask questions about their own eventual deaths or yours, it’s best to reassure them by saying that they–and you–are still very young and it will be a long time before you die.  There’s no need to muddy the waters at this point with discussions of death by accident or illness.  Sadly, there will no doubt come a time when you will have to answer those kinds of questions.
My children had their first close encounter with death when my grandmother died.  They were 16, 13, 12, six, and three at the time.  They knew Mima well so they were definitely affected by her death and I felt they should be a part of it.  We told the little ones that, like the insects, Mima was old and her body had worn out, but we also added that she had gone to Heaven to be with God as we all hope to one day. (I personally don’t think that it’s particularly necessary or useful to bring up the concept of Purgatory with little kids right when they are grieving the loss of a loved one.)
We took all the kids with us to the funeral home.  The open casket was at the far end of the room and we let the kids decide whether to approach.  Lorelei and her cousin Ella, who were three and five at the time, were interested and spent time looking at Mima.  William, who was six, did not want to look at her and stayed at the other end of the room.  The children also attended the funeral Mass and the graveside service.
It’s very important not to impose your own–or other people’s–expectations or interpretations on the grieving of children.  They may not look as upset as you think they should look, but don’t make assumptions.  When my dog was hit by a car when I was four, I was very upset, too upset to even talk about it.  I will never forget an adult making the comment that it didn’t seem like I cared very much.  So keep in mind that your children may need space to grieve, or they may need for you to draw them out so that they can express their feelings or ask questions.  I was very impressed by a friend whose husband died when their son was about ten years old.  He wanted to go sit with his friends at the funeral.  Some people might have insisted that he sit up front with the family but she gave him the space he needed and allowed him to find comfort with his friends.
Many children’s first experience with death is the loss of a pet.  My children experienced this for the first time a couple of years ago, when we had to put our elderly dog to sleep.  Lorelei and William accompanied me to the veterinarian and we all supported each other.  I was proud of how brave they were and how they comforted our dog through the process, constantly petting him and reassuring him with loving words.  When kids lose a pet they will almost certainly ask you if the pet will go to Heaven.  The best answer I’ve heard to that question is that when you go to Heaven and want your pet, he will be there.
Like everything else, children will learn more from your actions around death than your words.  Do you talk about how you miss those who have died, or do your avoid discussing uncomfortable feelings?  Do you pray for those who have died and encourage your children to join in? (That’s when you can explain about Purgatory!)  Do you lead by example by attending funerals of those you know whenever possible and encouraging your children to come when appropriate?
My grandfather died when I was 13, and his was the first funeral I ever attended.  For years I was uncomfortable with the whole idea of “viewing” the body, and dreaded going to funerals.  But forcing myself to attend many out of a sense of duty and obligation over the past several years changed my attitude.  In one tragic week several summers ago, a high school friend’s son committed suicide, the father of one of Teddy’s football teammates died in an accident, and the father of one of his classmates committed suicide.  I took Teddy to the funeral of one father, and he accompanied me to take food to the family of the other one.  Set an example for your children with your actions when death touches you, and encourage their participation, and they will internalize the value of these rituals and will not fear them.
This post is part of the Catholic Women Bloggers Network Bloghop.  For more writing on this topic, click below.
siena-sisters
blog hop death

Catholic Heritage

“Blood is thicker than water,” was one of my maternal grandmother’s favorite sayings.  Family was everything to her.  She was extremely proud of her Southern and Irish roots, and often shared tales—possibly apocryphal—of the family history.  We are blessed to have many heirlooms and photographs that breathed life into her tales of those long-ago family members.  I never knew my great-grandmother, but I was brought up on stories about her beauty and grace.  I loved to admire her portrait, and to play under the intricately carved table that had come down to my grandmother through her, part of a set that’s been in the family longer than anyone can remember.
Mary Becker Hagan
I internalized the stories and the reverence for the past and felt its influence on the present.  And when I grew up I became interested in my father’s side of the family as well, and conducted lazy internet genealogy research to learn more.  I’ve built a family tree that goes back many generations on both sides, and have learned that my roots are not only Irish but English, Dutch, and German as well.
Family heritage encompasses many things.  Families pass down language–my Alabama roots are four generations back now but in my family we still use some expressions that are not native to East Tennessee.  Families pass down heirlooms like the table and chairs I mentioned, the prie-dieu on which my great-grandparents knelt to be married, the silver coffee and tea service.  Families pass down genetic material, as I think you can see in the comparison pictures of my youngest child and her great-great-great-great grandmother below.  And families pass down religion.
Read the rest at Everyday Ediths.

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