Design a Custom Baptism Announcement or First Holy Communion Invitation with Basic Invite

May is the Month of Our Mother, but for Catholics it is usually something more: a time for First Holy Communion, Confirmation, and graduations.  My Facebook Memories remind me that last year around this time we celebrated one nephew’s First Holy Communion, another’s Baptism, and my daughter’s Confirmation and 8th grade graduation!

baby boy in baptism bonnet Confirmation day with Bishop First Holy Communion boy

Well, things are a little different this year, aren’t they? When I watch my parish’s Sunday Mass via Facebook Live, the Prayers of the Faithful prompt me to pray for those who would have celebrated their First Holy Communions or Confirmations on spring Sundays, but who are now having to wait as patiently as possible for the grace of those Sacraments, as we all wait and long for our return to Mass and the Eucharist.

But we WILL celebrate again!  And part of our holy anticipation lies in planning for these blessed events.  Basic Invite is here to help with
baptism announcements, First Holy Communion invitations, and more, and they want me to tell you why you should choose their products to make those occasions special when they arrive.

baptism announcement

[Disclaimer: I was compensated for providing you with my honest opinion of Basic Invite.]

I’ll be honest: after just a few minutes of looking over Basic Invite’s website, I started wishing I needed a baptism announcement or a First Holy Communion invitation.  The tools they provide make it look not just easy to design your announcements and invitations, but even fun!

The first exciting thing, and what really sets Basic Invite apart from the competition, is access to unlimited color combinations.  There are over 180 colors available, and you can change the color of every element on every card.  This is coupled with instant online previewing so you can get your design exactly right.

baptism announcement

But online viewing doesn’t really compare with seeing the real thing, does it?  Basic Invite allows customers to order a printed sample of their baptism announcement or First Holy Communion invitation.  That way you can see and feel the quality of the paper, and know in advance how it will print before placing a final order.

To customize your design even further, you can choose from over 40 different envelope colors!  And for those who don’t enjoy licking envelopes, all Basic Invite’s envelopes are peel and seal so you can get them ready for mailing quickly and easily.

baptism announcement

And about that mailing:  Basic Invite also provides a free address collection service.  Here’s how it works: share a link with your guests via social media or email, collect their addresses, and Basic Invite will print your envelopes free of charge!

Of course you want to know prices, which start at .75 per card and increase depending on factors like shape and the addition of photos.  The cost of each upgrade is clearly marked as you go through the process of designing your card.  And everything is 15% off until the end of the month!

Trip to San Francisco

A Trip to San Francisco

My first trip to San Francisco was also my first plane ride and my first time away from my family.  It was 1981 and I had just graduated from St. Joseph Elementary School.  My godfather had business in California and invited me along to keep his 12-year-old daughter–who was more like a cousin to me–company.

Almost 40 years have gone by but I still remember parts of that trip with clarity–eating shrimp cocktail at Fisherman’s Wharf, attending my first baseball game (that went to 14 innings!) at Candlestick Park, dinner in Chinatown (my first Chinese food!), the cold and the fog for which we were totally unprepared . . . I truly left a bit of my heart in San Francisco and longed for years to return.

Then in July 2017 a piece of my heart left for San Francisco, giving me a suitable motivation for traveling there.  We visited Teddy in February 2018 and 2019 (on his birthday, which has conveniently fallen during the three-day President’s Day weekend) and will be returning next month.  I love San Francisco even more now than I did then, and I’ve taken many pictures that I want to share.

Originally this was going to be one big post, but then I saw I had nearly 100 pictures from our 2018 visit.  So let’s just start with that one, shall we?

THURSDAY

One cannot fly direct from Knoxville to San Francisco, so it took us all day; we arrived after dark and took a cab straight to our hotel.  After meeting Teddy for a late dinner (very nice Greek restaurant, his treat), we explored a little before bed, and took the pictures below.

Both of those are shots of the Ferry Building.  Before bridges crossed the Bay, ferries were the only transportation and the Ferry Building was a busy place.  Nowadays it’s mostly retail space after a period of desertion and disrepair.

The Embarcadero used to be a raised freeway.  San Francisco redefined progress by removing it and reconnecting the Financial District to the waterfront.

Of course we had to walk down to the water and get a picture of the Bay Bridge.

FRIDAY

I got up bright and early Friday morning to do a little exploring.  We stayed in this hotel in the heart of the Financial District, because it was close to where Teddy worked at the time.

I was so excited that I just kept on walking until I found myself in Chinatown.

And while there I happened upon a parade celebrating the Chinese New Year! It was a complete surprise to me!

There is a Catholic church in Chinatown.  It’s staffed by the Paulist Fathers, just like my own parish church.  Now called Old Saint Mary’s, it used to be the San Francisco Cathedral.  I took lots of pictures:

I was on a roll by now.  I wanted to see if I could climb to the very top of the hill I was on, so I did.

Pictures don’t really do justice to the hills.  That last one, with a view of Alcatraz, comes closest.  I am not exaggerating when I say that I was scared to walk back down and was grateful that some of the sidewalks actually have steps cut into them.

I decided to walk back another way and here are a few of the sights I saw:

Above are two views of Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Church.  Below is St. Francis of Assisi, the first parish church in San Francisco.

Below is a cool view of the Transamerica Pyramid (which was how I found my way back to the hotel–you can see it from everywhere) juxtaposed with Columbus Tower aka the Sentinel Building, owned by Francis Ford Coppola.

Later in the day John and I walked along the Embarcadero down to the Fisherman’s Wharf area, where we met Teddy for dinner at Scoma’s, an amazing seafood restaurant on the water.  Here are the pictures I took that evening:

SATURDAY

I headed out first thing in the morning (while John slept in) to the big outdoor Farmer’s Market at the aforementioned Ferry Building.  In addition to food, many artisans ply their wares on the street leading to the market, so I purchased souvenirs to take home.

I snapped the above photo behind the Ferry Building during the Market.  I cannot now recall why this statue stands there, but I like it nonetheless!

Below is my photo of a poem that brings tears to my eyes when I read it, describing the destruction of the elevated freeway that formerly divided the city from the waterfront.

I returned to the hotel and John and I took an Uber (this was the trip where we learned all about Uber!) to Teddy’s house, which he was sharing with four other young men.  After he showed us around, we went out to explore the neighborhood(the Marina District).  I took the following pictures at what Teddy called his favorite place, the Palace of Fine Arts.  Note the random person in the picture below to understand the scale.  It is an amazing sight.

After lunch at a neighborhood pizza place, we took another Uber to Golden Gate Park.  We did not have any idea how big it is or what we would do there.  It’s definitely somewhere I want to revisit, specifically to see the Japanese Tea House, which was closed when we were there.

We thought it would be fun to walk across the Golden Gate Bridge, so we got an Uber across.  After taking a few pictures, though, we realized that we had just missed–by seconds–the deadline to get onto the bridge before security locked it for the night.

After this disappointment we decided that since we were already across the bridge we would Uber to Sausalito for dinner.  We found a nice little Tuscan restaurant, then headed back to the city for ice cream at Ghirardelli Square.

SUNDAY

Sunday morning I thought it would be fun to drink my coffee on the roof of the hotel.  Which it was until some guy came up there and started smoking weed.  At like 9 a.m.  Smoking marijuana is legal in SF, but not out in the open.  But everyone does, and the smell is EVERYWHERE.

We went to Mass at the church I showed you above.  Father Tom Tavella is the pastor.  He was formerly at our parish, and in fact baptized Teddy, so that was a cool reunion, and his homily was just as good as I expected from past experience.

We wanted to have lunch in Chinatown, and Father Tavella suggested a place nearby.

After lunch we did a little sightseeing and shopping.

I then wanted to re-attempt to walk across the Golden Gate Bridge.  John wanted to go back to the hotel and have a rest.  So we agreed to meet for dinner, and Teddy and I took another Uber to the far side of the bridge.

This is the only picture I snapped while on the bridge.  It was so windy that I was frankly afraid to take my phone out.  It was a little scary honestly but I am glad to have done it.  I would like to do it again on the opposite side some time.

After the bridge we just kept walking.

Past the National Cemetery.

All around the Presidio.

By this statue of Phineas Farnsworth.  And around Fort Mason.  And back to Teddy’s house in the Marina District.  And to the gym so he could work out for a few minutes.  In short (it was not short) we walked all the way back to the hotel.  I was not going to be the one to stop! By the end of the day I had walked 12 miles.  After we finished dinner (we ate at the very nice restaurant attached to our hotel), I had a difficult time getting out of the booth and up to the room!  Teddy and John went to a movie but I was happy to rest.

MONDAY

We checked out of our hotel Monday morning (leaving our bags in storage) and hopped on a double-decker tour bus for one of those two-hour tourist trips around the city.  That was when I snapped the above picture.  Later we met back up with Teddy and went shopping for ingredients so I could bake him a red velvet cake for his birthday (a bit difficult as the kitchen was not fully equipped for baking, but it still turned out okay).

Then it was time for good-byes, a trip to the airport, and the red-eye flight back home.  We managed to have fun until the end with this cool exhibit at the airport:

And that’s the end . . . but I will post the pictures of our 2019 trip in a few days.

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.

Grieving Together: Review and Giveaway

Grieving Together: Catholic miscarriage book for couples

Ten years ago, I lost our sixth and last baby in an early miscarriage, a baby who was planned, wanted, loved.  I’ve never written about it here.  In a very dark period of my life during which I lost first the baby, then my dream home, and finally almost every possession to fire, it was and remains by far the most painful of the losses I suffered.  I don’t like to talk about it and I’ve never wanted to write about it.

But I decided to share just a little today in the hopes of helping ease the burden of others who have lost babies.  There are so many of us, which is something I hadn’t realized until I miscarried and women started whispering words of commiseration: “It happened to me too.  It is hard but it will get better.”

Grieving Together: Catholic miscarriage book for couples

When I was deep in grief–a longer period of time than I would have expected–when all I could do was lie in bed and sob while clutching a board book, the only thing I had bought for the baby, I felt very alone.  I looked online for resources, as one does these days, and found very little.  Eventually my husband and I conducted our own private little ceremony of praying together and naming the baby.  This did bring closure and healing to him, but my grieving process was very different.

Grieving Together: Catholic miscarriage book for couples

I wish that I’d had a copy of Grieving Together: A Couple’s Journey through Miscarriage.  This is the book you never want to need, but are so glad exists if you do.

Reading it even now, I felt affirmed, comforted, accompanied.

Laura and Franco Fanucci have authored a much-needed treasure, a companion and guide to grieving together as a couple.  Having experienced infertility, miscarriage, and infant loss in their own marriage, they know intimately the grief of their readers.  That experience informs the book and their empathy is tangible.  Reading a book from people who have been in your situation is uniquely comforting.

I was impressed by the book’s breadth–it starts with the more practical aspects of miscarriage: what it is, what the experience might be like, considerations of medical treatment and funeral arrangements.  But this section is anything but clinical–it is still animated by Laura and Franco’s love and concern for their readers.  The next section covers grief, including the ways the grieving process may be different for each partner. This is followed by a section of practical suggestions of support from friends, family, the community, and the Church, making this a book that’s valuable to more than those who have suffered loss themselves.  Finally, the last section discusses life after miscarriage, whether your path includes adoption, another pregnancy, or no more babies.

Grieving Together: Catholic miscarriage book for couples

This is a Catholic book, published by Our Sunday Visitor, with Catholic prayers and rites, concrete ways parishes can help, saints to pray to for comfort and guidance, and more.  Other than our pastor’s sincere sympathy, my parish offered no support to us when we lost our baby, and I suspect that is pretty standard.  So this book would make a great gift for your pastor, along with a suggestion for a ministry to serve couples who have suffered miscarriage.  The Catholic Church is well known for concern over unborn babies threatened by abortion, and sponsors ministries for post-abortive women; her concern for babies lost involuntarily and their parents should be a natural outgrowth of these pro-life convictions.

Grieving Together: Catholic miscarriage book for couples

Grieving Together is available now on Amazon. (If you purchase it through links on the blog I will receive a small commission.)  I received the book free in exchange for my honest review.

Or you could enter the giveaway below and win a copy for yourself, a friend, or your parish.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

To Everything a Season: Why It's Okay to Stop Homeschooling

If you were reading this blog about four years ago, you would have seen a lot of posts about homeschooling.  It was my first year teaching Lorelei at home, and I was full of plans and eager to share them.
Lorelei spent her first four years of schooling at a parochial school.  It’s an excellent school, and her former classmates seem to have been very happy there.  But Lorelei was showing signs of stress and anxiety from the ever-increasing amount of homework, even in the summer time.  And I wanted to spend more time with my last baby.

Lorelei First Grade
Lorelei’s first day of first grade

Sending her back to “real” school eventually was always my plan:  when we would do it and where she would go were left TBD by needs and circumstances.  All I was sure of was that the transition would occur before high school.
I’ve homeschooled four of my five children for varying amounts of time, and it’s been a different experience with each of them.  I’ve come to realize that homeschooling does not provide the best learning environment for every child.
I am not sorry that I removed Lorelei from an environment that was stressful for her.  At home, we were able to recognize that she suffers from anxiety and take steps to combat that.  I was able to get to know her very well, and to spend time with her, and we are very close.  And she was able to devote extended time to non-academic pursuits.  Lorelei has always loved art, and I’ve been amazed to watch the changes in her pictures over the years.  She also became involved in an online group devoted to making music videos, and I was beyond impressed to see how she navigated the online community and taught herself skills both online and off.  I learned (and I think she did too) how very capable she is.
She also played outside a lot, as children should.  And remained a little girl longer than it seems most girls are allowed to these days.
Lorelei on the rock
Lorelei playing outside

Lorelei 13
Lorelei on her 13th birthday

But the academic side of homeschool was a real struggle.  Part of that was my change in circumstance from the last time I did this. I’m at home, but I’m working several hours each day, and I have to get things done.  But part of it was Lorelei herself.  When I taught Teddy at home, for example, I could read off a list of assignments and he would do them on his own.  Lorelei would complain and resist and insist that she couldn’t understand; she would freak out about possibly putting down the wrong answer even though her mother was the teacher and there were no grades; or she would go off to work and never return for her next assignment, and I wouldn’t even notice because I was so busy.  Every day, every subject, every assignment was fraught.  There were many days when we didn’t even attempt school, and we both felt guilty about it.
I’ve always known Lorelei was smart, of course.  She made high grades when she was enrolled in school.  But I had about decided that although she was a very capable person, she just wasn’t academic.  We all worried about what would happen when she returned to school.
Lorelei started eighth grade at the local public middle school in early August.  And she is thriving.  The transformation has been remarkable.  First progress reports are in and she has straight A’s.  Her Language Arts teacher has commented more than once that Lorelei should be teaching the class.  Her Social Studies teacher asked her if she would like to be in the Honors class.  Her art teacher invited her to apply for Art Club membership.  She joined the Book Club.  She comes home chattering animatedly about her classmates.  She stays on top of her homework without prompting.  And she joined the Youth Group at church to continue her religious education without complaint, and is enjoying that too.
So what happened?  Where did this motivated, happy, energetic, self-directed, intellectually curious student come from?
summer 80
Right after her getting-ready-for-school haircut

The answer, I believe, is that Lorelei is an extrovert.  She is drawing energy from the school environment and applying it to her studies.  It never would have occurred to me that this could be a factor–she wasn’t pining for school by any means; she was happy to have been removed and enjoyed being with me.  But the evidence is clear:  Homeschooling was not an academically good fit for Lorelei; traditional schooling is.
Again, I have no regrets about removing Lorelei from school.  The homeschooling experience may not have been an academic success, but it was valuable in other ways.  And she is quickly making up any ground she may have lost.  But I also have no regrets about putting her back in!
Some people–I was one of them once–are very tied to a certain way of educating their children.  “This is how our family does things,” they think.  For me, it was the ideal of having all my kids graduate from the parochial school attended by my sisters and me, and then going on the be members of the third generation of our family to attended Knoxville Catholic High School.  Family circumstances and the individual needs of my children forced me to rethink and relinquish plans I thought were set in stone, and my kids are the better for it.

Meet Rameses

I am not a dog person.
Confession time:  I have never understood my children’s obsession with animals.  While I enjoyed the occasional zoo trip as a child, animals in general did not occupy much of my thoughts.
But I can fall in love with animals on an individual basis.
And here is my new love.
Rameses 4.jpg
About two years ago, Lorelei started begging for a dog.  I said no.  Never again.
Like I said, I am not generally a fan of dogs.  They smell, they bark, they demand lots of attention, we have four cats already, and to top it all off John is allergic to them.  Our first dog was very old school.  He was an outdoor dog who loved the outdoors and was perfectly content with his dog house and the garage in cold weather.  But we adopted him around 2003, before the internet told me that my dog needs to be in the house with us.  While I still think Balthazar was perfectly happy, I would now feel plagued with guilt to have a mostly outdoor dog.
Lorelei wrote a manifesto explaining exactly why she needed a dog of her own.  It was in a folder and there were several pages to it, and while I can’t remember now exactly what it said, I do remember that its logic and emotional appeal were unassailable and all of us who read it were forced to concede.
So we said she could get a new dog eventually, but she would have to find one that was as hypoallergenic as possible and that could get along with cats.  And that she would have to prove she was responsible enough to care for it, because I have enough to do.
She pored over the internet and dog rescue sites and changed her mind several times before she decided on a greyhound.  In the meantime, she took on the litterbox duty and feeding of the cats to prove responsibility.  She earned money to buy everything the dog needed and learned all the internet could tell her about greyhounds.
We went to the local meet-and-greet sponsored by the Greyhound Rescue folks, eventually started the approval process (which was nerve-wracking but ultimately not as bad as I’d feared), and about a month ago welcomed Deco Cannon Fire (rechristened Rameses, because greyhounds hail originally from Egypt) into our home.
Rameses 6
In his former life, five-year-old Rameses was a racing greyhound.  You can see him in action here.  That was a treat for me to see because we have never seen him run.  At the most, at the dog park, he trots around the perimeter sniffing the fence.
Rameses 2.jpgLorelei could not have picked a better breed.  In a month, Rameses has barked maybe five times? He doesn’t have a smell (seriously, if you sniff your hand after stroking him there is no dog aroma).  He hardly notices the cats, who are beginning to learn that there is no need to run out of the room automatically when they see him.
Rameses 3.jpg
He likes attention, but doesn’t demand constant petting.  He’s like a cat in that respect, which is probably why I like him so much.  He spends most of his time sleeping.
Rameses 1.jpg
Lorelei keeps his crate in her room, and she handles all of his feeding and outdoors time and cleaning up after him.  Emily and I do help with the walking when she’s at school, but I leave the clean up for her.  We have a new park less than half a mile away with an enormous dog area, and we’ve been taking him there at least once a week.  He barely notices the other dogs, and we can’t get him to run, but he does enjoy exploring and sniffing!
Anyway, we all love him, even John who really doesn’t care for dogs, having been made sick by them for as long as he can remember.   We aren’t sure if he’s allergic to Rameses, because he’s had two colds since the dog arrived and the seasonal allergies are terrible here right now but at this point I don’t think he’d care.
Rameses 8Rameses 5Rameses 7I would never in a million years have thought of getting a greyhound.  I don’t think I’d ever even seen one in person before that first meet-and-greet.  But I couldn’t be happier with Lorelei’s choice.

Summer Fun: The End

School started yesterday.  Our summer is over even though there is a month and a half left in the season!

There wasn’t a whole lot of time for fun in our last week.  It was actually a pretty typical week from one of our other summers–I worked every day and the kids stared at screens.  But that was the ONLY week that was true this summer so I’m calling it a win.

There was a lot to do, as there always is when school is about to start, like haircuts:
summer 80.jpg
And although I bought supplies online, we still spent most of Saturday shopping because Lorelei needed new clothes.

I promised everyone a trip to the lake in the afternoon, though, and I delivered on that promise.
summer 81.jpg
On Monday, we had our last big adventure.  I have no pictures to commemorate it, but we wore ourselves out spending maybe three hours at an enormous antique mall.  The kids thoroughly enjoyed it and each got to bring home a few items.

On Tuesday, we went for ice cream just once more as a last day of vacation treat.

And then on Wednesday school began.  No way would William let me photograph him on such an occasion.  You can see how thrilled Lorelei is to have to go back to regular school.
summer 83.jpg
Thanks for following along on our summer adventures.  Knowing I was going to be blogging about them helped motivate me to continue, and continuing gave me something regular to write about, so it was a great idea all around and I will plan to repeat it next year.

Here are all the posts in order:
Why We Can’t Have a 70s Summer and What We Are Doing Instead
The Summer Fun Continues . . .
More Summer Fun
Summer Fun Update
Summer Fun:  Vacation
That 70s Summer
In Which I Grow Lazy
Exploring History
Adventuring
Home Stretch