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So today’s post is brought to you courtesy of the Catholic Women’s Blogger Network.  It’s part of our monthly blog hop and I totally would not be writing it if it weren’t.

Because here’s where I peek out from under my somewhat ill-fitting Catholic blogger hat and admit that my true feelings about Confession are a mixture of guilt and discomfort.  I hate that but it’s the truth.

I wrote the whole story here if you want to read it.  When did I write it?  A little over four years ago, which is the last time I went to Confession.

I can’t tell you how I long for the days when we were marched regularly into the cafeteria of St. Joseph School, with no advance warning or choice in the matter, and told that we were going to confession in the dark little closet where Father Henkel waited.  I’d stand in a red plaid line, leaning against the radiator for warmth and secretly wondering about how long certain people were taking.  Before I knew it I was all finished, back on the hard wooden kneeler saying two Our Fathers and one Hail Mary, and my soul was white as snow.

Clearly this is the Lent of hard things for me with lessons to be learned, and if I am really paying attention it would seem that this is one of them.  Will I go to our parish’s upcoming Lenten penance service and find a friendly priest in the basement to hear my uncomfortable and unprofessional recitation of sins? Only time will tell.

To read more reflections on the Sacrament of Confession, click the image below.

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We didn’t go anywhere for Spring Break this year, except to the zoo.  Today’s planned trip to Dollywood was canceled due to illness.  So I got to feeling nostalgic about last year’s Spring Break trip, which I had never gotten around to sharing here.

Because I’ve waited a year to write about this, the details of the trip are less than clear.  So I’m going to dump a LOT of pictures here, with less explanation than usual.  But let me start by saying that if you live in Knoxville, and you’ve never taken a trip to Chattanooga, you are missing out.  If you live farther away, it’s still worth the drive.  We only did about half of what we wanted to do last year–the children’s museum, the nature center, the art museum, and more all await another visit.

So one year ago yesterday we packed up and drove 90 miles to Chattanooga, where our accommodations were cheap and convenient and that’s the best that could be said about them.

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Clearly, Echo was not in favor of our leaving!

Tickets to local attractions are available at reduced prices online, so we were ready to get started as soon as we arrived.  We began at the bottom of Lookout Mountain and rode the Incline Railway to the top.

I’ve ridden this thing before, years and years ago, but the cars were more enclosed than they are now and the . . . STEEPNESS . . . did not register with me.  It registered with poor William, though, and he was not a fan.

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Once at the top, the first thing to do is marvel at the beautiful views, which are not in short supply on Lookout Mountain.

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We also got a look at the machinery that runs the Incline Railway.

Our first stop was Battles for Chattanooga, right down the street.  On our way we enjoyed the beautiful homes and gardens we passed.  We browsed the gift shop which is replete with Civil War memorabilia while we waited for the show to start.

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The show itself is a combination of film and one of those models of all the battlefields that lights up to illustrate the various campaigns.  You may have seen something similar in Gettysburg or Atlanta if you’ve been there.  This was the first time I’d been to this attraction, and it was very instructive and provided context for Point Park, our next stop.

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History, rock formations, and views are plentiful in Point Park, which charges a small entry fee on the honor system.  There’s a little self-guided museum, and miles of walking trails which I am hoping to return to explore one day.  Seriously, it’s so beautiful and you could spend an entire day right here.

We had other places to go, though, so we rode the Incline back down (William had to be very brave!) and drove the car back up so we could SEE ROCK CITY, just like the barns say.

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Rock City is an attraction that is hard to categorize.  The brainchild of Mr. and Mrs. Carter above, what began as an extension of the garden around their home is now a network of trails, massive rock formation, nerve-wracking bridges, breathtaking views, and more.

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Above you see a nice solid rock bridge and a swinging bridge.  Can you guess which one I walked across?

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I bet you guessed right! 🙂

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Directly above you’ll see a shot of Lovers’ Leap (with the waterfall turned green in honor of Saint Patrick!) and then what Rock City is probably most famous for: the view of seven states which strikes me as totally possible on a clear day.

There are some rare white fallow deer housed at Rock City.  I didn’t get a picture but you can see Lorelei and William looking at them below!

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The white deer are part of the fairy tale motif for which Rock City is known.  Gnomes are plentiful, and there’s a whole gallery of nursery rhyme scenes.

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At the conclusion of our Rock City adventure, we found a family-friendly Asian restaurant nearby before retreating to our lodgings to rest up for the next day’s activities.

We started the second day of our trip with another iconic Chattanooga attraction:  Ruby Falls.

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All I can say is that it’s a good thing God chose Leo Lambert and not me to discover His handiwork and reveal it to the masses.  The story of his harrowing crawl through the pitch-dark and tiny passageways is terrifying. Luckily we can experience the beauty of the caverns without doing that.  I’m just sharing a few pictures because even with an iPhone (WAY better than the Kodak with flip-flash I had the first time I visited almost 40 years ago!) it’s just hard to capture good images in the low light.

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With Ruby Falls behind us, we headed down Lookout Mountain and into downtown Chattanooga with the Tennessee Aquarium next on our agenda.  They’d added a whole new building since our last visit.  One building showcases freshwater and the other seawater creatures.

I’d give more info on these creatures if I could, but it’s been a year and my memory of what things are is hazy.  William would be able to tell me if I asked him–it’s fun to hear him announce the names of obscure animals without reading the informational placards.

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These guys I recognize and you will too.  There are many of them in the bayou area and it was fun to watch them.

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I love all the beautiful colors and patterns–living art.

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Water creatures share the Aquarium with some other wild things.  This was taken in the butterfly room, where if you are lucky you may find yourself a perch for several butterflies!

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And while penguins seem a bit out of place to me I’m not going to complain because look how cute they are.  We had a hard time dragging the kids away.

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These guys though–they are creepy.

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The other-worldly, ethereal beauty of jellyfish is always fascinating to me.

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And there were more to come, as the Aquarium is currently hosting an art exhibit with jellyfish and art inspired by them.

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I’m pretty sure my kids would name the Aquarium if you asked them which part of our visit to Chattanooga they enjoyed most.

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We were there until closing time and then we hit downtown to search for a William-approved restaurant (Genghis Grill) before heading back to the motel.  We squeezed a lot of fun into two days and I was just talking to John today about how much more there is to see and do in Chattanooga.  We will be back!

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The Lent I Needed

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My plans for Lent were modest as such things go, but Ash Wednesday wasn’t even over before that old adage: “Man plans, God laughs,” came into my head.

Y’all, it’s hard not to feel you are failing at Lent when you can’t even make it to Ash Wednesday Mass to get ashes.  Here’s what happened.

Now logistics are always an issue in this house, so I checked the websites of every church in town to find the time that would work the best for us.  Our parish’s service is at 7:00 p.m., and it’s a 30-minute drive, so we decided to hit up the 5 p.m. Mass at the church five minutes away.

BUT . . . John woke up on Monday with a pain in his hip that escalated quickly.  By Wednesday he could barely walk and couldn’t drive, but the show must go on when you are a hard-working attorney with clients who depend on you.  Our oldest son drive him to the courthouse 45 minutes away, and then I had to pick him up.  We went straight from there to the chiropractor, who advised us to consult with our PCP, and without giving you a play-by-play for the whole day, by the time the ordeal of the doctor and the X rays and the pharmacy came to an end, we had missed every Mass there was.

I didn’t get to start a single one of my Lenten plans on Wednesday and as I fed people and did dishes and complained about all this my son said, “Maybe God has something different in mind.”

Wow.

Some years you pick the mortifications and some years they pick you.” The words I’d read that very day in another Catholic blogger‘s Facebook post suddenly came to mind and have stayed there ever since as I have continually put aside the Lent I wanted for the one God is sending me.

Of course poor John is the one who has bursitis and I know it’s quite mortifying for him as well, but I can’t really adequately express the effect approximately 2.5 extra hours (minimum) away from home each day has on my already overcrowded and overwhelming schedule and on my state of mind.  I’ve driven 700 miles in the past week–about seven times as much as a normal week.  Trying to accept this cheerfully and just feel grateful when there are a few stolen minutes to squeeze in one of the Lenten disciplines I had planned to pursue is taking a lot of prayer, patience, and perseverance.

Morning Mass is at 9 a.m. and I’m in the car heading home from Maryville then, so no.  It’s 10 a.m. before I’ve eaten and done the dishes and am ready to dive into my day.  There’s precious little time to get all the office work done, and certainly no extra for returning to the gym or devoting an hour a day every day to decluttering the house.

So I am trying to do what I can instead of focusing on what I can’t manage.  So far I have written in my prayer journal every day, posted a picture for a Lenten Instagram photo challenge, participated in an online book club, and made a start on my family’s Letters of Love notebook.

I’m a planner, a perfectionist, and an administrator.  I don’t like spontaneity and I don’t like change.  I still want the Lent I planned, but it’s clear that God is leading me in a different direction this year and since I do believe He knows what I need better than I do, I’m trying to be obedient to His will.

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To celebrate 30 years of couple-hood, John and I stole a weekend away in Gatlinburg.  Secure in the knowledge that Lorelei and William were in Emily’s capable hands, we headed South on Saturday afternoon.

We are so blessed to live so close to Gatlinburg, which feels like a getaway even though it takes less than an hour to get there.  After getting settled in our lodgings, we went out to explore.  Normally we stay more in the middle of town, but this time we were on the north end which gave us the opportunity to see something new (to us).

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There are several antique shops at the north end of town and both because of their location and the fact that we always have kids with us we’ve never set foot inside a single one.  American Sideshow Antiques was open and we enjoyed browsing through the eclectic wares and meeting Danny, the owner, who told us about his harrowing escape from the recent fires that devastated the area.  He shared with us the support of his regular customers from many states who have come to his aid by ordering from his shop from afar since the fire.  Having experienced similar kindnesses after our own fire, we were moved by his story.

And actually that’s why I’m writing this post, because in our many interactions with the people of Gatlinburg we discovered that businesses are suffering because of rumors that Gatlinburg was leveled by fire and that there is no reason to visit anymore.  This mistaken belief is causing more suffering to those who live and work in Gatlinburg, many who have already lost their homes and belongings.  Whenever possible, I donate money to fire victims–today I am donating my time and this space to convincing as many people as possible to visit Gatlinburg!

After the antique store, we headed to the Smoky Mountain Trout House, a Gatlinburg institution we had never tried before.   When we noticed that the upstairs was closed, the owner told us that he hadn’t needed that space since the fire because tourism is way down.  Let me tell you that people don’t know what they are missing, with super-fresh trout deboned right there at the table and big enough to cover the entire plate, along with the usual fixings.  We only barely managed to eat it all.

The next morning was cloudy but mild.  We enjoyed our motel’s ample free breakfast before setting out to walk along the Parkway.

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When I was a child, Gatlinburg shops consisted primarily of t-shirts and cheap, kitschy items, and if you went in one of them you’d pretty much seen all there was to see.  A lot has changed since then, with multiple outdoor malls showcasing a combination of local crafts and high quality mass-produced merchandise.  Window shopping is always fun, but if you want to buy something you can do it without breaking the budget! And if you don’t want to carry your haul around all day, many merchants will hold items for later pickup.

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Gatlinburg’s main strip was almost untouched by the fire.  There were two or three shops that remain closed, but most everything was in full swing.  I’ll be honest, though–we spent most of our money on alcohol. 🙂

One big change that has come to Gatlinburg in recent years is the proliferation of distilleries and tasting opportunities.  I believe this began with Ole Smoky Moonshine but they are no longer the only game in town.  We warmed up with two wineries, each of which allowed us to try two varieties for free.  But we were just getting started.

At Sugarlands Distilling Co. we learned that a new procedure for tasting has been put in place.  What used to be free now costs $5 per person, but you also get a $5 coupon good toward the purchase of any item in the store.  Since you are definitely going to want to buy some moonshine after you’ve tasted it, this is the cheapest drink in town.  Our bartender was Gyver, and he regaled us with jokes and creative shine recipes.  Gyver was one of many locals who lost his home and possessions in the fire.  He asked us to encourage anyone who wants to help fire victims to vacation in Gatlinburg.

We sampled 12 varieties at Sugarlands and used our coupons on hazelnut rum.

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Moving on down the road we ended up at Ole Smoky, where live music was in full swing.  We took a look at the product in process before heading in to sample the wares.

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D’Brickashawn was our bartender and he won us over by making fun of everyone who didn’t know what snow cream was.  Yes, there is snow cream flavored moonshine and along with blackberry that’s what we used our coupons for.  By now after 24 (small) samples I was a bit tipsy.  That facilitated bonding with our neighbors at the bar who told us that they were high school sweethearts reuniting for the first time in over twenty years.  Gatlinburg is very romantic!

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Our last stop was also Ole Smoky, at their whisky location on the other side of the road.  We got 13 samples there and took home a bottle of Tennessee Mud.  There is one more distillery in town but they weren’t open when we walked by.  That may have been for the best as each tasting was the equivalent of about 3-4 shots!

After more window shopping we walked back to the motel.   In the evening, we drove to The Peddler restaurant, one of the few old homegrown places left in town.  Because there was an hour wait, we went for a drive up the mountain to pass the time.  This is where you see the devastation wrought by the fire–burned foundation after burned foundation.  It’s unbelievable and heartbreaking.

We had a great dinner–worth the wait–and went back to the motel, enjoying the Winterfest lights along the way.

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It was back to Knoxville, reality, and hungry children the next morning but it’s nice to know that an inexpensive and fun weekend is always such a close drive away for us.

Now, you want to help the people of Gatlinburg, don’t you?  Here are two easy ways:  You can schedule a weekend getaway of your own–or a day trip if you are local!  Or you could share this post to let folks around the country know that Gatlinburg is open for business.

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I’m grateful that I’m committed to contributing a post to the Catholic Women Bloggers Network bloghop today, because the truth is  our family has been needing to reevaluate “how we Lent.”  What was once a pretty intense observance has in recent years become fairly cursory and my husband and I are not happy about that.

Why did this happen?  I’m going to blame a combination of factors–our move five years ago to a house half an hour away from our parish church,  no current affiliation with a Catholic school (after 14 years), and having less and less of an inclination to leave home for church events or any other events (caused probably by burnout after years of extreme involvement).

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I often feel out of place when wearing my Catholic blogging hat because (as you will no doubt see if you–as you should!–read the rest of the posts in this hop) the majority of Catholic mom bloggers seem to be living faith-filled lives and setting great examples for their little kids and basically being all Catholic all the time better than I’ve ever been able to manage.  But maybe I am not the only one out there who feels this way and so I’m going to go public as Catholic slacker blogger to encourage all the rest of you to do better this Lent.

Now I am tempted to say, “We are so bad and sinful and we have been doing Lent all wrong! We are going to be so holy for forty days!  We will do all the Lent things there are!”  But I kind of feel like that is a recipe for disaster.  For several years I prided myself on my extremely strict Lenten fasting:  No meat at all–even fish–for forty days (except at the Friday fish fry).  No eating between meals.  No food at all on Ash Wednesday or Good Friday.  Nothing but liquids until supper on every Friday.  And no Sundays off!  I stopped doing that a few years ago and I am not going to do it again.  Honestly, I think that strictness is part of what triggered my “failure” in subsequent Lents.

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So here is what we ARE going to do (insofar as we have planned at this point).  We will all make some form of Lenten sacrifice; we will follow all rules regarding fasting and abstinence; we will go to the Stations of the Cross EVERY Friday; I am going to participate in an online book club; and at least some of us are going to take part in this Lenten meditation.  We may do more, but that will be icing on the cake (presuming no one gives up cake!).

For more ideas for Lent observances, please visit the other posts in the hop by clicking the picture below.

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How do you “do Lent” in your family?  If you want, you can tell me in the comments!

 

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Writing about our ObamaCare experiences with the future of the program so much in doubt seems almost pointless, but I did promise to keep honestly updating you so here’s the latest.

Learning that Blue Cross was pulling out of the Marketplace in our area was really scary.  We were used to everything about the plan after three years and were happy with it.  I wasn’t looking forward to getting onto the (terrible, still) Healthcare.gov site and having to compare all the plans like I had to do when we first signed up.

Turns out I didn’t have to worry about that, because when I finally got through the approximately three hours over three days of attempts and two phone calls it took me to update my application (yes, really), I had one choice and one choice only.

We have Humana now and before I get into the nitty gritty of the pros and cons of that, can I just mention that Humana announced that they too will be pulling out of the Marketplace in 2018?  Which will leave us . . . where?  I don’t even exactly know.  If someone else were in charge of the country I’d be confident it would be fixed by then.  As it is . . . well, I am not going to worry about it yet because what’s the point.

So here’s the good, the bad, and the ugly update:

I guess the ugly would be that even though Jake is under 26 and should be eligible to be covered by our insurance, and even though we’ve been allowed to include a non-dependent child of the proper age in the past, the system flat out refused to let me sign up with him included.  And the nice person on the phone said it was because he isn’t a dependent for tax purposes, but right there ON THE WEBSITE INSTRUCTIONS it said he was still eligible.  But none of us were going to get covered if I didn’t take him off.  So then I tried to apply for him on his own, but because our governor in his “wisdom” declined the Medicaid expansion (which is also why we are losing insurers), Jake’s one of the unlucky who fall into the hole between being eligible for Medicaid and qualifying for a subsidy, which makes no sense, but whatever.  So what that means is that he cannot afford to pay for the high deductible catastrophic plan he was offered, and is currently uninsured until he has another opportunity to sign up at work (which he didn’t do at the proper time BECAUSE WE WERE COVERING HIM).  Hopefully he will qualify for one of the many exceptions to the mandate and won’t have to pay a fine come next year’s tax time.

And now for the bad:  Our deductible had been ridiculously low–$300 per person, $600 per family.  We were able to knock it out in a month or two mostly with prescriptions.  This year it’s $900/$1800.  I know that’s still way lower than many people so I shouldn’t complain too much.  The other bad thing is that some of our doctors–specifically, our mental health professionals–are out of network.  And since we are not going to change psychologists, we will be paying out of pocket for that.  Happily, our provider is working with us and charging what insurance would pay him if we had it; but that’s still $45 more a week than we were paying before.  Finally, Walgreens doesn’t take Humana, if you can believe it.  The closest pharmacy that does is Food City.  So I had to transfer about a million (give or take) prescriptions, and will have to actually WALK INSIDE to get our medicines, and do so before 7 p.m.

But there is also some good, some of it actually very good.  Our premium dropped by $450.  We are paying $241 a month! (By the way, this is for four people, as William and Lorelei are still on TennCare even though we have tried to sign them up with the rest of us.)  And there is no deductible for prescriptions–they are covered immediately.  They might be slightly more expensive but I got thirteen medications for about $65 so I’m calling that a good deal.  Of course that means they won’t apply to the deductible so it’s going to take longer to meet it, but all and all I wouldn’t be surprised if our overall costs end up being lower this year.

So there you have it.  We shall enjoy it while we can and I will update you if anything interesting happens. 🙂

P.S.  When anyone calls ObamaCare a failure, direct them here.  It has problems, it needs fixing, but it has helped us and many others.  It needs to be REPAIRED, not REPEALED.

For more of my ObamaCare stories, see below and click away!

The $64,000 Question, Answered

Who Are the Uninsured?

Uninsured No More

ObamaCare Update

ObamaCare Update 2

ObamaCare:  My Latest Update

ObamaCare Revisited

More on Our Journey to Health, Brought to You by Obamacare

It’s Good to Be Insured: An ObamaCare Update

Obamacare in Practice:  An Update

An Open Letter to My Friends Who Want to Repeal ObamaCare

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I was having one of those dreams last night.  You know the kind.  They usually happen right before time to wake up, and are inspired by anxiety from the waking world leaking out of the subconscious.

I’ve had variations on this one hundreds of times. but this one took a turn.  Let me tell you about it.

I was in college, and I was late to class.  In fact, I think the class was almost over by the time I arrived.  As I tried to enter the room quietly, I saw that the desks were strewn about the room in no discernible arrangement.  People weren’t in their right seats, having abandoned their stuff at one desk to go sit elsewhere.  So it was hard to determine where I might sit, and I had to walk all the way across the room to find a spot.

The teacher was explaining an assignment, the details of which were pertinent and funny but which have sadly already slipped away from me.  I do remember that, naturally, I couldn’t find a pencil, or paper, or my textbook to help me.  As I settled down to finally start writing, I noticed that the guy next to me had decided to just write a poem instead.  The classroom was in complete chaos, with the teacher, who was sometimes at his desk glaring and other times completely absent from the room, alternately ignoring us and yelling that we would fail the class if we did the assignment wrong.

You probably saw this coming a mile off.  Here’s the teacher:

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Credit: Michael Vadon via Wikimedia Commons

And then I woke up.

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