2019 in Review: Your Favorites, My Favorites

It’s become a yearly tradition for me to highlight the year’s most-read posts (according to WordPress stats), and also to share my favorite posts from the year.  Many of the most-read posts are oldies-but-goodies, and I choose to celebrate their staying power rather than worrying that perhaps I’ve lost my touch.

But I’ll let y’all decide.  Let me know your favorites in the comments.

YOUR FAVORITES

Dear Mom in the Pew

This post is from 2010 (yes, I have been blogging that long!), and has made this list almost every year.  It also inspired my first viral video!

If during Easter Mass some cranky submarine Catholic turns around and tells you that your babbling toddler is “ruining it for everyone else,” (and yes, this once happened to me) I want you to know that if he thinks that he doesn’t know what “it” is and he is the one who is ruining things.

How to Celebrate Advent When Everyone Thinks It’s Already Christmas

I love writing about Advent.  This 2016 post, which was originally part of the Catholic Women’s Blogging Network monthly blog hop, contains links to many other posts on the topic.

We could shut ourselves away from the world and refuse to participate, but that’s not much fun, is it?  The Christmas concerts and television specials, the tree lightings, the pageants and parades–they will all be over after Christmas Day.

So how to reconcile what the world teaches with what the Church teaches?  How do we keep Advent when the world says it’s already Christmas?

Southern Grammar: It’s Got Rules, Y’all!

Newsflash: I’m a Southerner. 🙂 And I am also a grammar fanatic and lover of language in general.  This 2012 post is dear to me and I am glad it was popular this year.

If you aren’t a Southerner, you may laugh at “y’all,” but you probably say “you guys” yourself.  There are other regional variations–you’uns, youse, you people.  What it comes down to is we NEED a plural form of you and y’all fills the bill nicely.

Mary, My Mother: Quotations and Images

A 2017 post of inspirational Marian quotations paired with photos of statues and portraits of the Blessed Mother.

Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of Go

A couple of years ago I started creating quotation images of the Blessed Mother to share on my blog’s Facebook page during the month of May.  I’ve been meaning to gather them into one post, and this month’s CWBN blog hop, with a theme of Mary, My Mother, is the perfect occasion for that.  All the photographs are mine, taken with my iPhone.

Liturgical Music II: The 70s

This is another post from way back in 2010, making its second appearance in an end-of-year list.

And as I look back and can see that the songs from the 70s weren’t particularly good songs, while it may be fun to be snarky, it’s important to remember that people were doing the best they could without much guidance to come up with new songs for the new liturgy.  And as for me, even if the songs were “bad” I loved singing them and remember them fondly.

MY FAVORITES

Thirty Years: A Marriage in Pictures

This year my husband and I celebrated 30 years of marriage, and I commemorated the occasion with one picture for each year.

On August 12, 1989, 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. 

Illegal or Unthinkable: One Pro-life Catholic’s Perspective on How to End Abortion

I was really scared when I published this one, expecting it to be controversial.  But it seemed to fly under everyone’s radar.  Perhaps I will regret including it in this list.

I know that most pro-life people really do care about babies, but I also understand why many Americans don’t believe that.   When we vote to end abortion but for caging migrant children,  against health care reform,  for removing welfare funds, and against family leave, we don’t seem pro-life.  We don’t look consistent.  We really make it look like “controlling women’s bodies” is all that we care about.  If we can demonstrate through common-sense, compassionate legislation that we really love them both and that our opposition to abortion is rooted in our respect for ALL life, I believe that’s when we will start to change hearts and minds.

Fall Break in New York City

The Fall Break in this post was in 2018, but I didn’t manage to write it up until almost exactly a year later.

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.

When to Say Yes and When to Say No: Respecting Your Spiritual Gifts

Short, sweet, and important!

Every ministry in a parish is important.  Every baptized Catholic is gifted in some way for ministry.  Every parishioner should be offering time and talent in service to the Church.  But heed this PSA:  There is nothing wrong with saying NO if you are asked to participate in a ministry that does not align with your God-given gifts.

Five Steps to a Catholic Social Justice Newsfeed

Since I now do most of my reading on Facebook, it is important to me that I curate what I see there.  I have learned a lot by following the steps I write about in this post.

I need more from my Facebook feed than pictures of artistically arranged food and smiling babies and adorable kittens (not that I don’t love those things).  I rely on Facebook for information and spiritual enrichment too.  Because as a faithful Catholic I am passionate about social justice, I purposely create a Facebook feed that forms and informs me regarding what I care about most. 

If you’d like to read highlights from previous years, see below:

2018

2017

2016

2015

2014

How to Fit Regular Prayer into Your Busy Life: It’s Not What You Think

For most of my adulthood, my prayer life has consisted of Mass on Sunday, various random calls on God on the saints as necessary throughout the day, and petitions in bed at night–if I did not fall asleep first.  I would marvel at folks who attended Mass daily, or said the rosary regularly, or woke up early for quiet time with God.  How on earth did they find the time?

Over the past few years I have experienced a real longing for holiness, a desire to spend more intentional time in prayer.  And I’ve had some limited success, with help from prayer journaling, a schedule that facilitated weekday Mass attendance, and even Facebook!  A schedule change this year, though, meant I had no reason to leave the house until afternoon.  And without that little boost, and with always so much work to do at home, I just haven’t been able to make myself go to morning Mass even though I really enjoyed it.

Every article about having a regular prayer life says to schedule time with God:  have a prayer appointment at the same time each day.  So I tried.  First I got up earlier in the morning to pray, but fell asleep in my chair the first few mornings and started hitting the snooze button instead.  I tried praying every night before bed (not IN bed!), and I fell asleep then too.  I considered scheduling prayer time mid-morning once I was good and awake, but I just couldn’t make myself go back upstairs (where my prayer space is located) once I had already gotten involved in my work.

As I type all that it sounds pathetic, but I am just being honest!  And this post does have a happy ending (at least for now!).  Here’s what I did:

  • I let go of last year’s schedule.  Just because I had a great thing going last year doesn’t mean it works this year, and that is okay.  Next school year will be different and maybe morning Mass will work for me again.
  • I made a commitment to FIT PRAYER IN.  I chose certain practices, and promised myself I would do them every day, but not necessarily on a particular schedule or at the same time every day.
  • I found tools to make regular prayer as easy as possible.  You can read about them here.
  • I found accountability partners.  Right now I’m participating in the 33 Days of Merciful Love challenge with Catholic Fit Moms for Life.  Regular prayer is one of my goals for the challenge, and the challenge itself includes spiritual reading and journaling.  I am registered for the Pray More Advent Retreat, which will overlap just a bit and then take me all the way to Christmas.

So what does this look like right now?  Once I’m alone in the house, I will usually do my journaling for the 33 Days challenge.  Then I will work for awhile before taking a break to say what I think of as my morning prayers, which I have saved on my phone so I don’t even have to leave my desk.  I listen to Pray As You Go in the car on the way to pick up the kids.  After dinner, when I used to sit on the porch and read, I now retire to my prayer space and do my reading for the challenge and use Hallow to meditate.  And I still say those bedtime prayers.  And if I don’t get to do all those things on a given day, I don’t feel worried or guilty, I just resume on the following day.

And you know what? By my prioritizing fitting prayer in somewhere, somehow, rather than attempting to schedule it, a schedule more or less naturally fell into place on its own!

So if you are a busy person who wants to pray more, and a prayer schedule hasn’t worked for you, try just committing to fitting it in and see how that works for you!

Election Day Redux

Confession time:  I am still not over the 2016 Presidential Election.  I don’t know that I will ever really get over it.  To go from euphoria to despair in just a few short hours, and then to see many of my fears realized over the past two years–it has truly been a demoralizing time for many of us.
Still, hope springs eternal.  And it has been exciting and energizing to see so many people voting this year.
Last year I wore my closest approximation of a pantsuit in tribute to Hillary.  Here is this year’s voting ensemble, a tribute to my political homelessness:
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Election Day is a holiday for public school students, so Lorelei accompanied me to the polls.  She’s almost 14, but she still likes pressing the button for me.
election 2
In 2016, Emily was also with us, and the three of us celebrated what we expected to be an historic occasion by visiting the women’s suffrage statue in Market Square and then breakfasting at Pete’s.  This year, Emily voted early because she had to be out of town today.  But Lorelei and I still went out to breakfast, this year at First Watch, just down the road a piece.
And now, it’s time to watch the returns, and the kids are calling me.  We’ve done all we can do.
Election 3

A Different Image of Catholic Femininity

If you ask someone to choose an illustration of “Catholic femininity” what do you think they might describe?
An aproned Mother in a kitchen surrounded by a small army of well-behaved children?
A traditionally habited nun, eyes downcast in prayer?
A modest school girl with a plaid skirt covering her knees?
An elderly lady kneeling in a pew, clutching her rosary?
A statue of the Blessed Mother?
Read the rest at Everyday Ediths.

Personalized Jewelry to Honor the Mothers in Your Life

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When I was a little girl, I took weekly piano lessons from a family acquaintance.  I remember that she had a ring with multicolor stones that I thought was just beautiful.  She explained that it held the birthstones of each of her children.
Since then I’ve seen similar rings or pendants and have toyed with the idea of getting one–but the fact is that I don’t wear much jewelry and spending money on it just isn’t in our budget.
So I was very excited to be offered the opportunity to promote Mama’s Jewelry in exchange for a free ring of my own!  I haven’t ordered it yet, so I can’t give you my honest opinion, but I will.  For now, I will share a message from the company and an offer you can use:

Moms work hard 365 days out of the year, so why give them another predictable gift this Mother’s Day? With the exquisite collection of mothers rings from Mama’s Jewelry, you’re bound to make this the most unforgettable Mother’s Day yet! Each time she looks down at her ring, puts on her earrings or is asked about her necklace, she’ll remember just how much she’s loved.
Mama’s Jewelry has been designing rings and pendants for moms for 30 years, and we have no intention of slowing down! Our company is committed to creating exceptional mothers pendants, rings and earrings at affordable prices.
We are a family operated business born out of a passion for creating jewelry from gold, Sterling Silver, platinum and diamonds. We care about your comfort and satisfaction and how secure your diamonds and gems are set.
We are so proud of our jewelry in our store we give our customers a lifetime warranty on any piece of jewelry they buy. With that culture in mind, we developed Mama’s Jewelry.
What is the Mama’s Jewelry Advantage? Simple. We care.
A great deal of thought goes into the process of designing these rings, pendants and bracelets. When the customer receives their jewelry there is “wow” factor. We hear it time and time again. We always deliver 110%.
Thickness of the shank, the prongs, the quality of the stones, the way they are set; no one gives the customer so much attention to detail like we do. We have over 2100 positive reviews on eBay and thousands of reviews on Amazon and have sold tens of thousands pieces without any complaint.
A key benefit to shopping with us is our fast turnaround times. As soon as we receive your order, our CAD technicians and certified jewelers get to work designing and building your custom item. All of our processes follow strict quality control measures. Everything that comes from us has our seal of approval. If we wouldn’t give it to our loved ones, we won’t send it to you!
Most orders for mothers rings and pendants are able to be sent out within 3 to 5 days, reaching you about a week later. If you’re shopping at the last minute, Mama’s Jewelry will take care of you and ensure that you get a custom made item that looks like it took months to make!

We love jewelry and we want our passion for it to be evident in any piece we offer.
My readers can save with the following offer:

Mother’s Day Special Offer – Save $10 Off already low prices. (minimum purchase $59)  Click here and use code: MAMAS10.
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When We Were Eve: Finding Eden in a Fallen World

Eve.
The first woman.  The mother of all the living.  Adam’s companion.
What do you think of when I say her name?  How do you picture her?  Are your thoughts positive–or negative?
when we were eve
When I was offered a copy of this book by a representative of Franciscan Media in exchange for my honest review, I wondered what the title could mean, and my thoughts weren’t positive.  My gut reaction was to think of Eve as that weak and sinful woman who brought sin and death into the world through pride and disobedience, dragging Adam and all the rest of us down with her.
And my reaction is kind of the whole point of the book.  Our feelings about Eve mirror our feelings about ourselves–women who are no longer able to walk before God naked and unashamed.
But Colleen Mitchell encourages us to go back to Eden, to think about how Eve must have been before the Fall, to empathize with the weakness that led her to sin, and to discover our own “Eden instinct” that draws us to seek God’s original desires for us.
She encourages us to remember how good it was when God first made the world, and especially the unique place woman held as His final creation:  “As the culmination of God’s creative love, we arrive at the shaping of woman . . . in all the world, nothing exists that can fulfill the need for woman.”
This is a book that begs to be read carefully and prayerfully, and probably several times.  It would be ideal for a women’s book and/or prayer group.  Each chapter includes quotations from Scripture, reflections by the author, a story from an individual woman about her journey back to Eden, and questions for further study.  It concludes with a section of benedictions for your body that are incredibly moving.
This book made me cry more than once.   The personal stories shared in each chapter brought to mind some of my own struggles with body image issues.  As most women know, this is an incredibly painful topic that many would rather avoid than confront as this book encourages its readers to do.
But this is a joyful book, too, because it offers us hope that we CAN make our way back to Eden, and I recommend it to any woman who would like to reclaim some of that original joy.
franciscan media
 

Maintaining Connection in a Busy Life – Quality Time

f you are a parent—perhaps especially a mother who works outside the home—you’ve heard all about Quality Time.  When it comes to my kids, I’m more about quantity than quality.  But in my marriage, it’s a totally different thing.
Quality Time is one of the Five Love Languages.  For me, it’s in a tie for top spot with Acts of Service.  Luckily for our marriage, it’s high on my husband’s list as well, coming in just after Physical Touch.
We should have no trouble then, right?
Read the rest at Under Thy Roof.

Adventure Time! (Sponsored)

John and I are going on a trip!  This will be the farthest we have ever traveled without our kids, and only the second time I can remember that we’ve ever traveled alone by plane.
We are going to San Francisco!  Obviously, we are going because Teddy is there, and we will arrive on his birthday.  But that weekend is also the anniversary of our becoming a couple (31 years!) which we always celebrate (but usually by going out to dinner, or on a good year, with a weekend in Gatlinburg).
I went to San Francisco with my godfather and his daughter in May of 1981.  It was my first time on an airplane and my first trip away from my family.  I fell in love with the city and have wanted to return ever since.
But we are not exactly world travelers, y’all, and Teddy will be working a lot while we are there and we are going to have to find things to do.  I’m always a little nervous finding my way around in a new place.
So when U.S. Family Guide offered me the opportunity to go on an Urban Adventure Quest, I was very excited to see (as I expected) that San Francisco was one of the cities included.  In exchange for my (future) honest review, John and I will be able to go on a quest that will be a fun way to explore part of San Francisco!
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Here is what I know so far:
Turn the city of your choice into a giant game board with this fun scavenger hunt adventure. Combine the excitement of the Amazing Race with a three-hour city tour. Guided from any smart phone, teams make their way among well known and overlooked gems of the city, solving clues and completing challenges while learning local history. Play anytime during daylight hours. Start when you want and play at your pace. Great Family Fun!
Here is an offer for my readers:  Save 20%- Only $39.20 for a team of 2-5 people after Promotion Code: FGBLOG.
You can see what cities are available (local readers, note that Nashville and Asheville are on the list!) and sign up at www.UrbanAdventureQuest.com.  I’ll be back here with my review at the end of February.

Not of This World: Finding Peace through Minimalism

There’s something about a new year. isn’t there?  So fresh and clean with none of the last year’s mistakes . . . yet.  It’s natural to want to apply the newness to our lives, to make them fresh and clean as well.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who resolves to tackle household clutter at this time of year.  When it’s cold out, we naturally spend more time indoors enjoying cozy pursuits, and I have a hard time relaxing when my house is making me feel unhappy and anxious.

I wrote a super popular post a few years ago, about our American problem with too much stuff, and last year I acquired the popular minimalism guide by Marie Kondo.  And I made some progress, but this is going to be my year.

Because last year I read a book that didn’t only talk about minimalism and explain it.  This book anchored it in Catholicism, and that’s an unbeatable combination.
not of this world
Sterling Jaquith, the author of Not of This World  (which I was given by the author in exchange for my honest opinion in this post) hit the nail on the head when she wrote this: “Nothing in this world will ever really satisfy us.  Our ultimate desire will always be for God, and that is why I believe all Catholics should embrace a lifestyle of minimalism.”  This makes so much sense to me.  Our consumeristic culture encourages us to fill our emptiness with more and more stuff, but it never ends, does it?  We are always looking toward the next “must-have” item.

As my readers know, I was forced into minimalism a few years ago when my house burned down.  I was involuntarily relieved of the burden of too much stuff.  My relationship to the things of this world was changed instantly, and the result is that clutter I might have once not given a second glance now makes me anxious.  I have intentionally chosen to acquire very few extraneous personal possessions, and I ruthlessly get rid of things regularly, but the stuff seems to pile up anyway.

I find this overwhelming, and the problem is hard to tackle.  I need help, and this book provides it.  The opening chapters explain minimalism, and offer personal examples of what can happen to people who live their lives piling up possessions.  I recently traveled to Baltimore to help my mother-in-law go through some of the stuff in her home of more than 60 years prior to her moving into a small apartment.  She is very happy in her new place, but getting rid of her possessions has been very hard–not just logistically, but emotionally.  How much easier not to buy things and become attached to them in the first place!

Sterling goes on to remind us of the minimalist beginnings of Christianity–Jesus was born in a stable, after all!  His followers were poor, and throughout the ages those in religious lives have continued to vow poverty.  Following their example will bring us peace and space: “We’re going to create more space in our lives to connect with the Lord . . . The more we follow His will, the more peace we have and deep down, this is what we all desire.”

For me, this focus on Christianity is what sets the book apart from other minimalism guides and makes it uniquely motivating for me.  But that doesn’t mean the other stuff is neglected!  Much of the book involves detailed week-by-week and room-by-room instructions for decluttering, along with access to printable worksheets to help you do it.  There are also special sections for larger families, homeschooling families, and people who live in small spaces.

I am starting on Monday to follow Sterling’s program.  Buy the book right here and you can do it too!  Even better, you can join in online and get explanatory and motivations videos from Sterling and feedback from other people going through the program!

UPDATE:

This book really did start me along an ongoing path on minimizing my belongings.  Below are some of my posts showing how I put its lessons into practice, complete with before-and-after pictures!

Week One

Week Two

Week Three

Week One Redux

Week Two Redux

Week Three Redux

Redux Update

12 in 2017: A Year in Pictures

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

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

Best of 2017 - Women's March

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

Best of 2017 - Gatlinburg

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

Best of 2017 - Willima's birthday

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

Best of 2017 - Kenny Rogers

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

Best of 2017 - Dollywood

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

Best of 2017 - Zoo

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

Best of 2017 - Reptiland

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

Best of 2017 - zoo

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

Best of 2017 - Cincinnati

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

best of 2017 - porch

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

Best of 2017 - Calvary Cemetery

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

Best of 2017 - engagement

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

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

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