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Let’s connect!  Looking forward to connecting! I’d like to connect with you!

Such messages are all over social media, and usually there the idea of “connecting” conveys a professional networking vibe.  Connecting helps us get jobs, drives readers to our blogs.  Some of us are very intentional about this kind of connecting.  In today’s world, such connections are vital–putting yourself out there, getting seen.

Few of us put that kind of effort into making personal connections.  Yet most of us do make them as we blunder along through life.  Just a few years ago I was blessed by an experience that demonstrated to me the width and the depth of the connections my family and I had made in our various communities.

See, this happened:

fire 1 fire 2Four years ago, when we were (blessedly) out of town, our house burned down and what we had left when the smoke had cleared and we had combed through the ashes fit neatly in a 5 x 5 storage room.

The strength and the complexity of the connections we had made throughout our lives was instantly evident.  We were in Baltimore attending a funeral when this happened and my husband’s oldest childhood friend was the first in a long line of people whose generosity and kindness not only upheld our spirits but afforded us the material support we needed.

In times of tragedy, most people expect (and can count on) help from family, and of course when we got home they all pitched in–one sister took in our whole family, while the other one adopted our dog for the duration, and that was just beginning.

What was wonderful to see, though, were the fruits borne out of many years of unintentionally building connections just by living our lives.  We received donations from our church, clothes and gift cards from both schools our kids attended and even from the school they used to attend, nightly meals from members of our son’s football team.  In many cases we had never previously met or talked to the many people who were showering us with money and gift cards and household goods and clothes for our children.  We were connected only by the communities–church and school–of which we were a part.

Connections from long ago still proved powerful, as we received gifts from old school friends, some of whom we had not seen in 20 years.  Virtual connections became real connections as friends made years ago online sent boxes of clothing.  And connections of connections chipped in as well–parishioners at my father’s church, readers of a blogging friend who hosted an online fundraiser, my sister’s dearest friends.

What I wrote in a thank you note at the time still holds true:   We’ve all heard that during our trials we learn who our friends are.  What we have learned is that we have many friends whom we never even knew about until this happened to us, and for that blessing we are grateful.   

Our connections showered us with compassion when this terrible thing happened to our family.  But not everyone has the connections we have.  I recently learned of an acquaintance who lost his home to fire a year or so ago.  He told me that only the Red Cross came to his family’s aid.  Whenever I hear of victims of house fires in need, I send a donation if I can.  Because I share that connection with them.

The real challenge is to show compassion–to feel compassion–for those with whom we have no obvious connection at all.  I remember as a child asking how exactly we are supposed to Love One Another like Jesus said.  How are we supposed to love people we don’t even know?  I do understand it now, but I can see that for many people it is all too easy to disavow those to whom they are not connected, to mark them as other and different and unworthy of compassion.

How easy to forget that we are all connected–that, as the Catholic Bishops of Appalachia wrote–we are all at home in the web of life.  That we are all brothers, children of one Father.

This post is part of the monthly #1000Speak linkup.  You can read the other posts here

1000Speak

Creative K Kids

Ten Things of Thankful

This is only the second time I’ve participated in TToT but I can still celebrate its big milestone, right?

Several months ago I started my own private thankfulness practice in my prayer life (that sounds way more holy than it is–we’re talking praying in bed before dropping off to sleep at night).  I resolved to begin my prayers by thanking God for each day’s blessings, start to finish, before I started asking Him for things.  Y’all, most of the time I fall asleep before I get to the asking part.  And I find myself excited to reflect on the good things that happen each day.  Because there are ALWAYS good things.  And doing this has improved my outlook on life–so simply, so easily.

So without further ado, here are ten things I am thankful for this week:

1.  Teddy has been home all week!  it’s a short visit because he is heading to Chicago for most of the summer to intern and Kirkland & Ellis.  I’m thankful that we got to spend a little time with him as well as for his achievements.

teddy short hair

2.  Teddy wanted to watch all of the Lord of the Rings movies while he was home, so I spent a lot of time in front of the t.v. over the weekend–very unusual for me.  I enjoy sharing things I love with my children, and I was inspired to read the books once again.

3.  I had another post featured on BlogHer!  After never ever being published anywhere, now it’s happened twice in two weeks.  Could it be a sign?  I hope so!

4.  The weather is glorious and my garden is blooming.  Yesterday I took a nap in the front yard among the clover blossoms.  They smelled wonderful and I didn’t even care that they made my nose run.

roses

5.  I was nominated for another blogging award!

6.  I scored some free tickets (another blogging perk) to some fun attractions for our next visit to the D.C./Baltimore area!

7.  The whole family was able to share Mother’s Day Brunch.

mother and sisters

8.  Emily and I made some major progress cleaning out our garage, with more to come this weekend.  This was long overdue and made me happy.

9.  Via blogging, I have become part of a lovely group of women and we really bonded this week!  Virtual friends are REAL friends!

10.  The school year is winding down!  We are tired and ready for sleeping later and not worrying about homework for awhile.

Just like my prayers, coming up with ten things to be thankful for is an exercise in gratitude that can benefit anyone!  Check out the posts in the linkup, and consider joining in!

Ten Things of Thankful

Liebster Award

I’m afraid I’m starting to sound like a broken record but I’m excited to announce that Kathleen of Lifestyle Building Blocks for Success has nominated me for the Liebster Award!  I met Kathleen over on Google +, and have enjoyed being a part of her Friday Blog Booster Party.

Like most blogging awards, accepting the Liebster Award involves answering some questions so that you can get to know me better.  So let’s get started!

  • How did you decide on the name of your blog?

That’s an easy one, because I already wrote a post to answer it!

  • Where does your blogging inspiration come from?

Everywhere! This is an eclectic blog that doesn’t fit a niche.  Sometimes it’s a news story that sets me off; another day it’s the beauty of nature or a walk in a graveyard.  There are sticky notes with a few words scrawled on them all over my desk–often I can’t remember what I meant by what I wrote!

  • What is it that you love most about blogging?

I love having a larger platform to share my ideas than just my family (and they probably do as well!).

  • What is your favorite food?

Homemade biscuits, a good steak, homegrown summer vegetables . . . I like to eat.

  • What is your favorite thing to drink (alcoholic or not)?

COFFEE.

  • What is an item you cannot live without?

Four years ago my house burned down and I lost virtually all of my personal possessions.  So I can truthfully say there is no item I cannot live without.  I like my computer A LOT, though.

  • What are eleven random facts about yourself?

1.  I was the youngest person to win the Knoxville City Spelling Bee when I was eight years old.  I went on to win it four more times, and one won the regional competition and placed ninth in the National Spelling Bee.  As a result, watching Spelling Bees makes me a nervous wreck.

2.  My favorite color is yellow.  When I was a little girl my bedroom looked like springtime–all yellow everywhere except for the bright green carpet.

3.  I have been writing since I was about four, when I used to dictate my stories to my mother.  The first one was about a girl who always wore an enormous hat.

4.  I am afraid of heights.  My knees get weak if I even stand on a chair.  I also can’t stand to watch people move furniture.

5.  I thought that I would be a perfect mother and that I would have perfectly behaved kids.  I was wrong on both counts.

6.  From first grade until I gave the valedictory address upon graduation from high school, my life was defined by academic success.  Although I know it was the right decision at the time, I still feel disappointed about dropping out of graduate school two classes short of getting an M.A.

7.  I am the product of 16 years of Catholic education.  I am a cradle Catholic and my faith is absolutely central to my life even though I fall short at living it.  Holiness continues to elude me.

8.  I love my children and would do almost anything for them, up to and including sacrificing my life for theirs, but my children are not my whole life.

9.  I am still deeply in love with my husband of 25 years, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t fight.

10. I majored in English at Georgetown University and minored in Theology.  I also took a lot of French classes, and use my fractured French to talk to my husband when we don’t want the kids to understand us or to discuss people who are sitting near us in restaurants.

11. I can make decisions almost instantly, whether it’s about what I should be buying or sizing up the character of someone I have just met.

  • If you could live anywhere in the world where would it be?

Knoxville, Tennessee. (Which is where I was born and currently live,)

  • If you could meet anyone from history, alive or dead, who would it be?

I am very interested in genealogy so I think I’d like to meet some of my ancestors so I could get some of my questions answered.

  • What is your favorite outdoor activity?

Hiking and gardening, and I blog about both of them.

  • Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

I will still have two kids at home in five years, so my life won’t look a whole lot different.  I do hope that I will have writing published somewhere other than this blog by then.  I can’t devote as much time to that pursuit as I would like.

INSTRUCTIONS FOR NEW NOMINEES OF THE LIEBSTER AWARD:

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to do the following:

  • Write a post about the fact that you’ve been nominated for the Liebster Award.
  • In this post, link back to and show some love to the person who nominated you, also nominate 11 other new blogs that would not have more than 1000 followers.  Let these nominated bloggers know that you have nominated them and provide a link back to your page to ensure that they are familiar with the Award.
  • Display the Award in your post and in your side bar.
  • Answer the questions about yourself.
  • Put your post with your nominated 11 blogs for the Liebster Award, on social media. Spread the love!
Here are your questions:
  1. How did you decide on the name of your blog?
  2. Where does your blogging inspiration come from?
  3. What is it that you love most about blogging?
  4. What is your favorite food?
  5. What is your favorite thing to drink (alcoholic or not)?
  6. What is an item you cannot live without?
  7. What are eleven random facts about yourself?
  8. If you could live anywhere in the world where would it be?
  9. If you could meet anyone from history, alive or dead, who would it be?
  10. What is your favorite outdoor activity?
  11. Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

And here’s the part where I am supposed to tell you my nominees, and this is the problem:  The Liebster Award is really supposed to go to a newish blogger with a smaller following.  And most folks I know in that category have already received this award, plus I have had two other awards to give out in recent weeks (an embarrassment of riches, I realize).  So I’m going to let y’all nominate yourselves.  If you fit the criteria for this award, and you have not yet received one, tell me in the comments and I will pass one of my nominations along to you so that I (and your readers) can get to know you better.

Fridays Blog Booster Party Featured

You will no doubt have noticed that I have written several sponsored posts lately–this one included–and since that’s a departure from the usual here, I want to give you a little explanation.

I was referred by some of my blogging friends to U.S. Family Guide, a resource for family fun which also connects bloggers and family attractions.  That means my readers get coupons, the attractions get publicity, and my family and I get free admission to some awesome attractions.  Obviously, I’m not going to lie and say I enjoyed visiting this places if I don’t, I promise you that!

So the flurry of recent activity in this regard is because it’s almost summer and time for family fun.  I am excited to have a coupon offer that local readers can take advantage of.

welcome-to-gatlinburg

My readers will save $3 off Adult and $2 off Child Admission to all of Ripley’s Attractions in Tennessee.  You’ll need to make your purchase online and enter the following promo code when you check out: USFAMILYGUIDE  Click here for more information about this offer and about U.S. Family Guide.
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I’ll bet you weren’t aware that there were so many Ripley’s-owned attractions in Gatlinburg.  I know I wasn’t, even though I have visited some of them in the past.   The Guinness World Records Museum, Ripley’s 5D Moving Theater, Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies, Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! Odditorium, Ripley’s Davy Crockett Mini-Golf, Ripley’s Haunted Adventure, and Ripley’s Marvelous Mirror Maze are all owned by Ripley’s and are included in this promotion.  I’ve been to the World Records Museum, the Odditorium, and the Aquarium in the past, but it’s been many years and I know they’ve been updated since then so I am very excited.  One of the coolest things about the Aquarium is a tunnel that goes right through the shark tank!

I’m not sure when my family and I will make our visit but I will be back to tell you more about it when we do.  And in the meantime, if you use my promo code and visit for yourself, I hope you will come back here and comment!

gat-bion-logo-mobile

tussauds 1

Because John and I graduated from Georgetown University, and because his family still lives in nearby Baltimore, we have taken trips to our Nation’s Capital fairly regularly over the years.  And although there is never enough time to do everything we want to while we are there, and we never tire of seeing our favorite places, it’s fun to try something new once in awhile.

On our next trip, we will have FREE tickets (free is good, right?) to an attraction we have never seen.  All I have to do is write about it before we go, and review it afterwards.  Here’s what I know right now:

Have the ultimate fame experience at Madame Tussauds Washington D.C.! Here, you can snap the perfect selfie with your favorite music stars, film legends, sporting greats, historical icons, and local heroes. We are also the home of the President’s Gallery, which features all 44 U.S. Presidents.

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 27:  Host of NBC's 'The Tonight Show', Jimmy Fallon (L) joins Madame Tussauds to debut five unique, brand new, never before seen wax figures of the television host at Madame Tussauds New York on March 27, 2015 in New York City.  (Photo by Cindy Ord/Getty Images for Madame Tussauds New York)

NEW YORK, NY – MARCH 27: Host of NBC’s ‘The Tonight Show’, Jimmy Fallon (L) joins Madame Tussauds to debut five unique, brand new, never before seen wax figures of the television host at Madame Tussauds New York on March 27, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Cindy Ord/Getty Images for Madame Tussauds New York)

Who do you want to meet?
tussaud 3KIDS GO FREE! Free Child (Ages 4-12) Ticket to Madame Tussauds Washington, D.C. with purchase of regular same day adult admission. Present this coupon at the Madame Tussauds box office to receive one free child admission with every purchase of a regular same day adult admission. Valid for up to 6 people. Not valid on online, advance or combo ticket purchase or with any other discounts. Restrictions apply. Promo Code: V373.
http://usfamilycoupons.com/coupon.php?regionid=75&bid=11233&dealid=1317

tussaud 4

RIPLEYSBIONBaltimoreI’m excited to report that my family and I are going to receive free tickets to the new Ripley’s Odditorium at the Inner Harbor next time we travel to Baltimore to visit my husband’s family!  I’m looking forward to coming back here to tell you more about it, but here’s a teaser:

Believe It or Not!, Ripley’s is now located at the Baltimore Inner Harbor. Come see over 15,000 square feet of the odd and weird world of Ripley’s Believe It or Not! where truth is stranger than fiction. See a real shrunken head, Hogwarts Castle made of matchsticks and much much more! Along with incredible artifacts and artwork from all around the world and over 100 “interactives” take a ride on our 4D Moving Theatre and get lost in our Marvelous Mirror Maze. You can also take home your very own wax hand that you create. Ripley’s has been proudly freaking out families for over 90 years. Why just say it, See it!

We have a Ripley’s in Gatlinburg that we’ve enjoyed several times.  I know that William, especially, will be crazy about this.

Since I was a little girl visiting the old churches in the Smokies, I have enjoyed exploring graveyards.  But in March 2014 I took this interest to the next level when I started visiting, photographing, and writing about cemeteries on a regular basis.  I try to tell a story, talk about what feelings or ideas a particular graveyard inspires for me, and include information about the history of the cemetery and some of the people who rest there.

The purpose of this post is to collect all the links to those stories to make it more convenient for interested readers.  I’m also including a “teaser” and a favorite picture. (You’ll notice the quality of the pictures improves as the months go by–at least I think so!)

Dust to Dust

In this first post, I visit Byington Cemetery and Ball Camp Pike Baptist Cemetery, both in Northwest Knox County.

cemetery ball camp baptist6

Graveyards and Country Roads

Brimer Cemetery and Beaver Ridge Cemetery, which are across the road from each other in Northwest Knox County, are covered in this post.

beaver creek cemetery 3

A Visit to Third Creek Cemetery

This Northwest Knoxville Cemetery inspires thoughts on the huge problem of cemetery upkeep.

TCB 29

And This Is Why They Call It Gallaher View

Beautiful views abound in this popular post about Edgewood Cemetery in West Knoxville.

An Afternoon at Grassy Valley

Grassy Valley Baptist Church Cemetery in West Knoxville is a reminder of a time when the Kingston Pike area of West Knoxville was still a grassy valley.

GV 20

Dutchtown, Loveville, Graveyards, and Progress

This post muses on how graveyards like Concord Mennonite Church Cemetery maintain oases of beauty amidst development in West Knoxville and elsewhere.

CM 6

Graveyard Roundup

In this post we visit cemeteries in South Knoxville, Northwest Knox County, and the Great Smoky Mountains.

LGC 1

Island Home Baptist Church Cemetery

Here we cover a South Knoxville Cemetery in the historic Island Home neighborhood.

IHB 2

My First “Foreign” Cemetery

This cemetery is farther afield–I took these pictures while visiting my son at Notre Dame.

nd 18

The Mystery of Lebanon Cemetery

Another Northwest Knox County cemetery that I found with the help of Siri, and the history of which is a little obscure.LC 8

A Churchyard without a Church

Located in the Solway community, this African-American churchyard is missing its church, but people are still being laid to rest at Branch Hill Methodist Cemetery.

Branch Hill 1

What’s in a Name

Mount Pleasant Baptist Church Cemetery is another African-American cemetery, this one no longer active, located in West Knoxville.

MP 5

Rocky Hill Baptist Cemetery

This surprisingly large cemetery lies in the heart of the Rocky Hill community.

RH 23

The Living and the Dead

In which I explain why and how I write my cemetery stories, in response to a minor uproar caused by my prior post.

cemetery ball camp baptist4

Byrd’s Chapel, Old and New

This graveyard in West Knox County is one of the prettiest ones I’ve seen.

Byrd 1

One Cemetery, Two Names

I’ve driven by this tiny graveyard on Oak Ridge Highway thousands of times, and it was exciting to explore it at last.

May 27

Stanton Cemetery

You’ll find this graveyard along a trail in the South Knoxville Urban Wilderness.

Stanton 17

An Autumn Afternoon at Holloway Cemetery

This “pauper’s cemetery” in West Knoxville is overgrown but picturesque, at least in the autumn.Holliway 27

Smoky Mountain Graveyard

You’ll have to climb a steep hill to find this small family cemetery on the Gatlinburg side of the Smokies.

smokies 15

A Grey Afternoon at Grigsby Chapel

This Methodist cemetery is in the heart of Farragut.

Grigsby 32

Stoney Point Baptist Church Cemetery

This is a charming and well-kept graveyard in the Hardin Valley Community.

Stoney Point 11

I will add to this page every time I write about another cemetery, so you can bookmark it to make sure you don’t miss anything!

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