wrapping up before moving on

 

Goodness.  You guys have given me so much material to read and to listen to and to watch.  I’m really thankful for all of you readers.

That’s not just something nice to type.  For real.  (Or “for realz” with a “z” if that makes it more convincing.  It doesn’t.  I know it doesn’t.)

I didn’t ask all of those questions about divorce and remarriage because I wanted to hurt anyone’s feelings.  And I didn’t ask because I want to get remarried.  I asked because I want to understand.  

I love that there were different views and different thoughts and different stories and yet – AND YET – there was this common thread.  Yes, a thread of grace and a thread of agreeing that only God knows the heart – but also this lovely real thread of kindness.  You guys – we see so much junk on our Facebook feeds and so much straight up nastiness in the way people comment back and forth to one another and there was none of that.

So — thank you.

It really truly is possible to disagree, to agree, to not have a stinkin’ clue and to still be kind to one another.  (I’ll need to remind myself of this truth more often when I forget it in my own dealings with real life humans.  Because I do forget this sometimes.)

I have a lot to process.  I obviously never expected to settle all this within my soul on a single Monday.

And I don’t feel the need to settle all this in my soul in a single day.

And you don’t have to either.  (Not that you did.)

I have more blog posts to hit “publish” on but they all felt a little like whiplash after a heavy post like yesterday’s.

So they can wait until tomorrow.  Just like the laundry I meant to fold and the granola I meant to bake.

I rearranged furniture today.  It’s what I do sometimes when I cannot rearrange my life outside these walls.  It’s hard to believe how many different ways you can configure furniture in one living room.  But there’s a lot of options out there guys.  My TV is balancing on an old steamer trunk and I’m pretty certain that’s not the height of safety but I sold my TV stand before I sold my TV and then the kids got wind of the idea I thought of to sell our TV and they unanimously agreed it was a poor idea to sell our TV and although our home is a far cry from a democracy it’s not entirely a dictatorship either so the TV remains despite the fact that it’s leaning against the wall in our living room.

 

 

In other random late night news, my brother started a YouTube channel that has at least two people in my home elated.  One clue – the boys are the elated ones.  I think I’ll wait till Five Finds Friday to share the channel.  (Was that a teaser for a Friday post?)

 

 

Also, only one family member watched the SuperBowl.  Well, unless you count Riley and her family, and they do count, obviously, but I was particularly implying only one living at home family member watched the Super Bowl.  Also.  Maddox is having a sleepover tonight and I’m pretty sure he likes it here.

 

 

And now everyone that lives in my home should be asleep – including me.

Good night!

 

 

P.S. — Just one more time ….. you readers are genuinely kind and good to me, and that never goes unnoticed.  Thank you.

_______________________________

 

 

 

two heavies: divorce and remarriage

 

This will be an unpopular post.

These are unpopular ideas.  Unpopular thoughts.

(Although I care so little about being popular these days.  I cared deeply about being popular (or liked, or something) in middle school and high school – although you wouldn’t have known it if you were judging me by the way I dressed.  My lemon yellow shorts in the summer.  My hot pink plastic eyeglasses.  The long johns I wore under my prairie skirts all winter.  My horrific hair choices.)

You know what?

These issues are actually not just unpopular in our culture.

These thoughts are deeply unpopular in my own heart and mind.

I’ve been reading and thinking and reading again, but mostly I think I do not understand the Biblical truths around divorce and remarriage.  (Or I don’t want to understand them perhaps.  It’s hard to know.)

Go ahead. You can shut this page down for today.  Click back over to Facebook.  Look at cat memes.  I don’t mind at all.

I’m kind of uncomfortable typing all this up and putting all this out there – to be misread (or read correctly).  To be taken at a glance.  To be stuck in internet haze until eternity.  (Or a crash.  Whichever.)

Divorce.  Remarriage.

These two words are gigantic and absolutely pervasive and I am pretty sure most Christians just back on away from this topic because, let’s face it – it is TOO HARD.

I’ve thought about these ideas hypothetically for years.  But the hypothesis has been removed and the stakes are personal now.

Everyone knows someone – or IS someone – who is divorced or is remarried to someone who is divorced.

This is too big to tackle, right?

I mean.  It IS too big to handle.  And too hard and too tricky and too ripe for misunderstanding and for feeling called out or judged or for getting it all wrong – or maybe worse – for getting it partially wrong and mostly twisted and therefore creating more wreckage.

So there’s this disclaimer before I keep typing then.  

I DON’T KNOW.

(I don’t shout in all caps often here.  But I want to shout this one.  I don’t know.  I JUST DON’T KNOW.)

Here’s what I see so far in Scripture:

God hates divorce.

Divorce is “allowable” in cases of adultery.

Divorce is “allowable” in abusive situations.

Even under these dire and wicked circumstances, I don’t see a God celebrating or reveling in divorce.  I don’t see joy and pleasure derived from divorce.  I cannot picture the God of scripture celebrating in the brokenness of any marriage covenant.

And I think an idea we underuse in our culture today is the idea of separation.  I think there is strong Biblical grounds for separating.  For giving space for healing and reconciliation after brokenness.  I even think a couple could separate but not pursue divorce and do that in a way that could honor God.  (These would be unusual circumstances, but I think it would be preferable to divorce.)

Additionally, I use the word “allowable” because I also see God’s word supporting reconciliation and redemption even in cases of infidelity.  I’ve seen marriages made whole and couples restored despite terrible choices, through God’s power of healing.  What I mean is, infidelity can occur and divorce need not be the only alternative.

Of course, and often, only one person in the marriage is anxious to reconcile and there are obviously circumstances out of one’s control.

So then, divorce.

Alright.  So then, what happens next?

From reading the Bible with a straight forward reading, it seems there are a few times that the Bible deems remarriage post divorce as acceptable.

  1.  If the divorce occurs in the life of person before he is a believer.
  2. Following a divorce caused by adultery, the spouse not guilty of adultery may remarry if the offending spouse is deceased.

Now, this makes me downright uncomfortable at this point.  

But it’s what I think the Bible is saying.  I don’t like it.  It’s very heavy and feels rather constricting.  The verses speak of anyone who marries a divorced person as causing that person to become an adulterer.  That’s a pretty giant word to toss around.

I certainly have friends I highly respect that feel differently, that interpret this word differently.

I’ve long been a fan of straight forward translations and straight forward reading and interpretation of the scriptures.

I don’t even know what to do here.

Can a remarriage be holy?

Oh goodness.  Do you FEEL the discomfort in that question?  Can you taste it?

I love many people who are remarried.  I am related to many remarried people whom I love dearly.

(Please note: If you are not professing to be a follower of Jesus, this story is different for you.  If you become a Christian after your divorce and your remarriage, then I think the words of God would suggest you stay as you are when you first believed in Jesus.)

However.  If you are a Christian and you get a divorce …. what then?

What do you do in circumstances like mine?

Or what do you do in circumstances where you are the unfaithful one and you seek forgiveness from your spouse but they choose to end the marriage due to your unfaithfulness?

I DON’T KNOW.  (Sorry, I’m yelling again.)

Is singleness what you get?

I do actually want to know what you think.  Particularly if you love Jesus, I want to know what you believe and how you read these passages that seem to outline in relatively basic terms the general guidelines here.

(Obviously, and please know, that I deeply value the thoughts and ideas of my non-believing friends as well.  But for me, this is an entirely moral decision based wholly on what Jesus says about divorce and remarriage.)

I would sincerely love to hear from my friends who have chosen remarriage.

I wish I could see your faces and look at you with sincere eyes and you could see my heart here — it is my deep desire to not cause conflict, to not alienate, to not offend, to not bruise tender feelings — but to seek truth.  To be about peace and to pursue it.

I really truly desire this to be a gentle conversation and I really want to examine how we land on the interpretations of scripture that we literally base our lives upon.

Are you willing to begin this conversation?  I’m so ready to listen and learn.

 

_______________________________

 

 

 

 

 

 

Five Finds Friday (nothing here except Rod Stewart and rings that might fall off)

 

Happy Friday everyone.  (It’s been a good week – and a long week.  But a productive week.  And a mostly stay-at-home week which pleases my Stay At Home child immensely.)

 

 

FUNNY

 

Sometime during an evening of games and soft trash talk and bad jokes, some kid said some thing that made some other kid say “Some guys have all the luck” to which I responded, in a sing-song voice, “Some guys have all the pain.  Some guys do nothing but complain.”

(Which both ages me, of course, by making a reference to a Rod Stewart song and makes me wonder what on earth else is hidden in the recesses of my brain.)

Naturally I had to show my kids who Rod Stewart was and what 80s music was and I pulled up this terribly classic music video of Mr. Stewart singing with its classic video footage and weird and “edgy” graphics.

 

 

It is bizarre.

Otto watched for a few minutes and then wisely asked, “Can we stop looking at this person?”

Yes, son.  We can.

 

FASHIONABLE

 

I can’t decide.

I saw these little rings on Pinterest.

 

 

I sort of love them and I sort of think they’d be a pain to actually wear.

I’ve never seen rings placed mid-finger on any living human before.

Does anyone actually do this?  Or is it like the hairstyles of the women in the magazines? The styles that only look awesome because a wind tunnel is being pointed in the model’s direction during the photo shoot.

Would they stay on or keep falling off?

 

FLAVORFUL

 

Apparently this was the week for the Instant Pot.  Man, I tell you – I have still not regretted that purchase.  Again – it’s not so much the speed as it is the hands off cooking of the Instant Pot.  Just this week I’ve used the Pot to cook hard boiled eggs, chicken noodle soup, broccoli cheese soup, chicken fried rice and meatballs and sauce.  (The people in this house eat SO much food. I’m afraid it is only going to get worse.)

That’s the recipe I’m sharing today.

Meatballs for spaghetti.  Meatballs – easy peasy – cooked with the sauce in one pot with zero effort.  (Aside from shaping the meatballs.  But, you know.  The pot cannot do everything!)

Meatballs in the Instant Pot recipe.

 

Picture from hippressurecooking.com

Picture from hippressurecooking.com

 

FAITHFUL

 

The opportunities for one on one time with my children is precious to me.  And hard fought to make the time for those one on one events to occur.

Recently London and I took a local cooking class where we learned how to make all sorts of Chinese food.  Even tricksy little potstickers and rangoon.

 

 

It was such fun and she was such pleasant company and I am grateful for the ways I get a front row seat to watch this girl figure out some incredibly complex aspects of life and a handful of really raw deals that she’s been handed.  She’s thirteen and it’s beyond complicated, but she’s putting one foot in front of the other, she’s choosing bravely and she’s seeking good counsel and lifting her face up to search for that narrow path.

 

FEELS

 

I love the privilege of being around to watch my friends’ kids grow up.  It really IS a privilege to know them and to hang out with them and to have a relationship with them.  And – it’s fun.  I mean, aren’t we all cooler and more fun to the kids of our friends than our own kids sometimes?

 

 

I let all these kids up there in that picture help make our focaccia bread for dinner this week.  (Focaccia – a word I have apparently been mispronouncing all my life.  Whatever.  One of many mispronounced words.)

This week we celebrated one of our young friends getting her braces off.  And it was such fun to be excited with and for her.  (And to eat all the sticky foods that were outlawed before.)

And Otto wrote a journal entry and drew a picture of one of his buddies.

 

 

Friendships.  Sweet and true.  Right into the next generation.

 

____________________________

 

 

 

crisis of identity.

 

This charming old farm house in which I reside has a small downstairs bathroom with a single rectangle of a mirror above the sink.  I don’t know who installed it or how tall they were.  I’m guessing taller than me.  When I stand, with shoes on, and look into this mirror (the only mirror in the bathroom) and attempt to gaze upon my own face, I get a sort of decent view of my eyes.  Just my eyes.  If I stand on my tip toes, then I can see my entire face.

I have purchased one of those $6 closet door mirrors from IKEA.  I thought it might get mounted onto the wall once upon a time.  But it never has.  Three or four years later, that mirror is delicately balanced on an old wooden school chair that was once my mom’s and then was once a “rethink your attitude” chair for all the toddlers that used to live with me and is now a chair holding up a mirror.  (A mirror whose corner broke after falling off said chair once before.)

It’s kind of ridiculous.

The point here is not my desire to own a regular length mirror one day so I can actually see what my entire ensemble looks like together.  The point here is – I don’t see a full mirrored version of myself very often.

That’s the point.

Which is fine.  Obviously.

I think maybe all of us (or is it just me) have an idea of what we think we look like in our minds.  Do you know what I mean?  As in, we remember that we have blonde hair because that’s the color our hair was when we were younger.  And then sometimes we catch our reflection and we see a brown haired girl staring back at us and we wonder who she is.  “Uh-oh,” we think.  “She’s me.”  Sometimes it’s a little shocking – what we thought we looked like and what we do look like.

On our Kentucky trip recently my friends and I found ourselves in a fancy downtown hotel ballroom (to hear Mr. Berry, you might recall) and the restrooms were quite nice.  And they featured gigantic wall-sized mirrors.

I washed my hands and turned to look at myself with a quick glance.  I literally turned around and walked back to the mirror.  (Thank goodness I was alone in that bathroom right then.)  What on earth? I looked at myself.  Hard.  Who was that?  I mean, of course I knew who I was, but I was also staring at my MOTHER.

You guys, I am not twenty years old any longer.  Maybe some of you who call yourselves my friends should’ve been telling me this occasionally.

I’m not just someone’s grandma – I look like someone’s grandma!  For the love.

It was like a downright identity crisis.  I kept looking at myself.  Thank goodness, again, that someone did come into the bathroom right then. Who knows how long I might have stood there – trance like.

Of course, I already knew there are portions of my life when I FEEL like my own mother.  Does that happen to you too?

One of the times in my daily life when I most feel like my mother is in the evening stillness.  (What little there is of that at this house.)  When I am loading the dishwasher and wiping down the counters and turning out the lights.  Tidying this day to prepare for that day.

These aren’t terrible things, you know, to look like one’s mother or father, to feel like one’s parent.

What do you do (or wear or say) that makes you feel most like a clone of your mom or dad or grandma or favorite aunt?

 

______________________________

 

 

Ripley’s Gatlinburg Attractions: A Review in Three Parts, Part 1 (The Mirror Maze)

 

Gatlinburg in the winter is a different sort of town than Gatlinburg in the summer.

When we took our recent adventure to the mountain town, we found it sleepy and quiet and that’s exactly the way we liked it.  Traffic was minimal (except for the weekend) and the streets were not overcrowded and the restaurants had no wait time.  Again – that’s exactly what we love – especially when we are always a party of six (at least) and generally tables for six are not as readily available at peak times.

The Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies was hands down our favorite activity of the week, but we had some great laughs and funny moments at several other stopping points along the Gatlinburg streets.

In exchange for writing honest reviews, the kind folks who run all of the Ripley’s attractions offered us tickets to a few of their other museums and amusements.  I’ll be sharing all three reviews in a three part series over the next week or so.

 

Ripley’s Marvelous Mirror Maze

 

The first choice for us, after visiting the aquarium, was to walk down the street to Ripley’s Marvelous Mirror Maze.  The Mirror Maze is right on Gatlinburg’s main street and it’s very easy to walk from anywhere you park in town.  (Lucky for us, we just left our car in the aquarium parking lot, which was convenient.)

 

 

The lobby of the mirror maze features two gigantic walls of candy so – you know – parents beware.  Your kids will definitely ask for candy.  You can say no, naturally.  I didn’t want to purchase pounds of sugar and food dye and banana flavored everything, but I also remember what it was like as a kid to be looking at a WALL of dreamy candy so I offered a quick compromise to my band of kids.  “Everyone can pick two pieces of candy,” I told them.  Oddly enough, they were thrilled and quite satisfied.  So they each chose literally two single pieces of candy – and we were all content.  A little sugar versus begging and copious amounts of sugar.  Or, again – you can just say no.  Isn’t it funny, parents?  You really do get the choice.

We were kind of extra excited about the concept of a mirror maze because most of us have been reading the book series of The Mysterious Benedict Society and the kids in the novel series are always facing challenges and puzzles and this mirror maze felt like our own challenge and puzzle.

The employees told us to put on plastic gloves that they provided – gigantic, ill-fitting plastic gloves – so that we would be more hygienic as we touched the mirrors that every other guest has most assuredly been touching as well.  I tried to avert my thoughts from the finger touched mirrors and just tried to think of the fun of conquering a maze with my children.

We decided to all hold hands to add to our experience and because we genuinely thought we might face the possibility of getting lost from one another inside the maze.

That probably wouldn’t have happened.

The mirrors were everywhere – as they should be in a maze – and they certainly played tricks on your mind as to which direction to turn and which door to take and where to go next.

There was an “infinity” room that made me laugh a lot – mostly because of the song blaring – was it Journey? – and the lights flashing and the disco ball. All those quirky details, you know.

 

 

Our technique of making it through the maze was rather effective as we found the ending in record time.  But, because we liked the mirrors and we wanted more of a challenge, we decided to pretend we didn’t find the exit and kept trucking through the corners and the twists and the turns all over again just for fun.

Also, we discovered a fundamental truth concerning mirror mazes.  Fundamental, I tell you.  It is this: You should choose your outfit wisely and fix your hair carefully before entering said mirror maze.  Because you are going to be seeing yourself from every angle.  Every. Angle.  And you’re going to want to leave this mirror maze with some self-respect intact.  Every. Angle.

 

 

There you go.  I’ve covered the walls of candy and the dress yourself correctly bits.  They were important.

As far as the maze itself goes, it really was lots of fun.  It was speedy, though.  And that’s a little hard to swallow to spend money to be in and out of an attraction in ten minutes or less.  When you buy the Mirror Maze as part of the an add-on ticket, it hurts a little less.

 

In Review

 

I’d say the key to all Gatlinburg attractions is the same, keep your expectations in line.  Recognize that this is not Disney.  This is Gatlinburg, Tennessee.  These are mirror mazes and world record museums and 5D moving theaters on a street in a mountain town.  A town that sells footlong corn dogs at place called Fannie Farkle’s for the same price that you can buy two kids’ meals at Chick-fil-A.  

Be reasonable, guys.  

If you are visiting Gatlinburg for the second (or thirtieth) time, you already know this.

And you’re okay with it.

You’re making these return trips to Pigeon Forge and to Gatlinburg, to the cabins and to the go cart rides, to the outlets and to the pancake houses, because it’s nostalgic, because you first came to Gatlinburg as a kid with your Memaw and your Pepaw, because you brought your toddlers here and you remember how big their eyes grew when they first ordered their silver dollar pancakes at the Pancake Pantry and rode their first roller coaster at Dollywood and you like the idea of returning to the same quirky streets that seem like they never change, old time photo shops on every corner and a gem store and wooden guns and beanie babies.  That’s why you come to Gatlinburg.

So you stroll through the mirror maze and you let the kids buy a couple of pieces of candy and you stop in for the free fudge samples (always take the free fudge, people) and you admire the hand crafted wooden knives and you buy the funnel cake and you stack up those memories and that nostalgia for all its worth.

Expectations, friends.  Most adventures fare better when you can manage your expectations.

_________________________________

 

 

life: back at it

 

I’ve tried to go to bed on time for one full week now – is that about right?

Or has it been two weeks?

It’s going alright I guess.

 

 

I’m reading more at night and that’s a bonus.  I am rereading Hannah Coulter, you know, after seeing Mr. Berry and all.  (And I’m going to try to read Bonhoeffer, thanks in large part to a nudging from Maggie.)

But I’m writing less for this blog because I’m running out of daylight hours.  (I’m also making horrendous mistakes – like accidentally sending out an unfinished blog post draft from a year and a half ago.  Good grief, guys – delete that thing right now if it popped up in your inbox somehow.  I can’t even stand how mistake-riddled it was.  I hadn’t even finished typing it.)

We’ve been accomplishing school.  It’s so much work, homeschool.  But you already knew that.   I like our days best when we have the privilege of staying home all day and can do our school routine with some degree of regularity and I can have the pleasant little fleeting feeling of getting a job completely finished.  I also like our school days when we are sitting at one of our favorite restaurants, eating crepes and writing poetry and pretending it is spring when it’s actually still winter.  And I like the school days that take us into the woods all day to explore sticks and stones and bugs and trees.  I guess I like them all kind of, for all their different reasons.

 

 

My brain cannot even comprehend that the calendar says February for later this week and I wonder just how many things in our lives will be different by the time the next January closes out again in twelve little short months.

My friends Amy and Tyler have these three giant bottles filled with marbles in their house.  Each bottle represents one of their three sons and each marble represents one weekend in the lives of their boys before they graduate and leave home.  It’s too tangible for me to handle it.  I’ll probably never adopt the same visual in our own home because I’m pretty sure my heart couldn’t accept the continued stressful knowledge of the time ticking down.  I already walk around and live and breathe with a ticking clock, an hourglass of running out sand.  But I love the commitment to seizing the time, to not wasting even one weekend, to remembering our children are just short term residents within our walls.

I don’t have a major point to make today.

I just didn’t want another day to slip by without writing.  Because the writing keeps being a part of the process for me.  A part of the process for holding on to the good and purging the bad.

For keeping the awful at bay and for shedding light on what I do, indeed, like best in my own life.

Today certain members of my family battled terrible attitudes and danced around disrespectful words and flirted with rude behavior.  Some overslept and some did sloppy work.  We’re out of cat food and I didn’t want to muster the energy to drive kids to their night time activities.

That is all true.

And.  Here are a few things that made me smile or laugh today:

London held Otto high in the air while they played a special version of “I Spy” that they’ve created.  Mosely made apple cinnamon muffins.  It didn’t rain.  Cloves and cinnamon smells flowing from the kitchen.  A writing assignment overdue finally completed.  Beautiful art created and completed by one of the kids.

It’s been a regular kind of a day.  I’m living a regular kind of a life.

Here’s to being back at the routine, trying again, starting over – for the eightieth time, on schedule bedtimes, routines and breaking routines.

 

________________________________

 

 

Five Finds Friday (a word you may have to look up to define & a tiny ax)

 

“… it just seemed as if she were marking time while life rocketed past.” 
― Soheir Khashoggi, Nadia’s Song

 

 

FUNNY

 

There are a lot of homeschool days that don’t shine like stars in the universe.  There’s plenty of mundane and must get done and should have done better and how can you not already know this.

I don’t feel like writing about those days today though.

I’ll keep having to live them, of course, but I just don’t, at this second, care to write about them.

 

 

Instead, this week at the dining room table, we had a genuinely funny homeschool moment.  (And it was sorely needed for it followed closely upon the heels of a semi-disastrous morning.)

I was having the kids narrate what we had learned about Shakespeare this term and also narrating back to me the storyline of Midsummer Night’s Dream.  (I might have been using chocolate chips as a memory aid.)  The kids all knew the life of Shakespeare so well that they were laughing and adding extra details  And when they began reciting the plot line and the details of the play itself, we all got a little lost in the retelling.  Character names were slightly altered.  Hermia became Hernia.  Oberon was Ober Gatlinburg and Puck was Hockey Puck.  Oh, they told the story details all accurately but we were laughing heartily.  There was acting involved and overacting involved too, of course.

The mood right then was about a thousand times better than it had been just an hour earlier and I was reminded of how laughter can rescue you if you let it.

 

FASHIONABLE

 

This one is an easy one this week.  I saw it first on my Instagram feed and I was immediately drawn right in.

First – it is a joint project with two local artists I know and already admire and appreciate.   Maritime Supply and Olde Soul.

Second – it is jewelry and I love wearable art best.

Third – it’s so perfectly tiny and detailed and I can’t explain why those two factors matter so much to me, but they do.

Fourth – they have named it Wildwood.  That’s us.  Our school.  So – you know, it’s meant to be.

It’s this tiny little ax pendant with its beautiful miniature wood handle.

 

Photo by Wildwood Supply

Photo by Wildwood Supply

 

(You can follow along with its progress on their Instagram page.)

 

FLAVORFUL

 

London created tacos at home for us this week.

 

 

Homemade oven “fried” chicken tenders on a soft shell.  Pickles, lettuce, cheese and a special sauce that was a bit ranch, a bit jalepeno and a bit honey.

I like when she experiments on our dinner plates.

 

FAITHFUL

 

This week it was a verse.  Sent at the right time.

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

Oh that I could daily (hourly) remember to fix my eyes NOT ON WHAT IS SEEN.  That I could recall that what I see is temporary because it feels so permanent.  That I could focus my brain and my heart on recalling that what is eternal is what is unseen.    And that these troubles are achieving for me, for my children, for our family, an eternal glory that far outweighs the burden of these troubles right now.

 

FEELS

 

You know I love the book Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry.  And last weekend my friends and I had a rare chance to hear Mr. Berry, an octogenarian, read excerpts from his writings and answer a few audience questions.  (Yep, I didn’t know what octogenarian meant either.)

(They asked us not to take pictures afterwards with Mr. Berry in order to respect his time and his privacy.  A handful of attendees broke the rules but the four of us just couldn’t bring ourselves to approach this gentleman and disregard his requests – so we tried to catch him in the background.  We weren’t too successful.)

 

 

One audience member asked about Mr. Berry’s writing of the character of Hannah Coulter.  She was curious as to how a man could write so clearly and intimately and beautifully the inner details of the heart of a female character like Hannah.

How Mr. Berry responded could not have suited my fan girl ears more.  He basically said (and I paraphrase here), “She came to me.  Her words came to me.  I sort of fell in love with Hannah as I was writing.  And when I tried to write words for her that were not true to her character, my wife corrected me.  And then – then I waited until Hannah spoke to me again.”

I love the thought of Mr. Berry waiting for this beautiful character (who I fell in love with too) to speak to him.

That just seemed so fictionally right in a world full of literary wrong.

 

____________________________

 

 

 

after hours

 

Certain hours are just more dangerous than others.

Do you know what I mean?

I probably shouldn’t read or respond to texts after midnight.

My thoughts generally aren’t so clear.

But the dangerous part is – that is usually when I think my thoughts are kind of genius thoughts.

That’s when I think I’m hilarious, or endlessly clever or capable of solving All The Problems.

Is anyone else out there an Imaginary Midnight Superstar?  (I’ll have shirts made for us.)

And, if so, how do you cope with that early sunrise?

 

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On the Road: Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies

 

This month we touched a jellyfish, walked underneath a hammer head shark swimming right along above us and stood in awe at the weirdly awesome body of the sea horse dragon.  And oh yes, we saw an octopus.

 

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I heart aquariums.

We spent a week in the Tennessee mountains earlier this month and had the incredible opportunity to visit Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies in downtown Gatlinburg and spend a day exploring the aquarium so we could write a review about all that we saw and did there.

You guys – it’s just so cool.

 

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After seeing all of the news coverage about the terrible fires that destroyed so many homes and businesses in the mountain town recently, I was anxious to see first hand how the city fared.  You could see literal burned wood around the edges of the aquarium’s parking lot and I cannot imagine how close of a call it was for the safety of all of the people and also for the animals at the aquarium.

The day we visited was a weekday in early January and for us, that couldn’t have been more perfect.  Weekdays are almost always less crowded, and while there were plenty of guests in attendance, it was so pleasant to not be elbow to elbow with strangers and to know that we could spend as long as we liked gazing at the odd giant lobster/crab creature or admiring the most adorable penguins.  I recommend trying to visit most all attractions on weekdays with your children.

 

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The aquarium is easy to find and easy to park in the garage (but you do have to pay for parking) and easy to navigate right through at the beginning.

It’s hard to find anything negative to say about giant fish tanks filled with beautiful fish and touch tanks with rays and jellyfish and places to watch penguins and every other sea creature you could ever imagine – and dozens you’d probably rather not imagine.

 

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One of my favorite aspects of visiting aquariums is that it is an activity that absolutely every age enjoys.  Toddlers, teenagers – you name it.

We got there just in time to begin our tour with a shark feeding.  Those animals are plenty well-fed, that’s for sure.  Which is nice, because they’re still kind of creepy and I’d rather they never feel hungry for the people leaning over their area and admiring their sharky ways.  London and I did ask one of the aquarium employees how many cell phones dropped into the open waters and they laughed and said “plenty”.  We also couldn’t help but ask if any people had ever fallen in.  She assured us that no guest ever had, but employees had.  Hazard of the job, I suppose?

 

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For everyone at our house, except maybe Hawkeye, the best part of the aquarium is the tunnel.  If you’ve never been, you really must go.  You get to walk (or ride this handy slow moving conveyor belt) directly under the aquarium’s tank full of all the sea creatures.  It’s marvelous to watch them swim over you – to see their movements from that angle.  To witness their amazing fins and tails in action.  It’s astounding the variations of sea life and the subtle differences in all of the bazillions of fish that exist.  (I’m so technical.  Bazillions.)

 

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We also are suckers for the cool tanks you get to pop up in the middle of.  But seriously, it’s not just amusing – it’s so unusual to be up close and personal to the fish.  The color variety is incredible.  It seems impossible to imagine all of that glorious color just existing underwater, living and moving and eating and swimming.  I like being inches away from their bright colors and their funky shapes.  So many of them just look downright funny in their stripes and flat circles or bloats mouths or perfectly circular bodies.

 

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The penguin exhibit at Ripley’s is really well done.  You actually can even step outside and stand under one of the tanks in this certain way that allows the penguins to burst forth in swimming directly above your head, but in a way that feels like they are swimming straight toward you.  You feel somehow in the tank with them.  That was my favorite moment, I  think.  The first time it happened that a penguin shot toward me and went directly above my head, I jumped.  I hadn’t realized the angle of the tank allowed for such an immediate view of them.  Plus, penguins look so different when they swim.  So fluid and fast.  Also – one penguin was named Riley and was celebrating its birthday in January.  The penguins all wore tiny little name tags.  The kids and I got a real kick out of reading their names, which varied hilariously from names like Mike to names like Rowdy.  I’d be perfectly content to have a side job naming penguins.  Where do I apply?

 

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There is a snack bar inside the aquarium, but although the kids asked – of course, what kid can refuse the temptation of Icees? – I said no.  Aquariums pretty much smell like fish to me and I just couldn’t bring myself to enjoy dining there, although I’m sure it was perfectly acceptable.

Naturally, you have to exit through the gift shop.  Who ever created that genius marketing scheme anyway?  Surely not a parent.  It wasn’t too bad, however, for an aquarium gift shop.  The stuffed animals were cute and not really overpriced.  It’s actually where we found a fedora that fit Berg’s head.  And was surprisingly cheap.  Who knew?  (Why has my eleven-year-old been wanting a fedora?  I don’t know.  Ask my brother.  Or Bergen’s friend Beckett.  I think they’re both to blame.)

There were several touch tanks through the aquarium.  You could touch horseshoe crabs – who did not seem to care one ounce what was happening in their lives.  You could touch various rays.  Which, as a toddler visiting this same aquarium, Mosely adored.  And – you could touch jellyfish.  That was super cool and a little bizarre.  The aquarium staff keeps the jellyfish extra cold so that all of the people touching them won’t damage their gel-like “skin”.  They felt sort of rubbery and smooth.  As weird as jellyfish are, and as painful as their sting can be, they’re kind of fantastic to look at as they glide and float through the water.

 

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We’ve visited the new aquarium in Georgia too and I think this Ripley’s Aquarium gives it a great run for its money.  Actually, I think I prefer Ripley’s to the Georgia one.  Ripley’s does lack that one gigantic tank with the huge shark or whale – I forget what is there – but otherwise, I’d pick Ripley’s if I was forced to choose.  From our house, the distance to Gatlinburg is less and the cost is also less.  Two strong factors.  But also, the Ripley’s Aquarium is just a day well-spent.  It’s a truly wonderful experience.

 

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I really do love the aquarium.  I could sit and watch the fish in the overhead tank for longer periods of time than most of my kids.  Except perhaps Otto.  He’s got a remarkable attention span if the word “fish” is involved.

If you make it over the mountain to Tennessee, tell Sally we said hello.  She’s a tremendously huge turtle.  Trust me, you can’t miss her.

 

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