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Archive for the ‘Family’ Category

Long-time readers will probably remember this post. But given the nature of the Internet and how quickly readers come and go, I thought it was worth reprinting here.

Mother’s Day is a few days away, but I thought I’d toss this out there, especially for any priests, deacons or other preachers who might wander by.

My mother & a friend in Nogales, 1950’s.

The question of how to “recognize” mothers at a Mother’s Day Mass is a fraught one.

There is, of course, the view (mine) that everything that happens at Mass should relate only to the liturgical year. Stop doing all the other stupid things, thanks. As a community, we’re free to celebrate whatever in whatever way we choose outside of Mass, but when it comes to Very Special Mass in Honor of Very Special Groups of any sort – scouts, moms, dads, youth, ‘Muricans….I’m against it.

But of course, over the years, American sentimental pop culture creeps into the peripheries of liturgical observance, and quite often, here we are at Mass on the second Sunday of May, with the expectation that the Moms present must be honored.

I mean…I went to the trouble to go to Mass for the first time in four months to make her happy…you’d better honor her….

This is problematic, however, and it’s also one of those situations in which the celebrant often feels that he just can’t win. No matter what he does, someone will be angry with him, be hurt, or feel excluded.

Because behind the flowers and sentiment, Mother’s Day is very hard for a lot of people – perhaps it’s the most difficult holiday out there for people in pain.

So when Father invites all the moms present to stand for their blessing at the end of Mass and the congregation applauds….who is hurting?

  • Infertile couples
  • Post-abortive women
  • Post-miscarriage women
  • Women whose children have died
  • People who have been abused by their mothers
  • People with terrible mothers, even short of outright abuse
  • Women who have placed children for adoption
  • People who’ve recently lost their mothers. Or not so recently.
  • Women who are not now and might never be biological or adoptive mothers and who wonder about that and are not sure about how they feel about it.

And then there are those of us who value our role as mothers, but who really think Mother’s Day is lame and would just really prefer that you TRY TO GET ALONG FOR ONE STUPID DAY instead of giving me some flowers and politely clapping at Mass.

So awkward.

Nope. Making Mothers stand up, be blessed and applauding them (the worst) at Mass is a bad idea for a lot of reasons.

It’s not that people should expect to be sheltered from the consequences of their choices and all that life has handed them when the enter the church doorway.

The Catholic way is the opposite of that – after all, the fundamental question every one of us carries is that of death, and every time we enter a Catholic church we are hit with that truth, sometimes more than life-sized.

No, the question is more: Catholic life and tradition has a lot to say and do when it comes to parenthood – in ways, if you think about it, that aren’t sentimental and take into account the limitations of human parenthood and root us, no matter how messed-up our families are or how distant we feel from contemporary ideals of motherhood – in the parenthood of God. Live in that hope, share it, and be formed by that, not by commercially-driven American pop culture.

So here’s a good idea. It happened at my parish a couple of years ago, and is the standard way of recognizing the day there now.

Because, indeed, we’re not walled off from the broader culture. People enter into that sacred space carrying everything with them, and Christ seeks to redeem all of it.  So knowing that Mother’s Day permeates the culture, accepting it, but also accepting that motherhood and parenthood in general is far more complex than the greeting cards and commercials and even Super-Authentic-and-Relatable-Instagram-Influencers let on, and that people come bearing, not only motherhood-related joy, but motherhood-related pain as well – the Body of Christ embraces and takes it all in.

Bring it!

So, quite simply, at the end of Mass as we were standing for the final blessing, the celebrant mentioned that it was Mother’s Day (it hadn’t been mentioned before this), and said that as such, it was an appropriate day to pray for our mothers, living and deceased, and to ask our Blessed Mother for her intercession for them and for us. Hail Mary…

Done.

And done in a way that, just in its focus, implicitly acknowledges and respects the diversity of experiences of motherhood that will be present in any congregation, and, without sentiment or awkward overreach, does that Catholic thing, rooted in tradition  – offers the whole mess up, in trust.

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As I said before, saints’ days, most holy days and special topics (movies, books, gender, TC, synod) are and will be collected elsewhere. These posts are taking it month-by-month. More links at the end of the post.

Lacking in one thing (10/9)

I’d much prefer, if trying to figure out how to make the Church a more powerful witness to the Gospel in the world today, to begin there – the Gospel and then the richness of two thousand years of experience and wisdom (and mistakes) – than just constantly being pointed to some ambiguous “new” thing that the “Spirit” is going to guide me towards.

Because you know what? All that talk, reducing authority to the person of the guy holding the microphone at the moment, all that ignore the past, trust the Spirit talk comes across to me as trust us more than anything else. Which in turn sounds like a call, not so much to clarity, but to rationalization.

The Kids Need Saints (10/25)

The Kids Need Saints because when they are immersed in the lives of these women, men and children, they see something unique, something that they find in no other institution, culture or subculture in human history. Yes, all cultures honor other human beings, they erect statues, some even have their miracle-workers. They have their wise men and founders, they have their holy fools and mystics.

But in what other human context are rulers and managers and the wealthy – the valedictorians, the Merit Scholars, the All-Stars and the Ivy-League bound – reminded, no exceptions, that their fulfillment – the actual, real fulfillment of their very real lives – might just be rooted in honoring, emulating and humbly seeking the prayers….. of a beggar?

It is Fully Merry in Heaven! On Margery Kempe – (10/25)

Reflections on the book Going to Church in Medieval England

Pax Christi. Sometimes.

The Sunday Loaf

The Sabbath Christ

All Stand

What interests me here, though is something just a touch different. Basically, the regulation of the laity’s liturgical responses – or lack thereof.

It makes sense, doesn’t it? That since the focus and, frankly, burden of action was on clerical shoulders – that frequently-derided sense of a “drama” happening on the altar to which the laity were “merely” spectators – the laity’s behavior, beyond normal respect and decorum, really didn’t matter much.

Which leads me, before I offer you a quote from Orme’s book, to reflect on the direction of post-Conciliar liturgical reform, which has been offered in the name of getting us all involved and helping us understand and experience the liturgy as the “work of the people” (a worthy goal, the goal of the entire 20th century Liturgical Movement) – but have ended up, it seems to me, to be quite often more about Liturgical Police barking orders at congregations about their behavior or endlessly discussing – in print, online or at their (I repeat myself) endless meetings – what the congregation “should be doing.”

Capitol Reef, Canyonlands and Arches National Parks, October 2021

Where, when, how and why

Octobe15: Travel day, Salt Lake City

October 16: Capitol Reef National Park

October 17: Leprechaun Canyon, Blarney Canyon, Goblin Valley State Park, Moab

October 18: Devil’s Garden Trail hike, Arches National Park. Islands in the Sky overlooks, Canyonlands National Park

October 19: Fiery Furnace hike, Arches National Park, travel to Needles section of Canyonlands

October 20: Chelser Park Overlook hike, Canyonlands, Delicate Arch trail hike, Arches

More photos and videos at Instagram, both in posts and in “highlights.”



Books of 2021

Movies of 2021

Traditiones Custodes

2021 Highlights: January

2021 Highlights: February

2021 Highlights: March

2021 Highlights: April

2021 Highlights: May

2021 Highlights: June

2021 Highlights: July

2021 Highlights: August

2021 Highlights: September

2021 Highlights: October

2021 Highlights: November

2021 Highlights: December

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As I said before, saints’ days, most holy days and special topics (movies, books, gender, TC, synod) are and will be collected elsewhere. These posts are taking it month-by-month. More links at the end of the post.

Nothing New Under the Sun (7/2)

If you wanted to offer young people (who are open to it! Black and white movies! Oh, no!) a little mini-course in the truth that Human Nature and Social Dynamics Don’t Really Change, you might show them this, Ace in the HoleHis Girl Friday (or The Front Page) and Sweet Smell of Success.

They’re a useful mirror – to see people acting in misguided or outright terrible ways sixty or seventy years ago, shake our heads at it, but then have the mirror held up to us – and to see that we’re no different, and in fact it’s worse, since, like nuclear weapons and the human urge to dominate – we can do so much more damage with the tools we have today.

Progress!

You’re Great, I’m Great, We’re all Great (7/15)

In every part of life, there seems to be the need to find the sweet spot – some might call it the happy medium – between scrupulosity and laxity.

We lurch back and forth between them in our lives as individuals and culturally as well. Religiously, too – obviously.

It’s an aspect of the modern parenting narrative, too.

For it’s all over the place isn’t it?

Don’t worry, Mama! You’re doing great! You’re doing your best!

Well, guess what?

You actually might not be doing your best. You might be doing a terrible job, as it happens.

This is where the sweet spot comes in, and I’m on a search for the best way to express what that is and how to settle into it.

For certainly, constant guilt-ridden second-guessing anxiety is a drain on healthy parenting. It hurts the parent, the child – everyone. And can do lifelong damage – to everyone.

But no, the necessary response is not – Everything you’re doing is GREAT!

That’s not healthy, either. And it’s not realistic.

Every time I run across one of those You’re doing your best, Mama! posts on social media, the same string of questions races through my mind, cynically, I admit:

Has she never heard of abusive mothers?

Neglectful?

Manipulative?

Has she never heard of mothers who ignore their children’s needs, dominate them, harm them by commission or omission or are generally clueless?

I mean, if Mama is always doing her best (just because she’s Mama, apparently), why are so many of us out here still working through our parenting issues well into adulthood?

A Narrow Fellow in the Grass… (7/15)

Vale, Rocky!

"amy welborn"

Going anywhere? (7/24)

IMG_20200825_143216

There and back again (7/28)

The Bookshelf (7/16)

But here are those shelves, yes? I did carry them. Of all the stuff in my parents’ home that I could have taken or could have left behind, I did, indeed, keep those yellow shelves.

We are who we are, and we can’t deny it. These are our fathers, these are our mothers, this is us.

But we’re not fated. We have a choice – what will we do with what we are?

What will we carry?

What will we do with those bookshelves?

Where will we put them?

What will we use them for?

How, exactly, will they fit into our lives?

What will go?

What will stay?

And what will we pass on?



Books of 2021

Movies of 2021

Traditiones Custodes

2021 Highlights: January

2021 Highlights: February

2021 Highlights: March

2021 Highlights: April

2021 Highlights: May

2021 Highlights: June

2021 Highlights: July

2021 Highlights: August

2021 Highlights: September

2021 Highlights: October

2021 Highlights: November

2021 Highlights: December

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Welcome new readers! Much more about this topic here.

Time for an update. There’s always something going on in this area, but today’s highlights might be particularly helpful in making the nonsense clear..as nonsense.

First, let’s return to Lia Thomas, male member of the UPenn women’s swim team.

(Reminder: I heed Kara Dansky’s plea to stop using The Pronouns and even the terms “transwoman,” “transmen” and the like. There are men and women, males and females, hes and shes. That’s it. There may be men who identify as women or women or think of themselves as men, but they are still men, still women. Also, if you haven’t seen it, this. Succinct.)

I first wrote about this a couple of weeks ago.

In case you are behind, Lia Thomas competed on the UPenn men’s swim team for three years, took a break (partly Covid-related I assume, like everyone else), “transitioned” – whatever that mean. Apparently, in this case, Thomas has been suppressing testosterone and taking female hormones. I think that’s it – that’s all that’s public, anyway.

And then he was allowed to join the women’s team, where, of course, he’s been smoking the competition.

Amid the usual headpats and expression of allyship, news of discord is beginning to trickle out. Anonymous teammates have been quoted. Parents have written letters.

And now, an official has quit in protest.

Cynthia Millen, who had officiated USA Swimming meets for three decades, stepped down ahead of the U.S. Paralympics Swimming National Championships in Greensboro, North Carolina, earlier this month.

She argued that Thomas, 22, has an unfair advantage over female athletes after coming out as transgender in 2019 following three years on the men’s team at Penn.

“The fact is that swimming is a sport in which bodies compete against bodies. Identities do not compete against identities,” Millen said Monday on Fox News’ “Tucker Carlson Tonight.” “Men are different from women, men swimmers are different from women, and they will always be faster than women.”

Thomas has smashed several Penn records this season — with one teammate finishing in second place in the 1,650-meter freestyle some 38 second behind her.

Good for her.

If the governing organizations are going to permit it, this isn’t going stop until competitors and officials take a stand – a stand that will require sacrifice. Thomas’ teammates considered boycotting, but refrained from an understandable fear of reprisal.

A few swimmers have come out with statements – for example Olympic medalist Erica Brown, here.

A Hall of Fame swimming coach:

“I don’t think it’s fair at all,” Salo told The Washington Times. “I think it really compromises the gains that have been made in women’s sports for the last 30 years. It’s going backwards. I think the NCAA and IOC have not really looked at the policy that directs this question.”

Also weighing in was Jeri Shanteau, an 11-time All-American swimmer who won three NCAA women’s championships in the mid-2000s at Auburn.

“There is an injustice being done right now for women competing in sports, specifically and clearly swimming,” Shanteau told The Washington Times.

She and Salo joined a small but growing chorus of swimming and sports insiders sounding the alarm as Thomas breaks records on the women’s side after three years on the Penn men’s team as Will Thomas, fueling a national debate over fairness and inclusion in female sports.

“It is very concerning as a former female athlete to watch people who have the ability to protect women’s sports and fairness and safety stand by and do nothing,” Shanteau said. “It is negligent.”

Salo said his female swimmers were unable to replicate the results of their male counterparts, no matter how hard they trained.

“I know how hard the women have worked. They’ve worked on par with men in terms of their effort, but they can never match what the men could do in the weight room or in the pool,” he said.

Penn’s next meet is January 8 against Dartmouth.

This can’t be brushed off, and it shines almost the brightest light possible on this issue.

Why should Lia Thomas, a biological male, be allowed to take a woman’s place on a women’s team and take victories and set records that no actual woman can hope to achieve?

Why?

Explain why a man who takes some hormones should get to be considered a woman. Even if he’d had his penis and testicles amputated – why should he be considered a woman?

Let’s move on to Jeopardy! Haven’t watched it in years (although I occasionally remember to check when it’s time to take the online qualifying test, and have done so a couple of times), but perhaps you know, and perhaps you’ve seen the headline:

Jeopardy!’ champ Amy Schneider becomes show’s top female earner

“Female.”

Right.

I don’t care how much Schneider wins or if you want to call him the first trans champ. Whatever.

Do not call him female.

Do not celebrate him as a female.

Stop. Just. Stop.

Because it has to stop.

You want cultural appropriation?

I’d say this is just about the definition of it.

Look. I’m a 61-year old female of WASP and French-Canadian extraction. We make jokes about such things, but what would you say if I ended this blog post by announcing that I’m now a Filipino guy? You’d send me references to a therapist is what you’d do.

What’s the difference?

Mental and emotional pain? Turmoil? Dysphoria? Deep dysphoria?

Sorry. Pain is real, mental and emotional anguish is real. But so is identity.

An anorexic looks in the mirror and sincerely believes her 85-pound self is fat. A chronically depressed person sincerely believes that he has no worth and doesn’t deserve to live any longer.

Do we affirm those perceptions?

No.

And this is no different.

Sorry – no different.

If you disagree, then explain it to the UPenn biologically female swimmers. Please.

Go ahead.

Have at it.


More from me on this issue here.

I have another post coming tomorrow as well.


You might be interested in this interview, posted today, on a British channel, with Kelli-Jay Keen, aka Posie Parker.

The male interviewer is an idiot and exposes the vacuousness of that position: Of course your 15-year old daughter should be comfortable with Men with True and Real Lady-Brains in the store changing room. Bigot!

Parker writes about the interview here.

Unfortunately, as I tried to point out, we have yet to be able to tell which men are the bad ones — and until we do, we must ensure the best possible safeguarding for women by keeping all of them out. Men who do not wish to harm women, or cause us any discomfort, are okay with staying out of our spaces.

For making that point, Max called me hateful, disturbing and unpleasant for refusing to buckle to his whim that men can become women. I am not any of those things, but I am also not afraid of these tactics to bully me into surrendering the rights women before me fought for. I am not fearful for any legal repercussions either. I am fearful for women across the country who can no longer guarantee a female-only rape crisis centre, a female-only domestic violence shelter, for the girls in schools losing their right to female-only changing rooms and toilets, who are threatened with accusations of unkindness for feeling uncomfortable. I am fearful of the great untruth being fed to us through our media, government and institutions.

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As I said before, saints’ days, most holy days and special topics (movies, books, gender, TC, synod) are and will be collected elsewhere. We’re just plugging away at the months right now.

Go out to the world”..seriously…*go out* (4/17)

Bishops started anxiously exhorting us to get back to Mass. Why?

Perhaps it would be clearer if you look at the situation, not from the perspective of the administrator anxious about the bottom line, but from the outside.

Perhaps from the perspective of the average person, not “Involved” in much in the parish, who, pre-pandemic did make it to Mass most Sundays, got their kids through at least First Communion and maybe even Confirmation.

What has she been through this past year?

And what has the Church offered her in comfort and assistance, especially if she’s not a known quantity in the parish, if she was pre-pandemic “nothing more” than a name on a registration list? What wisdom, what outreach, what presence, what hint that in her and her family’s suffering, confusion and frustration, Jesus offers, still and now more than ever, his consolation and hope?

Anything?

Has anyone even called her?

Has anyone reached out in a personal way at all?

What is to prevent me from being baptized?” (4/22)

Post-Vatican II liturgical life prioritized the role and presence of community in celebration. This has, it seems, two unintended consequences: First, to minimize the object nature of the ritual action, and secondly, to ill-equip Catholics to engage in sacramental life when that community life is disrupted.

Traditional Catholic life, as it had evolved over the centuries, balanced this, by presenting a solidly objective sense of the workings of grace through word, matter and action and then allowing culturally-varied traditions and practices to grow up around these rituals.

Educated, not destroyed (4/26)

Secondly, Edman recounts a discussion in which which some Bach was played on a phonograph in a group that included some Very Modern Musicians. Discussions ensued, of course. He concludes:

The arts are the languages of men, and a passionate conflict over a symbol may be as symptomatic as the quarrel over a religious and political creed. But in such matters quarrels become discussions, and the discussions are innocent. Our quarrel over taste divided but educated rather than destroyed us.

To want to learn. To be willing to have your worldview challenged and maybe even blown up. To disagree, as one does, but to seek to learn through that disagreement, rather than to wield power and claim victory?

What a world. What a world.

Day trip to the Fitzgerald Home in Montgomery (4/30)



Books of 2021

Movies of 2021

Traditiones Custodes

2021 Highlights: January

2021 Highlights: February

2021 Highlights: March

2021 Highlights: April

2021 Highlights: May

2021 Highlights: June

2021 Highlights: July

2021 Highlights: August

2021 Highlights: September

2021 Highlights: October

2021 Highlights: November

2021 Highlights: December

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Over the next week, I’ll be sharing posts from the blog that might be worth a revisit – or a first visit, if you’re new.

I’ll go mostly month-by month, with some thematic stops.

That time my parents told me that during the Cuban Missile Crisis they’d made a contingency plan to OD me on sleeping pills if the missiles were launched…

To consider how they are all exploiting you, your anger, your idealism, your anxiety, and even your desire for change.

And how do we get out? What do we do?

We look at the good aspects of life that we hoped were served by this ecosystem – and perhaps were and are – and we consider two points in relation to that:

What is the cost of finding community, self-expression and so on in the context of this digital/social media world?

What temptations does this digital world touch and exploit in me?

Comparing and contrasting racist language in Hemingway and O’Connor

Yes, it is a relief to find a tribe. I know this well. It’s what “gathered” alot of us online two decades ago – Catholics who didn’t feel as if anything goes, but also weren’t going to wear veils to Mass or even fight about it, and also wanted to be informed about the outrages of Church corruption with as little ideological bias as possible – hard to suss that out in your local parish, true. It can be said for any number of interests and slants – to find, I don’t know – other libertarians, progressives if you live in in a red area, conservatives if you’re surrounded by blue, parents who homeschool, traditionally minded families who don’t homeschool and have no interest….or sometimes just someone to talk to.

Of course!

But in the end, I keep coming back to the conclusion that the ease of finding the like-minded and settling one’s life in that world …is a trap.

The world is fleeting. Our words, our thoughts are as dust. But ironically, that doesn’t make them pointless. What is the best use of these fleeting limited signs and symbols that we use to express our deepest yearnings and truest selves? How shall we use them in a way that actually does communicate our value and their significance, even as we acknowledge that they – and we – are like straw?

For the ephemeral nature of social media, and its use of us and our experiences as the product, enthusiastically offered just so we can be seen and heard, seems different to me. It seems to put into question the time spent on it, both creating and scrolling.

In that world, we only matter to the extent that we fill in the blanks, and what we put in those blanks is only seen if we work hard to learn the rules the Powers have established (today), shape our content to satisfy, not only their rules, but their intentions and priorities that they’ve figured out will get us coming back again and again…for now.



Books of 2021

Movies of 2021

Traditiones Custodes

2021 Highlights: January

2021 Highlights: February

2021 Highlights: March

2021 Highlights: April

2021 Highlights: May

2021 Highlights: June

2021 Highlights: July

2021 Highlights: August

2021 Highlights: September

2021 Highlights: October

2021 Highlights: November

2021 Highlights: December

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As we all know, Advent begins next Sunday, November 28/ Below are some of the Advent resources I’ve written over the years.

First, remember that my Loyola Kids Book of Bible Stories is organized according to the liturgical year. The stories retold for Advent include “Prophets Say That a Messiah is Coming,” “Prophets Describe the Messiah,” “Zechariah Meets the Angel Gabriel” and so on.

The first reading on the First Sunday of Advent refers to the “just shoot” God will raise from the House of David.  In The Loyola Kids Book of Signs and Symbols, I cover the Jesse Tree – the traditional artistic rendering of this concept.

Note how it’s organized – and this the organization of the entire book. On the left side for every entry is a short, simple explanation for younger children. On the right is a more in-depth entry for older students.

Moving on…

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is advent-resources.jpg

(BTW – I don’t make any $$ from the sales of these booklets. The way it works is that these kinds of materials are, for the most part, written as works-for-hire. You write it, you get paid a flat fee, and that’s it. No subsequent royalties. I just …think what I’ve written is not terrible and hope my words might be helpful to someone out there…so I continue to spread the word!)

First, is the family devotional I wrote for Creative Communications for the Parish.

The entries are not dated – they are “First Sunday of Advent” – “Monday, first week of Advent” – and so on, so it is still useable.

There’s a digital version available here.  So if you’d like it for your own use in that format – go for it! 

Wonders Of His Love
amy-welborn

More samples – pdf 

Several years ago, I wrote another Advent family devotional. It’s no longer available in a print version, but the digital version can still be had here.  Only .99!

In 2016, Liguori published daily devotions I wrote for both Lent and Easter. They publish new booklets by different authors every year, but mine are still available, both through Liguori and Amazon.

Liguori – English

(pdf sample)

Liguori  – Spanish

(pdf sample)

A daily Advent meditation book I pulled together from reflections my late husband had posted on his blog:

Unfortunately, the booklet I wrote on St. Nicholas for Creative Communications is now officially out of print. You can still access the pdf of the sample – about half of the text – here. If you’re interested. 

Nicholas-Of-Myra

For more about St. Nicholas, visit the invaluable St. Nicholas Center.

Years ago, I wrote a few pamphlets for OSV, among them these two:

How to Celebrate Advent. Also available in Spanish. 

PDF review copy of English version here.

PDF review copy of Spanish version here. 

How to Celebrate Christmas as a Catholic. 

PDF available for review here. 

PDF of the Spanish version available for review here.

And then….Bambinelli Sunday!

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When I awoke Wednesday morning, looked at my phone, which read 6:54, then realized that meant it was actually 7:54 (eastern – because I didn’t have service down there in the ravine, so the time hadn’t changed) – and breakfast was served at 8 – well, then I was doubly and triply relieved we’d forged ahead and done that second hike on Tuesday and not waited until 6 am …that morning. That would have been crazy.

I jostled the kid awake and we got ourselves out to the dining room for another great meal – that tomato/egg/sausage pie and some perfect biscuits – checked out and yes…hiked back up a mile to the car. Which was still there, still started, and didn’t have a flat.

Next stop: Prison.

I’d happened upon this place a couple of weeks ago and my first reaction was, “Surely this is tacky.” But then I read reviews which indicated…it’s not. So down we went to the Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary.

And no, it wasn’t tacky at all. It was haunting and thought-provoking. About sin and redemption, crime and punishment, about the possibility of change and how criminal justice might or usually doesn’t contribute to that, about exploitation and all kinds of fear.

Brushy Mountain was a maximum security penitentiary that closed in 2009. It’s most well-known for housing James Earl Ray, who actually escaped and remained at large for a couple of days. Here’s a history.

Now the penitentiary grounds are open for tours and is the site of a distillery, periodic concerts and, in the area, and apparently inspired by Ray’s escape attempt, the insane Barclay Marathons.

First, the site. It’s quite striking. You can see from the photo below – which I did not take – why it was situated there. Not only so the prisoners could work in the mines, but because nestled deep in that valley, escape was clearly even more challenging.

Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary, Petros, Tennessee

It’s like Helm’s Deep one of us remarked.

We didn’t do a guided tour, but simply watched the introductory film, looked at the exhibits, and then walked the grounds – various floors of the penitentiary with placards on the walls (Ray’s cell noted – 28), the visitation rooms, the laundry, the cafeteria (walls painted in murals by inmates), the notorious “Hole” – and you can imagine what that was about – and then D Block, which replaced the Hole as the section for the most dangerous prisoners – and some of them in most danger, themselves (pedophiles, for instance).

Here’s my comment. As I mentioned, there’s an introductory film, and I was a little surprised – but perhaps I shouldn’t have been – by the approach. The perspective is all from corrections officers – which is fair – but the central theme is the impact of the prison’s closing on the local community (called Petros, interestingly enough.) Which, as you can imagine, was devastating. And yes, interesting.

But it’s not what I expected. I was expecting some perspective from former inmates – and if you think that’s crazy, well just know that former Brush inmates do make their appearance on the grounds, even participating in tours. I was hoping for a broader view of what this place was all about, what it was like to be incarcerated there, and what was the impact – but that wasn’t the intent of the film.

Anyway – well worth the stop.

Next was a bit of a detour as the kid realized, studying the map, “Oh! Windrock is on our way!” – And what is that, pray tell? Among other things, a well-known mountain biking course. And it was, indeed, on the way, in Oliver Springs, between the prison and Oak Ridge – so we just shot up there and got the lay of the land for future reference, in case he and his biking friends get it together and make it up there some day.

Next: Oak Ridge. Someone was hungry, so I said, “Look and see if there’s a Buddy’s BarBQ” – and yes, of course there was. Not that it’s anything great or stupendous, but it’s the East Tennessee barbecue chain, and going there made me nostalgic, as I could hear my dad saying, “Anyone want Buddy’s tonight?” and him laboriously noting everyone’s preference, cig in one hand, martini in the other, and then heading out to pick it all up.

I had been pretty much totally confused about the state of public tours of Oak Ridge facilities and museums. I hadn’t been since I was in school myself, and I knew things had changed, partly because times just change and more recently because of Covid – these are museums, but many are also federal facilities. I could not sort out what was open and closed, and I had just about resigned myself to thinking that this would be another Rugby and we’d just drive through, when a volunteer at the children’s museum told me, no – this and that were indeed open.

So what should we do?

By that time, it was around 2 – which is, indeed 1 our time, but still. We were wanting to be home sooner than later. And at 16 and a veteran of countless science museums and having aged out of almost all of them, we went for the history – which was my intentions, such as they were, for this trip anyway. So we headed to the K25 plant facility, which is, indeed, a nice little museum and also free – and open, masks required, naturally.

It was just what I hoped for. Small, not overwhelming, and very focused on what the K25 facility was all about – uranium enrichment – with enough context about the Manhattan Project in general to make it understandable.

It’s just astonishing, really – bringing thousands of folks in, building these facilities, building this town, with hardly anyone knowing what it was for. I never understood how that could have been before I listened to one former employee of the era, in a recording at the museum, recount that well…they thought it was just…power. But didn’t know what for. Ships? Planes? Manufacturing power? No one knew. But. “I never would have thought about a…bomb.”

Most striking artifact? Below – an anatomical model, embedded with human bones, to see what impact uranium exposure might have on the human body……

So there you have it….three days, essentially, packed full. See what can happen in just three days?

And probably our last jaunt for a while. I had been thinking next week maybe, but it’s already filling up, so…no, except for a day here or there.

Sunday: Up I-59 to… Fall Creek Falls, Jordan Motel in Jamestown, TN

Monday: Rugby, Northrup Falls, Sgt. York Historic Site, Simply Fresh restaurant, Charit Creek Lodge

Tuesday: Charit Creek Lodge, Slave Creek Falls Trail, Twin Arches Trail.

Wednesday: Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary, Windrock, Oak Ridge K25 History Center….back down I-59…home

Good deal.

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Yeah, yeah, I’ve used it before – here – on a post about the hardest hike I’ve ever done (not that I have a lot to sort through) – up one of the highest peaks in Honduras, in this national park.

So this was not as hard as that. But it was still…challenging. But it’s also why we were there, it was good for me, so up and down and up we went.

First, though:

Monday and Tuesday night, we stayed at the marvelous Charit Creek Lodge. It’s a hike-in lodge, which means that you have to, well, hike, bike or ride horseback in and out to get there. There’s no vehicular traffic, except what’s necessary for staff. The lodge (which contains two of the oldest structures in the national park system) is in a ravine. There are several cabins of different capacities, a few attached to stables. There’s no electricity, no wi-fi – it really is off the grid.

We stayed in the Corn Crib – one queen bed and one twin. Meals (which are included if you wish) were of quite high quality – pork tenderloin, interesting vegetable casseroles, a wonderful tomato/egg/sausage pie for breakfast – you get the drift. I’m told there is a cookbook coming soon, so I’ll be sure to mention that in this space when it appears.

There’s a small cemetery in which, among others, is buried a Hatfield – related to the feuding family, but apparently, according to this, not killed in relation to the feud.

And a refreshing creek and a polite dog named Booger.

There are a couple of major trails you can tackle from the lodge. We did both. In one day. I was assured it was doable – and oh yes, it was, even for me, but not easy-doable. More I-might-not-die-but-it-will-be-close doable. Like that.

To the point at which we finished the first major trail – Slave Falls – and got the junction with a choice – do we do the other – the Twin Arches – or save it for the morning? As in – get up super early and tackle it? After some consideration, we went for the former, and forged on. I was pretty wiped out by that point, but I am also not a fan of living in dread of an approaching hard thing. I’d rather take the medicine now and sleep soundly.

Believe me, that is a lesson learned from years of procrastinating, not only grading papers, but writing jobs. It’s better to just get it done than let it sit, taunting you.

And it turned out to be absolutely worth it. The first trail was enjoyable (sort of) – especially in the destination, and we did have a couple of adventures, but this Twin Arches trail had quite spectacular, surprising features, and it was good to end the day – a hard day – with that payoff. Plus it was all downhill back to the lodge.

I don’t have a lot of photographs because my phone was at a low level, we didn’t have electricity, and my portable charger had already been sucked dry (I guess I should get a new one).

Here’s a map of the trail. You can learn more about it at Alltrails.com or some such.

Slave Falls and Twin Arches Loop - Tennessee | AllTrails

The lodge is just north of where the “i” is on the map. We went up, then left, then to Slave Falls (not labeled on the map, but it’s at the point of the squiggle far the left. Another trail continues on that path that goes to the half green/half black circle – the Sawmill trailhead), a bit beyond the falls to see the Needle Arch, then back on the same trail, then up to the Twin Arches and back around.

Let’s see if I have any photos at all. Hah. Actually none at all of Slave Falls. When we were there, we were doing a bit of scrambling and went off trail (honestly) behind the falls to get across, so we wouldn’t have to go back and around. I wasn’t carrying my camera or phone and didn’t want to keep saying, “Wait a minute, let me get my camera out.” Well, you can see photos of it here. And plenty at the Alltrails site – just look it up!

Well here’s a giant toppled-over tree root system. There’s that.

Now, the Twin Arches was something else – and the paucity of photos there is just because although I had recovered from the first part of the hike and was feeling okay and back to carrying the camera, the rock formations were so huge, I couldn’t capture them very well. Let’s put it this way – say you are driving by mountains in this part of the world and you see, at the very top, great walls of bare rock? That’s where we were. I tried to get the kid in the photos for a sense of scale.

He said, “It’s like the mountain has a giant stone mohawk.”

The Twin Arches? Hopeless – just too big, with not enough space to back up and capture them, at least with my cameras. But again – just look them up!

So, a hard, but good day. Back to a cool creek, an excellent meal, and a friendly dog.

Why do these things? How do I figure out to do them?

Well, it’s all about going places we’ve never been. And there’s a lot, even within a few hours of here. And having different experiences – like a hike-in lodge. Not too different though. I mean, he can camp all he wants and has but I’ve been camping once in my life, it wasn’t horrible, and I suppose I would do it again, but it would not be my first or even tenth choice of how to get out and see the world.

So one thing leads to another – I want to go somewhere. The Smokies are probably crazy right now. North Georgia, maybe. Mississippi blues trail? Maybe wait until it’s cooler, wait until football season is over – because we’d want to stop in Oxford and see Faulkner things on the way. Okay, well, here’s this are – Big South Fork? Never even heard of it. Oh, and I’ve wanted to take him to Oak Ridge since forever. Oh, and Rugby! We could do that, too.

And so a trip takes shape. One element that was in this at the beginning was the Cumberland Gap – but ultimately I decided that took us too far afield, and it’s a good thing. We would have been quite rushed if we’d kept that in.

So basically? I want us to see new things, learn history and be outdoors, and not have to fly or drive too far.

So there we were – with one more day to go, featuring a prison and uranium…..

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Continuing on our journey…

(Part one here)

It seemed to be a day about ideals. Ideals adjusted, brought briefly to life then withered, ideals bearing fruit in quiet places.

As I mentioned, we began in Jamestown, Tennessee. Our day would end at the Charit Creek Lodge, but check-in there wasn’t until 3, and even though we’d need to build a mile-long hike into the place into that timetable, we still had time to See Things. Always my goal. Just to See Some Things. Learn a little bit. Encounter a little bit more of the world, past and present. Build up your world of experience, expand your vision.

Even talking to your neighbors does that. Trust me. Try it.

Anyway, beginning in Jamestown and figuring the least back-tracking, this is what we did.

First, Rugby. I’ve always wanted to see Rugby, especially having grown up (from my teens) in East Tennessee – but we were not a traveling family (I never went to the Smokies except on school trips) except to see family elsewhere, so it just never happened.

Turns out – and I knew this – that if it’s not a weekend, there’s not a lot to see, for nothing’s open. And neither of us had phone service, I hadn’t thought to download any information, so all that was left for us to do was to wander around, look at some exteriors, observe all the British flags on display, and me to offer my vaguely remembered accounts of the utopian colonies’ foundation and brief existence. In case you are wondering:

The village was founded back in 1880 by Thomas Hughes, a well-known social reformer in England and author of the popular book, Tom Brown’s School Days. Inspired by the writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Hughes envisioned a utopia for England’s ‘second sons,’ men who’d grown up in wealthy British families but were doomed to inherit nothing because of their birth order. Hughes hoped Rugby could offer these men a chance to leave British class distinctions behind by creating a cooperative agrarian community in a particularly scenic area of rural Tennessee. Rugby colonists were promised an opportunity to live off the land as gentleman farmers while still enjoying the culture and comforts to which their class was accustomed, and it was an offer some found irresistible. Within the first year, a number of new families arrived and a large hotel, three boarding houses, a commissary and several private homes were constructed, along with tennis and croquet courts and a walkway to a popular picnic spot by the river.

Typhoid struck the community in 1881, they bounced back, but…

The magnificent Tabard Inn burned to the ground. Lawsuits and land disputes prevented colonists from owning the land they’d come to claim. A series of unusually severe winters disheartened Rugby’s new residents. Beyond circumstantial problems, it turned out the colonists were ill-suited for the pioneer life and either unwilling or unable to sustain their agrarian utopia. A cannery failed. A dairy failed. A sheep-raising endeavor failed. Pottery and brick-making efforts failed. Finally, in 1887, Thomas Hughes’s mother, a central figure of Rugby life, died, and by then, most of the colonists decided they’d had enough. Many returned to England or moved elsewhere in the states. Thomas Hughes, who’d never managed to convince his family to move permanently to Rugby and only spent a couple of months there each year, left for the last time in 1887, never to return.

The buildings are maintained, though, even the 7000-volume public library, said to be one of the first free libraries in the Southeast. Photos at this link. It probably would be quite worthwhile to visit when the buildings are actually open. It wasn’t a total loss though – it was good to see it, see the landscape, and knowing the general history of the place, the challenges these folks faced…and why they even attempted it.

My one photo – the school house.

Time to head back towards Jamestown, with a stop at the quite nice Colditz Cove State Natural Area – the preservation and maintenance of which might just be the fruit of ideals, stubbornly maintained despite varied opposition, since most natural areas don’t stay natural without a fight. A short hike takes you to a coursing waterfall. Not at Fall Creek Falls level, but still quite enough, even for a quick dip. He was brought up short by a snake sighting – not unusual considering the rocks.

(Speaking of snakes – I had forgotten about our encounter at Fall Creek Falls when I posted last night. Updated now. Go here unless it will trigger you.)

Next, up past Jamestown to Pall Mall, the site of the Sgt. Alvin C. York State Historic Park. Of course, son knew nothing about York, and most of what I knew I did from just living in Tennessee and the movie, seen decades ago. It’s an interesting little spot, with a visitor’s center that offers the basics, quite a few artifacts, and then the homeplace, a mill and a mock WWI trench where I assume they bring school children and have commemorative events.

I’m still startled that York didn’t actually look like Gary Cooper. And it’s certainly interesting to follow York’s transformation from pacifist to war hero to outspoken supporter of intervention and even the draft. His support for and commitment to his local community is a model, though – but intriguing that his efforts to help modernize the area and bring education in actually did meet resistance.

Back down to Jamestown for lunch at the shockingly excellent, definitely-a-cut-above place called Simply Fresh. Kid had a burger that he said was clearly made from high-quality, fresh meat, and I had an interesting chicken-goat-cheese-pesto-quesadilla thing that was very well made and flavorful.

Back to the ideals: Someone clearly has ideals about what good food is and what’s possible, even in small-town America, well outside the urban foodie centers – and is working it out, for the benefit of a lot of folks.

Now……time to cross back over to the Eastern time zone (we’d been back and forth all day) for a journey into the Big South Fork Natural Area and a hike to…the Charit Creek Lodge.

I’ll have more about it in the next post – this is long enough already – but let’s get started with the basics. It’s a hike-in facility – that is, you can’t drive your vehicle there, and must hike – a little less than a mile from the parking lot. There are a couple of other similar places in the Southeast, but with longer hikes – LeConte Lodge in the Smokies being the most well-known and hardest to get reservations for – and then the Hike Inn in north Georgia. I’m interested in doing the others – well, at least, the Georgia place – so I thought I’d start with this one.

And so…we start!

(Talk about ideals….)

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