Tuesday, March 23, 2010

come together

Tourism is big business in East Tennessee. Dollywood, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary, recently hosted a forum for the gubernatorial candidates on the topic. I saw something in St. Louis recently that might be worth stealing for the Great Smoky Mountains region. An entrepreneur could even sell a ten-second advertisement to play before the message.

In the complex beneath the Gateway Arch, I saw a sign promoting a call-in service for sightseers like me. By dialing the toll-free number, tourists can hear more about the Arch or several other attractions in the area known as the Confluence. The only problem I had was that there was no cellular service in the underground bunker.

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Monday, March 08, 2010

archie's place

They say that New Yorkers don't visit the Statue of Liberty. I never have, even though I grew up in the nearby suburbs. I try not to repeat that mistake when traveling, which is why I'm surprised it has taken me this long to make it to the top of the Gateway Arch. The Arch is the centerpiece of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial in St. Louis.

On our 3,000 mile road trip in the summer of 2007, my family had the bad luck of visiting the Arch two days after a power outage caused all sorts of havoc. I got some nice pictures from the base, but did not ascend. We thought about going to the Arch in January, but it was completely engulfed in fog.

This past weekend, my wife and I made a quick trip through St. Louis after picking up our son at college. We had enough time on Saturday to go up in the Arch and to see the excellent (although dated) movie, "Monument to the Dream." I just put the DVD on my wish list.

The documentary shows how the landmark was constructed in the early '60s. It made me wish I could go back and see television news coverage from the raising of the last piece on October 28, 1965. I did find a good YouTube video with some pre-Arch history. A model outside the theater shows the last piece being raised into place.

The land below the Arch looks like a quiet, grassy park. It conceals an underground complex with two theaters, gift shops, a museum and more. The Museum of Westward Expansion featured lots of information about the Louisiana Purchase and an interesting smaller exhibit about baseball teams moving and expanding to the West. The warning not to touch the taxidermied animals amused me. Apparently not everyone knows that dead bison grow no hair.

The view out the city side of the Arch was more interesting than the view out the river side. Looking toward the north I could see the Edward Jones Dome. Looking toward the south I could see Busch Stadium. I really want to attend a Cardinals game there some day.

Because our plan was to leave early enough on Sunday to get home to watch the Oscars (we made it with minutes to spare), we wanted to go to a vigil Mass on Saturday night. St. Louis has a plethora of Catholic parishes and we hadn't decided which one to visit. I even asked my friend Fr. Ragan Schriver for suggestions. Once we had seen the movie and looked at the Museum of Westward Expansion, it was after 5:00 p.m. and we didn't have time to get to either of the churches Fr. Ragan had mentioned. I was collecting some brochures from the ranger at the information desk when I realized the answer was on a flyer in my hands. In fact, two hours earlier, I had photographed The Old Cathedral from 630 feet up. We could easily walk there in time for the 5:30 Mass.

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Friday, January 29, 2010


The best piece of art I saw on my last trip to St. Louis was not in one of the city's famous museums but in a restaurant. To be fair, I didn't get to any museums this time but that shouldn't take anything away from the interesting wall hanging at the trendy pizza place π. They have a map of the 48 contiguous states made from pieces of license plates. Each state is represented by a plate from that state. Rhode Island is only the size of the letter R from its plate.

The map got me thinking about the seven states I haven't visited yet. I had tentatively planned to go to Mount Rushmore this year, however some news from the FBI Knoxville Citizens Academy Alumni Association has changed my mind. The group has rescheduled its annual field trip to Washington and Quantico. The new dates are in August, when I am allowed to take vacation.

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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

sticky, soft and sweet

Even though the online coupon had expired, I still wanted to go to Gooey Louie because their cartoonish logo amused me. I only discovered them after searching for discounts I heard about on KMOX via my WiFi clock radio.

We bought a Tuxedo gooey butter cake for my son to take back to the dorm and share with his roommates. While we were there, we got a message from one of the roommates, asking if we could pick up an Original flavored cake for his parents.

I was looking at the many different labels available for special occasions when the Baby Louie individual serving cakes caught my eye. We bought a Turtle Park for me and a Hwy 40: Driving Me Nuts for the neighbor who takes in our mail. It wasn't until we got home that I noticed the tiny spoon inside the package.

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Monday, January 18, 2010

buon appetito

Two St. Louis foodie experiences got checked off our to-do list this weekend. My wife, our son and I went to the trendy π to try their deep-dish pizza with cornmeal crust. Fortunately it lived up to the hype. I enjoyed my Bada Bing salad too.

Even better was our trip to the Italian neighborhood known as The Hill. I had found a low-cost place called Amighetti's in the AAA TourBook. It wasn't until we got there that we realized it is a sandwich place that was just about to close at 5:30 p.m. I was looking for a place where we could sit down for dinner. While she would have been happy to serve us, the clerk suggested a restaurant a few blocks away, which turned out to be a great idea.

The dining room at Rigazzi's was packed. We were told to expect a 45-minute wait. Some potential patrons started giving up and going to other nearby restaurants. As a result, our wait was shortened to about 15 minutes.

We were sitting close enough to the people at the next table that we could easily converse with them. They mentioned the large portion sizes of all the menu items, which affirmed my decision to split an entree with my wife. We chose the Chicken Romanoff, which had an amazing sauce with pancetta pieces and bleu cheese crumbles.

Our waiter was extremely apologetic that our salads arrived moments after our meals. He offered to bring us a free dessert. Since we were celebrating my son's birthday, I accepted. The waiter went over the top, bringing us four desserts: tiramisu, regular cheesecake and two pieces of chocolate cheesecake. We took two of the cheesecake slices back to Aunt Dee's and saved them for the next day.

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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

roid rage

Now that Mark McGwire has admitted what was as plain as the neck on his face, what do I do with this?

By the way, I heard a reasonable defense of McGwire by Chris Core on my fancy new WiFi radio today.

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Monday, August 31, 2009

thanks for noticin'

A couple of things struck me as weird on store shelves in St. Louis. My wife and I went to Lowe's to make a copy of the key to Aunt Dee's apartment. It was the first time we had seen Disney's latest effort to reach the latchkey kid market. Several characters were represented but we felt that Eeyore was the most appropriate.

At a Shop 'n Save, we saw another product targeted toward children. The bottled water label must have said "Aquapod," however it looked worse. You tell me what you think it says. I was reminded of the Clean Smart sign and of the brave Alcoa lifeguards that I wrote about last year.

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Sunday, August 30, 2009

add Jesus as a friend?

Going to church this morning brought to mind three things, much like one of Fr. Ragan Schriver's homilies. In fact, one of his three things is one of my three things. In today's homily, Fr. Ragan told of some Mormon missionaries who once attended a weekday Mass at All Saints Church. Afterwards, they wanted to talk to him about their faith. He realized they were trying to convert him and joked that there might be bonus points for bringing a Catholic priest into the Mormon fold. Fr. Ragan said he admired that they were proud of their faith and that they dared to be counter-cultural.

My wife and I were reminded of the homily we heard last weekend in St. Louis. Fr. Gary Braun asked the question, "do you identify as Catholic on Facebook?" Somehow Fr. Gary was ahead of the curve. Today's Washington Post has an article called "Soul Searching on Facebook." It also ponders how Facebook users reply to the question about their religious views. Rather than choose the more common "Christian - Catholic" option on Facebook, both my wife and I typed in the more specific "Roman Catholic." There are 22 Eastern Catholic Churches In addition to the Roman (Western) Church.

One of the Eastern churches is the Byzantine Catholic Church. Coincidentally, this morning my wife and I went to Mass in a church where local Byzantine Catholics used to meet. The members of the Holy Resurrection Byzantine Catholic Mission now meet at the Chancery in Knoxville. Previously they worshiped at Holy Family Catholic Church in Seymour. Fr. Ragan Schriver has been temporarily assigned to Holy Family while their pastor is recuperating at Cornerstone of Recovery.

The quaint church was visible from a scenic street called Overlook Drive. Once inside, we immediately noticed two Byzantine icons on either side of the altar. Below the images of Jesus, Mary, St. John and St. Nicholas were bins filled with sand. Someone had traced a Russian cross into the sand of each box.

After Mass, I spotted Fr. Ragan's three things still on the ambo. A parishioner introduced herself and suggested that I also visit the "jail room" as she called it. Just off the small narthex was a room with an iron gate that resembled the door to a jail cell. Inside was the unusual confessional and two shelves holding several more Byzantine items, including two expensive wedding crowns.

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Tuesday, August 25, 2009


The Webster-Kirkwood Times is the very definition of a family newspaper. A typical story might be "Cleaner Stream Thanks to Football Team" or "World War II Statue Dedicated at Jefferson Barracks Park." I enjoyed Mary Bufe's clever column on "swimsuit reform."

You can imagine my surprise when I got to page 20 of this week's issue and saw an article about a dog grooming business with an odd trade name. I know newspaper reporters are not that naïve. They must have known what they were printing. Maybe the business owners are laughing about the joke they perpetrated on the local community. Or could they possible not realize what they've done?

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Monday, August 24, 2009

malt o meal

St. Louis has an interesting combination of restaurant chains that I recognized from my time living on the East Coast and on the West Coast. Just this past weekend, I saw White Castle, Del Taco, Jack in the Box, Church's Chicken, First Watch and El Pollo Loco.

The flame-grilled chicken at El Pollo Loco is a favorite of mine. Bill Smith, a former co-worker from KROQ met me there for dinner on Friday. Bill is now in a band called Glitch Factor. Our food beat the heck out of the supposedly grilled chicken I had at KFC a few weeks ago.

Without taking anything away from El Pollo Loco, the best meal of the weekend was not at a chain restaurant but at a St. Louis original. A former radio guy turned successful real estate agent, Bruce Butler, invited me to meet him for lunch at the Crown Candy Kitchen, a local institution since 1913. Bruce said the BLT and the milkshakes were "strong." He was right.

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Sunday, August 23, 2009

long division

Fr. Gary Braun was kind enough to visit with my wife and me when he was in Knoxville last March. He attended the ordination and installation of Bishop Richard F. Stika. In fact, when one of the local TV stations showed file footage of the ceremony during the Bishop's recent hospitalization, Fr. Gary's face turned up on screen.

We've gotten to know Fr. Gary a little bit over the past year. He seems as morbidly interested in the Body Farm and other aspects of death as I am. Knowing that I would attend his parish in St. Louis this weekend, I couldn't wait to ask him about an unusual funeral.

A young man in his 20s passed away unexpectedly. His body wasn't found for a few days. His parents, who are divorced, decided to have him cremated and to have a Catholic funeral. At the funeral, there were two regular size urns and two smaller ones. The deceased's ashes had been split amongst the four containers. Each parent was going to put an urn in a columbarium and keep a little one at home as a souvenir. I was curious to ask Fr. Gary about the Catholic teaching on such a case.

Fr. Gary was surprised that a Catholic priest would allow such funeral to take place. The remains are supposed to be kept together and given the same respect as a body. I speculated that maybe the priest didn't know about the separated ashes until after the funeral director showed up at the church with the four containers. I imagined a more strict priest going to get a big funnel to reunite the ashes before continuing with the funeral.

I wonder what percentage of people realize that the cremation itself reduces you to brittle bones that still look a lot like a skeleton. As I learned in a lecture by Dr. Bill Bass, the bones are run through a pulverizer to create the dust we think of as "ashes."

At least the family in question used traditional receptacles. I recently read about some horrific urns shaped to look like the dead person's head, without hair. All they need is a couple of photographs from different angles. The eyes are disturbing. The sample shown online stares blankly through you. Perhaps most troubling is the obvious line that separates the lid from the rest of the cookie jar urn. If your dead loved one isn't attractive enough, you can put their bone dust into a replica of a celebrity's head.

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Saturday, June 13, 2009

distinguished from gourmet

It doesn't take more than a brief perusal through my blog archives to find indisputable proof that I am a foodie. Just yesterday I wrote about trying to earn airline miles by eating at certain restaurants.

I often plan my travel around places to eat. My upcoming summer vacation is centered on a meal at Red's Eats and a visit to the Ben & Jerry's factory. My next trip to St. Louis will include meeting some Facebook friends at El Pollo Loco and Crown Candy Kitchen.

An article in the Metro Pulse about two weeks ago purported to be about Knoxville staycations. In reality, it was a foodie's tour of East Tennessee. It lists so many places I haven't tried yet, even some that I had never heard of. For example, the Original Freezo sounds like someplace I should have been by now. Whenever the Metro Pulse mentions Magpies, I am reminded of all the times I walked past their former location in the Old City and wished they hadn't already closed for the day. I still need to try one of their cupcakes.

My wife and I have plans to go out to dinner with another couple tonight at RT Lodge. I've already looked at the menu online and am making sure that whatever I eat during the day today will still leave room for a dessert of homemade marshmallow on a chocolate cookie. They call it a triple chocolate "moon pie," with the last two words in quotes to avoid confusion with the real MoonPie. If all goes according to plan, I'll take a picture of it for all the rest of you foodies out there.

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Monday, May 11, 2009

meet me in St. Gooey

Toasted ravioli is the food that most people associate with St. Louis. One of the local radio clusters even has a website called ToastedRav.com. My wife's family is from Missouri. Thanks to them, gooey butter cake will always make me think of the Gateway City.

My wife and son spent the weekend in St. Louis after moving him out of his freshman dorm. When they got home last night they were bearing gifts. The supermarket where we found the cakes last December was closed yesterday morning. They looked on my blog and found the link for Park Avenue Coffee, which promises 64 flavors of gooey butter cakes. The shop in Lafayette Square was only a short drive away. She brought one cake to have at home and two to share with others.

Here's a peanut butter and chocolate cake with powdered sugar on top:

The clerk told my wife that most of the sugar is absorbed by fruit-flavored cakes like this banana chocolate chip delicacy...

... which is why he told her to add her own confectioner's sugar to this white chocolate raspberry cake in a heart-shaped tin, decorated for Mother's Day.

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Wednesday, April 01, 2009

april fail

After the fun I had making my own pseudo Fail Blog entry, my son has now made one too. He found a card promoting some restaurants in St. Louis that don't understand the concept of a designated driver.

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Friday, March 20, 2009

lucky devil's food

Today’s Lenten Friday Forbidden Treat comes from parts unknown. While in Florida last week, I needed to make room on the memory chip in my camera. As I was deleting pictures I didn’t need anymore, I came across this shot of a Snicker-ama. I remember seeing it. I remember photographing it. I just don’t remember exactly where I was. At least I know that I was at a café somewhere in St. Louis. But who really cares? All I can think about right know is a cake that is made from Snickers.

A Google search for Snicker-ama leads me to believe that the café gets their supply from Truffes, Inc. On their website, they describe a Snicker-ama as "a chocolate crumb crust layered with caramel, peanut butter mousse with snicker pieces, then finished with chocolate ganache." If you are feeling particularly resolute, take a look at their Very Chocolate Cake or their Chocolate Hazelnut Mousse Torte. Personally, I'm interested in trying their Banana Cream Cake. I was impressed that a bakery in the heart of Cardinals country had the guts to put a New York Mets cake on their site (let's go Mets!). However they proved their allegiance to the Gateway City with a Lemon Gooey Butter Cake that looks good enough to drink eat.

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Thursday, March 19, 2009

nice middle name

There was no celebratory cake at the reception for newly ordained Bishop Richard Frank Stika. The reception was actually anticlimactic after the uplifting Mass of Episcopal Ordination and Installation. The News Sentinel has several great pictures including some from behind the scenes.

WBIR phrased it well: "the Knoxville Convention Center was transformed into a cathedral Thursday afternoon." The carved altar was on loan from Holy Cross Catholic Church in Pigeon Forge. One deacon told me that the bishop would continue using the brand new wooden chair as his cathedra back at Sacred Heart.

Before the Mass began, I saw dozens of new ciboria on the credence table. I was told that after today's ceremony, the sacred vessels would be distributed to the parishes of the diocese. Any leftover consecrated hosts would also be sent to the churches, where parishioners could receive communion from the ordination Mass.

The Mass was webcast live at dioceseofknoxville.org. My two kids were able to watch and to hear my wife sing a brief solo during "Veni Sancte Spiritus." The video is supposed to be available on demand for a limited time. I am curious to hear the color commentary by Dr. Jerry Punch, who described today's Mass before heading off to cover the Bristol race for ESPN.

Cardinal Justin Rigali, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz and Archbishop-elect Timothy Dolan topped a list of notable names in attendance. I counted 27 bishops, 3 archbishops and the cardinal. There were scores of priests, deacons and other religious. The laity like me numbered in the thousands. At the cake-free reception, the new bishop greeted his flock.

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Sunday, March 15, 2009

there better be cake

Security will be tight for Bishop-elect Richard Stika's ordination on Thursday. Officially the event is known as the Mass of Episcopal Ordination and Installation. In this case the word episcopal refers to a Christian bishop, not the Protestant Episcopal Church.

Musicians and choir members have to be in place at the Knoxville Convention Center five and half hours before the Mass begins. The early call time is partly so they can get in one last rehearsal and partly so police dogs can sniff search their musical instrument cases and other bags. The singers have been told they cannot bring their own water bottles to the ordination, as they normally would to a service that will run for three hours. They will need to purchase bottles of water for $2.75 each once they get past the security screening. Guests attempting to bring in their own food or drinks will have the items confiscated by the guards. Also, the use of cameras by anyone other than credentialed media is strictly prohibited.

The extreme measures might be because of the attendance of Catholic bigwigs such as His Eminence Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia and Archbishop Pietro Sambi, the Apostolic Nuncio to the United States. Or law enforcement officials might be taking steps to prevent a tragedy like the one that occurred in Knoxville last summer.

Bishop-elect Stika already had an impressive resume as an administrator in the Archdiocese of St. Louis when he was transferred out of the Catholic Center and into the role of pastor of the Church of the Annunziata in ritzy Ladue. The move gave him the the pastoral experience that most recent Bishop appointees have had. The parish had a farewell reception for him last Sunday after the 11:00 a.m. Mass. Their rectory will be closed Wednesday through Friday so the parish staff can attend the ordination. Many people from St. Louis, including Fr. Gary Braun, will travel to the nation's most vibrant diocese for the ceremony.

In an interview with the News Sentinel that was published yesterday, Bishop-elect Stika said he would be moving to Knoxville on Saturday (yesterday). He also said he is using the Rosetta Stone software to learn Spanish, which is probably a prerequisite of all Catholic bishops nowadays. The ordination Mass will be mostly in English, with perhaps one of the Bible readings in Spanish. Translation devices will be available for Spanish-speaking parishioners.

At the All Saints Church town hall meeting last night, Fr. Michael Woods made it clear he is aware that Knoxville's largest parish is not currently serving the Spanish speaking members of our faith. Instead, they go to Sacred Heart Cathedral, where Fr. Manuel Perez has recently gotten stricter about those who come late to Mass and let their children roam in the aisles during the service. Fr. Michael said he was going to ask the new bishop to assign an additional priest to All Saints. I would not be surprised at all if he asked for a Spanish-speaking padre in order to add a Misa en Español to the schedule.

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Friday, March 06, 2009

a favorite mistake

Last Friday's post started with Lenten dinner and ended with a picture of a cake. Along the way, we took a detour through a fish fry or two in St. Louis. Today I'll post a photo of another delicious thing that I gave up for Lent.

St. Louis is almost as famous for gooey butter cakes as it is for toasted ravioli. My wife's family used to get theirs at the old Lake Forest Bakery. That place has closed but the cakes are plentiful enough to warrant a category on the "Best of St. Louis" list. On a recent visit to the Gateway City, I was impressed by a supermarket display of gooey butter cakes made by Park Avenue Coffee.

The ooey gooey goodness was invented by accident when a baker used ingredients in the wrong proportions. Fortunately, gooey butter cakes are no longer just a St. Louis thing. I gave high marks to a pumpkin gooey butter cake at a dessert cook-off last fall and my wife made a peanut butter gooey butter cake to bring to our son on parents' weekend. Both recipes probably came from Paula Deen. I'll keep an eye out for something delicious and worth photographing (but not eating) for next Friday.

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Friday, February 27, 2009

cod is good

On Fridays during Lent, many Catholic churches offer a meatless supper before or after the Stations of the Cross. My wife and I plan to partake of the meal at All Saints Church tonight although we don't know what is on the menu. Different parish groups take turns serving the Lenten suppers. Each week brings something different. In the past we've had pizza, fish sticks, soup, salad and a baked potato bar.

Sacred Heart Cathedral has a Friday fish fry during Lent. For the health-conscious, the cod can be had baked or fried. Side items include french fries, coleslaw and macaroni & cheese. Their event seems more like those in St. Louis, where the local newspaper maintains a list of churches hosting a fish fry on Fridays. A local radio station does a "Fish Fry World Tour" which includes a live broadcast from a different church each week. A TV station has an interactive Fish Fry Finder map that is easy to use. I unexpectedly discovered a Facebook group for St. Louisans who socialize at the events, regardless of whether they are Catholic or not. Considering that Knoxville's Bishop-elect Richard Stika is a St. Louis native, maybe we can eventually have a Fish Fry World Tour of our own.

Like a lot of Catholics, I'm giving up sweets again this year with the probable exception of a slice of celebratory cake after the bishop's ordination and installation. Maybe he'll give us all a dispensation and it will be a moot point. However just because I'm on a diet doesn't mean I can't look at the menu. Here's a photo of the delicious cakes that were served a couple of weeks ago at the World Marriage Day dinner at All Saints. I was told that they came from Rita's Bakery in Fountain City.

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Sunday, January 18, 2009

when you brush your teeth with Pepsodent

One of the perks of interviewing Jon Jefferson and Dr. Bill Bass about their Body Farm books is that the publisher sends me an advance copy. The past few times I got an uncorrected galley proof, so that I had even more time to read it before the interview. I didn't need much at all. Last weekend, I read half of "Bones of Betrayal" in the car on the way to Missouri and finished it the next day on the way home to Tennessee.

I told Jon on Wednesday night that I liked the new book better than the last one. He said he liked it better too. "The Devil's Bones" had three parallel story lines that didn't connect in as satisfying a manor as the story lines in "Bones of Betrayal." The new novel has deaths in present day Oak Ridge that are linked to a previously unknown murder during the Manhattan Project days. There couldn't be a better nickname for the scene of the crimes than The Secret City.

The action in "Bones of Betrayal" takes place in mid-January 2009. Somehow the authors predicted our current cold snap when they were writing last year. One of my favorite things about all the Jefferson Bass books is the way they describe East Tennessee in such detail. No Oak Ridge story would be complete without a visit to Big Ed's Pizza. They put you right at their table as they write about the tiny paper plates and flimsy plastic forks at Big Ed's.

In another section of the book, the fictional Dr. Bill Brockton goes to the real Thompson Photo in Knoxville. He's a regular there whereas my wife and I made our first visit to the place before Christmas. Jere found an old photo at her late Aunt Dee's apartment in St. Louis. It was badly yellowed but was otherwise in good condition. She thought that copies of it would make great Christmas gifts for her mother and siblings. Jere arrived at Thompson's store in West Knoxville only to find out it had been shuttered (pardon the pun) the day before. At our next earliest opportunity, we took the photo to Thompson's main location in the Mechanicsville area, where Dr. Brockton takes some film that turns up as evidence.

The folks at Thompson did a good job of making copies that restored the image to glorious black and white. The picture is a portrait of Aunt Dee and her siblings as children. The other three are my mother-in-law, Fr. George and Uncle Barney. The original is from Schweig Studio, which closed in 2002. The Schweigs exhibited the work of local artists at a gallery in the basement of their studio.

Our best guess is that this great photo was taken in 1932 or thereabouts.

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Saturday, January 17, 2009

dance the hoochie coochie

One or two clicks on the Internet has got me craving a cupcake and counting the months (four) until my next trip through St. Louis. Now I need to figure out how I got to this point.

It started with a short message from my friend Susan Olsen. She wrote "marshmallowy goodness to you." I knew she would appreciate it when I wrote back something about toasting her with a glass full of Marshmallow Fluff. She then sent me a photo of a Fluff coffee mug topped with the stuff. She's been placing jars of Fluff in famous paintings and album covers and wrote, "I would welcome any ideas from you. I think you have a deeper understanding of the marshmallow."

Thinking about sweet treats prompted me to look at Cupcakes Take the Cake, which had an incredible shot of a s'mores cupcake from New York. I kept scrolling through their older posts and found one about the writer's recent trip to St. Louis. She visited a place called Jilly's Cupcake Bar, which instantly earned a spot on my to-do list with its photo of a cream-filled S'murtle cupcake. Half s'more, half turtle, total perfection.

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Friday, January 16, 2009

promises fulfilled

Bishop-elect Richard Stika was in East Tennessee most of this week. He was introduced at a press conference on Monday. Lori Tucker interviewed him on Tuesday morning for a piece that aired on WATE Thursday night

While he was in town, Stika traveled around the diocese to get acquainted. He went to Catholic Charities to meet their less fortunate clients, including two elderly men who asked him, "Why did the Pope cross the road?" I'm not exactly sure what their punchline was, but it might have been "because he crosses everything."

Bishop-elect Stika returned to St. Louis today. He'll pack up his belongings and his dog Rosie and get back in time for his installation as Bishop on March 19 at the Knoxville Convention Center. I found out the other day that the ordination Mass will start at 2:30 p.m. and last for at least three hours. Plans are being made to webcast the ceremony. I think I would rather be there in person, especially since there will be a reception afterward. The Bishop-elect hopes that all the local Catholic school children will attend too.

If his visit to Tennessee had lasted a day longer, the Bishop-elect could have come to hear the "Journey of Promises" cantata at All Saints Church tonight. Someone from the chancery did check to see if there might have been a rehearsal that he could have attended last night but there wasn't. However they have been practicing for months.

The performance went well and got mentioned on WBIR's late newscast. My friend Kathy had emailed all the TV stations to request that they consider sending a camera, since they would likely have crews right next door to cover the Webb at Catholic basketball game. The publicity will help fill the seat's for Sunday's performance. Admission is free but they do take up a collection for Catholic Charities.

The All Saints choir was joined by members of the Knoxville Symphony Youth Orchestra and a few adult parishioners who can play instruments. I read one of the three spoken word parts. Look closely and you can see Fr. Ragan Schriver and me at the podium in the background of the photo below. We'll play it again on Sunday at 3:00 p.m. I hope to see you there.

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Monday, January 12, 2009

rich it is

As rumored yesterday, the next Bishop of the Diocese of Knoxville was introduced at a press conference this morning. Bishop-elect Richard Stika is moving to Tennessee from a parish in St. Louis where one of his parishioners is Stan "The Man" Musial.

Three local television stations covered the event. WBIR and WVLT each sent a cameraman. WATE also sent reporter Kristyn Caddell who remembered me from our recent encounter with the Christmas penguin.

I also saw reporters from the News Sentinel and the Farragut Press. After breaking the news at 6 o'clock this morning, the Catholic blog Whispers in the Loggia linked to a profile of the Bishop-elect from the St. Louis Beacon.

The best photos of the press conference will probably be the ones taken by Deacon Patrick Murphy-Racey. He also had the best position for his video camera. I hope to see his work on either the Diocese website or his own site. I couldn't find any of his pictures tonight.

Many of the priests of the Diocese were in attendance as well as the Bishops of Nashville and Memphis. Louisville Archbishop Joseph Kurtz was warmly received by his former staff. It was his first time back to the chancery since his elevation to Archbishop.

I introduced myself to Fr. John Dowling of St. John Neumann parish and asked him the question I had about his new building and the Bishop's cathedra. Fr. Dowling said that yes, the Bishop could theoretically choose to move his chair to another building, thereby making it the new cathedral. However, Fr. Dowling is not pushing for that. He agreed that the Bishop would probably want to leave the cathedral right where it is, next door to the chancery, which has seen some improvements since Archbishop Kurtz left for Louisville. I also asked Fr. Dowling about the mosaic Stations of the Cross in his new church. He bought those from a clearing house in Atlanta that sells fixtures from closed churches in other parts of the country. Because he had those first, he was able to design the width of the windows so that the Stations would fit perfectly underneath them.

I found it interesting that the Bishop-elect has had to keep the news of his appointment a secret since December 16. And that he is allowed say Mass in Aramaic when celebrating with the Maronite Church.

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Sunday, January 11, 2009

isn't it rich?

Phone calls and text messages started flying around the Diocese of Knoxville this afternoon. Somebody spread the word that the name of our new bishop could be announced as early as tomorrow. Of all the current U.S. vacancies, Knoxville has been waiting the longest for a bishop. Upon hearing the rumor, one of the priests I know immediately used the web browser on his Palm Treo to see if anything was posted on the blog Whispers in the Loggia. There wasn't then, there is now. My priest friend was surprised that the name being bandied about is someone he knows. It doesn't always work out that way. Over the past several months of waiting, I have gotten in the habit of checking Whispers in the Loggia daily and searching the site for the word Knoxville. I'll have to begin checking two or three times a day until the official news comes out.

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Saturday, January 10, 2009

guaranteed gasoline fail

"Have you seen the Censored Count?" asked my kids. Over their Thanksgiving and Christmas vacations I truly enjoyed talking with them about their current favorite websites. We watched the great "Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog" and scrolled through okay sites like I Can Has Cheezburger and better sites such as Totally Looks Like. After getting Rickrolled by the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, we got a chuckle from the Barackroll.

We were passing laptops back and forth in a flurry of Internet activity as each of us brought up various viral videos and other content to share. The site that kept coming back into our conversations was the very funny Fail Blog. For example, as the family was decorating Christmas cookies, Frank Jr. cracked us up by making the Gingerbread Man Fail that you might have noticed in my December 25th post. While we were in St. Louis, I spotted a real-life example that could have been on Fail Blog. I snapped these pictures at a QuikTrip and added the text myself.

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Sunday, December 28, 2008

prayer palace

The beautiful new church building at St. John Neumann parish opened on Christmas Eve. WBIR got it right in their report however the anchors on WVLT mistakenly called the building a cathedral. I dashed off an email to a couple of people there but unfortunately the same script was used in the 7:00 p.m. newscast that night. A cathedral is the building that houses the bishop's chair, which is called a cathedra.

After seeing the new building with my own eyes today, I wondered if our next bishop could decide to pick up his cathedra and move it to Farragut. Although it's probably just as likely that they would continue to spruce up Sacred Heart Cathedral, which is right next door to the diocesan offices. The religious artwork in the new place looks much better in context than it did in the photos I saw online in August. The more contemporary looking figures inside the ceiling dome are complimented by classic-looking paintings of saints and Stations of the Cross that look like mosaics. They must be relieved to have made the deadline on the cornerstone. I had read that the church was supposed to open last January.

The former chancellor of the Diocese of Knoxville was elevated to bishop this past Spring. Bishop Vann Johnston now shepherds the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau. The Knoxville native was home for the holidays and celebrated the 10:30 Mass today at St. John Neumann. The bishop told me that the pastor, Fr. John Dowling, was inspired by the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis. Coincidentally, that is where my family and I went to Mass a week ago. I told Bishop Johnston that my wife and I had briefly been in his new diocese when we went to Branson this summer.

Fr. Dowling made some announcements before Mass began. They are moving the Saturday vigil Mass from 6:00 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. He said it would take too long to explain why. After Mass I heard some parishioners speculating that the church could book more Saturday evening weddings after the change. My wife had heard months ago that some families were registering in the parish so their daughters could get married in the new building.

The other big announcement was that the parish would no longer serve communion in both species. Apparently they feel that parishioners sipping from the cup takes too long. Because of the acoustics, they have decided to start singing slower and preaching slower, which will make the Masses run longer. The cavernous space and the hard surfaces create lots of echo.

I've been to several other churches where the problem of slow communion lines was solved by adding more cups, not by removing them. To me, the lack of communion in both species and a few other things made it feel like they were trying to turn back the clock. They rang a bell at the start of Mass and during the consecration. Some parts of the Mass were sung in Latin. When I hear the "Holy Holy Holy" and the "Lamb of God" I know it's time to lower the kneeler. At this Mass they sang "Sanctus Sanctus Sanctus" and "Agnus Dei." I lowered the brand new kneeler only to find that it had a child's muddy boot prints on it, probably from Christmas Eve when the weather outside was frightful wet. After Mass, I brushed it off as best I could with my hand.

The pew where I sat was in one of the transepts, near the ambo. The last person to receive communion in our section was a man carrying a fidgety toddler. A moment or two after the man received the host, I thought I saw the child drop something. I wasn't positive because neither the parent nor the deacon serving communion reacted. The man carried the boy back to their seats and the deacon went off to help distribute communion in the main section of the church. I had an inkling of a suspicion about what had fallen to the floor so I got up from my kneeler to investigate. It was only a few steps over to the spot where the communicants had stood. I didn't see anything until I knelt down to look more closely at the beige marble floor and tilted my head at an angle to see it in a different light. Half a host lay on the floor, barely visible because it was almost the exact same color as the marble. I picked it up and reverently put it in the palm of my hand. I thought about my options for a second and realized that the best thing for me to do in this circumstance was to consume the partial host myself. It would have been terribly disruptive for me to bring the host to the deacon or the bishop and say "look what I found."

I don't know if the deacon had broken the host in half because he was running out of them or if the man had broken the host in half himself, which he shouldn't have done. Either way, the child should not have had the opportunity to take the host from his father or to knock it out of his father's hand. In a situation like that, the man should have received the host directly on his tongue instead of in his hands. I wondered if he was a non-Catholic and didn't know the rules. Catholics believe that Jesus is truly present in the host. We take his words at the Last Supper literally. A fancy church building like St. John Neumann's will attract tourists of all faiths. The Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis has the following paragraph on the back cover of their weekly bulletin:
All visitors who are not of the Catholic faith are welcome to join us in prayer but not to receive Holy Communion. Reception of Holy Communion is a sign of unity of faith and full membership in the Catholic community. Together let us pray for the eventual unity of all believers.
After feeling discouraged about the muddy shoe prints and the behavior of the child at communion, I'm glad that as I left the church after Mass, I turned back to read the inscriptions above the three doors. One of them reminds us of Jesus' words in the gospel of Mark: "Let the children come to me, do not hinder them."

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