Updated Thursday April 12, 2013 3:30pm MST/5:30pm EST – CLICK HERE TO VIEW MOST RECENT UPDATE.
A New Start – Greg and Jennifer
This blog post will hopefully serve a few different purposes:
1) To give you a quick update on what’s been happening with the Willits family, particularly for former listeners of our radio program who have not kept up with us since our show was canceled and have wondered what’s next.
2) To invite you to join us for the final leg of a months-long journey that has brought us to a brand new city, a brand new state, and a brand new start.
3) To act as an archive for our own children, so they’ll remember the challenges we’ve endured and how God has seen us through the difficult times of this past year.
Quick Recap – Greg
About a year ago, we started to sense that our radio program, The Catholics Next Door, was coming to an end on The Catholic Channel. Our show had originally aired from 10AM-1PM EST, which worked great for us as our kids were normally in school at that time. But in July 2011, our show was switched to 1-4PM EST, and it created considerable difficulty for our family. Jennifer would have to leave the show in the middle of the program, rush to get the kids from school, bring them home, tell them to be quiet, then rush back to the studio to finish the program.
In January 2012 we started asking about the possibility of our original time slot. In March we got a new boss. In June, after wrestling for months with the fact that that our children were getting the short end of the stick as we attempted to continue not only our ministry on air, but also our New Evangelizers apostolate (which includes Rosary Army, That Catholic Show, and other ministries), we made the decision that Jennifer would have to step down from the show.
When we told our boss at The Catholic Channel our plans, we honestly did not know what to expect. Without Jennifer, they could have ended the show on the spot and we would effectively be unemployed. Instead, they agreed to let Jennifer go off the air in July and let me host solo until they determined the future of the show.
On September 24, 2013, we were informed that our show would not be moved back to our original time slot, and without Jennifer, The Catholics Next Door would end it’s daily broadcast in October, which it did.
Fortunately, because Jennifer and I technically “own” the The Catholics Next Door “brand,” we were able to reboot the show as a podcast, which we started immediately after our radio show ended. That show, in case you did not know, is available for free on iTunes and you can listen to new shows each week on our website. So if you’re one of the many former radio listeners who still say they miss the show – there’s no need to miss it, you can still listen to it, albeit in a shorter (but we think better) format.
Once our show went off the air, I immediately started to get contract work to pay the bills. I narrated several audio books, did some new media consulting, and worked on a few other projects, but it was obvious very quickly that money was going to get very, very tight very, very soon.
In November I interviewed for a position with the Archdiocese of Denver, and the original position I interviewed for soon morphed into something much greater, and in December I was offered the position of Director of Evangelization and Family Life Ministries, overseeing the work of three different offices: 1) Office of Evangelization and Catechesis, 2) Marriage and Family Life, and 3) Youth, Young Adult, and Campus Ministry.
I accepted the job and on January 25th, I pulled out of our driveway in Georgia and made the trek to Colorado with our cat Linus as my companion. I arrived in Denver the next afternoon and started work on January 28th.
The housing market in Denver right now is incredibly competitive, and Jennifer flew to town on two different house hunting trips, both of which did not yield us a house. In the end, we saw over 60 homes, made offers on 4 or 5 houses, and finally — without Jennifer even getting a chance to see it — we went under contract on a house. This past Friday, we closed on the house. Since the market in Atlanta is still pretty bad and our mortgage is now upside down, we’re just going to rent the house in Atlanta for a few years in hopes the economy will recover.
Our family has been separated for 10 and a half weeks, about twice as long as we expected.
It has been a difficult time, compounded by the fact that my lone companion from home, Linus, got terribly sick about three weeks after my arrival and I had to have him put down.
For those familiar with The Catholics Next Door, you can probably imagine how difficult it is for Jennifer and me to be apart. We have gotten so used to do absolutely everything together — including work — that this separation has drained and stressed us.
Additionally, we haven’t recorded a new TCND podcast since January, and we look forward to resuming that show in May.
But this brings us to now.
As I write this, I am sitting in the Denver airport, getting ready to fly back to Atlanta for the last time for the foreseeable future. I’ve been home three times to see the children since January, but all seven of us are beyond ready to be reunited.
Jennifer has spent the last several weeks frantically working to pack the house. She has been nothing short of amazing, and she is now beyond exhausted.
This afternoon I’ll land in Atlanta, we’ll eat dinner with my in-laws, and then we get in the van and start the drive back to Denver, but this time as a family.
Over the next few days, we invite you to join us on the journey. Rather than creating multiple blog posts, we’re going to keep updating this one. PLEASE NOTE: When we update the blog, we’ll update the date and time at the top of the blog, but to maintain chronology, we’ll post new updates at the bottom of this same post.
If you have comments or questions, please leave them here and we’ll do our best to answer them.
Our hope is to include photos and possibly videos from the road.
As you wait for updates, we’d appreciate your prayer support. While my job is going very well, getting the family reunited has been met with a myriad of challenges. Honestly, because we’ve experienced so many delays and setbacks over the past few months, we’re all sort of waiting for the other shoe to drop. But we also know God’s got us covered. Your prayers would be (and have been) appreciated.
More to come…
3:30 EST 4/10/13
Just Landed – Greg
Just landed in Atlanta. Thought I’d share this photo here that Jennifer texted me yesterday. This is our studio where we did our show since 2008.
On the road with quiet kids – Jennifer: Wednesday, April 10th 4:07pm EST
Beginning our drive to Tennessee. We found a pet friendly hotel there that will accommodate our big family and pets. All the kids are jacked up with movies and headphones. It’s sooooo quiet!!!
Ben and Tom are actually in the backseat, but it was impossible to get them into frame since they were ducked down watching The Hobbit on their DVD player. Sam was listening to his music while feeling the effects of Dramamine, Walter was watching a Narnia movie and Lily was probably watching Rise of the Guardians.
We wished we could have put more miles in on this portion of the trip, but it was probably good we stopped for an early night. Tomorrow will be a big driving day.
First Big Driving Day Ahead – Jennifer: Thursday, April 11th 9:15am EST
After a restful sleep and a tasty hot breakfast at the pet-friendly Baymont Inn in Murfreesboro, TN, we re-loaded the minivan for the BIG drive today. The kids and pets have been AMAZING on this journey thus far. It has been so wonderful just being together as a family again. Our kids are helping each other and have been enjoying their new headphones. With all this technology, everyone has the ability to watch their own movie of choice. I can also update this blog from my laptop while on the go. Crazy!!
We have one major thunderstorm ahead of us. No way around it. Only through it. We are very thankful that it was downgraded from “squall” to just regular old thunderstorm. Now we can avoid the large hail and severe high winds.
The boys are still reminiscing about their former school back home. They keep noticing the time and what class they would be in if they were there. They miss their friends and teachers, but are also excited for what lies ahead.
As soon as I have an interesting picture, I’ll post one. For now, just imagine 7 people in a minivan with all kids wearing headphones and staring at their movie devices.
Our Sustenance – Jennifer: Thursday, April 11th 12:25pm EST
Not many amazing side road pics to share really. Lots of highway and trees as you would imagine. So here’s what we’ve been sustaining ourselves with food-wise:
This next image, I’ll have to explain. You know those Fun Dip packs that young kids like to eat? Well, Greg is a huge fan of the cool sweetness of those dipping sticks. I’ve called the Willy Wonka company to see if they could just send us a bag of those sticks to spare me the trouble of having to buy a bunch of powdered sugar candy Fun Dip packs only to rip them open each pouch individually to remove the sugar sticks. (My apologies to any dentist reading this..) But Willy Wonka oompa loompas said, “No” Oh well. Since I love my husband so much, I bought the Fun dip packs while they were on sale and manually ripped out each sugary dipping stick and discarded the rest. Greg treats himself to one Dip Stick for every hundred miles driven. What can I say, sometimes it’s the little things in life that can put a smile on your face!
So far, we have driven through Georgia, Tennessee, and Kentucky and now we are in Illinois. Our 4 year old daughter just announced her impending need to go to the bathroom.. and it’s not the pee kind. The trouble is, there’s no restaurants or rest stops in sight! This should be interesting.
Well-Timed Potty Break – Jennifer: Thursday, April 11th 4:40pm EST
Happy to report our daughter’s intestinal needs were cared for. But then an hour later, our daughter yelled out that she really had to pee. It just so happened, we were approaching the very exit ramp for the famous St. Louis Gateway Arch at that exact moment. So… while taking advantage of the need to visit a bathroom facility, we took a tiny little detour up an amazing arch. Here’s a few photos of the awesome benefits of going to this particular bathroom, that just happened to be a major tourist stop:
Our Thursday Night Sleep Over Recap – Jennifer
Posted on April 12th, 11:55AM EST
After our last restroom break, we experienced a noticeable drop in temperature. Kind of a shock to our bodies since Georgia had temps in the high 80’s when we left. Like a dingbat, I completely forgot to pack a jacket for our daughter!! Thank goodness for layering!
We made it safely to our next planned stop at the Camarata House in the Overland Park, KS area. The Camaratas are long time friends of ours from our first podcasting years. They were more than ready for our arrival and our kids thoroughly enjoyed playing ping pong and air hockey in their basement. Good food, drink and conversation were had by all. The Camaratas were such gracious hosts and we will cherish our whirlwind visit with them.
Fr. Bill, if you see this message, we are so sorry we were not able to meet up with you when we were passing through your state. We will cherish the memory of our most recent visit that we shared in our former home of Conyers, GA.
One funny/cute moment occurred between our son Walter’s pet rat, Albina, and the Camarata pet dwarf bunny. They both stared at each other and if they could talk, they probably would have said “What are you??” But then a few moments later our pet rat surprised us all by wanting to snuggle with the bunny. It was rodent love at first sight.
Below are some pictures that will recap our visit.
Last Big Haul to Colorado – Jennifer
Posted on April 12th, 12:00PM EST
Lots of Kansas driving today. We’ve got to cross the length of the entire state as we make our way into our new home state of Colorado. Today’s mileage to drive is 595 miles. Two major highlights were seeing the fields of gently spinning wind turbines and having a bizarre encounter with a bright yellow crop dusting plane.
From the distance we could see this crop dusting plane hard at work dusting its field. It was strangely relaxing watching the rhythmic flight pattern of the plane criss crossing over the same highway we were traveling on. The plane would approach the highway, circle around a wind turbine and then double back over the highway again. The fun part was the timing of our intersecting with his flight path. At the exact moment we drove under him, he flew about 20 feet directly above our van. For a brief few seconds it looked like he was going to fly right into the side of our van! Of course, we knew he wasn’t. But what a thrill to be so close to a plane. We felt the vibrations of his engine as he passed over our roof! We were all cheering. Greg couldn’t have timed that intersection any better! I wish I had a picture to capture that moment, but I either had to fight with an iPhone camera or just sit back and enjoy the live event. I chose the latter.
Hello Colorado!!! – Jennifer
Posted on April 12th, 3:30pm MST/5:30pm EST
After the the LONG prairie land stretch of highway through Kansas, we finally saw the sign for the last city in Kansas that would mean the Colorado border would be behind. The border city was appropriately called Kanorado! A few minutes later, we saw the “WELCOME TO COLORFUL COLORADO” sign. It was very significant for this family. We all pulled over for a photo op.
Soon after we entered the state, the boys immediately noticed something that they had only previously seen on t.v. – actual tumbleweeds. Such a small and insignificant thing to local residents was actually pretty cool for us out-of-towners!
Even though we were thrilled to finally be in our new home state, we were also getting rather road weary. Less smiles and more irritability was starting to settle in. Plus, all the devices were all running out of power which meant the kids were going to start getting restless and boy did they ever. Lots of loud talking suddenly erupted from the younger three kids. Greg and I were very aware of how fortunate we were for the silence we enjoyed during the bulk of this road trip.
It was very cool to be able to drive up on the driveway of our new home as a family. It has a nice clean look on the exterior and all the surrounding houses on the cup-de-sac are just as lovely to look at. At the time we arrived, the local elementary school was having their dismissal and soon, a young boy came walking up to say “Hi” to us. Tommy, Ben and Lily immediately starting talking to our future neighbor and soon his Mother came out to greet us. Then another neighbor.. So far, everyone has been super friendly!
We want to say a huge thank you for all the prayers and well wishes that were offered up for our family from all of you. We have a lot of changes to process physically and emotionally. We all keep saying to ourselves “I can’t believe we are actually here!!!” We’ve been waiting for months for this day and it finally came. It all feels surreal. The word mind bender seems more than appropriate. There is a tremendous amount of “newness” to process. It’s a lot to take in. All the younger kids seem resilient. Walter is still in a bit of pleasant shock. Sam was definitely more overwhelmed at first and needed to be alone. But soon after, even he seemed to acclimate to the shock of the newness. It will just take time and we have to allow that process to happen naturally.
But for now.. we’ve got to fight rush hour traffic to make our way to the hotel for our stay tonight and then deal with dinner. It’s one thing after another for this busy family.