I’ll Fly Away

I’m down one child this weekend, so today, the 9-year old and I took a day trip.

(Although it seems as if the other’s weekend will be cut short – a rafting trip to North Carolina where, this weekend, the highs are in the 60’s, it’s raining, and the water temp is 38 degrees. I think they’re coming back a day early….)

I had a sketch of a plan. It involved first making our way down to a spot a couple of hours south of here and then working our way back up.  I had hoped the “working our way back up” would be more nature-y than it turned out – I threw bathing suits, towels and extra clothes in the back of the car – but the weather was sketchy here as well, so there was no hiking or spur-of-the-moment swimming.

What there was:

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McClelland’s Critters, which is around Troy which is, in turn, south of Montgomery.  I stumbled upon this place last night and did some research, not wanting to give any support to a facility that mistreats or exploits wild animals.  It seemed okay on paper (or on screen), and while it’s certainly not lush, the animals do seem well taken care of and are certainly loved.   I’m still not totally sold on the concept, but I’ve never been totally sold on the concept of zoos anyway.  Those Twilight Zone/Planet of the Apes ghosts are always afoot, it seems.

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The most interesting part of the place had nothing to do with exotic animals, but with the blasted mountain goats.  You know those videos featuring goats sounding like people that are floating around? And how you’re sort of convinced they’re fake?  Well, they might be, or might not…because today, I heard a bunch of goats out and out saying “BAAA!” in croaky old man voices, repeatedly.  It was hysterical.

The Arnold Scheme: British Pilots, the American South, and the Allies' Daring Plan


We caught the tail end of a tour, but later, after we’d wandered about by ourselves a bit,  Michael said, “I’m going to ask to hold a snake” – and just at that moment, the owner strode up to us, an armful of peacock feathers, saying, “Would you like to hold a snake?”

So, yes.

The Arnold Scheme: British Pilots, the American South, and the Allies' Daring Plan

Not Rocky.

There was a large reticulated python in one corner of a cage, a white bunny in the other.  I said to the owner, “So the python will be eating the rabbit?”  He said, “He’s had four already today. It’ll be his fifth.”

Come on, Rocky…EAT!

I had checked Roadside America, and was prepared to go where it led, but the rooster made of car bumpers was in the opposite direction of home, and since it was indeed looking rainy by that time and Blue Springs State Park, which had been sketched into the plan and also in that direction, was being crossed off the plan…we slowly headed back north.

As we approached Montgomery, I sighed    asked, “Do you want to go to the zoo again?”  Because it was only the two of us, we had a membership discount, and I’m with Mr. Nature, so of course the answer was yes.

We stopped for lunch for him at Chick-fil-a, unfortunately without the time to spend at one of the several Korean restaurants nearby (there’s a Hyundai plant in Montgomery, one which I intend to tour once a spot opens up…), and then headed back up to the zoo.  A soft rain was falling, and it was late afternoon, so this means we almost had the place to ourselves.  There wasn’t anything new to see (we’d been there before a couple of months ago), but we did a get closer look at the anteaters, several of the birds, and we toured the quirky adjacent natural history museum.

As we headed out, I started explaining to Michael about Hank Williams, and who he was and where and how he died, and that his grave was on the way home, so let’s stop. 



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A lovely setting.



Audrey and Hank’s grave certainly dominates the scene, but not in a tacky way.

But I have to say what interested me most was something I hadn’t noticed on my last visit here, which was probably 16 years ago.  When I got home, this led me (naturally) on a most fascinating rabbit hole. Directly next to the Williams plot:


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They are the neat, beautifully kept graves of French and British military men from World War II, mostly airmen, who died while training in the United States:

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Beginning in 1941, thousands of RAF crew members were trained at Maxwell and Gunter Fields, as well as at auxiliary airfields in the area. The dangers of learning to fly combat aircraft were such that some did not survive. One example comes from the book “Montgomery Aviation” by Billy J. Singleton (Arcadia Publishing, 2007, ISBN 978-0-7385-5259-0), page 49: “Cross-country flights at night could prove to be challenging and occasionally dangerous. In May 1942, a flight of 35 aircraft flown by United Kingdom students departed Gunter Field on a navigation training flight to Crestview and Mobile. Returning from Mobile on the last leg of the flight, the formation encountered heavy haze and rain showers. Twelve of the training aircraft crashed, resulting in the loss of seven pilots.”

The plaque and the cross are part the memorial. Each grave has a headstone with the information on the individual and some additional words. One example reads: “If I should die — some corner of a foreign field is a piece forever England”


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There are numerous cemeteries throughout the USA containing the graves of Allied air force and naval airmen who died whilst undertaking flying training during W.W.2.  The RAF graves in the Montgomery Annexe commemorate the RAF airmen who died whilst undertaking Basic or Advanced training as part of the Arnold Scheme.  RAF Arnold Scheme airmen who lost there lives during Primary training are buried in Commonwealth War Graves in communities close to their training base.  There are are similar CWGC plots in towns close to where the six RAF British Flying Training Schools were located and others where Royal Navy and RAF pilots were trained as part of the Towers Scheme.
During W.W.2 the U.S.A. hosted and sponsored the flying training of many Allies – British, French, Dutch, Chinese, Mexican, Brazilian and other Latin-American nations.  Concise details and graduate numbers can be found in “The Army Air Forces in World War II – Volume VI”, (Craven and Cate).  These programs must have involved some fatal accidents and those airmen may also be be buried far from their homes and family.
During W.W.1, particularly the winter months of 1917 Canadian airmen where trained for the Royal Flying Corps at locations in Texas and I believe some of these men perished and are buried in the USA.
The Cemetery at Montgomery, Alabama has another annexe containing the graves and the names of French personnel who died in the USA whilst undertaking aircrew training.  



There’s a book about the project, here:  The Arnold Scheme: British Pilots, the American South, and the Allies’ Daring Plan. 


On the way back, we stopped at Peach Park in  Clanton, Alabama Peach Central.  Several years ago, when he was still in school, Joseph’s class took a field trip down that way.  The focus was some water education facility, followed by a visit to Peach Park.  His description of the peach visit was subdued and uninterested, and I remember mildly castigating him because this place certainly sounded like an Interactive Fruit Wonderland and surely he had not taken advantage of the opportunity to really appreciate it.  I probably said, “as usual,” too.

Well, after today’s 5-minute stop at the rather poorly kept and messy outdoor cafe (didn’t eat),  foodstuffs with the ominous label indicated that what was within had been “packaged for” this facility and a few creaky swings…

…I hope he’ll accept my belated apology….






7 Quick Takes

— 1 —

We returned home from running errands and dinner, and we could have hunkered down for the evening inside, doors closed, air conditioning humming, but instead we drifted outside.  For our trouble we saw huge lovely woodpeckers and a slew of bats sweeping overhead and I heard a steady stream of most interesting information on members of the animal kingdom who dwell from the deepest points of the ocean to the most arid desert.

— 2 —

The boys watched Napoleon Dynamite for the first time  a couple of weeks ago.  I hadn’t seen it in years, and of course it lost none of its oddness during that time.

Nor had it lost any of its quotability.  Every day, I hear at least one ND callback:

Make yourself a dang kay-sa-dilla, Napoleon!


How long did it take you to grow that mustache? About 2 days. 

They don’t, however, quote my favorites, which are:

Do the chickens have large talons?


I caught you a delicious bass. 


— 3 —

As I mentioned on Twitter, we watched North by Northwesthe other night and I’d forgotten how racy it is.  Awkward!  Love the Van Damme house in all its Mid Century glory.

Not complaining about Cary Grant in that towel, either.

Aside from the greatness of the film itself, what I found fascinating was the snapshot of American style, from New York westward, in the late 50’s.

But the greatest, most mesmerizing scene has nothing to do with constructed style – it’s those minutes in the midwestern (actually California) cornfield – and not just the iconic Cary Grant-chasing-crop duster.  From the moment the bus drops him off..watch the whole scene.  A human being alone, without any of the resources his position and status might afford him.  He’s dressed, but he’s stripped and he’s alone in that expanse, in the world.

What will he do? What can he do?



— 4 —

While I was in New York, I saw A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, which one the Tony for Best Musical this year, and is based on the same early 20th century novel as the Alec Guinness classic, Kind Hearts and Coronets.  For copyright reasons, they can’t make any sort of connection between play and film explicit though.

It was enjoyable – if nihilistic, but of course, we can’t blame that on the 21st century because it’s in the source material.  The main attraction, as it was in the film, is the fact that a single actor plays all the murder victims, in this case, the amazing Jefferson Mays, who was quite entertaining to watch.  If we are going to compare film and play, well…the play wins for having a far more compelling actor to play the murderer, but the film wins for the ending, which I much preferred. In both productions, the villain, it’s clear, will not get away with his crimes, but in the film it’s a subtler and grabbier, if that’s a word, which it isn’t, but too bad.  I was told, however, that in order to make the distinction between play and film quite clear (again, for copyright reasons), the endings couldn’t be the same.

— 5 —

Hmmm…about that novel.  It’s called Israel Rank: The Autobiography of a Criminal and what intrigues me is that is seems to be, in part, a satire of Edwardian anti-Semitism.  Looks like I may have to add it to the list…..

If I EVER finish No Name.   It’s FREAKING ENDLESS.  But  – I must say..I am enjoying it immensely.  It’s definitely a page-turner, and I will report when finished.  So set your calendars for March 2015.

— 6 —

Last Thursday morning, in my NYC wanderings, I wandered Chelsea.

My hotel was on west 37th – just a couple of blocks from Penn Station – and for some reason I had it in my head that Chelsea was down in Lower Manhattan – even though I’ve walked the High Line before and done some gallery strolling with Ann.  But when I was trying to figure out how to structure that day, I finally came to some comprehension of basic Manhattan Geography, and saw that I could do some Chelsea wandering, return to my hotel, check out, check my luggage with them, and then go down to lower Manhattan for the rest of the day, and make it work.

I had done a bit of research as to what was happening in the Chelsea galleries and saw that the installations at the Pace Gallery might be interesting.

They were.

Tara Donovan is the artist. 

Now, first.

I am interested in all sorts of art, from any and every era and perspective, because I’m mostly interested in human beings and the world.  I’m interested in what the world really is and how human beings live in that world, perceive it and navigate it.  Art is an expression of that, and it is what it is.  We who live out of a spiritual context might look at much of contemporary (the last century or so) art and scoff because it seems so shallow to us, so superficial.  And perhaps it is (or isn’t).  That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t attempt to understand it or we should close ourselves off from.  On the contrary. If this is how people think, so be it, and we have to understand it – or at least try.

All that is to say…if you make it, I’ll look at it, and try to understand it, and perhaps take a shot and understanding you in the process.

So that Thursday morning, I walked into the Pace, greeted the Straight-From-Central-Casting-Gallery-Vassar-Grads in their black shift dresses, then walked into the first gallery:





I was mesmerized.  They are constructed of note cards, they are supposed to make me ponder issues of accumulation, and they did, but they also reminded me, quite strongly, of the tent rocks and hoodoos of New Mexico. 

And then you turn the corner into the next gallery and:







It was the most astonishing sight.  The sculpture is made of thousands of acrylic rods, but the effect is…fuzzy.  Isn’t it?

I stayed for a while, me and the two chatty security guards, but I could have stayed longer, thinking about why spend so much time, piling up tiny bits of life in order to make something else, and how beautiful those things can be.

Why indeed.

— 7 —

My daughter is living and working  in southern Germany for a while.  She bought a drindl because, as she says, you see them everywhere.  She sees women wear them to Mass and at the festivals (which are frequent), not wearing one pretty clearly marks you as a tourist..and we can’t have that!


For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

As you know, last week, I went up to New York City. 

The boys were down in Florida. So for a few days, Rocky was alone.  This is okay, and actually one of the reasons why, after years (decades) of being hounded about a pet, I finally gave in to this particular animal.  You can leave him and not have to pay people to take care of him.

So I returned from NYC  early afternoon on Friday, and Rocky was, indeed, still alive.  Go, Rocky. Later that evening, I changed his water, said good-night and went to bed. I had Saturday to do things and then would be heading down to get the boys on Sunday.

Saturday morning, I got out of bed, got ready to go exercise,  peaked in the front room to check on the snake…and saw….the door to his cage opened wide.

Rocky had had enough, apparently, and run away.

What happened?  I must have been careless and not secured the latch properly, and in his nighttime strolls around his tank, Rocky made the tremendous discovery of a loose door and naturally made the most of it.

So yes, I panicked.

I didn’t care two hoots about a snake around the house.  I’ve learned over the past weeks that these ball pythons are gentle creatures who don’t do much more than slide, wrap themselves around your arm, and stare.

No, what upset me was the prospect of telling Rocky’s 9-year old owner the next day that his PET WAS MISSING AND IT WAS MY FAULT.

I mean, the second part of that is bad as is the Worst Mother 2014 award, but of course, not nearly as awful as the first.  The thought of the sadness upon receiving this news was just too much.

So I took a quick look, foolishly hoping that would do the trick.  He’d just turn up or come when I called.

They are called “ball” pythons because they like to, well, curl up in balls.  During the day, or when stressed, they get in a dark, warm place and wrap themselves up to stay.  So, sez The Internet, when your ball python escapes, look behind books and bookcases, in drawers, in clothes baskets…all of which I did for a while.

I don’t have a cluttered house and really, when it comes to the main level, the hiding places are limited.  What I was worried about was the prospect of Rocky traveling down into the basement, which is finished , with two large rooms and a double garage.  That’s not too cluttered either, but there I do have one room with quite a few large plastic bins stacked up, and I thought…well, I’m going to have to move them all.   I was also concerned that if he got down there, he would find a way outside, and then the game would really be up.

So I was peaking and moving, sort of randomly, increasingly sick as I imagined the conversation the next day and Michael’s tears.  Then I decided, I’m going to stop imagining that conversation because that conversation is NOT going to happen because I am GOING TO FIND THE SNAKE.   I had almost 24 hours.   I was GOING  TO FIND THE SNAKE.

It was time to get methodical.  I needed to clean house anyway.  I started in the front room, where the tank is, and which also happens to be the school room.  I removed the books from every bookshelf, dusted, and returned the books, shoving them all the way back so that if did find his way there, he couldn’t get behind them and I wouldn’t have to repeat the process.  I moved said bookshelves, took out every cushion, cleaned out the art materials.

No snake.

Move on to the dining room, which has hardly any hiding places, then the boys’ rooms, which have more, the bathrooms and the living room.  No snake.  I was feeling sick again and by that time convinced he had gone downstairs.  I returned to The Internet which assured me that these snakes rarely go further than 10-15 feet from their enclosure when they escape.  Okay.  Maybe he wouldn’t have gone downstairs.  Time to search the kitchen.

Again, not too many places for Rocky there.  All the cabinet doors had been closed.  There is one small bookcase which I searched, cleaned and moved.  One small cube-storage unit.  Same procedure.  No snake.  Scooch out the refrigerator, which stands across a corner.  No snake in the corner. Bend down, peek into the exposed innards of the fridge.


I poked him. He moved.


Do you know how happy I was?  Any clue?

In retrospect, that was actually the first place I should have looked, because all of the ‘HELP MY SNAKE ESCAPED discussions seem to lead off with “behind and inside the fridge” as a popular python destination.

Now my challenge was to get him out.  I hadn’t moved the refrigerator far enough to actually get my whole body back there, and the way he was positioned, I was afraid that if I did move it, he would be crushed.  So I did my best to reach him, but, naturally, he reacted by….slithering in the other direction, completely out of sight.  I had no idea where he’d gone – I couldn’t see any glint of his body, I couldn’t discern any opening…for a while I was afraid he’d found a way into the refrigerator or freezer from behind and was freezing to death, but then I reasoned that he wouldn’t move toward cold.

Well, at least I knew where he was.   It was late afternoon and I needed to go to Mass, and I could actually go with a bit lighter heart, knowing the snake wasn’t on the loose downstairs or, even worse, outside. I closed off the kitchen and went off, so relieved.

When I returned (a little more than 12 hours to go in this operation! We can do this! ), I looked, but still couldn’t see him, nor could I for most of the evening, as I periodically tried to search him out.  Here was the thing:  I knew at night he would come out…if he was alive.  I was just afraid that he wasn’t, you know, alive.  That I had, indeed squished him, or that he had frozen to death.   So instead of having the “Rocky escaped and it’s my fault and I’m SO sorry” conversation, I would have the “Rocky might be stuck and/or dead somewhere in the refrigerator” conversation.

But then, around 11…glory be.  Amid the dusty metal and tubing, a beautiful pattern of tan and black.  Still in those innards, but in a different spot than before, and moving..clearly readying himself for his nocturnal prowling.

In other words: Not dead.

So it was time do to what they tell you to do when you’ve got the snake cornered, but you can’t reach him.

You wait.

With one door to the kitchen closed, and the other blocked with some posterboard, I put out his water dish in the middle of the floor,  turned out the lights in the kitchen, pulled up my chair just beyond the barricade, took out my Kindle, and did just that.

It only took about fifteen minutes.  I glanced up, and there he was, stretched out in all his Rockyish glory, gliding across the floor.

never imagined I would be elated to see a snake on my kitchen floor.

No, I wouldn’t have to have that conversation.

Sorry Rocky,  Independence Day is over.   I picked him up, put him in the tank , closed and latched the door…

… with a particularly hefty hole punch on top of it.  Just in case someone got any ideas.

"amy welborn"

Sorry, Rocky. This is where you live now, not in the refrigerator.


— 1 —

Almost back from NYC – perhaps by the time you read this, I will be safely back in Alabama.

Speaking of Alabama, it occurred to me today in walking around Manhattan that, even taking it proportionally, the number of men I’ve seen walking around shirtless in the middle of Alabama towns pales to the number I’ve seen in Manhattan. Today.

— 2 —

I would post a map of my walking over the past three days, but it would be nothing but a blur of blue lines over a map of the island.  I try to walk five miles a day back home for part of my exercise, and I don’t think I’ve failed to meet my quota this week.

— 3 —

The boys haven’t been with me. They have been with their Florida family.  I have been of two minds about this all week.  It’s been pleasant to be able to eat what I want without concerns about the more selective palates of other members of my family, and it’s also been good to just..wander on my own. Not going to lie about that.

But I realized early on that I missed them.  Not only did I miss them just because I missed them, but I guess I am so deep in my Travel Guide/Educator/Facilitator mode at this point in my life that I actually found it a bit difficult to adapt to solo sightseeing.  What is there to see when I don’t have someone else to show things to? It was quite revealing to me, and gave me much to think about regarding my own instincts and motivations.  I need very much to see life on my own, but also to tell others about it and help them see as well…and then more time alone to process it all.  Then it’s a complete experience.

— 4 –

Museum highlights:

The New York Historical Society. Interesting exhibits all around, but of special interest is their Bemelmans/Madeline exhibit – very sweet, in one respect, and inspiring in another.  I love to learn about the creative process, whether the creators be artists, writers, scientists or builders.  I find the dynamic of inspiration and creativity endlessly fascinating.  The exhibit on the European-born but ultimately New York-based Bemelmans took three rooms in the museum, with a generous selection of original artwork, manuscripts and some of his earlier work, and much about his life in New York – most of which concerned hotels for one reason or another.  As a person who grew up with Madeline and who has read it aloud so many times over the past thirty years that she has most of the first book memorized, this was a lovely treat.

Related – the New York Pubic Library’s exhibit on children’s books.  Well done with some omissions.  Of course, not a religiously-oriented book in sight (lest you think I’m being picky, they did feature various educational books for children, and what books have educated more children up to the 20th century that religious, mostly Bible-related books?) and, I realized after I left, no mention of N. C. Wyeth.  I responded to myself that, well, this mostly about picture books, and Wyeth illustrated mostly novels for older children and teens,  but I have to say that there was one wall – pictured below – dedicated to Edward Stratemeyer, the originator of the syndicate that produced the vast majority of super popular series books for children and teens from Nancy Drew to Tom Swift – look at the number of series (each square represents one).

So..yes..I think Wyeth should have been given a case!

"amy welborn"


"amy welborn"


Finally, the Museum at Eldridge Street – a gorgeous Orthodox synagogue built in 1886, essentially abandoned by the 1950’s, rediscovered in the 1970’s and restored over the past twenty years.  It’s so deep in Chinatown that I kept walking and walking, convinced that Google Maps had done me wrong once again – but then there it was, standing tall between the noodle shops and foot massage services.  I was led on a mostly individualized tour by a sweet intern named Luna, who adjusted her talk down a notch when she learned I wasn’t Jewish, explaining to me what the Torah was, and such.  That was okay – I appreciated her enthusiasm.

She emphasized over and over again the poverty of most of the congregants who contributed to build this lovely place of worship and community – that it was an expression, not only of their devotion to the Lord, but also of their own strength and sense of community, as they worked hard to construct something beautiful and lasting.

"amy welborn"


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One corner is left unfinished, not only to show the restoration process, but also as a reminder of the Temple.


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The bimah, from which the Torah is read, faces the Ark, which holds the Torah scrolls. Faces east.

— 5 —

Speaking of such things, I made a particular effort to visit all three of the churches in the current controversy involving potential closures of certain NYC parishes: Holy Innocents, St. Francis and St. Michael’s.  I was at Holy Innocents Tuesday evening during Adoration, then today during the noon Mass, St. Francis yesterday and St. Michael’s today.  More on that tomorrow, when I’m not quite so tired.

"amy welborn"

St. Michael’s on 34th.

— 6 —

Also Old St. Patrick’s today:

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"amy welborn"

— 7 —


Lunch Tuesday: Tapas at Boqueria

Dinner Tuesday: Hospitality hour at my hotel – they are working really hard because they just opened, and it was substantial!

Lunch Wednesday: Grazing at Broadway Bites: Arancini, Empanadas and summer rolls.

Dinner Wednesday: Gennaro’s

Breakfast Thursday: Pain au Raisin from Eric Kayser.  Eric Kayser is one of the more chi-chi bakeries in Paris.  I only went to one once, just to try the bread, which was said to be THE BEST – it was fine, but I was content to stick with one of the three normal, not-chi-chi but truly excellent bakeries on my block when we were in Paris.  BUT – I do adore Pain au Raisin – it was my favorite pastry during that month.  So of course, when I saw that Kayser had crossed the Atlantic, I had to go – and yes, it was just the same, and was wonderful.

Lunch Thursday: Fantastic Falafel at Taim, consumed a park across the street from the tiny restaurant, a park where children played on the climbing bars and in the water spraying from the ground, where a crew of old men played dominoes, where another man slept on a bench and a young woman, seated and wrapped in a proper salon cape, was getting her hair cut and styled by another young woman there under the trees.  An excellent slice of life. I thought, “Why don’t I live here?” But then I thought, “Because it costs a zillion dollars and they have winter.”

Thursday gelato – at the famed and trendy il laboratorio di gelato. It was nice, but nothing spectacular.  In particular the rosemary was so subtle as to be almost undetectable.  Yes, you would have to be careful, but I once made a rosemary lemon sorbet that was a knockout, with the rosemary coming through loud and clear, but still softly.

Dinner Thursday: Cafe Sabarsky with Ann.  \We did not see Yoko Ono, whom Ann had seen there at a previous visit a couple of months ago..

And after dinner, a stroll down Madison down to the Hotel Carlyle with, appropriately enough, a drink in the Bemelmans Bar – a charming (and expensive) place – the walls all painted by Bemelmans himself. It was really the perfect way to wind up the week.

One more food related take: One of the oddest things I saw over the past few days was today in Chinatown.   A woman at an outdoor food market was crouched in front of a tub of water, which was in turn, teeming with live eels.  Her purse and shopping bag next to her, she had a plastic bag sheathing her hand, with which she was reaching into the bin of eels.  She worked for several minutes, but in the time I stood there watching her – probably about five – she could never actually get one.  I thought at first she was simply being selective and trying to find the eel that was just right, but I don’t think that’s what it was – she just couldn’t grab one, proving that “slippery as an eel” is more than a metaphor.


For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!


So I saw the newest instagram #hashtage craze in action tonight - #StagedoorSelfie!

According to this article, it’s Daniel Radcliffe’s fault - you know, Harry Potter, now starring in The Cripple of Inishmaan

I haven’t actually seen the play (yet). I thought about going to the matinee today, but when decision time rolled around, I was enjoying wandering too much to go sit inside a theater for two hours.   I might go tomorrow night…not sure.  Probably not – I’m not that interested in it.

Nonetheless, this evening, after a great dinner with Ann Engelhart at Genarro’s up on the way upper West Side -

"amy welborn"


"amy welborn"

I had to have the fava bean salad, because I’ve never had fava beans and they are iconic and some people are fanatics about them…excellent.  A vegetable risotto as well. 

And after shooting by Grant’s Tomb and the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, she dropped me off at my hotel, but it was just ten o’clock, so time for some more wandering.  I decided to hit a couple of stage door crowds just for the sake of observing the scene, which is always interesting to me.

(Years ago, when I brought my daughter up, she had lovely encounters with Geoffrey Rush after Exit the King and Bill Irwin after Waiting for Godot.  John Goodman, also in Godot, wasn’t as nice, and very quickly strolling off with Tim Robbins, who was around for some reason – I think he or Susan Sarandon was in another show nearby.)

First up was Inishmaan.  The 99.9% young female crowd was supervised by a very patient police officer. About twenty minutes after the show ended, the squeals rose up, and out popped Radcliffe, all smiles – and although I knew this beforehand, I’ll just say it….he’s tiny.  The Internets says he’s 5’5″, but I dunno….



The crowd gathers


"amy welborn"

That’s Radcliffe there in the middle…the short one…

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Blurrily doing the stadoorselfie thing



As the article I linked above relates, he takes a long time with fans – and he did.  I started across the street from the crowd, but moved over eventually, hoping for a slightly better view, which I never got, considering he’s short and I’m short and the layers of taller girls on tip-toes holding up phones between us.  But I did watch him very cheerfully take all those selfies – with unflagging energy and a big smile.   He didn’t greet everyone – maybe about a third of the crowd.

(I saw this little girl and her mom running across the street after this moment – ecstatic – it was cute.)

Next, I walked down a couple of blocks to the St. James, where Of Mice and Men had just let out.  I was actually a little more interested in seeing Chris O’Dowd than the very odd James Franco, but apparently O’Dowd comes out first, and I’d missed him.  Waited just a bit, and Franco came out also to squeals, maybe not as high-pitched as I’d heard earlier.  He worked the line a little differently – while Radcliffe’s crowd had been aligned on two sides, this one was just on one – the cop there said, “He doesn’t like anyone behind him.  He’s claustrophobic.”   He signed autographs, posed, but did the selfie thing in groups – he repeatedly told people, “Everyone turn around, turn your back to me” – and he’d stand there in his shades while about 5 people took selfies with him at the same time.  It was interesting to watch.

"amy welborn"


"amy welborn"




More on the rest of the day (oh, and yesterday, I guess!) tomorrow morning, I hope.  Some of it’s on Instagram…


Memphis was our final stop last week.  Once again, is was one of those places I’d been to before, briefly, but the boys had only driven through.  And all I’d seen was a quick walk through down Beale Street and Graceland (Yes, I’ve been to Graceland, Graceland, Memphis, Tennessee).

Stayed in a great Residence Inn downtown – Residence Inn has several properties in older hotels or apartment buildings (like this one in midtown Atlanta which I like a lot – big apartments) that are quite spacious – even more so than the usual Residence Inn.  After three days of staying in the same room with them and sharing a bed with the youngest, I was ready for space, especially since I had a Living Faith devotional due the next day and really needed a closed door behind me to focus on that.

(It worked! Got it done! Met the deadline! While traveling!)

"amy welborn"

View from the hotel – Mississippi River down the street

Wednesday night, we walked down to Beale Street, which was something else – there was some kind of motorcycle convocation going on, which added to the cacophony, but I think it’s always fairly crazy at night – I wouldn’t have kids there after nine, definitely.  It’s like people are trying to get their entire New Orleans jam on right there on one street instead of spread out through the Quarter.

"amy welborn"

Beale Street, the calm part.

Ate dinner at the Blues City Cafe which was decent.

(The thing about going to BBQ restaurants is that they’re quick, since most of the food is already prepared – good for traveling with kids. If they’ll actually eat the food, that is.)

Thursday morning we:


"amy welborn"

Memphis on the Big Muddy


"amy welborn"

Finally reached the Gulf


Took the monorail over to Mud River Park and walked the 1/2 mile long scale model of the Mississippi River.  Very interesting and well-done.  A good thing for them to experience and learn from. The museum, while being a little dated in its 70’s-80’s design and feel, is surprisingly good.

Retrieved our stuff and our car, then started back home.  With stops at:

"amy welborn"

Lorraine Motel, site of Marin Luther King Junior’s assassination

The Lorraine Motel/Civil Rights Museum.  We didn’t go in.  Honestly – we have been to three important Civil Rights-related museums the past months – in Birmingham, Montgomery and Atlanta – so right now, at this time, with home looming on the horizon…just coming to the site of MLK’s assassination, and reading the material outside was enough.  Maybe another time:

"amy welborn"

Lunch across the street at Central BBQ.  Good, probably not the best – not sure if it’s classic Memphis BBQ or not.

Quick drive down to Graceland – we didn’t get out of the car, but I was curious, as ever, to do even some quick people watching around the site.

"amy welborn"

Imagine there’s no Elvis….

And have conversations about idols and reverencing and real saints.

Super quick drive-by of Elvis’ birthplace in Tupelo – had never seen it myself.  It’s tiny.

"amy welborn"

Elvis birthplace in Tupelo

Then back through miles and miles of gorgeous, undeveloped rolling hills of northwest Alabama.

And now…good morning?

"amy welborn"


(Not Birmingham. Follow me on Twitter or Instagram to see more!)

7 Quick Takes

— 1 —

That trip is done – we returned home about 6 this evening, relieved to see that Rocky was still with us.

"amy welborn"

No, he wasn’t left loose while we were gone. He’s just chillaxin in his freedom.

(When you watch videos related to “my snake won’t eat” as I have been doing lately, you see how many snake owners keep their ball pythons in nothing more than Sterilite plastic drawers with torn up National Enquirers for bedding, so you think, “Well, maybe I shouldn’t worry…”  But you still do.  Because he’s growing on you and you have NO BLOODY IDEA what you’re doing.)

(Speaking of snakes, my exercise podcast this evening was almost a parody of BBC earnestness, which is like NPR earnestness but far more charming and far less pompous.  It involved a woman accompanying a herpetologist who was going to show her adders that live in Scotland.  So they tramp about the moors or what have you looking for the adders – which he knows are here because this is where they live – but without seeing them.  It’s fifteen minutes of two Brits, in hushed tones, breathlessly talking about how lovely the adders will be when they finally come out.  It was, indeed….breathtaking. But perhaps not in the way they intended…)

(Yes, they finally saw an adder, but the buildup was something else.)

— 2 —

We last left the merry party in St. Louis.  The next day found them till in St. Louis, at the City Museum:

"amy welborn"


For those of you who don’t know about it, the City Museum is an extravagant, lush, stimulating play space that encourages exploration and daring.  The place is full of tunnels and mazes, and chances to (safely) climb to great heights.

If you are within five hours of this place…it’s totally worth it.  Your kids will thank you, love you and be super grateful.  For five minutes before they resent you again.

I knew we would spend a good deal of time there on Tuesday….I didn’t anticipate it being all day – from just past opening to almost closing time.

"amy welborn"

"amy welborn"

"amy welborn"

Yes, you can climb in the planes.

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Very Gaudi-esque, I thought.


"amy welborn"


"amy welborn"

Even the aquarium is quirky.

— 3 —

After we left the City Museum, we stopped at the St. Louis Science Center, just blocks from our hotel, and advertised as free.  We’ll go for free, especially if we just have an hour to kill before that closes.

Well…yes…free admission…but with a $15 parking fee.

Oh, well.  We’re on vacation.   We took it in anyway, and at that point, an hour was just about right. As far as those damn places go, it seemed okay.   They played around with some structures, but what amazed me was the fact that they spent probably 20 minutes on math puzzles.  I mean, they’re both sort of mathy – but I didn’t think they were that mathy.

"amy welborn"


"amy welborn"

"amy welborn"

— 4 —

The next day, we hit the zoo, also “free.” Yes…”free” because of yet another $15 parking fee. (You could park on the road in Forest Park of course…but then you’d have to walk a mile by the time we got there…..). The St. Louis Zoo also has several attractions that cost money – a stingray petting tank, the children’s zoo…so “free” goes out the window pretty quickly.   (We didn’t do any of that stuff, anyway.)

It was a good zoo, albeit with a confusing layout.  The highlights for us were hippos, one o which slipped in the water and spent several minutes masticating a fish, without much success, as well as the reptiles.  Of course.

(I learned that Marlin Perkins – he of MUTUAL OF OMAHA’S WILD KINGDOM! fame had been director of herpetology at the zoo back in the ’20’s.  They had a huge python that refused to eat, so they had to force feed it, and they did so publicly, drawing thousands to the spectacles.  

That story gave me an odd sort of hope for our Rocky, who has yet to eat for us….)

The Herp building was old, classic and gorgeous.

9-year old Michael, the animal lover in our group, did remark on the way to the zoo, though, “You know…now don’t think I don’t want to go because I’m saying this, but sometimes..well, sometimes I feel sorry for the animals in the zoo.  They say it’s good for them because it saves endangered species, but I don’t know…I still feel bad for them.”

And who can disagree?

— 5 —

In my preplanning, I’d thought we would hit the art museum after the zoo.  But then I looked at the museum’s holdings and thought…I don’t know if it would be worth it at that particularly juncture in time with this party.  So then I thought we’d do the history museum, partly so we could visit the exhibit on the 1904 fair and by doing so, do some sort of homage to our own Vulcan.   

But the zoo took longer than I’d expected, we were all a little weary and were going to be moving on to Memphis afterwards, so I made an executive decision that we needed a different sort of space before we hit the road again, and so we went to the Basilica instead:

"amy welborn"


— 6 —

Now, some of us have done one or all of these St. Louis sites before.  We went to St. Louis about 9 years ago – both boys were born, I know – and we went to the City Museum then, but Joseph, who would have been 4, didn’t remember any of it.

The time before that, as I mentioned in my last post, occurred when Joseph was a tiny baby and I was speaking at the St. Louis Eucharistic Congress.  The three of us were touring the Basilica, and as we reached the area behind the altar, we encountered a Cardinal.  I don’t remember who it was, but he was European, and must have been there for the Congress.  I think it must have been Schotte.   And so there we were, Mike and me with our two-month old, and the Cardinal stopped, said hello, and blessed the baby.

Yesterday, I walked behind that altar again, Joseph, now 13 at my side, and another Michael. I paused and told Joseph the story, and felt a slight twinge, but not a terrible one. Mostly I felt gratitude and hope, because if I didn’t, what was the point of being there?

"amy welborn"


"amy welborn"

— 7 —

Our meals improved during those last two days, thank goodness:

Lunch on Tuesday at Rosalita’s Cantina down the street from the City Museum was good, higher end Tex-Mex.  There was a statue as well as an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe on the wall at the front door, with a big plastic box affixed, inviting donations to St. Cecilia parish.   Invitation accepted!

Dinner that night was on The Hill – Anthonina’s Tavern, mostly because I told the boys they had to have toasted ravioli if they were in St. Louis.  They were doubtful (because they always are), but actually loved  and devoured it.

Wednesday lunch was the Courtesy Diner after the zoo – it’s right across the interstate – a diner experience is always fun with kids.

Wednesday night in Memphis, we walked down to Beale Street, just because that’s What You Do – there was some sort of motorcycle convocation which was interesting but deafening.  We made it quick at the Blues City Cafe which was nothing special, but nothing awful either.

Thursday lunch, also in Memphis, was at Central Barbecue, right across from the Lorraine Motel, which was kind of odd, but I guess okay…

"amy welborn"
(And don’t even scold me about not finding the perfect Memphis BBQ…I do what I can where I am with the people I’m with….)

More on Memphis in the next post…

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

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