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Posts Tagged ‘7 Quick Takes’

— 1 —

The most surprising cooking success of the week was the arancine.  I had never even made risotto before, but this turned our spectacularly and wasn’t even hard.

(No photos because honestly, I didn’t have time to take pictures of my food. Did you?)

The risotto takes time, yes (about 25 minutes of constant stirring/adding stock/stirring) but as I said, wasn’t a huge technical challenge.  I cooked the risotto on Tuesday, formed the arancini balls on Wednesday morning, refrigerated them, then fried them up right before dinner.  (Filled with a little bit of red sauce, some pancetta and relatively fresh mozzarella.)  They were just about perfect.

Arancine is just about my favorite thing to eat in Italy, and it may or may not be a good thing that I learned how to make them.

— 2 —

The drunken pork loin turned out well, too.  The recipe isn’t online, but it’s Marcella Hazan’s. 

— 3 —

I also made Michael Chiarello’s Caponata.  I had made it before, but this time the amount of vegetables seemed quite out of whack with the amount of sauce.  I observed this before I cooked the vegetables, so ended up putting only half of them in the pot, and it seemed just right.  Maybe I had a bigger eggplant?  Don’t know.

— 4 —

No, I’m not Italian, but it’s my favorite cuisine, so if you came to my house for Christmas, you were stuck with it.

— 5 —

Dessert?  Crostata with homemade ice cream.

— 6 —

Christmas Mass?  Christmas Eve at 10 PM at Casa Maria.  My adult son who lives in Atlanta discovered the hard way that his assumption that, “Huh…a 4pm Christmas Eve Mass? Who’s going to go to that?” was dead wrong as he wandered around the campus of the Cathedral looking for one of the three Masses going on that wasn’t standing room fifteen minutes before it started.  We didn’t have that problem, even in the sisters’ small chapel. It was full, but not packed.  Bishop Foley celebrated, the music was the usual simple, gorgeous reverence, and I didn’t have to stay up until 2 am.  

— 7 —

Looking for a daily devotional for 2014?  Try this!

"amy welborn"

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

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— 1 —

I have the unbelievable good fortune of having, for once, a well-timed writing assignment.  That is, I’m penning an Advent devotional aid….during Advent.  Yes, it’s for 2014, but still.  Anyone who’s engaged in writing these kinds of things can tell you that the work more usually involves writing about Good Friday on Christmas Eve and Advent on Pentecost.

So..no excuses on this one!

— 2 —

Saw the Google Maps car this week, parked at the library branch a block from my house:

google maps car

Also, I’m thrilled to discover that with the leaves down, I can see downtown Birmingham from my house.   A nice view. Better than the photograph, of course.

013

— 3 —

A spectacularly successful science demonstration this week - construct your own light bulb from batteries, wires, alligator clips, a toilet paper roll and a mechanical pencil lead.  It worked great – and led to lots of discussion and research on a variety of subjects: circuits, batteries, metals, the history of the light bulb…and so on.

"amy welborn"

— 4 —

Also successful was the science center’s homeschool class squid dissection. As per usual, I had the student teach the rest of us what he learned the next day, and it was clear he’d been engaged.  One of my Facebook friends did a cow’s 011eye dissection with her kids a few months back.  We did that in fifth grade, and it was really one of the more memorable educational experiences of my childhood.   Maybe we’ll give that a shot, too!

My dad was pre-med for a few months, and used to tell the story of having his cat on which to practice dissection.   Like, in the dorm shower.  He’d haul it out and study.

We’re not doing that.

(By the way, if you want to be a part of the digital expression of my homeschool hopes and dreams (read: fantasies) follow me on Pinterest, where, between the hours of midnight and 1 AM, I can often be found pinning my fabulous finds and plans into the ether…which is where they stay most of the time…predictably….

— 5 —

Huntsville Tuesdays are over!  FLL competition happened...and while it was fun and all, the team didn’t do well enough to make it to state.  Live and learn.

"first lego league"

I’d considered doing some Hunstville Thursdays in January (classes at the Space Center)  – but you know what? Nah.   We’re good.  January is pretty busy, what with basketball and all.

"amy welborn"

Fun while it lasted

— 6 —

Art class! From the 9-year old, who is not happy with this – his efforts from his third art class – because it falls short "amy welborn"of perfection, but I’m impressed.  (It’s ink, with the emphasis in the exercise being to keep focused on the subject – a white pitcher and a white teapot –  not the paper. ) (It also got cropped in the scanning, and I’m too lazy to do it again right now)  He came back with a story told by his teacher of an artist who had his students study the objects they would be drawing, but then run up a flight of stairs before they could begin.

— 7 —

Bambinelli! Sunday! 

….come see me in Charleston.…watch Ann on Telecare!

Come back next week for information on our giveaway!

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

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— 1 —

These will be super quick.  I hope.

— 2 —

I find the Pope Francis hysteria just a little bizarre.   I guess I’m glad, but I still find it, as a whole, what with the intensity and…elation – strange.  What people seem to get most excited about – or what they say they’re excited about – is what he has to say about mercy and evangelization.  Which is no different from what other recent Popes have said, including Pope Benedict.  And if you think that part of it is different, then you weren’t paying any attention to Pope Benedict.  Nor to Jesus Christ, apparently.   Some say, “Ah, but the tone is different!”  Really?   Again – were you listening to Pope Benedict?  Examples, please?   Pope Francis has a more effusive personality, and if that floats your boat, great – but if it prompts you to weep in gratitude for a new tone and a New Church in the making, I hope your 15th birthday is nice.

Short version:  let’s be concrete and specific and give examples.   What’s  is the “old” that the “newness” of Pope Francis is correcting?   

I’m not saying that his words and tone are identical to Benedict’s or John Paul II’s.  What I’m hearing is that people are excited that there is something fresh and new and super awesome here, and I just don’t understand what it is.   Because it’s not what people say it is because Francis is not saying things that his predecessors were silent about.

— 3 —

I add, quickly:  I appreciate what Pope Francis has to say, both when it affirms and when it challenges me.  I’m glad that people are being moved and am sure it will bear fruit, just as Pope John Paul II’s papacy bore fruit and Pope Benedict XVI’s papacy bore fruit.

My armchair take on Francis is that when I hear him or read him , what I hear is a fellow who has been in the hierarchy for a long time.  This hit me early on.  His concerns are those of a bishop, and they seem to come out of a bishop’s experience of dealing with interest groups vying for his ear, careerist or pastorally indifferent clerics, and a structure, on the parish and diocesan level, which, despite the best of intentions, so often seems to lose focus and evolve into a self-perpetuating, self-serving club blind to the needy and broken souls right at the doorstep.   It seems to me that much of what he says is an attempted and almost explosive corrective to all of that.

It’s also sort of like Pope Francis is having this continual discussion…even argument …but  none of the rest of us can hear what the other party’s saying.  So we’re confused and all looking at each other like

(insert amusing gif here)

?

— 4 —

Which is all to the good, but is also, I think,  just one aspect of Catholic life and even Catholic leadership.  To be honest, what doesn’t thrill me about Pope Francis is that his context and reference seems rather…narrow.   His words do not come across as thoughtfully, carefully and appreciatively situated in the experience – past and present  – of the whole Church.  Or even an awareness of all the different sorts of people who might be experiencing exclusion and alienation from Christ or his Church at any given time for a host of reasons, some of which might even surprise him. This puzzles me because, as the interview indicates, he is a deeply cultured person, but his homilies, speeches and exhortations reflect Jesus, Pope Francis and not a whole lot in between.  One could ask, well, what more is there?  Answer…a lot.   That’s what “Catholic” is.  A lot.   That is a tall order, of course, to be able to do that, but that deep and broad vision is, I would think, part of what being Pope is all about.   Unity.

The impact, then, is one of a very strong individual.   In the modern world, we like this, but quite honestly, I wonder – is this ideal?   Yes, all Popes are different, because they are human.  They have various gifts and flaws, yes.  But the ideal is that it shouldn’t really matter who the Pope is.   The only thing that Garry Wills ever wrote that I agreed with was in one of his books in which he remembered growing up Catholic when no one really ever knew or cared what the Pope said or did.   It just didn’t matter, because the experience of being Catholic was about more than the papacy.  Now, Wills probably had another agenda here – he was reacting against John Paul’s popularity – but the point stands, I think.   As interesting and inspiring as an individual Pope might be, the focus is supposed to be Christ.  If the Pope’s words or actions bring people closer to Christ – fantastic.  But if he starts functioning in too much of a 1 Corinthians 1:12 kind of way….we might need to refocus and get a grip.

— 5 —

Well.  I didn’t expect to write all that when I started.   Huh.

— 6 —

There’s a lot of rather patronizing commentary out there.  Is this patronizing?  Hmmm…. By that I mean commentary that pats worried people on the head and accuses the concerned of not trusting the Holy Spirit or being fearful reactionaries or some such.  Ascribing emotional motivations to those with theological, intellectual and spiritual questions, and therefore dismissing said concerns.   Not very merciful or compassionate, if you ask me.

There’s also this rather frantic need to harmonize this papacy with Benedict’s, with JPII’s, with Pius X’s…with…everything.   It’s a variation of the need to harmonize Catholic history into some sort of perfect consistency that just isn’t real.   I am not sure where that comes from.   It almost has that ahistorical Fundamentalist Protestant aura about it.

— 7 —

So there.  I’m trying to listen, learn, be open and realistic.  And pray!

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

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— 1 —

My last “Quick Takes” was posted before last Friday, which I spent in The City (shut up!) with Ann Engelhart.  We had a great time.   Took the train in from Long Island, where she lives, and headed for the Morgan, but not before dawdling in some of her favorite notions shops (she being a Creative and all) –  lie M & J Trimming.   I loved it.  Even bought some stuff.  Have no idea what I’ll do with it, but who knows?!

— 2 —

We spent a lot of time at the Pierpont Morgan library.  It had been closed for renovations the last time I was there, but this time had the added attraction of a special exhibit on the Eucharist.  Illuminating Faith:  The Eucharist in Medieval Faith and Art.   It was small, but wonderful  

Now, I had read a mildly critical review of this show at First Things, and now having seen it myself, I must respectfully disagree with Maureen Mullarkey.  She takes the exhibit to task (again, mildly) for placing the Eucharistic devotion expressed in the astonishing and beautiful books on display in the past, as if it were an ancient, lost belief.  I don’t agree.  First of all, the exhibit is explicitly historical.  It’s about the Medieval period, so it’s quite appropriate to retain that context.  Secondly, both Ann and I were impressed with the respectful and objective descriptions given of Eucharistic faith.  the displays were straightforward and unencumbered by any diversions into Comparative Religions territory.  This is what people believed, and this is how they expressed and honored that belief.  Period.  

Oh, and the work on display?  Gorgeous.  Intriguing.  Humbling.

— 3 —

Almost as absorbing was the other special exhibit: Old Masters, Newly Aquired – a gathering of drawings from various collectors.   I love going to exhibits with Ann – I can ask her all the dumb questions (“So…how do they make it so you can’t see the brushstrokes?”) and not quite so dumb ones, too (“What is a wash, exactly?”)

— 4 —

We then made our way to Eataly, at my request.   I really enjoyed it, although it also irritated me the same way having to pay 4 bucks for a baguette that would cost me 1 Euro in France irritates me.  This is normal, everyday food in Italy.  Why is it so exotic here and why must I pay a premium for it?

That out of the way, it was really good, and what I enjoyed most were the condiments – the fig preserves with a dash of chili?  Yes. 

eataly

— 5 —

And no, I did not kill Ann’s dog, although I was afraid I had when it was determined that he had found and consumed an entire bag of (not chocolate) candies I’d purchased and the fact that the candies were in the shape of raspberries was the reason there was red in his vomit, not that there was blood and he was dying because my candy had killed him was a big relief.

— 6 —

School!  Has Started!  Slowly.  But it’s happening.  Some curricula, some unschooling, which means we came back from the library loaded down with a couple of dozen books on pre-Columban cultures (still an obsession) and the history of (American) football.

And we spent a day at a local state park because people are just not tired enough at night, and by heavens, we’re going to change that…..

"amy welborn"

— 7 —

Bambinelli Sunday is HOT, baby!  As in, at some moments of the day, when the rankings are particularly sweet, even hotter than Sarah Palin!

(I have a bunch of copies now.  I have a speaking engagement next week, and if I have any left, I’ll put ‘em up for sale.)

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Real quick, for real, this time.

— 1 —

I’m winding up a very quick trip to the New York City area.  It’s the Catholic Marketing Network trade show, and I came up to help spread the word about Bambinelli Sunday – now available! For purchase!

"amy welborn"

— 2 —

What’s great is that illustrator Ann Englehart lives on Long Island, so I’m able to stay with her.  She picked me up at JFK yesterday morning (yes I made my 6am flight), then we drove into Brooklyn and just wandered a bit.  She showed me some of her favorite shops, we had a nice long light lunch here and then a wonderful dinner here.  No museums, no big sites, just a part of the world I’d never experienced before and time well spent with a good friend, plotting out our next project….and yes, there is one!

— 3 —

Today we (well, she) drove over to Somerset, NJ, to the show.  Leaving around 8:30 to make absolutely sure we would get there by 11, we were amazed to arrive by 10 – no traffic, even heading towards the city on a weekday morning.

— 4 —

Signed lots of books for all the great folks who come to trade shows like this –  booksellers who are some of the unsung heroes of the frontline of pastoral ministry.  They’re the people who take the calls, “My son isn’t taking his children to church – is there a book I can give them?”  “My daughter has questions about the faith – what do you suggest?”  “I want to start reading the Bible more – can you help me figure out where to start?”

— 5 —

Also had the chance to talk with a lot of great folks in Catholic media.  We filmed an episode of Bookmark with Doug Keck.  I spoke with Al Kresta, Teresa Tomeo, Donna Cooper O’Boyle, Daria Sockey, Jennifer Fitz, Lisa Wheeler and many others.

— 6 —

What’s odd is to unexpectedly run into people from back home, which was the case when we walked into the hotel lobby and I saw Ellen Marie Edmonds sitting there –  Ellen Marie does beautiful, important work on dementia, and has an exciting new project related to the Sacred Heart.   We’ve been on Johnette’s program together and she’s from Birmingham.  I had no idea she was going to be at this show, so that was a nice surprise.

— 7 —

Then dinner with the great crew from Franciscan Media, along with Franciscan author Allen Wright.

Trade shows, like everything else in publishing, are definitely in transition.  I’ve been going to them for about 13 years now, and attendance and vendor participation is certainly  lighter now than it was then.  I understand that’s the case across the board – even the mega-gigantic CBA (the evangelical show) is much smaller now than it was when we went a couple of time in the early 2000’s.   It’s still a good experience, though.  It’s always good to see people, and tends to get the creative juices flowing

"amy welborn"

Credit: Franciscan Media

…we can only hope!

 

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— 1 —

Crazy. I thought about going to Rome next week.  Thought about it really seriously when I looked up the apartment we stayed in last November and saw that it was available 3/14-22.  I took it as a sign.  Airfare wasn’t hideous at that point (late last week), even from Birmingham – the only glitch being Those Darn Cardinals –  who have been in absolutely no hurry to set a Conclave date.   Would they jump right in and schedule it for the 11th?  Or wait the traditional amount of time and go for the 15th?  If the latter, this would work out. So I dithered and studied airfare some more. Then I actually wrote to the owner of the apartment who answered me that yes, it was vacant for those dates but the preceding guests were journalists, arriving the 7th..and they might want to extend their stay beyond the 14th.  Well, I said, of course they will if the Conclave doesn’t happen until the 15th…but go ahead and check anyway.  And of course, they’re staying for as long as it takes.

The owner offered me another apartment about a mile away from the Vatican, but that would mean walking that mile to get to St. Peter’s, squeezing on buses to get to St. Peter’s or sitting in a cab in traffic on the way to St. Peter’s, when the point of the original place is that it’s 3 blocks from St. Peter’s.  Making it, you know, very convenient. For journalists.

Well, that’s okay. It was just a spur-of-the moment crazy thing, anyway.

— 2 —

The only value that papal prognostications have  is the entertainment they produce after the conclave.

— 3 —

The other travel that I thought might be happening of late was a short trip to New Orleans this week with my daughter, home from college on spring break.  Then I looked up hotels on Kayak and wondered why the only hotels coming up were 1-star places in Houma and such.  Going to hotel websites turned up “no available rooms” time after time.  Finally figured out that there was a huge convention happening.  Bill Clinton speaking and everything. A friend suggested we go anyway and stay outside the city, but I said that I wasn’t interested in sharing New Orleans with 50,000 drunk health care managers.  So we’ve stayed put.

— 4 —

It’s always nice when she comes home because I have someone to cook for.  That is someone to cook for who will eat food that is a color other than beige.  Gives me a good chance for some Pinterest-ing culinary excursions. I’m also pleased to report that at long last, I think making pizza has entered the “routine” category for me.  I finally figured out that if you just make the dough at least a day ahead of time – I use this recipe - it handles much better, and the simple fact that the dough is done by the time it comes to fix the pizzas makes it all less daunting.

— 5 —

Watching House of Cards.  I’m enjoying it, and could easily binge-watch it, but am restraining myself.  It’s cable -ish, which means there’s profanity, so don’t say I didn’t warn you.  It’s not a documentary about politics, so don’t look for complete, careful and thorough excavation of life in D.C.  But Kevin Spacey is mesmerizing, to be sure.  His picture is next to “inhabit a role” in the Big Encyclopedia of Acting for this one. I’m five episodes in, and what I’ll say is that I’m sensing some unspoken, complex backstory – mostly in the relationship between Spacey’s character and that of his wife, played by the alarmingly and aggravatingly skinny Robin Wright – but if it’s not delivered (whatever it is)  – the absence of that layer is what will keep this series from reaching first-level quality.

— 6 —

Current reads in our house:  Swallowdale (11 year old) , The Castle in the Attic and Emil’s Pranks (8 year old), and all of us together, The Enchanted Castle and  Into the Unknown: How Great Explorers Found Their Way by Land, Sea and Air.    The last is a simply great book. There is no dearth of books on explorers and exploration out there, but this one is really special.  It’s well written – substantial, but not too overlain with detail – and the illustrations are marvelous.  In particular: each chapter includes a fold out section that incorporates a map and some other illustration   – of the structure of a boat or other craft, and so on.  This one is worth seeking out and even purchasing.

Over the past week, for history/religion, Joseph has been reading St. Benedict: Hero of the Hills.  After he reads a chapter, I have him narrate it back to me in some way, and I try to change it up.  So some chapters he simply tells me what happened (he takes notes and the point of the exercise is to teach him how to summarize and present), but then other chapters I have him draw using the whiteboard, and for the chapter in which St. Benedict dies, I had him pretend to be a monk come to give us the news.

— 7 —

Speaking of homeschooling, while I still generally try to not read homeschool blogs (agitates the soul and tempts one to anxiety), there are a couple of Facebook pages I find really helpful.  One is The Libertarian Homeschooler - in particular check out the lists she’s recently posted here and here.   The other is Kicking it Unschool.  I really appreciate the discussions and resources offered at both.

I may have recovered from house-shopping fever.  Not sure.  But I think that I’ve figured out a spot for a basketball goal.  That, combined with the feelings I get when I walk from my car, stop on my front porch and open the door to enter into the small, warm space of my living room – and then listen to the boys playing outside with the boy down the street or chatting with the older lady next door – I don’t think it’s time to leave that yet, especially with warm weather coming – I’ve seen some great decks and a fabulous back yard.  But none of it beats that front porch, not right now.

(This week, that is)

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7 Quick Takes

— 1 —

I have a bit of real estate fever.  Scratch that.  A lot.  In fact, I came back from Europe determined to do a couple of sort of big things to this place and then go shopping.  So far I’ve done nothing except clean out the basement, but that doesn’t stop me from spending an inordinate amount of time studying listings.   There’s no need , but what there is is a desire for a slightly different, more open layout, a little more energy efficiency than this 90-year old bungalow affords, and (frankly) space to put up a basketball goal.  My life would be transformed by a basketball goal.  No, not by me, personally shooting baskets, but other people. Not that they don’t play outside pretty much all the time anyway, oh, how they would love it.  And their play would be just that much more focused, which would be good.  And there’s just no good spot on my current property for it.  The driveway is narrow and slopes down from the minute it begins and the back yard is smallish.  If I had someone put in a even a smallish surface and goal back there..it would just have to be taken out before I sold the place – which I will, eventually.

Oh, and even though I’ve lived comfortably in a purging mindset for ages now and am not an accumulator, it would be a refreshing change to have more than three closets in my house.  People, I’m not kidding.  Three. 

So I’ve been looking.  Found a few possibilities, but I’m waiting to see what else comes up on the market this spring. I’m hoping just to find something else in my own area – in fact I have my eye on one house that’s not on the market, but records show it’s been put on and taken off a couple of times over the past two years…so I’m hoping the owner gives it another shot this year…that would be ideal.  Because I really love this neighborhood and I don’t really want to leave this part of town – there’s no traffic, I get downtown in about six minutes, I’m close to the airport, the interstate…as a friend who’s also toying with a move said, “My route.  I like my daily route, and I don’t want to mess that up.”

So we’ll see.

— 2 —

Curriculum Report I: 

We’ve started Latin.  I’m using Getting Started with Latin with the 6th grader, and I like it a lot.  It’s very laid-back, low key and..dare I say it? Easy. It’s just what is says – it’s about getting started.  We get through this, and then we’ll wind back around next year and begin a more formal study, but right now, this is perfect for a student unaccustomed to formal foreign language study who isn’t a strong memorizer, except of football stats.

I had thought Minimus would be good for the 8-year old, but I ended up sending it back.  It’s on a faster track than I had thought – too fast.  and since Getting Started is slower than I thought, he’s ended up just slipping in and joining us in that.

They like it – and probably partly because I like it.  I took four years of high school Latin and then two in college.  Second year was one of my favorite college courses.  It was taught by Dr. Harry Rutledge, who would stroll into class in his three-piece suit carrying only his copy of the Aenid, and we would spend the next fifty minutes sight-translating – turned out I had a knack for it – and listening to him spin yarns.

Latin – at the introductory level – elegant, pardoxically sturdy yet intriguingly flexible,  with the qualities of a puzzle –  appeals to my 11-year old boy quite a bit.

— 3 —

II

8-year old has been in Math Mammoth for a couple of weeks now, and I’m glad I chose it – and so is he.  It’s third grade, and so far it’s a lot of mental math practice with larger addition and subtraction problems, which he’s really glommed onto – again with the puzzle aspect – and he just started multiplication.  He knows his tables already, but the approach is such that it challenges him to flip problem around and look at them from different perspectives which he seems to find quite enlightening.  Thumbs up so far.

— 4 —

The Life of Fred is a very strange – on the surface – math series about a five year old who teaches mathematics at KITTENS University.  The titles of the volumes for younger children have nothing to do with math – Apples – Butterflies  – and such. (Middle school titles are more traditional  – 6th grader is on Fractions.)  You can read about the series here.  Some people use them as their sole math curriculum.  We are using them as supplements – again, to encourage them to think about numbers and mathematics in different, creative ways and to just learn to think mathematically.  All I can say at this point is that they are being devoured and Fred comes up in conversation several times a day….

— 5 —

So yeah, we read Rime of the Ancient Mariner this week.  Why? Because My Hot Shot Curriculum called for it?  No, because I was cleaning out the piano music and I finally found the Dover volumes of Dore illustrations – Bible, The Divine Comedy, and this – that my mother had given me ages ago, and I thought, “Hey!  Let’s do this!”

And what do I mean by “do?”  We sit on the couch and take turns reading it aloud – I do the bulk of it to save time and (my) patience, but they do big chunks, and are improving on this sort of thing all the time.  We read (over two days), I explain certain points, ask them to talk about other points, they ask (many) questions, we examine Dore’s rather gory pictures, and I point out a few well-known passages which they sort of memorize (if they’re short) and we might use for copywork later.  In this, for example: Water, water everywhere/Nor any drop to drink!   

Since we’d read the Book of Jonah earlier in the week – it was the source for one of the daily Mass readings one day, so might as well just read the whole thing – it’s only 4 chapters – we played just a bit with bouncing the two off one another.  Just a bit.  Don’t be too impressed.  That part of it is mostly me going , “Hey!  Did you notice blah blah blah blah blah” with them looking longingly at the front door.

Perhaps I should be aiming higher, and they should be writing papers or at least paragraphs about these works we’re reading.  Perhaps at some point we will get there.  But right now, I just want to sit on the couch and have us read to each other and talk about these works, examine pictures, listen to recordings and watch productions or snippets thereof, and through all of that, learn to associate great literature as something a person spends time with in the normal course of a day or week because it is interesting, entertaining,  intriguing and fun to explore and talk about, and reveals truths about ourselves and the world.

— 6 —

I read another book!  To Be Sung Underwater.  (I bought it during a sale – 2.99 Kindle edition a couple of weeks ago)  It was the first book in a long while that I found hard to put down.  But it faltered near the end, and since finishing it I’ve been able to see the whole more clearly.  It’s basically a story about how the past impacts the present and a woman’s attempts to make sense of that (unique!).  There is some great writing here – passages that I highlighted and copied out because they seem to so succinctly capture a moment.  McNeal has a true gift for voice and dialogue.  Every single character spoke in a unique, identifiable voice that was also recognizably human, from the main character’s husband and his rather arch self-regard to her mother’s frankness.  

But it was, in the end, that main character – Judith – who gave me second and then third thoughts.  I can’t really explain without going into plot detail, which I don’t have time to do and which will bore you if you haven’t read the book, but I’ll just say that this was a book I certainly enjoyed reading for the beauty and knowingness of much of the writing, but, in the end, the central character just didn’t ring true and the final turn of events was over-the-top contrived and neat.

Next up – more light reading as I revisit Venice and France…..

— 7 —

Praying for the Pope.  And his successor.  And us.

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As you know, we recently hosted a Robin family on the ledge of a window of my room. They’ve been gone a couple of weeks now, but we still think and talk about them.  That first day after they all left was very quiet and just a bit sad.  They were separated from us by many degrees of species-dom and by a window, but there watching them was more like looking in a mirror than through glass.

— 1 —

"Amy Welborn"

Surprising, beautiful new life. 

The eggs weren’t laid on Easter, but it was on Easter that our neighbor pointed out, “We think you have a bird’s nest on your window!” – and so, it was the day on which we discovered these gorgeous, perfect eggs – Easter eggs.


— 2 —

"Amy Welborn"

Helpless and dependent.

And ugly.

Sorry. They were.  Not a judgment!

But, my goodness. That yellowish skin, rubberband necks and pretty scary eyes that dominated their little heads?

 "Amy Welborn"

Songbird babies are altricial  – that is, they are hatched completely helpless, in contrast to precocial (rooted in a word meaning “precocious”) birds who are hatched more matured and able to walk and obtain their own food, once it’s shown to them.

 See! You learned something!

Speaking of which…

— 3 —

"Amy Welborn"

4 days after the first two hatched.

Why?

As you can imagine, this was an amazing learning experience.  We watched, we observed, we wondered, we asked, and we learned.  The best life science class ever.

Why do the babies stay in the nest? How do they know? How do their feathers grow? When will they open their eyes? What do they eat? Will another animal come eat them? 

— 4 —

"Amy Welborn"

5 days old

"Amy Welborn"

Change

Five days after the first two hatched, the change is amazing to see.  They’ve not just grown bigger, but are transforming.  What most fascinated me were the development of the wings – compare these with the little stubs they begin with – and the feathers.  It all happened so quickly, you can see why they must eat all the time..it almost looks painful.  It put in mind of horror movies where someone suffers strange attributes popping out all over his body.

"Amy Welborn"

7 days old

— 5 —

"Amy Welborn"

Feed me.


This photo says it all – all about parenting, don’t you think? Cross-species, at any age?

The parents were just as interesting to watch as the babies.  Both mother and father brought food, which was primarily worms and berries.  Joseph said he saw a bee being fed to them once.  If they were coming with food and saw one of us at the window, they wouldn’t land, but rather fly quickly away to a nearby branch.  They didn’t get too upset (in contrast to the mockingbirds at the front of the house, who regularly and violently chase after squirrels who venture too close to what I presume is a nest somewhere in a cluster of vines), but simply sat on that branch, waiting and chirping.  It seemed to me as if the adults definitely communicated vocally with each other when this happened, as if one was asking, “All clear?” and the other responding, “Not yet!”

"Amy Welborn"

(In order to get close-ups while they were feeding, what I did was to just set up a stepladder in front of the window. That way there was a standing structure there all the time which they could get accustomed to seeing as just part of the landscape.  If I saw that it was feeding time, I’d just stand on the ladder with my camera pointed down, and wait, never for very long.)

One of my readers reflected that this might be what we look like to God – always hungry, needy, begging.

— 6 —

"Amy Welborn"

12 days old

Trust your instincts

One of the most astonishing aspects of observing natural life, to be sure.  Such a mystery, this thing called instinct.

The instinct that tells them to crane their skinny elastic necks and open those beaks when they feel a jolt on the edge of the nest.  That tells them to stay put in that same nest, even as they crowd each other, must lie atop of each other and are slowly gaining the ability to move on their own. Still – they stay put.  All day, every day, they sit in the nest, little growing balls of fluff, waiting. As their eyes opened and they grew more aware, they began to watch for the parents, and follow their movements in the trees and on the ground.

"Amy Welborn"

But still, they remained. They knew it was not yet time to go.

(Except for the one that I’m thinking got blown out of the nest one blustery night a couple of days before this picture was taken…)

— 7 —

"Amy Welborn"

13 days after hatching, ready to fly away.

You’re ready. Go.

But then one day, like clockwork – or instinct – it is time to go.

I had worried about the baby birds before this day, because even though they waited with great patience most of the time, I could see their restlessness and watch them stretch and flap their wings.  I could see an accident happening, and that they weren’t quite ready to make it.

But then this day came – and they were.  As I wrote at the time, it took about 45 minutes.  One ventured to the edge of the nest, teetered a bit, then tumbled/flew to the ground.  Then the next, and finally, only this sibling was left. He remained in the nest alone for about ten minutes. He chirped, sat in the nest, popped up to the edge, then back down, then finally up – and down.

I could see them all for much of the rest of the day in the back yard, following one of their parents around, pecking at the ground.  I try to avoid anthropomorphizing the whole thing, but I swear, down there, those little ones really did seem…excited.

As if this is what they had been waiting for, as if this freedom to go, to be, to…fly – was what all the preparation, the resting, the growing, the endless eating, the watching and waiting had been all about.

Which, of course, it was.

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

Or, this week, Betty Beguiles.

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Yeah – a first time for everything. I’m trying to get back into a blogging groove (both here and at the other place – where I have, incidentally, posted all my posts related to my 2008 trip to Rome)..and these memes are a good way to get there.  For this 7 quick takes, I thought I’d share my 7 favorite items I’ve brought from my parents’ house – I haven’t brought much, but what I have, as they say, “speaks to me.” They are items that both match my own style (simple, color, not design-based, strong, not “pretty.”) and/or are suggestive of a time and place.

— 1 —

"Amy Welborn"

These glass mushrooms stood in our kitchen windows from some point in the 60’s on.  Had to have them in mine.

— 2 —

"Amy Welborn"

I don’t remember this ever hanging anywhere in our house. I found it in the basement. My aunt (my dad’s sister) was really into needlework during the 60’s and 70’s, and lived in the Southwest, so I’m guessing this was made by her. I really love it.  It’s so mod!

— 3 —

"Amy Welborn"

My mother was an artist. Unfulfilled and, well…enough about that.  She did manage to do some larger pieces that I brought, but I really like this one the best – small, simple, suggestive.

— 4 —

"Amy Welborn"

She was also a theater major.  This is a notebook she evidently had to do for a costume design class. I have it propped up and change the pages every now and then.

— 5 —

"Amy Welborn"

My parents were low-income academics during the 60’s (as were all academics at that time!) but from the beginning, despite the tight resources, they committed to buying one nice piece of art every year.  One resource for people like my parents – people of moderate means seeking to expand their personal art collections  – was Associated American Artists.  My parents bought several pieces through them, including two Thomas Hart Benton prints. This is one.

— 6 —

"Amy Welborn"

The last time I was up there – two weeks ago – which I hope will be the last time I’m up there before a real estate closing occurs, I thought I was almost done – I thought I was done going through everything, thought I had found every single box that I needed to go through…when tucked away in a closet, I found not one, but…four boxes of…MY STUFF.  Now, I had sort of been wondering where all of that had gone..and there it was.  All my gee-gaws and knick-knacks and dolls that had decorated every room from Indiana to Knoxville from 1960-1978. It was tempting to take it all, but upon reflection, I decided that I really didn’t care all that much, it would just be a few more boxes sitting here in Birmingham..and someone would find it all in the estate sale and take great pleasure in scooping up this treasure of mid-century girlhood.  So I just kept this one thing.  Manageable, small – a kicky, bright little wooden pencil holder that I probably got in the mid-60’s.  Sally Draper wants one, too.

— 7 —

"Amy Welborn"

Finally – this is the oddest thing of all, the least valuable, and the most valuable of all.
I always knew I would take this when it was time. There was no doubt.  The last time I was up there, I considered whether I should take it then or just label it as “DO NOT SELL” for the estate sale and then retrieve it later.  The risk was far too great, I decided, so I stuffed it in the back of my car and hauled it across Tennessee, southern Missouri, Arkansas, Mississippi, and back to Birmingham.

It’s a stepstool.  That’s all. We’ve probably had it since the 70’s. But the role it played at my parents’s house was high chair. Every child of mine – every grandchild, from Chris, born in ’82 to Michael born in ’04 – sat at my parent’s kitchen table in that chair.   Sometimes we’d turn it around and the back of the chair would function as a front rail to hold on to, and sometime it would face properly. But every one of them sat in it on visits, eating their morning cereal, their lgrilled cheese and lunch, and the hamburgers my dad cooked outside for dinner.

It’s beat up and dirty, but there’s no way I was going to let anyone else have it – if they wanted it.

And you know what? I expect that when I die…this just might be one of the items – one of the few – that there’s a fight over.

So what about you? What valueless, but immeasurably valuable items have you acquired?

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