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All right…after Friendship with Jesus was published by the Catholic Truth Society, Pope Benedict visited England.  During that visit, he gave a talk to school children at an event called “The Big Assembly,” and like all of the talks and homilies he gave at such events,  it was rich and so expressive of his skillful way of teaching, which is profound, yet simple..and yet again, not watered down…so…26811_W

Another book!

Again, CTS was a joy to work with.  In structuring this book, we combined the pope’s words with quotations from various saints.  The images are mostly of contemporary children engaged in activities that illustrate the call of Pope Benedict and the saints to follow Christ.  Here’s the text of the entire talk. Some images:

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Ann was interviewed about her work on this book here. 

The book was also picked up by Ignatius and is available here.  A beautiful introduction to the life of a disciple…IMHO.

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Those of you who have been reading for a while know that I have published four books with water color artist Ann Engelhart, including the latest, Adventures in Assisi.

The story of our collaboration goes back years – probably to about 2006 or 7, I’m thinking, when we were still living in Fort Wayne.  I received an email from this artist from Long Island who said she’d been reading my blog for a long time and that she, like I, had been profoundly affected by the papacy of Pope Benedict XVI.   She had read a dialogue Benedict had held with First Communicants in Rome and thought that the conversation would make a wonderful children’s book.  Would I be interested in working with her on it?

I have to be honest with you and admit that I did procrastinate in answering her first and subsequent emails. I had a lot on my plate, Michael was a baby, we were talking about moving.  But Ann, thank goodness, is persistent!

So, again, while we were still in Indiana, Ann and I began working on the book.  We actually finished a version and I started sending out queries.  I queried every Catholic publisher in the United States, and they all said, “No thanks.”  The reasons varied – the expense of publishing a picture book was the most frequently offered.  I was sort of amazed and – to be honest – couldn’t help but wonder if there was some anti-Benedict sentiment lurking there as well, or at least the sentiment that , “We’re not crazy about "amy welborn"Benedict, we can’t imagine people will buy a book for CHILDREN with Pope BENEDICT at the center.” And maybe even a little bit of “He’ll be dead soon, anyway.”

But..who knows.

Then one day, I had a brainstorm, and wrote to the good folks at the Catholic Truth Society in England. I think the Pope’s visit there had just been announced.  They loved the idea, and I kid you not, they had the book out and in print and available within probably five months.  And they did a beautiful job with the layout and reproduction of the art, with no trouble at all. It was amazing, and I’m still impressed when I look at the book’s interior.

Well, in the meantime, we moved to Alabama, Mike died, and in the midst of that, around Easter of 2009, Ann had the opportunity to present a mock-up of the book to..yup…

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What she is giving him, in addition the mock up of the entire book, is one of the paintings she did in which she superimposed an old image of Joseph Ratzinger at his First Communion over a contemporary scene of Bavaria.

Here’s the story, as she wrote it to me:

So we arrived at 8am the next morning and showed the paper to the Swiss guard who kept sending us closer and closer to the platform. When we got to the special section a tuxedoed man checked a list and looked us over and then said “Two of you can sit up in the prima fila and kissa da pope”. We were stunned!

The security was very tight and they kept checking their lists to see that everyone was seated in the proper seats. Archbishop Harvey paced back and forth consulting with various people in anticipation of the pope’s arrival. Finally, a helicopter (on route from Castelgandolfo) flew over the crowd and everyone cheered.

The audience was filled with the joy of Easter and was special because it was the day before Benedict’s birthday and near to his anniversary. There was lot’s of flag waving and singing in several languages and German oompah bands. The English speaking pilgrims who had been the most reserved began to sing Happy Birthday and everyone else joined in in English. The pope stood and did his customary open arm wave and bow.
 
Then it was time for greeting the cardinals, then bishops and the prima fila. Governor Bill Richardson was there and was among the first to be greeted.
I was really nervous and had tried to come up with a sentence that would get the point across in as few words as possible. I opened the book to the first page with Benedict hugging the child ( I later regretted that I hadn’t opened it to the page with Jesus walking with the children) and I had the print of his First Communion in my hand.
 
He was talking to a German family with four boys who were next to us. He definitely spent the most time with the children. My husband and I were very surprised at how he took his time with everyone…never giving the sense of being rushed.

So Benedict walked over to me, smiling and I kissed his ring. I didn’t introduce myself or my husband…didn’t say where we were from… or anything. I just kept to my script. ” Your Holiness, these are some prints of some paintings I did based on your catechesis with First Communicants” He took my hand and placed his other hand on the print of his First Communion. He smiled with recognition and paused and then looked at the other page. He didn’t actually say any words, he just made what sounded like an approving “hmm”. It is impossible to know what he was thinking, but I almost got the sense that he was touched and perhaps a bit embarrassed in a very humble way. That… or he was thinking, wow, this girl is really a loser (there I go again).
Then he said to me “Is this your work?” (“verk”, actually), to which I responded “Yes”. Then I said “we wanted to have many people hear your beautiful words.” He again responded with a “hmmm”. He paused to look again then someone took the book from him. Benedict then put his hand towards my husband and said to me “and this is?” I responded with “this is my husband and this is my son pointing back to Mark who was dutifully taking photos all the while. I must say that he waved and really beamed at my son who looked so adorable in his jacket and tie, waving and smiling back at the pope. After that was the best moment… he grasped both of my hands and looked me right in the eyes and said so sincerely “May God bless you”. I was almost taken back with the intensity of the moment. I said “and God bless you too” in return. Then he took my husband’s hand and said the same and he responded with “Happy Birthday Holy Father”. (We had a good laugh over that later).
Then Msgr. Ganswein (who really is quite charming) grabbed my hands and said “these are rosaries from the Holy Father for you and for your son” while smiling very broadly. He then gave my husband a set as well. I thanked him and said “Happy Easter”.
Ann adds a bit in 2014:
It is so funny to read the description of my little meeting with Benedict XVI of several years ago! Perhaps over time I have embellished the events in my mind…or maybe I was being somewhat modest in my description of how things happened…But I think I can honestly say (and my husband and son concur) that Benedict’s reaction was more than a “hmmm”. In fact, I would even say that it was a little gasp. Like, “oh my!” He seemed surprised and definitely laughed when he recognized himself as a little boy. Before saying “God bless you” in a very intense and personal way, he said something else to me, but sadly I couldn’t understand it! I have looked at the video many times and I can’t seem to make it out. But the words were affirming – probably something like “I appreciate what you are doing”, or “carry on with what you are doing” or “you are the finest artist the world has ever known” or “this will become the most important book of our time”. Yeah, probably something like that.

So somewhere between a “hmmm” and an “oh!” I experienced an extraordinary blessing that never would have happened if I hadn’t read about that beautiful conversation that Benedict had with the little children, and Amy hadn’t answered my email. I am enormously grateful for having the opportunity to collaborate on these projects with the great hope that they will help young families on their path to “friendship with Jesus”.

Some more images from the book:
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And that’s it – that’s the beginning, not only of a collaboration, but of a great friendship.

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Elizabeth Foss has published a lovely review of Adventures in Assisi – written by her 8-year old daughter!  Go check it out!

And…tomorrow morning at 7:35 am Eastern, I’ll be interviewed on the Son Rise Morning Show with Matt Swain, on EWTN radio – listen if you have a chance. 

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Well, the feastday of St. Francis is a bit more than a week away, so it’s time to start talking about the new book!

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Adventures in Assisi is the fruit of my interest in St. Francis as well as trips both Ann and I have taken to the town.  Ann has been twice, and I traveled there two years ago with my two youngest, on our epic 3-month stay in Europe.

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There are, of course, many books on St. Francis for children, but ours is different in several ways:

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(Click for full size)

1) It’s set in the present. There are regular allusions to and illustrations from St. Francis’ life, but the children at the center of the story are contemporary children, interacting with St. Francis, his life and his message, in the context of their own lives.

2) It’s not about the wolf of Gubbio or the creche or St. Francis and creation – as great as those are, those stories are the subjects of most of the books about Francis out there, and really, do we need one more?

3) The children, we hope, are physically more representative of most children you see in picture books in general, and in picture books for Catholic in general, who tend to be pretty much all Caucasian.  This was quite important to me.  Given the makeup of the Catholic Church, even just in the US, it’s ridiculous that the demographics of children’s book illustrations don’t reflect that.  The models for these children, incidentally, are Ann’s family members.

More tomorrow!

More info here – with some inside views.

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— 1 —

Last weekend was mostly lived without the boys around – they were camping – so in their absence I did things like extended my exercise time (fun!), watched a Fellini film, went to Mass on a Saturday during college football season and ate at a restaurant that doesn’t have chicken fingers or pizza on the menu.

— 2 —

I also hit an estate sale. Now, the boys don’t mind going to estate sales.  Most of the time, in fact, when I offer, they choose to come along.  Joseph is always on the lookout for sports cards and Michael for…anything, Mexican themes preferred.

But this one – one of the few this weekend (estate sales really slow down around here during college football season – see #1) was kind of far out of town, and not one that I’d have dragged them to.

About 2/3 of the estate sales I go to are in homes that have been fairly well kept up, some spectacularly so.  The other 1/3 are thought-provoking, sad and sometimes horrible.  This was one of those.

It was in a fairly large Tudor in what was one of the “better” neighborhoods of this outlying community. The area was probably fairly sharp in the 80’s, but, well, it’s not the 80’s.  And this home was a wreck.  No serious cleaning in probably 30 years, threadbare, filthy carpet, piles of stuff everywhere, general decrepitude and worse, really. The house was for sale, but honestly, you’d have to gut it to even begin to make it livable.

It only took a quick look to see that there wasn’t anything I’d be interested in (often even in those situations I can find a small bookshelf or table that’s great for a quick, cheap, colorful redo – not here), and then lingered at the top of the stairs to the basement,listening to the fellow running the sale relate the late owner’s story – a 95-year old woman who’d fallen outside while taking down her flag. Broke her hip, complications ensued, and she died.

I always wonder..she was living in this?  Was she so stubborn that she wouldn’t allow anyone to help her?  Did she have children, grandchildren or other relations? Were they all awful people, had she alienated them, had they just drifted apart?

And just as the estate sales are reminders to me about where my real treasure lies, they’re also reminders to…try very hard not to be that 95-year old woman living in squalor.  Five kids…my chances are decent that one of them will still like me enough in forty years, right?

Anyway, after I finished eavesdropping looking upstairs, I headed to the basement and was stopped short by what greeted me on the stairway.  Papering the walls of the stairway, one side even backlit somehow, were pinups from no later than the 60’s – torn and cut out from magazines and calendars, I suppose, most very demure – and at the bottom of the stairs a basement full of what you would find in a basement workshop, much of piled up, some surprisingly organized.

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Hard to take this shot without looking creepy.

What a sight, from top to bottom.

— 3 —

After that, I went church-hunting.  I wanted to find the original St. Mark’s Catholic Church - one of the first Catholic churches built in Birmingham after the (now) Cathedral of St. Paul.  It was constructed for the Italian immigrants who peopled the area, immigrants who have long since moved to other sections of the city.  There is a new St. Mark’s now, built twenty miles south of this, in a well-off section of the county.

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It’s now a Protestant church of some type.

I’m really looking forward to a new exhibit at our Vulcan museum, one that starts this weekend, focusing on the Italian community.

vulcan italian exhibit

Unfortunately, we’re missing the St. George Melkite Catholic Middle Eastern Food Festival this weekend – maybe we’ll catch the Greek Festival the following weekend...and the Jewish Food Festival later in October or the Russian/Slavic Festival in November….

— 4 —

The week has proceeded as normal – school(s), music classes, science center class (no boxing this week), and an outing to Moss Rock Preserve, just about 20 minutes from our house when the traffic cooperates.

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— 5 —

It seems as if “Book Week” is turning into “Book Month” as I post about my books at this surprisingly glacial rate.  This week, I got to my books for teens and young adults – here. 

(Also earlier this week, in case you missed it, I wrote about my first solo trip to New York City, when I was 18.)

— 6 —

BBC podcasts?

Since In Our Time is still on its summer hiatus, I’ve had to fill the gap mostly with science documentaries and what other history I can find over there.  One series that has caught my interest has been Great Lives, in which the host is joined by one enthusiast who has chosen the “great life” to discuss, and then an academic expert on said great life.

I particularly enjoyed this episode – punk poet John Cooper Clarke on Salvador Dali, whom, he says, “entered my life as a Catholic mystic.”

There’s an audio excerpt of that section here  – less than 2 minutes.  And an interview with Clarke here. Amidst all the drug and punk culture talk, there’s this:

Clarke grew up a Catholic and still has faith. “People who believe in God are happier than those who don’t. I’ve never met a happy atheist.”

I was intrigued in a different way by this episode with the almost always irritating and pretentious Naomi Wolf on her pick, Edith Wharton.  What was interesting to me about the program, the picture of Wharton that had evolved was of a not-very likable person whose “revolutionary” sensibilities had nothing to do with women – she opposed suffrage and refused to fund scholarships for women particularly since doing so might risk funding an education for a Jewish woman)  in general but were really only about Edith Wharton.  The host raised the spectre of selfishness at the very end of the program, but Wolf did her best to wave it away…

— 7 —

All right.  Next week – my books with Ann Englehart, with special attention paid to Adventures in Assisi, of course!

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Some photos from one of the inspirations for the book – my own trip to Assisi with the boys two years ago…..sigh.

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Oh, and I did cook this week, but instead of talking about that, I”ll point you to this. It’s the most true thing I read on the Internet today.  Just don’t read it in a hotel room with children who are trying to go to sleep. 

“I don’t have any of these ingredients at home. Could you rewrite this based on the food I do have in my house? I’m not going to tell you what food I have. You have to guess.”

“I don’t eat white flour, so I tried making it with raw almonds that I’d activated by chewing them with my mouth open to receive direct sunlight, and it turned out terrible. This recipe is terrible.”

“Could you please give the metric weight measurements, and sometime in the next twenty minutes; I’m making this for a dinner party and my guests are already here.”

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

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— 1 —

Add this to scenes I never expected to happen in my life:

Me saying to my HOMESCHOOLED son: “Hurry up and finish your work so we can go buy the MOUSE for your SNAKE to EAT.”

Just in case you’re around 30 years old and think that you know where life is going….

Speaking of learning and link-ups, Melanie Bettinelli is beginning one entitled “Guilt-Free Learning Notes” which I’ll be participating in – starting this Saturday. Should be fun.

— 2 —

So Sunday we went to Whole Foods after Mass.  We were just getting milk and my lime sparkling water so Joseph stayed in the car and Michael and I ran in.

At one point, an older man walked down our aisle with his cart. I looked at him, he glanced at me, I nodded because in that instant I recognized him, without knowing why or how and the nod just happened. He nodded back.  Courteous-like, the way we do down here.  We moved on.

But it bugged me.  I don’t latch on to random people, imagining that I know them.  If my subconscious is joggled, it’s for real.  I I just couldn’t identify him, though.  I definitely felt that I *knew* him in some sense.  I went through the checklist of my rather limited local circles. Church(es)? No. School(s)? No.  Neighborhood(s)?  I don’t think so…but maybe….

And then it hit me.

He looked exactly like the actor who plays the Senator in that fantastic show Rectify. 

I mean – didn’t look like him.  Looked to be him.

Could it be?  I mean, I knew that one of the Rectify actors lives in the area – Clayne Crawford, who plays Teddy, Jr, but..this guy? I didn’t even know his name. As the seconds past, the less sure I was.

So we checked out, we went to the car, and I sat behind the wheel. I got the Ipad from Joseph and looked up the Senator.

And this article came up: “Vegas, Gray’s Anatomy star Michael O’Neill moves back to Alabama.”

In fact, the man whose character went on a murderous rampage in a memorable “Grey’s Anatomy” season finale is a family man, an actor and an Alabama native who recently moved back to the area.

Originally from Montgomery, the Auburn grad moved back to Alabama in November of last year to be closer to his father, who has since died. He also wanted to give his three teenage children a taste of his home.

More recently, some of you might recognize him from this summer’s CBS show, Extant. 

Yup. That was him. Amazing. So..what to do now? Go be a fangirl, not only of him, but mostly of Rectify?

Damn straight!

The boys were, of course, mortified and declined to go back in.  I casually strolled up and down the aisles of Whole Foods, not at all in a stalkerish fashion, no not me,  and there he was – chatting with  couple of other women.  I waited until they were finished, and approached.  He was so very nice, asking my name, expressing both surprise and gratitude that I watched Rectify. We talked about the pleasures of a well-done program committed to be realistic about the contemporary South, I mentioned the appeal of the spiritual themes, and just thanked him for his work. Very gracious fellow!

(And no…I didn’t ask for a photo…)

— 3 —

My 9-year old is taking a boxing class with other homeschooled boys. He loves it.  I don’t know what it is about the coach/teacher who runs the class and the gym, but he has a gift for motivating.  The kid is wiped out by the end of the hour (a 9-year old? Taking shower in the middle of the day? Get out....) but also totally pumped and positive. It’s like magic.

— 4 —

I reread Waugh’s Handful of Dust this week, just because I was not in the mood for Collins’ intricacies. I’ll get back in that groove this weekend.  Boy I had forgotten how dark that book is.  You know, people always rag on Miss O’Connor for being “dark” and grotesque, but honestly – read Wise Blood next to the early Waugh, and you can see what real darkness – that is without even a glimmer of grace – is.  Precise, knowing and hilarious, yes…but ever so depressing.

— 5 —

Speaking of British things, do you know what I’ve never watched?  You guessed. Downton Abbey.  I don’t know why I’ve never been interested.  I think my deep loyalty to Upstairs, Downstairs has closed my mind to what I perceive as an uppity usurper.

And speaking of those old Masterpiece Theater series, what were your favorites? As a teen I gobbled them up, especially – in addition to U/D:

I, Claudius

The Pallisers 

Shoulder to Shoulder.

My parents were devotees, as I recall, of The Forsythe Saga and The First Churchills, but I was too young to care when they were into them and I only remember thinking that they looked beyond boring..  But I adored Derek Jacobi (Claudius), was captivated by the unwilling,but ultimately loving marriage of the Pallisers and probably a little in love with Donal McCann who played Phineas Finn.

Shoulder to Shoulder was a 6-part dramatization of the woman’s suffrage movement in Britain, and was a huge influence on me.  I think it helped situate my thinking about feminism in a historical context, giving my young self a sort of freedom from the secular feminist cant of the 70’s.  It’s a very powerful series and, oddly enough, is one of the few such series never released in recorded format.  Can’t find it anywhere.

— 6 —

My daughter, who lives and works in Bavaria, has taken a short trip to Verona and environs this week.  You can see some of her pics from Verona here, and catch what she saw yesterday – 9/11 - in Venice yesterday here.  

Us? Well, we went to Oak Mountain! Go, us!

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That was actually a nice day – after the first half of the week full of lessons and classes (Because no socialization!) , we could finally get out after the hated cursive and not-quite-hated math was done.  A good hike, then a turn around Aldridge Gardens and then the library.  All the time with the steady soundtrack of detailed descriptions of Lord of the Rings Lego sets….

— 7 —

I’ve continued my slow march through my books…..for adults (including RCIA)  here...for kids here…devotional and parish materials here.  Still to come, materials for teens and the four books Ann Engelhart and I have done together.

(And remember…today’s the feast of the Most Holy Name of Mary...so how about that free Mary book?)

St. Francis’ feastday is coming soon!  Time to talk about Adventures in Assisi!

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For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

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My daughter spent today in Venice.  This was one of the sights she saw:

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