Monday with Macaws

Coming to you from this morning’s office:

Sorry, not a coffee drinker, and a helpful young man in the convenience store dug behind all the regular bottles to find me a couple of Sabor Ligero – Coca-Cola Light, which is what you find outside the US instead of Diet Coke. You can also find Coke Zero, but I prefer the non-sweetness of this – which is not as perversely satisfying as the metallic mouth feel of Diet Coke, but hey. #GratitudeNovember or whatever.

Today’s the second day of Spanish school. I stayed at the school all morning yesterday, but there’s no need – so here I am back at our B & B, watching French tourists come and go.

All right – let’s do Monday:

Refresher: Kid #5, about to turn 15 next week has a long-standing interest in MesoAmerican civilizations, especially the Maya. It inspired past trips to the Yucatan and Guatemala. He is homeschooled, studied Spanish in 8th grade in school, has been doing his best on his own at home (mostly via this Great Courses and other random videos and reading, at the moment, El Hobbit.) But of course he needs more, and it seemed to be a good idea to combine the two interests – see a set of ruins he’s long wanted to visit and take a week of intensive Spanish study.

I had originally looked into Antigua, Guatemala, simply because I wanted to go there, but after thinking about it and considering options, it seemed as if the setting of Copan would give us more opportunities for after-school activities in the afternoons. There is a IMG_20191111_084415.jpglot to do around Antigua (not so much archaeological sites, but natural and cultural), but most of them seem to call for more than an afternoon. So, I was thinking, “We can do a week in Antigua, and then go to Copan”…I thought…why not just go to Copan for the week? As it turns out, there are a couple of well-regarded and reviewed Spanish language schools here, and so far – on day 2 – it seems to be working out well.

Monday morning, we rose, ate the typically well-prepared breakfast here at the B & B, then walked the six blocks or so to the school, located off the central square. It’s on the rooftop of a building housing a restaurant, a dental practice and some other businesses. He was introduced to a teacher, took a placement test, and then spent the next few hours learning how much he had to learn!


We then dropped our stuff off at the B & B, and ate lunch at a place recommended to us by our Copan guide – Cafe San Rafael – a lovely space centered on locally-made cheeses, as well as coffees (of course). It was more expensive than the typical local fare (full meal, for example, the previous night, for  both of us for 135 Lempira – about $5.50 USD), but worth it.

Then we took a mototaxi – what you’d know, more generally, as a “tuk-tuk” – they don’t Screenshot 2019-11-12 at 10.36.09 AMcall them that here – the prevalent mode of transportation in these parts – up  about 2 km to Macaw Mountain, a nature reserve originally started for birds that had served their usefulness to their owners as pets. You can read about it here. It was a good break from the hustle and bustle of town – we’d seen the flock of Macaws that fly freely at the ruins (and will see them again today) – and these guys are mostly in cages because they are being bred and trained to fly (those hatched in captivity), but still, it was a pleasant afternoon.

Back to town in a mototaxi, a rest, then out to get tickets for a Saturday excursion (we were originally going to leave Saturday, but decided this day-long excursion would be worth it), then dinner here – it was good – I had chicken, son had beef, with typical accompaniments. Monday Night Football en espanol on television, a cat wandering about. I prefer the more street-food stuff – the dishes cooked under tents in nooks and crannies  throughout town – and we have and will have plenty of that – but it’s nice to have a break from that to eat an actual enclosed space, as well!

Then a stroll into the center where we saw the pernicious influence of the USA in…Christmas decorations! On November 11! Ah, well…then to this small archaeological museum to fill out our Copan knowledge. Across the way, the church doors were open, so we went over to peek in and saw a man speaking to a fairly large group of folks – some sort of educational or mission activity I suppose. Children were racing around outside and since we obviously do not look native to these parts, were shouting, “Hello!” to us – one little boy (and I mean little – he was probably no more than 6 or 7) – was especially determined, so we took a few minutes for him to practice his English  – of which he was very proud – with us –  he could count to twelve, he knew all the greetings, and could tell me, when I asked him – gato? CAT! perro? DOG!

Back to the room…homework time for one of us, and me, reading John Lloyd Stephens on Copan. I have at home, for some reason, just the second volume of his great work – I think I got it when we first started on this path, and it’s the second volume that deals with the Yucatan. What I hadn’t realized was that Copan was actually the first ruins he encountered, the first place that revealed to him that maybe everything we thought we knew about this part of the world is wrong….It’s absolutely fascinating reading. 

Off-topic – Older Son is working his way through Billy Wilder’s oeuvre. Check it out here. 


(Don’t forget Instagram!) 


Sunday Ruins

Post on Sunday Mass is here – short version – there was a wedding!

After a late breakfast at the B & B, we began a slow walk out to the Copan Ruins. We could have taken a mototaxi (tuk-tuk), but it was a bit more than a mile, we’d just eaten a substantial breakfast, so why not walk?

There’s a walking path by the road that leads out there, and it was pleasant. Weather report: It’s very mild here. 70’s, a little humid. It rained last night for a while. I get a sense that the mountains shield this valley from any intense level of rain – which is good and bad, I guess.

We arrived at the site, bought our tickets, and waited for our guide. You don’t have to have a guide, of course, and my son knows a lot  – but I had no doubt that a knowledgeable guide would add to the experience and my son’s understanding (the goal), so I asked our hotel proprietor for the name of a guide who could offer information a level above what your normal guide would, addressing those with out the deep  background my son has. And he delivered – our guide for the afternoon was archaeologist David Sedat.

If you want to read more about Copan and why it’s important, go here. 

Most North Americans have little understanding of the Maya, ancient or modern, and tend to assume that the ancient Mayan civilization disappeared because of European conquerers. But that’s not the case – all of those temples and pyramids had been overgrown for hundreds of years by the time the Spanish arrived. And why? What happened? There’s a mystery about that, and that question, as well as any continued memory of the ancient civilization among the Maya, is what interests me.

But my son is, of course, primarily interested in that civilization itself, so that’s why we’ve been to the sites in the Yucatan, as well as many in Guatemala.

Some shots from the tour, and then last night’s dinner – tacos pastor and something else – just a different arrangement of tortillas, meat and in this case, cheese.

The photo of the large colored temple is from the museum – it’s a reproduction of a temple found within another larger structure on the site – called Rosalila – you can read more about it here. 

This was a good introduction to the site, but we’ll be returning here, to the museum, as well as trying to get to some other smaller sites in the area.

Well, hello from Honduras!
I would say, “Hola,” except this meme, pointedly and regularly shared with me before, during and after our trip to Spain earlier this year, stills weighs heavily:

image url



So, no Spanish will be attempted.

Expect to see extensive blogging this week. I have four hours every morning, while this is happening:


I’m hanging out this morning, but if it’s okay with everyone, during the rest of the week, I might make my way back to the B & B or wander. There’s not much to see, though, and we have every afternoon to do more wandering, so I’m thinking my best use of time will be to work either here or there, including sharing with you in this space.

After a typically rocky beginning to the trip, things have smoothed out nicely. When I say “typically” rocky, I don’t mean typically for me, I mean typically for leaving from the Birmingham airport. With all due respect, I think I’ve had more absurd delays from that airport than not. Delays that have necessitated totally scrapping a scheduled departure and leaving the next morning instead. Delays that have led to missing a connecting flight to Japan by maybe ten minutes, necessitating an overnight stay in Dallas and a lost day in Japan.

Things like that.

Luckily, we didn’t have a connecting flight to catch and even more fortunately this time, the airline – in the person of the pilot, specifically, was very good about keeping us informed – in complete violation of what I have long been under the impression was was Airline Rule #1: Obfuscate, deflect, and when that fails, just lie. No, this fellow, clearly wanting to get to Houston as badly as the rest of us, kept us as informed as possible on this very bizarre problem: the geniuses on duty couldn’t move the jetbridge. There was a problem, and evidently, for a solid hour, there was no one associate with the BHM airport staff that could be reached to give advice. The updates we got were things like: “Well, they’re going to gather every spare employee in the airport and try to push it.” That didn’t work. “Now they’re going to try the airplane tug.” Finally the pilot said, basically, “Screw it. We’re going to back out verrrrry slowly and if we break something, well, we break something.”
Nothing broke! We got to Houston about an hour late, and traveling mercies in restrospect on those rushing to make connections, but our only task was grabbing a hotel shuttle and getting some sleep.
Saturday morning:
Up early, hotel breakfast, then shuttle back to the airport for the a bit-less-than three hour flight to San Pedro Sula. Passengers were probably about half Honduran, half..not. I’m assuming most of those who weren’t, were were either going to Roatan to fish and/or dive or on mission trips. You could kind of tell the difference between the groups – I’m assuming the bros with the sunglasses latched on the back of their head  and the t-shirts barely covering their guts were in the former category, but hey, these days, who knows! And who am I to judge?

Immigration was bizarrely lengthy because of a strange situation. There were about thirty quite elderly people – who looked to be Honduran – all in wheelchairs, in the “special cases” line. Not long after we arrived, it seems as if an executive decision was made to prioritize these people – no argument from me there – and so the rest of us ended up waiting probably thirty minutes later than we would have otherwise. I really, really wondered what these group of wheel-chair bound elderly had been up to – they were all in Delta chairs (who knew they had so many) but I didn’t catch their flight origin. My main theories: They were native Hondurans living in the US who were being brought home for a visit in a group. They were Hondurans who were given the chance to go up to visit relations in the US in a group. Or three – they had been on a pilgrimage somewhere.
Anyway, we finally got through – without demands for papers from this child’s father allowing his travel – which happened to us in Belize and will explain to anyone who searches my purse and wonders why I am carrying a death certificate and a birth certificate with me on this trip…
…and met our driver, arranged by our hotel here in Copan.
Yes, there were other choices. We could have taken a bus. We could have rented a car. Let’s just say, I’m glad I did neither. We will probably end up on a bus for some parts of this trip, but for my initial entrance into the country, not knowing what the heck I’m doing and even being – I realized with a start on the flight over – totally clueless on the currency – I went for the driver and private car.
As I said – good choice. By car, it was a solid four-hour drive, which means, on a bus, it would have been longer, and, to boot, we would have had to leave the airport and go into the city to even catch the bus. We probably wouldn’t have arrived until 8 or so.
And driving? No thanks.

Let’s put it this way – if I were in the country for even just a week, being driven around, gaining understanding of the “rules” of the road, I could do it at that point. Avoid the (many) potholes, slow waaaay down for the (many) speed bumps, don’t freak out about the armed police stops (three, I think on the journey), and watch out for the people, dogs and chickens right on the edge of the road.
But again – right off a plane, new to the country? Probably jumping in a car and driving four hours would not be the best idea.
We arrived at our lovely B & B, freshened up, and headed out for food.
Copan Ruinas is a small town, central square, much poverty, but also set up for tourists who come mostly to visit the Mayan ruins. Lots of restaurants, a smattering of English spoken.

Our first food stop was in a courtyard where three women were set up – a food court, really. We just picked one and had a simple, lovely serving of pinchos.
That did not satisfy the young man who hadn’t eaten since the hotel breakfast, so we wandered out to find more. We settled for a touch more “formal” sit-down restaurant that’s centered on grilled meat. Not wanting a full meal, we just went for an appetizer of beans, cheese and chorizo kept warm over a cunning little charcoal brazier. At one point, seven heavily armed law/military guys came and sat at the table behind us – I mean, with their handguns on their hips and their rifles across their chests, even as they ate…I mean, yeah, you’re not going to hang your big gun (whatever they were) on the back of your chair, sure. I wasn’t going to stand up and get a photo (although they did gather and take a selfie at the table), but you can see one fellow behind my son in one of the photos.
Does a heavily armed culture make you feel more or less safe? Hard to say…
Anyway, we wandered, went into a few shops, and then back to sleep…


Blog post on Sunday Mass is already published here. 

Repost from a previous year. New stuff coming soon…from Honduras…

My search for material to share with you on today’s feast naturally led to other interesting places which ate up too much time but also reminded me of how much good stuff is out there to read, and how limited our sense of the past is, and how we suffer for that narrowness.

Anyway.  To start where I like to, if possible – with the pastoral and clear catechesis of B16, from a 2007 Angelus talk:

Today, 11 November, the Church remembers St Martin, Bishop of Tours, one of the most celebrated and venerated Saints of Europe. Born of pagan parents in Pannonia, in what is today Hungary, he was directed by his father to a military career around the year 316. Still an adolescent, Martin came into contact with Christianity and, overcoming many difficulties, he enrolled as a catechumen in order to prepare for Baptism. He would receive the Sacrament in his 20s, but he would still stay for a long time in the army, where he would give testimony of his new lifestyle: respectful and inclusive of all, he treated his attendant as a brother and avoided vulgar entertainment. Leaving military service, he went to Poitiers in France near the holy Bishop Hilary. He was ordained a deacon and priest by him, chose the monastic life and with some disciples established the oldest monastery known in Europe at Ligugé. About 10 years later, the Christians of Tours, who were without a Pastor, acclaimed him their Bishop. From that time, Martin dedicated himself with ardent zeal to the evangelization of the countryside and the formation of the clergy. While many miracles are attributed to him, St Martin is known most of all for an act of fraternal charity. While still a young soldier, he met a poor man on the street numb and trembling from the cold. He then took his own cloak and, cutting it in two with his sword, gave half to that man. Jesus appeared to him that night in a dream smiling, dressed in the same cloak.

Dear brothers and sisters, St Martin’s charitable gesture flows from the same logic that drove Jesus to multiply the loaves for the hungry crowd, but most of all to leave himself to humanity as food in the Eucharist, supreme Sign of God’s love, Sacramentum caritatis. It is the logic of sharing which he used to authentically explain love of neighbour. May St Martin help us to understand that only by means of a common commitment to sharing is it possible to respond to the great challenge of our times: to build a world of peace and justice where each person can live with dignity. This can be achieved if a world model of authentic solidarity prevails which assures to all inhabitants of the planet food, water, necessary medical treatment, and also work and energy resources as well as cultural benefits, scientific and technological knowledge.

Let us turn now to the Virgin Mary so that all Christians may be like St Martin, generous witnesses of the Gospel of love and tireless builders of jointly responsible sharing.

St. Martin is also mentioned in the 2005 encyclical, Deus Caritas Est:

Finally, let us consider the saints, who exercised charity in an exemplary way. Our thoughts turn especially to Martin of Tours († 397), the soldier who became a monk and a bishop: he is almost like an icon, illustrating the irreplaceable value of the individual testimony to charity. At the gates of Amiens, Martin gave half of his cloak to a poor man: Jesus himself, that night, appeared to him in a dream wearing that cloak, confirming the permanent validity of the Gospel saying: “I was naked and you clothed me … as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me” (Mt 25:36, 40).[36] Yet in the history of the Church, how many other testimonies to charity could be quoted! In particular, the entire monastic movement, from its origins with Saint Anthony the Abbot († 356), expresses an immense service of charity towards neighbour. In his encounter “face to face” with the God who is Love, the monk senses the impelling need to transform his whole life into service of neighbour, in addition to service of God. This explains the great emphasis on hospitality, refuge and care of the infirm in the vicinity of the monasteries. It also explains the immense initiatives of human welfare and Christian formation, aimed above all at the very poor, who became the object of care firstly for the monastic and mendicant orders, and later for the various male and female religious institutes all through the history of the Church. The figures of saints such as Francis of Assisi, Ignatius of Loyola, John of God, Camillus of Lellis, Vincent de Paul, Louise de Marillac, Giuseppe B. Cottolengo, John Bosco, Luigi Orione, Teresa of Calcutta to name but a few—stand out as lasting models of social charity for all people of good will. The saints are the true bearers of light within history, for they are men and women of faith, hope and love.

And then I spent some time with The Life of St. Martin written by a contemporary and defender, Sulpitius Severus:

ACCORDINGLY, at a certain period, when he had nothing except his arms and his simple military dress, in the middle of winter, a winter which had shown itself more severe than ordinary, so that the extreme cold was proving fatal to many, he happened to meet at the gate of the city of Amiens a poor man destitute of clothing. He was entreating those that passed by to have compassion upon him, but all passed the wretched man without notice, when Martin, that man full of God, recognized that a being to whom others showed no pity, was, in that respect, left to him. Yet, what should he do? He had nothing except the cloak in which he was clad, for he had already parted with the rest of his garments for similar purposes. Taking, therefore, his sword with which he was girt, he divided his cloak into two equal parts, and gave one part to the poor man, while he again clothed himself with the remainder. Upon this, some of the by-standers laughed, because he was now an unsightly object, and stood out as but partly dressed. Many, however, who were of sounder understanding, groaned deeply because they themselves had done nothing similar. They especially felt this, because, being possessed of more than Martin, they could have clothed the poor man without reducing themselves to nakedness. In the following night, when Martin had resigned himself to sleep, he had a vision of Christ arrayed in that part of his cloak with which he had clothed the poor man. He contemplated the Lord with the greatest attention, and was told to own as his the robe which he had given. Ere long, he heard Jesus saying with a clear voice to the multitude of angels standing round — “Martin, who is still but a catechumen, clothed me with this robe.” The Lord, truly mindful of his own words (who had said when on earth — “Inasmuch as ye have done these things to one of the least of these, ye have done them unto me”), declared that he himself had been clothed in that poor man; and to confirm the testimony he bore to so good a deed, he condescended to show him himself in that very dress which the poor man had received. After this vision the sainted man was not puffed up with human glory, but, acknowledging the goodness of God in what had been done, and being now of the age of twenty years, he hastened to receive baptism. He did not, however, all at once, retire from military service, yielding to the entreaties of his tribune, whom he admitted to be his familiar tent-companion.[11] For the tribune promised that, after the period of his office had expired, he too would retire from the world. Martin, kept back by the expectation of this event, continued, although but in name, to act the part of a soldier, for nearly two years after he had received baptism.

The whole thing is fairly short and quite interesting to read – as I read this ancient documents, what I am always looking for is commonalities – of human nature, of belief, of human choices and reactions. Consider the reactions of the bystanders described in the passage above.

Has anything really changed?

Underneath all that is “new” for us…has anything fundamental about who we are and the redemption for which we yearn really changed?

Well, anyway.

Traditions of Martinmas.

More from Cooking for Christ, a cookbook published by the Catholic Rural Life Conference, which I wrote about here. 

A partial list of subsequent burrows that ate up this evening:

Martin of Tours
By Charles L. O’Donnell

“AS I today was wayfaring”—
Holy, Holy, Holy!—low—
Said Christ in heaven’s evening—
The Holies yet more hushed and slow—
“I met a knight upon the road;
A plumed charger he bestrode.

“He saw the beggar that was I—
Holy, Holy, Holy!—long—
Head and foot one beggary—
Holy, Holy, Holy!—song— 
One that shivered in the cold
While his horse trailed cloth of gold.

“Down he leaped, his sword outdrawn—
Holy, Holy, Holy!—swells—
Cleaved his cloak, laid half upon—
Holy! now a peal of bells—
Shoulders that the cross had spanned;
And I think he kissed my hand.

“Then he passed the road along,
Holy, Holy, Holy!—laud— 
Caroling a knightly song—
Holy! in the face of God.
Yea, Father, by Thy sovereign name,
Begging is a goodly game.”


From these dead leaves the winds have caught
And on the brown earth fling,
Yea, from their dust, new hosts shall rise
At the trumpet call of Spring.

Thus may the winds our ashes take,
But in that far dusk dim,
When God’s eye hath burnt up the worlds,
This flesh shall stand with Him.

It is the merit of O’Brien’s study to illuminate this long-hidden context.  Boutle’s profound experiences of purgation, illumination, dark nights, union, and the prayer of simple regard are now rooted in her distinctive vocation as wife and mother.  Her experience of the cross is tied to her struggles with an alcoholic and increasingly violent husband.  The cultivation of patience proved difficult in the presence of a mother-in-law, who externally was considered a living saint due to her generosity toward the poor, but who became venomously sarcastic in the privacy of the home.  Boutle’s hope of eternal life became fused with the certitude that she would be reunited with her beloved daughter, Elisabeth, who died at the age of 14.  Her growing union with Jesus is a union marked by experiences shaped by gender and marital status.

O’Brien also highlights the stormy social and ecclesiastical context of Boutle’s life.  Boutle’s devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus is one of a piece with the piety of French Catholicism in the late 19th century.  Already wounded by the anti-Christian campaigns of the French Revolution and the Paris Commune of 1871, the French church witnessed with apprehension the growing anti-clericalism of the Third Republic. Catholic schools were abolished, and religious orders expelled.  Practicing Catholics soon learned that they could not hope for promotion in a hostile public school system, civil service, and officer corps.  Boutle’s prayer is increasingly marked by intercession for a France which was quickly renouncing all traces of her Catholic heritage.  Her experience of a supernatural peace rests uneasily with bewilderment over the virtual disappearance of Catholic belief among her nation’s urban elite.  Controlling her anger at the anti-clerical remarks made by relatives and acquaintances over the dinner table became a serious ascetical task. Her close affiliation with the Parisian convent of the Adoration Reparatrix nuns also reflects the spirituality of the period.  The emphasis on reparation during the perpetual adoration practiced by the nuns, and their lay associates, was very much a social reparation for the apostasy and persecution represented by a newly secularized France.

O’Brien’s scholarly biography of Mathilde Boutle provides a distinctive spiritual guide for those called to the office of wife and mother, especially in moments of suffering related to spouse and children.  It is also a very modern guide for dealing with Christian bewilderment arising from a powerful religious indifference in a society where a once-vital church has quickly collapsed.

A wedding

I’ll have another more comprehensive post on the first couple of days of our trip by Monday morning, but I wanted to toss this up here – it merits its own post.

The church here in the town in which we’re staying is, not surprisingly, right on the main square. But it has no signage, and of course no website, so I had no idea what time Mass would be this morning. To be safe, I headed out about 7:45 to walk the five blocks to see. The church doors were still closed and locked, but people were starting to gather outside, including some girls all dressed in the same burgundy-colored dress, and another young woman with what looked like altar cloths over her arm – I went up, pointed at the church, and asked “Que hora?” “Ocho y media” was the answer – and so yeah, I better hustle back and get the kid out of bed.

(As it turns out, as we saw from the signage inside the church, there were other Masses – one at ten and one at 7pm. Just as well. I was glad to be a part of this.)

When we returned and went inside the church, it was clear something was up. The middle aisle was strewn with pine needles, the pews were strung with streamers and balloons, and people were lining up here and there.

First Communion? Quincenera? Confirmation? 

Then I finally saw the two chairs in front of the altar – wedding? Really? Could it be?

Why yes, it was!

I never caught the names of couple, but here’s what interested me:

The wedding party was not composed of “attendants.”  Those who processed up, beside the bride and groom, were all young people – including the four young women I’d seen earlier – and children. I don’t know if they were related to the couple – I suspect they were. But they weren’t just processing – they were carrying items – candles, the rings, a small basket containing, what I figured out later were coins, an open Bible, an oversized wooden rosary (the type you would hang on a wall) and two large full rosaries. And maybe some flowers.

The Mass was Sunday Mass – the readings from Maccabees and so on. The homily, as best as M and I could understand, tied the Gospel, especially, and the sacrament of matrimony together. All of the items were used during the ceremony – the coins after the rings, for example. My research indicates it’s a tradition in which the bride and groom pour the coins into each other’s hands as a symbol of “what’s mine is yours”  and a prayer for material security. There are thirteen coins – one for each month, plus one for anything extra that might be needed. The priest gave the Bible and the oversized rosary to the couple, calling them to make faith the center of their home life. The full-sized rosaries were draped over each of them by a parent, I think, at the nuptial blessing.

It was quite lovely. The church was packed, little children played in the aisle with the pine needles, and two dogs made their way into church at various points, one just wandering through, the other settling in for a nap under a pew in front of us.

It’s always a privilege to be at Mass – and this Sunday, at this Mass, it certainly was:

7 Quick Takes

—1 —

Sorry – I don’t know where my head is. Well, that’s not true at all. I do know where it is – with all sorts of IRL matters: a new grandchild/nephew (!), visitors on Monday, the usual round of music lessons and having to go find free organs on which to practice where ever we can, and yes…getting ready for a trip. 

— 2 —

Earlier this week, I reached the point at which this happened:

Me:  Cool! A week from today, we’ll be in Honduras!

Also Me: Wait, what? A week from today, we’ll be in Honduras??

Because there are dimensions to this journey that must be planned, yes, I’ve done some planning. Accommodations for the first chunk were reserved a couple of months ago. I’ve contacted a guide for the main ruins site. Oh, of course, Spanish course reserved and paid for.

Airfare to and from reserved and paid for. Well, of course.

Other than that?

No plans.

— 3 —

We’re staying for the first week in a small town, with enough to do in the afternoons after Spanish study to keep us occupied, I’m confident. We’ll walk some places, take tuk-tuks others and engage a driver of a car if we want to go further afield. There’s no point in trying to plan a day-by-day itinerary. This isn’t like going up the Empire State Building or the Statue of Liberty where you must get timed tickets or else you’ll miss out. The ruins, macaws, hot springs and ziplines won’t be going anywhere. We’re staying in a hotel with an English-speaking proprietor praised in all reviews for being super helpful. I’m just figuring on getting his input and assistance when we arrive.

After all, the main things are the language school – which is set and ready to go – and the ruins – which are in walking distance of the town and we can visit when we want, along with the museum. Everything else can be worked out.

And as I often say when going on a trip like this: It really doesn’t matter what I “get to” …it’s all new to me. 

— 4 —

The question remains, though – the few days between the end of the language school and our departure. And there are a few days. Our hotel reservation only goes to that last day of the school, and there weren’t any rooms available for the next day when I made the original reservation, although I see there are now. There’s another town and natural site that my son would like to go to  – and that’s sort of the vague plan. How we get there (bus? driver?) is a question – but again, I’ll have a week to work it out, as well as the final approach to the airport in San Pedro Sula for the journey back.

The timing of the trip? Really just because of a homeschool co-op Biology class my son took that wrapped up today (second semester begins mid-January). He’ll miss two weekends of work at the church, but when he was invited to take this position, we told them of the long-“planned” trip dates, and they were fine with it. And since Thanksgiving is so late this year, there were no worries about bumping into College Son’s return for that break.

(And yes – we’ll be heading to see the new grandchild/nephew right after Thanksgiving, and then again after the new year!)

— 5 –

So we’ll see. My only hope – besides my son upping his Spanish game – is that this little break from a)music lessons and practice and b)stressing about math – will give me the head space I need to reset, creatively.

But if it doesn’t? Eh, that’s fine. No great loss – but looking back and seeing that I chose myself over my kids would be a loss, in more ways than one. My most important job now and always is being a parent. I’m no saint and I certainly have countless parenting fails and faults, but if I take on the responsibility of parenting, well, yes, that means they come first and, as I said recently, it’s my job do do that job and not be a martyr about it.

Si…sitting in a hammock in Honduras while my son speaks Spanish….such a sacrifice….

— 6 —

If you’ve driven on I-65 through Alabama, you’ve seen the advertisements for Ave Maria Grotto at St. Bernard’s Abbey and perhaps you’ve even stopped there. The Grotto and Abbey are in Cullmann, Alabama, a community with a long German history – not surprisingly. This year, a rather startling expression of that German heritage has been erected – the largest Weihnachtspyramide, or Christmas pyramid in the world, put up by German craftsmen.

German visitors


Here’s a local story about it.

Here’s a story from a German source that has more photos of the crafting of the piece over in Germany. 

Die Amis stehen auf “Made in Erzgebirge”. Deswegen baute die Erzgebirgische Holzkunst Gahlenz GmbH bereits die vierte Großpyramide für die Staaten. Anfang November wird sie im Städtchen Cullman im Bundesstaat Alabama aufgebaut.

Die Großpyramide von Gahlenz wird nach Cullman/Alabama verschifft. Tobias Fritsch (39, v.l.), Sven Ulitze (41), Firmenchef Gundolf Berger (64) und Matthias Schiebold (46) machen sie versandfertig.

— 7 —

If you read nothing else today, consider this: Reflections on a Terminal Diagnosis – written last year by theologian Beth Haile, who died this week, a young woman in her thirties, leaving behind a husband and four children. Her essay is honest, sad, bracing and hopeful. This is us. We’re all facing a terminal diagnosis, whether we admit it or not. We can all use this wisdom:

I am encountering Jesus in a different way. I am encountering the Jesus who died when he was only 33 (my age when I was diagnosed). When I was first diagnosed, as everybody around me prepared for Christmas and I prepared for radiation and chemo, I encountered Jesus in the garden. As I went through the sickness and tiredness of radiation, I encountered Jesus at the pillar. Now I encounter Jesus on His walk to the cross, helped along by countless Simons. The Jesus I am coming to know is not so much a healer or a moral teacher or a miracle worker, but a sufferer. How could he not have a preferential concern for the poor and suffering? He came to suffer, not to show us a way out of it, but to offer us solidarity. And eventually a triumph over suffering that never lets the suffering be forgotten. I am encountering the Jesus who is still showing us his wounds after the resurrection. And I am encountering Jesus in the countless people who suffer in solidarity with me.

I don’t think Jesus will heal me. I hope He does. I hope a cure for gliomas comes out tomorrow. And if it doesn’t, I hope to get many good years with my husband, kids, family, and friends. But even if my hopes are realized, I will still die. And so I pray less for a miracle (my friends are praying for that) than I do courage, good humor, and the resurrection of my body. I pray that I am able to suffer well. I pray that I am able to die well. I pray for those I love to see the good God is doing after I die. I pray for myself, that I also realize the good God is doing now. I pray for good lives for my kids—not so much pleasure but deepness of being that comes from education and faith. I pray that they are also able to suffer well. I pray for my husband, because he will have to work so hard, but I also want him to have a good life. I have. My life is too short to end, but it has been a good—no, a great life. I have met great people. I have a great husband and four great kids. I have seen great places. I have read great books, eaten great meals, and drank great wine. I hope to keep doing these things. But most importantly, I have come to know and to love a great God. And when everything else ends, I am going to keep knowing Him.

I probably won’t write much, if at all. I have one hand, two brain tumors, and four kids. But I want to conclude that I love my faith, I love being Catholic. It is a horrible time for the church (why now? I am heartbroken) but I know the church is much bigger than the hierarchy (though what they do matters so much). I am proud to be a member of Jesus’ church. I take great consolation in the fact that his body appears on countless altars around the world, everyday. And I have been privileged to have seen, to have been served by his body, by the finest people of God. In many ways the church is very sick, but I cannot forget that in other ways it is alive and healthy. And I am happy that I get to keep being a part of this church when I die. People are saying that they are praying for a miracle, but I know the miracle has already happened and pretty soon my eternity is going to be Easter morning.

For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum!

Quick Tuesday

I’m going to toss this up there quickly in the time between Kid’s awakening and our departure for a (routine) doctor’s appointment in a bit.

Please see the previous post on Advent resources – I was amazed that the OSV pamphlets are still in print and being sold.

Let’s digest:

Cooking: I don’t usually lead off with this, but there’s a reason – yesterday, I made these always good and dependable King Arthur Donut Muffins as a sort of dessert for a barbecue-laden lunch here for the (drum roll) Darwin Catholic family rolling through on their way from one place to another. It was a delight to meet the entire family in person!

Listening: Of course, much, much church music. Son #5 continues in his job as a weekend church organist at a small parish.

But there is other listening happening – Friday late morning we attended on of our Alabama Symphony Orchestra’s “Coffee Concerts” – basically a partial dress rehearsal for the weekend’s evening performances, put on for old people and schoolkids. We are both, so yeah, we fit right in.

Because of Mass schedules (7 pm Friday for All Saints, 6pm Saturday, Sunday vigil), we wouldn’t be able to attend the regular concerts, so this would do – it was crowd-pleasing material: Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suite and Borodin’s Polovtsian Dances.  Well-done as usual – and because they didn’t manage to put us on the list despite my reservation, we snagged orchestra seats instead of being put in the balcony with the kids.

Sunday afternoon – to the lovely and impressive Independent Presybterian Church for an organ recital by one of Notre-Dame-de-Paris’ organist Johann Vexo. It was great. The piece both of us enjoyed the most was this one – Felix Mendelssohn – Variations Sérieuses 

Watching: Son has been watching the new Jack Ryan season. I watched the second episode of Silicon Valley  – best part was the new HR person’s cool takedown of Gilfoyle:

Oh, you’re “that guy”.

What “guy” exactly?

The brooding, arrogant guy who refuses to take orders? Self-taught coder who looks down on anyone who’s taken a class. You’re probably an atheist or something more contrarian. You claim to be an anarcho-capitalist, but you work here and pay taxes. You’ve probably read half of Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon, and it’s about 50/50 whether you own a snake.

Silicon Valley’s not perfect by any means – not even “great” – and the profanity is boringly over-the-top, but it’s sharp observations like this that keep me coming back…

Reading: Desperate for an actual book with pages and a cover, unable to get to the library, I went to the stacks downstairs and grabbed The Last Gentleman  – by Walker Percy (whose parents were instrumental in founding, by the the way, the Presbyterian Church where the organ recital was held) – I realized I’ve never actually read it. So we’re in for that heartbreaking experience in which I read a page and then must put it down, humbled and provoked by the truth – wondering if I can ever produce anything even close:


New York is full of people from small towns who are quite content to live obscure lives in some out-of-the-way corner of the city. Here there is no one to keep track. Though such a person might have come from a long line of old settlers and a neighborhood rich in memories, now he chooses to live in a flat on 231st Street, pick up the paper and milk on the doorstep every morning, and speak to the elevator man. In Southern genealogies there is always mention of a cousin who went to live in New York in 1922 and not another word. One hears that people go to New York to seek their fortunes, but many go to seek just the opposite.

In his case, though, it was part of a family pattern. Over the years his family had turned ironical and lost its gift for action. It was an honorable and violent family, but gradually the violence had been deflected and turned inward. The great grandfather knew what was what and said so and acted accordingly and did not care what anyone thought. He even wore a pistol in a holster like a Western hero and once met the Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan in a barbershop and invited him then and there to shoot it out in the street. The next generation, the grandfather, seemed to know what was what but he was not really so sure. He was brave but he gave much thought to the business of being brave. He too would have shot it out with the Grand Wizard if only he could have made certain it was the thing to do. The father was a brave man too and he said he didn’t care what others thought, but he did care. More than anything else, he wished to act with honor and to be thought well of by other men. So living for him was a strain. He became ironical. For him it was not a small thing to walk down the street on an ordinary September morning. In the end he was killed by his own irony and sadness and by the strain of living out an ordinary day in a perfect dance of honor.

Critics (and I) would suggest that the last reference is a fictional allusion to Percy’s own father, who committed suicide in the attic of a house over the mountain from the Independent Presbyterian Church he helped found…

For more on Walker Percy – and the Birmingham connection – go to this piece I wrote for Catholic World Report on the occasion of his 100th birthday. 

%d bloggers like this: