7 Quick Takes

— 1 —


Well, hello from a place where it’s warmer than twenty degrees.



Not much warmer – the high today in Pensacola was in the mid-40’s, but compared to what we’ve had in the far northern reaches of Birmingham, it felt balmy.

And tomorrow! 50’s!

So…what’s up?

 — 2 —

The older of the two boys has had and is having a busy week. He went with scouts last weekend to Sugar Mountain, NC, to ski – they left Saturday, skied all day Sunday, then returned Monday…which was to be followed up by a Wednesday departure for the March for Life in DC.

It was all fine, but I was just a little concerned about the proximity of two marathons of sleeping-in-buses and sleeping-on-the-floor-of-church multipurpose rooms  and the flu germs and who knows what else, along with having to get up early for school Tuesday and Wednesday. I’ve been making him bulk up on Echinacea and vitamin C since the beginning of January in preparation. I’ve been reading lots of articles over the past few years declaring that herbal remedies in pill form and vitamins-in-pills are essentially useless, but I have to tell you that years ago I had a rather dramatic experience of quick recovery from something (don’t remember what) after starting on Echinacea, and since chewable vitamin C actually tastes like it might be getting to work in your body – I’m sticking with those two at least.

I was greatly assisted in my proactive doctoring by the fact that around these parts, Snowmaggedon threatened this week, everyone got really scared, and so school was cancelled Tuesday, which was great, and then Wednesday, which was even better.

(Not for the teachers – I feel for them. These AP teachers in particular, looking at that calendar…those tests aren’t budging from early May, and must be prepared for….)

But it was good for him – he could sleep, sleep, sleep. He’s up in DC today (they drove all night Wednesday night, arrived Thursday morning, did museums and the JP2 Center, then will march tomorrow) and so…..


— 3 —

M and I had some time. I wanted to go somewhere warm, but wouldn’t you know it, everywhere in the south within driving range is nothing but cold. Pensacola was as good as we could do…and maybe it will be fine? As I said, it’s supposed to be in the 50’s on Friday.

I’d never been here before. I’ve been to various spots on the Gulf shore, both in Alabama and Florida, but never Pensacola. What do I associate it with? Traffic, I guess. And weird evangelical movements. And towering condos.

But it turns out, there’s some interesting history here, and so I decided that some history studies would be just the thing for the rest of the week. It’s off season, so it would give me a chance to check out the area without the aggravation of endless lines of traffic.

What’s the interesting history? Well you can read about it here but in short – Pensacola (not St. Augustine) was the first attempt at European settlement in non-Mexico North America – and it was a disaster. The fellow in charge of bringing hundreds of people and livestock up here from Mexico parked the ships in the bay while he sent a party inland for a few weeks to reconnoitre. And guess what happened? A hurricane happened, sunk all the boats, and wiped out any chances for a well-founded settlement. They stuck it out for two years, but ended up being rescued and returned to Mexico. In subsequent decades and centuries, Pensacola bounced between Spain, France, Great Britain and of course the U.S. of A, with time in the C.S. of A as well – although not long, since the Union grabbed it in 1862 and it was a key point in the blockade.


We left home around 10 – later than I’d intended, but last night, I read that roads around Montgomery were still iffy – and in fact, schools were closed there again today – so I decided to let the sun warm things up a bit before we headed out.

(I had originally thought we might drive down Wednesday night, but I’m glad we didn’t do that – there were indeed icy patches under underpasses and on bridges which would have been far more hazardous in the dark of night than they were mid-morning.)

First stop was a very brief one: in Georgiana, Alabama, to the house where Hank Williams lived from age 7 to 11, and where he was first given a guitar and learned to play it.

In preparation, I blasted Hank Williams for a good 45 minutes on the car CD player as we drove and told Michael the Hank’s story, included his death (which has always intrigued me, not just because it’s intriguing, but also because of the Knoxville connection.)

We’ve been to the Hank Williams gravesite in Montgomery, but it was years ago – I didn’t think he’d remember it, but he claims he did (“Was his wife buried there too? And it was big? Yes, I remember.” I guess he did.)

There’s a museum in the home, and the sign said, “Open,” but I really didn’t want to spend a lot of time, so we just stopped, took in the sign and the location, and moved on south…


–5 —

We reached Pensacola about 2, ate a Jaco’s on the water (Cuban for him, crabcake salad for me), then walked up to the downtown area – there are several small museums in the historic area, and we started with the largest one – the T.T. Wentworth Museum, which is housed in the former City Hall, a lovely Mediterranean Revival structure. The origins of the museum lies in the huge, eclectic collection of local Famous Person T.T. Wentworth, a fraction of which is exhibited in one room – the rest of the museum is dedicated to a history of the Pensacola area and changing exhibits.

I do love what the collectors of old gathered and left us. It’s usually so much more interesting than the carefully-curated, ideologically shaped contemporary museum. Both have their place, but given that I am a person who delights in finding meaning in the purportedly random, you know which kind of experience appeals to me more.

The ticket gets you into other smaller museums in the historic district – but everything closes at 4, and since we arrived on the scene at 3, we were out of luck – we can use the tickets on Friday, so we’ll probably do that for part of the day.



— 6 —

We made our way back to the car, engaging with way-too-tame squirrels along the way, and looking at various bits of archaeological finds along the way (mostly foundations and bits of walls from the British period – they were the ones whose plan forms the shape of the downtown even today).

Across one bridge to Gulf Breeze, with a short drive down to one of the entrances of the Gulf Shores National Seashore just to check out the layout, and then to our hotel. There are several heated pools, but I’m thinking the 40-ish degree weather is going to deter this one from making an attempt.

Dinner at local mediocre tourist staple Peg Leg Pete’s, just because – mostly because it’s slow season and there’s no waiting.

And…I’m already aggravated because there’s so much we want to do tomorrow, and so little time. We just can’t do the Commerce Museum, Business and Industry Museum, Naval Air Museum, Archaeology centers and do any walking In Nature….Well, we can come back, next time with the other son joining us.


— 7 —


Last night, M and I watched Chaplin’s The Kid. I had never seen it. It was lovely – Jackie Coogan was natural and charming. The linked article relates some of the real turmoil that are in the background to the film: the recent death of Chaplin’s infant son and his own removal from his home at the age of seven. I was struck, not only by the charm and humor of the movie, but also by:

  • The relatively honest treatment of an unwed mother and the implicit condemnation of the condemnation of unwed motherhood – if that makes sense. “Her sin was motherhood” reads the card accompanying “The Woman’s” discharge from the charity hospital, babe in arms.
  • The pervasiveness of prayer in the film. There is just a lot of praying. The Woman prays for her baby to be found, Chaplin and The Kid pray before they eat and before they go to sleep in the flophouse, and The Kid prays desperately when he’s being taken away – such a wrenching sequence!
  • The look of the film – maybe it’s just now with our monster television, I can actually see detail – but the textures of the walls, the furniture, the clothing – everything in The Kid – are almost palpable. Chaplin grew up in poverty, of course, and the set quiet consciously and powerfully evokes that life.

Chaplin, Hank Williams…it’s all education. Every bit.




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

7 Quick Takes

— 1 —


“The Canterville Ghost” by Wilde. This was our easing-into-school read this week. I’d never read it, nor seen any of the adaptations, but I knew the basics of the tale: An American diplomat and his family knowingly move into a haunted English estate. The ghost attempts to haunt them, but the pragmatic, good-humored Americans are immune, giving Wilde ample opportunity for some amusing satirical, but entirely good-natured commentary on cultural differences.

The deeper point, I suppose, regards the American disdain of tradition and deep history. They don’t believe in the ghost, but once they accept his existence, they treat him with undaunted practicality – suggesting medications for whatever ails him – and derision, teasing and even torment from the younger family members.

But then, Wilde, as he is wont to do, turns the tables on us all by way of sentimental spirituality, as the family’s daughter, appropriately named Virginia, provides the mediation the ghost requires to find peace.

It’s short, a good read, and a good way to explore the uses of satire and cultural commentary, as well as a bit of light spirituality.


 — 2 —

I also read Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime in the same volume. It’s a mild satire on 19th century gothic literature, in which a palm reader tells a young man he’s destined to murder someone. The young man, who is engaged to be married, decides that if this is Fate, he will try to take care of this before his wedding so as not to ruin his marriage. Since this is Oscar Wilde, the descriptions can be delectable:

…at the end of the picture-gallery stood the Princess Sophia of Carlsruhe, a heavy Tartar-looking lady, with tiny black eyes and wonderful emeralds, talking bad French at the top of her voice, and laughing immoderately at everything that was said to her. It was certainly a wonderful medley of people. Gorgeous peeresses chatted affably to violent Radicals, popular preachers brushed coat-tails with eminent sceptics, a perfect bevy of bishops kept following a stout prima-donna from room to room, on the staircase stood several Royal Academicians, disguised as artists, and it was said that at one time the supper-room was absolutely crammed with geniuses.

Lord Arthur’s deeply misdirected sense of obligation is appropriately appalling and the consequences darkly comic, but I enjoyed The Canterville Ghost more.

Next up (for him) “The Lottery” – and then a new novel starting next week. (On his own, he’s reading Dune.) 

— 3 —

I am probably not supposed to read this, but I am trying my hand at A.N. Wilson’s Charles Darwin: Victorian Mythmaker. Everyone says he gets the science all wrong, and wow, look at all those one-star reviews,  but as I am a fan of works that subvert conventional wisdom as well as those that set ideas in historical context, so once I saw it on the library shelf, it was impossible for me to resist.



Recently watched:

Not much, really, over the past week (sports and video games keeping control of the new television), but tonight I got up two episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents for us – via the Internet Archive. On the big television, which still amazes me. Anyway, I looked up what fans say are the best of the series, and we watched a couple: “The Man from the South,” with Steve McQueen and Peter Lorre, and “Lamb to the Slaughter,” with Barbara bel Geddes.

Spoiler alert – well, not really, since it happens at the beginning of the episode – if you have seen the second, you know that the plot involves a woman who kills her husband with a frozen leg of lamb, and the subsequent investigation into the crime. I thought it was good, but I also thought it would have been better if we hadn’t know her weapon until the end – it seemed to me the crime could have been artfully glossed over, and it would only gradually dawn on us what was up as sweet blonde Barbara serves up a late supper to the cops.

–5 —

Recent writes:

Look back for posts on Homeschooling Fall 2017 report and a jaunt my son and I took up to north Alabama to see Sandhill Cranes.

As well as ongoing projects.


— 6 —

Oh, I guess I should add this to the “recent watches” – might as well knock this off here.

We finally got around to taking a look at Stranger Things – both seasons. I had been highly resistant, first because if you tell me something is a “must watch” and inundate me with think pieces on it – yeah I’m going to #resist. I might come around, but don’t save space for me on the bandwagon right away.

I was also resistant because it’s a Netflix series, and even though it does feature pre-teens and teens, it’s a Netflix series and I knew that while it wasn’t Thirteen Reasons level, I did know that the language was a little rough. But I read reviews and gathered opinions from people whom I trust, and finally, from my throne, offered my assent to the viewing.

My take?


Well done on a superficial level – for the most part. (The second seasons is much weaker than the first) A decent introduction to “peak TV” for teens. But:


— 7 —

While at times, from moment to moment, I could get swept up in the suspense as a whole, it just didn’t mean anything to me. I didn’t find the 80’s setting engaging – I don’t have a lick of nostalgia for the 80’s, and the series really had nothing to say about it except: Big hair, shoulder pads and Reagan yard signs.

I didn’t find it thematically resonant. Articles proclaimed it a super-Catholic show in a deep sense – why? Because characters were sensing signs of the supernatural through the material? Stretching it. Other articles honed in on kids solving Big Mysteries on their own and tying it into themes of broken families – except that, well, Kids Solving Big Mysteries On Their Own is as old as E. Nesbit and probably older – all great kid-centered adventures have the kids on their own – what fun would it be with adults around? Secondly, the “broken family” theme didn’t really factor into the theme as strongly or meaningfully as I had expected coming into it – especially since it really only factors into one of the children’s situations.

Beyond that, I had two problems with Stranger Things, one relatively minor and the other more fundamental. First – the kids cussing. I’m not on board with that, especially at the level they took it here, and I even found some of it unrealistic. Sure, preteens and teens will curse in their own conversations, but would a typical small-town 13-year old curse as part of a doorway conversation with one of his friend’s parents? That was just off, as was the level of cursing, especially in the second season. The second season, which was far weaker than the first, and really, from a story perspective, had little reason to exist  – and yeah, those kids swore a lot more in the second season than the first.

But more importantly – I’ll try to articulate this, although this type of criticism is not my forte. I feel something, but I’m not sure why I feel it or what an alternative would look like. So with that introduction…

The plot of both seasons of Stranger Things was about a malevolence that lurks beneath ordinary life. It took different forms in each season (which is something that didn’t make sense to me – what happened to the Upside Down – until that last shot of the season?) – but that was the driving element of the plot – this Stuff that was largely unseen, was in some way a negative image of what we live with every day, but for some reason, sometimes, seeks our destruction and must be contained.

Except – whatever this is has no actual relation to life as it’s lived. You can say – well, that’s because it’s been contained – but what I think was missing was any thematic connection between this hidden evil and human life and choices. There was this Bigger Thing – this Stranger Thing– but it was just a creepy destructive force which had no motivation except for a hunger-driven destruction, and that found no reflection or reference in the hungers or creepy destructive forces that we encounter in every day life or in the world at large.

It’s not that Stranger Things needed blatant metaphors telegraphed in lame fashion, but I guess what I am attempting to say is that I never had any sense that this malevolence or the efforts to contain or control it was a metaphor for anything, and that rendered it ultimately not very interesting.

That said, some of the acting was remarkable, particularly from Millie Bobby Brown, who played Eleven, the girl who’d been kept to develop her psychic powers, and Gaten Matarazzo, who is a natural and a delight.

I found Winona Ryder tiresome – well, of course her frantic aspect was perfectly understandable as she sought her lost son and became convinced he was trapped in, er, the electrical system. But All! The! Anxious! Shouting!

And can I say this? Will it get me into trouble? Probably, just for being stupid. But here’s the thing: the creators of Stranger Things are twin brothers, and I really felt that during this show. The whole thing felt like the expression of very insular world that was about that world and not much else.

And the second season….there was no reason for it. Especially if your name is Bob. Poor Bob.





It did make for a good running joke during Christmas, though….



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

As the Crane flies


It’s early January, yes, but temperatures today were supposed to get into the 60’s. And since the next few days promise rain followed by a precipitous drop in temperature, it seemed like a good day to get out of town.

Where to go?

I have a slew of daytrip ideas stacked up, but here’s what’s bugging me: I’d really like to take my 16-year old with us on most of them, too. For example:

  • M and I went to Memphis two summers ago and had a great time – and when the older boy (who’d been at camp, I think) heard about what we’d done, he said, “I want to go next time…”
  • During World War II, there was a huge POW camp in Aliceville,Alabama. Not a scrap of it remains, but there is a museum – that’s supposed to be rather good.
  • We’ve not yet made it to the important sights in Selma or Tuskegee – again – those are trips I’d like the older boy to be on, too.

So cross those off the list (well, and Memphis is too far for a day-trip anyway). Since it was going to be pleasant, we’d want to be outdoors. But somewhere different…where to go?

How about…here?



It didn’t take long. We left well after the older son went to school and beat him back home, but it was just enough, and it was amazing.

Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge is a large area that embraces the banks of the Tennessee River and tributaries around Decatur and Huntsville, Alabama. If you’ve driven on I-65 across the Tennessee, you’ve touched the Wheeler Refuge.

Here’s the story:

Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge was established July 7, 1938 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt as a refuge and breeding ground for migratory birds and other wildlife. It was the first refuge ever superimposed on a hydro-electric impoundment and in the early stages, considered an experiment to determine the possibility of attracting migratory waterfowl onto a multipurpose impoundment. 

 Although designated as a waterfowl refuge, Wheeler provides for a wide spectrum of wildlife. Its great diversity of habitat includes deep river channels, tributary creeks, tupelo swamps, open backwater embayments, bottomland hardwoods, pine uplands, and agricultural fields. This rich mix of habitats provide places for over 295 bird species to rest, nest and winter, including over 30 species of waterfowl (ducks and geese) and an increasing population of Sandhill cranes and a small number of Whooping cranes. 


I’m glad I honed in on it this week – the cranes will start migrating again soon. It had been on the edges of my radar for a while, but crept closer to the center this week because I saw a notice about a “Crane Festival” up there this weekend – I’d considered doing that, but then thought – why attack the place with thousands of others when we can just run up there during the week? I’m very glad we went.


It was an astonishing sight that our cameras couldn’t capture – perhaps with a better telephoto lens, we could have. Also – a lot of the photos were taken through the glass of the observation building, which is, incidentally, apparently suffering from the same infestation of ladybug type beetles that we are down here.

Just know that to see, even from a bit of a distance, thousands of Sandhill Cranes hanging out, occasionally taking flight and making a lot of noise, is fascinating. There were apparently some whooping cranes in the crew as well, but I didn’t see them.


Again – not a great photo, but just know – that mass of gray? Sandhill Cranes. Thousands. 

(If you want to hear them – or at least what I was able to capture – go check out Instagram.)

Here we are, toting our gear, poking around in the grasses, and there they are en masse, finding whatever it is they find, always together, never alone.


There were, of course, a lot of waterfowl as well, and high up in a tree we spotted bees swarming around a cavity in the trunk.

There’s a decent little visitor’s center with exhibits to get you going. There were many other visitors, mostly older (ahem) folks as well as two school groups. It seems to be a well-used facility.

We drove north, along 565 (which takes you to Huntsville), and pulled off to walk a couple of other trails – we were told there were a lot of some type of waterfowl on a particular branch – which we saw, but from such a distance, even with binoculars, they were impossible to make out. The Beaverdam trail didn’t, unfortunately, have any beavers, or dams, but during our twenty minutes or so there, we walked through something different – a swamp populated, not by cypresses, as we usually see, but Tupelo trees.

And then back home, reading and being told about the Mayans, once again, as well as his latest read, Dune in which – he reported  – “Something happened. Finally.”

Next stop – eagles!

Well, hello there.

How about an update?

I have a lot to say on substantive things, but no time. None, at this point. I am a part of a project that will keep me occupied until mid-February. It’s not incredibly taxing, but it does suck up those small chunks of time I have for writing/thinking, and it’s a very good gig, if you catch my drift, so I’m not complaining.

What I thought I would do here, more for my benefit than yours, is to recap The First Semester of 7th Grade Homeschooling. I’m feeling the need to double back and am wondering if we actually accomplished anything, so here we go, if you don’t mind and can bear with me as I sort through my notes.

  • Context for newcomers: Smart 13-year old who was in school through 1st grade, then homeschooled from 2nd-5th, returned to school for 6th grade and is back home, but will probably be returning to school for 8th, and then will probably embark on some crazy unschooling/roadschooling adventure for high school.
  • IMG_20170825_130539Why the back and forth? I’m not really interested in rehashing it all, so just know this: it’s not a painful matter. There are no problems. It’s basically (from his perspective): If I can sleep late after staying up as late as I want reading, get up, read about Mayans and do the History Bee things and some math and play music and go on a jaunt somewhere weird and my late-middle-aged-Mom who’s Over It can call that school….why the heck would I want to get up at 6:30 am, put on a uniform and sit in a desk all day?
  • You can probably see his point.
  • A bit more here on our boring homeschool journey, as we say — and further links from there. 
  • And for those wondering – his brother is now a junior at the local Catholic HS, and is doing fine there.
  • I don’t exactly unschool, but nor do I plan in any detail. I find it much more useful IMG_20170817_232618to record – so I have this notebook, which I have at my side all day. I record every topic discussed, every video watched and every chapter covered. He’s responsible for collating that at the end of the week on a different chart. I have a separate list for all books/short stories read.
  • So, here goes, Fall 2017:
  • Two outside the home classes: (1) Photography via the local Catholic homeschool co-op and (2) The water cycle or something via the local science museum.
  • IMG_20170920_160050Ongoing: Boxing (Tuesdays), Fraternus (Wednesdays), basketball (starting in November)
  • Religion: Totally lectionary/liturgical year based. 15-20 minutes a day of prayer/discussion/rabbit trails on the Scriptures/saint of the day. Daily Mass maybe once a week.  Plus the formation via the Fraternus group, once a week, and from homilies heard, especially those heard while serving Mass at Casa Maria Retreat House (like this weekend, from Fr. Bryce Sibley).
  • Math: Art of Problem Solving Pre-Algebra. We got through chapter 5 – solving linear equations.
  • Spanish: We are using the Avancemos curriculum and have just finished unit 2.
  • Keyboarding: He’s doing it – it’s a non-negotiable, learning to type properly.
  • Music: He continues his studies, working this fall on the fourth movement of Beethoven’s Sonata no. 1, the 3rd movement of Kabalevsky’s Youth Concerto, and a few other pieces, including those which I throw at him, some of which are duets. With me. We are trying to get pipe organ lessons going, and hopefully that will happen in the next month or so. He sees his brother making his extra cash from bagging groceries and he thinks, Hmmm…maybe I can play music instead…..
  • History and Science: Guys, I’m sorry. If I were going to sit here and list all the topics he and I have dipped into, it would take all night. We are totally interest driven, IMG_20171014_141604.jpgwhich would drive Real Educators crazy, but given the fact that I Am Not Stupid and can continually put things in context, I don’t think it’s awful. Yes, he’s very interested in matters Meso-American, but he’s also read a lot about Napoleon and Japanese history and Indian history this year. What he does is a combination of his interests and the famed “teachable moments” – as in, if it’s Veteran’s Day, we talk about the history of Veteran’s Day, and so on. I use this Today in History site from the US Archives quite a bit. There are numerous history and science -oriented video sites that we frequent.  He reads and dips into books from our personal library, the public library, reads National Geographic, National Geographic History, and Archaeology.
  • My philosophy is this: I am teaching him, I hope, by example, that the world is huge and amazing and there is always something to learn, and almost everything about it is interesting. Do state standards demand that a 7th-grader learn this set of facts about science or history? Who cares?
  • And what is my mode of “teaching” these subjects? Reading, watching, observing and then conversation. That’s it.
  • Lost. Not even kidding. We spent the fall watching the entire series and are you seriously going to argue about the educational value of Lost? With me? Don’t even. Theme, subtext, philosophy, spirituality, literary motifs, drama, mythology, even the complexity and unpredictability of the creative act itself – it’s all there.
  • Literature: Here’s a list of poems, short stories and novels read for “school.” At the same time, he’s reading his own books, mostly adventure series like Maze Runner, Star Wars, etc. Sorry, I will not provide links to each one. You can look them up!


Ozymandias (Shelley)

The Owl Critic


To Autumn (Keats)

The Sloth (Roethke)

Something Told the Wild Geese   (Field)

We are going to see the Rabbit (Brownjohn)

In Drear-Night December (Keats)

Sonnet 73 (Shakespeare)

Short Stories:

To Build a Fire (London)

The Necklace (de Maupassant)

The Reticence of Lady Anne (Saki)

The Death of a Government Clerk (Chekov)

Just Lather, That’s All (Tellez)

The Canterville Ghost (Wilde)


Animal Farm

Of Mice and Men

The Old Man and the Sea 

Tom Sawyer

The Yearling (that took a while)

A Christmas Carol 


Links are to my posts on the experiences. 

(Summer 2017) – Guatemala

Moss Rock Preserve (3X)

Ruffner Mountain (2X)

Birmingham Botanical Gardens (3X)

Birmingham Zoo (manyX)

Zookeeper for a Day experience (9/18)

Sloss Furnace Tour and Iron Pour

Libraries (countless times)

Red Mountain Park (2X)

Vestavia Trail

St. George Melkite Church

Alabama Symphony – 3 “Coffee Concerts” –

  • Brahms Symphony 1
  • Beethoven Symphony 4
  • Mozart Symphony 41 & Rameau, Purcell, Vivaldi and Bach

Piano Performance, Vadym Kholodenko: Mozart, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky

Fossil Hunt (via Fresh Air Family)

Aldridge Botanical Gardens (Hoover, AL)  – program on spiders/nighttime spider hunt

Homewood Public Library – Frog Dissection

Kansas/Missouri:  Truman Library, City Museum in St. Louis, Cahokia Mounds, Benedictine College

Birmingham Museum of Art (3X at least)


New York City (12/26-29) Metropolitan Museum of Art (NYC)

American Museum of Natural History (NYC)

Hansel and Gretel– Metropolitan Opera (NYC)


Spring 2018:

We’ll be continuing on much the same lines, with a bit more travel. Look here and on Instagram for trips in the next few weeks and months to the Gulf Coast, New Orleans, Honduras and Guatemala (again), and then this summer…maybe points very far east. Or west? It’s all relative, you know.

No outside classes this semester, but boxing, Fraternus and basketball continue. Piano work will intensify as competition season approaches. As I said, we’re looking to begin pipe organ. Hopefully, he’ll qualify for the regional history bee, too, and that will be fun – he, er, enjoys competition.

What’s missing? Writing. Yup. That’s the main thing I want to press over the next few months – during the first round of homeschooling, we were super faithful with the copywork, and I am a huge believer in it. But with a 7th grader here on his own, I really didn’t feel the need. But he does need to write more, so we’ll work on that. We need to do more science demonstrations at home, as well. We did a bunch of stuff with crystals and random fire-related things, but this spring, we need to up our game – I promised some dissection, so that will happen. I guess.


Okay. I feel better. Thnx for listening.


It’s my turn:

My 12-year-old son and I were in the car, on a dirt road through a forest, on our way to a swimming hole.

“Wait,” he said. “Is that an owl?”




And for more of the same, try the Catholic Woman’s Book of Days here or, as Lent approaches, you can still grab digital copies of two Lenten devotionals I’ve written – Daybreaks and Reconciled to God. 



7 Quick Takes

— 1 —

Well, welcome 2018!

Holiday travels completed without too much hassle – NYC for the three of us (first post here, and then just follow along), then Florida for the boys and Charleston for me (Charleston Before the Snow, that is).


School for the high schooler began on Thursday, and so the homeschooling 7th grader and I began very slowly on the same day – very slowly mostly because he came down with a fluish/cold type thing at the end of vacation, and is still in recovery. So after sleeping until 11 or so, we said our prayers, learned about St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, then went over the music we’ll be hearing at the Alabama Symphony Orchestra concert   on Friday morning   –  watched this video on the counterpoint in the last movement of the Jupiter symphony, for example. Then we talked about the qualifying test for the National History Bee, which he’ll be taking at some point over the next week. We did a bunch of practice quizzes and he settled on a date when he wants to take the test.

Then, for the first time in over a week, he practiced piano…and we called it a day.

 — 2 —

Here’s a review of the Loyola Kids’ Book of Bible Stories. Thanks to the reviewer who nicely expresses what I was trying to do with the book!

The Book of Bible Stories by Amy Welborn is one of the most unusual and helpful presentation I’ve seen among the many editions for children. Published by Loyola Press, who kindly sent me a copy to review, this collection opens with stories relevant to Advent – the beginning of the liturgical church year – and ends with stories of Christ’s resurrection, Saul’s conversion, and “The Life of the Early Christians” while including Old Testament stories that foreshadow Easter in the redemptive tales of Noah, Moses and the Exodus, and “Ezekiel and the Dry Bones.”

Not only does this unique presentation of Bible stories give readers a clearer living portrait of God’s people – from Genesis through now, the author skillfully weaves in “various aspects of Catholic life that are informed by (the) Scripture passage: prayers, devotions, sacraments, teachings, and the lives of the saints.”

— 3 —

Washington Post story about an abortion facility closed, and the space purchased for a free clinic run by Catholic Charities:

Ross, who is a doctor for Novant Health during the rest of the week, serves as medical director at the new Catholic Charities clinic, which opened this month and operates only on Wednesday nights. He said he hopes to recruit more volunteer providers so that the clinic can operate more than four hours a week, and to strike more agreements with neighboring medical providers so that patients who need more help than what the free clinic can provide can access care.

More please. Of both – closed abortuaries and free medical care provided by the Church.


Richard Rodriguez on St. Junipero Serra, in First Things: 

Serra’s route trespassed upon the prelapsarian myth of the Indian as pacific, living in harmony with nature. Spanish priests taught the Indians to plant the seeds of Spain (grapes, dates, figs, architecture, music, shade). By teaching the Indian to cultivate a garden, Serra removed the Indians from paradise, from the provender of nature. Fred Collins, administrator of the Northern Chumash Tribal Council, was quoted in the San Luis Obispo Tribune on the occasion of Fr. Serra’s canonization in 2015: “Serra was sent here as part of a group of emissaries who treated indigenous people here as if they were animals, people who enjoyed the beauty of simplicity and were caring of mother Earth.”

Serra became the postlapsarian prophet of a coming age. The overall instruction was to settle. Serra understood the Indians would be decimated if they were unprepared for the settlers’ ways. He was not protecting the indigenous people from Spanish civilization so much as preparing the Indians to live in communion with the Spaniards. To that extent, the Catholic purpose in California was impure from the beginning—it envisioned cultural and racial mixture, a mestizaje that would bewilder the puritan imagination.

–5 —

Would you like to read a lot about Muriel Spark? Here you go – an issue of The Bottle Imp (a Scottish literary journal, it seems?) – dedicated to her. 

From “Ghost Writing: The Work of Muriel Spark:”

The over-reading of sexuality, both in Spark’s oeuvre and in Spark herself (a predominant critical failing in the twenty-first century, I would argue), runs the danger of blinding critics and readers to the fact that in Spark sex is small potatoes. If we humans are moved by sexual longing at all this is only part of a deeper and spiritual yearning, in Spark’s signature outlook. In one sense quite a Freudian writer, where she is precisely attuned to the stories we tell about ourselves and others, Spark in another way is deeply resistant to the ultimately materialist nature of Freudian thought. Whether framed in the context of her Catholicism or not (and it might also be seen amid a stubborn post-Romantic outlook in the author or even as part of her deconstructionist, existentialist mentality), Spark’s critique of materialism has it that our crass, selfish, greed in pursuit of mere bodily comforts and pleasures has denuded modern western society of higher moral and aesthetic sensibilities. We should not treat the lives of others as inferior or to be appropriated by our own selfish needs, either individually or as a society (where, for instance, the advocacy of contraception for the working classes in the 1930s Edinburgh grocer’s shop comes perilously close to a Eugenics programme). The ‘only problem’ as Spark knows with her near obsession with The Book of Job is that of human suffering. And that problem is made, in one sense obviously enough, by other human beings. Most essentially, the mortal sin of humanity is to interfere (or attempt to interfere) with the innocent free will of our fellow human beings (and this might be seen as nefarious at least, even without Spark’s own theological frame of reference that impeding human free will is wicked because this free will is God-given and is a reflection of His own centre of being).

I last wrote about Spark here, after read The Girls of Slender Means. 

— 6 —

Today’s the feastday of St. John Neumann:

He’s a saint who was a strong leader….the first page of the entry in The Loyola Kids’ Book of Saints.

— 7 —

Oh, hey, remember how we spent a good chunk of the fall watching (or rewatching, depending on who you were) Lost? We pushed finishing it, not only because of the coming holidays and travel, but because we learned early in December that Netflix was discontinuing Lost after 1/4/2018. We did, indeed finish it a couple of weeks ago, but that didn’t stop me from spending part of the morning of 1/3 rewatching favorite scenes (mostly scenes that ended and began seasons…no one ever did it better)  and even one whole episode (“Tricia Tanaka is Dead” – Let’s go look death in the face and say, ‘whatever, man.'”). 

Well, guess what – the very next day, Lost moved to Hulu! Not that it matters to me – I don’t subscribe to Hulu, and have no plans to, and have no need to rewatch Lost again anytime soon aside from scenes I can find on YouTube, but just in case you do the Hulu thing and are fondly remembering Lost it’s there now.  


Image result for hurley hugging sawyer gif

Oh, and we got a new television. It was my big Christmas gift to them. They’d been complaining for a while about how small ours was – I always thought it was big. but maybe not? I don’t even remember buying it, so I guess that means that Mike bought it, and he died almost nine years ago, so yeah. Maybe it wasn’t the top-of-the-line tech I’d been arguing it was.

…which I now understand, since we are now three days with this 50-inch smart tv, which is…amazing. I won’t cut the cord completely until after March Madness (although yes, I know he could watch All The Games without DirectTV, but it’s just easier to keep the status quo and figure it out afterwards), but being at my Charleston son’s house and getting a Smart-TV in-service from him and my daughter-in-law helped me understand all the options, and assure me that yes, I will be able to watch the one remaining show I’m interested in – Better Call Saul – when it returns.

And guys, I know I’m supposed to be all No….we don’t own a television. We prefer to read Aquinas and, er, prayerfully discern, er, our smartphone/tablet/laptop/PC use. But mostly read Aquinas…promise.  But I’m not. Most television is trash, sure, but since there’s an “off” button and the “change channel” button, that means that   – get this – you don’t have to watch the trash. And you can control what your kids watch, especially if you’re a fascist like me who  doesn’t allow kids to have screens in their rooms unless the door is open and they’ve earned it in some way.

Film – and even some television –  is an important art form and can be a deeply engaging and meaningful way to spend time. It’s a blessing, not a curse, that the other night, we could watch The Thirty-Nine Steps on a big, clear screen, and talk about the Hitchcock trope of ordinary-man-thrust-in-threatening-situations we’d just seen and seen in other Hitchcock films, and that I can figure out that Alfred Hitchcock Presents is available on http://www.archive.org, and can do a search of what folks think are the top ten episodes and plan some cold-weather viewing for the next week or so via the browser on the television…and the picture is just fine. I’m sitting here pretty amazed at that. And I’m not apologizing, either.

Image result for it's showtime better call saul


Not until September….gah….

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

Of course she was for kids!

Anyway, she’s in The Loyola Kids’ Book of Saints under “Saints are people who love children.”

"amy welborn"

A sample page here:

"amy welborn"

The Loyola Kids’ Book of Saints

Over 40 saints’ lives,written at a middle-school reading level.

I. Saints are People Who Love Children
St. Nicholas,St. John Bosco, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, Blessed Gianna Beretta Molla

amy welbornSaints Are People Who Love Their Families
St. Monica,St. Cyril and St. Methodius, St. Therese of Lisieux,Blessed Frederic Ozanam,

Saints Are People Who Surprise OthersSt. Simeon Stylites,St. Celestine V,St. Joan of Arc,St. Catherine of Siena

Saints Are People Who Create
St. Hildegard of Bingen,Blessed Fra Angelico,St. John of the Cross,Blessed Miguel Pro

Saints Are People Who Teach Us New Ways to Pray
St. Benedict,St. Dominic de Guzman,St. Teresa of Avila,St. Louis de Monfort

Saints Are People Who See Beyond the Everyday
St. Juan Diego, St. Frances of Rome, St. Bernadette Soubirous, Blessed Padre Pio

Saints Are People Who Travel From Home
St. Boniface, St. Peter Claver, St. Francis Xavier, St. Francis Solano, St. Francis Xavier Cabrini

Saints Are People Who Are Strong Leaders
St. Helena, St. Leo the Great, St. Wenceslaus, St. John Neumann

Saints Are People Who Tell The Truth
St. Polycarp, St. Thomas Becket, St. Thomas More, Blessed Titus Brandsma

Saints Are People Who Help Us Understand God
St. Augustine of Hippo, St. Jerome, St. Patrick, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Edith Stein

Saints Are People Who Change Their Lives for God
St. Ambrose, St. Gregory the Great, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Ignatius of Loyola, St. Camillus de Lellis, St. Katharine Drexel

Saints Are People Who Are Brave
St. Perpetua and St. Felicity, St. George, St. Margaret Clitherow, St. Isaac Jogues, The Carmelite Nuns of Compiegne, St. Maximilian Kolbe

Saints Are People Who Help the Poor and Sick
St. Elizabeth of Hungary, St. Vincent de Paul, St. Martin de Porres, Blessed Joseph de Veuster

Saints Are People Who Help In Ordinary Ways
St. Christopher, St. Blaise, St. Anthony of Padua, St. Bernard of Montjoux

Saints Are People Who Come From All Over the World
Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, St. Paul Miki, Blessed Peter To Rot, Blessed Maria Clementine Anuarite Nengapeta

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