7 Quick Takes

 — 1 —


Lots of reading this week, but first:

What ho!

It’s an unexpected byproduct of me “assigning” a single Wodehouse story to my 13-year old. After showing him a clip of the Laurie/Fry version and asking him if he’d be interested in watching a full episode or two…

…here we are into season 2, with this What Ho! compilation video running, it seems, on a loop. Or maybe it’s not playing – maybe people are just constantly chirping “What ho!” around here all the time now.

I’m very glad that it’s caught on.

(It’s not streaming anywhere for “free,” by the way. I went the old-fashioned route and checked the DVD’s out of the library.)


— 2 —

You might or might not recall that I began the Wodehouse with him as the beginning of some big plans to do a “Humor in Literature” unit. Well, er, we’ve read Thurber’s “The Night the Ghost Got In.” And….

Yes, life gets in the way. With the Tulane trip,  spring break looming, and much music needing to be practiced, school over the past couple of weeks has consisted of math, Spanish, and “go read about history or something for thirty minutes.” And a poem when I think about it.

In my defense, we have read a lot of humorous literature in the past (“Ransom of Red Chief,” a lot of Saki, Twain, etc.), and I have a list for after Spring Break. And we did have a good discussion based on this web page – we talked about how both Wodehouse and Thurber used these devices – and how they turn up in other works of art familiar to him.

But I also believe, sir, that many hours of watching Jeeves and Wooster count for something, eh?

A by-product of the by-product is a mild obsession with “47 Ginger-headed Sailors” sung by Laurie here. The 13-year old is very frustrated that he can’t work out the accompaniment. (And yes, ancient sheet music is available online, but it’s hard to read and it’s really not what Laurie plays in this clip, which is more of a vamp than anything else.)

(May I add that we’re not all 1920’s country homes and foxtrots around here. More brain power probably has gone to the video game Fortnite than much else in recent weeks. Very normal.)


Speaking of England, I discovered this week that my self-published e-book  of Mary Magdalene: Truth, Legend and Lies is doing rather well at Amazon.co.uk – at this writing, it’s #7 on the Kindle Catholicism best seller list and #21 on the general/all-formats Catholicism list. It will probably not be that high by the time you read this, but it is now, and it’s very strange!

(Interested in Holy Week/Easter reading? Go here.)


With the end of one big project, my brain opened up to reading once again. I’ve knocked off four books this week.



–5 —





And, as I said last week, stay tuned to this space and Instagram for posts from a Holy Week pilgrimage of sorts….Adios! 




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

A quick reminder:

"amy welborn"





Ite Ad Joseph


Some images for you, first a vintage holy card from the Shrine of St. Joseph in Montreal that interests me because it predates the construction of the large basilica:


"st. joseph"

"amy welborn"

From the Oratory of St. Joseph in Montreal.  

I just love the blues on the card above and the not-quite Art-Noveauishness of it.

"st. Joseph"

At the shrine featured in the vintage holy cards.  Summer 2011. 

In him the Old Testament finds its fitting close. He brought the noble line of patriarchs and prophets to its promised fulfillment. What the divine goodness had offered as a promise to them, he held in his arms.  – from a homily of St. Bernardine of Siena. 

The wonderful Catholic artist Daniel Mitsui, whose depiction of St. Joseph dreaming is above, has  a blog. It is an absolute treasure trove of wisdom, whether you are an artist or not. Please go visit, bookmark, visit every day and support his work.  Easter’s coming. Surely there’s someone out there who’d appreciate the gift of one his prints?

Lazarus, Come Out!

The first and last page of my retelling of the narrative, the Gospel for this Fifth Sunday of Lent, in the Loyola Kids Book of Bible Stories. 

Jesus had just demonstrated that he had more power than anything, even death. No person has that kind of power. Only God does. Only God can conquer death, and in Bethany that day, Jesus revealed that power.
Death has no power over Jesus, and when we are friends with him, death and sin have no power over us, either. Jesus’ power over evil and darkness doesn’t begin at our tombs, though. When we sin, even a little bit, we choose death over life. Refusing to love or give or show kindness to others gives darkness a bit more power in our lives.

We were not made for this. We were made for light and love!

We can think of the Sacrament of Reconciliation as the moment when we, like Lazarus, are brought back to life by Jesus. Jesus stands outside the little tombs we live in—the tombs made out of selfishness, anger, sadness, and pain. He knows we are not lost forever, even if it seems like that to us. The worst sins and bad habits? Jesus has power over them. Jesus doesn’t want us to live in darkness. He wants us in the light with him, unbound—free and full of joy.

The book is structured around the liturgical year. In planning it, I asked myself, “When do most Catholic children and families encounter Scripture?” The answer is – in a liturgical context. This context is, in addition, expressive of the more general context in which all Catholics – and most Christians since apostolic times – have encountered, learned about, understood and embraced Scripture – in the context of liturgy, which is, in the most general terms, the context of the Church.

So the stories in the book are organized according to the liturgical season in which they would generally be heard, and the stories are retold with that liturgical context in view, as well as any specific and age-appropriate theological and spiritual themes – so, for example, here, the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

For more about the book from the Loyola Press site.





There’s a substantial excerpt here. 


Signed copies available here (only through 3/24 if you are thinking Easter giving).

7 Quick Takes

 — 1 —

Happy Friday! Happy third-to-the-last Friday of Lent!

In case you missed it, last weekend, my 13-year old and I had a few days in New Orleans. Blog posts about the trip are here,  here, here and here.



(And, as always, on Instagram)

— 2 —

The next journey will be coming up in a bit more than a week. I’ll set the stage and open the curtain a bit by explaining that my older son’s spring break is…Holy Week. This ticks me off big time. Catholic schools having spring break during Holy Week? Please.

The reason given being – around here at least – is that the Catholic schools follow the public school calendars most of the time. So many people have children in both systems, I suppose there would be too many complaints to do it any other way.

(The glitch in the argument, in my mind, is that there are several large colleges in and around Birmingham, all big employers, and I think they’re all on Spring Break this week, causing, I’ll presume intra-family hassles of one sort or another.)

Anyway, when I first realized this, I went all hard core and said to myself…we are staying in town and we are going to All the Liturgies, and what is more, they are serving at All The Liturgies.

But then…

I revisited thoughts I’ve been having over the past few years, thoughts which centered on the desire to spend Holy Week somewhere where they actually do Holy Week in a big, public way.

So we’re doing that.

(Hint: We’re not crossing any time zones in any substantial way….)




Speaking of holy days and such, tomorrow is St. Patrick’s Day. Check out this post on what I’ve written about St. Patrick, or if you don’t want to bother, just click here for my entry on him from the Loyola Kids Book of Saints and here for my chapter on the Lorica from The Words We Pray.


(I love this art – but then I love most vintage Catholic line art – from a book, The Rhymed Life of St. Patrick  by Irish writer Katharine Tynan.

And of course, this leads me to tediously remind you that if you are looking for Easter gifts, I’ve written several books that might be of interest – for children, young adults, women and even new Catholics. Keep them in mind for Easter, as well as the upcoming Sacramental Season:

"amy welborn"


Signed copies of some titles available here. 


Here’s a wonderful story:



Developer Gene Dub has donated an entire four-storey building to give homes to some of the estimated 100 pregnant woman who find themselves homeless in Edmonton each year.

He heard about the need on a radio show, then thought about what he could do.

“I just happened to have a building,” said the local developer, speaking Thursday after his gift was celebrated at the 2018 housing awards. 

Dub specializes in rehabilitating historic buildings. This one, the old Grand Manor Hotel, was built in 1913 near 98 Street and 108 Avenue. He bought it eight years ago, renovating it and continuing to rent it as low-income housing. The 18 studios and one-bedroom units were renting for about $500.

It’s a gift worth $3 million. 

Capital Region Housing had been looking at buying the building last summer, said Greg Dewling, executive director. But finances are tight.

Then Dub phoned him up.

He said: “‘Do you think you could make it work if I donated the building?’” Dewling recalled with a laugh. 

Yes, that would work just fine.



–5 —

Erin Shaw Street is a local Birmingham writer, active in many areas and platforms. She wrote this fantastic, brave, moving essay on the second anniversary of her sobriety:

I don’t remember many details of the conversation. The alcohol had wrecked me, drinks from after parties and my sad after party of one. Years of drinking to self-medicate, drinking to try to keep up with what the world told me to be, drinking for energy (I know), drinking to cope with physical pain and anxiety. This was not about “fun” and hadn’t been in a long while. Dehydrated and shaky, Sondra walked me along the edges of the Colorado River. She was a mother too, and a seamstress. I think she said something about vintage lace. I said things like:

“But you don’t know what I’ve done.”

She assured me that this world was filled with people who had done all the things I had done, and then some. And that there was actually a way to move through this life healed from those mistakes. She shared because she had been there. She had stopped drinking and stayed stopped and done the work to look her past in the eye and it did not kill her.

Also would I like a smoothie?

That is what I remember: we walked, talked, and drank smoothies. She told me there was a way to get better, but I’d have to do the work and find community. The sun made my head hurt even more, and I stumbled back into the hotel and slept again, embarrassed to find my coworkers. They tracked down my phone, and a kind Uber driver returned it. He was deaf — I remember this, and I was struck by his act of kindness. He didn’t have to do that. Maybe the world was good. But first, to get through hell.

— 6 —

Watched: The Maltese Falcon.  

We are about to (finally) cut the satellite cord, and so I was scrolling through the movies I’ve dvr’d from TCM, trying to get at least a few watched. Images from The Maltese Falcon popped up and the 16-year old requested that we watch that one (I’d been moving towards On the Waterfront) because “it has the fat guy in it.”

(Sydney Greenstreet – we’d watched Casablanca a few weeks back.)

I hadn’t seen it in many years, and while, of course, it’s a great movie, it’s also just so slightly marred (in a very tiny way) by deep proclamations of love between Bogart and Mary Astor after 36 hours of acquaintance. It really makes no sense – unless impassioned I love you! after a day are really code for, Yeah, they had sex when she went to his apartment that night. 

— 7 —

Reading: Jane Eyre. 

Never read it before (in my own defense I was an insufferable Thomas Hardy teenage reader back in the day) and am thoroughly enjoying it. It’s a very fast read, and really interesting from a theological/spiritual perspective, which I’ll explore more once I finish it.

In Our Time on the novel. 


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

St. Patrick’s Day


Yes, St. Patrick’s Day is a couple of days away, but don’t you want to prepare? Prepare yourself, prepare the kids…


St. Patrick's Well, Orvieto

What is this and what does it have to do with St. Patrick? See the end of the blog post…

From The Loyola Kids’ Book of Saints:

How do you teach a classroom that’s as big as a whole country? How do you teach a whole country about God?

St. Patrick’s classroom was the whole country of Ireland and his lesson was the good news of Jesus Christ. How in the world did he do it? Well, it was only possible because he depended totally on God.


God gave Patrick the courage to speak, even when Patrick was in danger of being hurt by pagan priests who didn’t want to lose their power over the people.

Patrick’s most famous prayer shows us how close he was to God. It’s called “St. Patrick’s Breastplate.” A breastplate is the piece of armor that protects a soldier’s heart from harm.

Christ with me, Christ before me,
Christ behind me, Christ within me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ at my right, Christ at my left.

I also  have a chapter on the beautiful Lorica prayer – or St. Patrick’s Breastplate in The Words We Pray. You can dip into it here and buy the book here. It’s one of my favorites of those I’ve written. 

The point of St Patrick to me has always been he went back.  He (like Isaac Jogues and many others) returned to the people who had caused him much suffering. Why did he return? Because he knew, first hand, that they needed to hear the Gospel. The Gospel is about forgiveness and reconciliation. Who better to bring it to them?

St. Patrick's Breastplate

St. Patrick’s Breastplate in a Wordcloud. Wordcloud made via this. Feel free to share. 

The photograph at the top of the blog post is of St. Patrick’s Well in Orvieto, Italy, taken during our 2016 trip. No, St. Patrick never traveled to Italy, and no one thinks he does, either. The assumption is that the name of this very deep, intriguingly constructed well is derived from the awareness of “St. Patrick’s Purgatory” in Ireland, a cave so deep it led to Purgatory. 

This incredible 16th century feat of engineering is 72 meters (174.4 feet) deep and 13 meters (43 feet) wide.  Two staircases circle the central opening in a double-helix design, meaning that one person (or donkey carrying empty buckets) can travel down the staircase in one direction and never run into another person (or donkey carrying full buckets) coming up in the other direction.  Seventy-two arched windows in the interior wall of the staircase filter light through the well and illuminate the brick and mortar used to seal it.

Why does a tiny town on top of a plateau of volcanic rock (or “tufa”) have such a thing? For the same reason it has such a stunning duomo!  After the troops of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V sacked Rome in 1527, Pope Clement VII was held hostage in Castel Sant’Angelo, Rome’s holy fortress, for six months.  He finally escaped dressed as a servant and took refuge in Orvieto. It was the perfect spot with its vantage point over the valley.

It didn’t, however, have a reliable source of water without descending from the plateau, something the Pope feared could be a issue if it were sieged.  To solve the problem before it existed, Pope Clement VII commissioned Antonio da Sangallo the Younger, a visionary young Italian architect, to create a well that was at that time called “Pozzo della Rocca”, “Well of the Fortress”. Research had already been done to find the most suitable spot for a well and so the design and construction of Pozzo della Roca was begun immediately.  It was finished 10 years later in 1537, under the reign of Pope Paul III.

It wasn’t until the 1800′s that the well got its new name, as it reminded some of the “well” or “cave” in Ireland called “St. Patrick’s Purgatory”.



(I always like these vintage books more for the art than the text….)

Finally, you might be interested in this, dug up from the Internet Archive: A Rhymed Life of St. Patrick by Irish writer Katharine Tynan:

Irish nationalist writer Katharine Tynan was born in Clondalkin, a suburb of Dublin, in 1859. She was educated at the Dominican Convent of St. Catherine and started writing at a young age. Though Catholic, she married a Protestant barrister; she and her husband lived in England before moving to Claremorris, in County Mayo. Tynan was friends with W.B. Yeats and Charles Parnell.

 Involved in the Irish Literary Revival, Tynan expressed concern for feminist causes, the poor, and the effects of World War I—two sons fought in the war—in her work. She also meditated on her Catholic faith. A prolific writer, she wrote more than 100 novels, 12 collections of short stories, reminiscences, plays, and more than a dozen books of poetry, among them Louise de la Vallière and Other Poems (1885), Shamrocks (1887), Ballads and Lyrics (1891), Irish Poems (1913), The Flower of Peace: A Collection of the Devotional Poetry of Katharine Tynan (1914), Flower of Youth: Poems in Wartime (1915), and Late Songs (1917). She died in 1931.



Oh! And how was the actual trip?

Let’s begin with the symposium.

We attended the all-day workshop on Maya glyphs on Friday, looked around the New Orleans Museum of Art, and then found our new hotel and, after a bit of a rest, went to Parkway Bakery and Tavern for a Po-Boy. (recounted here)

We had planned to attend the keynote of the symposium, and I was looking forward to it, having read part of the presenter’s most recent book on the encounter between Cortes and Montezuma. But M was coming down with a cold and not feeling great – and was really not feeling an hour+ talk after wrestling with glyphs all day – so I just let it go. I mean, it wasn’t my weekend, was it?

Saturday we ended up at four talks all together, split by a visit to the Audubon Zoo, a past favorite. (See one of the reasons why – their two-headed snake in action – on my Instagram.)

The theme of the symposium was Maya warfare. I mentioned in a previous post that I’m very interested in historiography (the study of the study of history) and, more specifically, the upending of accepted narratives and conventional wisdom, and in that regard, what I heard delivered.

I didn’t know this, but for much of the modern era of Maya studies – perhaps until the late 60’s and 70’s – it had been believed that war was not an important part of Maya life in the period of the culture’s flourishing (hundreds of years before Europeans showed up). It seems odd and even a little bit crazy, considering the pervasiveness of violence in human history and the fact that the Maya seemed perfectly capable of engaging the Spanish, but apparently that was the case. One presenter projected a lengthy description of the Maya from a work from the 1940’s in this regard and then said that what has happened in Maya studies is essentially the excision of the word “not” from this quote – as in, older conventional wisdom had held the Maya not bellicose in any way, not shaped by patterns of conquest…and so on.

And why was this? I don’t know enough to do anything but guess, but what I picked up from the talks was that it was because of the lack of physical evidence –  no armaments, no battle gear left – and the challenges in translating the glyphs. I think one of the turning points was the discovery of the Bonampak Murals in Chiapas (on someone’s bucket list….). That, along with growing understanding of the written (carved) record as well as the discoveries, via traditional archaeology and LidAR, of what are being understood as defensive constructions, is pulling together a clearer picture of the role of warfare among the ancient Maya – hence the topic of the symposium.

The 13-year old was engaged by most of what he heard, some more than others. One fellow in particular – John Chuckiack of Missouri State – offered a fast-moving presentation that had him absolutely absorbed and his pen racing across the page of his notebook. The guy talking about his studies correlating accounts of battle with the seasons? Not so much. But all of that gave me a chance to help him see how scholarly work is done: Dr. W  researches some incredibly minute aspect of meteorology, Dr. X with her graduate students crunches numbers in another area, Dr. Y pours over hundreds of manuscripts in archives from Madrid to Mexico City,  and Dr. Z spends decades puzzling over this one stubborn set of glyphs no one can seem to crack. And for a couple of months every year, everybody seems to find time to cut through Central American jungle and puzzle out what’s under the mound they just discovered last year.

I also pointed out – as I have done frequently to both of the boys in these Homeschooling Years – how facile and superficial what is presented in elementary and high school history texts is. It’s a narrative of black and white and one of absolute certainty, when our understanding of the past hardly ever rests on solid ground. It’s good for getting the basic flow of events and conflict – which we all should have – but beyond that, the shape of the past, the motivations of its actors and the consequences of their choices – are much more ambiguous than we like to let on.

So, I don’t know if the interest will last, but at this point, he wants to keep journeying in that direction. The appeal is strong: the more you learn about this field of study, the more you see how little we know. There’s a lot hidden in that jungle, and for someone with an adventurous spirit and a yearning to discover, it just might be the perfect place to be.

When I wasn’t mentally straining to absorb all of this new information about Maya battle tactics  and climate and fortifications and such, I had moments here and there to consider the strangeness of the scene. It was one of those many times in life in which we might say, If you’d told me five years ago…ten…fifteen….that I’d be in this place doing this, I would have either said you were crazy or wondered what would have happened to me.

It was just a little odd, sitting there listening to these people talk about places like Tikal and Aguateka and see images of them and recognize the structures, and come into the room after using the restroom, seeing an image of a modern town in the middle of a lake on the screen and whispering to my son, Is that Flores? and him nodding, and well, yes, if you’d told me two years ago that I’d recognize the lay of the land around Flores, Guatemala, I’d have wondered what weird thing had happened in my life to make that so.

Well, the weird that happened is simply other people. Ancient MesoAmericans and Central American travel are certainly not top interests to me, but they intersect enough with what does interest me on a fundamental level – the varieties of human experience past and present – that I can be up for exploring it more, if that’s where I, as driver and bank, am invited to go. Just as I can rustle up interest in football or movies or the law or whatever else the people in my life are into. I have my limits, of course, and I might be more of a critic or naysayer than you’d like at times, but I will do my best to be there with you in whatever weird little part of life you happen to find interesting: to learn, to try to understand, and to grow.

Saturday night, after returning to the hotel and resting for a bit, we set out for downtown. My intention was to grab the St. Charles streetcar on the way, but one never did pass us, so we walked the entire way – it was only a mile and half, so not a big deal.

We ended up at Mr. B’s Bistro. I had check reservations before we left, and there were none available until close to 10, but walking in and asking for a table worked, too. We only had to wait about twenty minutes for a table. My son got the restaurant’s signature Barbecue Shrimp, which I shared a bit of, along with the crab cake appetizer.

Spendy, but good – it was the one major meal of the weekend, so I didn’t mind.

New Orleans is such a party town, it goes without saying, but it’s hard to really grasp it until you’re there – and this isn’t even Mardi Gras or Sugar Bowl season. It’s as if our human desire to celebrate something with someone – anyone  – flows down the river and gets dumped out right there, in that spot, and it’s messy, and amusing and anxious, hopeful and worn-out, sincere and contrived all at the same time, in the same raucous moment.

We walked back to the hotel, past the empty column where Robert E. Lee used to stand, past a jazzy wedding procession, past the homeless encampments under the bridges, past the IV-treatment for your hangover place, past a rat scampering into the bushes, past one more group of spray-tanned women,  in microminis, their necks draped with layers of beads, their matching rabbit ears flashing in the dark.


Sunday morning, I checked one more time: Are you sure you’re done? It’s okay? He nodded. He was ready to get back home, and so was I. We checked out of the hotel, then drove a few blocks to St. Patrick’s for the Latin High Mass.

I’d been there before, and had been impressed. Impressed not just with the liturgy and the music, but with the fact that in this beautiful, yet rather ordinary downtown diocesan parish, going Full High Latin was not a big deal.  There were maybe a few more suits and veils than you’d see in your parish (although I don’t know about mine…no, there aren’t a lot of suits, but the veils are definitely on the ascendant), but there was no stuffiness or stiffness. It was just a Catholic parish, diverse and varied, with lots of babies squeaking and squawking.

The music was very nice and the homily – given by the startlingly young Fr. Ian Bozant was simply excellent.

You know, we sometimes carry this image of the Tridentine Latin High Mass as this endless experience of repetitious, complicated mysterious actions, but (in my limited experience), it seems to me that done right, it’s very, very efficient (when you have layers of actions going on, instead of just one thing at a time that everyone has to watch….until the next thing can happen, which we all watch…), and the cumulative symbolic power very strong and the call to participate in a deep way unmistakable.

My son has given up sweets for Lent, and so beignets were on the menu for Sunday morning – despite my attempts on the previous days to argue that a sweet food at breakfast isn’t in the same category as, say, a cookie. But he stayed strong in his convictions, and so after Mass, off we went. I first thought we’d go to the Café du Monde that’s in the Riverwalk, but there was so much traffic and activity related to the cruise ships I decided that going to the French Quarter might actually be less hassle. Well, it was less hassle in that I found close parking very easily, but the line to get inside was, not surprisingly, out of sight down the block, so we opted for the take-out line, which was still long, but not as bad. He got his beignets and café au lait, and he consumed it all in sight of the Cathedral while clouds loomed.

These same clouds broke open in just a few minutes, pouring down rain as we scrambled to our last stop before home: picking up some muffalattas at the Central Grocery – a half for him to eat on the way home, and then a whole to drop off with my daughter in Tuscaloosa on the way back.

Mission accomplished, we were out of the city by 1, back home by 5:30.

(For more photos and videos, check out Instagram.)

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