Archive for the ‘7 Quick Takes’ Category

Seven Quick Takes

— 1 —

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, we have a piano that is new to us. It is, strangely enough, about the same age as the one we used to have, but it’s much better, and after some drama, it lives upstairs, rather than in the basement.

Having it upstairs means it gets played more often, including by me, which is one of the reasons I wanted it up instead of down and mostly out of sight. I thought that I might play it more, and that seemed to me to be a good thing, even though I didn’t know why. I have enough to do, I have interests and work. On paper, I don’t need to play the piano more, and it wasn’t a conscious burning desire, but nonetheless, it nudged and became a reason.

It’s been about three weeks, and in that time, I have realized something: I had forgotten how much I enjoy playing the piano.


— 2 —


I think what happened was that as decades passed and I got rusty, I checked “piano” off the list. That’s over. I was never very good anyway. My personality is not that of the perfectionist. When it seems good enough, I move on to something else, and combined with the fact that I lead life mostly on intuition and response, that means everything I do only goes so far until I decide something else is more worth my time.

For most of my adult life – well, since my 30’s, I guess – I’ve had a piano in the house, but it was that old Storey and Clark, it wasn’t fun to play, I was busy, and every time I did sit down, I fumbled on those unresponsive keys, it was a strain to see the music and reading glasses didn’t help, so yes, that’s what I figured. That’s over.

— 3 —

Here’s my piano history.

When I was in second grade, we lived in an apartment in Arlington, Virginia. My father was doing some sort of year-long commitment with the Department of the Interior. They rented a piano, and started me on group lessons at the public school. In 1967, long before electronic keyboards, group piano lessons in a public school meant a classroom full of children, each with a wood board painted like a keyboard in front of us. I don’t recall anything about it, except the recital, in which I played this, from this book.


I don’t keep a lot of things, but music, I keep. But I didn’t know until I just now found it and opened it up that – gulp – almost fifty years later, I could read the kind words of congratulations from that first piano teacher right there.

The next year, we moved to Lawrence, Kansas. During third and fourth grade, we lived in an apartment, but moved into a house, where we were through seventh grade. At some point during that time, my parents convinced my paternal grandmother to buy a piano for me, and so that Storey and Clark entered our lives (used you can get one for a couple hundred bucks now – that’s why I didn’t even bother to put ours on Craigslist, and let the piano delivery guy take it away instead) and private lessons began.

There was a catch, though. The catch was that my parents were frugal and my mother didn’t drive, so when they looked for at teacher, they looked only as far as the KU music department, and a student who could drive to our house. I don’t remember much of anything about my teachers – I think I had a young woman one year and a man the next. I don’t think there were recitals (which was fine with me), just these music students showing up at our house to give me lessons.

 — 4 —


When eighth grade came around, we had moved again – to Knoxville. That first year, of course, we lived in an apartment, but then for high school, we settled into a house in an area called Holston Hills, in east Knoxville. It’s that kind of hilly neighborhood with no sidewalks, full of 1950’s ranches and some Tudors built on half-acres, set well back from the road. A few months after we moved, we figured out that the woman who lived across the road and two houses down taught piano out of her home. So I started. Again.

At the time, I intuited that it was an odd situation, but didn’t know how odd until later. She wasn’t the most rigorous teacher in the world, but she wasn’t terrible. She had me play Bach and such, but she also let me play things I wanted – like Summertime. I was never really comfortable in her home, and I reached a tipping point when, for a winter “recital,” she insisted I play a duet of Rudolph with her daughter at their Baptist church’s Christmas program. I didn’t like recitals anyway, I was a senior in high school playing Rudolph in the basement of the Macedonia Baptist Church, so I was done.

Oh, and why was it odd? As we learned a few years later, both the woman and her husband were serious alcoholics. They both ended being hospitalized, the kids did nothing with the house, the parents died from their alcoholism, and last time I was there – probably four years ago to see to the sale of my parents’ home – the house was in complete collapse and disrepair, overgrown, a notice of condemnation on the door.

— 5 

And that was it. Maybe five years of instruction all together, spread out over ten years?

Over the years, when passing the keyboard, I might sit down and pound out a few measures of Maple Leaf Rag or Alla Turca. I remember those. Probably about twenty years ago, I went through a stage when I thought I would try to get serious again, took out the Gershwin, and worked at it. Not too bad, but then we probably moved again and life took over again.

Now we have this new-old piano, it’s in the dining room, and since it cost a lot of money and it’s sitting there, I might as well play it, I think. So I do. And I’m not bad. And I’m getting better.

And as I said at the beginning, what has come back to me in a startling rush is how much I like it, and how much I actually don’t mind practicing. I don’t think I ever did, either. I don’t remember practicing being an agony. I say I’m not a perfectionist, and I’m not, but I do want to get it basically right, and for some reason, even though in most things I have the attention span of a gnat, when I play piano, I can play the same few measures over and over again and not tire of it.

Perhaps it’s just a new way to procrastinate and put off work. I think it’s going to be helpful in keeping mentally sharp as I age: my version of my father and his crossword puzzles, taken up with intense commitment in his 60’s. Who knows.



I have goals, and they are the same goals I’ve had during every other return to the instrument. Right now, it’s The Maple Leaf Rag – the first page has been in my memory for forty years, but I never really went beyond that, and now I am, and I want to learn the whole thing. And then there’s the Gershwin.

Gershwin’s piano music – his variations on his songs, and his stand-alone pieces like the Preludes – have always been favorites of mine. As a teen, I played the William Bolcom recordings over and over, and tried my hand at several, but could never get beyond a certain point: too many accidentals, I felt my hands weren’t big enough. Again: not a perfectionist.

Somewhere along the way, my book went missing – I suspect it’s either in a sorority house in Williamsburg, Virginia or a resort in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany. So I bought a new one, and am working hard. I started with Rialto Ripples, have almost got ‘S Wonderful down and really really want to conquer Prelude 1. I think I can do it.

So I play. I play during the day when the boys are gone, and I play in the evening, after Michael has his time. I enjoy it, but it’s also part of my determination for them to see me doing and reading real books and making real things instead of scrolling through one more damn screen. And it works. An adult doing this in a household is an invitation for interaction and community in a way that an adult staring at a screen is not. It might be a joke, right? The minute I get interested in doing something…there they are, all around me.  But I don’t mind. I sit down to play, and before I know it, one’s on the futon behind me, flipping through a magazine or drawing, and the other is standing at my side, leafing through music, wanting his turn again.

I also think it’s good for them to watch me take on something I’m not so great at, then work and improve. We lecture them all the time on how that’s what you have to do, but how often do they actual see us at this task, making mistakes, learning and growing and having to resist the temptation to give up?

— 7 —

My experience with piano explains why I am torn about children’s activities. On the one hand, I’m mostly against them. I am famous among my friends for asserting “I won’t be held hostage by my children’s activities,” by which I mean that there’s more to life than weekends at soccer fields allows many of us with children to experience. My kids do activities when they have an interest. My daughter was intensely involved with forensics and drama – but in high school. My youngest son has exhibited some musical talent and likes it, so I am investing in some pretty high level instruction for him. They know that if they are interested and serious, I’ll support them. But I do draw a line, and in the end, a weekend just hanging out, relaxing around home or taking a day trip is, I think, more valuable than most activities.

A couple of years ago, a friend of mine posted an impassioned Facebook post after her family had spent a Saturday morning doing some really good volunteer work. She wondered why they didn’t do this kind of thing more? And then she answered her own question: because of sports, dance and homework projects that absorbed every second of their family’s free time and energy. Then she asked another question: what would the world be like if everyone made more time to help others instead of spending so much time watching 4 year olds play soccer?

But yet.

I only had five years of haphazard instruction, and..I’m not bad and I like it. I think I can get a lot better.

I wonder sometimes what would have happened if my parents had seen my moderate level of talent and interest and made the effort to get me more consistent instruction – even as we moved about – at a higher level. Why didn’t they? They had their own problems which dominated the home, that’s true, and I would imagine that’s a big part of why as long as I didn’t present problems – and I didn’t – I was left to myself. Perhaps back in the 70’s people didn’t pursue Excellence in Extra-Curriculars as they do now. That’s certainly true. And it also never occurred to me to ask for something different, or even that there might be the possibility. Who knows. And who knows what would have happened if they had done anything different. I might have had intense music instruction, excelled, and then grown to hate it and never take it up again, even here in middle age, when I am hankering for it and appreciating it again.

We parents do what we can do with the information we have. I won’t say “we do our best,” because we don’t. We just do what we do. It’s what I have done, it’s what my parents did. So I’m not resentful. I just wonder.

And then I sit down to play.

"amy welborn"


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

Read Full Post »

Seven Quick Takes


UPDATE 10/16:  Here’s the text of Pope Francis’ homily at the canonization.

On Sunday, Pope Francis will canonize seven new saints. How convenient! Let’s take a look:

— 1 —

Salomon Leclercq (1745-1792)  was a LaSalle priest who was martyred during the French Revolution:

Brother Solomon was secretary to Brother Agathon, the Superior General, after having been a teacher, director and bursar. He always showed a great love for people and a great attachment to his work.Salomon Leclercq Having refused to take an oath, he lived alone in Paris in secrecy. We still have many of his letters to his family. The last one is dated August 15, 1792. That very day he was arrested and imprisoned in the Carmelite monastery, which had become a prison, together with several bishops and priests. On September 2, almost all the prisoners were killed by sword in the monastery garden. He was beatified on October 17, 1926, together with 188 of his fellow martyrs. He was the first one of our martyrs and also the first Brother to be beatified.

More from the LaSalle website on the canonization. A blog post of mine on a visit to the spot in Paris where the September martyrdoms occurred.

— 2 —

Manuel Gonzalez Garcia  (1877-1940) , Spanish priest and bishop, the “Apostle of the Abandoned Tabernacles:”

Blessed Manuel was sent by the Archbishop of Seville to Palomares del Río, a beautiful and secluded village of Aljarafe, but upon his arrival no one came out to meet him. The church was greatly abandoned: filled with dust and dirt, cobwebs inside the tabernacle and torn altar cloths. Upon seeing this situation, he knelt before the altar and thought about the many abandoned tabernacles in the world. This prompted him to start the “Unión Eucarística Reparadora”.

Manuel Gonzalez GarciaAt the age of 28, he was sent to Huelva where he saw many children in the streets. Later on he devoted his attention mainly in founding schools and teaching catechesis with the help of his parishioners.

On December 6, 1915, Pope Benedict XV appointed Blessed Manuel as auxiliary bishop of Málaga. He celebrated his appointment with a banquet to which he invited, not the authorities but the poorest children of the place. Three thousand children attended the banquet and accompanied him to the Episcopal Palace. He remained there until the night of the 11th of May 1931, the proclamation of the Republic, where a revolt expelled him and the Palace was burnt, destroying everything.

From Pope John Paul II’s homily at his beatification:

“That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter,” It is the Lord! ‘”(Jn 21: 7). In the Gospel we have just heard, before the miracle performed, a disciple recognizes Jesus The others will do it later. The Gospel passage, in presenting Jesus, who “came and took the bread and gave it to them” (Jn 21, 13), tells us how and when we can meet the Risen Christ in the Eucharist, where Jesus is really present under the species of bread and wine. It would be sad if this loving presence of the Savior, after a long time, was still unknown by humanity.

This was the great passion of the new Blessed Manuel González García, Bishop of Málaga and then Palencia. The experience in Palomares del Río in front of a deserted tabernacle marked for life, and from that moment he decided to spread the devotion to the Eucharist, proclaiming the words he subsequently chose as his epitaph: “Here lies Jesus for it is here! Do not abandon him. “Founder of the Eucharistic Missionaries of Nazareth, Blessed Manuel Gonzalez is a model of faith in the Eucharist, whose example continues to speak to the Church today.

— 3 —

Lodovico Pavoni (1784-1849) Italian priest. 

In Brescia, in 1807, he was ordained a priest and first launched the oratory. A book by Pietro Schedoni Moral Influences listed the reasons for the “rebellion” of young boys:  leaving inadequate schools for a job, bad influences of adult workers, and peer pressure. The author confirmed Lodovico in his personalist approach:  to concentrate on the personal and social formation of the young with a positive and preventative approach.

Lodovico Pavoni In 1812 when appointed secretary to Bishop Gabrio Nava, he received permission to continue with his “oratory”. In 1818 he was named rector of the Church of St Barnabas with permission to found an orphanage and a vocational school that in 1821 became the “Institute of St Barnabas”. Lodovico decided that the first trade would be book publishing; in 1823 he set up “The Publishing House of the Institute of St Barnabas”, the precursor of today’sAncora press. The boys could also choose to be carpenters, silversmiths, blacksmiths, shoemakers, experts in tool and dye making. In 1823, Fr Pavoni welcomed the first deafmutes to the school. He purchased a farm to set up an Agricultural School.

In 1825 he established a religious institute to continue his work. In 1843 Pope Gregory XVI authorized it for Brescia. On 11 August 1847, the Brescia Vicar Capitular, Mons. Luchi, established the Congregation of the Sons of Mary Immaculate or “Pavoniani”. On 8 December 1847, Lodovico and the first members made their religious profession.

On 24 March 1849, during the “Ten-Days” when Brescia rebelled against the Austrians, and both sides were ready to pillage the city, Bl. Lodovico, who had taken care of citizens during a cholera epidemic, performed his last heroic act of charity when he led his boys to safety to the novitiate on the hill of Saiano, 12 kilometres away. A week later he died at the dawn of Palm Sunday, 1 April 1849 as Brescia was in flames. Lodovico’s ideal of education was a broad one, to dispose a person in his wholeness to be good. Fifty years before “Rerum novarum”, he grasped the religious significance of social justice and set an example by his own dealings with his employees.

Like St John Bosco after him, Pavoni’s used encouraging and preventative methods; he preferred gentleness to severity. He used to say, “Rigorism keeps Heaven empty”.

From JPII’s beatification homily:

“This Jesus God has raised him up and of that we are all witnesses” (Acts 2,32). The interior consciousness, that became a burning and invincible faith, guided the spiritual and priestly experience of Lodovico Pavoni, priest, Founder of the Congregation of the Sons of Mary Immaculate.

Gifted with a particularly sensitive spirit, he was totally given over to the care of poor and abandoned youngsters and even deaf-mutes. His activity branched out in many directions, from that of education to the publishing sector, with original apostolic intuitions and courageous innovations. At the basis of everything, there was a solid spirituality. By his example, he exhorts us to place our confidence in Jesus and to be ever more immersed in the mystery of his love.

Here’s a comprehensive website dedicated to him, but it’s in Italian.

 — 4 —

Alfonso Maria Fusco (1839-1910), Italian priest.

(His website – also in Italian)

The daily life of Father Alfonso was that of a zealous priest, but he carried in his heart an old dream. In his last years at the seminary, one night he had dreamt that Jesus the Nazarene was calling him to found an institute of Sisters and an orphanage for boys and girls as soon as he was ordained.

It was a meeting with Maddalena Caputo of Angri, a strong-willed woman aspiring to enter Alfonso Maria Fuscoreligious life, which impelled Father Alfonso to move more quickly in the foundation of the Institute. On September 25, 1878, Miss Caputo and three other young women met at night in the dilapidated Scarcella house in the Ardinghi district of Angri. The young women wanted to dedicate themselves to their own sanctification through a life of poverty, of union with God, and of charity in the care and instruction of poor orphans.

The Congregation of the Baptistine Sisters of the Nazarene was thus begun; the seed had fallen into the good earth of the hearts of these four zealous and generous women. Privations, struggles, opposition, and trials were their lot, and the Lord made that seed grow abundantly. The Scarcella House was quickly named the Little House of Providence.

From JPII’s beatification homily:

“If you had faith like a mustard seed”, Jesus exclaimed speaking with his disciples (Lk 17,6). It was a genuine and tenacious faith that guided the work and life of Bl. Alfonso Maria Fusco, founder of the Sisters of St John the Baptist. From when he was a young man, the Lord put into his heart the passionate desire to dedicate his life to the service of the neediest, especially of children and young people, who were plentiful in his native city of Angri in Campania. For this he undertook the path of the priesthood and, in a certain way, become the “Don Bosco of Southern Italy”. From the beginning he wanted to involve in his work some young women who shared his ideal and he offered them the words of St John the Baptist, “Prepare the way of the Lord” (Lk 3,4). Trusting in divine Providence, Bl. Alfonso and the Sisters of John the Baptist set up a work that was superior to their own expectations. From a simple house for the welcome of the young, there arose a whole Congregation which today is present in 16 countries and on 4 continents working alongside those who are “little” ones and “last”.

— 5 

José Gabriel del Rosario Brochero (1840-1914), Argentinian priest

At the end of 1869 he took on the extensive parish of Saint Albert of 4,336 square kilometers (1,675 square miles), with just over 10,000 inhabitants who lived in distant places with no roads or schools, cutoff by the Great Highlands of more than 2,000 meters (6,500 feet) of altitude. The moral state and material indigence of its inhabitants was lamentable. However, Brochero’s apostolic heart was not discouraged, but from that moment on he dedicated his whole life not only to bring the Gospel to the inhabitants but to educate and promote them. The year after arriving, he began to take men and women to Cordoba to do the Spiritual Exercises. It took three days on the back of a mule to cover the 200 kilometers (125 miles), in caravans that often exceeded 500 people. More than once they were surprised by strong snow storms. On returning, after nine days in silence, prayer and penance, his faithful began to change their lives, following the Gospel and working for the economic development of the region. 

In 1875, with the help of his faithful, he began the building of the Houses of Exercises of the then Villa del Transito (locality that today is named after him). It was inaugurated in 1877 with groups that exceeded 700 people, a total of more than 40,000 going through it during his parish ministry. As a complement, he built the House for women religious, the Girls’ School and the residence for priests. With his faithful he built more than 200 kilometers of roads and several churches. He founded villages and was concerned about the education of all. He requested and obtained from the authorities courier posts, post offices and telegraphic posts. He planned the rail network that would go through the Valley of Traslasierra joining Villa Dolores and Soto to bring the beloved highlanders out of the poverty in which they found themselves, “abandoned by all but not by God,” as he said. 

José Gabriel del Rosario Brochero

He preached the Gospel, using the language of his faithful to make it comprehensible to his listeners. He celebrated the sacraments, always carrying what was necessary for the Mass on the back of his mule. No sick person was left without the sacraments, as neither the rain nor the cold stopped him. “Woe if the devil is going to rob a soul from me,” he said. He gave himself totally to all, especially the poor and the estranged, whom he sought diligently to bring them close to God. A few days after his death, the Catholic newspaper of Cordoba wrote: “It is known that Father Brochero contracted the sickness that took him to his tomb, because he visited at length and embraced an abandoned leper of the area.” Because of his illness, he gave up the parish, living a few years with his sisters in his native village. However, responding to the request of his former faithful, he returned to his House of Villa del Transito, dying leprous and blind on Jan. 26, 1914.

His website, in Spanish.


Elizabeth of the Trinity (1880-1906), Carmelite:

Bl. Elizabeth of the Trinity was born in France in 1880, and grew up in Dijon close to the city’s Carmelite monastery. Lilles recounted that when one time when Bl. Elizabeth visited the monastery when she was 17, “the mother superior there said, ‘I just received this circular letter about the death of Therese of Lisieux, and I want you to read it.’ That circular letter would later become the Story of a Soul; in fact, what she was given was really the first edition of Story of a Soul.”

“Elizabeth read it and she was inclined towards contemplative prayer; she was a very pious person who worked with troubled youth and catechized them, but when she read Story of a Soul she knew she needed to become a Carmelite: it was a lightning moment in her life, where everything kind of crystallized and she understood how to respond to what God was doing in her heart.”

Elizabeth then told her mother she wanted to enter the Carmel, but she replied that she couldn’t enter until she was 21, “which was good for the local Church,” Lilles explained, “because Elizabeth continued to work with troubled youth throughout that time, and do a lot of other good work in the city of Dijon before she entered.”

She entered the Carmel in Dijon in 1901, and died there in 1906 – at the age of 26 – from Addison’s disease.

Elizabeth wrote several works while there, the best-known of which is her prayer “O My God, Trinity Whom I Adore.” Also particularly notable are her “Heaven in Faith,” a retreat she wrote three months before her death for her sister Guite; and the “Last Retreat,” her spiritual insights from the last annual retreat she was able to make.

An excellent post at the Discerning Hearts website:

As a child, Elizabeth had found the strength to conquer her fiery temper only after having received the body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist for the first time. As a Carmelite, she would read in Paul that it was Christ ‘who made peace through the blood of his Cross’ (Col.1,20), making ‘peace in my little heaven so that it may truly be the repose of the Three’.

Once she wrote to a friend, ‘I am going to give you my “secret”: think about this God who dwells within you, whose temple you are; St. Paul speaks in this way, and we can believe it.’

The call to praise the glory of God also included the call to share in the redemptive sufferings of Christ, to be able to say like St. Paul, ‘In my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the Church’ (Col 1,24) – and Sister Elizabeth had to accept suffering.

— 7 —

And finally, perhaps the most-well known, José Sanchez del Río (1913-1928):

Blessed Jose Luis Sanchez Del Rio was born in Sahuayo, Michoacan (Mexico), on March 28, 1913—his parents were Macario Sanchez and María del Río. At the age of 13 , Jose begged God that he too might be able to die in defense of his Catholic faith. In response to the bitter persecution of the Catholic Church by the government of Plutarco Calles, a movement of Catholics called the “Cristeros” rose up in defense of the Faith. Jose Luis Sanchez del Rio told his mother, “In order to go to Heaven, we have to go to war.”  …

.blessed-jose-sanchez-2-1-1…When they got to the cemetery, Jose was already covered in his own blood. The soldiers showed him the grave, and said, “This is where we are going to bury you.” The boy responded,“That is good. I forgive all of you since we are all Christians.” He offered them his hand and said, “We’ll see each other in Heaven. I want you all to repent.” Perhaps trying to work on his love for his family, the soldiers asked him what he wanted them to tell his family; his response was, “Tell them that we will see each other in Heaven.” Finally, the soldiers told Jose that if he would say “Death to Christ the King,” they would free him and allow him to go home to his family. His response was, “Long live Christ the King!” At that point they shot him. As he was still alive after that, they gave him a coup de grace to the head and he died. Some versions of his story say that Jose made the sign of the cross in the ground with his own blood before being finally shot in the head.

     Jose Luis Sanchez Del Rio was killed on February 10, 1928, and was beatified by Pope Benedict XVI on November 20, 2005.  For us, he is a constant reminder that the call to follow Christ is for all people, whether young or old.  His feast day is February 10—the day he died.

Do you want to share with people what being Catholic is all about? Just talk about the new saints we’re recognizing this weekend: male and female, young and old, active and contemplative, from all over the world, of a variety of temperaments. Publishing books, reforming education, serving the poorest, offering their lives in prayer, offering their earthly lives in sacrifice –  an amazing variety in perfect communion, joined by their love of Christ and his people. Catholic.

Speaking of saints, Saturday is the feastday of St. Theresa of Avila, and look at this nifty way to read her story from my Loyola book:

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

Read Full Post »

Seven Quick Takes

— 1 —


It is the best time of the year in this part of the world. Daytime highs in the 80’s and low 90’s , evening temperatures in the 60’s. No mosquitoes – perhaps because it hasn’t rained in a month, it seems. I don’t mourn their absence. It makes sitting outside under that crescent moon, finding Venus and Saturn, the only way you want to spend your evening.

— 2 —

Our Charleston people have evacuated. They were going to come here, but they both work for companies with offices in another, inland city, so they’re going to be put up in that spot for the duration by the company, waiting with millions of others to return, dreading what they’ll find.

Returning from travel, that last mile or so before getting home always has my insides in knots. I dread pulling up to the house. What will greet me? Will we have been broken into? Will a tree be on my roof? A flood in the kitchen?

(Nothing like that has ever happened, by the way. And having good neighbors who would communicate with you if, well, a tree fell on your house, takes away the worry, if you’re rational about it. Which is not always easy to be.)

Anyway, imagine how that dread is multiplied by coming home after a hurricane has moved through.


— 3 —


We got a new piano. Finally. I had the slightest twinge of sentiment as the old one was loaded up and carted away..but really only a twinge of a twinge, if there is such a thing. It was not that I didn’t want to replace it. Of course I did. It was terrible, and my son, who is quite talented and promised that indeed, he is all in with the piano stuff – deserved something better to play. It was just that feeling of letting go of something that had been in my life for decades. My grandmother had given it to me probably around 1970, I imagine because my parents convinced her to fund it. It was a Storey and Clark spinet, which is not even made any more and which, experts agree, was not a good piano.

Honestly, why I had hauled that thing around the country for thirty years, I don’t even know. For what it cost to move it, I probably could have just bought a new/used piano at every stop, and sold it again when it was time to move on.

But now…we have a decent one. We also have it upstairs, and not in the basement. When we first moved into this house three years ago, it was just the path of least resistance to put the piano in the basement, which, because the house is built on a slope, is actually ground level. It just slipped right in.

In piano shopping, I had been apologizing for this, not that any of the salesmen were demanding explanations, much less apologies, but one did tell me that if there is no moisture problem, a basement is not the worst place for a piano. After moisture, temperature variation is the enemy of good piano health, and since the temperature in basements tends to be more consistent than other areas of a home..it can work.

But we just wanted the piano up out of the Lego Emporium and up where we spend most of our time. (Yes, I think Lego Days might be approaching twilight…can it be true?) I had explained the front door situation to the guy at the piano store and he assured me it would be fine. In retrospect, I see that I probably should have taken a photograph and shown him. For when the delivery men arrived, they took one look at the slope of those measly five steps and the angles up past them and said…Nope.


What aboimg_20161006_231003.jpgut the back patio? I had mentioned this to the piano salesmen and he said that no, since there was a large patch of yard that would have to be navigated, that wouldn’t work. The piano would have to be brought over a paved surface – it would sink in the ground.

The delivery guys said he was wrong. They had an all-terrain dolly that would do the job, no problem. But they didn’t have it with them, and would have to go get it. Which they did, and an hour later, there it was.

It’s so much better. My son is really enjoying it, and guess who else is playing again? Yeah, me. It’s such a better instrument, plus it’s upstairs…I’m back in business, and even re-ordered that book of Gershwin piano music that was waylaid either in Williamsburg or Germany – where ever my daughter took it that time she took it.

 — 4 —

Well, I couldn’t put it off any longer, so we have embarked on Orthodontic Adventure #4 for my family. It’s been a while – ten years, I guess. I was going to let #4 Kid take care of it on his own when he became an adult, since the issues seemed cosmetic to me, and not that serious. But then this summer, a couple of teeth started trying to come in…unsuccessfully…and it became clear that this wasn’t just cosmetic. And that I am not qualified to diagnose teeth.

But man, I hate orthodontic practices. I hate the buzz of profiteering cheerfulness, I hate the matching polo shirts, I hate the little fountains and beige tones.

So when I heard that an acquaintance of mine was a huge fan of the local university’s dental school clinic, which includes an orthodontic section, I was intrigued.

And, after two appointments, I’m a fan, too.

First, it’s about half the cost of private treatment. That cost must be paid up front, but I’m telling you – when I walked away from that desk, knowing that the next couple of years or so were paid for, from records to retainers..it was a great feeling.

Secondly, the whole process is very interesting. You have a resident assigned to you, and he or she works under a supervising orthodontist. In the initial assessment, the resident worked alone at first, and sketched out a treatment plan. Then the supervisor came in. He asked, “So what’s your treatment plan?” But then he stopped and continued, “No, don’t tell me. Let me look, then I’ll sketch out a plan, and we’ll compare.” Which is what they did, and it was fascinating to observe the teaching that was going on – and good for my son to see it to, to see that this is not magic, nor is it cut-and dried and always obvious. Medical treatment of any kind is not just a matter of matching items from different columns, and it’s good for him to observe that process.

— 5 

I read two novels over the past week. I enjoyed both as light reading that’s a little though-provoking.

I’ll begin with the one I enjoyed less – The Leftovers by Tom Perotta. Perotta is the author of Election and Little Children, both of which are very good and have been made into great movies. The Leftovers has been adapted by HBO as a series – two seasons have aired (I haven’t watched it.).

The novel is about the aftermath of a Rapture-like event,in which about 2% of the world’s population just…disappeared. There’s never any explanation given of the event, and since we enter the story three years after it occurred, we don’t see the characters wondering about it themselves – when we meet them, they are simply trying to cope, to deal, to move on.

So what the book is about is grief and loss. Really, that’s it. It’s about how human beings live with the reality of loss. What the characters of this novel live with in a very focused way is what all of us live with: this or that person was here one day, and then gone the next. What does that mean for my life? Do I dishoner that person by “moving on?” What about if I discover that person wasn’t who I thought he or she was? Where can I find meaning? How is respectful or even possible to live a “normal” life, knowing that people – including yourself – will someday be gone?

It was okay. The choice to not make the “why” or “where did they go” an issue is intended, I suppose, to put the emphasis on the responses of the leftovers. This makes a sort of sense, but the ultimate effect, I felt, was a flattening of the events of the book. It really was just about a bunch of people responding to the losses of loved ones in various ways, but because the peculiar circumstances are not an issue, there seems to be no reason why the loss couldn’t have been via a flu epidemic or chemical leak.

It was an interesting device to explore grief, but done in, I fear, by a kind of spiritual and intellectual reserve.


Much- much –  better was the quirky novel Amp’d. I won’t say, “I recommend it,” because I don’t say that – people have different tastes, and recommending books usually gets the recommender in trouble from someone who imagines they will be getting one thing because they have an image in their mind of what kind of person they believe the recommender to be, but of course they actually have no idea, and the book is in fact quite different from what they expected, and possibly has swears and drugs in it, and maybe sex. Surprised and disappointed email to follow.

So. Don’t read this book.

It’s the story of a guy – Aaron – who has lost his arm in an car accident and returned to his father’s house to recuperate and figure out what to do with his life. It was funny – often hilarious, and just page after page of succinct, on-point observations. Making frequent appearances are a pet alligator, Cancer Boy and various lost and seeking friends and family members, as well as the fish Aaron is hired to count as part of a ..fish counting project. Also a presenter of short radio bits on scientific trivia, and the content of these bits is simply perfect. You can hear the voice as you read.

I think the best way to communicate what the book is about is to tell you that it begins and ends with lists. It begins with a list called “Things you can’t do with one arm” and ends with “Things I never did with two arms.” The second list is far more intriguing , and there’s the point, right there.

You know what? Everything is better with humor in it. Even life-affirming lessons. Especially life-affirming lessons.

— 7 —

Melanie Bettinelli recommends a children’s books…and it looks great!

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

Read Full Post »

Seven Quick Takes

— 1 —

Happy feast of St. Jerome!

I had a lengthy post about him last year. Go here for that. Don’t forget – he’s in the Loyola Kids Book of Saints. 

And coming up next week…St. Francis. Do you have Adventures in Assisi? 


— 2 —

Well. That was a day. 

That would be today. It was pretty crazy, and I was tempted at points to be irritated that I was not “getting anything done.”

But of course I was getting it done. I was seeing new things, reflecting upon them, and encountering interesting people. All life, all fodder, all worth taking in.

It started with chickens.


I’m part of a small group that purchases free-range organic tuxedo-wearing, non-smoking, teetotling  chickens from a farm about an hour north of here. We take turns with the once-a-month pickup. I was scheduled to go in October, but the September driver fell ill, so we switched. It’s all for the best. I’ll be starting the last stages of the next Big Project at that point, and I won’t want to take a day to drive to Hartselle, Alabama to get chickens at that stage in the process, I’m sure.

Last year when it was my turn, my homeschooler and I went up, but we got a late start and so didn’t have time to see anything else that might be in the neighborhood.  This year, even though I’m sadly on my own, I decided to try to get away earlier and see the sights. What sights could there be, you ask?

Well, Hartselle has a cute little main street filled with antique shops and few cafes – I’m guessing it’s postioned itself as an afternoon antiquing destination for folks from Huntsville – or even those driving down to the Gulf Coast on 65.

The green storefront marks a pool hall. When I walked by the open door early afternoon on a Thursday, there were quite a few older fellows in there, shooting pool and sitting along the wall, watching.





— 3 —


What interested me most of all was Hartselle’s most well-known son, whom I’d just read about the night before – William Bradford Huie. Huie, born in Hartselle, returned to live there later in life and is buried there, and was a fairly well-known and sometimes controversial journalist and novelist of the mid-20th century. He graduated from the University of Alabama, and then went to write for magazines like Look and Colliers and served as editor of the American Mercury, H.L. Mencken’s magazine.

Huie had an infallible eye for an important story, and in 1955, this instinct led him to one of the most controversial pieces of his career. In August of that year, 14-year-old Emmett Till, a black youth from Chicago, was murdered in the Mississippi Delta in retaliation for his alleged sexual advances toward a white woman. His killers, two white half-brothers, were acquitted by an all-white jury. Shortly after their acquittal, Huie, with the financial backing of Look magazine, paid the two men for their story, in which they admitted to the murder, a controversial practice sometimes derided as “checkbook journalism.” The Till case set the tone for much of the remainder of Huie’s career, which gravitated to race-related crimes and some of the most notorious murders of the civil rights movement, including the murders of the three civil rights workers in Mississippi during Freedom Summer (Three Lives for Mississippi), as well as the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. (He Slew the Dreamer). In both cases, Huie claimed to have paid sources, including Martin Luther King’s accused assassin, James Earl Ray, for their stories, a practice for which he was frequently criticized.
In 1957, Huie moved back to Alabama to live full-time and continued to work as a freelance writer for the rest of his life. Ruth Huie died in 1973, and in 1977 he married his second wife, Martha Hunt Robertson ofGuntersville. His work on race-related crimes and his frequent and outspoken criticism ofGovernor George Wallace made him a continuing source of controversy, and although he was a commercial success, he was not always popular among his fellow Alabamians. In 1967, Huie’s public outspokenness led to a much-publicized

His most well-known books are, I’d say, the novel The Americanization of Emily (made into a film starring Julie Andrews and James Garner) and the nonfiction The Execution of Private Slovik – which tells the story of the only American WWII deserter to be executed, and which was made into a made-for-TV movie starting Martin Sheen.

From Hartselle, Alabama!

Appropriately enough, the library is named after him.


And it houses an exhibit on his life and work – the “archives.” The library is in a former bank building so these archives are…in the old vault.  I want my life to be memorialized in a bank vault, for sure.

 — 4 —

And then I got the chickens.

And then I saw the IronMan.

He’s probably over a hundred years old and was forged as an advertisement for VegeCal – an Alabama-produced liver tonic with 12% alcohol content.

Raced back to town, delivered chickens, got one kid, dropped him at piano, raced to another school to get two more, took them home, then back to piano to get the first one, back home..cooked dinner. Yes, cooked– I had prepared some bacon this morning and made Spaghetti Carbonara – once you do the bacon, it takes 15 minutes – and then it was back out to the Homewood Library to see…


— 5 

Ben Hatke!

Ben is the author illustrator of so many charming picture books and graphic novels. Zita the Space Girl has just been optioned for film. Ben’s on tour mostly promoting his new graphic novel Mighty Jack, and he also read his very fun picture book Nobody Likes a Goblin.   He had spoken at a couple of schools today and was doing this library session before moving on to Wichita – go see him if you are there!  It was great to meet him and have my 12-year old who carries around many stories in his head hear a different take on the creative process.

And…in my haste, I didn’t get any photos. Unbelievable. Well, here are the books I bought and that Ben signed…



I have three adult children. They live in different parts of the country and have very different lives and schedules. One is married with a child and does data analysis (I think). One is in law school. The oldest  works in television. I don’t think they communicate on a daily basis.

But here’s what happens with intriguing frequency.

One of them calls me to talk. About 75% of the time, either another one will call right after I’m finished with the first one, or the call waiting from them will start beeping in the middle of the first call.  And once that’s over, there’s another very high probability that the third one – whichever one is left – will call me within two or three hours.

I cannot tell you how many times that’s happened. It’s so strange. 

— 7 —

Advent is coming…….tell your parish coordinator people. There will be a Spanish-language edition as well. 

Advent 2016 Daily Devotional

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

Read Full Post »

Seven Quick Takes

Sorry. SexyTime is over!

— 1 —

Well, last week, it was Ben Hatke with good news, and this week it’s Gene Luen Yang, who was awarded a McArthur “Genius” Fellowship.  Yang is the author of some excellent works, including AMERICAN BORN CHINESE and the 2 volume BOXERS and SAINTS. Catholics might have first “met” him as the creator of a really good “Rosary Comic Book” published by Pauline Books and Media in 2003. Yang is Catholic and up until last year, worked in a Catholic high school in Oakland.

So great to see Yang’s fine work recognized in this way.

(By the way, Hatke is on a short book tour right now in support of his new series, Ordinary Jack…and Birmingham is on the list! Looking forward to meeting him next week.)

— 2 —

Good news: my favorite podcast, the BBC4 history-themed series In Our Time has returned for a new season. I haven’t yet listened to the first episode, aired Thursday, on Zeno’s Paradoxes, but I did catch up this past week with an excellent episode on Margery Kempe.

kempeFor those of you who don’t know, Kempe was a medieval English mystic. She experienced her first vision of Christ after a profoundly difficult post-partum experience, bore thirteen more children, then started having more visions and going on pilgrimages. Her account of her life and visions was well known, but, of course, the Reformation Vandals took care of that, and – this, I didn’t know – a complete version was unknown to the post-Reformation world until 1934, when a copy was found in a cabinet in which someone was looking for ping-pong balls. You can read about the story of the discovery, and theories as to how this copy survived and got to its finding place here.

— 3 —

This jibed nicely with some reading I’ve been doing for a project on women and the Reformation, only serving to reinforce my convictions about what a disaster the Protestant Reformation was for women (not to mention most other aspects of life in the West) and contribute to my inexorable, steadily growing aggravation with the apparent approaching canonization of Martin Luther.

It’s going to be a loooong 500th anniversary, and..



But wait! We do! Never mind. We’ll get make it. God’s got this!


 — 4 —

Also on the listening front: this episode of The Food Programme, another BBC radio show I really like. This episode told the story of Charles Green, who was the cook on Shackleton’s Endurance expedition. Oh, what a tale. Green lived until 1973, and for a time, gave talks to groups with slides that Shackleton had given him, slides which he unfortunately felt necessary to sell when times got hard.

There is one audio recording of an interview with Green, and in the program, his own voice is interspersed with the narration of Gerard Baker , who has served as a cook on modern Antarctic expeditions. The account of what Green had to and did accomplish to keep the men alive, as healthy as possible and, in a sense, spiritually fed is quite moving. It is a reminder of all that goes into human accomplishment, and how most of it is unseen and unheralded.


— 5 

Today is the memorial of Padre Pio – or, more formally, St. Pius of Petrelcina, by far the most popular saint in Italy. His image is in every church and more shops than you can count. …..The relic of his heart has been in Boston over the past couple of days. Domenico Bettinelli writes a bit about it here and has links to other accounts. And oh, you must see the photos. So moving.


Here’s a good blog post. Timothy O’Malley, director of the Notre Dame Center for Liturgy, on why “Chant is Good for Children.”

Last Sunday, we went to the Melkite Liturgy on campus. The entire liturgy, as anyone knows who has attended Eastern liturgies, is sung. Despite our son’s lack of familiarity with the words on the page, he hummed along the entire time (sometimes even during the Eucharistic Prayer). With his slight speech delay, with his limited grasp of understanding of English, the chant allowed him to participate in the Eucharistic sacrifice in a way that he rarely experiences.

Not once did he ask to leave.

Not once was he bored (though he did perform frequent prostrations and crossing of himself).

To this Catholic, we have to admit that music too often functions in our parishes as quaint interludes between the rationalism of speech. Our liturgies are wordy, sounding more like bad speeches than prayer. Why would anyone believe that we’re participating in the very liturgy of heaven itself?

If this is heaven, perhaps, I don’t want it. It seems really boring.

The chant of the Roman Missal should be normative in our parishes. Priests should learn to sing. We should chant the readings, the Psalm, the Creed, the Intercessions, the Eucharistic Prayer, the Pater Noster. Everything that can be chanted.

Years ago, I made a similar observation, also partly inspired by the experience of Eastern Catholic liturgy:

The organic integrity of the chanted liturgy. I must say that is attendance at the Eastern Catholic liturgies that helped me understand the concept of “singing the Mass” as opposed to “singing at Mass.” Chant is, I think, the natural language of vocal prayer – not recitation, but chant, even if that chant is nothing more than a sing-song. There was one aspect of this last liturgy that was recited – the prayer before reception of Communion. But that was it.

— 7 —

Get some copies! Spread the word! There will be a Spanish-language edition as well. 

Advent 2016 Daily Devotional

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

Read Full Post »

Seven Quick Takes

— 1 —


I usually try to get this 7 QT blog post done on Thursday night, but that didn’t happen. I couldn’t sleep at all Wednesday night, for some reason – too much Diet Coke too late in the day, a bunch of stuff happening over the next few days – all that combined to render the OFF button on my brain unusable. So for the first time in a very long time, I just got about an hour of sleep. Wow. I POWERED THROUGH, however, and actually didn’t feel bad at all during the day, but Thursday night..was useless.  All recalibrated now.


— 2 —

Yesterday morning, I received a shipment in the mail:

"pivotal players"

Yes, my new book – Praying with the Pivotal Players. It’s my contribution to Bishop Barron’s Pivotal Players series. If you go here, I have a short video on Instagram looking inside the book. It’s listed on Amazon, but is not available yet – I don’t know when it will be. If you have received a shipment of the entire program,entire program, it’s included in that, however.

— 3 —


Saints! Here are last year’s entries on today and tomorrow’s saints:

September 16 – St. Cyprian

September 17 – St. Robert Bellarmine

 — 4 —

Good listens this week while walking, both from the BBC In Our Time podcasts.

Sovereignty –  Which was excellent, but missing any serious consideration of how the loss of a sense of divine sovereignty over all impacted the development of the concept.

The Collapse of the Bronze Age – the beginning of which at least I am going to have my younger son listen to, as it deals quite efficiently with the tenuous nature of our understanding of the deep past and the almost arbitrary nature of periodization.

— 5 

Really great news for artist Ben Hatke – those of you with kids have perhaps (I hope) encountered his Zita the Space Girl series (You might have learned about him first years ago as the illustrator of Regina Doman’s lovely Angel in the Waters book.)  Well...Zita’s been optioned for the movies!!


If you want to hear some of the kind of sacred music we have here at the Cathedral of St. Paul…here’s a tiny bit. 

— 7 —

For some reason, Dan Brown has released a “young adult” version of the Da Vinci Code.  I wrote about it earlier this week.  My De-Coding Da Vinci is now out of print, so I’ve put it online in a free pdf version. You can access it either at the previous link or more directly, here. It’s basically a short course in early Church history and formation of the Canon of the Bible…so have at it!


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

Read Full Post »

Seven Quick Takes

— 1 —

Working….well, I was going to say “hard,” but that would be a lie. I am working though. It looks like my Fall Project will definitely be a go – no contract yet, but as soon as I see that and get some feedback on the samples I will send next week, my days will be busy until 11/1 (my proposed turn-in date), so I’m feeling okay about taking it a little easy right now.


— 2 —

I took a brief afternoon trip to our Birmingham Museum of Art earlier this week. It’s free, a few minutes from my house, so why not, right?

I was a little melancholy, though, because the BMA was such an important part of our homeschooling – it being free and all, did I mention? Something about going there, especially with my youngest, would prompt a flood of conversation, musing and wondering as we looked at new pieces and pieces we’d looked at many times before.

Well, buck up, I told myself. It’s not as if the place closes at 3 pm on Friday and you can never come here with the kids again. The moment reminded me once again that I can take the Homeschool Lifestyle (which is what it is) with us even now – I just have to be more intentional about it, that’s all.

Anyway, it was a pleasant hour. I took a pad of paper, intending to just find a place to sit and sketch out some ideas. Which I did. But only after turning a corner and being a little startled by this exhibit:

(Via Snapchat – follow me at amywelborn2)



— 3 —

The US Embassy to the Holy See has put up a great-looking website on “Mother Teresa in the United States.” 

How nice of them!

Now, when you think of Mother Teresa in the United States, what do you think of? What pops into my mind, right off, is her 1994 speech at the National Prayer Breakfast, the Clintons and Gores in attendance, in which she said,

But I feel that the greatest destroyer of peace today is abortion, because it is a war against the child, a direct killing of the innocent child, murder by the mother herself.

And if we accept that a mother can kill even her own child, how can we tell other people not to kill one another? How do we persuade a woman not to have an abortion? As always, we must persuade her with love and we remind ourselves that love means to be willing to give until it hurts. Jesus gave even His life to love us. So, the mother who is thinking of abortion, should be helped to love, that is, to give until it hurts her plans, or her free time, to respect the life of her child. The father of that child, whoever he is, must also give until it hurts.

By abortion, the mother does not learn to love, but kills even her own child to solve her problems.

And, by abortion, the father is told that he does not have to take any responsibility at all for the child he has brought into the world. That father is likely to put other women into the same trouble. So abortion just leads to more abortion.

Any country that accepts abortion is not teaching its people to love, but to use any violence to get what they want. This is why the greatest destroyer of love and peace is abortion.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that for most people, this is the most well-remembered “Mother Teresa in America” moment.

Is it mentioned on this website produced by the US Embassy to the Vatican? Well, the speech at the prayer breakfast is on the timeline, but unlike the other events, the timeline does not offer hyperlinks to any contemporary news accounts of it, much less to the actual text of the speech or video , all of which are available.

Such a puzzle.

 — 4 —

As many of you know, Bishop Robert Barron has a new video series – Pivotal Players – coming out soon. I wrote a prayer book companion to the series – I assume it is coming out soon, but I don’t know. Here’s a bit of information on it. 

— 5 

Really good article on the decline in translated children’s books. Those European comics have absorbed my boys’ attention for more time than I can recount. TinTin, Asterix Lucky Luke are favorites.

Last year I published a reference book, The Oxford Companion to Children’s Literature. When I set out, I knew I wanted to talk about a whole world of children’s books. But it turns out that most of the whole world is hard to find nowadays. I included entries on those foreign books that enriched the old canon: The Little Prince,Astrid Lindgren, the Brothers Grimm, and all the rest. They made us readers, these books—they made a lot of us writers, too. But they came to English 40, 60, 100 years ago—where’s all the stuff that’s happened since?

I recently went to a major London bookshop, a good one, and did some counting. I found 2,047 children’s books, of which 2,018 were by English-language writers and 29 were translations. Of those 29, the number of living writers represented was … 6.

Is this because nobody else in the world is writing anything for children worth reading? Well, even if you argue that the Anglophone world is atypical for the number and quality and—by some metrics—the variety of its children’s books, still it seems improbable. Six point seven billion people in the world whose first language isn’t English, and none of them are writing good children’s books? Nobody but us—however you choose to define that problematic “us”—has a story worth telling?


Want to listen to podcasts about something other than people rambling on about their personal lives? Here’s a list of good history podcasts. I’d add – of course – In Our Time, which is by far the best, which I can say even though I’ve not listened to many of the others.

— 7 —

It’s always great to see others enjoying books you’ve recommended. That happened twice this week!  Eve Tushnet had a great post on Muriel Sparks The Girls of Slender Means, and Jeff Miller tweeted on his enjoyment of the very funny and amazingly still timely The Sun-Cure. 




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

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: