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Seven Quick Takes

— 1 —

Busy week. Let’s get started.

First off, Publisher’s Weekly carried a brief notice about the book I’m working on with Loyola – the exciting completion of the Loyola Kids trilogy! Well, at least the third book I’ll have "amy welborn"written under that brand. It’s simple – a collection of Bible stories, but with an angle that I hope will make them particularly helpful to Catholic children, parents, families and catechists. When I wrote the Loyola Kids Book of Saints sixteen years ago, I never thought it would still be selling as well as it does – usually one of the top two or three titles in children’s religious biography on Amazon, and really still unique in approach.

My deadline for this manuscript is early February, so I’ll be working to get that done over the next few months as well as on some smaller projects.

— 2 —

The past week has been busy, with an odd recurring theme of organization and information – or really, a lack of it.

High Point climbing gym is one of my youngest son’s favorite places. It’s a huge gym in downtown Chattanooga, notable for the outdoor climbing wall.

They’re building a branch here in Birmingham, and last weekend, they had an open house for their still-under construction facility. So we started there – it looks good, although not as large as the Chattanooga place and sadly, no outdoor climbing wall. It’s also a bit far from our house on road that is often marked by horrendous traffic, but I told my son that if got up early on Saturday mornings to go, I’d take him once in a while. He was all in. What have I done?

— 3 —

After a brief stop back at home, I headed out and up the hill behind our neighborhood to the Altamont School, which was hosting a celebration in honor of the 100th anniversary of Walker Percy’s birth. You’ll recall that he was born here in Birmingham, and it was from here that his mother moved the family after his father’s suicide. Percy attended a school that was the predecessor of Altamont, which explains the event. Unfortunately, it was barely advertised – I only knew about it because someone in my parish sent me an email saying, “Whenever I see something about Walker Percy, I think of you. Have you seen this?” No, I hadn’t. Neither had many other people, for the panel discussion part of the afternoon, which is what I attended, featured four people on stage and ten in the audience. Even with the Crimson Tide on the field at the time, that’s surprising. A few days later, I spoke with someone local who is a big Percy fan, well-connected into the local cultural scene and he was astounded that this event had occurred – he’d heard nothing about it.

Anyway, what I took away – besides marketing, people – was, first of all, how challenging it is for people to get a hold of Percy’s Catholicism, probably because hardly anyone understands Catholicism properly, not getting the fundamental point that a character who defines himself as a “Bad Catholic” is actually expressing a sort of ideal Catholicism. Secondly, I was struck again by the Percy Effect, best summarized on this occasion by the young academic on the panel who described his feeling upon first encountering Percy’s writings. “I was splayed open” – he said, and then filled with an urgent sense that Percy was onto something and that it was important, even essential, to follow and see where he led. The person I was talking to a few days later said that when he was in campus ministry he would often give The Last Gentlemen to students, and after reading three chapters, they would return to him wondering…was Walker Percy in my dorm room? How does he know?

Something I wrote about Percy for CWR a few months ago.

 — 4 —

Then it was back down the hill, fix dinner, and then my younger son and I headed out to the Alabama Theater to see Post Modern Jukebox. It was a good concert – even with a couple of dicey moments that I think went mostly over his head anyway. The talent level is amazing, which you know from watching the videos. Two of my favorites – Casey Abrams and Aubrey Logan– were both in the troupe for that performance, although a major, major disappointment was that Scot Bradlee himself was not. My 11-year old pianist son was quite let down by that – the pianist performing that night was excellent of course, but my son has really enjoyed Scott Bradlee’s stylings and style and was a little stunned that he wasn’t actually there – I wouldn’t say I was stunned, but it hadn’t even occurred to me that he wouldn’t be performing.

— 5 

Sunday morning – serve Mass at Casa Maria.

In the afternoon, we went to a big local state park – Oak Mountain State Park – for an advertised “reptile program.” Here’s what was advertised – come see reptiles from noon to three. Really not much more than that. We arrived at the interpretive center at 1:30 to an room empty but for refreshments. The program would be across the road in the other building, at would start at 2.

Which it did, to a full room, and with lots of interesting animals and expert educational offerings. But it was far more formal than advertised and did go on. So instead of the drop-in and see and chat about animals at your leisure during a time frame experience I thought we were getting, we sat in chairs for 90 minutes – including thirty minutes past the advertised ending time. Yes, snakes, lizards and tortoises are well worth our time – why do you think we were there? – but there was certainly a big difference between advertising and reality. Do people not even read their own copy and think about how it matches their plans?

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6–

Back to school on Monday, and then Tuesday night, Birmingham – in the form of Rev. Peter Leithert’s Theopolis Institute – welcomed Joseph Bottum to town.

I had met Jody years ago at an informal event First Things organized for me on a visit to New York. He was here from his South Dakota home to speak on “The Novel as Protestant Art” –  the article upon which his talk is based is here. It was a good talk with interesting engagement from the audience. It’s been a while since I’ve enjoyed that kind of in-person adult intellectual engagement, and what made it even better was that Avondale Brewery, where it was held, is about two minutes from my house. Always a plus.

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We won’t have that level of activity this weekend. What’s on tap? One kid gone Friday and much of Saturday at a robotics competition, the other serving a Saturday retreat Mass and having a make-up piano lesson (his teacher was on a short recital tour earlier in the week and had to reschedule). A family Halloween party Saturday night – almost forgot about that! – and then..it looks like Sunday is going to be what I hate most – Finish The Project Day – around here. One has an Archimedes project, the other on The Scarlet Letter.

"amy welborn"

Have a Happy Halloween, Slash.

— 7 —

Oh, I did do a bit of television watching, aside from Rectify. I have been poking around for a show to binge on – I missed the Stranger Things fad. By the time it had cycled through from New Hotness to Old and Almost Busted, I lost interest. But then I started hearing about this Australian show called Glitch just come to Netflix, so I thought I’d try it out.

And I did, and I watched the whole thing, sort of hating myself by hour four. Not exactly hating, but knowing by that point that this was going to be a Lost kind of experience in which an initial intriguing hook ends up taking you for a fairly contrived ride. And Lost was a lot better than Glitch.

The conceit is that several people have risen from the dead, crawling out of their graves in the cemetery in a small Australian town. Those first scenes are quite arresting, and a couple of the story lines are affecting, but the writing is formulaic and stiff, serious questions are glossed over and really, it all comes down to the fact that the reaction of a widower to his once dead, now-standing-in-front-of-him wife is not much more intense than if she had surprised him by arriving  home early from work. It’s clear by the end that this event has not been caused – as the devout Catholic among the resuscitated exclaims – by any miracle – but by pharmaceutical hijinks of one sort or another, and there’s a major twist at the end of the series that makes the, er, dead affect of one of the non-risen characters finally understandable – and so that’s where this first season ends. So yes, I kept watching for that dumb reason we all do – just to see what happens – but I’m not proud, especially in light of the intelligent, nuanced experience of Rectify a couple of nights later. I should have spent those six hours reading a book instead. Walker Percy, probably.

“Yes. Death is winning, life is losing.”
“Ah, you mean the wars and the crime and violence and so on?”
“Not only that. I mean the living too.”
“The living? Do you mean the living are dead?”
“Yes.”
“How can that be, Father? How can the living be dead?”
“I mean their souls, of course.”
“You mean their souls are dead,” says Max with the liveliest sympathy.
“Yes,” says Father Smith tonelessly. “I am surrounded by the corpses of souls. We live in a city of the dead.”

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

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I never try to do much on Labor Day weekend.

Once, in 2011, I did.

I stupidly rented a house down on the Gulf – as one does in this part of the world  –  then spent a couple of days in the week leading up to the weekend emailing the owner, my nervousness mounting by the day as I watched the weather turn, and turn badly, since with rentals that close to the booking date, you’re generally stuck no matter what. I got the boys out of school early that Friday, started down 65, and then got the call from the owner. Don’t bother, he said, it’s coming. (I think the storm was Lee?) But he was also very generous about the whole situation and offered another weekend to me   – which he absolutely did not have to do.

Oh, well, the point was that ever since then I’ve not bothered to even think about making big plans, especially in this part of the country where Labor Day means not so much “end of summer” as “beginning of hurricane season.”

At first, this year, I had another reason to stick around as well: the boys were scheduled to serve at the convent Sunday morning. But early last week, Sister called and said that someone wanted to switch, and would that be possible? Since the weekend to which we’d switch was a weekend we had to be in town anyway for a piano recital…sure!

So, what to do? Friday night was high school football, and someone wanted to go to the game – as it ended up, both of them went. I toyed around with spending the next couple of nights away…but where? North Georgia mountains maybe? We’d done that one November and it was lovely. But this time – Nah. Too far. Nothing available for a reasonable price. Too much trouble. Besides, with both of them in school, hanging out at home and getting to sleep late in your own bed is a welcome change from days of early rising. “Vacation” would just not be restful, and I had to accept that.

(The son who has just come off four years of homeschooling said the other day, “The days seem so long now! Why do they seem so much longer?”  I said, “Considering you used to sleep until 9 or 9:30 and now you get up at 6:30…yes, your days literally are longer.  That might explain it.”)

But we managed to get out and about anyway.

Saturday morning, we started out at Pepper Place Market near our house, a farmer and crafty market which happens every Saturday from late April through November. I didn’t buy anything, but they like to wander and taste things and see the dogs people bring along.

(Huh. Thought I had pictures. Nope. Reason for everything.)

I then suggested Ruffner Mountain, where we’d not been in a while. It used to be quarried and mined, so there’s that attraction, as well as the views of the city. There are no creeks or other water features and not that many rocks to climb, though, so it’s not the first place that comes to mind for an interesting hike, but it’s about fifteen minutes from the house, plus there was an estate sale just a few houses away from the preserve’s gate, so that was what we settled on.

(We didn’t get much at the sale – just a few toys for the soon-to-be visiting grandson/nephew – and I picked up yet another empty, unused photo album. I hate spending ten bucks on those things, and these days, since hardly anyone actually prints photos anymore, I usually find at least one at most estate sales, and never pay more than a dollar. Because you’re fascinated, I’ll also tell you that the day before, I’d picked up  two very good, heavy, barely used frying pans for two dollars each at another sale as well as a never-used door-frame pullup bar for ten, so I could finally fulfill a promise I’d made months ago to the boys. About a pull-up bar, not frying pans.)

Then a good walk.

"amy welborn"

 

Which took us to about three. Back home for a bit, then Mass, then…what? A movie? No, it’s football season now…so it was shifting between the Florida, Alabama, and Indiana games.

(Speaking of football. My daughter just started graduate school at Alabama. She said, “People here really do say “Roll, Tide” instead of things like “Heck,yeah.”  So of course I sent her this:)

Sunday, I declared the Day We Would Find Martha’s Falls.  The younger one had been there with a friend last year, and had been bugging me to go back ever since. I kept forgetting, and every time I would remember, it would be about 1 in the afternoon, and it’s an almost two-hour drive. But Sunday, I remembered earlier, and sleeping until ten was accepted as late enough, so up 59 we went.

(I am not a fan of that stretch of road, the interstate that takes you from here up to Chattanooga. It always brings to mind those months and months I drove it so many times back in late 2011 and 2012, when my father was sick and then died and then I had to go up to Knoville and back to settle things again and again. I also drove it into Birmingham when we first moved here in 2008- I must have been in Knoxville before the final leg. Every time, I mentally note the convenience store where I got gas. So I-59 always makes me think of  death and the weird places life takes you. But again, I think about that every day, so no really a big change there, just in intensity.)

We had been to Little River Canyon and DeSoto Falls a few times before, but never to this section. If you ever have a chance, you really should check it out. It’s a gorgeous part of Alabama, and a really interesting land feature. What you have is Lookout Mountain – a loooooong mountain that is really part of the foothills of the Appalachians, and on top of that mountain and down into it is the Little River and the canyon it has carved, which is truly beautiful and not that developed. There are just a few spots to access the river and this one – Martha’s Falls or the “Hippie Hole” takes more than just a stroll from the car to get to. You park, and then you have to hike about a half mile through the woods, and much of the path is strewn with large rocks. The last few hundred feet take you down a fairly steep bank.

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But it’s gorgeous!

It was also pretty busy, and I’d hate to see how busy it would get if it were easier to access. So they can keep the way it is. That’s fine.

There was swimming and jumping. He also jumped from one higher level on the bank than this, but I wasn’t quick enough with the camera to get it.

It was a typical Alabama scene. I hate to shatter your stereotypes, but a “typical Alabama scene” means that there are all different types of people there, enjoying themselves and getting along. College students, high school church groups, white, black, lots of Hispanics, South Asians, a group of Chinese families sporting Georgia Tech gear and a couple of dozen bikers.

Besides whatever you’re doing to amuse yourself, the major entertainment is watching people jump off the highest point on the bank. Some don’t hesitate, but more than a few do. We watched, for probably fifteen minutes, as a teenage girl considered the drop. She got to the edge half a dozen times, urged on by her friends below, looked as though she might do it, then backed away every time. Did Chloe ever jump? We’ll never know, because it was time for us to go.

Of course, I was boring and declared it to be a metaphor of sorts. I asked mine what it takes to do something you’re scared to do. “Just do it,,” they said. “Just stop thinking about it and what’s going to happen and just go.”

Like I said. A metaphor.

 

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— 1 —

….a few days after.

The older brother was on an overnight school trip earlier in the week, so the ten-year old and I took the opportunity to go up to the 4th largest city in Tennesse to revisit the Aquarium (he’d been 2 or 3 years ago, but was ready for a return and his brother wouldn’t mind being excluded) and see the zoo, the children’s museum and whatever else we could fit into about 24 hours. (We couldn’t leave until after his piano lesson on Monday)

"amy welborn"

— 2 —

Having lived in Knoville during my teen and college years, I have random associations with Chattanooga:

  • One of my best friends from college was from Chattanooga and taught me all about the prep/boarding school/High Episcopal culture of the city.
  • When I was in high school in Knoxville, our newspaper staff attended a high school journalism convention in Knoxville.  Something I wrote won me an autographed paperback copy of a book by Barbara Walters.  No, I don’t still have it.
  • On that same trip,  some of the senior girls went out after curfew to some bar. (They may have even been 18, so it might have even been okay…remember that was the drinking age then. Wiser times.) One of the girls met a guy there – a guy in his twenties – and Chemistry Happened. She was giddy about it when she got back to the hotel room. We lowly, gawky sophomores and juniors were in awe.   They made plans.  He’d come up to Knoxville in a few weeks and they would go to the Dan Fogleburg concert together.

(And of course)

She waited and waited at the Civic Center…

He didn’t show up.

Longer than….

— 3 —

No such drama or awards this time.  Just animal-crazy kid-centered fun.

First thing about Chattanooga:  the city is a model of tourism development and marketing.  It’s the smallest of the Big Four cities in Tennessee, and probably has the least attention-grabbing cachet.  No blues/Elvis/Mississippi River, no country music capitol, no Smokey Mountains gateway. But it’s taken what it has – the natural attraction and history of Lookout Mountain and the Tennessee River, as well as its location as the city through which a good chunk of the Florida-bound traffic must pass  – and built on it.

There’s a degree of artificiality about it, but at the same time, this downtown area of Chattanooga, on both sides of the river, is clearly also for residents, and it shows.

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— 4 —

We couldn’t leave until after the Monday piano lesson, but even so, since the Aquarium doesn’t close until 7:30, we had plenty of time to explore.

There are two wings, one devoted to oceans and one to rivers.  The latter is the original, appropriately themed, since it sits right on the lovely Tennessee River.   There is not a whole lot in the ocean wing, but there were penguins and some great rays.

The river wing is well designed:  you ride the escalator up to the top, then wind your way down on mezzanine ramps that branch out into exhibit halls on the sides.  My son’s favorite is the paddle fish – he says it looks prehistoric to him and it does.

I like the Tennessee Aquarium more than I do the Atlanta aquarium, which always seems like such a mob scene to me.  It’s expensive, but then all aquariums are – they are expensive to operate – but it’s worth it.

Then some walking:

The Bluff View area directly east of downtown is lovely, and here’s another great feature of Chattanooga planning:  public art.  It’s a priority for the city, and the placement of all of this statuary adds ongoing interest to an already eye-catching walk up and down hills and over a pedestrian bridge.

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The Walnut Street Bridge – threatened with demolition until a little over twenty years ago, the community joined together to restore and revive it as a pedestrian bridge.

"amy welborn"

"amy welborn"

— 5 —

Tuesday morning, we took a ten-minute drive to the zoo.  It’s small, and half-priced with our Birmingham Zoo membership, I paid a little over seven bucks for us to get in.  It was us with scores of school groups, but most of the time we managed to stay ahead of them and enjoy the animals without too much ecstatic squealing in the background.

My ten-year old is a zoo afficianado, with one of the great regrets of his life being that he was only four when he went to the San Diego Zoo, and he doesn’t remember it.  His favorite so far is the New Orleans Zoo, but he approved of this one, too, comparing it in size and scope to the Montgomery Zoo and he’s right.

So, no big animals here, which is fine – the biggest cats were jaguars, and supposedly there were chimps but we never saw them.  The highlights for us were the Fennec foxes, which are new and very cute, and the sloth

I’ve seen sloths in zoos before (Birmingham has one), but I’ve never seen one do anything but sleep.  We had been through this exhibit once earlier, had some extra time, so we decided to go back to it once more before we left, and it was great that we did: the sloth, previously curled up and asleep was seriously on the move:

Their Edward Scissorhands hook paws are pretty weird.

It was a good couple of hours and walking around, looking at animals, and listening to my ten-year old tell me all about them.

Then back to town, where we spent some time at the Children’s Discovery Museum.  I was unsure if it might be a little young for Michael, and he was right on the edge, and we wouldn’t return, but the music and art rooms were particularly good and provided him some interesting ways to spend his time.

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Then, this happened:

High Point Climbing

— 6 —

You can’t miss the High Point Climbing and Fitness.  The outdoor climbing walls loom high over the riverside area. We took a brief walk around Monday night, and I told Michael that yes, he could do it on Tuesday…and so he did.  For two hours. Indoors and out.  Arms sore at the end, heels blistered from the shoes, but very, very happy.

High Point Climbing and Fitness

High Point Climbing Gym

And he was pretty excited to learn that they are opening their second facility in 2016….in Birmingham.

And then back home to pick up brother at 11:30 pm at school from his trip.

We’ll go back to Chattanooga for a couple of days sometime this summer to do Lookout Mountain/Ruby Falls/Rock City (which my older son said was really kitschy and actually kind of weird) and Chickamagua.  My big goal of this summer, locally, is to get to Cloudland Canyon State Park, which is just a little south of Chattanooga – it looks amazing.

— 7 —

Had a nice chat with Matt Swain on Thursday morning about the two B16 picture books, available here, of course:

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And for Mother’s Day:

days

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

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