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Weekend:

The older one worked a lot – Friday evening, Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon into the evening. After working almost every afternoon last week as well, it’s good that he has somewhat of a break this week – not working again until Friday. He seems to be managing it well, though. He’s certainly learning to value free time and not take it for granted.

On Saturday morning, I had a very enjoyable time speaking to women of the diocese of Birmingham at Our Lady of the Valley parish.  I used some stories from the Guatemala trip in the talk, and as I did so, some points really clicked in my brain, so hopefully as the busy-ness of the early part of the week abates, I can move forward on that project with clarity.

"amy welborn"

After a summer break, they were back serving at the Casa Maria retreat house yesterday:

(Again – sorry it’s huge. I wish you could resize videos on WordPress…but you can’t. I don’t think.)

Afternoon: reptiles.

 

This week:  Eclipse Day today – we are staying right here and will just see what we can see (with our glasses!). I was pretty convinced that if I attempted to travel to full totality – even though we had added incentive because Charleston, where my son, daughter-in-law and grandson live is in the path of full totality – what would happen was this: The spot to which I traveled would experience heavy cloud cover and it would end up being clear back in Birmingham.

So we’re here today. Eclipse Education, Eclipse, then a piano lesson. Tomorrow, M is back at the convent, serving for a Final Profession Mass, then to the orthodontist and then on Wednesday I’m thinking “school” will be a little more focused.

All right, let me try to do this: offer some thoughts on some of the books I’ve read over the past ten days.

First was – as I mentioned and posted about – Ride the Pink Horse.  Such an interesting, surprising read.

Then I turned a bit and traveled to somewhere in Illinois in 1918 for They Came Like Swallows.

 William Maxwell is well-known as an editor, but he was a fine writer himself. They Came Like Swallows was the first novel of his that I’d read.

It’s a short, intense book about childhood, the passing of time and grief. In some respects, it reminded me of Paul Horgan’s Things as They Are

I hate to say too much about  the important plot points because while it is clear something is going to happen, the precise nature of the incident is somewhat of a surprise and perhaps shouldn’t be spoiled for future readers.

So what shall I say?

It’s a short novel told, in three sections, from the perspective of three characters (all in the third person) – a young boy, his older, young teen-aged brother, and their father.

The time, as I mentioned, is 1918. The Great War ends during the novel, but something else is brewing, something called influenza. The family at the center is a comfortable, middle class family living in Illinois. The younger boy has an intense relationship with his mother and lives, it seems to him, primarily in reference to her.  Through his eyes, as well, his older brother is a rough figure who cares little for anyone, but when his turn comes around, we see that things are not always as they appear.

They Came Like Swallows is a lovely book with as authentic a representation of the feeling of grief as I have ever read in literature.

A note on the edition I read. Most of you know about the Internet Archive – you may not know that one of the features of the site is a book borrowing service – that is, of books that are still in print. That’s how I read They Came Like Swallows  What I didn’t like was that copyright limitations prevented it being downloaded as an actual Kindle book, ,so it had to be read online, which meant that I couldn’t highlight or make notes. But at least I was able to read it, and for that I’m grateful. It’s very good, beautifully written, sad and true.

Coming attractions:

Frost in May

The Tortoise and the Hare

 So Long, See You Tomorrow

 Time Will Darken It

 The Lost Traveler

 

 

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When it comes to instant video social media-type stuff, I toyed with Snapchat a bit last year. I started mostly because my daughter wanted me to join so she could share Snaps with me, and then we went to Italy for three weeks, and I thought it would be an efficient way of getting and sharing video.

But I didn’t really like it that much, and when Instagram unveiled a similar feature – Instagram Stories – I tried it out and found I liked it much better. The most important difference to me between the two was that Instagram makes it very, very easy to share on Instagram Stories after the moment – with Snapchat, you can load up saved images and videos, but it’s a hassle and it doesn’t have the same look as the in-the-moment Snaps.

And so what Snapchat wants you to do is engage with the app in the moment – and I don’t want to do that. I want to take a quick photo or snip of video, save it for later uploading, and then focus on the moment of what’s happening in front of me. I didn’t want to have to be stopping and saying, “Wait, let me upload this to Snapchat.”  I prefer to just take my photos, and later, when the event is over, upload.

All of that is by way of introduction to a few words about who I am actually still following on Snapchat (besides my daughter) – it’s down to two:

Everest No Filter

and David Lebovitz.

David Lebovitz is an American Paris-based food writer – he wrote the book on homemade ice cream and has other excellent books, and his website is invaluable.  He uses Snapchat very well, and I really enjoy it – I don’t get into social media very much at all, but I do look forward to David’s daily forays through Paris (although he’s been in the US for a few weeks now – that’s interesting too) and his work in the kitchen.  He uses the medium very, very well.

I started following Everest No Filter last year – it’s the Snapchat account of Adrian Ballinger and Cory Richards. Ballinger is a climber, and while Richards obviously climbs as well, he’s also known as a photographer.  They started Everest No Filter last year as an account for people to follow them as they attempted to scale Everest (duh) with no supplemental oxygen.  Last year, Richards made it, but Ballinger didn’t – although not by much.

It’s Everest climbing season again, and so they are back. I have no plans to climb Mount Everest, nor do I have any other extreme sporting goals, but I am just hooked on the Everest No Filter Snapchat – it’s fascinating to learn about the work and effort that goes into a climb like this, and the two are very honest about the challenges. It is always thought-provoking to me to learn about people going through a great deal of effort to accomplish a goal and to wonder, for myself…what is worth that? 

If you don’t have and don’t want to bother with Snapchat, you can see a lot of the #EverestNoFilter stuff at their YouTube channel – they also periodically do Facebook Live events, too. The Everest No Filter website, with links to all their social media, is here. 

— 2 —

Not Mount Everest:

amy-welborn

— 3 —

That’s Ruffner Mountain, about fifteen minutes from our house. It was part of last weekend’s adventures.

Car show was just at the park on the other side of the hill from our house. We walked there. 

— 4 —

This week’s aural adventures centered around The North – the North of England, that is.

I discovered that last fall, Melvyn Bragg (of In Our Time) had presented a series of programs on the North of England – they are just excellent.  

A few highlights:

The Glories of the North concerns the “Northumbrian Renaissance” – the flourishing of intellectual, artistic and spiritual life of the early medieval period, centered on three things: The Ruthwell Cross, the Lindesfarne Gospels, and the Venerable Bede. It was quite moving, really.

— 5 —

Northern Inventions and the Birth of the Industrial Revolution is self-explanatory, of course, but expresses a train of thought that Bragg has often elucidated on In Our Time and something that I – the product of a long line of humanities-type people on both sides – have only recently come to appreciate, especially as the fruit of homeschooling – the creativity and genius of those engaged in science and industry and, quite honestly (and he deals with this) the snobbery of elites who downplay these achievements – England’s greatest contribution to world history, as Bragg would say it – completely undervalued by elites.

— 6 —

The Radical North offers a quick look (all the programs are about half an hour) on the reforming movements that came out of the North. What I appreciated about this program is the due credit given to religion – in this case, Unitarianism, Quakerism and Methodism.  In particular, the role of Methodism in the development of trade unionism and sensitivity to workers’ rights, a role which one scholar on the program quite forthrightly said was vital and had been unfairly downplayed by Marxist-leaning historians since the 60’s (Beginning with E.P. Thompson, whose Making of the English Working Class was the first non-textbook college text I ever had. I had knocked off my history major freshman requirements in the summer, so I was able to take an upper-level history course the winter of my freshman year – it was a junior-level course on the Industrial Revolution, and oh, I felt so special, in there with the older students and no more schoolbooks, but instead the thick, important feeling Thompson in hand.

He even took us on a field trip to a textile mill that was, somehow, still operating somewhere in East Tennessee. )

So Thompson – you dissed the religionists, but the sight of that cover still gives me a frisson of excitement that even I was welcome in a world of intellectual engagement with Important Things.

It was worth doing.

So yes. Take a listen to The Matter of the North.  It’s worth your time. 

— 7 —

Perhaps you saw it earlier in the week...and perhaps you didn’t. So here it is, the cover of my next book, coming out in August (they say):

amy_welborn2

Secondly, since May is Mary’s month, it’s a good time to read a free book about her, originally published by Word Among Us, now out of print and available in a pdf version here.

Amy Welborn and Michael Dubruiel

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

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Perhaps"amy welborn" you remember at the beginning of Lent, when I was on a Vintage Catholic tear, I posted a section from a late 19th-century book called The Correct Thing for Catholics.  Somewhat dated, of course, but still, if you think about it, useful.

Well, here’s the author’s advice for these days in particular. Other sites are offering you deep thoughts. I simply offer the correct thing. 

The focus is on Holy Thursday, and in particular the tradition of visiting the altars of repose in various churches – “throngs” of people did this….

 

"amy welborn"

 

"amy welborn"

There won’t be any Seven Quick Takes this week, so here’s an offering for you to read that is take, although not a quick one. I think it’s an essential article to read – Patricia Snow in First Things on screen time. 

Sixty-four years ago, in her novel Wise Blood, Flannery O’Connor saw all of this coming. Describing the beautiful movements of a night sky over an artificially lit street in a small town, she commented dryly, “No one was paying any attention to the sky.” The cinema on the lit street was O’Connor’s metaphor of choice for the alienation of modern man, mesmerized by huge, internally generated images as if he were walled up behind his own eye; today everyone has a tiny cinema of his own, on the seat back in front of him or in his pocket, that he can carry everywhere.

Snow offers more than the now routine concerns about the impact of all of this on us. She takes it to a spiritual level, appropriate reading for this week, and this day, in particular, in which we ponder the Real Presence:

For centuries, the Catholic Church has been a place of prayer and recollection, deep reading and peaceful communion. It has been a place of limited social interaction, where the mind can wander and the nerves relax; a quiet place, far from the noise and incessant demands of the world. It has been a place where the poor have had access to certain luxury goods of the rich: great art and music, spaciousness and silence. If the rich have always taken expensive, unplugged vacations in remote, unspoiled places, in our churches the poor, too, have had a place of retreat from the world. The church’s thick walls and subdued lighting, her “precisely-paced” liturgies and the narrowing sight lines of her nave, drawing the eye to the altar and the tabernacle behind it—everything in the church is designed to ward off distractions and render man “still and listening.” Everything is there to draw him into the Church’s maternal embrace, so she can fill him with God.

Besides this way of prayer and contemplation that has been described as a mutual gaze (“I look at him; he looks at me”), there is a second path to God, equally enjoined by the Church, and that is the way of charity to the neighbor, but not the neighbor in the abstract. Catholicism, Christianity generally, and other religions as well have always inveighed against telescopic philanthropy. “Who is my neighbor?” a lawyer asks Jesus in the Gospel of Luke. Jesus’s answer is, the one you encounter on the way.

This encounter cannot be elided or put on hold, pushed to the periphery or dissolved into an abstraction. Man cannot vault over the particular to reach the universal, or bypass the present to seize the future. Virtue is either concrete or it is nothing. Man’s path to God, like Jesus’s path on the earth, always passes through what the Jesuit Jean Pierre de Caussade called “the sacrament of the present moment,” which we could equally call “the sacrament of the present person,” the way of the Incarnation, the way of humility, or the Way of the Cross. In C. S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters, a book that teaches by inversion, the fiend Screwtape urges his nephew to envision his human prey as a series of concentric circles, and then “shove all [his] virtues outward till they are finally located in the circle of fantasy.” The tradition of Zen Buddhism expresses the same idea in positive terms: Be here now.

Both of these privileged paths to God, equally dependent on a quality of undivided attention and real presence, are vulnerable to the distracting eye-candy of our technologies. In an essay in these pages, “Reckoning with Modernity” (December 2015), Bruce Marshall wrote of the Church’s need to discern modernity on her own terms, “by searching her own mystery.” In the past, the Church has censured the content of certain media: the violence in video games, for example, or the pornography available online. But preoccupied with content, and excepting a few recent remarks by Pope Francis, she has overlooked the greater danger of the delivery system itself, or the form of the screen, which for many people turns out to be as irresistible as pornography and as addictive as any narcotic, with the result that it is on its way to becoming as formidable a distracter in the life of the Church as it is everywhere else….

….The Church’s definitive mystery is a mystery of real presence: the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist, above all, but also her own uninterrupted presence in the world and in history. There is nothing “virtual” or disembodied about the Catholic Church. Her Gospel—her whole life—is a communication of real presence: God made man; God with us; God still with us, in the sacraments and in the baptized. For centuries, the Church has spread this Gospel by face-to-face encounters, live preaching, tangible sacraments and real texts, media ontologically well suited to a message of Incarnation.

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— 1 —

You know, sometimes Ash Wednesday is super early. Like last year, remember? It was February 10. (The earliest it can be is February 4)

When it does fall that early, some of us complain and moan that we haven’t even had time to recover from Christmas or enjoy us some Ordinary Time when here comes Lent. 

Well, here’s what I say. I say that if this year were last year, Lent would already be almost half over and wouldn’t that be great!  The sooner it begins, the sooner it ends.

— 2 —

Several Lent-themed posts this past week:

(Not a post, but look for me in Living Faith tomorrow – 2/25)

daybreaks-lent

ched-day-04-01-1946-053-m5-copy

— 3—

The role of the press in helping – or not- us understand what is going on in the world continues to be debated. I thought this Tweet from attorney and Federalist contributor Gabriel Malor summed up the problem nicely: 

— 4 —

Another excellent contribution to commentary on the present ecclesial moment: “The New Jansenism” from First Things. 

We are, indeed, plagued by a new sort of Jansenism, one rooted in presumption rather than despair. The “old” Jansenism arose from both anthropological and theological despair—the Catholic absorption of total depravity, and the loss of hope in the possibility of salvation. Ironically, those who criticize the four cardinals—and anyone who believes that Amoris Laetitia is in need of clarification—often fall into a new form of Jansenism. This “new” Jansenism is marked by a similar pessimism with respect to human nature—total depravity under a new name, whether “weakness” or “woundedness” or “greyness.” And like what preceded it, the new Jansenism articulates a loss of hope in the power of grace to regenerate the soul. The difference is that the new Jansenism tends towards presumption.

— 5 —.

BBC 3 has a video series called “Things not to say to..fill in the blank.”   Some of them concern people with conditions like Down Syndrome, cerebral palsy and facial disfigurements. Very worthwhile.

— 6 —

“Boy with ‘no brain’ stuns doctors.” 

noah-wall

Over the past year, Noah’s brain has continued to develop beyond all expectation.

A brain scan taken when he was three years old showed that his brain had expanded to 80% of a normal brain – an incredible result that no doctor expected.

Now, after a series of painful and difficult operations on his hips, he’s even contemplating the possibility one day of walking.

— 7 —

And on the Catholic blogger front:

Mark Zuckerberg (not a Catholic blogger) was in Birmingham earlier this week – he’s doing this wandering-around-America tour thing, which surely seems like groundwork for running for political office to me, but anyway. He started his tour of Alabama down in Mobile, then worked his way up here. After meeting with Anthony Ray Hinton, wrongly convicted of murder and confined on death row for three decades, the Zuckerbergs dined at a place called Oven Bird  obviously because, I am assuming, Lisa Hendey told them about it, since that’s where I took her when she visited Birmingham in December. And there’s your Catholic blogger connection on that one.

Thomas Peters, whom some of you remember as the “American Papist” blogger and who still writes in other capacities, was paralyzed in a swimming accident several years ago. OSV catches up with Tom and Natalie Peters here. 

Jeff Miller started blogging not too long after I did – way back in 2002, according to his archives. He’s been around for a long time as the Curt Jester, writing witty Catholic blog posts, reviewing books and talking tech. Jeff’s wife Socorro passed away last month, and he writes a moving blog post about her here. 

I can hardly write how devastated I am from losing her. After over 36 years of marriage I am certainly struggling day-to-day. I thank God for my faith and that she was the instrumental cause God used in my conversion. She was a women of prayer day in and day out despite all those years when I held her faith in little regard. In my then atheistic pride her faith was something I had to put up with. To the end she never wavered in her faith or her prayers. In those final days when she could hardly communicate – she was still making the sign of the cross.

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

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"amy welborn"

— 1 —

Well, hello there.

We have stuck around home for Christmas. Rather than traveling, we have been doing grandson/nephew duty for the past few days, and are happy to do it and give his parents a break. Plus, I was still fantasizing that I could “get” “work” “done” during the time here. But, par for the course: hah. Very funny.

Which means you will not be seeing much of me over the next month, and if you do, scold me and send me packing back to the Word document where I belong. I’ll toss up entries about saints and such, but we’re in crunch time now, that time in which I must think ahead to the time in which I will *not* be in crunch time, and how wonderful that will be.

I checked this out from the library today, and I told them….mid February, when the book’s done and basketball is winding down…here we go….

 

— 2 —

Spend less time analyzing celebrity deaths online, thinking of how to sadly yet wittily condemn 2016 to oblivion or bitingly condemn those condemning 2016 to oblivion… and instead spend more time chatting with your actual neighbors, seeing how they’re doing, and swapping stories about life, face-to-face. Try it. It makes for far more sanity and a deeper perspective on what’s real. Probably better for your eyes and joints, too.

— 3—

Are you a Catholic? Then you, like most Catholics, probably had one question on your mind as December 26 dawned. And that question is:

So, when’s Ash Wednesday this year?

Well,since you asked.

"amy welborn"

(Feel free to swipe and share)

A little later, so a bit of reprieve, unlike this past year when it was February 10, when Super Serious Catholics – who observe Christmas til Candlemas – have barely brushed away the last of the pine needles.

So, yes. March 1. If you’re prepping for a parish or school, check out my Lenten devotional from Liguori, also available in Spanish.

(pdf sample here)

daybreaks-lent

Speaking of self-promotion, if you are a woman looking for a daily devotional for 2017, dayscheck out mine. It’s a perennial, which means that it’s not explicitly tied to 2017 moveable feast dates. But I did try to make the February-March entries Lent-ish, the April-May entries Easterish, and so on. Moreover, since most Catholic female-centric devotionals are directly pitched at women who are mothers, this might be a good choice for a woman who is not a mother, or to whom motherhood is not a defining anchor of her spirituality.  Check it out.

 

— 4 —

 

A couple of election-related pieces that echo points I’ve tried to make here.

One of my favorite bloggers, just-retired U of Wisconsin law prof Ann Althouse, writes in relation to an essay in Elle by a woman super-concerned about how to raise a son in “Trump’s America.”

Since President Trump will be out of office by the time your child is 8, I’d suggest not talking about any of that. Piazza frets about “explaining sensitivity and nonviolence” to the boy. I’d suggest demonstrating it, beginning by not going out of your way to express contempt for the President.

A child — boy or girl — lives with real people, and these people set the example that the child will copy. It’s not really very much about explanations and characters on television. How about not putting on the television and not talking about politics and sex in front of young children? Give them a real, comprehensible, simple, gentle environment that is on their level.

Piazza worries about explaining “the president’s picks for attorney general and CIA director voted against reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act.” Frankly, she shouldn’t try to explain that to anyone, since she doesn’t even understand it herself. Votes against the Violence Against Women Act were not votes for violence against women. If you don’t know why, at least have some modesty and restraint about your potential to confuse and unnecessarily rile other people.

Let children be children. And let adults who don’t want to understand law — including things like federalism — have some peace. Your hysteria is not helping….

Explanations are overrated. The power of the presidency is overblown. Find love and meaning where it really is.

It’s much simpler than you’re willing to say, perhaps because you have a career writing columns about feminism and politics. That’s nice for you, but be careful. It’s a brutal template, and you are having a baby.

And Kevin Williamson on the absurdity and fundamental wrongness of our imperial presidency and why for God’s sake do we have to have Obama’s America or Trump’s America or anyone in particular’s America , when, you know…it’s not supposed to be that way. 

The idea that a large, complex society enjoying English liberty could long endure without the guiding hand of a priest-king was, in 1776, radical. A few decades later, it became ordinary — Americans could not imagine living any other way. The republican manner of American presidents was pronounced: There is a famous story about President Lincoln’s supposedly receiving a European ambassador who was shocked to see him shining his own shoes. The diplomat said that in Europe, a man of Lincoln’s stature would never shine his own shoes. “Whose shoes would he shine?” Lincoln asked.

As American society grows less literate and the state of its moral education declines, the American people grow less able to engage their government as intellectually and morally prepared citizens. We are in the process — late in the process, I’m afraid — of reverting from citizens to subjects. Subjects are led by their emotions, mainly terror and greed. They need not be intellectually or morally engaged — their attitude toward government is a lot like that of Trump’s old pal Roy Cohn: “Don’t tell me what the law is. Tell me who the judge is.”

For more than two centuries, we Americans have been working to make government subject to us rather than the other way around, to make it our instrument rather than our master. But that requires a republican culture, which is necessarily a culture of responsibility. Citizenship, which means a great deal more than showing up at the polls every two years to pull a lever for Team R or Team D, is exhausting. On the other hand, monarchy is amusing, a splendid spectacle and a wonderful form of public theater.

But the price of admission is submission.

 

— 5 —.

I have a contribution to a “Best Books I read in 2016” article, but it hasn’t been posted yet. This is a place holder for that.  But I can tell you right now, without knowing who else contributed and what books they’ll discuss, mine will be the lowest brow. Guaranteed.

 

— 6—

Oh, can I come back to this point? A year does not “suck” or need to be prayed to  end or told to go home because celebrities died.

children-in-aleppo

Source

— 7 —

 

Have you seen this? Do you need a time-suck? Try this site, Radio Garden, in which you can just move your cursor and explore radio stations streaming from around the world. There have always been websites with lists of such stations (which I like because you can find stations by genre), but this is the first one that I’ve seen with this kind of framework. My quick conclusion: Everyone around the world is listening to really bad music at the same time! We are Family!

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

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— 1 —

First, an article about two religious women who served Hansen’s Disease patients in South Korea for decades:

After graduating from nursing school, the two nuns arrived in South Korea in the 1960s to work on Sorok Island, where a medical facility, more concentration camp than hospital, had been set up.

Whilst others who worked there armed themselves against possible infection with masks, gloves, and quarantine gear, the two women, then in their mid-20s, wore only white gowns as they tended to the patients. Even when their faces were spattered with blood and pus from wounds, they paid no attention.

Recalling her time on the island, Sister Marianne said, “It was through the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ that I was able to serve”. Above all, “The greatest joy came from seeing patients being discharged from the island and meeting their family members after their wounds healed.”

 

 

— 2 —

From another part of the East:

Some of you might already be aware of the conversion of Chinese artist Yan Zu to Catholicism, as recounted on National Catholic Register and Catholic News Agency. A Dominican friar from the Western Province who is from Taiwan originally recently brought this story to my attention.

It was the study of European art history, and specifically of medieval illuminated manuscripts, that brought Yan to the Faith. She has a Chinese language blog from which these images of her own work are taken.

 

– 3—

One of the reasons I like having my sons serve at the Casa Maria retreat house is the opportunity to hear generally excellent homilies from the priests leading the retreat on a particular weekend. This past weekend, the retreat master was Fr. James Kubicki, national director of the Apostleship of Prayer.  I spoke with Fr. Kubicki after Mass, and he immediately made the connection with the chapter on the Morning Offering from The Words We Pray, which was nice!

"amy welborn"

 — 4 —

Italy trip prep continues. Well, not really. I haven’t done much, since there really isn’t much left to do.  I have almost been convinced to just leave Tuscany to chance, the winds and the Spirit. We’ll see.

 

— 5 

I’m serious about upping my social media game for the trip. I certainly don’t want it to dominate the experience as I juggle phones and cameras and spend the evening on the computer.. Absolutely not. But I do want to share various aspects of the trip – new sight  and sounds, a story or two per day. So if you are interested be sure to follow me here, and then on Instagram. I will probably try to Periscope, but I have to practice here on this side of the world, so look for that via Twitter at some point over the next couple of weeks.

 

— 6-

I’m excited about the new Richard Russo book, Everybody’s Fool.  I’ve always thought Nobody’s Fool to be one of the great American 20th century novels, and this one is sounding good.  If you want to laugh until you weep, read Straight Man. 

 And then there was that time I had contacted Richard Russo, my writing hero,  through either his agent or his publisher with the faint, crazy hope that he would write an introduction for a volume in the Loyola Classics series.  I am not one hundred percent sure, but I think it was Jon Hassler’s North of Hope.  As I said, it was pretty insane, and I thought nothing would come  of it.

One Friday morning, I went to the grocery store. I returned. There was a message on the voicemail.

Hi, this is Richard Russo. 

WHAT.

Yes, Richard Russo HAD CALLED MY HOUSE.

FIVE MINUTES before I walked back in the door.

And of course, he was calling (very politely and kindly) to tell me that he was swamped with work and couldn’t do the introduction.

So what was I going to do, fangirlishly call him back just to tell him…what? That I was sorry, but I certainly understood, and by the way, hey I’m talking to you right now, Richard Russo, writing hero?

No. I couldn’t do that. So I just stood there in my kitchen holding milk or green beans or whatever other meaningless object had made me miss talking to Richard Russo.

Writing Hero.

— 7 —

Well, speaking of writing, but on a less-exalted scale – you still have time….if your local Catholic bookstore has it in stock, you can grab it before Sunday. Or maybe even get super-quick delivery!

"amy welborn"

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

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As I mentioned a few posts back, we’ll be spending three weeks in Italy this summer. I am usually rather cagey about our travels until we have actually arrived at the destination, but I’m doing it differently this time. I’m writing about it before we go in order to aid in my own preparation and perhaps deepen the level at which I will be writing about it during and after. I don’t know why, but I am just intuiting that it is the approach to take this time.

****

I had not planned, intended or even hoped to go to Bologna or Parma and had not even heard of Ferrara or Commachio or Rimini two months ago, but now I can sketch rough maps of each of them, can have well-informed debates with myself about which should be included in the trip and why, and am in general counting down the weeks until we are there.

This seems to be how it always happens with me. A place is at best barely floating on the edges of my radar, and then for some reason – a good fare, an article about an intriguing attraction, the desire to go to a place where no one else you know has been – within weeks my mental landscape has once again expanded just a little bit.

I suppose that since there are not many places on the planet I am not interested in seeing, given the opportunity or means, this is not surprising. It doesn’t take much, in other words.

But what about the 11 and 15 year old boys? What about them and their needs?

People who discourage or disparage family travel really drive me nuts. You don’t know how many discussions I have read on travel boards in which some innocent mom or dad enters the fray asking for advice about what to see on a family trip to somewhere like Milan or I don’t know, Bologna   and the answers they get are either, “Make sure their devices are charged up, because they’ll be so bored, don’t you people have Disney World in your country? You should probably just do that instead.” or “Well, there’s an amusement park nearby. Just go there.”

Well, these guys are great, patient, curious travelers. We are not all interested in the same things, but we all understand the value of the trade-off.  You’re patient while we explore this thing that is interesting to me, and I’ll be patient later while you’re doing your thing. They are also curious about the world and, faithful to their genetic heritage on both sides, inveterate and observant people-watchers.

They also just seem to trust me. I guess I have a good record as a tour guide so far.

Oh, and visions of daily gelato? That helps, too.

***

When it came to plan some summer travel, I had just a few parameters to work around: Music camp for the younger son, scout camp for the older one, and an annual scout rafting trip to North Carolina. The first two would happen in June, the last a weekend in late July. School starts in early August. I know, right? That’s life in the South for you…done with school by May 20, back in the classrom by August 8 or something ridiculous.

Last year, we had a fantastic trip out West – Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce, Death Valley and Vegas during that same time period. Well, the Vegas part wasn’t fantastic, but everything else was. Zion was probably our favorite.

This year, shockingly good airfare popped up from Atlanta to points in Italy for summer travel. I mean – shocking. The ATL has had relatively little competition for international flights, and I really do think their international fares are probably among the highest from a major East-of-the-Mississip hub. Even Charlotte gets better deals and more often than Atlanta does.

But I hit a sweet spot this time, and so, as I said before, we’ll be flying into Bologna and out of Pisa about three weeks later.

So, first stop will be, indeed, Bologna and Emilia-Romanga. But why?

Bologna is not on the top tier of Italian tourist destinations – wait, Rick Steves doesn’t even have a book on Emilia-Romagna! Should I cancel?

As is usually the case, you find different opinions on the city of Bologna On The Internet. Some love it, rave and say it’s fantastic partly because it’s not heavily touristed. Others say it’s boring and dirty and worth maybe a morning if that. Because there’s nothing there for tourists.

I learned long ago that with travel opinions, you just have to keep gathering your intel from all sides…and then experience it yourself. People just have such different expectations of travel – when they express opinions of a destination or attraction, it helps to know where they’re coming from, but since you usually don’t have access to that inside information, you’d be advised to keep a salt cellar next to your computer as you read.

For example: When we were in France a few years ago, one of the places we stayed was this wonderful gite in the Dordogne. The other family staying in another cottage on the property was a husband, wife and teen daughter from Wellington, New Zealand, in the midst of a 6-week European tour. They had arrived from a few days in Paris, we would be traveling there in a couple of weeks, and as the dad gifted me with their leftover Metro tickets, he commented that they hadn’t liked Paris anyway. But why?

It was so dirty.

Okay. I’d never been to Paris, and this wasn’t unimaginable, I thought. Big, old city. Probably dirty.

Well, then we got to Paris, stayed a month, and I thought, Wellington, New Zealand must be spotless.

Sure, the Metro stairwells were messy, the elevator in our station  smelled strongly of urine, which I assume was from the homeless folk who stayed there at night, but..the entire gestalt of the city? Dirty? Generally? Not at all, especially when compared to (no offense) Chicago and New York City. But  there are other European cities – probably German and Swiss – which are super clean, so compared to them, I suppose.

Anyway, what I’ve found is that it’s best to find the kinds of travelers who live in your same general comfort zone and trust their opinions.

bolognaSo yes, I’m looking forward to Bologna!

And what I have learned about Bologna…let me tell you. I knew nothing about the area before six weeks ago, and now, as per usual, I could teach a class. To second-graders, but still, it would be a semi-informative class on Bologna and Emilia-Romagna at a level suitable for seven-year olds.

First of all, we’re looking forward to food. I am not much of a meat-eater, except for one thing: cured meats. Love salamis, hams…everything cured. So yes, this is the place for me – and for one of my sons, who is also passionate about cured meats. Cheese. Real Bolognese pasta, which is different from the sauce-heavy version we associate with it here in the US. I recently made a baked rigatoni with Bolognese sauce from Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Italian Cooking, and it was a revelation.

We are doing a food tour that starts in Parma – a parmesan cheese facility, a winery, a balsamic vinegar facility in Modena, and a Parma ham/cured meat joint. Plus lunch. I hardly ever do tours, but this is the most efficient way to see all of this, and plus…maybe I’ll learn something? From another person instead of just from a book?

Cars! I don’t give a flying flip about cars, but my 15-year old who just got his learner’s permit has a steadily growing interest, so we might check a tour or museum out. Ferrari, Lamborghini, Maserati, and Ducati all have either factories or museums in the region, so we’ll try to find one with the best cost/satisfaction/time ratio.

And then there’s Bologna itself. What I Have Learned:

Next up:  We’ll miss Siena’s, but Ferrara has a palio, too. Who knew? Well, the Ferrarans, but besides them….

Tomorrow or the next day, I’ll talk about the research and prep I’m doing – which is an addicting pastime for me, but at least it’s educational and not a complete waste of time.

And just to let you know, I plan to up my social media game on this trip, not to a distracting point to us, but just for the purpose of sharing intriguing images and vignettes, especially from places that are less familiar to American travelers. What I post is generally not about me or much less my kids, but about what I see and how I see it. So if that interests you, be sure to start following me on Twitter, Instagram and on Periscope (same handle as Twitter – I have not broadcast yet, but will probably start practicing soon.). I have a Pinterest board here with some of the links I’m saving for myself – when I remember to pin them.  Facebook remains mostly for actual acquaintances and family members, although I might start just linking these other social media to the Charlotte Was Both page. That’s probably a good idea. Let’s do it!

And if you have suggestions regarding this area…please share them!

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