Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

 — 1 —

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

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



(And, as always, on Instagram)

— 2 —

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

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

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

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

But then…

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

So we’re doing that.

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




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


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

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

"amy welborn"


Signed copies of some titles available here. 


Here’s a wonderful story:



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

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

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

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

It’s a gift worth $3 million. 

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

Then Dub phoned him up.

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

Yes, that would work just fine.



–5 —

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

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

“But you don’t know what I’ve done.”

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

Also would I like a smoothie?

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

— 6 —

Watched: The Maltese Falcon.  

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

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

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

— 7 —

Reading: Jane Eyre. 

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

In Our Time on the novel. 


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

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Greetings from…back in Birmingham.

It was an excellent weekend, although shorter than originally planned.

The last workshop of the symposium was scheduled to run from 3:30-5 on Sunday. That was also the only Sunday workshop my son was really very interested in – it was on LIDAR technology, which has revolutionized Maya studies.

(National Geographic ran a breathless, irritatingly hype-y special on this a few weeks ago.)

But after attending four talks on Saturday – three right in a row – and gotten the zoo visit done, I discerned that perhaps….this was enough. A day long workshop on Friday and IMG_20180310_144930.jpgfour academic presentations? For a thirteen-year old? I suggested that perhaps we could just…go home earlier on Sunday?

We talked it over. He was, indeed, interested in that workshop, but LIDAR had been discussed many times in the talks he’d attended, and considering how interested he is in the topic and how hot LIDAR is in the field…he’ll have a chance to engage with it again. The thought of getting home at 5 instead of 10 or later was certainly attractive to both of us.

Decision made…so that’s why I’m writing this from home Sunday night instead of..Monday morning.

But let’s backtrack.

First, our New Orleans hotel. Here’s Amy’s Travel Advice  Section:

I’ve stayed in New Orleans before, in various spots, and never paid what I consider an exorbitant amount. We’ve stayed in various chains in the city, and once at a Residence Inn near the airport. When I started looking for rooms this time, I got serious sticker shock. Nothing, nada even close to downtown for less than 350 a night. Even hotels in Metairie were more than I wanted to pay. Finally, I settled on a Holiday Inn and Suites across the river in Harvey, which was at least under $200.

(And why was this? I poked about and saw a couple of events – the Sun Belt Conference Championship tournament and a Bourbon Festival, but really? Would that be enough to drive prices up for the weekend? Spring breaks beginning? That certainly might be part of it. Well, then we were driving and walking around Sunday morning I saw, not one, but two big cruise ships in port – the Norwegian Pearl and Carnival Dream. That might just have been the tipping point – thousands of folks coming in early to get the party started before departing on Sunday. Maybe?)

Then about a week before the trip, I checked again – just to see. What I actually checked was the question, “Slidell as a base for New Orleans trip.”  Because hotels out there are of course much cheaper. The discussion I happened upon answered that initial question with a resounding NO DON’T DO IT, but buried in the various answers was the suggestion of a hotel – the Prytania Park Hotel – which, the person said, was reasonably priced and close in – just on the edge, between the Garden District and Downtown.

I checked the usual booking sites  – no vacancies listed for my dates. But then, just IMG_20180311_091502.jpgbecause I know that what is listed on the booking sites is their inventory that’s been released to them from a particular hotel – I went to the hotel’s website and checked. Vacancies! For a “junior suite” with two beds and on two levels.  For well under $200 a night. I emailed just to make sure, got a positive response, cancelled that Holiday Inn and booked this one directly with the hotel.

So there’s a lesson for you. Always check with the hotel (or airline, or whatever), even when it seems hopeless.

Isn’t it always the way, though. These innovative ways of doing life pop up – one place where you can check All The Prices! – but it never quite works out the way we think. In this particular case, the booking sites and hotels are vying for profits, with the hotels – especially independent hotels – in a real bind. They can’t survive if they’re not listed, but then those third party sites will take their cut. The hotels are helped by the review systems – to a point. They’re not helped if the third party sites don’t crack down on fraud and competitor sabotage and let unjustified poor reviews stand.

And so for us the consumer? How does it work out? There’s a certain level of convenience in these third party sites like Booking.com. It helps to get a broad survey of availability and an efficient way to look at room arrangements (particularly outside the US where there tends to be more variability), but be aware of two points:IMG_20180311_092001.jpg

First, what I’ve just described: the booking sites don’t have all of a hotel’s inventory available to them.

Secondly, if you end up having a problem after booking, resolution goes much more smoothly if you’ve booked with the hotel (or airline or car rental agency or tour agency) directly. Trying to get refunds and justice with the added layer of Orbitz or TripAdvisor or what have you is going to make things even more difficult than they already are.

Use them for research, sort of trust, and always verify.

Oh, and the Prytania Park Hotel? I liked it. It’s a bit shabby – it’s not a shiny chain hotel or a pristine boutique inn. But it was very clean and secure. Our room was, as advertised, a IMG_20180311_092047.jpg“junior suite” with two twin beds in a loft, and then a downstairs area with couch, chair, desk, desk chair, fridge, microwave, two sinks and bathroom area with tub and shower. And a balcony! The clientele seemed mixed, but mostly families and middle-aged to elderly folks. There was a breakfast, but it was clearly a step down from what you’d find in a Residence or Hampton Inn (i.e. frozen waffles instead of those you make yourself, no proteins, etc…).

There’s not a heap of street noise, although there was traffic outside – there must have a been a club nearby because Friday night, the bass was pretty consistent and loud until well after midnight – but strangely enough, it was much quieter on Saturday night.

Right across the street, there was an older fellow sitting outside on his front porch both mornings, reading. He resembled my father so strongly, it gave me a start: Same build, IMG_20180310_083457.jpgsitting exactly as my father would be reading in the morning if he were outside, legs crossed, with a hat like this on his head, holding and smoking his cigarette just so. I texted the photos to my older sons who both responded with many exclamation points and, in the case of one, the obvious conclusion that my father had faked his own death and escaped to live in seclusion in New Orleans….

And, here on a trip, with a longer one coming in a couple of weeks,  I thought of the conversation I had with him about this time nine years ago, when I told him, a little nervously, that I was going to take the crew to Sicily, of all places. Someplace completely different, somewhere just…away.  I couldn’t face the entire summer here. We had to leave town.  I braced myself, expecting an argument and an attempt to dissuade me. Sicily? But that’s not how it went, at all.

I think that’s great, he said without hesitating a second. It will do you all a lot of good. Go and have a wonderful time.

And so we went. And went. And went…and still go. We go, thanks, for a lot of different reasons – his encouragement, his financial legacy, his own regret at not traveling more earlier in life before it became physically challenging – to him.


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What a day!

Up at 6:30 am, over to 7 am Mass at one parish with my working-man-son, sent him off to work, dashed over to the Cathedral for a talk on sacred music from our wonderful Music Director, Bruce Ludwick, then back home to spend the entire rest of this rainy, chilly day..


Yup. With one kid working and the other off to Atlanta on a friend’s birthday jaunt, I was..


Did I mention that I was


For an introvert homeschooling Mom, that’s about as good as it gets.

It can hardly get better.



Even if you don’t think that is so terribly odd, what comes next might give you pause. You might indeed think it strange  that the cherry on this cake was not Netflix binging or watching movies or even reading a good book – it was…work.


(With apologies to the Lord’s Day.)

And I didn’t mind a bit. My work is not hard at this point, but it does take chunks of time. I’ve been managing to get ‘er done in in the early mornings (really only by letting my homeschooler sleep until about 9:30 each day, which he does not mind) and in the evenings. This has worked find for one major project, but another has suffered a bit. The first project will be wrapping up in the next couple of weeks, but the second is ongoing to the beginning of 2019, and I was really feeling the need to gather my resources on that one and get myself organized so that I can work on it more efficiently, perhaps in 30-minute/day chunks. Freeing me up to work on the long-promised, freakin’ Guatemala e-book – which I am determined – determined – to finish and get to you before our next trip, which is coming at the end of March.

So that’s what I did. I banged out work for Project #1 that’s due this week and next – finished, edited, dusted off and invoiced – and got myself deeply organized for Project #2.

It was fantastic. 

And now, with a few more minutes before our very own Publix Employee returns for the evening, some random Sunday night thoughts:

  • My 13-year old and I attended one of the Alabama Symphony’s “Coffee Concerts” on Friday – this one featured Dvorak’s New World Symphony. I have to say, I am so impressed with this symphony and this conductor. Or, as they have branded themselves in typical friendly Southern fashion, “Your Alabama Symphony Orchestra!” The performance was vibrant, vivid and quite moving. Strong, delicate and urgent all at once, looking forward and backwards, east and west.
  • It didn’t hurt that this time, instead of seating us with all the other hordes of schoolkids in the balcony, they put is in the Orchestra seating with all the other old people (and other homeschoolers).
  • This is what we read in preparation, and we also watched a short video which I can’t locate at the moment – but know it was very helpful, especially in understanding the very last measures of the piece. Sorry.
  • Saturday was music – a piano festival competition thing – basketball – last game of the regular season, playoffs start Tuesday – and serving – Confirmation retreat Mass at Casa Maria Convent, led by Fr. Augustine Wetta, OSB, who is the author of this new book, which I am hoping to read soon. My son really appreciated what Fr. Wetta had to say during his homily – which is one of the reasons I have them serve over there at the convent. Every time they do, they are privileged to hear excellent homilies from either one of the local friars or the retreat master for the weekend. Religion Class: Check.
  • Over the past two weeks, homeschooling son has read Murder on the Orient Express as his “school” reading. (He’s reading the Dune trilogy as his leisure reading) It was his suggestion, and so we went with it, doing some background on the history of detective fiction and so on. After re-reading it, I’m thinking we could have done better – I probably should have had him read The Murder of Roger Ackroyd or And Then There Were None – but perhaps neither of those would have held up, either.
  • I haven’t read Christie in decades. As a teenager, mysteries were my gateways into adult fiction, my favorites being Christie, Ellery Queen and Rex Stout – the last being my absolute favorite. So I don’t think I’d read her in probably 40 years (so weird to think in that kind of time span when speaking of my own life), and no, I wasn’t impressed. She wasn’t a stylist, that’s for sure, and this book, in particular, plods along (Murder. Interview many people. Cogitate. Announce.) and the climax and denouement are, in my mind rather shocking (spoiler alert!) – as the murder is, we are led to infer, excusable since the murderers act as jury to do what institutional law enforcement did not.
  • We’re read a lot of books, stories and poems this year – this one will be last on the quality list. I’m not completely sorry we read it: we did some geography and history inspired by it and it’s good to read books of which you can be critical – so there’s that. Plus issues of justice and law, of course.
  • The 1974 film version was one of the last movies I remember seeing with my parents in the theater (along with Young Frankenstein and Being There – with, respectively, those super fun “Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life” and “I like to watch” scenes putting an end to that activity and any future potential awkwardness). We watched the trailer for that and last year’s version, both of which left my son saying, “Uh, I don’t think I want to watch either of those….”
  • What’s going on with school? We are indeed finishing up homeschooling 7th grade and finishing the 11th grade in a Catholic high school. Next year, everyone will be in school – 8th grade in a local Catholic school (because they do a very nice 8th grade year in this particular school and he has friends there…) and senior year in the same high school. And then….well who knows? Actually we do have a sense: the older one will go to college and the younger one and I will set out – God and good health and the stock market willing – on roadschooling/roamschooling/unschooling way of life for a while. We’ll keep the Birmingham homebase for a time, but will hopefully be able to see a good chunk of the world in between stints back here. But that’s more than a year away, and who knows what can happen between now and then? That “plan” is one more reason for him to return to school for a year – we can both have a breather, I can get some ducks in a row without having to think about teaching Algebra, and then…here we go….
  • Oh, I’m in Living Faith today – here’s the devotional. And if you missed it, I was also in another day last week – here it is.



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— 1 —


This will be quick. Mostly photos. And notes. That will be quick.


Started pipe organ lessons this week. Toe in the water kind of thing. Seeing what we think about it all.


 — 2 —


Bald eagles come down this way during the winter. They flock to Lake Guntersville (a dammed segment of the Tennessee River). The state park up there hosts Eagle Awareness Weekends during January and February. Because of basketball – and when there isn’t basketball, serving Mass, and when Scouts were a part of life, because of Scouts – we’d never made it up to check it out. But last Saturday, a stretch of free time made itself available, so we went up. To look at eagles.

Well, we got there too late for the presentation by the Auburn raptor center – the room was full and they were not doing any sort of lurk at the back nonsense, no sir. So we headed out to where they told us we’d have a good chance of seeing eagles. There were quite a few people out there, and we did see a couple flying around from a distance – but…nothing arresting.

So we moved on to other parts of the park and had an encounter of a little closer kind.

— 3 —


Completely nonplussed and obviously used to furless creatures on two legs.




Earlier on Saturday morning, I had opened up some praise eggs from Aldi.


–5 —


We have another kind of wildlife living in the house at the moment.


We look at them under the microscope and have attempted to cut them up so they regenerate. About half of the cut-up pieces are still with us, so we’ll wait a couple of days and look and see what has, er, developed.

— 6 —

Thursday evening, we did some quick culture hits: first at the brewery down the road, which was hosting a pop-up “Opera Shots” from the local opera company. (To see a clip with sound, go to my Instagram Stories – if you read this before about 8 pm Friday, since they’re only live for 24 hours.)

And then to the Birmingham Museum of Art, which was hosting a free annual piano concert, this year from 20-year old Daniel Hsu, who played spectacularly and sensitively, and yes, you can do both.

Overheard behind me before the concert:

“Well, you must have had a lot of worried phone calls today.”

“Oh, yes. It’s the most anticipated and expected correction ever, but it’s still a correction, so people are concerned.”


— 7 —

Well, let’s turn our hearts away from the material, shall we?

In case you didn’t read it, do check out Thursday’s post on St. Josephine Bakhita. What Pope Emeritus Benedict wrote about her in Spe Salvi and her own account of her struggle to stay in Italy and keep her worldly freedom, even as she had already found freedom in Christ – are well worth a few minutes of your time. So moving.





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

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Hello again….IMG_1454

That was a pleasant break. In looking over the calendar for the next two months, I’m doubly glad I made the decision to take off next weekend. Until mid-March, we’ll have basketball almost every weekend, and when there isn’t basketball, there’ll be piano competitions..not to mention the other son’s work and school obligations.

So, yes, it was good that my 13-year old and I were able to take a couple of days down in Pensacola. More details about why we went in that direction here.

Friday morning, we rose and headed north, to the campus of the University of West IMG_20180119_103225Florida, which has well-regarded departments of archaeology and anthropology. The institute building stands right at the entrance to campus, and features a good-sized exhibit space. As I mentioned in that previous post, there’s a lot of history down there in Pensacola, beginning with the native peoples, of course, and then bringing in the Spanish, as well as the British, French, United States and Confederates.

We’re not talking Roman concrete structures here, so what is left from these settlements is underground or underwater and even in neighborhoods – as is the case with the recently-discovered site of the first Spanish settlement, the ill-fated group associated with de Luna – ill-fated because of a hurricane that swept through and sunk all the ships on which their supplies were still contained. The institute’s museum has good artifacts and explorations of some of the major archaeological sites in the area.

M then requested that we headed to Milton to one of those sites featured in the exhibit – Arcadia Mill:

Between 1817 and 1855, Arcadia developed into a multi-faceted operation that included a sawmill, a lumber mill with planing and lathing machines, the Arcadia Pail Factory, a shingle mill, textile mill, an experimental silk operation, and one of the first railroads chartered in territorial Florida. Arcadia also included a thriving industrial village of mixed ethnicity including enslaved African Americans, Anglo-American laborers, and high-status Anglo-American managers. The site’s historical significance extends beyond its antebellum roots including a few small Civil War skirmishes, the Arcadia Farm period during the late 19th to early 20th century, and the historic preservation movement that protected the site during the 1960s.

As you can imagine, there is not much left to actually see – some lumber from a structure in the creek, the remains of the dam, and some sluiceways – but the site is very well developed, with a fine little museum staffed by friendly young people, whom I’m assuming were students, and a decent walking trail.

On the way, we’d seen a sign for “Rhonda’s Aviary,”  which featured, not only a picture of an exotic bird, but also of a reptile, so of course on the way back, we stopped in.


So no zoo this trip, but this was almost as satisfying.

Then back to downtown Pensacola, where we saw a bit of their historic area – a decent little Living History area, which even had – on this chilly January weekday – a few people Living their History – carving, cooking and being genial in their 18th century garb.

There are two museums – both essentially a series of exhibits in large warehouse spaces across the street from each other.

The Museum of Commerce features shops that you would have seen in downtown Pensacola in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. They were all closed up, but what I gathered from the signage was that most of them were intended to replicate actual shops that operated. I’m assuming these shops – which are museum/exhibit shops, not actual commercial enterprises – are open for exploring during high season and for school groups. The only exhibit space open when we were there was a substantial collection of printing presses and linotype machines.

Across the street is the MUSEUM OF INDUSTRY!  Again, not huge, but informative enough – we learned about the importance of brickmaking in the early economy of the area, as well as (of course) fishing, railroads and timber, which includes not only wood products, but turpentine.

(Whenever I think of the Deep South and turpentine, I always think of Tim Gautreux’s novel The Clearing. The looking up of which led me to discover that Gautreaux, a favorite, has a new short story collection, just published in December.)

By that time, it was close to two, and the effects of the hotel breakfast had worn off, so we poked around for a lunch place, and landed at ….where M had what he claimed was one of the best burgers ever. It certainly looked substantial.

Then, with the temperatures rising to the mid-50’s – a heat wave – we headed to the beach. Not to swim, but to see more history and simply be outdoors.

We ended up at the Gulf Shores National Seashore, out towards Fort Perkins. The drive was slow and leisurely (speed limit 25 mph), the breeze gentle, and the sand so white it looked as if we were still in the midst of snowdrifts.


We poked around the fort and around the batteries that are scattered on that end of the beach, learned about the history, followed a heron for a while, and then, as the sun set, headed back.




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

Where to go?

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

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

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

How about…here?



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

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

Here’s the story:

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

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


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


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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Next stop – eagles!

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Christmas in New York City….what to say?

How about…been there, done that. 

Or…There. That’s done. 

I’d always thought Christmastime in the City would be fun to experience, and now that my oldest lives there, we had a good excuse. If you follow me on Instagram, you’ve got the gist of the trip: we left Christmas night from Atlanta, spent Tuesday-Thursday there, left at the crack of dawn on Friday for other parts of the country. I was glad to do it, glad to spend time with my son and see friends, but heavens, it was cold and wow, it was crowded. As I said: been there, done that was what I thought as we flew away for points south!  Highlights:

  • First highlight was in getting there in the first place. The boys were scheduled to serve Christmas Day Mass at the convent, and when I made the reservations, did so assuming that Mass was at the usual Sunday morning time – 11am. Only to find out a few weeks later that no, Mass was at 12:30. Flights were at 6:19. From Atlanta. 2 hours from Birmingham.  A time zone ahead. So essentially, we would be leaving for a 6:19 flight a little more than four hours before it took off from two hours away, with perfect traffic.
  • Well, we obviously made it. The most tension-inducing aspect of the situation was that I had purchased United’s most recent low-level fare – the Basic Economy, which comes with a lot of restrictions, most of which – only being able to take a personal carry-on like a backpack, no guaranteed seating together – didn’t bother me (we each took a backpack, which was fine for three days, even in winter weather – we are not fashionistas), but there’s one more restriction: you can’t check in ahead of time online unless you are checking a bag (which costs extra, natch). This is to enable them to enforce the no-carry-on rule on site, so it’s understandable, but still. You know how it is when you’re racing to the airport. You can think: Well, at least I’m already checked in. Nope.
  • But, we made it, with time to spare. Go me. I mean…go. 
  • We flew into Newark, which was a first. Arrived, then took the very crowded train into Manhattan. Why was it so packed on Christmas night? It seemed to me, since it was crowded when we boarded at the airport, that the riders were folks who’d done their Christmas elsewhere and were returning home. We had to stand for most of the trip, but that’s fine.
  • Got to Penn Station, then walked the seven blocks in the cold to our hotel – the Leo House.
  • Now, this was a new discovery for me. I am not sure how it had never crossed my radar before. The Leo House is a Catholic guesthouse that’s been around for decades, named after Leo XIII and originally founded to be a safe haven for German immigrants. You can read its history here. It certainly showed its age – particularly in the bathrooms – but it was very clean and the breakfast was substantial and varied every day. I prepaid, and so we had a double room – two rooms connected by a bathroom, with three beds – for under $200/night. With breakfast. In Manhattan. In a good location, a block down from a subway, with the Empire State Building in view. It worked. It would be just about perfect if the bathrooms were updated, but that would be a multi-million dollar, probably unaffordable project. I’d stay there again – and probably will!
  • Day one (summarized on Instagram here). Yes, we went to the Central Park Zoo. We’d never been, and online commentary indicated that it wasn’t a bad winter activity – there were animals that flourish outside in the cold, and there was enough indoors to make it bearable. Walked through the park by the skating rink (we heard them introduce a skating session with about 5 minutes of announced warnings and disclaimers – #ModernTimes) – then to the subway to take it up to the Natural History Museum, which was…packed. As was everything over those three days. It made sense: Christmastime in the City has its appeal, plus it was so bloody cold, any attraction that was indoors was…attractive.
  • I stood line to get tickets – me and many Russians. We paid extra to see the Mummy exhibit, and probably shouldn’t have. It is part of this museum trend to just bring in extra $$$ with special exhibits that have a particular appeal – you think, “Oh, we want to see mummies!” and so you can…but for a price! Anyway, we’d seen many mummy displays all over the world, so I’m not sure why I gave into the pressure on this one (from the sales clerk, not my kids), but I did and was irritated. There wasn’t a lot to it that we had not seen elsewhere.
  • But I did see Mammoths and mastadons, which interested me because I’d just read this book. I find these early mammals much more interesting than dinosaurs, perhaps because they are closer to us in time, and in fact inhabited the planet with us.
  • We’d been here before, but it was several years and a couple of trips ago, but it was worth a revisit. I like the Field Museum in Chicago better, though….
  • Then dinner with my son and my friends Ann and Paul Engelhart at this very good French restaurant..and then Hansel and Gretel at the Metropolitan Opera.
  • I need to think a bit more about this production, but I’d say that it was interesting, worth the time and money, and captured an aspect of the thematic essence of the piece while missing another part of it. Let’s put it this way: it’s not a light holiday confection, but honestly, who thinks of Hansel and Gretel this way? It’s a dark tale of suffering, temptation, exploitation and revenge or justice – or both. The German Expressionistic tone of much of the production brings out this darkness effectively, but what was muted was the spirituality of the piece, which is pretty strong: Hansel and Gretel are protected by angels, and in a sense, their journey to the witches’ house is a journey they’re led on for the salvation of others – the children the witch has turned into gingerbread who are freed by Hansel and Gretel, brought to that place by their own suffering.
  • The weird thing about the evening was this: a friend of mine from Alabama was in NYC at the same time. We’d said we’d meet on Wednesday or Thursday, but we came very close, without knowing it, on Tuesday night: she and her group ate at a restaurant on the same block as ours at the same time…and then they went to The Nutcracker at Lincoln Center…as we were at Hansel and Gretel. 
  • Small world, again.

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