Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

Born in 1925, if she were still alive, she’d be 90.  And given her mother’s longevity (Regina died at the age of 99 in 1995), if lupus hadn’t taken her, she might well still be alive, indeed.

I’ve written quite a bit about Flannery over the years.  As far as I’m concerned she’s a saint and maybe even a doctor of the church, to really ramp up the hyperbole.  When I feel befuddled and know some clarity is in order, I head in one of two directions: Flannery and Ratzinger. Sometimes both.

Some posts and writings:

This one on the collection of her book reviews for the Atlanta Archdiocesan paper. 

Most of what O’Connor reviewed was non-fiction, and she did not like most of the fiction she did review – J.F. Powers, Paul Horgan and Julien Green being the unsurprising exceptions in the otherwise flowerly garden of pietistic fiction she endured.

The non-fiction choices are fascinating, although not a surprise to anyone familiar with the contents of O’Connor’s personal library and the scope of her reading we can discern from her letters. She was very concerned with the intellectual life of American Catholics and indeed saw what she was doing for the papers as in some way an act of charity in which readers might be encouraged to read beyond the pieties.

She was especially interested in Scripture, dismayed that Catholics did not read more of it, and quite interested in the Old Testament, especially the prophets. Again, perhaps not a surprise? She was, as is well-known, quite interested in Teilhard de Chardin, and reviewed a few books by Karl Barth, as well.

“The Enduring Chill” played a part in my last visit to my parents’ house after I’d sold it:

Secondly, the association of the breaking through of the Holy Ghost with coldness.  A chill. An enduring chill.  There are a number of ways to look at it,  since the “chill” is of course a reference to fever,  but  this morning I couldn’t stop thinking about Flannery’s continual argument against the modern expectation that “faith” is what brings us  contentment and satisfaction.  In the Gospel today,  Jesus says Peace be with You.  But that’s after the crucifixion, you know.

Also on Asbury’s mind- primary, really – was his mother.  How he blamed her for his own failure as a would-be artist, and how what he wanted to do most of all was make her see this.  To give her an enduring chill that would be the result of her awareness of what she had done to him.

He would hurt her, but that was just too bad.  It was what was necessary, he determined, to get her to see things as they really are. Irony, of course, comes to rest on him in the end as the Holy Ghost descends.

So I read and talked about this story about parents, children, disappointment, blame,  pride and being humbled.

Then I drove up to Knoxville, alone, thinking about Asbury, about that Holy Ghost, about peace be with you and doubt no longer.

I drove up to see my father’s house for the last time and sign the papers so someone new could live there now.


Sadness that my father died six months ago, that my mother died eleven years ago, that my husband died three years ago. Sadness for my dad’s widow.  But then tempered, as I stood there and surveyed the surrounding houses and realized that almost every person who lived in those houses when we first moved in, is also dead.

Remembering that forty years ago, my parents were  exactly where I am now, watching the preceding generation begin to die off, absorbing their possessions, making sense of what they’d inherited – in every sense – and contemplating where to go from there.

There’s nothing unique about it.  It’s called being human. Not existing for a very long time, being alive for a few minutes, and then being dead for another very long time.

And in that short time, we try.  I’m not going to say “we try our best” because we don’t.  It’s why we ask for mercy.  Especially when we live our days under the delusion of self-sufficiency, placing our faith in ourselves and our poor, passing efforts, closed to grace…when we live like that…no, we’re not trying our best.  We need it,  that  Divine Mercy. We need it, and as Asbury has to learn, we need it to give, not just to take.  More

A summary of a session I lead on “The Displaced Person”

There is a priest in the story, the priest who brings the family (the Guizacs) to the farm, and then continues to visit Mrs. McIntyre. He is old and Irish, listens to Mrs. McIntyre’s complaints about her workers and the difficulties of her life with a nod and a raised eyebrow and then continues to talk to her about the teachings of the Church.

He is seen by the others as a doddering fool, talking about abstractions, not clued into the pressing issues of the moment, telling Mrs. McIntyre, for example, about what the Son of God has done, redeeming us,  “as if he spoke of something that had happened yesterday in town….”

And at the end, as Mrs. McIntyre watches the black figure of the priest bend over a dead man ” slipping something into the crushed man’s mouth…” we see why he spoke of it that way.

It did happen yesterday in town. It happens today.

He’s here.

The priest, too, is the only character who recognizes transcendence.  Every time he comes to the farm, he is transfixed by the peacocks (see the header on the blog today), a fascination the others think is just one more symptom of foolishness and “second childhood.”

You must be born again….

And here is the “irony.” Although steeped in Catholic faith and sensibilities, we know it is not ironic – but to the world’s eyes, it is. That the priest who expresses the mysteries in such matter-of-fact, “formulaic” ways, ways which even theologians today fret are not nuanced or postmodern enough, which they would like to dispense with in favor of…what, I am not sure, unless it is one more set of windy journal articles…this priest is, as I said, the only character who can recognize beauty and the transcendent reflected there. And the one who embodies Mercy.

Flannery O’Connor always said that she found the doctrines of the Church freeing – and this is what she means.

And the story ends:

Not many people remembered to come out to the country to see her except the old priest. He came regularly once a week with a bag of breadcrumbs and, after he had fed these to the peacock, he would come in and sit by the side of her bed and explain the doctrines of the Church.

From one of my old blogs, an account of one of my visits to Andalusia.  I need to go back.

Never read her? Another old blog post on where to start.

A couple of interviews I did with KVSS on Flannery.

And….my piece “Stalking Pride” – which I think is a decent introduction:

Robert Coles answered the question well when he wrote of O’Connor, “She is stalking pride.” For Flannery O’Connor, faith means essentially seeing the world as it is, which means through the Creator’s eyes. So lack of faith is a kind of blindness, and what brings on the refusal to embrace God’s vision — faith — is nothing but pride.

O’Connor’s characters are all afflicted by pride: Intellectual sons and daughters who live to set the world, primarily their ignorant parents, aright; social workers who neglect their own children, self-satisfied unthinking “good people” who rest easily in their own arrogance; the fiercely independent who will not submit their wills to God or anyone else if it kills them. And sometimes, it does.

The pride is so fierce, the blindness so dark, it takes an extreme event to shatter it, and here is the purpose of the violence. The violence that O’Connor’s characters experience, either as victims or as participants, shocks them into seeing that they are no better than the rest of the world, that they are poor, that they are in need of redemption, of the purifying purgatorial fire that is the breathtaking vision at the end of the story, “Revelation.”

The self-satisfied are attacked, those who fancy themselves as earthly saviors find themselves capable of great evil, intellectuals discover their ideas to be useless human constructs, and those bent on “freedom” find themselves left open to be controlled by evil.

What happens in her stories is often extreme, but O’Connor knew that the modern world’s blindness was so deeply engrained and habitual, extreme measures were required to startle us: “I am interested in making up a good case for distortion, as I am coming to believe it is the only way to make people see.”  More

flannery o'connor stamp

No, this isn’t the real one, but an imagined redesign, which I like very much.  More on that here.  

It’s ironic that a stamp issued in honor of a writer who was determined to present reality as it is – prettifies the subject to the point of making her unrecognizable. 

Everybody, as far as I am concerned, is The Poor.

-Flannery O’Connor

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My book club read George Saunders’ collection of short stories, The Tenth of December.  So good. He drills down deep into matters of human connection and purpose with a vision that in some stories evokes, in my mind, Walker Percy. At times, there are mysteries about what exactly is going on and what exactly this or that process or machine or war is all about, but all tenth-of-decemberthe better to help the reader be pulled into the world on the level of shared experience, rather than just curious observer.

A Goodreads reviewer took these stories to task for not having any heart, and, well, in my experience (and the experience of our group), the opposite was the case.

These stories are all about rescuing other human beings and what we have to overcome in order to acknowledge the  humanity of those needing rescue and our own reluctance to reach out, risk and sacrifice.

There is so much (well, some) chatter that abounds concerning..where is the faith in fiction? Where is the Catholic fiction? As much as I’m interested in both religion and fiction and as much affinity as I have for 20th-century Catholic-themed and sourced fiction, those conversations don’t interest me much.  I’m more interested in finding writers like Saunders (way after the rest of the world did, of course) and being engaged by the questions he poses in such arresting ways.

(Saunders, btw, was raised Catholic and is now Buddhist.)

If you want a taste of what Saunders is all about, these stories from that collection are available online for free:

Here is a blog post with links to several Saunders stories – three are in this collection: “The Tenth of December,” “Puppy,” “The Semplica-Girl Diaries.” (although with the last, the version in the book is longer than that which was published in The New Yorker.)  You can read “Victory Lap” here.  The story, “Home” is here. The last couple of paragraphs of “Home” are as deeply human and true as anything in contemporary fiction.

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Continuing my series on books and other materials I’ve published that you might find useful in your home, parish or school.


Adult Faith Formation/RCIA books:

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Children’s books (with more to come tomorrow)

Today – some of the devotional and parish resources I’ve published.  Some are more timely than others, but just so you can see, and in case anyone still wants pamphlets on Pope Benedict XVI!

First, A Catholic Woman’s Book of Days – published by Loyola.  This was probably the hardest book I ever wrote.  I mean – it "amy welborn"was endless.  Just imagine, if you would, reaching the point where you’d written two hundred short devotions. You feel pride. You’ve achieved something.  Then you realize, “That means I have 165 to go….”

Yeah, that was a challenging road.

But I finished! And I think it’s pretty good!  Since it’s designed to be used in any year, the entries can only get so specific.  So for the non-moveable feasts like Christmas and the Marian feasts, the entries are set.  But since the liturgical seasons are moveable, what I did was to make the late February and March entries Lent-ish, the late April and May entries Easter-ish and the December entries Adventy.

I’ve written quite a bit for Creative Communications for the Parish – which is a great company providing affordable, quality materials.

Of course, I contribute 6 devotions to every quarterly issue of Living Faith. There are print and digital versions.


This Lenten devotional:

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Do I Have to Go?  – a little pamphlet on helping children get more out of Mass.

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This year, I have a new family Advent devotional:

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Currently out of print is a small booklet I wrote on St. Nicholas.

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Also currently out of print, but I understand, coming back into print for Lent 2015 is the young people’s Stations of the Cross I wrote:

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Okay…moving on to OSV:


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….that is, my books.

(And of course, my intention was to publish this on Tuesday.  Now it’s Wednesday.  So it will be a short week.  Perhaps it will be “Book Weeks.”  Probably.)

Since Adventures in Assisi is now available, I’m going to seize the moment and take the week to offer a bunch of posts on the books I’ve written over the past fifteen years or so.  I’m going to begin today by suggesting some resources for those of you with adult education formation to plan…

(And remember, you don’t have to be An Official Staff Member of a Parish in order to get a small group going.  You can, you know, call up some people, invite them to invite friends, pick a book…and go to someone’s house or a coffeeshop or bar and..talk about it!)

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First, some formal studies:

Loyola Press has a series of Scripture studies, and I wrote two of them:

Parables: Stories of the Kingdom


Matthew 26-28: Jesus’ Life-Giving Death.

Both are designed to be used over 6 weeks.  You can tell because the series is called 6 Weeks with the Bible. 

If you’d like something just as substantive but a little less structured, you could try The Words We Pray, also published by Loyola.

It’s a series of essays connecting the content, historical background and spiritual resonance of traditional Catholic prayers.

I have a page about the book here.

Here’s an excerpt at the Loyola site. An excerpt of the excerpt:

The words of our traditional prayers are also gifts from the past, connecting us to something very important: the entirety of the Body of Christ, as it was then, as it is now, and as it will be to come.

How many billions of times have Christians recited the Lord’s Prayer? How many lips, both Jewish and Christian, have murmured the ancient words of the Psalms?

There is a sense in which each of us is alone in the universe. At the end, there is no one but us and God. We are beholden to no one but him, and he is the one we face with an accounting of how we have used this gift called life.

But we are not alone. We have billions of brothers and sisters, all of whom breathe the same air and whose souls look to the same heights for meaning and purpose.

We whisper the words of the Hail Mary at our child’s bedside, in concert, in God’s time, with every other mother who has looked to the Virgin for help and prayers when the burdens of parenthood seemed unbearably heavy.

Every child stumbling through the words of the Lord’s Prayer, offering up simple prayers for simple needs out of the simplest, deepest love—every one of those children has countless companions lisping through the same pleas, and we are among those companions.

Together we beg God for mercy, we rage at God in confusion, we praise God in full throat. And when we do so using the Psalms, we are one with the Jews and Christians who have begged, raged, and praised for three thousand years.

We’re not alone. And when we pray these ancient prayers, in the company of the living and the dead, we know this.

I know of several small groups through the years that have used The Words We Pray as a source book.  It might be nice for RCIA as well.

Do you want something FREE?

If your group members have access to computers or tablets – which most of us do – you could use Come Meet Jesus or Mary and the Christian Lifeboth out of print now, but both available at no cost to you or anyone else.

More about Come Meet Jesusincluding the download.

More about Mary and the Christian Life, including the download.

Of course I can’t claim the real content for this, but I did write the study guide for Fr. Robert Barron’s series on Conversion.  Both it and the 6 Weeks with the Bible study on Matthew would be good for Lent, for those of you planning ahead. (It will be here sooner than you know!)

Finally, you might also find Michael’s How to Get the Most Out of the Eucharist and The How to Book of the Mass good – the former for study/discussion groups, and the latter for RCIA.

Oh, one more thing.  Fiction-reading groups are very popular and a great way to bring up interesting issues of faith in a non-threatening and not-overly personal kind of way (although the good group facilitator will have developed the skill of tactfully handling the oversharers anyway, right?).  There are loads of good books out there for that purpose, but you might take a look at the titles in the Loyola Classics series.  I was the General Editor of this series for a long time – that means I cleared rights to books, acquired authors to write the forwards and then wrote the author bios and discussion questions for each book.

The titles are here.

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For a long time, I’ve been searching for a really absorbing, can’t-put-it-down read, and several months ago, I finally found it, back in the 19th century:

No Name by Wilkie Collins.

I’d never read any Collins before, not even The Moonstone. I don’t remember the rabbit hole excursion that took me to this one, but the Amazon reviews were intriguing, so I splurged, spent $0.00, and was then occupied for weeks. 

I’m not sure how thick this book would be in dead tree edition, but it was long, and tedious only briefly, here and there. So I suppose since “brief” and “tedious” are antonyms..it wasn’t tedious at all?

For the most part, it was fascinating and quite absorbing, often contemporary in feel and entertaining.

"wilkie Collins"It’s also an interesting social commentary on social class, morays, inheritance laws, marriage and gender relations in 19th century England. 

In brief, No Name is the story of two young adult sisters whose parents die within days of each other, and because of a convoluted family situation only revealed at their deaths, lose what they thought would be their inheritance.  The story follows both sisters, in a way, although the center is really the younger sister, Magdalen, who goes to bizarre lengths to reclaim what she believes is rightfully hers, lengths which include a stint on the stage, many deceptions of various degrees, and interaction with a host of great characters, and of course, a few coincidences along the way. 

There are some fantastic characters in this book, figures that upon first introduction may seem sterotypical, but which acquire depth and verisimilitude along the way (with all those words describing them…they’d better…).  There is a bit of melodrama and moralism in the conclusion, but it’s really just a touch, and is almost earned.  

One of the most interesting elements of this book to me were chapters, interspersed between major sections, composed of only exchanges of letters or newspaper reports.  It’s a brisk, efficient way of moving the story along.  

Here is a good synopsis and discussion of the book at Book Snob. 

Next up:  Armandale. 

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For today:

The Feast of the Assumption is a day of joy. God has won. Love has won. It has won life. Love has shown that it is stronger than death, that God possesses the true strength and that his strength is goodness and love.

Mary was taken up body and soul into Heaven: there is even room in God for the body. Heaven is no longer a very remote sphere unknown to us.   (Source)

But there is also another aspect: in God not only is there room for man; in man there is room for God. This too we see in Mary, the Holy Ark who bears the presence of God. In us there is space for God and this presence of God in us, so important for bringing light to the world with all its sadness, with its problems. This presence is realized in the faith: in the faith we open the doors of our existence so that God may enter us, so that God can be the power that gives life and a path to our existence. In us there is room, let us open ourselves like Mary opened herself, saying: “Let your will be done, I am the servant of the Lord”. By opening ourselves to God, we lose nothing. On the contrary, our life becomes rich and great.

And so, faith and hope and love are combined. Today there is much discussion on a better world to be awaited: it would be our hope. If and when this better world comes, we do not know, I do not know. What is certain is that a world which distances itself from God does not become better but worse. Only God’s presence can guarantee a good world. Let us leave it at that.

One thing, one hope is certain: God expects us, waits for us, we do not go out into a void, we are expected. God is expecting us and on going to that other world we find the goodness of the Mother, we find our loved ones, we find eternal Love. God is waiting for us: this is our great joy and the great hope that is born from this Feast. (Source)

By looking at Mary’s Assumption into Heaven we understand better that even though our daily life may be marked by trials and difficulties, it flows like a river to the divine ocean, to the fullness of joy and peace. We understand that our death is not the end but rather the entrance into life that knows no death. Our setting on the horizon of this world is our rising at the dawn of the new world, the dawn of the eternal day.

“Mary, while you accompany us in the toil of our daily living and dying, keep us constantly oriented to the true homeland of bliss. Help us to do as you did”.

Dear brothers and sisters, dear friends who are taking part in this celebration this morning, let us pray this prayer to Mary together. In the face of the sad spectacle of all the false joy and at the same time of all the anguished suffering which is spreading through the world, we must learn from her to become ourselves signs of hope and comfort; we must proclaim with our own lives Christ’s Resurrection.

“Help us, Mother, bright Gate of Heaven, Mother of Mercy, source through whom came Jesus Christ, our life and our joy. Amen”. (Source)

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Would you like an exercise podcast update?  Of course you would.

This program (scroll down to 8/8) on the destruction of English religious art during the Reformation was really excellent. Presented by historian Diarmaid MacCulloch.

Great Lives has an interesting framework:  a well-known person in a certain field discusses a chosen “great life” along with a host and a scholar.

This week, I listened to a program (4/1) on cellist Jacqueline Du Pre (perhaps you saw the film Hilary and Jackie? I did..a couple of times, and loved it, even though it’s apparently – like most biopics – completely inaccurate.) The well-known person was another intriguing person – deaf solo percussionist Evelyn Glennie. Great! More rabbit holes!

I also listened to Michael Palin talk about Hemingway – Palin did one of his travel programs on Hemingway some years ago.  Enjoyed this one, too.  Both gave me a lot to think about regarding creativity and the self.


— 3 —

Actually started and finished a couple of books.  The Confessions of Frances Godwin which, well, I gave two stars to. Sorry.  Next was non-fiction: How Paris Became Paris, which was interesting because of the very mild myth-busting that was going on.  People like to credit/blame Haussmann for moving Paris from medievalism to modernity, but as the author of this book shows, the transformation began centuries before, mostly under King Henry IV who oversaw the construction of revolutionary public spaces like the Pont Neuf and the Place Royale.  Reading texts from 17th century travel guides was illuminating, but the book was a bit overstuffed and the content could have fit in in a meaty Atlantic or New Yorker article.

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Speaking of reading and public spaces – I tweeted this last week, but forgot to mention it here.  Our local alt weekly, called Weld ran an excellent, thorough treatment of the murder of Father James Coyle on the steps of the Cathedral rectory almost a hundred years ago.  If you’ve never heard of this case – go read the article.  It’s an important part of our history, featuring anti-Catholicism, the Klan and future Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black.

Coyle could not have imagined that his most imminent threat was from a fellow clergyman. Edwin Stephenson was an ordained Methodist deacon who presented himself as a full-fledged minister for his primary occupation of marrying couples at the Jefferson County Courthouse (which in 1921 was on the same Third Avenue North block as St. Paul’s). He was also a member of Robert E. Lee Klavern No. 1, the first Alabama chapter of the new Ku Klux Klan.

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Back to the Assumption – as I mentioned yesterday, don’t forget that my book Mary and the Christian Life is available for a free download.  Not for a limited time, either.  Today and probably always!

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I know I mentioned that I sold my other house, but even now, the relief hasn’t worn off.  Once a day, I pause, and think, “Aaaaah!” – amazed at the freedom and resolved that this – the house I’m in – will be the last home I own.  No, I don’t plan on living here until I die (unless I die in the next ten years), but really and truly – when we’re done here, I’m done owning, and will be perfectly fine with renting.  It’s not ownership that gets me – it’s the burden of knowing you are going to have to sell the thing someday, and all that entails.  Plus (again, I hope we are talking far into the future), after dealing with my father’s estate, I’m determined to leave my own children with as few complications as possible, and that includes a house that has to be sold.  What we leave behind is a continual object of meditation for me.  It’s a metaphor, you know.

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Rectify is tearing me up,but I won’t write about it until next week – the final episode.  Except to say that in a program filled with fine actors and juicy roles, Clayne Crawford as Ted, Jr is really emerging as a standout.  If you live in the South, you know Ted, Jr – the good ol’ boy/prep/poseur – he’s instantly recognizable…but then as the show has progressed, he’s become recognizable in a different way – as a confused, angry, self-doubting guy who really doesn’t know what’s hit him or his family.   So imagine my amazement just five minutes ago when I looked him to find you a good link and discovered that he’s from these parts – not that far from Birmingham.

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

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I had a deadline for March 1. Since March 1 was a Saturday, I declared my deadline to be Monday, March 3.  Then the editor said he wasn’t going to be in the office Monday anyway, so March 4 it is.  Was.  Whew!

It’s a good feeling.  Not only moving your deadline a few days later (too many wouldn’t be good – it would just extend the agony.  A 3 day-extension is just about right.) but completing a project.   Now my brain is free to do what I hadn’t allowed myself to do as the deadline loomed:  plan a couple of trips and watch True Detective.  

So, some schoolish stuff. It’s been a little scattered because I have been scattered, but we have soldiered on.

  • This week, the 12-year old will have his science class, the 9-year old will have a zoo class, and then in a week, it will be time for a science class for the 9-year old.  Plus art and music for the 9-year old.
  • Did I tell you that I told the 9-year old that I wanted him to take up another instrument in the fall in addition to piano, and that he thought about it and decided that he picked the pipe organ?  Well.
  • Math chugs along.   The 12-year old has been doing basic statistics, which is familiar to him, of course, but even the deeper level to which AOPS takes it is easy for him.  It’s very strange when you’re looking at  problem with your 12-year old, you’re sort of struggling with it, and he snaps up and says, “Oh, I get it.” And then he’s all blahblahblahmathmathmathnumbersblahblah.  It’s strange in a good way.
  • (And if you or someone you know need to be introduced to the differences between bar and pie graphs in a very entertaining way….take a look.)
  • 9-year old has been doing battle with equivalent fractions this week.  The amazing thing to me is how at the beginning of a new topic, he looks at the material all wide eyed and wonders if he can ever master it, but the way the material is presented is just right and the number and type of exercises are just right, so by the end, in just a few days, he has mastered it.
  • This game helped a bit at the beginning. 
  • 12-year old has gotten more intentional about keyboarding, using this program.
  • Still doing the Latin thing in a casual way, using this, as well as Mass propers.   I don’t know if I’d recommend it as a core Latin program – in fact, I don’t think I would.  But it’s a low-key introduction.
  • We finally got through What country, friends, is this? and have moved on to the super short and super simple, Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale??  A relief to tackle something so easy. 
  • FINALLY watched the Burton/Taylor Taming of the Shrew.  It was entertaining, but honestly, so much was cut from the play (most of the subplots), I found it a challenge to follow along with the text.  It’s okay.  They’re familiar enough with it now, and we’ll go over some of the important speeches, so that they’ll be well prepared to see it at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival later this month. I’m excited.  Never seen a show there.   I will say that I thought Elizabeth Taylor was magnificent in the film.   Those eyes were so subtly expressive – you could really follow Katherina’s transformation simply by focusing on Taylor’s eyes.
  • Switching to another Katharine: Watched a couple of short videos for the feast of St. Katharine Drexel. 
  • Attempted this project.  The pieces are drying now.  We’ll see. 
  • Cursive is being practiced, using this book.
  • Today we went to see the very nice (but small) Delacroix exhibit at the Birmingham Museum of Art.  We did some prep with books and videos before hand, and then had a fruitful hour at the exhibit.
  • Plus, a visit to one of our best museum friends.

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  • Now that March has commenced and basketball and my project are done, the energy will shift to roadschooling……hmmmmm……Two weeks from today….three weeks from today…..


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Before the museum…a stop at Reed Books….


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