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Posts Tagged ‘7 Quick Takes’

— 1 —

Not much reading this week. In fact, I didn’t crack a book open at all.  Yikes.  Traveling, plus a work deadline which occupied me until this morning.  Well, I did start reading Jane Eyre, as promised.  Just got one chapter in before other concerns took over, though. I’ll get back to that, as well as a couple of books I checked out earlier this week, including Copyright Wars: Three Centuries of Trans-Atlantic Battle. It’s a subject that interests me not only as a writer, not only as a Catholic writer who was told she had to get ICEL’s permission to have the text of the Hail Mary and the Our Father in a book (to be fair, the fellow at ICEL’s response was the polite written equivalent of, “Er….sure. Wait, what?”, but also as the former editor of the Loyola Classics series.  One of my responsibilities in that was researching and obtaining permissions, a task I really enjoyed for some odd reason.  Librarian and researcher genes, I guess.

— 2 —

We saw a really excellent production of The Music Man this evening at one of our local theaters."amy welborn" Mostly great cast, including a Harold Hill who echoed Robert Preston rather brilliantly without slavish imitation.  Not that referencing Preston is necessary, but it’s probably a challenge to skirt his influence completely, since the identification between actor and part is so close in this case.  That imbalance between first and second act, though, in which the first act is stuffed full of non-stop great music, while the second act must pause and Do Plot so all can be resolved – it’s in The Music Man and almost every other musical I can think of.  Are there exceptions?

— 3—

It brought back a couple of memories – first, my daughter’s 8th grade class doing a “junior” version of the play (she was one of the Pick-a-Little ladies), and then at some point in middle school, I think, one of my older sons had to learn “Rock Island” for music class – I think all the boys had to do it or something, maybe? I was actually impressed with the assignment. And it’s certainly an improvement over the sight (and sound) of struggling through those high notes in “Both Sides Now,” which is one of my more vivid memories of grade school music class. That and the controversy aroused by having us sing “One Tin Soldier.”  Oh, the 60’s and 70’s. Much controversy.  And honestly, even reconstructing it in my hazy memory makes me laugh.  Imagine a bunch of ten year olds pounding out “Go ahead and hate your neighbor! Go ahead and cheat a friend! Do it the name of Heaven! You can justify it in the end!” Imagine some teacher who thought it was awesome and he was such an brave iconoclast.

People. So crazy.

— 4 —

Speaking of school memories, twice this week I’ve had the chance to share the Fun Fact that in my high school in the 70’s – a Catholic high school in the South – we had a smoking pit.  It was a corner of sidewalk where those of age – mostly seniors  – could smoke.  Of course, for most of us today, it’s difficult to imagine a time in which anyone could smoke indoors in any public space, but the concept of having a sanctioned area for high school students to smoke during school seems especially bizarre, doesn’t it?

Anyone else experience that?

(And no, I never smoked.  My father was a lifelong, heavy smoker, it killed him, and I always hated it.)

— 5 —

I had a strange spike in blog hits today.  I discovered that it was because  Fr. Blake linked to my years-old report of a visit to his parish, a visit I was fortunate enough to make during a longish layover at Gatwick. He offered the link as a response of sorts to a ridiculous, agenda-laden Ship of Fools report on the parish.

— 6 —

Today is one of my days in Living Faith. Look for another on July 5.

— 7 —

Speaking of today – it’s July 3 and the feasts of St. Thomas the Twin.  Speaking of St. Thomas, here’s Pope Emeritus Benedict’s General Audience talk on him from 2006. 

Then, the proverbial scene of the doubting Thomas that occurred eight days after Easter is very well known. At first he did not believe that Jesus had appeared in his absence and said:  “Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails, and place my finger in the mark of the nails, and place my hand in his side, I will not believe” (Jn 20: 25).

Basically, from these words emerges the conviction that Jesus can now be recognized by his wounds rather than by his face. Thomas holds that the signs that confirm Jesus’ identity are now above all his wounds, in which he reveals to us how much he loved us. In this the Apostle is not mistaken.

St. Thomas July 3

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— 1 —

Tomorrow (June 27) is the memorial of St. Cyril of Alexandria.  Here’s what Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI said about St. Cyril in his General Audience in 2007:

Cyril’s writings – truly numerous and already widely disseminated in various Latin and Eastern translations in his own lifetime, attested to by their instant success – are of the utmost importance for the history of Christianity. His commentaries on many of the New and Old Testament Books are important, including those on the entire Pentateuch, Isaiah, the Psalms and the Gospels of John and Luke. Also important are his many doctrinal works, in which the defence of the Trinitarian faith against the Arian and Nestorian theses recurs. The basis of Cyril’s teaching is the ecclesiastical tradition and in particular, as I mentioned, the writings of Athanasius, his great Predecessor in the See of Alexandria. Among Cyril’s other writings, the books Against Julian deserve mention. They were the last great response to the anti-Christian controversies, probably dictated by the Bishop of Alexandria in the last years of his life to respond to the work Against the Galileans, composed many years earlier in 363 by the Emperor known as the “Apostate” for having abandoned the Christianity in which he was raised.

The Christian faith is first and foremost the encounter with Jesus, “a Person, which gives life a new horizon” (Deus Caritas Est, n. 1). St Cyril of Alexandria was an unflagging, staunch witness of Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word of God, emphasizing above all his unity, as he repeats in 433 in his first letter (PG 77, 228-237) to Bishop Succensus: “Only one is the Son, only one the Lord Jesus Christ, both before the Incarnation and after the Incarnation. Indeed, the Logos born of God the Father was not one Son and the one born of the Blessed Virgin another; but we believe that the very One who was born before the ages was also born according to the flesh and of a woman”. Over and above its doctrinal meaning, this assertion shows that faith in Jesus the Logos born of the Father is firmly rooted in history because, as St Cyril affirms, this same Jesus came in time with his birth from Mary, the Theotò-kos, and in accordance with his promise will always be with us. And this is important: God is eternal, he is born of a woman, and he stays with us every day. In this trust we live, in this trust we find the way for our life.

— 2 —

Cyril was, of course, a theologian, engaged in discourse concerned with theological precision.

We are often told these days that such concerns are nothing but casuistry.  Theology, it is sometimes said or at least implied, is an obstacle to faith.

And it can be.

This is of course, not a new discussion, and is indeed reflective of an authentic dynamic and tension within Christian discourse since….the beginning.

But as anyone with an understanding of what it means to be Catholic in its breadth and depth understands the danger of sweeping generalizations that sweep out one side of the either/or.

Catholicism is the expression of the loving Presence of Jesus Christ in the world. But the human beings Jesus encounters are intelligent, reasonable, and seek to understand.

Precision matters.  As time goes on, the precision might harden, become brittle and lifeless, and finally crack, but that doesn’t mean that the search for the closest words and ideas – even in negation – should be scoffed at or cast aside.  The process is important, and more than that, inevitable.  You can dismiss theological discourse, you can go on and on, talking in a “pastoral” way but do you know what?

Stubbornly, the questions will be raised.

How do you know this?

Where do your words come from?

Who is God?

Why is this a sin, but this not?

Who are you to tell me all about this, anyway?

Son of God? Mother of God? What? 

Questions that deserve answers with language as precise as possible, humble and so aware of the limitations of that language.

But yes, that deserve answers.  Which is what Catholic theology is all about, and what it’s for.

We keep talking, thinking, searching, in faith, aware of our limitations but also aware of who we are as rational beings created in the image of God.

Logos and agape.

Not either, not or.

Both.

— 3 —

Some interesting reading and listening this week.  The listening first.

As I said this past week on Twitter – spend  less time on Facebook this week and listen to some good podcasts instead.  As long time readers know, my favorites are those from BBC Radio 4, particularly In Our Time.  There is simply nothing like it on American radio.  A brisk jaunt through some topic led by Melvyn Bragg and three academics.  It’s very tightly structured, and not a free-for all, but it’s always interesting and disagreements are certainly aired.

It’s also very non-American in that it’s absolutely free from PC cant or snideness when addressing issues of religion.  Historical figures’ religious faith is taken seriously and respectfully.  So refreshing.

— 4 —

This week I listened to an episode on Jane Eyre, which I confess….I’VE NEVER READ.  I have no idea how that happened, since as a teen, I read most of Austen, Hardy and even Middlemarch. 

That said, I think I’ll read it now….probably over this weekend.

The program examined Bronte’s life, particularly as it might have inspired various aspects of the book, her process of writing it, the plot and major themes, its reception and, at the end, its religious themes….as was pointed out, the last word in the novel is “Jesus.”

— 5 —

Next was an episode on the Curies.  I read a children’s biography of Marie Curie as a child and was quite inspired by it (obviously not to be a scientist, but there was a time around 5th grade when I thought I would be a doctor…so, sort of inspired, I guess).

Religion entered the discussion as the differences between Curie’s mother (observant Catholic) and father (atheist scientist) were touched on and brought back into play in the later French context.  Good discussion of the family dynamics, especially after Pierre’s death, and a clarifying section on Marie’s scientific achievements and the distinction between her chemistry and physics Nobel prizes. 

— 6 —

Speaking of 19th century women, over the past couple of days, I read a very good book called Daughters of the Samurai: A Journey from East to West and Back by Janice Nimura.   It’s a very well-told history of five young Japanese women (really girls – ranging in age from 7 to young teens) who were sent from Japan to the United States to live and study in 1871.  Two returned fairly soon, but the three who remained ended up studying at Vassar and Bryn Mawr, Daughters of the Samuraiand each, in her own way, eventually made tremendous contributions to the cause of the education of Japanese women.

The author was blessed with fantastic resources – the women were faithful correspondents, some of which has been published, the American and eventually Japanese press covered various aspects of their lives, and they made speeches and wrote articles. 

Through the prism of these women’s lives, we learn quite a bit about late 19th century Japanese history and the sense that women in both countries had of themselves.

— 7 —

And once again….religion. And again, religion treated respectfully and honestly, since Christian faith motivated many of the women’s American benefactors, and one of the Japanese women converted to Christianity herself.  What is clear is something that anyone who has studied the history of both Protestant and Catholic Christianity both in the context of Europe and in its encounters with other non-European cultures:

Christianity elevates the status of women. And it was understood to do so.

This is one of the rarely-discussed reasons that Christianity was resisted in some traditional patriarchal cultures.  It was a profound motivator, especially for female Protestant missionaries. Everything happens within a particular context, of course.   The Japanese women of Nimura’s tale had, in our view, a “limited” understanding of what education should accomplish, and expressed

dissatisfaction with later more “radical” (in the 1910’s!) visions being expressed by younger women.  But in their own time, their work on behalf of women’s education was certainly radical in and of itself.

A really enjoyable, rich read.

 As I was pouring over this book last night, I was thinking about why historical fiction doesn’t interest me. I mean…the minute I pick up a novel and see that it has a real historical figure at its center, I lose interest. (Not necessarily events, of course, just a novel built around a particular real person.) I think part of that is because historians today have access to such rich sources, they can put their hand to it and pull out a narrative that’s as intriguing as any novel – more so.

(That said, I also resisted history that embroiders in any way – that sets up scenes not derived directly from sources or enters an historical figure’s mind. Hate that.  I thought there might be a bit of that at  the beginning of this book, but turning to the notes, I saw that she pulled the scenes I was questioning directly from correspondence. )

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— 1 —

A decent, different sort of week here.  The boys being otherwise occupied, I’ve had every day, all day, free.  To work.  To some, that might seem like a sad plight, but honestly, this is the first truly alone time since….last summer, I guess.  I used to be able to write at night, even after teaching all day, but those days are long gone, especially since I hit fifty, and especially since we started homeschooling.  I just can’t focus, and my creative energies are spent by the end of the day.  So this week has been exactly what I needed in order to hammer out a first draft of a project that isn’t actually due until next February, but there’s other stuff in the hopper that I will need to be working on this fall (somehow), so it will be good to get a solid draft done early.  I can revise and edit on the fly, just fine, but the initial writing takes a kind of focus I can only achieve when I’m alone for several hours at a time.

— 2 —

Since piano camp has left the camper exhausted every day, and every day has been a full day for him, there were no extra travels this week.  Last weekend, however, we did go to Sweetwater Creek State Park in Georgia, which was very nice and which you can read about here.  What I didn’t know when I initially wrote the post was that the Hunger Games movies were filmed in part there.  (They were filmed all over Atlanta, of course.  I guess.)

— 3 —

And what of the rest of the summer?  I’m not sure.

What’s weird is that I’m already thinking that summer is almost over, while some of my Facebook friends are just this week posting “last day of school” photos.  What?? We’ve been out for a month!

Of course, school (for the high schooler) also starts a month earlier than those northerners will be returning – orientation is August 6, classes start August 10.  Blah.

There’s only one other *obligation* owed during that time – a scout rafting trip – so we’re contemplating options.  Probably some combination of some local wandering and perhaps one bigger road trip.

— 4 —

Speaking of high school, you might read this very sad local story.  There are some ambiguities in the narrative, and some unanswered questions, but here’s the bottom line for the mother grieving the loss of her 14-year old daughter:

“If I had known then what I know now, one, she wouldn’t have had a smart phone,” Seller said. “She would have had a phone that could make a call, get a call, send a text, get a text. And all of her internet activity would have been in the living room.”

As far as I can tell, we are one of the last holdouts in this regard.  My 14-year old does not have a smart phone and only uses the internet in my presence. I just last week purchased a basic flip phone for them to use when they’re out and need to contact me. I wish more parents were holding firm on this. It makes it very, very difficult to hold the line. I don’t understand why 8-year olds have Instagram accounts.  I wish schools would be proactive, and along with all the other crap they send out on a constant basis, send out a weekly report to parents on the latest internet fads, from Kik to Snapchat to all those apps (which exist) which enable the other apps to remain hidden.

— 5 —

The good thing about not feeling an obligation to follow and comment on Every Catholic Story coming over the Interwebs is that you actually have time to read.

So this week I finished: Rebel Souls: Walt Whitman and America’s First Bohemians

It’s the story of a small group of mostly writers and performers who were gathered at a Manhattan bar called Pfaff’s by a man named Henry Clapp, the son of New England Congregationalists who found himself in Paris, was besotted with cafe life and returned to the United States, determined to recreate it.  Walt Whitman was the most well-known of the regulars, although he tended to stay on the margins.

It’s a good tale, if padded a bit – without Whitman, the book would probably be half as long, which would make it more of an Atlantiic Monthly article, which would then be bad, since the Boston-based Atlantic was Clapp’s bete noire. There are a slew of vivid, interesting characters whose lives show very vividly that excess and self-indulgence, as well as delusions of grandeur and relentless self-promotion are not unique to the 21st century would-be artiste. 

I was probably most taken by the story of Hugh Ludlow, who became very famous as a very young man because of his drug experimentation and the book he wrote about it called The Hasheesh Eater.  Ludlow couldn’t follow up on that book’s success, took various writing and office jobs, then in 1863, got the opportunity to accompany painter Albert Bierstadt out west.  Bierstadt was going to sketch and paint, and Ludlow would write about their travels, in articles that would be published in the New York Post, and then in a book.

This interested me, not just because of the fact that we’ve just been out West, nor just because of the interesting paths that were crossed on that trip, but because one of Bierstadt’s paintings of Yosemite – one of the fruits of that trip –  is one of the most treasured pieces of our Birmingham Museum of Art’s collection.  

The trip, however, did not end well.  They returned and Ludlow’s wife left him for Bierstadt, the book’s publication was delayed to the point that when it finally did make it to print, reviewers mocked it for being out of date, since by that time, the Transcontinental Railroad was finished, and going out West was not nearly as exotic a quest as it had been.

If you want a good introduction to the group, head to this comprehensive website – the Vault at Pfaff’s – from Lehigh University.  It’s a treasure trove, and will keep you busy for a while. 

— 6 —

I also finished The Wapshot Chronicle. I had begun it a month or two ago, so I was a little confused at first and required a refresher, but it didn’t take long to get into the swing of it.  It’s a strange book, and I suppose everyone is correct about Cheever being a stronger short story writer, but there’s some gorgeous writing, nonetheless.  There’s something unreal about the whole thing – it doesn’t feel as anchored in reality as do, say, Updike or Walker Percy – to take two male writers Wapshot Cheeverfrom around the same time – and everyone is fairly miserable and stumbling into things and life choices in the most haphazard way. I never could really picture either Moses or Coverly, the two brothers, in my mind.  They seemed more like two dimensions of the same person, which they probably are.

Just as quick sample, from near the end:

[Leander – the Wapshot father] went to early communion, happily, not convinced of the worth of his prayers but pleased with the fact that on his knees in Christ Church he was, more than in any other place in the world, face to face with the bare facts of his humanity.….Even as the service rose to the climax of bread and wine he noticed that the acolytes’ plush cushion was nailed to the floor of the chancel and that the altar cloth was embroidered with tulips but he also noticed, kneeling at the rail, that on the ecclesiastical and malodorous carpet were a few pine or fir needles that must have lain there all the months since Advent, and these cheered him as if this handful of sere needles had been shake from the Tree of Life and reminded him of its fragrance and vitality.

To no good end, unfortunately, but that’s the way it goes.  I’ve never read Cheever but for a few of the stories, and while reading the novel, I also read up on his famously sad and fractured life, and was confronted once more with the paradox of such a mess of a human being producing art that really does, in some admittedly imperfect way, reflect truth. Not that a mess of a human being wouldn’t be able to see truth – we are a mess, and we all have the capacity – but it’s the discipline required to express it in an artful way in the midst of the mess, which for Cheever included being drunk much of the time, that confounds me.

And what of all these lost, post-war, mid-century men?

— 7 —

Mill ruins, Sweetwater Creek State Park, west of Atlanta.

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— 1 —

Tomorrow’s St. Anthony of Padua’s feast day – check out the entry I wrote on St. Anthony in The Loyola Kids’ Book of Saints here at the Loyola website.  It’s like a free trial!

"amy welborn"

St. Anthony’s Basilica in Padua.  Fall 2012.

— 2 —

Today, youngest son and I took a brief afternoon journey to a small town about 20 miles south of here.  There was an easy walking trail I’d heard about, and we had business on the south end of Birmingham, so we’d do a loop of sorts.

The trail was short and flat and developed, but it ran next to and around a creek, so that was nice. What was even better was that we saw:

  • a beaver working on his dam. From a distance, but no doubt that’s who it was and what he was doing.
  • a rabbit swimming across the creek.

Wait, what?  That’s what we said.  But it was unmistakably, a rabbit, who hopped out of the woods on one side, dove in and swam steadily across to the other. Who knew?

Well, lots of people probably, since it was, I’d assume, a swamp rabbit – the largest rabbit species in the Southeast and, as I remembered later, responsible for dragging Jimmy Carter down even further back in 1979.

"amy welborn"

— 3 —

So there was that, and various small fish and a very large beetle, mimosas, reminders of the grist mill that once stood in the area, and very many bugs. It was a good walk, giving us a chance to see and learn of a few new things.

Before heading back north, we stopped at a new (to us) gourmet popsicle shop called Frios (similar to Birmingham’s own Steel City Pops) – my son had a salted caramel and I had a fantastic spicy pineapple.  The fellow in the shop said, after hearing where we were from, “That’s a long way to come to take a walk.”  I said, not really. It’s a new place, and we like to go new places and see new things.

Like swamp rabbits.

What we would have missed by just sitting around the house….

"amy welborn"

— 4 —

We watched Buster Keaton’s The Cameraman last night.  The ten-year old enjoyed it – especially the scenes with the monkey, not surprisingly.  There’s also a lengthy scene in the “Municipal Plunge” – an indoor swimming pool – which was interesting to me partly because I’m always studying this kind of stuff in movies from an historical perspective – to see how men and women dressed and interacted in such venues almost ninety years ago.  Anyway, in that scene, Keaton must cope with the awkwardness of losing his swimming trunks, and my son remarked, “You know, when they have a swimming pool scene in a movie, that always happens.  Always.” 

(Pro-tip, if you have cable.  About once a month, if I think about it, I go through a couple of weeks’ worth of the Turner Classic Movies schedule, and DVR the heck out of it. At any given time, we have about twenty good movies on tap. I do the same with nature shows.)

— 5 —

I don’t believe related the chipmunk story.

About three days before we left for the Wild West Trip, I awoke one morning to the sounds of scratching on a screen.  I am functionally blind without my contacts, so I couldn’t see across the room to the source of the sound, which kept on coming from the direction of an almost wall-length set of transom windows (50’s house) about over five feet from the floor.  The scratches kept coming.  I thought perhaps a bird was outside, or had started to nest out there..or something. I put in my contacts.

There was a chipmunk sitting on the ledge of the window.

Inside. 

My room.

When my mother was a little younger than I am now, she was bitten by a chipmunk.  We were looking at what would become our family’s own 50’s era home in Knoxville at the time. She peered into a trash can outside, and saw a chipmunk stranded at the bottom.  Why she didn’t just tip the can over and let it out, I’ll never know.  But instead, she reached down to rescue it by hand, and of course the terrified thing bit her.

And didn’t let go.

They had to put a lighted match to its nose to make it release her finger, but done in a way that it could immediately be trapped in some sort of container and taken to the hospital and tested for rabies.

(Which it didn’t have.)

And here I was, forty years later, confronting yet another chipmunk in another mid-century home. At eye level this time, though.

What to do?

First I tried to shoo it into a trash can (wait…..), but it just leapt off the ledge, used my desk chair as a spring board, and then took off out of my room.

I’m almost certain I saw it race into the first open door available, which would have been the hall closet – the boys’ bedroom doors were already closed, so no worries there.

When the boys woke up, I told them about it, and they immediately exchanged meaningful glances, the younger triumphant, the older one huffily abashed.

“I TOLD YOU I SAW A CHIPMUNK!” 

It seems the day before, the younger son had sworn that a chipmunk had jumped out from among a jumble of books on his bedroom floor.  He told his brother, but his brother scoffed and said it must have been a bug or he was seeing things.

So the next thing was to try to get it out.  Since I was sure it was in the closet, we set up an elaborate walled pathway that would lead from the closet to the back patio door.

(We discussed just putting the snake in there for a day, but ultimately decided against it.)

The moment came.  I pushed the door open, we braced ourselves…..

Nothing.

I poked around the closet with a broom handle, pushed blankets aside…nothing. I removed everything from the closet…nothing.

As I said, this was a couple of days before our trip, so since I wasn’t going to spend any more time searching, we just had to trust that it had escaped some other way, and that we wouldn’t return to the stench of death upon our return.

(We didn’t.)

— 6 —

As I wrote earlier, my younger son and I went to Atlanta this past week.  I forgot to post this photo, which is of an art installation on the first floor of the museum, viewed from the winding stairwell. It’s called “Utah Sky,” after the name of the paint color of the sky, and it’s Asian-inspired, but it reminds me of my beloved Mexican oilcloth more than anything.

amy welborn

— 7 —

Current reads:

Rebel Souls: Walt Whitman and America’s First Bohemians

The Wapshot Chronicle.

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

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— 1 —

We’re back. Got back last Saturday, with no issues. I’m very slowly but definitely surely blogging my way through the trip.  Hey, I’m up to the evening of the second day.  Go me!

Just go backwards to catch up.

"amy welborn"

The Devil’s Golf Course in Death Valley.  Those are dried, hard, sharp salt formations. 

— 2 —

Back to the podcasts. This week, I have started catching up with my BBC radio podcasts once again. The first I cracked open was an excellent program on Matteo Ricci – if you go here and scroll down to April 16, you’ll find the downloadable version. 

It was balanced in a way that you so rarely find in either American media or among Catholics in discussing figures like Ricci, who would most of the time be placed in either a contemporary black or white hat, his missionary techniques evaluated in terms of modern ideologies and sensibilities.  This program doesn’t fall into that trap, and as a result, was quite illuminating. In short, people who don’t know much might fling about Ricci’s story as a model for Excellence in Inculturating Missionaries, but when you look at the whole picture…perhaps not.  He did what he did for his own reasons, and they weren’t terrible reasons, but he actually wasn’t as radical as is often implied and there were legitimate questions about his angle that aren’t simply about “fear” or Latin-centric bigotry.

— 3 —

I also listened to a program on the California Gold Rush (scroll down to April 2), which meshed well with one of this week’s reads – The Rush by Edward Dolnick.  So yes, I learned a lot about the California Gold Rush this week, thanks much.

The book is an easy, absorbing read. It’s a history told mostly through focusing on first-person narratives left by gold seekers themselves, so don’t go to it looking for a comprehensive economic, political and social history – although all the important points are certainly covered. As in the best books of this kind, there are delightful surprises, as in the story of Jennie Megquier, who left Maine with her husband in response to the Call of Gold, leaving three (not tiny, but still) children behind with friends and family. They took the sea route, sailing down to Panama, crossing the isthmus, then waiting for another ship to take them up to California. Unlike many others who found the Panamanian element of the journey horrific, she loved it and gleefully reported each monkey and snake sighting, each odd meal, in letters to her children back in Maine.

Other stories of the journey – those going overland – are filled with much more hardship and tragedy. And yes, foolishness, but, in the context of the time, understandable foolishness.

It’s a fascinating story, this tale of Gold Fever.  It drew people from all over the world, including China, Hawaii, Ireland and Australia. It created the myth of California.  The Gold Rush impacted California’s statehood, voted on just two years after the territory had been wrested from Mexico, and the course, in the future, of the Civil War, as it broke the then-balance and was voted in as a free state. The environmental impact was devastating, as noted even at the time, as were the consequences for Native Americans.

A picky note, though.  The California Gold Rush wasn’t the first in the history of the United States. Preceding it by twenty years was a smaller, but still powerful rush for gold in the lower Appalachian mountains, especially in Georgia – Dahlonega and Villa Rica both claim “first, ” although I think the former has the stronger claim.  Thousands came to mine, and a branch of the US Mint was even established in Dahlonega, aBut nd it was there that many of the California miners who returned East brought their gold before the San Francisco mint was opened.  I thought of this because Dolnick writes, in relation to California mining, of the innovation of assaulting hillsides with water in attempts to wash out gold, but this was attempted several years before in Georgia, as well.

But moving on from that regionally-motivated nitpicking, it’s a good read and a useful reminder that human nature doesn’t change.  It’s just that our times magnify and enable the worst parts of us.  Thanks, technology!

— 4 —

One book that I will be writing about at length next week – hey, I even took notes – was a sort-of “lost” 19th century novel called The Damnation of Theron Ware – you can get started by reading Jonathan Yardley’s column on it here. It’s a startlingly contemporary-reading novel about a young Methodist minister who loses his faith. I have said before that one reason I enjoy reading older fiction is that through it, I can get a “contemporary” glimpse into worlds in which I’m interested unfiltered by academic historians’ choices and biases.  So in this novel, a crucial element in his loss of faith is his first real encounter with Catholics and Catholicism. It’s pretty interesting and surprising.  But more on that next week.

Another good thing about these older novels? Free.  Go the Internet Archive, and you can download it and read away.  I download it in Kindle format and read it on the app on my Ipad. 

— 5 —

Planning for your parish for 2015-16?

Maybe this for adult Bible study?

Or The Words We Pray for a study/discussion/prayer group?

Or the Prove It books for youth ministry?

And really thinking ahead….Adventures in Assisi for October? Bambinelli Sunday for Christmas?

— 6 —

Back in business.

"amy welborn"

I figure since he’s slaving away, learning it, I should learn it, too.  I’m only going to be able to keep up this charade for another year or so, I fear.  He’s moving pretty quickly  – ten years old, about to start his third year of piano instruction, and this is where he is? Yeah, I’ll soon be left in the dust.

— 7 —

Read this obituary of a local man who passed away this week.  John Wright, Jr. was one of the first people I remember really speaking with here – that first fall, Mike and I did several adult ed sessions at our parish, and he was one of the coordinators and often taught classes himself, usually on some aspect of social justice.  He had a magnificent voice (he did quite a bit of acting), a huge heart, and, as I said, a passion for justice which lead him on such paths as moving his family to Selma for a time in the 60’s, researching and bringing into brighter light the story of Fr.James Coyle, shot in 1921 on the Cathedral rectory steps for marrying the daughter of a Klansman-minister to a Puerto Rican man , and, this past year, as he lost the ability to drive, coming into the public eye a strong advocate for public transportation. 

Requiescat in pace…

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…try these!

The Prove It books – described in detail here.  Good for 8th grade and high school graduates.  Prove It! Prayer might be good for a Confirmandi.

"amy welborn"

All of them would be great to gift to your local youth minister or catechist, right?

A college graduate"amy welborn"?

Perhaps, Here.Now. A Catholic Guide to the Good Life or The Words We Pray. 

Here.Now. is no longer in print in a print  edition, but is available used and is being sold as a Kindle edition.  (Which are easy to gift – you just purchase it and send the recipient a link.  Remember you don’t have to own a Kindle to read a Kindle edition – you can just get the free app for any device.)

You can read the introduction here. 

The Words We Pray is a collection of essays on the prayers listed below – traditional Catholic prayers. In the book, I make the case for praying these prayers, suggesting that there is great value in joining our own hearts to the prayers of the Scriptures and of the saints. They’re a little bit of history and a little bit personal reflection. It’s probably my favorite of all the books I’ve written.

More information

  • The Sign of the Cross
  • The Our Father
  • Hail Mary
  • Credo"amy welborn"
  • The Morning Offering
  • Salve Regina
  • The Act of Contrition
  • The Jesus Prayer
  • Anima Christi
  • Angel Prayers
  • Prayers of St. Francis
  • St. Patrick’s Breastplate
  • Memorare
  • Suscipe
  • Veni Creator Spiritus
  • Grace at Meals
  • The Liturgy of the Hours
  • Glory Be
  • Amen
  • Where Do My Prayers Go?
  • Using Vocal Prayer

I don’t have any of these available for sale here, but in case you are still looking for picture books or The Catholic Woman’s Book of Days….check here.  (Remember, the picture books would be great end-of year gifts for catechists, DRE’s or your parish or school library or classroom.)

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— 1 —

….a few days after.

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

"amy welborn"

— 2 —

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

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

(And of course)

She waited and waited at the Civic Center…

He didn’t show up.

Longer than….

— 3 —

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

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

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

"amy welborn""amy welborn""amy welborn"

— 4 —

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

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

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

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

Then some walking:

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

amy_welborn

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

"amy welborn"

"amy welborn"

— 5 —

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

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

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

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

Their Edward Scissorhands hook paws are pretty weird.

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

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

"amy welborn""amy welborn""amy welborn""amy welborn""amy welborn""amy welborn"

Then, this happened:

High Point Climbing

— 6 —

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

High Point Climbing and Fitness

High Point Climbing Gym

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

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

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

— 7 —

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

"amy welborn"

51B8RuM9UaL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

And for Mother’s Day:

days

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