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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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— 1 —

Uncertainty has been the theme of the past few days, hasn’t it? Having spent the last two days concerned about my people in Charleston, as of tonight, That Cone looks like it might actually impact us here in Birmingham more…what? 

 — 2 —

I have a little bit of preparatory material for the new book due on Friday, so this will be…short. The good news is that this bit of work has clarified my process on this book and reassured me that yes, indeed I will be able to knock it out this fall even as we dive back into homeschooling. How much else  of other types of work I can get done is another question, though – I really want to do this Guatemala e-book, and I’m hoping after tomorrow’s work is sent off, I can clear out two compartments of my brain, one for each task.

— 3 —

A decent week in the homeschool. The science class began (it’s only four weeks long – he says next week, they will dissect a squid, which is great. I had wanted to dissect a squid on our last go-round with homeschooling, but I couldn’t find any fresh squid in town at that time. Since then, a new, huge Asian grocery store has opened, and we were there a couple of weeks ago, and yes, they have fresh squid, ripe for your eating or dissecting. Or both.)…and boxing continues. Today (Friday) is the Diocese of Birmingham Homeschool Beginning of the Year Mass at the Cathedral.

Speaking of school, speaking of middle school, speaking of middle school-aged kids – read this article and pass it along – on social media and this age group.

This sums it up for me – and not just in relation to young teens, either:

Social media is an entertainment technology. It does not make your child smarter or more prepared for real life or a future job; nor is it necessary for healthy social development. It is pure entertainment attached to a marketing platform extracting bits and pieces of personal information and preferences from your child every time they use it, not to mention hours of their time and attention.

Got that?

And you know, guys, I do have half of a blog rant on tech and schools that I dearly hope and pray I will have time to finish someday, but in the meantime, read this – and again, pass it on. Dear Teachers: Don’t be Good Soldiers for the EdTech Industry:

You are engaged in an effort to prove that they don’t need a fully trained, experienced, 4-year degree professional to do this job. They just need a glorified WalMart greeter to watch the kids as they push buttons and stare at a screen. They just need a minimum wage drone to take up space while the children bask in the warm glow of the program, while it maps their eye movements, catalogues how long it takes them to answer, records their commercial preferences and sells all this data to other companies so they can better market products – educational and otherwise – back to these kids, their school and their parents.

There.

— 4 —

We did manage a trip over to Red Mountain Park – an interesting place that is, like so many of this type around here, the fruit of such hard work by deeply dedicated volunteers and one that nicely reflects both nature and history. 

The “red” in Red Mountain is hematite – a type of iron ore that, along with limestone and coal, became a linchpin in an exploding local economy:

Red Mountain developed at steadfast pace. Pioneer industrialists such as Henry F. DeBardeleben, James W. Sloss, and T.T. Hillman ushered in an explosion of ore mining activity to support Birmingham blast furnace operations as they developed. Jones Valley’s first blast furnace, Alice, was partly supplied with iron ore from the Redding mines that will be an extensively developed part of Red Mountain Park. Iron ore flowed from the new mines over freshly laid rail of the Alabama Great Southern Railroad, and later via the Louisville & Nashville’s (L&N) Birmingham Mineral Railroad that first reached the Redding area in 1884….

…After the war, Birmingham remained one of the nation’s leading iron and steel centers, but change was on the way. Changes in manufacturing, difficulty in accessing ore seams, and increased foreign importing contributed to the decline of what had been Birmingham’s lifeblood since its founding. The last active ore mine on Red Mountain Park property closed in 1962. Much of the land that comprised the company’s former mining sites remained untouched for almost 50 years. But in 2007, through the efforts of the Freshwater Land Trust and through the ideas of Park neighbor Ervin Battain and a dedicated steering committee, U.S. Steel made one of the largest corporate land donations in the nation’s history, selling more than 1,200 acres at a tremendously discounted price to the Red Mountain Park and Recreational Area Commission. That transaction made possible the creation of Red Mountain Park, the opening of which makes Birmingham one of the “greenest” cities in America in terms of public park space per resident.

— 5 —

The park is new – as you can read above, it’s less than ten years old, so it’s really just developing. They have big plans, and it’s always interesting to go back and discover new things.

Here are two of the mine entrances (blocked off, of course), that you can see on the trails. If you enlarge the photo on the right, you can see the dates of operation of that mine –  1895-1941:

 

— 6 —

Took a quick trip to Atlanta on Sunday. Passed by this. Didn’t sample either:

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— 7 —

Book talk!

Celebrate the feast of the Nativity of Mary with a (still) free download of my book, Mary and the Christian Life.

Get a cheap e-book on Mary Magdalene here – Mary Magdalene: Truth, Legends and Lies.

As I mentioned last week, The Loyola Kids Book of Bible Stories is available. Amazon doesn’t have it shipping for 2-4 more weeks. What is up with that???

 But you can certainly order it from Loyola, request it from your local bookstore, or, if you like, from me – I have limited quantities available. Go here for that.

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

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— 1 —

I’m pretty tired tonight, which is good, considering I have to be on the road tomorrow at 5am…the curse of traveling from Central to Eastern time….

Destination?

This.

Yah….we’ll see….not my cup of tea normally, but it should be interesting to watch, anyway.

So these will be very short, and very lame takes. Sorry.

 

 

— 2 —

I’m in Living Faith today – here you go!

 

 

— 3 —

Getting ready for this:

Ann Engelhart and I will be giving a talk at the library of the Theological Library of the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception in Huntington.   PDF flyer is here. 

Come see us!

 

— 4 —

So this means some travel writing coming at you next week from the NYC area…as per usual, check out Instagram, particularly Instagram Stories to keep up. 

 

— 5 —

This past week has seen a bit of local travel – blogged on here – and appointments and work for the older son. Kid #5 had his orthodontics evaluation which took perhaps 2.7 seconds: Yup, he needs braces.  We go to the Orthodontics Clinic at the local university dental school, which is great. Very efficient, high-level care and (I understand) about 2/3-1/2 the cost of getting treatment via private practice now (I haven’t had to deal with that for probably 12 years…). The downside, I suppose, is that the fee must be paid all up front – no monthly payments – but you know that going in, so there is actually something pretty great about having it all paid for before you even begin and knowing…that’s it. That’s done. 

— 6 —

No listening this week – I’ve been a slacker, exercise-wise, except for the traipsing through Nature.

Reading? Doctor Thorne by Trollope, which I started before I even knew there was a BBC television version that has just been released. I do love Trollope, but this one is going slowly for me. I hope to finish it this weekend…

 

— 7 —

Coming in a few months.

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

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We are back. Bullet points:

  • Our route was Pisa-Heathrow-Atlanta. (British Airways) The Pisa flight was about 40 minutes late taking off, but we were “only” about 25 minutes late getting into Heathrow, which meant that it was a race getting to our gate for the Atlanta flight. I really didn’t think we would make it, but as we reined ourselves in from our gallop across Terminal 5, we saw the queue (as they say) for the flight was still in process, and we were good.
  • Lots of little kids on the flight to Atlanta, but they were all very good. Only a couple of squawks here and there.
  • I like the flight back so much better than the flight over. I’m not all uptight about “Have to sleep, have to sleep.” I’m not edgy about getting places and meeting apartment owners or what have you.  I’m just there for the ride. I read a little – Our Mutual Friend, but really couldn’t concentrate, mostly because I was so bloody hot – I had dressed in anticipation of being cold, which I usually am on airplanes, but they kept it pretty warm.  So I ended up watching things. Watched a bunch of Curb Your Enthusiams (they had The Producers season up for viewing) which had the boys peering curiously at my screen to see what was making me snort,  and Hail Caesar!, which I liked a lot. I had wanted to see it when it was in theaters, but never got around to it. It’s  got the typical Coen brothers disjointedness, but in the end, it has to be one of the most Catholic/Christian movie that came out in 2016. I’ll write more about it next week.
  • They have really cleaned up immigration and customs in Atlanta. Previously, it’s been a nightmare, but this time, we were through it all in about 15 minutes.
  • And…the car was dead. Completely dead. I really wonder why – I left my other car sitting in my driveway for over 3 months when we traveled in 2012, and it was fine, but oh well. As it happened, someone appeared to jump it within about 46 seconds, 13402563_1759754664270068_1236551091_nso it was fine, and it started right up this morning. (We parked at an off-airport lot. $90 for three weeks)
  • The drive back was fine. I was feeling good, and after an inaugural Chick-Fil-A feast, the boys of course passed out. It was quiet. Daughter is at Bonnaroo, so house was quiet, too, although we miss her!
  •  Stayed up a bit, watched some Veep, did a wash, then went to bed around 1. Woke up, wide awake, at 6. Tried to go back to sleep, but no use. So I got up and finished unpacking, organized souvenirs and gifts, and before I knew it – before 7, the younger one was up, his body clock also awry. So I ran to the store to get milk and such and started my usual back-to-the-US first major activity: cooking up bacon.
  • Older one got up a bit after, his body clock in the same situation. A box turtle appeared on the back porch. We did more laundry, put all the clothes away…it’s like we never left.
  • And here we are. It’s so strange to travel like that, isn’t it? You wake up in Pisa and go to sleep in Alabama. I’m still enough of a rube to be astonished at the ability to do that, and grateful that we are able to do it.
  • Although the scenes won’t be as exotic, I remain on Instagram and Snapchat (amywelborn2) remember –

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The beginnings of these trips are always so odd – you lose a day of your life, in this case, Sunday.

We flew out of Atlanta. Yes, Birmingham has an airport, but for international flights, you are probably going to get a better deal out of Atlanta (although Atlanta international fare “deals” are not much to shout about. I did well on this fare, though.) ..and the last time we flew internationally to and from Birmingham, we almost missed the connecting flight back to Birmingham from Atlanta because of customs, so I swore we would never do that again.

On the way, we caught the Vigil Mass at this sweet little church in Carrollton, Georgia.

It’s Our Lady of Perpetual Help, and I really like the design of this metal ornamentation on the exterior.

Parked offsite at the airport, where it’s cheaper, and got on a plane to London, waited a couple of hours, and then flew to Bologna. The flights were fine. They had never flow British Airways before and were blown away by the difference in service between that and American airlines. Some sleeping occurred on the way over the Atlantic, and more between London and Bologna. Even I slept a bit, which I usually don’t do.

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We were too tired to explore Heathrow much, although I did peak in the multi-faith prayer room, where a few Muslim men were saying their prayers.

We are in an apartment in Bologna. We didn’t get here until after 6. Met by the owner, we were oriented, and then walked a bit. Got pizza, checked out the grocery store, found Kinder Eggs, then came back. Asleep by 9, I woke up by 7 AM and set out to explore a bit and get my bearings. I happened upon the Cathedral, where Mass was happening, and saw this marvelous terracotta figure grouping.  Compianto su Cristo morto. 

 

There is another, more famous terracotta group elsewhere in the city. We’ll find it.

Random shots. Find me on Snapchat (amywelborn2) and Instagram (amy_welborn) for more frequent updates and even some expertly-shot video.

 

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We’ll try to check some of this out. 

Unfortunately, we will have to miss St. Philip Neri being honored by Italians singing American Gospel music. 

 

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The second floor of the grocery store has a pharmacy/health goods, plus this area growing herbs that you can pack up and purchase. 

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View from the apartment. I don’t mind. I’ts quiet. City apartments with a street view tend to be…loud, as we learned in Madrid, painfully.

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Yesterday, the 11-year old and I made the overdue trip over to Atlanta.

(A bit over 2 hours from Birmingham, straight I-20 all the way)

The purpose: to trade with my oldest son. I had something of his that he had included in a gift shipped here to save postage, and he had all my Rome guidebooks.

So after I dropped the high schooler off, we headed over.

We met, did the exchange, spent some time talking, and then…what?

We had a couple of hours. We’re done with the Aquarium – we’ve been several times, it’s expensive and seems to shrink every time we go. We’ve visited the Zoo fairly recently. Fernbank is in the wrong direction and there’s not a lot to it. The temporary exhibits currently at the High Museum of Art don’t interest us. I’d like to go to the Atlanta History Center at some point, but not without the high schooler.

So…how about the Botanical Gardens?

We’d never been, mostly because admission is charged, and we are spoiled by our lovely, no-admission Birmingham Botanical Gardens (and our sweet no-admission Birmingham Museum of Art). But they tempted me with a special exhibit of Dale Chihuly glass sculptures – it seemed like a decent way to spend a couple of hours, so why not?

The sculptures are fine, although really not that intriguing, except from the “how did they pack them up and get them here without breaking everything” perspective.

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No, what struck me on this visit was this:

These glass tubes, no matter how delicate and ingeniously wrought, were amateur hour when compared to this:

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The leaves of these plants in the conservatory looked as if they had been painted by hand.

The juxtaposition of tiny round succulunt leaves with their protective spikes was arresting.

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Masterpiece after masterpiece.

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Over and over, beauty, down to the levels we cannot see, to the levels that sustain us every day, the stuff of ourselves that we cannot see and can never make with our own limited minds and clumsy hands.

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…& Shakespeare with Kids

Those of you who follow my daily homeschool updates know that we’ve been working our way up to a performance of As You Like It. 

Well, the performance was last night, so I’ll recap our prep and the performance.

First, this isn’t our first Shakespeare rodeo. One of the reasons I started homeschooling was that I was sick and tired of the stupid, dumbed-down literature curricula in all schools. Wasting time answering questions about stories written to reflect current fashionable concerns about diversity and self-acceptance…can we be exposed to some realness instead? Realness being an exploration of the tension, darkness, possibility and hope of the human condition, recognized as wise and illuminating by the human community, treasured and handed down to us via the cumulative wisdom of human tradition.

Over the past three and a half years, we have “studied” (in our own light way) and seen performances of Macbeth (two), The Taming of the Shrew, Twelfth Night, A Midsummer’s Night Dream, Julius Caesar (our first) and now, As You Like It. 

(Reference – boys are now 11 & 14 years old)

Five of the performances have been at the Atlanta Shakespeare Tavern, one (Shrew) at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival (which seems to be presenting less and less actual Shakespeare as time goes on…)  and one (the second Macbeth) at Samford University. 

My older son is now in school (9th grade), but because he is resigned to my fascist ways  he has become accustomed to my “teachable moments” mode of parenting, only made more intolerable   honed even sharper by homeschooling, he doesn’t blink an eye when told that in the evenings, we’ll be spending a bit of time going over and talking about some Shakespeare.

(Specific resources? The Folger Library. There are loads of other resources online. I don’t have a specific go-to source every time. I do find that searching for “Play name” and “study guide” gets you to some great resources offered by various theaters around the country – most of them tend to produce study guides directed at educators and families for every Shakespeare production they are offering.)

(Also – there are many reasons to be tempted to move to the San Diego area, but the fantastic Shakespeare Academy regularly threatens to put me over the edge.)

So in tackling a play, we begin by going over a synopsis – perhaps in a picture book or one of the collections. Then we start reading through the play – not all of it, but simply parts that are the most vital/well-known or that I think will be most engaging to them. We all take our turns reading. Some enjoy that more than others.

We also might do some memorization – although when both of them were homeschooling, we were more dedicated to that than we are now, unfortunately. If you are at all interested in delving into Shakespeare with your children, Ken Ludwig’s How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare is invaluable. 

Then, interspersed with all of that, we watch – if we are going to see a performance, we don’t generally watch an entire film, with two exceptions: We watched the Brando Julius Caesar and the Taylor/Burton Taming of the Shrew.  We watched a lot of the Patrick Steward Macbeth, which I really like, but honestly the way the three sisters are portrayed is so creepy, at the time (two years ago, I guess), I fast-forwarded through those parts since I felt they were too intense.

And then we do a lot of scene comparison – watching different ways in which the three sisters have been played in film, different version of Julius Caesar  – the RSC production set in Africa was spectacular and illuminating, for example.

The BBC animated Shakespeare tales provide an engaging summary as well. 

As I have said before, we’re not about plot analysis or making charts about protagonists or antagonists. We want the story, the language and the big ideas and small moments, and to connect with these characters because their stories are about living in this world, and we want to grow in wisdom.

All of us.

So with As You Like It.  It’s not a complex play – once you get the family relations sorted out – so we didn’t take weeks and weeks to prepare. We began last Sunday – I sketched out (literally) the family relations, ran through a quick synopsis, and then we read chunks of the first act. On subsequent evenings, we read chunks of the second and third acts, watched the BBC animated version, and I called it done.  They understood it all well enough to be able to enjoy those last two acts without study, so that was it.

The Atlanta Shakespeare Tavern provides a great time. I guess you would call it dinner theater, but we’ll call it an Elizabethan theater tavern instead. Evening shows begin at 7:30, seating opens a bit more than an hour before. Food and drinks are served until about ten minutes before the show begins (kitchen reopens at intermission with desserts). The food is okay, although not very my-kid-friendly. Last night we made do with chili – with extra chips – and the bread basket.

It’s a great, casual atmosphere. Tables on the floor level, as ell as a balcony.  Volunteers help with the dining area and tickets, but so do members of the company, so the guy you remember playing Cassius that one time might be clearing your table.

It’s an ideal venue for introducing children to Shakespeare performances. The audience tends to be very diverse – as Atlanta is as a city – and when there are comedies performed, there are usually a good number of children, so they can see that this is not just a grown-up-school- thing. This is a people thing.

I’m going to say that I think this performance of As You Like It was one of the best we’ve seen there. There were some new faces to us – the actor who did double duty as the wrestler Charles and Duke Senior was a particular favorite, as was Touchstone. Shenanigans and schtick happens, but you know what…it’s a COMEDY.

Some notes:

Playing Rosalind is like fulfilling a million different childhood dreams at once. At different points in the play, I get to channel a Disney princess, Hermione Granger, Carol Burnett, and even Ron Swanson from Parks & Recreation. But I also get to channel Dani, which didn’t used to feel like a dream at all. As Rosalind, I get to be weird and tall and loud and passionate, and I still get to kiss the kind, beautiful guy at the end. And if the audience is laughing at me, it probably means that I did something funny.

 

 

It was a busy day: They served retreat Mass at the convent at noon, then we jumped in the car and went straight to Atlanta…to Mass. (I knew everyone would be tired on Sunday, so I wanted to let them sleep in the morning. ) It’s a good education in understanding the differences between daily & Sunday Mass as well as the nature and reason for the Sunday (even in vigil) obligation.  We went to the Cathedral at 5 – the Irish pastor of which has that practice of opening a homily with an “amusing” story that has nothing whatsoever to do with the Scriptures, the season…anything. It is so weird. It doesn’t serve to bring us in, as I’m sure is intended, but is instead a distraction from Mass. Sorry.

The other weird thing – and please understand this is an enormous parish (5500 families) with a tiny church  – yes it is the Cathedral, but it was built in the 30’s when there weren’t that many Catholics in Atlanta – that only holds 700.  They have to do what they can do – and at 5, that means they have settled on having an English language Mass in the church and then a Spanish Mass across the hall in a multipurpose room. The English language Mass was no more than half full – the Spanish congregation looked packed out. Interesting.

So…Mass, drive, Mass, As You Like It, drive 2 hours back.

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Taken before the performance during the announcements. Phone was off during the show. I promise.

 

 

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