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Posts Tagged ‘Birmingham’

In not too long, we’ll be in London, and as per usual, I’m engaging in intense trip prep. I have been for a while, actually, but am kicking it up into high, undoubtedly tedious gear right now.

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  • When I first bought these tickets back in November (there was a sale and we’re flying from ATL to LHR for an average of under $400/ticket – they have a slightly lower fare than I do), I went crazy with the guidebooks, but got over that soon enough. The guidebooks satisfy that initial thrill of knowing we’re going to London! but soon enough, I get lost in them – I know from experience that actually arriving some place and getting the lay of the land changes your sense of what you can and even want to do.  And with London in March, there will be weather considerations – although at this point, it doesn’t look like there’s much rain in the forecast.  And you never know how everyone is going to feel upon arrival, especially since our arrival time is 6.55 am as in IN THE MORNING, and..what? 
  • (Update: I’ve been looking at arrival times for those flights and they are consistently arriving around 6:30 AM.  Thank goodness, the owner of our apartment is amazingly generous and has agreed to a mid-morning check-in. If we were in a hotel, it would be no problem, since we could just leave luggage with the front desk until check-in time, but not with an apartment)
  • Anyway, I quickly got bored and despairing with the guide books. I knew that there were must-sees – the British Museum, the British Library, the National Gallery, the Tower of London, various outdoor sites, the Imperial War Museum, the Churchill Rooms, the Globe, churches, Tyburn Convent, and (I decided amongst the palaces) Hampton Court. I toyed with a day trip – Canterbury? York? Then decided that a week in London had plenty to occupy us.
  • So what should I read next? I have loved Morton’s books on Rome and Italy, and for some reason had a copy of In Search of London, which I happily read until I read a review of a biography of Morton which maintained that he fabricated a great deal of what he wrote about. And I just couldn’t read any more. (Update: Since I wrote that 2 weeks ago, I relented, and finished it – I’m glad I did.)
  • I had a couple of other old England-centric travel books that I had inherited along the way.
  • About three weeks ago, with the trip closer, I restocked from the library, and began studying in earnest. I still have no intention of having anything but the barest sort of plan, but I do need to sort out things like public transportation  (I think I finally understand the Oyster Card) and get opening and closing hours straight in my head (as in…several museums are open in the evenings during the week, but none, as far as I can tell, on Wednesdays, so that would be a good theater night.)
  • I have been mostly immersing myself in discussion boards: TripAdvisor, Fodors, Rick Steves & Chowhound, for the most part. All have different uses.
  • In terms of the boys, we have been focusing on general British history, of which they have only the barest understanding, and most of that from Horrible Histories. 
  • With them, I have been taking mostly the video route. We started with Schama’s History of Britain – the first episode which dealt with “pre-history,” the Romans and the beginnings of Anglo-Saxon Britain. We then watched the episodes on the Conquest and the English Reformation. I had wanted to see something on the Tudors, the Fire and Britain in World War II, but we are running out of time….Then I thought…why didn’t we watch A Man for All Seasons???  Well, maybe after….
  • I have books scattered about, and they pick them up and glance through them. We’ve looked at maps, so we have a good sense of where the apartment is in relationship to Tube stops and the major sites.
  • In terms of tickets: I have not purchased any theater tickets – I have a short list of shows I want to see, but I’m going to wait until we get there, see how everyone copes and recovers (including me) and just get a sense of what it feels like to be in London and get around before I commit.
  • I did purchase a Historic Royal Palaces family membership, which gets us entry into several places, including Hampton Court and the Tower of London. It saves a bit of money and gets us out of the regular line, and makes me feel posh whilst slipping into my wallet.
  • I also went ahead and got tickets for the Warner Brothers/Harry Potter thing. It seemed advisable to get those ahead of time.
  • An advantage of not getting to London until this point in our family’s development is that there is absolutely no noise about going to LegoLand. Thank. Goodness.
  • Bought travel insurance, most importantly with health and medical evacuation portions.
  • Went overboard, as I always do, about informing my adult children about the exact when and where of everything, including where my estate documents are, where the car will be parked and so on. Honestly, after you have been through a sudden death for which no one was prepared (how could you be), you see the wisdom of trying to account for the unexpected. It’s an act of mercy and love to leave as little of a mess behind as possible, if it comes to that. It’s not morbid, it’s just realistic.
  • I also rented a camera. I have a pretty old DLSR of some sort, but about three years ago, someone dropped it and just a couple of the teeth that hold the lens in were broken, but that was enough to render it almost useless – you can take photos with it, but you have to hold the lens in place. (The photo in the header, taken in Death Valley, was taken with that camera…me holding the lens…) I have a point and shoot, but it’s also older, and phone photos are okay, but not as good as actual camera shots, especially for display (maybe, if you have an IPhone? I don’t know. I don’t have one).  My son who just moved to NYC left me with some monstrous pro-level Nikon that he had purchased last summer, but when I got it home last week after helping him clean out his Atlanta place….it refused to power on. Even after charging the battery. It’s fine – it was a lot larger than I had expected, and not great for travel.
  • So I rented a Panasonic Lumix LX100, got it yesterday, found it a bit more complicated than I was ready for, but spent a couple of hours last night studying, so I think I’m good.
  • My hope is to blog here daily, and I’ll be posting regularly on Instagram – both in Stories and via regular posts, especially since they added this great feature of being able to put ten photos or videos in a single post. So check me out there. I don’t think you can see Stories unless you view it on a phone or tablet.
  • And yes, we are in an apartment. I did look at several bed-and-breakfasts fairly seriously – I sort of wanted that experience for us – but eventually admitted that I know full well  that I will crave space and privacy at the end of the day. I did look into, say, renting two rooms at a B & B, and came close on a couple, but then found a good apartment and again, my instincts told me we would all be much more content at the end of the day in that situation.
  • I forgot to mention that I find Pinterest valuable for things like this…I have the app downloaded to my phone, and it’s like having my own …er…curated …guidebook.

 

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— 1 —

Well, hello there. It’s been a busy week – the revisions for the Loyola Kids Book of Bible Stories came in and needed to be gone through before our trip. It was an interesting experience, as it always is, and is not yet over, so we’ll see!

It was illuminating because at some distance from the actual writing, I can re-see what I was originally trying to accomplish, discover that I actually did it, and it’s not too bad, after all.

 

— 2 —

Other than that, it’s been driving around Birmingham, as per usual, and trip prep. No, not trip prep in the sense of “packing suitcases” – I don’t do that until right before we leave! Ridiculous! No, it’s “trip prep” in the sense of….pouring over discussion boards, renting a camera, and watching Simon Schama videos. But after I get this post done, I’m going to do a trip prep post, so look for that in a few minutes.

— 3 —

Of course, a trip to London that takes place just a few days after a terrible, tragic terrorist attack will give one pause. But not for too long. Here is my philosophy: I am not going to put us in danger, but what can one do but always be ready? Look, a few months ago, there was an armed robbery in the parking lot of the Whole Foods in the wealthiest part of Birmingham.  Some of you might have caught the news about the young woman who was kidnapped/carjacked and forced into the trunk of her own car, and escaped? It made the national news (and by the way, they arrested a suspect in the case Wednesday night) 

Do you know where that incident happened?

Three blocks from my house.  Last night, my son and I walked to an open house at a maker space, and our path took us right there.

It’s a horrible thing, and heartbreaking. So, no foolish risks, but honestly  – should we just sit in our houses behind locked doors?

— 4 —

Daniel Mitsui is back!

Well, of course, he never went away, continuing to produce fine art – one of the most interesting and important Catholic artists working today.

But he has revived his blog – the link is here – and it’s worth following. Mitsui has a very interesting long-term project he is about to begin, and you can read about it here. 

An example of the kind of material he posts: “Sacred Art and Cryptozoology

The bias against belief in stories of legendary creatures legends is so strong, that they probably would be dismissed even if evidence of their plausibility were made plain. My older son was for a time deeply interested in the deep ocean. In at least two of his books, I read some commentary that basically said: The giant oarfish may have inspired legends about sea serpents. Now look at a picture of an oarfish:  [go to the blog to see]

This creature grows to lengths of at least 36 feet (in the deep ocean, perhaps longer). Its head is covered with red spikes. It takes a practiced sort of scientistic myopia to look at it and say: This may have inspired legends about sea serpents instead of: Hey, look – a sea serpent. I mean, look at it; it’s a sea serpent. I expect that if small mammal resembling a white bearded horse were to prance up to a group of biologists and poke them with the long spiraling horn protruding from its forehead, the biologists would say: This heretofore uknown creature may possibly have inspired legends about unicorns.

 

In honor of tomorrow’s feast. More about this piece here.

 

— 5 —.

Deacon Greg Kandra served his first Mass celebrated ad orientem. He writes about it here. 

And, I have to say: any controversy about this form of worship strikes me as wildly overstated. Most of the Mass proceeds exactly as it is normally done today; the total amount of time the clergy spends with backs toward the congregation is less than 20 minutes—maybe a third of the Mass. (It actually reminded me a bit of the Divine Liturgy I experienced when I was in San Diego a few months back; there was a similar sense of mystery and intimacy and transcendence at the altar.)

I know this form of worship isn’t ideal in every setting—some modern churches just aren’t designed for it—but I found it uplifting and surprisingly moving.

I hope I get the opportunity to serve this way again—and to pray this way in the pews, as well.

I’ve written about this quite a bit in the past. I’d love to see Mass celebrated like this all the time,everywhere. It would go a long way to minimizing cults of personality and clericalism. It clarifies the role of the priest in a bracing way. No, being in the person of Christ  is not  defined by how winningly Father makes eye contact with you when he prays. 

 

— 6 –

Tomorrow – is a feast! 

The angel and the girl are met.
Earth was the only meeting place.
For the embodied never yet
Travelled beyond the shore of space.

— 7 —

Starting to think about Easter gifts? First Communion? Confirmation Mother’s Day?

Check out my bookstore. It will be closed from 3/25-4/2, so you might want to get on those Easter orders….If you order today, I can ship this evening, no problem.

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

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On the Second Sunday of Lent, every year, no matter what the liturgical cycle, we hear the narrative of the Transfiguration.

(There is also a Feast of the Transfiguration, on August 6)

We only hear of the actual moment on the mountain, but what precedes it is important, too, and perhaps your homilist alluded to it today.

Before Jesus takes Peter, James and John up on the mountain, he had been conversing with them and the other apostles. It was the moment when he asked them Who do people say that I am?  And Who do you say that I am?  Peter had, of course, responded in faith and truth: You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. 

The conversation doesn’t end there, for Jesus continues, telling them about the way of this Messiah, his way – a way of suffering. Peter can’t believe it, Jesus rebukes him, and lets his friends and disciples know that anyone who wishes to follow him will be taking up a cross.

And then they climb the mountain.

******

"amy welborn"

I went to Mass today at the convent where my sons often serve. It was a small congregation, as usual. Sisters, friends, family members. There were two older men in wheelchairs, several children, a developmentally disabled young man, and concelebrating with the friar, a hundred-year old priest with his walker, his pillow, his handkerchief and his glass of water.

Hearts, minds and spirits bore crosses, too, not visible, but no less real, I’m sure.

Life is serious, challenging and hard. It’s rugged and scars you.

Jesus doesn’t promise a bountiful best awesome life on earth to his disciples. He promises – promises  – a cross.

Why is liturgy formal and serious?

Because life is serious.

God didn’t make it so – we did – but God enters this life as it is, as our sin has made it,  and God redeems it and takes up that Cross we have fashioned on himself.

Up the mountain.

We follow him, all of us carrying crosses and burdens, and there atop the moment we are blessed with a gift: light, love and glory.

It awaits, we are promised, but there on the mountain, we see something else. That gift isn’t just waiting ahead – it’s here now. It’s here in this Body of Christ, in the gift of Word and Sacrament, a glimpse of what awaits, an anchor and a hope.

It’s a gift that’s not dependent on us. It’s not dependent on how much we understand or know, or how well we speak or see, how quickly we can move, or how rich or poor we are.

Formality and ritual makes this clear. Redemption awaits, and it is offered to you and each of the wildly different people around you, each trudging up the mountain under their own cross, but it is one thing – the love of God – and it is sure, definite, solid and glorious.  No matter who you are or what you can do, God offers it, and offers you a chance to respond the best way you can, in whatever way your soul can move, love and say yes, it is good for me to be here.

"amy welborn"

 

"amy welborn"EPSON MFP image

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  • I did post a bit on Saturday, in case you don’t do Internet on the weekends, which a lot of people don’t. And good for you! Both were on fasting and the anxiety Catholics feel about our purportedly lame Latin Rite fasting regime. 
  • It was a weekend of camping, piano and basketball. Older kid went camping, younger one had two piano performances, plus a basketball game. Lost the game, ending the season, but I don’t think anyone’s crushed. Time to move on.
  • Piano. First performance was part of his obligation as a scholarship awardee from his music academy – they must do some extra performances during the course of the year, mostly in retirement facilities: two at Christmas, two in the spring.

 

(In which I finally learn how to embed Instagram here..because it’s code, I had assumed that you did it in the HTML editor, but no…you do it in the visual editor and it magically works…)

For more on Nathaniel Dett, go here. 

When I was trying to post the whole performance on Facebook, it wouldn’t let me, saying I was trying to post music or a performance under copyright to someone else. So I took “Beethoven” out of the description, and no problem.

  • We went to Mass at a parish I’ve only been to once before. It’s in a part of town far from my regular routes (but close to where one of the performances was, and the timing worked out perfectly). I was struck once again by now-familiar course of liturgical life:

 

  • When we strip down ritual to mostly words, we still carry the intuition that these words must mean a great deal, but since the ritual has been denuded of its dramatic elements and only has the most minimal level of symbolic material and gesture, the burden of conveying that meaning is all in the words now, and how the words are uttered. So the celebrant, in his person and in his manner, must convey all that was previously conveyed in what surrounded him. And what we are left with is a celebrant who might try to do this in  the most urgently deeply meaningful manner that, indeed, might move some in the congregation, but might tempt others to laugh, and give one more reminder to humbly stifle that inner liturgy critic, please. It’s Lent, after all. 

 

 

  • Martineau’s writing style is straightfoward and honest. Very accessible, even almost two centuries later. I will definitely be writing about this book when I’m finished, but some observations for now:
  • It was a six week-voyage across the sea. I am preparing for a trip to London in a few weeks.It will take us 9 hours or so to get across. That still astonishes and humbles me. People of Martineau’s era had much more challenging material and physical lives, but seemed to accomplish so much more. What’s my problem?
  • Martineau cannot get enough of the sea. She speaks of every night before retiring to her cabin, of having to go say goodnight to the sea. I think the following passage is a good example of her writing, and her ability to capture scenes, both natural and human.

Our afternoons were delightful; for the greater number of the forty-two days that we were at sea, the sun set visibly, with more or less lustre, and all eyes were watching his decline. There was an unusual quietness on board just about sunset. All the cabin passengers were collected on one side, except any two or three who, might be in the rigging. The steerage passengers were to be seen looking out at the same sight, and probably engaged as we were in pointing out some particular bar of reddened cloud, or snowy mountain of vapours, or the crimsom or golden light spattered on the swelling sides of the billows as they heaved sunward.Then came the last moment of expectation, even to the rising on tiptoe, as if that would enable us to see a spark more of the sun; and then the revival of talk, and the bustle of pairing off to walk. This was the hour for walking the deck; and, till near teatime, almost the whole company might be seen parading like a school. I never grew very fond of walking on a heaving floor, on which you have to turn at the end of every thirty paces or so; but it is a duty to walk on board ship, and it is best to do it at this hour, and in full and cheerful company.

After tea the cabin was busy with whist and chess parties, readers, and laughers and talkers. On damp and moonless evenings I joined a whist party; but my delight was the deck at this time, when I had it all to myself, or when I could at least sit alone in the stern. I know no greater luxury than sitting alone in the stern on fine nights, when there is no one within hearing but the helmsman, and sights of beauty meet the eye wherever it turns. Behind, the light from the binnacle alone gleams upon the deck; dim, shifting lights and shadows mark out the full sails against the sky, and stars look down between. The young moon drops silently into the sea afar. In our wake is a long train of pale fire, perpetually renewed as we hiss through the dark waves.

Once she landed in America, she spends the first part of her travels in New York – city and state. Her observations are fascinating. Just a couple of random citations to give you taste.

She rides a canal boat and is extremely irritated at the gaggle of Presbyterian ministers who take over the boat:

We suffered under an additional annoyance in the presence of sixteen Presbyterian clergymen, some of the most unprepossessing of their class. If there be duty more obvious than another on board a canal boat, it is to walk on the bank occasionally in fair weather, or, at least, to remain outside, in order to air the cabin (close enough at best) and get rid of the scents of the table before the unhappy passengers are shut up to sleep there. These sixteen gentlemen, on their way to a Convention at Utica, could not wait till they got there to begin their devotional observances, but obtruded them upon the passengers in a most unjustifiable manner. They were not satisfied with saying an almost interminable grace before and after each meal, but shut up the cabin for prayers before dinner; for missionary conversation in the afternoon, and for scripture reading and prayers quite late into the night, keeping tired travellers from their rest, and every one from his fair allowance of fresh air.

This is very funny. I’ve never thought of rocking chairs as a Newfangled Contrivance, but I guess they were:

In these small inns the disagreeable practice of rocking in the chair is seen in its excess. In the inn parlour are three or four rocking-chairs, in which sit ladies who are vibrating in different directions, and at various velocities, so as to try the head of a stranger almost as severely as the tobacco-chewer his stomach. How this lazy and ungraceful indulgence ever became general, I cannot imagine; but the nation seems so wedded to it, that I see little chance of its being forsaken. When American ladies come to live in Europe, they sometimes send home for a rocking-chair. A common wedding-present is a rocking-chair. A beloved pastor has every room in his house furnished with a rocking- chair by his grateful and devoted people. It is well that the gentlemen can be satisfied to sit still, or the world might be treated with the spectacle of the sublime American Senate in a new position; its fifty-two senators see-sawing in full deliberation, like the wise birds of a rookery in a breeze. If such a thing should ever happen, it will be time for them to leave off laughing at the Shaker worship.

I hasten to add that Martineau, in general, is a very generous-hearted and open-minded traveler. She has her critiques (and more in Society in America, which I will be picking up next), but they are rare. It’s just that they are amusing, which is they way life usually goes, isn’t it?

Just a few other random observations: She is generally appalled by the behavior of fellow Englishmen as she encounters them in the United States. She feels sorry for Canada, which suffers greatly, in her estimation, in comparison to the United States, and she blames her own country for this. She spends a lot of time at Niagara Falls, even venturing behind the falls – which you can do today, of course (I’ve done it), but I had not idea that kind of tourism at Niagara was established so early. And at one point in her journey – traveling across New York state – she connects with others from her sea voyage, and she is the only woman among a group of men and – those who would caricature the past – this is no big deal. 

As we surmounted the hill leading to our hotel, we saw our two shipmates dancing down the steps to welcome us. There certainly is a feeling among shipmates which does not grow out of any other relation. They are thrown first into such absolute dependance on one another, for better for worse, and are afterward so suddenly and widely separated, that if they do chance to meet again, they renew their intimacy with a fervour which does not belong to a friendship otherwise originated. The glee of our whole party this evening is almost ridiculous to look back upon. Everything served to make a laugh, and we were almost intoxicated with the prospect of what we were going to see and do together. We had separated only a fortnight ago, but we had as much to talk over as if we had been travelling apart for six months.

The Prussian had to tell his adventures, we our impressions, and the Southerner his comparisons of his own country with Europe. Then we had to arrange the division of labour by which the gentlemen were to lighten the cares or travelling. Dr. J., the Prussian, was on all occasions to select apartments for us;. Mr. S., the Dutchman, to undertake the eating department; Mr. H., the American, was paymaster; and Mr. O., the German, took charge of the luggage. It was proposed that badges should be worn to designate their offices. Mr. S. was to be adorned with a corncob. Mr. H. stuck a bankbill in front of his hat; and, next morning, when Mr. O. was looking another way, the young men locked a small padlock upon his button-hole, which he was compelled to carry there for a day or two, till his comrades vouchsafed to release him from his badge.

Here she describes the view from the (now gone) Catskill Mountain House. I’m breaking it up into paragraphs not in the original for ease of reading. Martineau was a devout, deeply spiritual (obviously) Unitarian.

The next day was Sunday. I shall never forget, if I live to a hundred, how the world lay at my feet one Sunday morning. I rose very, early, and looked abroad from my window, two stories above the platform. A dense fog, exactly level with my eyes, as it appeared, roofed in the whole plain of the earth; a dusky firmament in which the stars had hidden themselves for the day. Such is the account which an antediluvian spectator would probably have given of it. This solid firmament had spaces in it, however, through which gushes of sunlight were poured, lighting up the spires of white churches, and clusters of farm buildings too small to be otherwise distinguished; and especially the river, with its sloops floating like motes in the sunbeam. The firmament rose and melted, or parted off into the likeness of snowy sky-mountains, and left the cool Sabbath tobrood brightly over the land.  

What human interest sanctifies a bird’s-eye view! I suppose this is its peculiar charm, for its charm is found to deepen in proportion to the growth of mind. To an infant, a champaign of a hundred miles is not so much as a yard square of gay carpet. To the rustic it is less bewitching than a paddock with two cows. To the philosopher, what is it not? As he casts his eye over its glittering towns, its scattered hamlets, its secluded homes, its mountain ranges, church spires, and untrodden forests, it is a picture of life; an epitome of the human universe; the complete volume of moral philosophy, for which he has sought in vain in all libraries.

On the left horizon are the Green Mountains of Vermont, and at the right extremity sparkles the Atlantic. Beneath lies the forest where the deer are hiding and the birds rejoicing in song. Beyond the river he sees spread the rich plains of Connecticut; there, where a blue expanse lies beyond the triple range of hills, are the churches of religious Massachusetts sending up their Sabbath psalms; praise which he is too high to hear, while God is not.

The fields and waters seem to him to-day no more truly property than the skies which shine down upon them; and to think how some below are busying their thoughts this Sabbath-day about how they shall hedge in another field, or multiply their flocks on yonder meadows, gives him a taste of the same pity which Jesus felt in his solitude when his followers were contending about which should be greatest. It seems strange to him now that man should call anything his but the power which is in him, and which can create somewhat more vast and beautiful than all that this horizon encloses. Here he gains the conviction, to be never again shaken, that all that its real is ideal; that the joys and sorrows of men do not spring up out of the ground, or fly abroad on the wings of the wind, or come showered down from the sky; that good cannot be hedged in, nor evil barred out; even that light does not reach the spirit through the eye alone, nor wisdom through the medium of sound or silence only.  He becomes of one mind with the spiritual Berkeley, that the face of nature itself, the very picture of woods, and streams, and meadows, is a hieroglyphic writing in the spirit itself, of which the retina is no interpreter. The proof is just below him (at least it came under my eye), in the lady (not American) who, after glancing over the landscape, brings her chair into the piazza, and, turning her back to the champaign, and her face to the wooden walls of the hotel, begins the study, this Sunday morning, of her lapful of newspapers. What a sermon is thus preached to him at this moment from a very hackneyed text! To him that hath much; that hath the eye, and ear, and wealth of the spirit, shall more be given even a replenishing of this spiritual life from that which to others is formless and dumb; while from him that hath little, who trusts in that which lies about him rather than in that which lives within him, shall be taken away, by natural decline, the power of perceiving and enjoying what is within his own domain. To him who is already enriched with large divine and human revelations this scene is, for all its stillness, musical with divine and human speech; while one who has been deafened by the din of worldly affairs can hear nothing in this mountain solitude.

Substitute: phone for lapful of newspapers and once again…plus ca change. 

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When I do manage to write something these days, I seem to keep returning my hobbyhorse of narratives.

Here’s another example.

First, the narrative(s):  we are regularly and forcefully told that if you are of a certain gender, ethnicity, race, class or from a certain region, you believe  X and are concerned with Y above all things. And so the stories about Life Today that are told, especially by the lazy, are created, not by listening and retelling what has been heard from real people, but by carrying one’s narrative out into the field (or onto the Internet – usually as far as it goes these days) and filling in the blanks with what fits, ignoring what doesn’t.

Here’s why your narratives suck.

Just a couple of hours ago, I was in the Dollar General store down the road, here in my area of town called Woodlawn.

I got to the checkout and there was a lively yet  friendly conversation happening between two middle-aged African American men who were both working there and a middle-aged, and definitely world-weary, wiry, mustachioed white customer.

I have no idea what the starting positions were, but as I approached, the white guy was going OFF on what he called the “Muslim Ban” saying (I paraphrase):

“They all want to kill us all anyway. And if they want to kill us, you can’t keep ‘em out. And the ones that are already here – and there’s a lot of em – are just going to get pissed off.”

The other men nodded, either out of politeness or because they agreed, who knows.

So he went out the door, resigned to his fate of being blown to smithereens, and the guy behind the counter said,

“The two best presidents of my lifetime were” – he scanned my Diet Coke – “Reagan and Clinton.”

The other man, who’d been stocking, added, “They were good, but I always liked Carter – they said he was weak, but I did pretty well under Carter.”

“Clinton’s where I made my money. I did good with Clinton.”

And they spent a couple of seconds talking, first about Billy Beer, and then about Amy Carter, who they said they felt sorry for, and who one of them said was like the Lucille Ball of the White House – which I couldn’t figure out for the life of me.

Not a word about Obama.

And then one of them wrapped it up.

“Here’s the thing about Trump,” he said. “He’s a rich guy. Rich guys say what they want and do what they want and no one says anything to them. He’s used to that.”

While I was pondering this, probably the wisest comment I’ve heard in three weeks, he continued,

“He’s got to get used to something new now and just settle down. He’ll be all right. It’ll be all right.”

Call it Woodlawn Elegy. There you go. If we don’t get into any more wars and the economy improves so these guys can feel that their lives and incomes are getting better? Narrative, busted. Again.

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Today’s one of my Living Faith days. Go here for that. 

Also – if you would like more of the same, don’t forget the Catholic Woman’s Book of Days.  Most Catholic womanish devotionals are mom-centered. This one isn’t. So check it out!

(Lent’s coming…Ash Wednesday is March 1. If your parish or school is looking for a devotional, consider the one I wrote for Liguori, available in Spanish, too.)

— 2 —

Work is going decently well. I wish, at some point in my life, I could get to the last weeks of a project deadline not in a state in which I must Adhere to A Strict Schedule or face failure, but it never seems to happen. I do think the lesson is to not work with big deadlines that fall so close after Christmas. I lose a lot of work time, no matter what my fantasies are about being able to work through it all, and it actually casts a shadow over the holidays for me, as I have it constantly on my mind and am borderline on edge about it all the time. So just remind me, next time, okay?

— 3—

I’m feeling rather posh at the moment because I just ordered a membership in the Historic Royal Palaces. It gets you entrance into several of the palaces, including the Tower of London and Hampton Court, the two I’m interested in visiting. There’s a few pounds in savings, plus skipping lines, plus the promise of “special membership events,” the last of which I am not counting on. I usually don’t do much planning or purchasing ahead for these trips, but I needed a bit of boost, to make that trip seem closer. So I did it. I will probably also buy some theater tickets ahead of time, another thing I never do, but it seems advisable this time.

If you would like to follow my random planning…I have a Pinterest board dedicated to the trip here and a Twitter list here.)

Speaking of travel, check out Mountain Bouterac, aka the Catholic Traveler’s blog post about three years in Rome. Three years ago, he and his family packed up and moved from Georgia to Rome. He’s got great reflections on the ups and downs of that time and that decision. Go read, and take a look at his tours!

That very first night, I went alone to Saint Peter’s Square. As I stood there, I prayed I’d never take for granted this opportunity, I prayed it was the right move for the family, and I prayed I’d be able to help others through my experience.

I arrived with hopes, dreams, and goals.

But Rome is not easy, it took nine months just to get wifi.

Still, some hopes were fulfilled, some dreams came true, and some goals were realized. Others evolved, a couple were crushed, a few are still in the works.

— 4 —

I love news like this. Really good news, and good for kids to read about to help them understand the intersection of basic knowledge, method and creativity.

THE LOOSE ASSEMBLAGE of paper and string Manu Prakash pulls from his pocket doesn’t look like much. And in a way, it’s not—just 20 cents’ worth of materials you can buy at an art supply store. But in another way, the Stanford bioengineer’s tangle of stuff is a minor miracle. Prakash calls it a Paperfuge, and like the piece of lab equipment it’s named for, the centrifuge, it can spin biological samples at thousands of revolutions per minute. That’s a critical step in the diagnosis of infections like malaria and HIV. But unlike a centrifuge, the Paperfuge doesn’t need electricity, complicated machinery, expensive replacement parts, or even much money to operate.

“There are a billion people on this planet who live with no electricity, no infrastructure, no roads, and they have the same kind of health care needs that you and I have,” Prakash says. His lab developed the Paperfuge with these people in mind.

Inspired by the design of a millennia-old toy, the Paperfuge is a hand-powered centrifuge made of paper, string, and plastic that can whip biological samples in circles at up to 125,000 rpm. That’s enough oomph to separate plasma from a blood sample (a standard diagnostic procedure) in 90 seconds.

— 5 —.

Here are ten great poems about churches.

— 6 —

Speaking of poets and poetry…sheesh. Read this. A poet found her poems being used on standardized tests. First, she can’t really understand why, and then when she tackles the questions themselves, she finds them to be massively missing the point, and giving the completely wrong lessons on poetic inspiration, process and interpretation.

This is what’s wrong with the testing culture of our schools. This is why it’s so tragic that the mainstream of Catholic education just floats along with this culture and even uses their participation in it as a selling point.

Oh, goody. I’m a benchmark. Only guess what? The test prep materials neglected to insert the stanza break. I texted him an image of how the poem appeared in the original publication. Problem one solved. But guess what else? I just put that stanza break in there because when I read it aloud (I’m a performance poet), I pause there. Note: that is not an option among the answers because no one ever asked me why I did it…..

…The only way to stop this nonsense is for parents to stand up and say, no more. No more will I let my kid be judged by random questions scored by slackers from Craigslist while I pay increased taxes for results that could just as easily have been predicted by an algorithm. That’s not education, that’s idiotic.

Melanie Bettinelli takes up the topic here. 

Here you can practically see the process of the death of poetry. You can peek between the lines to see those students in their classrooms faced with these bleak poems, these senseless choices: I must be dumb. This poetry stuff doesn’t make any sense. I don’t get it. I must be bad at poetry. I don’t like poetry. I HATE poetry. Well to paraphrase Flannery O’Connor, if poetry is the sort of thing that can fit onto a standardized test, then to hell with it. I don’t believe in that kind of poetry either. 



— 7 —

Here’s an article about the roots and branches of Birmingham’s Greek food culture. It’s fascinating, goes way back to the beginnings of the city, and there’s hardly a food category that’s not been touched by the Greeks, from groceries to barbecue to meat n’three.

(Do you have a Zoe’s Kitchen or Jim n Nick’s in your town? They are Greek in origin, and started in Birmingham.)

The story of Birmingham’s Greek restaurateurs has always been a complicated one, with as many chapters as a Greek epic. Greek immigrants adapted quickly, aided by civics lessons from the American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association. Patriotism and service are a point of pride within a family tree that’s filled also with doctors, educators, clergy, military, and other professionals.

The connection to Mother Greece remains strong. Millennials fluently speak their great-grandparents’ native tongue. George C. Sarris serves food from his homeland at The Fish Market’s weekly Greek Night. Back in Tsitalia, churches, schools, homes and infrastructure were built or fixed with money earned in Birmingham. Ex-pats return regularly; Sarris even took Frank Stitt for a visit to Tsitalia.

“Greek people assimilate, but always go back to Greece,” says Sarris. “We feel we have two mothers, with equal love for each one.”

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

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— 1 —

Well, we started with four…and now there are two.

Big trees in the yard, that is.

The two remaining are solid, though, so I’m not worried.

This one, though, was due. I admit that I knew it, too, and at least once a day, I pondered its form, which seem to lean just a bit more every day, and I thought, I really should call someone.

And so I did…at 12:30 am Wednesday morning.

I was sitting here (#nightowl) when the silence was broken by a strong and earth-shaking THUD.

I peeked in the boys’ rooms, even though it really had not sounded like someone had tumbled out of bed or knocked over a lamp in their sleep. All was well. So I peered out the window in the front door, and what a strange, disorienting feeling to see emptiness where you’ve been trained to see a hulking mass of branches twisting up to the sky.

I had never been too worried about it, because I was 99% sure that if and when it did fall, it was angled so it wouldn’t hit anything…and it didn’t. Just the driveway, which it blocked, fully and effectively.

(It was a calm night – no winds or rain. So why did it fall? I suppose because after over two months of drought, the rains had come. Quite a bit of rain over the past week, as a matter of fact. It was not in good shape anyway, and I suppose whatever was left of its roots just slipped out of that soaked earth.)

So the first thing to do was to text my carpool partner with the news and the hope that she could take everyone in the morning because I was blocked in. Second was to call the tree service that promised 24/7 reponse…to get a voicemail. It was fine. I didn’t want anyone to come out right at that moment, but I did want to be first in line for the morning…which I was.

By noon it was all gone and smoothed over.

— 2 —

It was an old, rotting, gnarly tree, but we have each commented that we miss it. It was the only climbable tree in the yard, and it was a home and resting place for all sorts of life.  It really did seem as if the birds that were around that afternoon were confused. It was full of bird-home holes, it had spaces for pools of water to collect which satiated birds and squirrels, and the hummingbirds used it as a Launchpad for dive-bombing the feeder.

— 3—

In case you missed it, I was in Living Faith earlier this week – on the 4th and 5th.  And, as I pointed out yesterday on the feast of the Immaculate Conception, you can get my Mary book free here.

Speaking of the Immaculate Conception, nothing like hearing a homily at your IC Mass that is in essence: 1) You know, no one even thought of this thing until the 12th century.  2) Smart people like Thomas Aquinas and Bernard of Clairvaux were against it.  3) A Pope went ahead and made it dogmatic in 1854. Whatever, it’s a nice metaphor, guys, so feel free to believe..something.

Dude was old and has probably helped more people in his life than I would in ten lifetimes. But seriously.

— 4 —

Perhaps some of you remember the 1990’s PBS series, Wishbone. My older kids grew up with it, and I confess, I loved it. The conceit? A dog daydreams about being a character in various works of literature. It was kind of crazy, but it actually worked.

And believe it or not, the show actually dramatized a religious narrative in Viva, Wishbone! – which involved Our Lady of Guadalupe, in which our friend Wishbone portrays, yes, Juan Diego.

(Why do I bring this up? It’s his feast today)

Now, the story deviates. I just watched a bit of the climax, and the whole roses/tilma thing is not presented as the traditional narrative would have it. So you might not want to use it as a catechetical tool. But take a look on YouTube, and just remember a time – not so long ago – when even PBS portrayed religion as something other than the Opium of Particularly Stupid Bigots.

Access parts 2 & 3 via this link.

 

Also…St. Juan Diego in the Loyola Kids Book of Saints. Under “Saints are People Who See Beyond the Everyday.”

— 5 —.

Aside from Silence and other Endo and Endo-related work, this week I read A Kiss Before Dying by Ira Levin. I think it was less than two bucks on Kindle or something for a couple of days, so I picked it up.  Levin was a screenwriter and author of several high-concept novels which contributed both new words to the language and almost folkloric images: The Stepford Wives, Rosemary’s Baby and the Somebody-Cloned-Hitler Boys from Brazil.

A Kiss Before Dying was his first novel, written in his mid-20’s. It’s been adapted for film twice: first in 1956, starring Robert Wagner, and then in 1991, starring Matt Dillon. The trailer for the ’56 version is just so…over the top. Or over the roof. What have you.

Anyway, the first 2/3 of the novel were good and fairly absorbing, with some twisty-elements that made you pause, go back and re-read. The twists weren’t so much with the plot itself, but with the narrative framework, which trips you up. But there’s none of that in the last third – just a more routine cat-and-mouse trajectory which I skimmed pretty quickly. Those twists, being formal, are impossible to convey on film – let’s put it this way: even though it’s not the same “twist” – the situation would be like trying to convey the twist at the end of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd on film in a way that hits you the same way it does while reading. I don’t think it can be done. So, as the risible 1956 trailer makes clear, without that interest, you don’t have a lot left.

So sure, that’s what I do. You play video games or watch HGTV. I read odd mid-century novels that strike my fancy and are free, or at least cheap.

— 6—

I don’t think I have mentioned this article in the Atlantic by Deb Fallows. It’s about our downtown Birmingham Public Library. I have written – or at least Instagrammed – about this building before. The murals are quite something, and unfortunately nothing that anyone would ever to decorate a public building with today. Fallows writes about the murals, but more importantly, the research department, which holds some treasures, including a jail log book with Martin Luther King Jr’s signature for that time he spent…in a Birmingham jail.

— 7 —

 

Speaking of such things, it was great to hear that the feds are giving a chunk of our downtown National Historic Monument designation (not quite National Park…but good anyway).  If you are ever here in town, it’s an area you should go visit – the 16th Street Baptist Church, Linn Park, and the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. I’ve been to most of the Civil Rights-centered museums in the Southeast, and I’m not going to hesitate to say that I think that BCRI is the best. It’s a very good museum.  This article in our local alt-weekly tells the story of this area and how and why the new status was obtained.

“This is the place. This place is me,” Herbert Simms said, as he walked along the slick, leaf-covered sidewalk. He stopped and hunched over a puddle near a statue of a young boy being violently handled by a police officer and his dog. “They beat me here. That statue right there, for I all I know, that’s me too.” Simms, now 75, spoke quietly as he reflected on his role in this place, Kelly Ingram Park, and how it has shaped his life and the world he’s come to know.

He wondered why it took so long for this particular spot he’s known to be designated as a national historic monument. “This place is all of us…all of us. We changed the world here,” Simms said.

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

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