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And here, we are on Day Three of Christmastime in the City…

(Instagram summaries here…)

It was going to be cold. We all knew that. Everyone knew that. I’ve been cold before. I was born in Indiana. The formative part of my childhood was spent in Kansas. I lived in northern Indiana for seven years as an adult. I’ve been cold.

Still…this was cold.

The high in Manhattan on Thursday was to be around 20 degrees, so of course we weren’t going to be traipsing about the city (although my Birmingham friend did just that, and covered an impressive amount of ground, on foot, outdoors. But as I said, she’s a New Englander…), so that would be our Metropolitan Museum of Art day.

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(Other options: We’d been to the Guggenheim last summer, as well as the Morgan Library. The Frick might have been another option, but I did want to see the Michelangelo exhibit, so the Met it was.)

We – including they have been to the Metropolitan Museum a few times, including some time this past summer, most of that spent in the ancient Americas and Byzantine holdings. The focus this time would be Michelangelo, as well as  the Medieval and Renaissance holdings, including the lovely Neapolitan Christmas tree and presipio that was part of Ann Engelhart’s inspiration for Bambinelli Sunday.

But how to get there? That was the knotty issue. For you see, the Met is not on a subway line, and “our” subway options didn’t take us easily to the east side. If the weather had been good, it would not have been anything to wonder about – take the subway to the Natural History Museum and walk across the park to the Met. It was about ten degrees. I wasn’t walking across Central Park in that. Sorry. So after checking out of the Leo House, taking our backpacks with us, then taking the subway up, we took a cab from the Natural History Museum stop  – five bucks, quick trip, no problem.

But in my efficiency, I landed us there early – as in twenty minutes early, and apparently not even near-zero degree weather moves the rulers of the Met to let the freezing, IMG_20171228_095633.jpghuddling masses in out of the cold even a nanosecond early. We crowded in an alcove entrance to the educational wing with a few dozen others until my oldest arrived – he was working that day, but he’s a Met member, so he stopped by on his way to work to get us in – once they opened – and Ann soon followed.

 

Highlights:

I do love all the Madonna and Child statuary at the Met. They are mostly all smiles, mother and Child – and there is just a sense of warmth in those rooms – warmth mixed with regret, since all of that loveliness should still be in churches and chapels, still being used as objects of devotion.

These galleries also were relevant to a project I recently completed. As I wandered, I found myself wishing I’d had a chance to visit in the midst of my writing, but I was also reassured that I probably got the gist of the subject correct…

I love this Visitation group – both Mary and Elizabeth have clear oval bubbles on their abdomens – the cards indicated that there were once images of the babies visible through each.

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An interesting martyrdom. St. Godelieve – part of this larger piece. 

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This was, according to the placard, a devotional crib for the Christ Child, probably given as a gift to a woman entering a convent or upon taking final vows:

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The tree – not great photos, but I’m sure you can go to the website and see more:

The Michelangelo exhibit was very instructive and quite well done, helping us understand his development as an artist and his process.

After FOURTEEN DOLLAR HALF-BAGUETTES WITH A COUPLE OF PIECES OF HAM AND CHEESE on them  – Ann left, and we continued on up to the World War I exhibit – very, very good and sobering, of course. A presentation of visual art inspired by the experience of the Great War, the theme was, over and over, initial jingoistic enthusiasm brought up short by reality and suffering.

Museum Fatigue is a thing, of course. Think about it. Look at the maps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. How can anyone “do” this museum, even in a day? Even if you could whizz through every room, what would you really see? What would you absorb? That’s why I don’t push it, that’s why we take our time. Even if this were our first, only or last time at this massive museum, I wouldn’t insist on pushing through and seeing “everything,” or even a lot.

It’s like all of travel, it’s like learning, and it’s like life. There’s this much  (spreads arms wide) that’s out there. One person can only fruitfully and memorably encounter and absorb this much (holds fingers close together). It’s much more fruitful to go slowly, contemplate and see a few things in a thoughtful way rather than racing through a checklist, glancing at images and taking a few selfies in front of the more well-known pieces as you go.

In the context of art, consider that every piece you see is the fruit of weeks if not months of work and a lifetime of creative thought and energy, as well as the product of a complex culture and social setting that’s different than the one you live in. A glance and a checklist is not the point. Contemplation and conversation that might lead to a broader, deeper understanding is.

So slow down. Look carefully. Listen. Talk about it. Think some more. And then go see something else – or go home and think about that one thing. I’m not telling you. As I have to do all the time, I’m telling me.

Coda:

We left the Met about 4:30, took a super slow M4 bus down to Penn Station – seeing more IMG_20171228_181353.jpglights and windows as we went (speaking of checklists), found the Shake Shack, shared a table with a very nice pre-school teacher from Long Island, got on the train to the airport, arrived there, found the shuttle to the Doubletree, hopped on that, checked in, and leaving Boys with Screens, Mama went to the bar, took notes on the day and had a drink (or two) to help her sleep since a 3:30 AM alarm was in her future.

Coda II:

We did it! Woke up with our alarm, didn’t suffer too much, got the shuttle back to the airport, checked in for our 6:11 AM flight back to Atlanta. Which didn’t leave until 7. Arrived in Atlanta, got in the car, drove to Florida, dropped off boys with grandparents, aunts, uncle and cousins, then I drove to  Charleston where I’ve been all weekend with IMG_20171230_144002.jpgmy son, daughter-in-law and grandson. I’ve been babysitting, going to the Children’s Museum, stopped by the Daughters of St. Paul bookstore, and to Mass at the Cathedral, where former Mayor Riley was the lector. I found him after Mass and introduced myself – he’s good friends with Bishop Baker, and had been in Birmingham a year and a half ago to present at a conference on racial issues. I spent some time this fall editing those talks into a form that we hope will be publishable as a book, so I wanted to meet Mayor Riley and thank him for his leadership of Charleston and wise words, particularly after the Emanuel AME church shooting – and I did – he was, of course, very gracious, pointing out to us Bishop Baker’s steeple atop the Cathedral – because of seismic and weather issues, there had been no steeple until Bishop Baker revisited the issue during his tenure there.

And now, back to Life in 2018!

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We are home today, back in Birmingham, the boys asleep this morning – the younger one able to sleep past 7 for the first time in a couple of weeks. Nothing much on tap this week, finally.

Yesterday at this time, we were in Charleston. We went to Mass at the Cathedral, where the music was beautiful – done, as Cathedral music should be (and as we experience here) as a model for the rest of the diocese, embodying the mind of the Church on matters liturgical.

There’s a short post up on Instagram with a bit I recorded. I don’t like how huge videos post on WordPress, and I can’t figure out how to resize them, so you’ll just have to go there.

What I particularly appreciated was the lack of accompaniment. Yes, there was organ for hymns, but the chanting was a capella, as this non-musician thinks it should be. I appreciate the organ, but especially with the propers and parts of the Mass, and especially when the congregation sings as well, there is something quite moving about the sound of nothing but human voices filling a church with chanted prayer. I like hearing the other human voices. When the organ’s going at anything less than a minimal level during chant, it’s all I hear – my own voice and the organ – and that’s not an experience of community. It’s almost more of a battle, in the end.

Anyway, go here for a snippet of Ave Verum Corpus. 

The homilist had good things to say, but….(you knew this was coming)

..he didn’t preach from the ambo. He strode down to floor level, right in front of the first pews, and paced back and forth there. I get it. I suppose. The desire to be closer? To us? I guess? But guess what…

No one could see you.

We were pretty close to the front – five or six pews back. He wasn’t that far away from us. The sound system is good, so he could be heard very well, but all we could see was a glimpse of him once in a while as he paced over to our side.

Now, you’re saying..hey…you’re an advocate of ad orientem and less clerical personality on offer during liturgical prayer. What’s this annoyance at not being able to see the homilist’s head during his homily?

Well, here’s how it functioned: very weirdly, the homilist’s posture, which was intended to make him more accessible, but actually made him more invisible, worked to elevate his person because yes, we normally do look at a homilist while he is preaching – that is our normal stance, so we’re having to strain and move around and make an effort to do something that is usually, in the course of liturgy, something we don’t even think about – which then allows us to focus on what’s being said, instead of the peculiarities and particularities of the one saying it.

This is convoluted, and really, all I’m saying is – there’s a reason the ambo (or pulpit) is elevated. It’s not a bad reason, either. And changing that up takes attention away from content. It’s distracting.

And it’s just something to think about that may or may not be related, but is also a Life Lesson: When we do something with the mindset, I want to make sure people know that I’m ______________ or I want people to know that I feel _______________ about them or I don’t want people to think that I think _____________…the consequent choices we make often unwittingly end up  reflecting that overriding concern, blinding us to what others really need from us, and shining the spotlight even more brightly on ourselves….

 

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Seven Quick Takes

— 1 —

 

It is the best time of the year in this part of the world. Daytime highs in the 80’s and low 90’s , evening temperatures in the 60’s. No mosquitoes – perhaps because it hasn’t rained in a month, it seems. I don’t mourn their absence. It makes sitting outside under that crescent moon, finding Venus and Saturn, the only way you want to spend your evening.

— 2 —

Our Charleston people have evacuated. They were going to come here, but they both work for companies with offices in another, inland city, so they’re going to be put up in that spot for the duration by the company, waiting with millions of others to return, dreading what they’ll find.

Returning from travel, that last mile or so before getting home always has my insides in knots. I dread pulling up to the house. What will greet me? Will we have been broken into? Will a tree be on my roof? A flood in the kitchen?

(Nothing like that has ever happened, by the way. And having good neighbors who would communicate with you if, well, a tree fell on your house, takes away the worry, if you’re rational about it. Which is not always easy to be.)

Anyway, imagine how that dread is multiplied by coming home after a hurricane has moved through.

 

— 3 —

 

We got a new piano. Finally. I had the slightest twinge of sentiment as the old one was loaded up and carted away..but really only a twinge of a twinge, if there is such a thing. It was not that I didn’t want to replace it. Of course I did. It was terrible, and my son, who is quite talented and promised that indeed, he is all in with the piano stuff – deserved something better to play. It was just that feeling of letting go of something that had been in my life for decades. My grandmother had given it to me probably around 1970, I imagine because my parents convinced her to fund it. It was a Storey and Clark spinet, which is not even made any more and which, experts agree, was not a good piano.

Honestly, why I had hauled that thing around the country for thirty years, I don’t even know. For what it cost to move it, I probably could have just bought a new/used piano at every stop, and sold it again when it was time to move on.

But now…we have a decent one. We also have it upstairs, and not in the basement. When we first moved into this house three years ago, it was just the path of least resistance to put the piano in the basement, which, because the house is built on a slope, is actually ground level. It just slipped right in.

In piano shopping, I had been apologizing for this, not that any of the salesmen were demanding explanations, much less apologies, but one did tell me that if there is no moisture problem, a basement is not the worst place for a piano. After moisture, temperature variation is the enemy of good piano health, and since the temperature in basements tends to be more consistent than other areas of a home..it can work.

But we just wanted the piano up out of the Lego Emporium and up where we spend most of our time. (Yes, I think Lego Days might be approaching twilight…can it be true?) I had explained the front door situation to the guy at the piano store and he assured me it would be fine. In retrospect, I see that I probably should have taken a photograph and shown him. For when the delivery men arrived, they took one look at the slope of those measly five steps and the angles up past them and said…Nope.

O…kay.

What aboimg_20161006_231003.jpgut the back patio? I had mentioned this to the piano salesmen and he said that no, since there was a large patch of yard that would have to be navigated, that wouldn’t work. The piano would have to be brought over a paved surface – it would sink in the ground.

The delivery guys said he was wrong. They had an all-terrain dolly that would do the job, no problem. But they didn’t have it with them, and would have to go get it. Which they did, and an hour later, there it was.

It’s so much better. My son is really enjoying it, and guess who else is playing again? Yeah, me. It’s such a better instrument, plus it’s upstairs…I’m back in business, and even re-ordered that book of Gershwin piano music that was waylaid either in Williamsburg or Germany – where ever my daughter took it that time she took it.

 — 4 —

Well, I couldn’t put it off any longer, so we have embarked on Orthodontic Adventure #4 for my family. It’s been a while – ten years, I guess. I was going to let #4 Kid take care of it on his own when he became an adult, since the issues seemed cosmetic to me, and not that serious. But then this summer, a couple of teeth started trying to come in…unsuccessfully…and it became clear that this wasn’t just cosmetic. And that I am not qualified to diagnose teeth.

But man, I hate orthodontic practices. I hate the buzz of profiteering cheerfulness, I hate the matching polo shirts, I hate the little fountains and beige tones.

So when I heard that an acquaintance of mine was a huge fan of the local university’s dental school clinic, which includes an orthodontic section, I was intrigued.

And, after two appointments, I’m a fan, too.

First, it’s about half the cost of private treatment. That cost must be paid up front, but I’m telling you – when I walked away from that desk, knowing that the next couple of years or so were paid for, from records to retainers..it was a great feeling.

Secondly, the whole process is very interesting. You have a resident assigned to you, and he or she works under a supervising orthodontist. In the initial assessment, the resident worked alone at first, and sketched out a treatment plan. Then the supervisor came in. He asked, “So what’s your treatment plan?” But then he stopped and continued, “No, don’t tell me. Let me look, then I’ll sketch out a plan, and we’ll compare.” Which is what they did, and it was fascinating to observe the teaching that was going on – and good for my son to see it to, to see that this is not magic, nor is it cut-and dried and always obvious. Medical treatment of any kind is not just a matter of matching items from different columns, and it’s good for him to observe that process.

— 5 

I read two novels over the past week. I enjoyed both as light reading that’s a little though-provoking.

I’ll begin with the one I enjoyed less – The Leftovers by Tom Perotta. Perotta is the author of Election and Little Children, both of which are very good and have been made into great movies. The Leftovers has been adapted by HBO as a series – two seasons have aired (I haven’t watched it.).

The novel is about the aftermath of a Rapture-like event,in which about 2% of the world’s population just…disappeared. There’s never any explanation given of the event, and since we enter the story three years after it occurred, we don’t see the characters wondering about it themselves – when we meet them, they are simply trying to cope, to deal, to move on.

So what the book is about is grief and loss. Really, that’s it. It’s about how human beings live with the reality of loss. What the characters of this novel live with in a very focused way is what all of us live with: this or that person was here one day, and then gone the next. What does that mean for my life? Do I dishoner that person by “moving on?” What about if I discover that person wasn’t who I thought he or she was? Where can I find meaning? How is respectful or even possible to live a “normal” life, knowing that people – including yourself – will someday be gone?

It was okay. The choice to not make the “why” or “where did they go” an issue is intended, I suppose, to put the emphasis on the responses of the leftovers. This makes a sort of sense, but the ultimate effect, I felt, was a flattening of the events of the book. It really was just about a bunch of people responding to the losses of loved ones in various ways, but because the peculiar circumstances are not an issue, there seems to be no reason why the loss couldn’t have been via a flu epidemic or chemical leak.

It was an interesting device to explore grief, but done in, I fear, by a kind of spiritual and intellectual reserve.

6–

Much- much –  better was the quirky novel Amp’d. I won’t say, “I recommend it,” because I don’t say that – people have different tastes, and recommending books usually gets the recommender in trouble from someone who imagines they will be getting one thing because they have an image in their mind of what kind of person they believe the recommender to be, but of course they actually have no idea, and the book is in fact quite different from what they expected, and possibly has swears and drugs in it, and maybe sex. Surprised and disappointed email to follow.

So. Don’t read this book.

It’s the story of a guy – Aaron – who has lost his arm in an car accident and returned to his father’s house to recuperate and figure out what to do with his life. It was funny – often hilarious, and just page after page of succinct, on-point observations. Making frequent appearances are a pet alligator, Cancer Boy and various lost and seeking friends and family members, as well as the fish Aaron is hired to count as part of a ..fish counting project. Also a presenter of short radio bits on scientific trivia, and the content of these bits is simply perfect. You can hear the voice as you read.

I think the best way to communicate what the book is about is to tell you that it begins and ends with lists. It begins with a list called “Things you can’t do with one arm” and ends with “Things I never did with two arms.” The second list is far more intriguing , and there’s the point, right there.

You know what? Everything is better with humor in it. Even life-affirming lessons. Especially life-affirming lessons.

— 7 —

Melanie Bettinelli recommends a children’s books…and it looks great!

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

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Seven Quick Takes

— 1 —

Just a bit more travel before the gates clang shut. M and I went down to south Alabama last DSCN0786Saturday (blogged about here) and today we’re in Charleston. I had thoughts of seeing Some Things, but dear heavens, it’s hot. I have an enormous tolerance for and affection for hot weather, but 96 degrees in the city while leading a posse of an 11-year old, 15-year old, 24-year old and 2.5 year old…..is too much.  No complaining, but the red faces and general discomfort made anything beyond an hour downtown not enticing. Tomorrow we might try the beach or an indoor museum…

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(Snapchat – amywelborn2)

 

— 2 —

Recent reads:

Still working on Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which my high schooler is doing for school summer reading. I had never read it, so this was a good opportunity.

My advice? You should read it. I’ll blog more about it when I’m finished, but the bottom line is that it’s such an important part of American history (sold 300,000 copies the first year – galvanized the nation), is a fascinating exercise in social activism – in a time in which social issues of different sorts still divide our country – and is very easy to read. I had envisioned a lot of dense Victorian text, but Stowe had written for newspapers and magazines before she started this novel, and wrote in a very accessible, popular style – too popular  – as in sentimental – at times. The treatment of the races is challenging to get through. I am not sure I would require young people who are black to read it. It’s hard.I’m an advocate of Huckleberry Finn, but Uncle Tom’s Cabin is different. Twain’s writing was more layered and his authorial point of view does not strike me as racist at all, but with Stowe, even though she was an abolitionist and wrote to convince the reader of the humanity of slaves, much of the narrative perspective is tinged in our contemporary eyes, with racism – all slaves are human, we are told, but the norm of what it means to be human is presented primarily in a European paradigm – how can you not accept Eliza’s humanity? She has such lovely light skin!

But…more later.

 

— 3 —

Rachel Ray, which is not a biography of a Food Network star, but rather an 19th century novel by Anthony Trollope. It was talked up on some blogs I ran across as an undiscovered gem, and it was, of course, free, and I do like Trollope, so I dug in.

 

 — 4 —

 

It’s a very simple story – of a young woman’s rocky engagement to a young man.  So what else is new in 19th century literature? It wasn’t the most fascinating book I’ve ever read – and it’s not among even the better half of Trollope, but it was fairly entertaining in parts.  What made it a challenge was that its original serial nature was quite evident in protracted passages in which characters contemplate – in detail – the events that were related – in detail – in the previous chapter. I did a bit of skimming.

— 5 

But making it worthwhile were Trollope’s insight into human nature and motivation – even if we do get a character’s motivations described several more times than necessary.  In this story, the community – family, church and town – play an enormous role in managing expectations and behavior between a man and a woman.  The balance Trollope creates is pretty interesting – yes, the young man and woman, it is implied, need and deserve more freedom than the community wants to give them – but also, yes, perhaps the restraint and boundaries have some value.

I was most interested in two specific areas that Trollope brings into the novel – beer and religion. For one of the families involved in the story runs the local brewery, which, it is universally agreed, produces just terrible beer.  But that is just the way it is – and Luke Rowan the young man who wins Rachel’s heart – has, by inheritance, obtained a share of this brewery run by Mr. Tappitt, and wants more for the purpose of actually making decent beer. The tussle over this issue was very amusing, and, of course, a metaphor for the young people at the heart of the story, straining for freedom from the community’s restraints, for reasons that no one can really fathom, because isn’t everything working so smoothly now?

The tantrums spoken of were Rowan’s insane desire to brew good beer, but they were of so fatal nature that Tappitt was determined not to submit himself to them. 


…That anything was due in the matter to the consumer of beer, never occurred to him. And it may also be said in Tappitt’s favour that his opinion — as a general opinion — was backed by those around him. His neighbours could not be made to hate Rowan as he hated him. They would not declare the young man to be the very Mischief, as he did. But that idea of a rival brewery was distasteful to them all. Most of them knew that the beer was almost too bad to be swallowed; but they thought that Tappitt had a vested interest in the manufacture of bad beer — that as a manufacturer of bad beer he was a fairly honest and useful man — and they looked upon any change as the work, or rather the suggestion of a charlatan.


Mr Tappitt was not a great man, either as a citizen or as a brewer: he was not one to whom Baslehurst would even rejoice to raise a monument; but such as he was he had been known for many years. No one in that room loved or felt for him anything like real friendship; but the old familiarity of the place was in his favour, and his form was known of old upon the High Street. He was not a drunkard, he lived becomingly with his wife, he had paid his way, and was a fellow-townsman. What was it to Dr Harford, or even to Mr Comfort, that he brewed bad beer? No man was compelled to drink it. Why should not a man employ himself, openly and legitimately, in the brewing of bad beer, if the demand for bad beer were so great as to enable him to live by the occupation? On the other hand, Luke Rowan was personally known to none of them; and they were jealous that a change should come among them with any view of teaching them a lesson or improving their condition.

6–

As for religion. It plays a great role in the book, as Rachel’s mother turns to her pastor, Rev. Comfort, for advice on her daughter’s situation, and her other daughter – a widow – spends much of the novel contemplating a more permanent alliance with another clergyman – a Dissenter – whom she respects but does not quite trust. She has her own money and a marriage would require her to give control of this money over to her new husband…which she is not quite comfortable with.

Trollope has much to say about religion, but I particularly liked this passage, in which he digs into the tormented soul of Mrs. Ray, Rachel’s mother. Has this type of spiritual response disappeared with the genteel 19th century novel? I don’t think so..

And it may be said of Mrs Ray that her religion, though it sufficed her, tormented her grievously. It sufficed her; and if on such a subject I may venture to give an opinion, I think it was of a nature to suffice her in that great strait for which it had been prepared. But in this world it tormented her, carrying her hither and thither, and leaving her in grievous doubt, not as to its own truth in any of its details, but as to her own conduct under its injunctions, and also as to her own mode of believing it. In truth she believed too much. She could never divide the minister from the Bible — nay, the very clerk in the church was sacred to her while exercising his functions therein. It never occurred to her to question any word that was said to her. If a linen-draper were to tell her that one coloured calico was better for her than another, she would take that point as settled by the man’s word, and for the time would be free from all doubt on that heading. So also when the clergyman in his sermon told her that she should live simply and altogether for heaven, that all thoughts as to this world were wicked thoughts, and that nothing belonging to this world could be other than painful, full of sorrow and vexations, she would go home believing him absolutely, and with tear-laden eyes would bethink herself how utterly she was a castaway, because of that tea, and cake, and innocent tittle-tattle with which the hours of her Saturday evening had been beguiled. She would weakly resolve that she would laugh no more, and that she would live in truth in a valley of tears. But then as the bright sun came upon her, and the birds sang around her, and someone that she loved would cling to her and kiss her, she would be happy in her own despite, and would laugh with a low musical sweet tone, forgetting that such laughter was a sin.

And then that very clergyman himself would torment her — he that told her from the pulpit on Sundays how frightfully vain were all attempts at worldly happiness. He would come to her on the Monday with a good-natured, rather rubicund face, and would ask after all her little worldly belongings — for he knew of her history and her means — and he would joke with her, and tell her comfortably of his grown sons and daughters, who were prospering in worldly matters, and express the fondest solicitude as to their worldly advancement. Twice or thrice a year Mrs Ray would go to the parsonage, and such evenings would be by no means hours of wailing. Tea and buttered toast on such occasions would be very manifestly in the ascendant. Mrs Ray never questioned the propriety of her clergyman’s life, nor taught herself to see a discrepancy between his doctrine and his conduct. But she believed in both, and was unconsciously troubled at having her belief so varied. She never thought about it, or discovered that her friend allowed himself to be carried away in his sermons by his zeal, and that he condemned this world in all things, hoping that he might thereby teach his hearers to condemn it in some things. Mrs Ray would allow herself the privilege of no such argument as that. It was all gospel to her. The parson in the church, and the parson out of the church, were alike gospels to her sweet, white, credulous mind; but these differing gospels troubled her and tormented her.

 

 

— 7 —

And now, for the first time in many years, I’m returning to Muriel Spark – The Girls of Slender Means. Tight, dense and acerbic. I’ll report when I’m done. If I don’t melt in Charleston on Friday.

Follow on Instagram and Snapchat (amywelborn2) to see how that turns out…

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

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Today – our last day in Charleston – we headed north of Mount Pleasant to the Center for Birds of Prey – Avian Conservation Center.

I had heard about this place a couple of trips ago, but could never squeeze in a visit, especially considering it is only open on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.

It’s a great facility, doing important work. Saw many raptors, including a few bald eagles, a vulture restaurant, a kite, red-tailed hawk and huge Eurasian owl in flight, and a couple of barn owl hatchlings.  It’s well worth an afternoon.

"amy welborn"

"amy welborn"

(The vultures’ food is roadkill, provided by state road cleaning crews)

 

"amy welborn"

 

*Consider following me on Instagram where I post regularly while traveling.

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— 1 —

Shall we stick the Daily Homeschool Report   here?  Yes, we shall.

— 2 —

Thursday is homeschool class at the Cathedral, with only one more week to go, sadly.

So that means no copywork and no home morning prayer. It’s get him up, feed him, and off we go.

Today his drama class practiced their play and his history of science class talked about Louis Pasteur.

After, we ran to the downtown library branch to pick up an armful of Smurf comics.  (More on that in a bit). Then home for lunch, had him talk to me about Pasteur, finish up Beast Academy 5A, and talk about the Writing and Rhetoric story, followed by several exercises (excerpts from Twain, Anne of Green Gables, etc)  asking him to look for unbelievable, improbable, improper or unclear.

As I said, it is prep for learning how to write refutations in a very ordered, but not at all boring way. It’s about instilling criteria in the mind so that one can give reasons for the case one is making.  I’m impressed with it.

 

– 3—

By this time, it’s mid-afternoon and rainy, so I pulled out the video of Ken Burns’ program on Lewis and Clark I had checked out of the library and we started watching it.  It’s pretty long – 240 minutes, but he was engaged, so I think we’ll just take it in 45 minute sections and watch it over the next week.

Piano practice, and that’s it.

 

— 4 —

Honest to pete, as they say, I had never before watched a Ken Burns doc. It’s quality, for sure, but stylistically so repetitive.  Gliding shot of river at sunrise. Voiceover from journal. Talking head. Gliding shot of river at sunset.

I guess there’s really nothing much more to do, right?

And the talking heads – maybe I’m just getting oversensitive as I age, but wow,  I just wanted to say BACK OFF, TALKING HEAD.  Really, pull that camera back even six inches, and I won’t reflexively recoil from you.

 

— 5 —

Proud that this conference on racial reconciliation is being held in Birmingham right now, held at a local Baptist divinity school and  co-sponsored by the Diocese of Birmingham

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Speakers include Bishop Braxton of Belleville, IL, the Archbishop of Owerri, Nigeria, and today the mayor of Charleston:

Riley recalled gathering the families of survivors together the night of the shooting as the police chief explained what happened.

“There was this choir of sorrow, wailing, crying, that will be with me as long as I live,” Riley said. “We told the community this was a hate crime. He came from 110 miles away. He wasn’t from Charleston. But he was from America. He wasn’t from another planet.”

The city, without a solid foundation in good race relations, could have responded in anger and with riots, Riley said. Instead, people of different races and religious beliefs gathered in front of the church, held hands and prayed.

“He came with hate, and we in this community would respond with love,” Riley said. “We decided we would take care of each other and we would pray. And we did.”

Riley spearheaded and is still working on a plan to build an African-American history museum on the site of the wharf where thousands of Africans were sold as slaves in Charleston, he said. “Forty-four percent of all slaves who came to North America came through Charleston,” Riley said.

Unfortunately, I can’t attend, but it looks really good.  Maybe we will try to sneak over at noon, but no, on second thought I think there is some big music audition/competition going over on that campus right now, besides classes, and a friend of mine was saying parking was impossible on campus, so probably not….

— 6–

Remember that Lent when your early idealism held and you indeed did not have cheese pizza for dinner every Friday?

Yeah, me neither.

 

— 7 —

Oh, to get back to the Smurfs.

Both of my younger boys, but especially the actual youngest, really like the Asterix-TinTin end of comics/graphic novels.  I’ve mentioned before that the youngest is also a big fan of the Lucky Luke series and occasionally asks if the Gaston series, which he encountered in a cabin in the Pyrenees and gamely tried to “read” in French, has been translated into English yet (nope).

Another short series he likes is Benny Breakiron by Peyo, who was also the author of the Smurfs comics.  I had suggested the latter to him before, but he’d always rejected it because what are Smurfs anyway but something for toddlers, right? (My only real encounter was with the animated series, which I never actually watched, but which made me itchy even just running in the other room. But I had read that the comics were different). The other day, he started reading one in the library, was hooked, and, as I said, asked to return to get like ten more.   I asked him why he liked them and he said he mostly liked how each of the Smurfs had a different personality.

And then he said he thought he had figured out where Calvin (of Calvin and Hobbes) lives.

(Illinois.)

Speaking of books…order some from me!  Signed editions of any of the picture books at 8 bucks a title.  Big orders for your entire First Communion class welcome!

 

 

 

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— 1 —

Well, how about some shots and brief thoughts from doings over the past few weeks?

Maybe starting with the water pipe table at a Stuckey’s in the middle of Georgia?

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Who needs a pecan roll anyway!

— 2 —

Jump back to Our Lady of Guadalupe, almost a month ago, at a local parish.

– 3—

Then after Christmas, a trip to South Carolina.

 

— 4 —

After a day there, I ran the boys down to Florida. On the way back up to SC, I stopped in Savannah. I had been there years ago when they were just starting to work on the Flannery O’Connor childhood home, and had high hopes of being able to actually tour it this time.  But of course, it was closed. Alas!

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— 5 —

But across the square was hopping – the Cathedral. Tour buses spilling out dozens and a constant rate, not just to tour the building for its own sake, but for the large-ish (by American standards) nativity inside.  I sat in there for a while watching folks.

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“Savannah Cotton, of course,” remarked the docent.

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— 6

Over the next few days, I finished up work, baby-watched and got to know the Charleston area a bit better.

There was the day I took the baby downtown and to my great amazement found a parking place on the street right away!  A car was pulling out, and what luck for us! Victory! I’m practically a local now!

I parked, got the baby out, got the stroller out, packed up the baby, then turned to put the money in the meter…..which had a 30 minute limit.

Well, I wasn’t going to waste that stroller-wrangling time, so we made the best of it and just headed down the block, and, as it turns out, into a spot I’d never been to before, that was quite interesting.

The graveyard at the Unitarian Church. 

What makes it interesting, in addition to the normal interest that an historic  graveyard holds, is that most of it is overgrown.  The sight initially seems disrespectful, but upon reflection, I can see that a total overhaul and landscaping effort would disturb the crowded gravesites and probably upend and uproot things to a disturbing degree. The effect is, I imagine purposeful: this is life and death, effortlessly intertwined.   I’ll go back sometime, definitely.

— 7 —

 

Also…Lent!  A month from Sunday!

Time to order your parish/school materials – even if you want to order some for a group of friends or a class…here you go!

A Stations of the Cross for teens:

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Biblical Way of the Cross for everyone:

For Ave Maria press, we wrote John Paul II’s Biblical Way of the Cross. The current edition is illustrated with paintings by Michael O’Brien.

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There’s also a digital edition in app form.

Reconciled to God – a daily devotional. Also available in an e-book format. Only .99.

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Looking for a book study for a group? How about Matthew 26-28: Jesus’ Life-Giving Death from Loyola. 

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— 1 —

A sort of busy couple of weeks.  With more to come.  I just realized I never did a 7 QT last week…so..

— 2 —

I did manage a “Learning Notes” which included information about the homeschool rock-climbing and Asian art workshop in which we participated. You can read about it here. 
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I just love the colors of these mushrooms. And the little cap they’ve broken through visible on the ground.

— 3—

On Sunday, we took a drive a little west and south – between here and Tuscaloosa – to a place called Perry Lakes Park. It’s on the Cahaba River (which is long and winding – look it up!), has nature trails, a former fire tower transformed into a bird-watching tower, and a little bit of a beach.

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Our opportunities for travel – even locally – are pretty limited these days, so I am determined to squeeze what I can out of every nice day and free afternoon. As we walked out the door, some water issues related to the basement bathroom were pointed out to me.  I teetered for a moment, cursed the fates, decided it would (obviously) still be there in four hours…and moved out and onward….

— 4 —

A couple of interesting local Catholic-y things.

First, a tiny, historic parish not far from where we live has strong ministries for the local neighborhood, especially for children. We are going to be involved in this fabulous after school reading room – you can read about it on the pastor’s blog here, and if you are able, to help out a bit with the final expenses? Maybe?

This same outcome is what we want for the youth who live near my smaller parish, Holy Rosary. They live in one of the most afflicted neighborhoods of Birmingham, Alabama. The public schools in the area have not always had the highest ratings. We have encountered children who – even in third or fourth grade, and receiving decent grades on their report cards – had extremely low or nearly non-existent levels of literacy. These children often come from irregular family situations and poverty. Some have never really been read to. And in the face of this, our local situation, we want to make a difference.

Thus, thanks to the inspiration of a certain special lady and the great help of many parishioners, friends, and other members of our community, we have started a new apostolate, the St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Learning Center – named for the first canonized American-born saint and founder of Catholic schools in our country, who also had a religious order that served the poor. The Center just opened this past week. It consists of two rooms and a bathroom in an existing building on our campus, which we renovated so that the youth will have a good place to do homework and read. And there are no concrete block walls or harvest gold drapes. Much to the contrary. Take a look:

— 5 —

Birmingham is a diocesan see, and JUST LIKE St. Patrick’s in NYC, our cathedral has undergone an important and beautiful restoration over the past years.  In the process, some of the crosses on the roof were removed or replaced. A local photographer got the idea for a project using those crosses:

Having overlooked the city of Birmingham, AL for the past 120 years, the crosses that once adorned The Cathedral of St. Paul have hit the streets to view firsthand the city that they have watched change over the past century.

aCROSS BIRMINGHAM is a book of photographs of the crosses around their city.

All proceeds support The Cathedral of St. Paul.

You can see some of the photos here. 

Courtesy aCross Birmingham Facebook page. 

They are set up at the big downtown art festival this weekend, and do you know what that is?

(Okay, besides a fundraiser)

Evangelization. 

— 6 —

Later in the week, some rock scrambling. Here.

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"amy welborn"

We’re still at the very beginnings of the biology study, so after mold comes algae and lichen…so that all was found and discussed….

— 7 —

Last weekend, we watched The Lavender Hill Mob. The boys enjoyed it. Pro tip for getting a kid to watch an older film, if he or she is not so inclined. Tell them Obi-Wan Kenobi is in it. They’re all in at that point.

Speaking of which – this was depressing. To me.

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An entire Star Wars  section? Really? I guess so. One more reason to go to Target by myself…..

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…just returned from a few days in Charleston. I’m going to throw this post up as a warm-up for finishing  the Living Faith devotions I have due…soon.  Ahem.

Beach days every day.  Just as in Florida, it’s wise to go in the morning, because you can predict that rain is probably going to fall in the afternoon, and indeed, on two of our three days it did. Babysitting for my grandson every afternoon and evening.  A good visit!

But first, on the way down…I had thought we would stop at Mepkin Abbey, but once Friday morning came around (we stayed Thursday night in Santee…cheap Best Western hotel, thanks to our many nights in Best Westerns…out West), I decided that a visit to a swamp would get people up and going with more enthusiasm than a visit to a Trappist monastery.

Next time….

It was the Four Holes Swamp in the Beidler Forest.  It’s just a quick jot off of I-26.  Very easy to get to, and a good walk to see many cypress, birds, lizards (my son caught one and was…er..privileged to have it reach around and bite its own tail off as an escape route while in his hand) and this fellow, whom we watched swim and hunt for quite a while…from a safe distance on a wooden walkway.

Didn’t see any gators this time, although they told me inside there were a couple in the lake.

Two mornings at Isle of Palms.  It’s a pretty crowded beach, but clean, with good showers, changing rooms and so on. Good surf. (That’s it, above)

The third morning, we went to Sullivan’s Island, which is a much nicer beach – a bit more isolated and not as crowded.  It doesn’t have facilities, though, but since the surf was calm that day, no one got super sandy, and the ride back in the car to the hotel was quick enough so no one got uncomfortable and the car didn’t get filthy (-er).

Sullivan’s Island is right across the bay from Charleston.  You can see Fort Sumter and Charleston when you walk to the end of this stretch of beach.  And of course, this is also a regular sight…..

Many deceased jellyfish on this stretch.

Metal-hunter wading in the water behind my son. 

A live sand dollar, burrowing into the sand.

Our other good wildlife sighting was a glass, or legless lizard.  It was in the middle of the road as we walked to Sullivan’s Island, and at first glance, we thought it was a snake, but my Herpetologist took a closer look and pronounced in a legless lizard, and when we returned and compared a photo to our memory of what we’d seen…yup, that’s what it was.

(Edgar Allen Poe spent a little more than a year of his life on Sullivan’s Island.  Read why here.)

Last night, I went out and walked part of the way over the Ravenal Bridge.  I intended to go out this morning and walk the whole thing, but didn’t get up early enough.  Next time, along with the Abbey.

Mass at the Cathedral Sunday morning.  I had wanted to go by the Emanuel AME Church and pay our respects, but of course it would have been impossible to go down there on Friday, and there were funerals through the weekend, so that’s another next time, for certain.

On the way back, we made a quick stop and visited the ever-gracious Rachel Balducci – the boys took a basketball break with her boys and since part of our conversation involved the number that social media has done on our writing brains, it’s appropriate that there’s no Bloggish, Instagrammic, Twitterish or Facebook evidence of the meeting, but trust me…it happened.  Even if the Internet Forest isn’t listening, a tree does fall….

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— 1 —

These will be super quick and probably super non-informative.  But here we are.

— 2 —

Another quick trip to Charleston, to give family members a hand during a move.  Because of the babysitting involved as well as rain all day Thursday we unfortunately didn’t make it to the beach.  But we did revisit the aquarium and Shem Creek Park.  Oh, and  walked around the Citadel, a walk during which I thought of two things:

1) House of Cards.

2) My previous visit there – I spoke at the chapel back in DVC days. Mike took Joseph to a baseball game  during my talk and reported afterwards that Darius Rucker had sung the national anthem and we thought funny things like that would happen forever.

Weird and  a bit sad -and I think f*** it and thank you and oh well and everybody dies and help me do this well and even better and someday  and it  just is what it is.

Michael caught (briefly) a toad and a small snake.   Not at the Citadel but at other places. In one of our downtown wanderings, I discovered that downtown Charleston now has a Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream shop – when I want to make ice cream, but don’t feel like doing a custard base, I fall back on Jeni’s recipe (egg free), which is very good.  The shop is GREAT, with an emphasis on very grown up flavors, which I really enjoy.

— 3 —

It used to be that after time away, I spent the last five minutes of the approach home wondering/worrying whether or not my house had been broken into while I was away. Now I spend the last five minutes wondering whether my house has been broken into and if the snake is still alive.

(Answer from tonight: house safe, snake still alive. And had shed while we were gone, which is what I thought was going on the last few days before we left when he wouldn’t come out of his little cave….)

— 4 —

Life with my 9-year old:

This child on the drive home, randomly, at random times:

1. “Jiro dreams of sush! Jiro dreams of sushi!” Followed by numerous quotes from the movie, which he and I had watched some months ago.  I mean…months.

2. “Mom, what’s the place where they study to be priests?”
“A seminary.”
“Right. And what’s the seminary we visited in Chicago?”
“Mundelein.” (this was in March, btw)
“Do you remember the young guy who was there, the guy with black hair who was like in his twenties?”
“Brandon?”
(Brandon Vogt, of course)
“Yeah, him! Well, I wish I had his voice.”

And I have no idea why he finds Brandon’s voice so…estimable!

So…that’s life in the car with this kid. Never a dull trip.

— 5 —

Including breakfast at Denny’s, studying up on his Mayan.

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Do you think I’m kidding when I’m saying that I’m researching “Learn Mayan” books for him for this “school year”?

Not kidding.

UNSCHOOLING, BABY!

— 6 —

Here is me with my BBC radio podcast recommendations.  This week, it’s this:  “Educating Isaac.”  As a person interested in both education and music, I found this program quite fascinating and even moving.  The presenter is a pianist and music scholar who takes on the current dominant paradigm of music training, which is essentially about being able to duplicate and imitate.  He wonders if there is another way and finds it in the 17th and 18th century Naples conservatories.

And here is where your (okay, my) Catholic and historiographical interests kick in.  For part of what the presenter takes on is the paradigm of music history that highlights the mostly German tradition while completely ignoring the Catholic Italian tradition of music education, formation and composition which, he says, was even understood at the time as being superior.  Today we think of the “conservatory” as being a facility for training musicians, but in actuality the term is rooted in institutions that, yes, were about music training, but that were started and run by the Church as a means of “conserving” the lives of orphans and other very poor children via music.

I’m telling you – listen to this program. 

— 7 —

One Last Travel Blast coming this week – my older at-home kid is going back to school (for positive reasons, but still…school…forms..papers…uniforms..blah…) so our days of free n’ easy travel are about to come to an end …for at least the next nine months.  So stay tuned here and on Instagram to keep up with this last trip….

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