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We’ve arrived at the point in our household at which if no older siblings are available, I let the boys (who are ages almost 10 and 13) go to the movies by themselves.   It will not surprise you to know that I obsessively research a movie before they’re allowed to see it, so I feel very comfortable about it.  I’m around during the showing, just down the mall row at Barnes and Noble, and I get back to the theater well before the movie ends. This doesn’t happen very often since most movies are awful, but rarely, it does.

That’s a preamble to telling you about last night.  They’ve been wanting to see Guardians of the Galaxy, and considering the raves I’ve been reading, I wasn’t against it.  It was quite rainy here last night, so it seemed like a good time to take in a flick.  I was going to let them go by themselves, but do you know what?  Something nagged inside, telling me…not this time.   It’s not that I wanted to go.   I have no truck with comic book/superhero movies – they bore the heck out of me, no matter how psychologically deep they attempt to be.  In fact, the more attempted psychological depth, the duller it is.   But, you know, popcorn.  And that nagging sense.

And boy am I glad I did.  First of all, I’m glad I can, you know, enter knowledgeably into this cultural conversation.  Secondly, I would hate to have had my boys sit through the opening scene of this movie without me.

Because do you know how the adventurous hijinks begin?  Cold open – no credits, just a date (1988):  With a kid watching his mother die.

Okay, so it’s essential to the arc.  No problem.  That’s real.  But I was just…surprised.  And glad I listened to the voice that gently insisted I be there with the boys. And if you are taking younger children, you might what to know that.  The movie starts with a young boy watching his mother die and shrinking back from her outreached hand.

But. There are other problems with this movie that hardly anyone is mentioning.  There’s a surprising amount of vulgarity.  Several “sh**” – includiIng one at a climactic – what I would call “quotable” moment.  I don’t mind it so much, in small doses, in offhand ways, but at moments like this, when a character is making a big speech and the vulgarity is part of what might be a catch phrase..not so much.

There’s an extended riff on to what extent someone is a “dick.”  Really.  At one point, a character goes, “What the …” and you know the rest – how his teeth reach out to the lower lip for the beginning of the “f” sound.  I really have to wonder…what kind of idiots who are also adults sit around and think, “HARDY HAR HAR…LET’S HAVE THE GUY ALMOST  SAY F***!”  HILARIOUS!”

Wut?

I’m no prude.  I say all those words in real life (not in front of the kids, though).  Well, maybe not “dick” because why?  But I’m not keen on them being used in movies marketed to kids.

Nor am I keen on the exhausting violence.  Yes, it’s cartoonish, in a way.  But it really is deadening, exhausting and stupid in the end – this constant assault of CGI creatures screaming, rolling, blasting and slicing each other, mostly for the sake of the 3D version.  (Felt the same way about Hobbit 2 – it was an assault.  Not just of the two parties on screen on each other, but on me. An assault, I tell you!  Relentless and deadening.)

And, yes, oh, it had a point.  There was a bit of self-sacrifice at two junctures, which was good and even a bit moving to behold, but other than that?

Really?  You got into the late 70’s and 80’s soundtrack?  As if you didn’t grasp the direct appeal to the demographic that is in its late 30’s and might have early tween kids?

Sorry for the dissent, bu  once again, I’m left marveling at the resources – millions of dollars and human creative energies – spent on something that was really not great, was obviously exploitative in the way most contemporary entertainment is  and that a day later, my kids aren’t quoting or referencing at all….it came, it brawled, it cussed, it moved on….

 

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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.

"amy welborn"

 

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….

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

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As you know, last week, I went up to New York City. 

The boys were down in Florida. So for a few days, Rocky was alone.  This is okay, and actually one of the reasons why, after years (decades) of being hounded about a pet, I finally gave in to this particular animal.  You can leave him and not have to pay people to take care of him.

So I returned from NYC  early afternoon on Friday, and Rocky was, indeed, still alive.  Go, Rocky. Later that evening, I changed his water, said good-night and went to bed. I had Saturday to do things and then would be heading down to get the boys on Sunday.

Saturday morning, I got out of bed, got ready to go exercise,  peaked in the front room to check on the snake…and saw….the door to his cage opened wide.

Rocky had had enough, apparently, and run away.

What happened?  I must have been careless and not secured the latch properly, and in his nighttime strolls around his tank, Rocky made the tremendous discovery of a loose door and naturally made the most of it.

So yes, I panicked.

I didn’t care two hoots about a snake around the house.  I’ve learned over the past weeks that these ball pythons are gentle creatures who don’t do much more than slide, wrap themselves around your arm, and stare.

No, what upset me was the prospect of telling Rocky’s 9-year old owner the next day that his PET WAS MISSING AND IT WAS MY FAULT.

I mean, the second part of that is bad as is the Worst Mother 2014 award, but of course, not nearly as awful as the first.  The thought of the sadness upon receiving this news was just too much.

So I took a quick look, foolishly hoping that would do the trick.  He’d just turn up or come when I called.

They are called “ball” pythons because they like to, well, curl up in balls.  During the day, or when stressed, they get in a dark, warm place and wrap themselves up to stay.  So, sez The Internet, when your ball python escapes, look behind books and bookcases, in drawers, in clothes baskets…all of which I did for a while.

I don’t have a cluttered house and really, when it comes to the main level, the hiding places are limited.  What I was worried about was the prospect of Rocky traveling down into the basement, which is finished , with two large rooms and a double garage.  That’s not too cluttered either, but there I do have one room with quite a few large plastic bins stacked up, and I thought…well, I’m going to have to move them all.   I was also concerned that if he got down there, he would find a way outside, and then the game would really be up.

So I was peaking and moving, sort of randomly, increasingly sick as I imagined the conversation the next day and Michael’s tears.  Then I decided, I’m going to stop imagining that conversation because that conversation is NOT going to happen because I am GOING TO FIND THE SNAKE.   I had almost 24 hours.   I was GOING  TO FIND THE SNAKE.

It was time to get methodical.  I needed to clean house anyway.  I started in the front room, where the tank is, and which also happens to be the school room.  I removed the books from every bookshelf, dusted, and returned the books, shoving them all the way back so that if did find his way there, he couldn’t get behind them and I wouldn’t have to repeat the process.  I moved said bookshelves, took out every cushion, cleaned out the art materials.

No snake.

Move on to the dining room, which has hardly any hiding places, then the boys’ rooms, which have more, the bathrooms and the living room.  No snake.  I was feeling sick again and by that time convinced he had gone downstairs.  I returned to The Internet which assured me that these snakes rarely go further than 10-15 feet from their enclosure when they escape.  Okay.  Maybe he wouldn’t have gone downstairs.  Time to search the kitchen.

Again, not too many places for Rocky there.  All the cabinet doors had been closed.  There is one small bookcase which I searched, cleaned and moved.  One small cube-storage unit.  Same procedure.  No snake.  Scooch out the refrigerator, which stands across a corner.  No snake in the corner. Bend down, peek into the exposed innards of the fridge.

SNAKE! SNAKE! SNAKESNAKESNAKESNAKE!

I poked him. He moved.

SNAKE THAT ISN’T DEAD!

Do you know how happy I was?  Any clue?

In retrospect, that was actually the first place I should have looked, because all of the ‘HELP MY SNAKE ESCAPED discussions seem to lead off with “behind and inside the fridge” as a popular python destination.

Now my challenge was to get him out.  I hadn’t moved the refrigerator far enough to actually get my whole body back there, and the way he was positioned, I was afraid that if I did move it, he would be crushed.  So I did my best to reach him, but, naturally, he reacted by….slithering in the other direction, completely out of sight.  I had no idea where he’d gone – I couldn’t see any glint of his body, I couldn’t discern any opening…for a while I was afraid he’d found a way into the refrigerator or freezer from behind and was freezing to death, but then I reasoned that he wouldn’t move toward cold.

Well, at least I knew where he was.   It was late afternoon and I needed to go to Mass, and I could actually go with a bit lighter heart, knowing the snake wasn’t on the loose downstairs or, even worse, outside. I closed off the kitchen and went off, so relieved.

When I returned (a little more than 12 hours to go in this operation! We can do this! ), I looked, but still couldn’t see him, nor could I for most of the evening, as I periodically tried to search him out.  Here was the thing:  I knew at night he would come out…if he was alive.  I was just afraid that he wasn’t, you know, alive.  That I had, indeed squished him, or that he had frozen to death.   So instead of having the “Rocky escaped and it’s my fault and I’m SO sorry” conversation, I would have the “Rocky might be stuck and/or dead somewhere in the refrigerator” conversation.

But then, around 11…glory be.  Amid the dusty metal and tubing, a beautiful pattern of tan and black.  Still in those innards, but in a different spot than before, and moving..clearly readying himself for his nocturnal prowling.

In other words: Not dead.

So it was time do to what they tell you to do when you’ve got the snake cornered, but you can’t reach him.

You wait.

With one door to the kitchen closed, and the other blocked with some posterboard, I put out his water dish in the middle of the floor,  turned out the lights in the kitchen, pulled up my chair just beyond the barricade, took out my Kindle, and did just that.

It only took about fifteen minutes.  I glanced up, and there he was, stretched out in all his Rockyish glory, gliding across the floor.

never imagined I would be elated to see a snake on my kitchen floor.

No, I wouldn’t have to have that conversation.

Sorry Rocky,  Independence Day is over.   I picked him up, put him in the tank , closed and latched the door…

… with a particularly hefty hole punch on top of it.  Just in case someone got any ideas.

"amy welborn"

Sorry, Rocky. This is where you live now, not in the refrigerator.

 

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— 1 —

Almost back from NYC – perhaps by the time you read this, I will be safely back in Alabama.

Speaking of Alabama, it occurred to me today in walking around Manhattan that, even taking it proportionally, the number of men I’ve seen walking around shirtless in the middle of Alabama towns pales to the number I’ve seen in Manhattan. Today.

— 2 —

I would post a map of my walking over the past three days, but it would be nothing but a blur of blue lines over a map of the island.  I try to walk five miles a day back home for part of my exercise, and I don’t think I’ve failed to meet my quota this week.

— 3 —

The boys haven’t been with me. They have been with their Florida family.  I have been of two minds about this all week.  It’s been pleasant to be able to eat what I want without concerns about the more selective palates of other members of my family, and it’s also been good to just..wander on my own. Not going to lie about that.

But I realized early on that I missed them.  Not only did I miss them just because I missed them, but I guess I am so deep in my Travel Guide/Educator/Facilitator mode at this point in my life that I actually found it a bit difficult to adapt to solo sightseeing.  What is there to see when I don’t have someone else to show things to? It was quite revealing to me, and gave me much to think about regarding my own instincts and motivations.  I need very much to see life on my own, but also to tell others about it and help them see as well…and then more time alone to process it all.  Then it’s a complete experience.

— 4 —

Museum highlights:

The New York Historical Society. Interesting exhibits all around, but of special interest is their Bemelmans/Madeline exhibit – very sweet, in one respect, and inspiring in another.  I love to learn about the creative process, whether the creators be artists, writers, scientists or builders.  I find the dynamic of inspiration and creativity endlessly fascinating.  The exhibit on the European-born but ultimately New York-based Bemelmans took three rooms in the museum, with a generous selection of original artwork, manuscripts and some of his earlier work, and much about his life in New York – most of which concerned hotels for one reason or another.  As a person who grew up with Madeline and who has read it aloud so many times over the past thirty years that she has most of the first book memorized, this was a lovely treat.

Related – the New York Pubic Library’s exhibit on children’s books.  Well done with some omissions.  Of course, not a religiously-oriented book in sight (lest you think I’m being picky, they did feature various educational books for children, and what books have educated more children up to the 20th century that religious, mostly Bible-related books?) and, I realized after I left, no mention of N. C. Wyeth.  I responded to myself that, well, this mostly about picture books, and Wyeth illustrated mostly novels for older children and teens,  but I have to say that there was one wall – pictured below – dedicated to Edward Stratemeyer, the originator of the syndicate that produced the vast majority of super popular series books for children and teens from Nancy Drew to Tom Swift – look at the number of series (each square represents one).

So..yes..I think Wyeth should have been given a case!

"amy welborn"

http://www.nypl.org/

"amy welborn"

 

Finally, the Museum at Eldridge Street – a gorgeous Orthodox synagogue built in 1886, essentially abandoned by the 1950’s, rediscovered in the 1970’s and restored over the past twenty years.  It’s so deep in Chinatown that I kept walking and walking, convinced that Google Maps had done me wrong once again – but then there it was, standing tall between the noodle shops and foot massage services.  I was led on a mostly individualized tour by a sweet intern named Luna, who adjusted her talk down a notch when she learned I wasn’t Jewish, explaining to me what the Torah was, and such.  That was okay – I appreciated her enthusiasm.

She emphasized over and over again the poverty of most of the congregants who contributed to build this lovely place of worship and community – that it was an expression, not only of their devotion to the Lord, but also of their own strength and sense of community, as they worked hard to construct something beautiful and lasting.

"amy welborn"

 

"amy welborn"

One corner is left unfinished, not only to show the restoration process, but also as a reminder of the Temple.

 

"amy welborn"

The bimah, from which the Torah is read, faces the Ark, which holds the Torah scrolls. Faces east.

— 5 —

Speaking of such things, I made a particular effort to visit all three of the churches in the current controversy involving potential closures of certain NYC parishes: Holy Innocents, St. Francis and St. Michael’s.  I was at Holy Innocents Tuesday evening during Adoration, then today during the noon Mass, St. Francis yesterday and St. Michael’s today.  More on that tomorrow, when I’m not quite so tired.

"amy welborn"

St. Michael’s on 34th.

— 6 —

Also Old St. Patrick’s today:

"amy welborn"

 

"amy welborn"

 

"amy welborn"

— 7 —

Food:

Lunch Tuesday: Tapas at Boqueria

Dinner Tuesday: Hospitality hour at my hotel – they are working really hard because they just opened, and it was substantial!

Lunch Wednesday: Grazing at Broadway Bites: Arancini, Empanadas and summer rolls.

Dinner Wednesday: Gennaro’s

Breakfast Thursday: Pain au Raisin from Eric Kayser.  Eric Kayser is one of the more chi-chi bakeries in Paris.  I only went to one once, just to try the bread, which was said to be THE BEST – it was fine, but I was content to stick with one of the three normal, not-chi-chi but truly excellent bakeries on my block when we were in Paris.  BUT – I do adore Pain au Raisin – it was my favorite pastry during that month.  So of course, when I saw that Kayser had crossed the Atlantic, I had to go – and yes, it was just the same, and was wonderful.

Lunch Thursday: Fantastic Falafel at Taim, consumed a park across the street from the tiny restaurant, a park where children played on the climbing bars and in the water spraying from the ground, where a crew of old men played dominoes, where another man slept on a bench and a young woman, seated and wrapped in a proper salon cape, was getting her hair cut and styled by another young woman there under the trees.  An excellent slice of life. I thought, “Why don’t I live here?” But then I thought, “Because it costs a zillion dollars and they have winter.”

Thursday gelato – at the famed and trendy il laboratorio di gelato. It was nice, but nothing spectacular.  In particular the rosemary was so subtle as to be almost undetectable.  Yes, you would have to be careful, but I once made a rosemary lemon sorbet that was a knockout, with the rosemary coming through loud and clear, but still softly.

Dinner Thursday: Cafe Sabarsky with Ann.  \We did not see Yoko Ono, whom Ann had seen there at a previous visit a couple of months ago..

And after dinner, a stroll down Madison down to the Hotel Carlyle with, appropriately enough, a drink in the Bemelmans Bar – a charming (and expensive) place – the walls all painted by Bemelmans himself. It was really the perfect way to wind up the week.

One more food related take: One of the oddest things I saw over the past few days was today in Chinatown.   A woman at an outdoor food market was crouched in front of a tub of water, which was in turn, teeming with live eels.  Her purse and shopping bag next to her, she had a plastic bag sheathing her hand, with which she was reaching into the bin of eels.  She worked for several minutes, but in the time I stood there watching her – probably about five – she could never actually get one.  I thought at first she was simply being selective and trying to find the eel that was just right, but I don’t think that’s what it was – she just couldn’t grab one, proving that “slippery as an eel” is more than a metaphor.

 

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

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So I saw the newest instagram #hashtage craze in action tonight – #StagedoorSelfie!

According to this article, it’s Daniel Radcliffe’s fault – you know, Harry Potter, now starring in The Cripple of Inishmaan

I haven’t actually seen the play (yet). I thought about going to the matinee today, but when decision time rolled around, I was enjoying wandering too much to go sit inside a theater for two hours.   I might go tomorrow night…not sure.  Probably not – I’m not that interested in it.

Nonetheless, this evening, after a great dinner with Ann Engelhart at Genarro’s up on the way upper West Side –

"amy welborn"

 

"amy welborn"

I had to have the fava bean salad, because I’ve never had fava beans and they are iconic and some people are fanatics about them…excellent.  A vegetable risotto as well. 

And after shooting by Grant’s Tomb and the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, she dropped me off at my hotel, but it was just ten o’clock, so time for some more wandering.  I decided to hit a couple of stage door crowds just for the sake of observing the scene, which is always interesting to me.

(Years ago, when I brought my daughter up, she had lovely encounters with Geoffrey Rush after Exit the King and Bill Irwin after Waiting for Godot.  John Goodman, also in Godot, wasn’t as nice, and very quickly strolling off with Tim Robbins, who was around for some reason – I think he or Susan Sarandon was in another show nearby.)

First up was Inishmaan.  The 99.9% young female crowd was supervised by a very patient police officer. About twenty minutes after the show ended, the squeals rose up, and out popped Radcliffe, all smiles – and although I knew this beforehand, I’ll just say it….he’s tiny.  The Internets says he’s 5’5″, but I dunno….

 

stagedoorselfie

The crowd gathers

 

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That’s Radcliffe there in the middle…the short one…

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Blurrily doing the stadoorselfie thing

 

 

As the article I linked above relates, he takes a long time with fans – and he did.  I started across the street from the crowd, but moved over eventually, hoping for a slightly better view, which I never got, considering he’s short and I’m short and the layers of taller girls on tip-toes holding up phones between us.  But I did watch him very cheerfully take all those selfies – with unflagging energy and a big smile.   He didn’t greet everyone – maybe about a third of the crowd.

(I saw this little girl and her mom running across the street after this moment – ecstatic – it was cute.)

Next, I walked down a couple of blocks to the St. James, where Of Mice and Men had just let out.  I was actually a little more interested in seeing Chris O’Dowd than the very odd James Franco, but apparently O’Dowd comes out first, and I’d missed him.  Waited just a bit, and Franco came out also to squeals, maybe not as high-pitched as I’d heard earlier.  He worked the line a little differently – while Radcliffe’s crowd had been aligned on two sides, this one was just on one – the cop there said, “He doesn’t like anyone behind him.  He’s claustrophobic.”   He signed autographs, posed, but did the selfie thing in groups – he repeatedly told people, “Everyone turn around, turn your back to me” – and he’d stand there in his shades while about 5 people took selfies with him at the same time.  It was interesting to watch.

"amy welborn"

 

"amy welborn"

 

 

 

More on the rest of the day (oh, and yesterday, I guess!) tomorrow morning, I hope.  Some of it’s on Instagram…

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Memphis was our final stop last week.  Once again, is was one of those places I’d been to before, briefly, but the boys had only driven through.  And all I’d seen was a quick walk through down Beale Street and Graceland (Yes, I’ve been to Graceland, Graceland, Memphis, Tennessee).

Stayed in a great Residence Inn downtown – Residence Inn has several properties in older hotels or apartment buildings (like this one in midtown Atlanta which I like a lot – big apartments) that are quite spacious – even more so than the usual Residence Inn.  After three days of staying in the same room with them and sharing a bed with the youngest, I was ready for space, especially since I had a Living Faith devotional due the next day and really needed a closed door behind me to focus on that.

(It worked! Got it done! Met the deadline! While traveling!)

"amy welborn"

View from the hotel – Mississippi River down the street

Wednesday night, we walked down to Beale Street, which was something else – there was some kind of motorcycle convocation going on, which added to the cacophony, but I think it’s always fairly crazy at night – I wouldn’t have kids there after nine, definitely.  It’s like people are trying to get their entire New Orleans jam on right there on one street instead of spread out through the Quarter.

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Beale Street, the calm part.

Ate dinner at the Blues City Cafe which was decent.

(The thing about going to BBQ restaurants is that they’re quick, since most of the food is already prepared – good for traveling with kids. If they’ll actually eat the food, that is.)

Thursday morning we:

 

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Memphis on the Big Muddy

 

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Finally reached the Gulf

 

Took the monorail over to Mud River Park and walked the 1/2 mile long scale model of the Mississippi River.  Very interesting and well-done.  A good thing for them to experience and learn from. The museum, while being a little dated in its 70’s-80’s design and feel, is surprisingly good.

Retrieved our stuff and our car, then started back home.  With stops at:

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Lorraine Motel, site of Marin Luther King Junior’s assassination

The Lorraine Motel/Civil Rights Museum.  We didn’t go in.  Honestly – we have been to three important Civil Rights-related museums the past months – in Birmingham, Montgomery and Atlanta – so right now, at this time, with home looming on the horizon…just coming to the site of MLK’s assassination, and reading the material outside was enough.  Maybe another time:

"amy welborn"

Lunch across the street at Central BBQ.  Good, probably not the best – not sure if it’s classic Memphis BBQ or not.

Quick drive down to Graceland – we didn’t get out of the car, but I was curious, as ever, to do even some quick people watching around the site.

"amy welborn"

Imagine there’s no Elvis….

And have conversations about idols and reverencing and real saints.

Super quick drive-by of Elvis’ birthplace in Tupelo – had never seen it myself.  It’s tiny.

"amy welborn"

Elvis birthplace in Tupelo

Then back through miles and miles of gorgeous, undeveloped rolling hills of northwest Alabama.

And now…good morning?

"amy welborn"

 

(Not Birmingham. Follow me on Twitter or Instagram to see more!)

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— 1 —

That trip is done – we returned home about 6 this evening, relieved to see that Rocky was still with us.

"amy welborn"

No, he wasn’t left loose while we were gone. He’s just chillaxin in his freedom.

(When you watch videos related to “my snake won’t eat” as I have been doing lately, you see how many snake owners keep their ball pythons in nothing more than Sterilite plastic drawers with torn up National Enquirers for bedding, so you think, “Well, maybe I shouldn’t worry…”  But you still do.  Because he’s growing on you and you have NO BLOODY IDEA what you’re doing.)

(Speaking of snakes, my exercise podcast this evening was almost a parody of BBC earnestness, which is like NPR earnestness but far more charming and far less pompous.  It involved a woman accompanying a herpetologist who was going to show her adders that live in Scotland.  So they tramp about the moors or what have you looking for the adders – which he knows are here because this is where they live – but without seeing them.  It’s fifteen minutes of two Brits, in hushed tones, breathlessly talking about how lovely the adders will be when they finally come out.  It was, indeed….breathtaking. But perhaps not in the way they intended…)

(Yes, they finally saw an adder, but the buildup was something else.)

— 2 —

We last left the merry party in St. Louis.  The next day found them till in St. Louis, at the City Museum:

"amy welborn"

 

For those of you who don’t know about it, the City Museum is an extravagant, lush, stimulating play space that encourages exploration and daring.  The place is full of tunnels and mazes, and chances to (safely) climb to great heights.

If you are within five hours of this place…it’s totally worth it.  Your kids will thank you, love you and be super grateful.  For five minutes before they resent you again.

I knew we would spend a good deal of time there on Tuesday….I didn’t anticipate it being all day – from just past opening to almost closing time.

"amy welborn"

"amy welborn"

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Yes, you can climb in the planes.

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Very Gaudi-esque, I thought.

 

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Even the aquarium is quirky.

— 3 —

After we left the City Museum, we stopped at the St. Louis Science Center, just blocks from our hotel, and advertised as free.  We’ll go for free, especially if we just have an hour to kill before that closes.

Well…yes…free admission…but with a $15 parking fee.

Oh, well.  We’re on vacation.   We took it in anyway, and at that point, an hour was just about right. As far as those damn places go, it seemed okay.   They played around with some structures, but what amazed me was the fact that they spent probably 20 minutes on math puzzles.  I mean, they’re both sort of mathy – but I didn’t think they were that mathy.

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Finally.

"amy welborn"

"amy welborn"

— 4 —

The next day, we hit the zoo, also “free.” Yes…”free” because of yet another $15 parking fee. (You could park on the road in Forest Park of course…but then you’d have to walk a mile by the time we got there…..). The St. Louis Zoo also has several attractions that cost money – a stingray petting tank, the children’s zoo…so “free” goes out the window pretty quickly.   (We didn’t do any of that stuff, anyway.)

It was a good zoo, albeit with a confusing layout.  The highlights for us were hippos, one o which slipped in the water and spent several minutes masticating a fish, without much success, as well as the reptiles.  Of course.

(I learned that Marlin Perkins – he of MUTUAL OF OMAHA’S WILD KINGDOM! fame had been director of herpetology at the zoo back in the ’20’s.  They had a huge python that refused to eat, so they had to force feed it, and they did so publicly, drawing thousands to the spectacles.  

That story gave me an odd sort of hope for our Rocky, who has yet to eat for us….)

The Herp building was old, classic and gorgeous.

9-year old Michael, the animal lover in our group, did remark on the way to the zoo, though, “You know…now don’t think I don’t want to go because I’m saying this, but sometimes..well, sometimes I feel sorry for the animals in the zoo.  They say it’s good for them because it saves endangered species, but I don’t know…I still feel bad for them.”

And who can disagree?

— 5 —

In my preplanning, I’d thought we would hit the art museum after the zoo.  But then I looked at the museum’s holdings and thought…I don’t know if it would be worth it at that particularly juncture in time with this party.  So then I thought we’d do the history museum, partly so we could visit the exhibit on the 1904 fair and by doing so, do some sort of homage to our own Vulcan.   

But the zoo took longer than I’d expected, we were all a little weary and were going to be moving on to Memphis afterwards, so I made an executive decision that we needed a different sort of space before we hit the road again, and so we went to the Basilica instead:

"amy welborn"

 

— 6 —

Now, some of us have done one or all of these St. Louis sites before.  We went to St. Louis about 9 years ago – both boys were born, I know – and we went to the City Museum then, but Joseph, who would have been 4, didn’t remember any of it.

The time before that, as I mentioned in my last post, occurred when Joseph was a tiny baby and I was speaking at the St. Louis Eucharistic Congress.  The three of us were touring the Basilica, and as we reached the area behind the altar, we encountered a Cardinal.  I don’t remember who it was, but he was European, and must have been there for the Congress.  I think it must have been Schotte.   And so there we were, Mike and me with our two-month old, and the Cardinal stopped, said hello, and blessed the baby.

Yesterday, I walked behind that altar again, Joseph, now 13 at my side, and another Michael. I paused and told Joseph the story, and felt a slight twinge, but not a terrible one. Mostly I felt gratitude and hope, because if I didn’t, what was the point of being there?

"amy welborn"

 

"amy welborn"

— 7 —

Our meals improved during those last two days, thank goodness:

Lunch on Tuesday at Rosalita’s Cantina down the street from the City Museum was good, higher end Tex-Mex.  There was a statue as well as an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe on the wall at the front door, with a big plastic box affixed, inviting donations to St. Cecilia parish.   Invitation accepted!

Dinner that night was on The Hill – Anthonina’s Tavern, mostly because I told the boys they had to have toasted ravioli if they were in St. Louis.  They were doubtful (because they always are), but actually loved  and devoured it.

Wednesday lunch was the Courtesy Diner after the zoo – it’s right across the interstate – a diner experience is always fun with kids.

Wednesday night in Memphis, we walked down to Beale Street, just because that’s What You Do – there was some sort of motorcycle convocation which was interesting but deafening.  We made it quick at the Blues City Cafe which was nothing special, but nothing awful either.

Thursday lunch, also in Memphis, was at Central Barbecue, right across from the Lorraine Motel, which was kind of odd, but I guess okay…


"amy welborn"
 
 
 
(And don’t even scold me about not finding the perfect Memphis BBQ…I do what I can where I am with the people I’m with….)

More on Memphis in the next post…

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I kept wanting to write about the television series Rectify last year, but I never did, did I? I meant to because I found the program fascinating, beautiful, and spiritually suggestive in a way that is absolutely unique to television – indeed American pop culture.

The program is about Daniel Holden a man released from 19 years on death row. He had been convicted for the rape and murder of his girlfriend, but finally released because of issues with DNA evidence.

The show’s first season had only six episodes, each covering a day or so in Daniel’s first week of freedom.  It’s a meticulous rectifyexamination of his reintroduction to life outside, his family’s reintroduction to him, as well as the small town that still holds him guilty (as he well might be – we don’t know at this point.)

The tone is a combination of meditative and the grotesque – and since it’s set in a small Georgia town and has spiritual undertones, we are obliged to term that grotesque “Flannery O’Connor-esque” aren’t we?  But it’s valid here.  And be warned – there are rough points, unpleasant to watch, but they always have a point.

Spirituality is taken very seriously – conversations happen, questions are raised, and differences explored. It’s refreshing.

Last night, the show returned, this time for a ten-episode run. I don’t think I’d recommend starting fresh with this season.  Even I, who’d watched the previous season twice through, was a little confused at some points and regretted not re-watching at least the last episode of season one.   But…let’s go on:

The episode picks up where the last ended: Daniel had visited the grave of the girl he was convicted of killing, and while there, was beaten almost to death.  We find him now in the hospital in an induced coma, his mother and his sister at his side.  The episode moves between the present moment and the reactions of Daniel’s family and the townspeople to his beating and the dreams deep within Daniel’s damaged self, all of which reflect his prison time – the dehumanizing moments and the life-giving ones.

Matt Seitz has a piece on Vulture today that calls Rectify “truly Christian art.”   This is startling, coming from a website and magazine that normally has no interest in religion except the sneering kind, but the piece is good and true and the description of the show isn’t even intended ironically:

Rectify is a straightforwardly spiritually minded drama in which Southerners weave talk of the presence or absence of God into everyday conversation, along with allusions to prayer and doubt, heaven and hell, sin and redemption. Daniel’s deeply devout sister-in-law, Tawney Talbot (Adelaide Clemens), has casual conversations about God, sin, and afterlife with Daniel, and much pricklier ones with his sister Amantha (Abigail Spencer), who isn’t too big on the whole “God has a plan” thing, given all that’s happened to Daniel and their extended family. Tawney knows her husband Ted Talbot Jr. (Clayne Crawford) is growing apart from her because “we don’t pray together anymore.” This is a world that a lot of Americans live in, and yet you rarely see it depicted on TV. Here it’s portrayed without hype, and with zero condescension. 

Old and New Testament imagery are built right into the story. The first season consisted of six episodes that unfolded over six consecutive days. The season ended with Young’s character, the former death row inmate and autodidact Daniel Holden, comatose after being attacked by vigilantes; somehow McKinnon has turned “He is risen” upside down (“He has fallen”) and fused it with “On the seventh day, He rested.” Add that to all the different variations of death/birth already depicted on the series (Daniel was reborn intellectually through his studies in prison, reborn again upon his release, and then reborn yet again when evangelicals baptized him; his presence in town forces many citizens to grapple with un-Christlike revenge fantasies) and you’ve got more Christ imagery than you’d think any TV show could handle. Somehow Rectify handles it. It’s all part of the texture. It’s there if you want to latch onto it, and if you don’t, no biggie. 

Well, I would disagree with that last point – given the centrality of these themes and images, if you don’t want to “latch onto it,” you’ll miss quite a bit – going back to O’Connor – if you don’t understand that her stories are about grace and our resistance to it, then yes, it’s a biggie.

Last’s nights conversation between the devout Tawney and the doubter Amantha (and yes, she is as annoying as her name – I sometimes wonder if McKinnon gave the character this irritating name that isn’t quite right to subtly guide our reaction to her character) brings out the best of Rectify’s treatment of spiritual matters – and a weakness.

In the waiting room, Tawney tearfully wonders how God could have let this happen – she fully believes in Daniel’s innocence and seems puzzled as to why the rest of the world doesn’t agree.  My quibble with this particular articulation of theodicy is that I really don’t think any devout Christian would ask that question – “How could God let this happen” about that incident – thugs beating up a guy they thought was guilty of a terrible crime.  She might ask different questions – why can’t we see the good in others? Why do we judge? How can help others reconcile?  But I think Tawney, given her understanding of her faith, wouldn’t be tempted to blame God for the actions of others in this case.

BUT – here’s the good part.  And it was only a few words, but it expressed so much.  Amantha is the free spirit, of course, with undefined spiritual views.  We might assume she’s an atheist or at the very least agnostic.  Tawney turns to her.

“Do you believe in God, Amantha?”

Amantha stumbles over her words, waves her off, shakes her head – and perhaps we think she is going to say straight out “no” – but instead she says in aggravated resignation, “Well, I believe in evil, so…..”

And off she goes, wondering.

How very interesting. Suggestive. Who else said something like that?

My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing the universe with when I called it unjust? If the whole show was bad and senseless from A to Z, so to speak, why did I, who was supposed to be part of the show, find myself in such violent reaction against it? A man feels wet when he falls into water, because man is not a water animal: a fish would not feel wet. Of course I could have given up my idea of justice by saying it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too – for the argument depended on saying that the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my fancies. Thus in the very act of trying to prove that God did not exist – in other words, that the whole of reality was senseless – I found I was forced to assume that one part of reality – namely my idea of justice – was full of sense. Consequently atheism turns out to be too simple. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be a word without meaning.

 

 

 

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— 1 —

That kind of week….

"amy welborn"

 

"amy welborn"

 

"amy welborn"

— 2 —

Yes, we’ve been in the Charleston area all week.  Isle of Palms, to be exact.

I had never spent time here before my son and daughter-in-law relocated a couple of years ago.  (Well..not exactly true.  I did speak at The Citadel maybe 8 years ago or so….my primary memory, though, is being continually on edge while we were spending time in the Bishop’s residence, full of Old South Antiques as it was, and we having two under-6 year old boys as we did….)

I like it.

"amy welborn"

— 3 —

This past Sunday, we went to Mass at Stella Maris on Sullivan’s Island.  It’s a tiny 19th century Gothic church, located right across from Fort Moultrie.  They have scads of Masses on the weekends – the area is so heavily touristed and the church is so small, including two concurrent Masses at 9:30.

Now, please note, if you can – the church seems to be mostly in its original state, which means that this is the original altar, with no extra altar stuck in the sanctuary.

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Yes, Mass was celebrated ad orientem.  It was mostly in English (except for the Gloria in Latin), and no Propers, but with decent hymnody and some Bach from the hard-working choir and organist.  The homily was quite good, centered on the concepts of exitus and reditus as an way of talking about the Ascension and mission.

And can I repeat?  Mass was celebrated ad orientem.  The Leonine Prayers were recited after Mass.  The homily was theologically substantive and evangelical. There were no self-referential extemporaneous goings-on. The place was packed.  The congregation was attentive, reverent and vocal.

Everyone survived and the earth continued to revolve (I think).

"amy welborn"

From Fort Moultrie, Fort Sumter across the way.

 

 

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Fort Moultrie, on Sullivan’s Island

 

— 4 —

The major finds of the week have been a foot-long horseshoe crab tail, and this:

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Joseph found it on the beach, and for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out what it was.  It (the striped thing) was alive, firmly attached to the shell, but a puzzle.

So we put it in water – planted it shell side down –  and waited to see what would happen.

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Of course – a sea anemone.

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Not as gorgeous as those you find in Pacific tide pools, but exciting because It Had Been Found.  A cute pet for a few minutes, until we threw it back into the sea, hoping for the best.

(Sorry for the lousy photos.  All I had was my phone, and of course I couldn’t see anything on the screen, so I was just pointing, pressing where I thought the button was, and, once again, hoping for the best.)

— 5 —

Today, we took a journey here:

"amy welborn"

"amy welborn"

 

It is Capers Island, a barrier island.  We went on one of these tours, and it was fun – we saw lots of dolphins, learned about crab traps and oyster beds,

 

 

it was fun - we saw lots of dolphins, learned about crab traps and oyster beds, saw a huge dead horseshoe crab on the beach, and played amid this landscape. 

 

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Oysters

 

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saw a huge dead horseshoe crab on the beach, and played amid this landscape.

"amy welborn"

(Seeing the dead horseshoe can never beat the time – two years ago, I believe – when down on the gulf, a live one scuttled past us in the water – that event made that vacation THE BEST VACATION EVER for then 7-year old Michael, to be sure. )

— 6 —

I threatened to make us all get white shirts and have our photograph taken jumping on the beach, but no one took me seriously because, of course they know me, so there was no reason to even fake horror at the thought….

 

beachport

— 7 —

Beach reading?  Well, with two boys in the ocean, my eyes are pretty much glued to their bounding figures and bobbing heads, but when I can, I’ve been trying to read No Name by Wilkie Collins.  An odd thing, but it was free on Kindle, the plot sounded intriguing, the reviews were good, so 19th century beach read, here we go!

 

"amy welborn"

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"amy welborn"

 

 

Or sitting.  In the hole he’d dug, surrounded by the sand walls was steadily let drizzle from his cupped hand.  Lost in thoughts of who knows what, content.

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