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First Communion

 

Gift time. Guess what? None of the links below go to Amazon. They either go to the publisher or my bookstore. All the books are on Amazon, of course, but most should also be in your local Catholic bookstore or an online Catholic store.  Start there. And if they’re not…request them. 

I have some of these books available in my bookstore – I will ship and sign! Those I have in stock are indicated with a * . If you have any questions, contact me at amywelborn60 AT gmail. 

And yes, there is a new book forthcoming this summer – information about that should be available in a couple of weeks. Check back for more soon! 

First Communion:

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(Painting from Friendship with Jesus)

The Loyola Kids’ Book of Saints

The Loyola Kids’ Book of Heroes *

Be Saints! *

Friendship with Jesus 

Adventures in Assisi *

Bambinelli Sunday *

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Confirmation/Graduation:

Any of the Prove It books. *

The Prove It Catholic Teen Bible *

The How to Book of the Mass *

New Catholic? Inquirer?

The How to Book of the Mass

The Words We Pray *

Praying with the Pivotal Players

Mother’s Day

The Catholic Woman’s Book of Days *

End of Year Teacher/Catechist Gifts

Any of the above…..

 

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Today, we took Monday’s lessons inside to a cooler place – the really superb National Museum of Anthropology.

 

 

The museum is located, along with many other sites, in the massive Chapultepec Park, Mexico City’s Central Park, but with more museums, a bigger zoo and…vendors. Dozens and dozens, lining the paths to both the zoo and the museum (and perhaps further – we didn’t venture beyond that area). This week is school holiday week in Mexico, so the park was thronged with families, and I’m guessing that the vendor scene is a feature of weekends and holidays – it was amazing. It was standard stuff, with not a lot of variety: candy stalls, taco stalls, toy stalls, spicy snack stalls, and face painting and temporary tattoos. The vendor yelling was impressive and constant.

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So, not really like Central Park after all. One of the boys said as much: “This is sort of like Central Park, but different…”  Teachable Moment Mom asks why. They look at me. I say, “Because people in New York City don’t have kids. Mexicans still do….”

First, let me backtrack. The day began with an actual breakfast. I am not a breakfast person, but I know from experience that with travel, you never know when your next meal is going to be possible, so it’s best to fuel up if and when you can. I went out before the boys woke up, and walked around scoping out possibilities. Turns out there were two busy breakfast places right next to our apartment. I took photos of the menus outside, and returned to translate. I thought this would save time and possible disasters. It was very good, and per usual, very cheap. One kid had pancakes (came with scrambled eggs, sausages – more like hot dogs – refried beans and that tortilla salad I need to figure out), the other had mollette – which is basically toast (in this case half a sub-shaped roll) slathered with beans and cheese and a few other things – along with scrambled eggs, those hot-dog type sausages and that salad. I had an omelette with ham and cheese..with beans and that salad. What is it?! Included were drinks – the juice of the day which seemed to be mostly strawberry, coffee and tea, as well as a little dish of jello placed in front of us before we ordered. Price: 120 Pesos, or about $6.50.

I’m telling you…..I now understand why American retirees flock to this part of the world and why money transfer from Mexicans working in the US is so important. Those dollars go a long way.

Then we walked to the park (about two blocks from the apartment). Encountered the throngs of families out for the day, as well as the vendors starting to hawk their wares. Made our way to the museum  – admission , 70 pesos, about $3. It’s a stunning museum – world class, and, not surprisingly, the finest collection of MesoAmerican artifacts we’ve ever seen.

 

 

The first floor is organized around a plaza, chronologically covering the history of MesoAmerica, beginning with the earliest migrations  – we skipped that room and went straight to the pre-Classic/Teotihuacan room. The most impressive was, not surprisingly, the Aztec (or Mexica) room – I feel as if I finally have a good sense of the Aztecs.

A couple of notes on the museum:

First, the main placard in every room was in both Spanish and English, but the signage on individual pieces was in Spanish only. If I had known about that, I might have IMG_20180327_121512.jpgsearched online for some sort of guide before coming.

Secondly, while some interests in the United States might shy away from addressing the issue of human sacrifice, or downplay or even outright deny it, the Mexicans themselves don’t. The descriptions didn’t hesitate to say, “This has a cavity for collecting blood of human sacrifices” and so on.

It was fairly overwhelming and even Maya Guy was experiencing Museum Fatigue, so we skipped the second floor which is dedicated, I think, to the traditional and living crafts of indigenous peoples.

A charming scene: A man with two children about eight and ten years old, had employed a guide – an older, fellow, huge, with a big beard and a voice to match. They were Spanish-speaking, but the dynamic was still clear and quite wonderful – the children were absolutely engaged, asking all sorts of questions about each artifact, which the guide patiently – and loudly – answered.

 

I had not intended to go to the zoo but it didn’t seem as if it were that far away on foot, we were done earlier at the museum than I’d expected, so why not?

Eh. We shouldn’t have wasted our time. The zoo is free, and it shows. It seems as if the animals are mostly in the deer family – antelopes of one sort or another – and given the fact that it was mid-afternoon, of course, most of the animals were sleeping. Including this tapir, which is not dead.

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We spent about 45 minutes walking through – that was enough. We then headed up to Chapultepec Castle – you can read about it here. Short version: it was built in the 18th century for the Spanish Viceroy, then used as a military academy. It was the site of an important battle during the Mexican-American War in which the very famous and deeply revered Niños Héroes gave their lives – one leaping from the roof wrapped in the Mexican flag in order to prevent the US forces from claiming it. (modern historians say that there’s probably a lot of mythology that’s grown up around this incident, if it ever actually occurred.)   The castle is the only one in the Western Hemisphere actually ever inhabited by a real monarch – Maximilian I for those few years before he was shot.

It wasn’t fascinating, but it was a good walk up, and a good thing to experience as a part of the history of Mexico and one more thread in the very complicated weave of Mexican identity.

 

 

(Photos is of a ceiling mural depicting the boy leaping from the roof. View is from the hill, looking down Reforma towards the center. Our apartment is just on the other side of the skyscraper with the colored staircases on the right.)

We then walked to a grocery story about half a mile away – the only one even near our apartment. It was a Superama, where the search was on for 1) Pomade – Hair Guy is fully aware of the Mexican male’s mastery of his hair and was confident that if he was going to find quality hair product anywhere, this was the place  and 2) That precious commodity which is contraband in the US:  Kinder Eggs. Both were acquired.

Fun feature, seen in this photo: “Dog parking.”

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(Most interesting to me – why is it in English?)

Then we ubered back to the apartment – it would have been a mile walk, but we’d been walking all day, we needed to save time, and it was maybe two bucks.

Back for a bit of a rest, then about six, we went back out and got AMAZING tacos and the first truck we saw around the corner – bistek, pollo and el pastor. I don’t need to eat anything else while I’m here. You can just feed me those one dollar tacos loaded with quality meat, that stringy cheese and nopales and I’d be good.

Then grab an uber to….ARENA MEXICO!

Yup, we did Lucha Libre.

Nacho Libre has been playing on a loop in our house for months, with probably 50% of the conversation being made up of quotes (You are the be-est. It’s all political. I don’t believe in God – I believe in science.).

So of course when I saw that Lucha Libre happens, not only on the weekends, but on Tuesday night, I put it forward, and of course they wanted to go.

I only have twenty minutes before I need to get them up for the day (Our Lady of Guadalupe, here we come!) so I’m going to make this as fast as I can – first a rant and instructions on how to do Lucha Libre.

In prepping, I read so many blog posts and discussion board posts that said essentially: Lucha Libre is great fun but OOOOOOH be careful! It’s in a dangerous part of town, there’s scalpers and scam artists and you probably want to go with a tour, and not venture to accomplish on your own.

Balderdash. Stupid. Ridiculous.

Here’s what we did: We got an Uber, rode the mile to the Arena Mexico, got out, stood at the box office in a line that was to my eyes and ears, about 75% non-Mexican tourists, got our tickets (140 pesos apiece – about $7), walked around the block looking at the vendors, went to the gate where we were lightly searched (women by female security gaurds), then escorted to our seats. Watched the show, left two hours later – hopped in one of the many waiting taxis outside, and rode home.

Honestly, so much that’s out there about going to Lucha Libre makes it sound like you’re taking your life into your own hands and venturing to an underground cockfighting match. If you are arriving at this blog post wondering, in fear, “Can I do this without a guide or tour?” Of course you can. And you won’t be alone. It’s a very, very popular tourist thing to do – Joseph recognized a group that had been right ahead of us climbing the Pyramid of the Sun yesterday at Teotihuacan.

One more note about process: Sometimes when venturing into entertainment events in other countries, we might indeed get confused – what do I do? Where do I sit? No worries about that here. After you are searched, your ticket is scanned by one man. Then you take two steps, and another man tears your ticket in half. Then you take two more steps and another man – and usher – grabs your tickets and takes you to your seat (you tip him a minimum of 5 pesos a seat – it’s how they make their money). You are immediately approached by vendors who bring you whatever – there seems to be one guy who is assigned to take care of a certain section, and then there are other roving vendors constantly coming by – drinks, popcorn, tacos and then, in weird collection – one big tray containing nachos, fruit cups and…ramen cups.

(One more suggestion – because of the constant presence of food and drink vendors, try to avoid an aisle seat. They’re just doing their job, true, but in doing so, they’ve got to block your view.)

 

 

 

It’s…fake professional wrestling. That’s it. But with masks (mostly – there were a few who didn’t have masks). There were, I think…six rounds of wrestling. Five of them were tag team and one was just between two. The wrestlers: Mephisto, Inquisidor, Terrible and the like. It was insanely fake. I don’t get the appeal, but the appeal is, indeed strong, and wow were people getting into it. The group in front of us was a middle aged married couple who both looked as if they could be on university faculties, and I’m thinking a child and spouse – a thirty-ish woman and man – the man was full-on hipster with beard and man-bun and everything and he was ALL IN, intensely watching, yelling, booing and cheering, as were the screaming young women behind us.

I wouldn’t take time to go again, but I’m very glad we did (as were the boys – they had a good time and were amazed at the spectacle, the comedy – for it is funny – and the crowd.) The whole day was simply fantastic people watching and a great immersion into Mexico City life…

For some video from Lucha Libre, go to Instagram. We’ll be at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe for part of today, so follow me on Instagram Stories for that. 

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Lent’s happening. Here we are.

Take a look at this marvelous photography project:

I’ve always been a street photographer. It just so happened that I was out photographing on Ash Wednesday in 1997. Out of only maybe six sheets of film, I had two really good pictures that day, which are amazing odds and it felt lucky. After the second year of doing it (when I photographed the police officer) I realized I had something. Because it’s only one day of shooting a year, it never makes me feel like it is enough, I feel compelled to do it again and again each year. It’s like an addiction.

From the book’s website:

“When I first saw someone with a cross of ashes on their forehead, it seemed like they were revealing a secret about themselves that was almost mystical. The idea, then, of asking this complete stranger if I could take their picture felt more personal than usual, like I was asking for their soul. But my subject’s response was “sure,” as if I had just asked to photograph them with their hat or scarf.

While Ash Wednesday is a solemn day for practicing Christians, meant to observe one’s mortality and repent, my primary interest is in the visual juxtaposition of the contemporary with the ancient. I encounter my subjects on their way to Saks Fifth Avenue, running to an important meeting or to catch a train, yet they wear the mark of a sacred ritual.”

 — 2 —

Just a reminder about artist Daniel Mitsui. He has a blog here, in which he always has interesting things to say about his particular art projects and art in general – for example, how he makes a living as an artist. This recent post on the “Lenten veil” is fascinating. I learn something new every time I visit his site.

Of course the most important thing to remember about Daniel Mitsui is – support his work. 

— 3 —

I had a lot of Lent-related posts this week, and will have more over the next couple of days. Just click back and forth to see. 

–4–

Earlier this week, First Thing’s Matthew Schmitz tweeted about the film The Salesman. I’d never heard of it. It’s on YouTube. I’ve watched about half of it and will finish on Friday, probably. It’s fascinating.

 

–5 —

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Today, my 13-year old and I attended a school concert presented by Your Alabama Symphony! (that’s how they’ve branded themselves) – the theme was music related to Alabama history (this year is the 200th anniversary of us becoming a territory, next year, of statehood.) That, with a bit of 1812 Overture tossed in. As usual, the orchestra was excellent, the audience was cooperative and had clearly been well prepared by their teachers (there was a lot of singing along) and at one point the folk singer leading the program said something like:

You know, when we sing the songs that people two hundred years ago sang, in a way, we’re joined with them – we’re all sharing the same life. 

Hmmm…I keep running across this notion, articulated in relation to music and literature (remember the poetry article from a few months ago?).

The truth is that memorizing and reciting poetry can be a highly expressive act. And we need not return to the Victorians’ narrow idea of the canon to reclaim poetry as one of the cheapest, most durable tools of moral and emotional education — whether you go in for Virgil, Li Po, Rumi or Gwendolyn Brooks (ideally, all four)

How does memorizing and reciting someone else’s words help me express myself? I put this question to Samar.as young, and he was talking about love. I related to him,” Ms. Huggins said. (He writes: “We talked a lot and feel a kiss on our lips/Trembling there like a small insect.”)

“Reciting a poem will help you express what you’re trying to say,” she told me. “It’s like when I need to pray about something, I’ll look into a devotional, and those words can start me off.” Ms. Huggins grew up Episcopalian, but even the resolutely secular need to borrow words of supplication, anguish or thanks every now and then.

..do you think there might be something to it?

Nah….let’s sing a new church into being instead! That will be much better!

 

— 6 —

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Tonight we attended a screening of Grassroots Film’s Outcasts, presented at our Cathedral of St. Paul. It was moving, powerful, sad and hopeful. Filmmaker Joe Campo was in attendance, along with two friars. The film was a powerful witness to the friars’ apostolate around the world, but, just as importantly, an opportunity to think about the huge need for all kinds of Gospel-guided presence in our own community…and what might be happening on that front.

— 7 —

Guess what! I didn’t make cheese pizza for Ash Wednesday!

But nor did I make ….this:

amywelborn

(Spoiler alert: I made this. It was delicious, but then I, for some reason, adore lentils.)

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

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The following is a compilation of two posts from last year. For more, er, original content today, go here. 


How did I happen up on this? In the usual, wandering way. I went to archive.org and typed in “ash wednesday” in the search box, and after wading through a bunch of sermons and pamphlets (including one had written!), I happened upon this, and stumbled into a huge rabbit hole.

In that rabbit hole I was introduceed to one Baron Ferdinand de Geramb, (probably) born in Lyons, but of Hungarian descent. An adventurer, a soldier, a prisoner of Napoleon, and eventually…a Trappist. From the old Catholic Encyclopedia:

In 1808 he fell into the hands of Napoleon, who imprisoned him in the fortress of Vincennes until 1814, the time when the allied powers entered Paris. After bidding farewell to the Tsar and Emperor of Austria, he resolved to leave the world. It was at this time that he providentially met the Rev. Father Eugene, Abbot of Notre Dame du Port du Salut, near Laval (France), of whom he begged to be admitted as a novice in the community. He pronounced his vows in 1817.

After having rendered great services to that monastery, he was sent, in 1827, to the monastery of Mt. Olivet (Alsace). During the Revolution of 1830 de Géramb displayed great courage in the face of a troop of insurgents that had come to pillage the monastery; though the religious had been dispersed, the abbey was at least, by his heroic action, spared the horrors of pillage. It was at this time that Brother Mary Joseph made his pilgrimage to Jerusalem. On his return in 1833, he went to Rome, where he held the office of procurator-general of La Trappe. He soon gerambgained the esteem and affection of Gregory XVI, who, though he was not a priest, named him titular abbot with the insignia of the ring and pectoral cross, a privilege without any precedent.

Abbot de Géramb is the author of many works, the principal of which are: “Letters to Eugene on the Eucharist”; “Eternity is approaching”; “Pilgrimage to Jerusalem”; “A Journey from La Trappe to Rome”, besides many others of less importance and of an exclusively ascetical character. They were often reprinted and translated. His style is easy and without affectation. The customs, manners, and incidents of the journey which he describes, all are vividly and attractively given, and the topographical descriptions are of an irreproachable accuracy. Even under the monk’s cowl the great nobleman could occasionally be seen distributing in alms considerable sums of money which he had received from his family to defray his expenses.

I spent a good deal of time skimming through the book to which the search took me: A Pilgrimage to Palestine, Egypt and Syria.  It is quite evocative, as this excerpt about Ash Wednesday shows:

 On the 20th I was awake long before dawn. I went
out of my tent, and seated myself at the entrance. My
Bedouins, at a little distance, were sleeping around some
half-extinct embers. At the slight noise which I made
their camels raised their heads, but laid them down
again immediately on the sand. Silence reigned around
me. It was Ash- Wednesday, a day specially set apart
by the Church, to remind its members of the curse pro-
nounced against the first man after his fall, and in which
his whole posterity is involved. I picked up a handful
of the dust of the desert, marked my brow with it, and,
giving myself the salutary warning which it was not pos-
sible for me to receive at the foot of the altars of Christ,
from the lips of one of his ministers, I pronounced these
words : — ” Recollect, O man, that dust thou art, and
unto dust shalt thou return.”

Then, joining in spirit and in heart the Christian
people, who, on this day more especially, beseech the
Lord ” to have pity upon them according to his great
mercy’ I waited for sunrise, meditating upon that
awful sentence of death pronounced upon the human
race, the execution of which none can escape, and which
it will by and by be my turn to undergo. It has often
been the case, my dear Charles, that I have felt deeply
moved and violently torn from the things of this world,
while listening to the powerful words demonstrating
their nothingness, issuing from the pulpit amidst the
doleful solemnities with which the holy season of penance
commences ; but I declare to you that this desert, where
the plant itself cannot live ; this soil, which is but dust,
and from which the blast sweeps away in the twinkling
of an eye all traces of the footsteps of man, telling him
that thus shall he be swept away by the blast of death;
this universal silence, not even interrupted like that of
the grave by the voice of grief or the song of mourning;
those ruins, and those empty sepulchers ; those carcasses
of kingdoms and of cities, which had just passed before
my eyes ; and that holy Bible, which related to me the
crimes of generations upon the spot where they were
committed, explained to me the transitory nature, the
paltriness, and the term of human life, and showed to
me, as still dwelling in the heavens, Him who will have
man know that he is the Lord, and that He infallibly
overtakes by his justice the presumptuous mortal who
disdains his mercy — all this spake to my soul in much
stronger language, in a language the energy of which
no words can express.


Now…for the 12-year old….

 

…1947 style.

More from a 1947 7th-grade text, part of the The Christ Life Series in Religion.

Note, again, how the child is treated as a full-fledged member of the Body of Christ, with responsibilities and the capacity to know his or herself and receive grace fruitfully and grow in union with Christ. No pandering, no dumbing-down. Nor is it about rule-following or a shallow embrace of external actions, as our caricatures of pre-Vatican II life tell us it must have been.  It is, as the textbook says, about becoming “more intimately united with Christ.”

Read and contrast to the prevalent contemporary understanding of Lent, which is that it’s about focusing my efforts so God can help me get my life together and feel better about it all.

There is a difference between the two emphases. Subtle, but real between “strengthening the soul’s life” and “having a great Lent.” It’s all about the focus. Is it about me or about Jesus, the Gospel and our mission, as parts of his Body, in a broken world?

And news flash: there is not much about Lent in the CCC, but what is there emphasizes that yes, it is still a penetential season. 

(click on graphics for bigger versions)

 

As living members of Christ’s Mystical Body we must participate in all His life. Today this means waging war on those passions which have been gaining ground in our soul and usurping the reign which belongs to Christ alone. Only a coward flees from a call to arms in a just cause. We, who in Confirmation have been sealed with the Spirit as soldiers of Christ, must fight courageously under His leadership. Is there any special self-indulgence weakening our spiritual life? Let us have entire confidence that with God’s grace we can overcome our faults.

Lent is a time of action and spiritual growth—not a time of gloom and repression, but a time of strong positive effort. Through our vigorous efforts of this season, we grow stronger spiritually, for we become more intimately united with Christ. It is in the Mass, above all, that we receive the grace we need in order to be victorious in the struggle upon which we are entering. Is it possible for you to assist at daily Mass during Lent, offering yourself with the divine Victim to atone for sin and to gain renewed vigor? Exactly what spiritual gains will you aim to make during this Lent? Join in the prayer of the Church today “that our fasts may be acceptable to thee and a means of healing to us. Through our Lord”

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I’ve been posting a lot of pre-owned content lately, but believe me, I have an excuse!

It’s called work. I’m involved in a project that, while not the most taxing in the world, does gobble up my free time in the very early mornings and later evenings, as well as another ongoing project that I’m still not settled into, and that is taking up a bit more mental space than I thought – once I do settle, I’m hoping I can spend about 15 minutes a day on it over the next few months. But I need to get this Other Thing done first – and the final deadline for the last section of that is in early March, so….

Brain is in Occupied Mode for the moment.

But a few notes, completely random, but mostly reading-related.

  • What am I reading? I realized with dismay that it had been a while since I had actually finished reading a book. I discovered a Trollope that was left hanging, and then The Nine Tailors by Dorothy Sayers that I got 2/3 through and then there’s that Vietnamese priest book I started a few weeks back. Seriously, one of my Lent disciplines is to begin reading books and finish them. 
  • What I have finished, though, are books “for school.”  I had my 13-year old read The Lord of the Flies and read it along with him  –  a book as fascinating and depressing as it always is. Having recently finished watching Lost, we were both struck by some parallels and, we suspect, inspirations for the series in the book.
  • The very brief passage that struck me with the most force comes at the very end (spoiler alert!) in the scene in which the children are discovered by the British naval personnel. If you recall, the major conflict in the book has been between Ralph, the boy who attempts to hold on to civilization for as long as possible, and Jack, the leader of the choir boys who battles to assume leadership on the island, driven by a hunter’s bloodlust. Jack, through most of the book, is painted as a powerful, almost mythic figure. All the other boys come under is power and, as the book rushes to an end, Ralph is racing for his life from Jack and those under his sway.
  • But then at the very end, the point of view shifts, and we see the entire situation  from the perspective of the newly-arrived adult. He asks who had been leading the boys. Ralph quickly says that he was. And then:

A little boy who wore the remains of an extraordinary black cap on his
red hair and who carried the remains of a pair of spectacles at his waist,
started forward, then changed his mind and stood still.

  • I have read that sentence over and over, trying to absorb the power of the shift in point of view and what it tells us about what’s real, what we think is real, and what’s really real.
  • Other readings with the homeschooling 7th grader: Before Lord of the Flies, he read The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde – see appropriate Chesterton quote here. 
  • The next “school novel” is on a somewhat lighter vein – he suggest Murder on the Orient Express, and I had no problem with it. He started it today, so the “school” part of the reading involved an introduction to the genre of detective fiction (which interests him because he’s just started watching Sherlock), Agatha Christie’s life, and then some history and geography inspired by the first three chapters of the book – here’s an excellent page of chapter-by-chapter annotations, and really, take a look. When a kid reads Murder on the Orient Express and goes on all the rabbit trails inspired by it, look at what he can explore: the geography of the Near East, as well as the area covered by the train route, as well as the history of the period in that area – a time in places like Aleppo and Kirkuk very different from our own.
  • Short story read on Monday: “The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky” – by Stephen Crane. Emphasis on the humor in the story as well as the story as a metaphor for the changes then occurring in the West.

Poems read over the past couple of weeks:

  • “Do not Go Gentle Into That Good Night”
  • “13 Ways of Looking at a Blackbird”
  • “The Lake Isle of Innisfreee”
  • “The World is Too Much With Us”
  • “Miniver Cheevy”
  •  “Fern Hill”

 

For his own, individual reading, he’s tearing through Dune. I gave him the first volume for Christmas, he read it, then read Children of Dune over a couple of days (it’s much shorter than the first) and is about to start Dune Messiah. 

  • Older brother has just started The Great Gatsby for school, so I’m reading that, too – can I admit that this is the first time for me?

Guys, I went to high school in the 70’s. We read Jonathan Livingston Seagull for religion class, for pete’s sake.

In case you think this business of “Mom reading along with school assignments” is weird and just too helicoptery for words, please consider:

  • like to read and talk about books. It’s what I do. 
  • Talking about books together is a good thing. Talk about books with your spouse, your friends, your kids, your book group, strangers on a plane – it’s all good, it expands your brain and your experience a little bit, every time.
  • Go see The Commuter – the latest Liam Neeson-as-unlikely-hero film.  Okay, forget I said that. Don’t go see it because it’s just barely okay, but it has a sweet – and actually crucial –  plot point related to Neeeson and his high school son’s school reading assignments.
  • So yeah, maybe if you read along with your kids’ reading assignments, you too can be a hero on a commuter train….

 

 

 

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Recent….reads:

“The Canterville Ghost” by Wilde. This was our easing-into-school read this week. I’d never read it, nor seen any of the adaptations, but I knew the basics of the tale: An American diplomat and his family knowingly move into a haunted English estate. The ghost attempts to haunt them, but the pragmatic, good-humored Americans are immune, giving Wilde ample opportunity for some amusing satirical, but entirely good-natured commentary on cultural differences.

The deeper point, I suppose, regards the American disdain of tradition and deep history. They don’t believe in the ghost, but once they accept his existence, they treat him with undaunted practicality – suggesting medications for whatever ails him – and derision, teasing and even torment from the younger family members.

But then, Wilde, as he is wont to do, turns the tables on us all by way of sentimental spirituality, as the family’s daughter, appropriately named Virginia, provides the mediation the ghost requires to find peace.

It’s short, a good read, and a good way to explore the uses of satire and cultural commentary, as well as a bit of light spirituality.

 

 — 2 —

I also read Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime in the same volume. It’s a mild satire on 19th century gothic literature, in which a palm reader tells a young man he’s destined to murder someone. The young man, who is engaged to be married, decides that if this is Fate, he will try to take care of this before his wedding so as not to ruin his marriage. Since this is Oscar Wilde, the descriptions can be delectable:

…at the end of the picture-gallery stood the Princess Sophia of Carlsruhe, a heavy Tartar-looking lady, with tiny black eyes and wonderful emeralds, talking bad French at the top of her voice, and laughing immoderately at everything that was said to her. It was certainly a wonderful medley of people. Gorgeous peeresses chatted affably to violent Radicals, popular preachers brushed coat-tails with eminent sceptics, a perfect bevy of bishops kept following a stout prima-donna from room to room, on the staircase stood several Royal Academicians, disguised as artists, and it was said that at one time the supper-room was absolutely crammed with geniuses.

Lord Arthur’s deeply misdirected sense of obligation is appropriately appalling and the consequences darkly comic, but I enjoyed The Canterville Ghost more.

Next up (for him) “The Lottery” – and then a new novel starting next week. (On his own, he’s reading Dune.) 

— 3 —

I am probably not supposed to read this, but I am trying my hand at A.N. Wilson’s Charles Darwin: Victorian Mythmaker. Everyone says he gets the science all wrong, and wow, look at all those one-star reviews,  but as I am a fan of works that subvert conventional wisdom as well as those that set ideas in historical context, so once I saw it on the library shelf, it was impossible for me to resist.

 

–4–

Recently watched:

Not much, really, over the past week (sports and video games keeping control of the new television), but tonight I got up two episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents for us – via the Internet Archive. On the big television, which still amazes me. Anyway, I looked up what fans say are the best of the series, and we watched a couple: “The Man from the South,” with Steve McQueen and Peter Lorre, and “Lamb to the Slaughter,” with Barbara bel Geddes.

Spoiler alert – well, not really, since it happens at the beginning of the episode – if you have seen the second, you know that the plot involves a woman who kills her husband with a frozen leg of lamb, and the subsequent investigation into the crime. I thought it was good, but I also thought it would have been better if we hadn’t know her weapon until the end – it seemed to me the crime could have been artfully glossed over, and it would only gradually dawn on us what was up as sweet blonde Barbara serves up a late supper to the cops.

–5 —

Recent writes:

Look back for posts on Homeschooling Fall 2017 report and a jaunt my son and I took up to north Alabama to see Sandhill Cranes.

As well as ongoing projects.

 

— 6 —

Oh, I guess I should add this to the “recent watches” – might as well knock this off here.

We finally got around to taking a look at Stranger Things – both seasons. I had been highly resistant, first because if you tell me something is a “must watch” and inundate me with think pieces on it – yeah I’m going to #resist. I might come around, but don’t save space for me on the bandwagon right away.

I was also resistant because it’s a Netflix series, and even though it does feature pre-teens and teens, it’s a Netflix series and I knew that while it wasn’t Thirteen Reasons level, I did know that the language was a little rough. But I read reviews and gathered opinions from people whom I trust, and finally, from my throne, offered my assent to the viewing.

My take?

Meh.

Well done on a superficial level – for the most part. (The second seasons is much weaker than the first) A decent introduction to “peak TV” for teens. But:

 

— 7 —

While at times, from moment to moment, I could get swept up in the suspense as a whole, it just didn’t mean anything to me. I didn’t find the 80’s setting engaging – I don’t have a lick of nostalgia for the 80’s, and the series really had nothing to say about it except: Big hair, shoulder pads and Reagan yard signs.

I didn’t find it thematically resonant. Articles proclaimed it a super-Catholic show in a deep sense – why? Because characters were sensing signs of the supernatural through the material? Stretching it. Other articles honed in on kids solving Big Mysteries on their own and tying it into themes of broken families – except that, well, Kids Solving Big Mysteries On Their Own is as old as E. Nesbit and probably older – all great kid-centered adventures have the kids on their own – what fun would it be with adults around? Secondly, the “broken family” theme didn’t really factor into the theme as strongly or meaningfully as I had expected coming into it – especially since it really only factors into one of the children’s situations.

Beyond that, I had two problems with Stranger Things, one relatively minor and the other more fundamental. First – the kids cussing. I’m not on board with that, especially at the level they took it here, and I even found some of it unrealistic. Sure, preteens and teens will curse in their own conversations, but would a typical small-town 13-year old curse as part of a doorway conversation with one of his friend’s parents? That was just off, as was the level of cursing, especially in the second season. The second season, which was far weaker than the first, and really, from a story perspective, had little reason to exist  – and yeah, those kids swore a lot more in the second season than the first.

But more importantly – I’ll try to articulate this, although this type of criticism is not my forte. I feel something, but I’m not sure why I feel it or what an alternative would look like. So with that introduction…

The plot of both seasons of Stranger Things was about a malevolence that lurks beneath ordinary life. It took different forms in each season (which is something that didn’t make sense to me – what happened to the Upside Down – until that last shot of the season?) – but that was the driving element of the plot – this Stuff that was largely unseen, was in some way a negative image of what we live with every day, but for some reason, sometimes, seeks our destruction and must be contained.

Except – whatever this is has no actual relation to life as it’s lived. You can say – well, that’s because it’s been contained – but what I think was missing was any thematic connection between this hidden evil and human life and choices. There was this Bigger Thing – this Stranger Thing– but it was just a creepy destructive force which had no motivation except for a hunger-driven destruction, and that found no reflection or reference in the hungers or creepy destructive forces that we encounter in every day life or in the world at large.

It’s not that Stranger Things needed blatant metaphors telegraphed in lame fashion, but I guess what I am attempting to say is that I never had any sense that this malevolence or the efforts to contain or control it was a metaphor for anything, and that rendered it ultimately not very interesting.

That said, some of the acting was remarkable, particularly from Millie Bobby Brown, who played Eleven, the girl who’d been kept to develop her psychic powers, and Gaten Matarazzo, who is a natural and a delight.

I found Winona Ryder tiresome – well, of course her frantic aspect was perfectly understandable as she sought her lost son and became convinced he was trapped in, er, the electrical system. But All! The! Anxious! Shouting!

And can I say this? Will it get me into trouble? Probably, just for being stupid. But here’s the thing: the creators of Stranger Things are twin brothers, and I really felt that during this show. The whole thing felt like the expression of very insular world that was about that world and not much else.

And the second season….there was no reason for it. Especially if your name is Bob. Poor Bob.

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It did make for a good running joke during Christmas, though….

 

 

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— 1 —

Today’s one of my Living Faith days. Here you go!

(By the way that restaurant is doing the same Thanksgiving free-meal-for-all this year. Information here.)

 — 2 —

Moving on…

In  the words of my favorite math video guru…And….we’re done!

Friday morning, I’ll be sending along the manuscript of my next book for Loyola, to be published next fall. The manuscript is due 12/15, and look at me, submitting a month early.

Unheard of!

I’m usually not late, but nor am I this early. So settle down and I’ll tell you what happened. Apply to your own particular life as you will:

I knew writing this book would be a bit of a challenge because I would be back in the homeschooling game during the writing time.  I wrote The Loyola Kids book of Bible Stories last year while they were both in school, and while I had written a few things – devotionals and such – during the couple of years they were both homeschooling, I was a bit nervous about being able to fit writing this book into my life this year.

It’s not that my 12-year old demands attention. Not at all. It’s not him, it’s me. I’m so into the homeschooling thing, especially with this mature, curious young man and especially since I can see the end in sight: five more years, at the most, and he’ll be on his way (and it could be sooner, considering his capabilities). I want to spend time facilitating his learning – I want to do things with him and travel about and so on.

But then as I began writing it, I discovered a few things.

— 3 —

First, the subject matter and the very clear structure the editors and I laid out at the beginning meant that it wasn’t a very mentally taxing book to write. I didn’t just color by the numbers, but it wasn’t like writing War and Peace, either. Not that I know what writing War and Peace is like. It was just that with the structure established, that was one less aspect to agonize about.

Secondly, my high school aged son began driving himself to school. Over the past couple of years, before he was driving, we’ve done some carpooling, but it’s been sporadic, which is the way it is once you hit high school and everyone has their activities, particularly in the afternoon.

But now, as he takes himself back and forth,  I find myself with an hour or two more to myself than I’ve had over the past couple of years during each day – for on the days that I got hit with both mornings and afternoon, that was a couple of hours that I’d be in the car.

Not having to drive back and forth across town twice a day has changed my life.

He gets up at 6:45, I wake up, he leaves a bit after 7, and I get to work. The other one won’t wake up until 9 or so (I let him stay up as late as he wants because in the evenings he’s either reading, drawing or playing music – no screens at that point – and so if he wants to do those things all night, that’s fine with me.), so there’s my first chunk of work for the day.

Which,  will tell you, is…different.  I have lived most of my life as a night person -and for the most part, I still am. I have never been able to actually think clearly and creatively in the mornings, especially early – probably because I’ve been up so late doing all that (usually pointless) thinking, and I’m tahred.

But as I have aged, I’ve found my powers of nighttime concentration dwindling, and more than that, my desire to work at night evaporating. I basically want to read, so leave me alone.

So if I was going to get good work done, I was going to have to set that sense of myself aside, develop some self-discipline and hit work first thing instead of staring into space or scrolling through my bookmarks online.

Which I’ve done. Actually done. Consistently, all fall. Amazing even myself. There’s prep work involved, though. The mental routine I’ve developed is a variation of the way I’ve always worked on these things. Basically, I realized a long time ago that I have a very active and fertile subconscious. Perhaps everyone does, but it’s something I became quite attuned to in high school, especially as I struggled with math and the more abstract sciences. I realized that when I agonized over something in the evenings, and then set it aside, forgot about it and went to sleep, when I woke up in the morning….I got it. I didn’t even have to try. My brain had just figured it out for me. Thanks, brain!

In college, I came to understand that there was only so much active studying that was useful to me. I would read, read, read, and then set material aside for a day…and then be able to do well on the exam, for the most part, no matter how jumbled it all seemed when I set it aside.

— 4

So when I work on writing projects of a certain type (catechetical, instructional), my process is generally:

  • Have a very clear structure laid out. If you look at my Loyola books, you can see this structure in the tables of contents. Once, for example, with the saints book, I figures out the structure of those subsections: “Saints are people who…” I was off to the races and wrote the book in six weeks, no joke. This latest book that I’ve just finished is the result of thoughtful collaboration with the Loyola editors. Their concept was quite smart and lent itself to very easy writing.
  • Research, research, research. Spend an hour, two – a day – whatever, reading. Then take a day. Or go to sleep.
  • Get up the next morning and write. No agony, just get it all out. And there it is.
  • Come back the next day and rewrite. That also functions as the warm-up for writing the new stuff you’ve researched the previous night.

I write on both paper and the computer. It depends on what, at that moment, helps me feel freer and less constrained. Sometimes that’s paper, but sometimes the physical act of writing is too slow, so I go to the computer and pound it out. And sometimes composing on the computer makes me feel a very confining, daunting expectation of putting down a perfect product – so back to paper I go.

And then I edit (my favorite part – love editing – it’s when the real stuff happens and I can really understand what I was trying to do and what I need to do) – and pull all the pieces together, and send it in, stuff the file folder with all my notes in a drawer (that’s one thing I do by hand – take notes), and then when the final MS has been okayed for publication…I toss it all away…

I’m not writing great, creative, inventive, stuff, but I’m committed to accessible and engaging, and I think I have a knack for it. I believe the stuff. I believe it’s all true, and I want to help spread that Good News. I really do. There’s one little thing I think I’m okay at: taking these concepts that are sometimes complex, and communicating them to various audiences.

But it feels…so good …when you’re done!

— 5 –

Oh, this was the other thing I was going to say: my intuition had told me to push myself on this one. Just do it. To suppress my natural tendencies to procrastination and just go ahead and do it and get it done. I do try to obey my instincts when they strongly tell me to just do it  – because what I find when I don’t is that sure enough, something will happen to eat up all that time I thought I was going to have: someone will get sick or have some other sort of crisis, or there’ll be some political or culture explosion that is impossible to tear myself away from watching – and then, once again, I’ll learn that lesson…you should have obeyed your instincts because now it’s due tomorrow, and here you are, idiot.

Well, I’ll just say that the instincts were correct again, and not because anything bad happened, but because a couple of opportunities for good work came up, opportunities that both had very tight, inflexible deadlines – and I wouldn’t have been able to take them on if I’d left this project until the last month before it was due, thinking…oh, I have time….

So yes. It was one of the few pieces of advice my mother ever handed out, and she was right:

Obey your first instincts.

— 6 —

Homeschooling this week:

  • Frog dissection
  • Symphony concert – Beethoven’s 4th – that’s this morning.
  • Piano, of course.
  • Basketball practice.
  • More Yearling. He’s enjoying it, as am I.
  • Monday’s jaunt: he is playing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” for one of his recitals, and as he was playing it, my memory was jogged….isn’t there a Birmingham connection to this song? 

Why yes, there is! The composer, Hugh Martin, was born and grew up in Birmingham, and some accounts say he wrote the song here, but I am thinking that is probably not correct. But whatever the case, he had strong Birmingham ties, so on Monday, we drove ten minutes and found his childhood home, complete with historic marker. His father was an architect and designed, among other local buildings, one of my favorites, the wonderful main downtown library. This home is not terribly far from where Walker Percy’s first childhood home would have been before it was torn down for the Red Mountain Expressway. Same general area. (the second Percy home, where is father committed suicide, is still standing.)

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  • The other usual stuff.
  • A side trip to …wait for it…BESSEMER, ALABAMA!
  • Jealous?
  • Yeah, well, don’t be. I just went to get my new car registered, and since we were in the neighborhood in this town that was once at the center of the once-thriving iron/coal/steel industries of this area, we took a look around. There’s a little museum: The Bessemer Hall of History, the star holdings of which are a typewriter from Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest hideaway and the door of a jail cell that held Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Why was King in jail in Bessemer? Interestingly enough, that arrest was King’s last arrest, and occurred fifty years ago last month. The pre-arranged arrest was a fulfillment of punishments for charges related to the 1963 arrest (when “Letter From a Birmingham Jail” was composed):

After King’s release from the Birmingham Jail in 1963, he fought charges that he and several others protested without the proper permits. He appealed several courts’ rulings until in 1967 a Supreme Court judge upheld his conviction and ordered him to serve the remaining three days of his four-day sentence.

The fanfare surrounding his arrival in Birmingham prompted officials to reroute him to Bessemer to escape the overwhelming attention from the media and the public. 

  • We searched for and eventually found the Watercress Darter National Wildlife Refuge, which is one of the, if not the smallest National Wildlife Refuge in the country. As I said, we eventually found it, but could not figure out the pathway in, and then it was time to head home, so we did.
  • Lunch was not at the venerable local institution called Bright Star – one of the oldest continuing operating restaurants in Alabama, but rather down the road at a lunch counter in a gas station, a spot noted on “best hamburgers in Alabama” lists. The hamburger eater agreed with the ranking.

— 7 —

St. Nicholas day is a few weeks away….and don’t forget Bambinelli Sunday!

St. Nicholas pamphlet. 

St. Nicholas Center website. 

Looking for Christmas gifts? Try here!

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