Posts Tagged ‘Shakespeare’

…& Shakespeare with Kids

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All of us.

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

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

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

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

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

Some notes:

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



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

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

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

shakespeare tavern atlanta

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



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Hurry, hurry. Late start (everyone stayed up late last night watching the game even though no one living here cared about either team, except in principled opposition. ) and it’s boxing day, so a focused day. Part of a day.

  • Prayer. Read the saint of the day from this book. Gospel for the day, read by him, Our Father prayed.
  • Had him find 1 Samuel in the Bible himself, as well as the passage (1 Sam 9:20). I often found that kids coming into 9th grade theology class from 8 years of Catholic grammar school education had no sense of the Bible as a whole, and no idea how to look up passages.  Had him summarize yesterday’s reading, then we read this passage aloud. Briefly alluded to Samson. Life would be a lot easier, honestly, if your two main Nazirites had more distinct names.
  • Copywork. Tuesday is poetry day. I have referred to this great site before – Garden Digest – which includes as part of its site pages and pages of month and season-related quotations and poems. It’s a fantastic resource, whether copywork is your object or not.
  • Trouble is, naturally, most of the January-themed poetry has to do with our frigid lives in the midst of icy, blustery, blanketing snow.


"amy welborn"


Well, it has been in the 30’s at night and in the mornings, so we did Shakespeare:

“Blow, blow, thou winter wind,
Thou art not so unkind
As man’s ingratitude;
Thy tooth is not so keen,
Because thou art not seen,
Although thy breath be rude.
Heigh-ho! sing, heigh-ho! unto the green holly:
Most friendship is feigning, most loving mere folly:
Then, heigh-ho, the holly! This life is most jolly.
Freeze, freeze, thou bitter sky,
That does not bite so nigh As benefits forgot:
Though thou the waters warp,
Thy sting is not so sharp
As friend remembered not.
Heigh-ho! sing, heigh-ho! unto the green holly:
Most friendship is feigning, most loving mere folly:
Then, heigh-ho, the holly! This life is most jolly.”

We read through it – actually he read it aloud. We teased apart some of its meaning, and he did the first 6 lines for copywork. Manuscript, then with just a bit in the cursive workbook – again, working for speed on that.

  • Math. More puzzles, then the next section on multiplication of positive and negative integers, here just getting across the point that value of your answer is going to depend on how many negative signs are in the problem – an even # will get you a positive answer, an odd, negative, of course.
  • History: Read a few pages from From Sea to Shining Seon the selection of Washington as Commander of the army and the beginnings of the Second Continental Congress. Read the equivalent chapter in The Story of Us We read those aloud, together, and discussed as we went along.
  • He finished up chapter 19 in Latin.
  • We talked about chapters 1-5 of Johnny Tremain, then he did some writing, using this Glencoe study guide. 
  • He added some detail to his BB-8 from yesterday.

And that was it. Pretty boring. Sorry. Very few rabbit trails today – we had a 12:30 deadine – that’s departure time for his homeschooler boxing class. And so that was it – timeframe, 10-12:30.


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almost got away without doing pumpkins this year.  I just didn’t mention it, and I also sort of forgot about it, and then Friday evening I started feeling guilty, so I posed the question, “Um…do you all want to carve pumpkins?”

Tragically, they nodded.

So Saturday morning, I set out to see what I could find.  Wal-Mart was all Christmas, with not a pumpkin in sight. Nothing at Aldi. Then I swung by a local super-cut-rate grocery store that I drive by all the time, but have never actually entered – saw a box full of pumpkins outside the door, grabbed three, went inside and found that the store was actually pretty nice. So. There’s that useful discovery.

We don’t have an ample front porch, so someone came up with the genius idea of perching them in this tree-that-should-probably-be-cut-down-before-it-falls-on-my-car.

"amy welborn"

Then trick-or-treating in the rain – one Indiana Jones, one Mayan warrior king.

"amy welborn"

Lots of candy.


— 2 —

Last Friday, Homeschooled 10-year old and I headed back over to Atlanta. The main objective was a Shakespeare for Kids performance of some iteration of Macbeth.

I had, if not high, then at least not low hopes for this, since I’d been told it was geared to K-5th graders.

Well, when we arrived, they announced from the stage that they were psyched to present this for an intended audience of K-3rd graders. Which was too bad, since most of the audience was definitely older than that.

Oh well. It was amusing, although my 10-year old who saw not one but two productions of Macbeth last year on stage (one at this theater, the other in town at Samford University) was obviously a little insulted at being talked down to in such a manner.

Then afterwards to the Aquarium, which…damn. Why can’t I ever remember that the Georgia Aquarium is really not a good value for the $$$$$$$$$$$$ you pay?  I don’t think I’ll forget now – but remind me in three years when I start thinking we should go again.

(If you are aquarium-hankering in the Southeast, go to the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga instead.  It has a lot more exhibits and is far more educational – in a painless way – than that obviously tourist-baiting Georgia place is. Even the Charleston Aquarium is better, I’d say.)

Well, I do like ginormous sea anenomes, so there’s that.

And then some time in Centennial Park.

 "amy welborn"– 3—

A couple of weeks ago, I blogged about some of the interesting concerts happening around here – OF COURSE I didn’t make it to any of those (I almost got to the pop-up-opera-at-the-brewery thing but one of my older sons called just as I was circling the block looking for non-existent parking, and so I kept talking to him as I circled and circled…and then finally gave up and went and bought tissues and toilet paper at the Dollar Store.)

But this week I did make it to a performance of a new local early music group called the Highland Consort. 

The performance was free, and held at the Episcopal Church of the Advent downtown.


The program was a November-suitable, requiem-ish, All-Souls-reminiscent program of pieces including “When David Heard” by Thomas Tomkins, Burial Sentences from the Book of Common Prayer composed by William Croft, “O Quam gloriosum” by Tomas Luis de Victoria and the Missa pro Defunctis by Eustache du Caurroy. The last was composed in 1590 for the funeral of Henry IV of France and then performed for the next two centuries as the official Requiem for the kings of France. (from the program notes).

highland consort birmingham

It’s super great that now we can fully, active, and consciously participate now and sing Gather Us In instead.


— 4 —

There are lots and lots and LOTS of homeschooling blogs and pages and thoughts out there.  You really shouldn’t read too many of them, or else you will end up feeling very badly about yourself.

One of the few exceptions to that rule that I’ve made is the Libertarian Homeschooler – there’s not blog, but “only” a Facebook page, and it’s great.  The posts are well-written and deeply considered, as, you can tell, has been the family’s entire homeschooling experience.  This is the sentence that made me go “yes!” today, related to a search for a perhaps-transitional-to-college-school:

“I think they would do very well but I don’t think I could do it to them. Giving them a superficial glance after we’ve spent so many years digging deep. We have tailored their experiences to meet their interests, needs, and capacities instead of state standards and grade requirements.”

If you want to understand the homeschooling movement, and why it’s taking off, especially in the context of test and achievement-obsessed schools….read this. 

— 5 —

In honor of today, November 5, Guy Fawkes Day…here’s a related book review I wrote ages ago for First Things:

As Hogge traces the slow, agonizing path by which the Jesuits were unjustly implicated in the Gunpowder Plot—a path strewn with seemingly minor decisions like hearing a confession, writing a letter, or delaying a journey—the question of equivocation came to the fore. This was the point at which the government’s case against the Jesuits gained its popular force: the accusation that the Jesuits advised and approved the art of “equivocation,” answering questions in a way that would satisfy interrogators but at the same time preserve interior honesty. Being asked, “Are you a priest?” one could answer “No,” meaning, in one’s own mind, “No, I am not a priest of Zeus.” Equivocation was debated among moral theologians, and Garnet himself wrote a treatise in cautious support of it.

The question, answered equivocally or not, that caused the most problems was one that came to be known as the “Bloody Question”: If the pope were to invade England, whom would you support, the pope or the queen? Over time, the Bloody Question took slightly different forms, but the essence remained the same: Whose side are you on?

The truth was that most English Catholics wanted to be on both sides. They were loyal to their country and their monarch, and they also wanted to practice their religion in peace. In the sixteenth century, this was not thought to be possible, of course, as religious toleration was the ideal of neither Church nor state. But as the decades progressed, it became the last best hope of English Catholics. James I manipulated this hope in his effort to cement his succession—and then dashed it with even fiercer enforcement of the Penal Laws, a frustration and turnabout which ultimately inspired the Gunpowder Plot.

— 6 —

Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville, who likes Flannery O’Connor and is great for other reasons as well, delivered a brainy speech on religious liberty this evening at Notre Dame. Y’all should read it:

The Church cannot abide quietly while the eclipse of man is presided over by an impoverished temporal order. Thus, the Church understands that the divine mandate to teach includes a service to a society that has shoved aside its own best moments. Put another way, the divine mandate includes a mission to defend the prerogatives of reason, including speculative and contemplative reason. This is a service to reason and to the human person and thus to society, that the Church must, by divine mandate, render. What is needed then, is a robust philosophical discourse fully informed by the theological sources that prevent the reduction of man to product and producer. 

— 7 —

Commercial time!

Advent’s coming! 

Catholic Advent Materials

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

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Well, here’s what’s up.

We have been “in session” for a couple of weeks now – ever since brother trotted off to start high school.  There are a couple of missing pieces, and only one of the extra classes (boxing) has started  – the rest won’t begin until mid-September.

There are two events next week – a rock-climbing training session at a park about an hour away and an Asian water-color class at the museum of art. And of course, piano has started back up on a regular basis. Social? Good friend down the street. Two hours of play tonight with another good friend while I was at a meeting.  An hour of boxing. Tomorrow: Seeing friends at and after the Mass for homeschoolers, and then another couple of hours with a friend…etc. In case you were wondering.


  • Religion so far is daily prayer focused on the saint of the day and Mass readings, and discussions regarding saints and Bible that spring from that. We’ll start the 5th grade Faith and Life volume next week.
  • (To see how this works – today was the feast of St. Louis IX.  This led to a bit of discussion about Louis XVI and the French Revolution. Then we learned that he died in Tunis, so we pulled out the map and saw where that was, and then reviewed all those north African countries, saw that if we’d gone to Africa when were in Sicily, it would have been Tunis.  Then we read the Mass readings, reviewed Paul and why he was writing epistles and where Thessalonika and Philippi are. Then the Gospel, which led to a discussion of both its meaning and a bit about 1st century Jewish religious structure – what are scribes, Pharisees & Saducees. Etc. See how that works?  It’s that way with everything.) 
  • Math:  Beast Academy 4D, waiting patiently for new of 5A to be released.  We’re on decimals, so it’s easy to supplement, right now, with material from Math Mammoth, Pearson (the most commonly used school math program around here – I just grab worksheets online where I can find them), various Scholastic books (digital editions that cost a buck each during sales – watch for them), and Khan Academy.  But…hurry up, Beast Academy!
  • We are just now starting history for the actual year – he has been finishing up reading and discussing this book up to this point.  Now we’re going to mash up Hakim’s History of US and the Catholic Textbook Project From Sea to Shining Sea. 
  • We started by me giving him a blank US map and having him label all the states, which he did, almost all spelled correctly.  I was kind of amazed. Then he reviewed capitols via Sheppard Software, and will review geographical features via the same, so the basics are done.  Geography is a strong point over here, and doesn’t require a lot of reinforcement.
  • Latin for Children is going well.  It’ s not the best ever, but at this point, I prefer it to the Memoria curriculum, which I had used with another of my kids way back when. And it’s more substantive than either Visual Latin or Getting Started in Latin. (If I had to choose between the last two, I would choose the latter. In fact, I would say, don’t spend your money on Visual Latin.)
  • Continuing with writing. We are behind, grade wise, on this. I wanted to start from the beginning of the series when we picked it up last year when he was in 4th grade, and the first volume is grades 3-4.  We moved slowly through it, not because it was hard (it’s not) or because we don’t like it (we both do), but just because…well, because Rabbit Hole.  As usual. But we are trying to hit it hard right now and get up to the actual 5th grade books by January.  Let me repeat: I like this program quite a bit – the way that it teaches summarizing, amplification and just general stretching of the writing brain is very engaging and this interesting, effective combination of simple yet complete.
  • But also still trying to incorporate aspects of Brave Writer. 
  • I said before that we don’t do spelling, but in order to address his occasional concern about “keeping up,” I this week did the same thing I did last year, but earlier in the year this time – I downloaded and printed out all the year’s spelling words from the curriculum his former school uses, (also one of the worst reading programs I have ever seen.  They are all mostly bad anyway – this one weirdly managing to both dumb down material and ask impenetrable questions about same material…so strange)  and we just go through them orally, checking of the ones he knows and working on those he doesn’t. Which has been three total from the first 75 words.  Started yesterday, and we try to do a couple of lists a day, give or take, so we should we be done w/”5th grade spelling” by the end of September.
  • Understand that etymology is one of those things that we talk about all the time. 
  • Handwriting – daily cursive.  Goal is for all work to be done in cursive by January.  If he goes to school in 6th grade, which he will if he wants to, the school he’ll attend will expect that, so aside from all the other (good) reasons, there’s that.
  • Music:  his piano lessons are fairly demanding.  At home we listen to music all the time, talk about it, watch videos of performances, particularly of pieces he’s working on.  We’ve also been getting back to Classics for Kids, which is a great website – so far this year, we’ve done Joplin, Bach and John Philip Sousa – the latter because earlier in the summer, we saw a (great) local production of The Music Man, so I thought I would try to make sense of “And you’ll feel something akin to the electric thrill I once enjoyed when Gilmore, Pat Conway,The Great Creatore, W.C. Handy and John Philip Sousa all came to town on the very same historic day!”
  • And science:  We are doing Biology for the Logic Stage, but have hardly actually done anything, because of the press of the
    "amy welborn"

    Spore print

    Teachable Moment.  This week, it’s been two things:  mushrooms & hummingbirds.  Our yard sprouted with mushrooms, so we took an afternoon and examined them, discussed fungi, read about them in our main resource and on the internet, and then swung back to taxonomy – he memorized the basic categories of taxonomy (Kingdom, phylum, …etc) and then the five kingdoms.  Memorized the characteristics of living things. (Which take us back to what we should have originally been working on)  Did a spore print. Then started two long-term experiment/demonstrations:  a mold terrarium with 8 possibly moldy things, and then two pieces of bread, sprayed with water and put in plastic bags, one rubbed on the ground outside, one not.  Hypothesis formed, observation sheets printed, etc.

  • Then, the hummingbirds.  Of late, the hummingbirds coming to our feeder have been crazy.  There are three or four all afternoon, most afternoons, and they are apparently at war.  No more than one can be at the feeder at  once, and we have spent a great deal of time watching them fly from one tree to another, wait each other out, then dive
    "amy welborn"

    Also a quick trip to the zoo

    bomb as soon as one of the others makes a move for the feeder.  We can stand pretty close to the feeder, and they will still streak right by us, chirping angrily at each other and, yes, wings and little bodies humming as they speed by.

  • So, much research on hummingbirds, going over the taxonomy, watching slow motion videos on their wing action and articles about how they actually use their tongues to get the nectar.
  • Oh, and the spider.  So three teachable moment living things over the pats two days. A huge spider built a web outside the front door last night, and it was gone this morning.  Someone had told me before that the spiders actually take their webs back up in the early dawn, and I believe it – tonight, as I write, the spider is right back in the same spot, enormous web intact.  I will try to get up super early and take a peak outside to see if I can spy it retreating. So he researched what kind of spider it was and we watched it for a long time last night, just talking about spiders in the dark with his brother and sister, too.
  • One new (used) book that has come in very handy in all of this is this one.  I had read about it on some homeschooling board, and it lives up to the hype – it’s really good, and great for the budding naturalist.
  • As I said, there are missing pieces.  Shakespeare, an ongoing “school” novel aside from the books he’s already scarfing, and art.  Next week. Next week. But rock climbing and art at the museum, next week!  Argh.  Nope. NEXT WEEK.
  • Haven’t actually watched any of these, but this channel looks like it will be good to add to the video lineup.
  • One thing I’ve started doing this year is having him do a “learning journal” each day (or every couple of days) – he writes down what he learned about that day.  It made more sense to me than either:  Me doing it or him planning what he would learn about.  It made a lot more sense for this to be something he does after the fact, at the end of the day. It’s his learning, his brain, his mind – he’s the one that needs to mull it over and make sense of it, not me!

amy_welborn amy-welborn

"amy welborn"

Friday was a light day. Obviously.  We did prayer/religion and math, and then I told him the rest of the day was his.  So he spent time digging in the back yard and figuring stuff out about roots and ants, doing some trivia on the computer (starting with reptiles and somehow ending up at Star Wars, apparently)  and drawing a picture related to the Maya & 2012. 

"amy welborn"

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When we last spoke, 7QT-wise, Ann Engelhart was still in town, and we had two events left in the schedule.  Both happened, and both went well.

On Friday morning, we taped a Bookmark segment with Doug Keck about Adventures in Assisi. The episode will air on December 14, which is, appropriately enough, Bambinelli Sunday!

Then we hightailed it over to Saint Barnabas School where we did our last (of four) school presentation.  We spoke to 3rd and 4th graders, and I was quite impressed.  I asked them who St. Francis was, and many hands shot up and the answers I got went a lot deeper than “he liked animals.”  Well done, St. Barnabas!

"amy welborn"

"amy welborn"

One more sig to go…

I had wanted to take her to the Civil Rights Institute afterwards, but we finally decided it would be too much, and settled down to record some conversations for future podcasts instead, and have Ann sign lots and lots of books to leave behind.

— 2 —

Those books are, of course, available in the bookstore, along with others.  I’ll be around all this coming week, but unable to fulfill orders Thanksgiving week..and then we’ll be in the first week of December, so start thinking about those gifts…for kids…signed picture books?  Catechists and classroom teachers, perhaps the same?  Mom, sister or friend, The Catholic Woman’s Book of Days?

— 3 —


This post, “The Problem with Learning Technology,” says much more thoroughly and eruditely the point I was only jabbing at in this post.

It now seems important, as it didn’t 10 years ago, to keep things simple: to focus on the humans in the room, the literature we’re reading, the tools that help us make sense of the texts. Students experience much of their contact with other people by making things happen on a screen. What feels fresh and immediate to them now is a real conversation, in real time, over pieces of paper that can be held in the hand.

I’ve gone back to in-class writing assignments and to handouts that they can find online if they need them later, but that they first experience in print. Quiet students who hang back in conversations get regular opportunities to hand in questions and concerns that they don’t want to air out loud. I read aloud, a lot, and have become more attuned to the difference between rapt and bored silence — the way the energy in the room changes when frustration becomes curiosity or vice versa, the significance of a shared experience of the text that can become its own data point.

— 4 —

Speaking of pieces of paper…I read a book.  Like, an entire book in one sitting last night.  It was this one – it was relaxing and engaging, like reading a longish New Yorker article.  Things I learned: about Sealand, North Sentinel Island and pumice rafts.

So  I read it and resolutely stayed off the computer during the reading of it. Even between chapters.  Afterwards, I checked back on Facebook, and saw on my newsfeed  that the people who had cross-posting self-satisfied, contentless and thought-free jabs about The Others in that weird  gleeful passive-aggressive pursuit of victimhood and blog hits at 10 AM were still at it at 10PM.

The Hive Mind was wide awake.

I decided I need to read more books.

— 5 —

I keep meaning to join in Melanie Bettinelli’s Guilt-Free Learning notes, but it’s not going to be happening for the next couple of weeks.  I will tell you that I was inspired by Melanie to do some work on “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” and it went very well.  Among other things, we attempted to make an Archimedes Screw – out of PVS pipe and tubing (We’re reading Archimedes and the Door of Science) – it sort of worked.  Water went up, certainly, but it was taking a while, and we didn’t have the patience – at that moment – to keep turning until the tube filled up, so having it fill up by a third and dumping it out was good enough.

Speaking of Greeks, Michael has been learning the Greek alphabet, using this text, and now enhanced by online games, which are great for reinforcement – this one  and the one linked on this page are very good.

— 6 —

What a week!

Sunday: Serve Mass at the convent

"amy welborn"

The least experienced server in our duo has, for some reason, been put in charge of the bells.  He had never served when the Roman Canon had been prayed. It was prayed at this Mass. He was a little confused at Epiclesis time. But then the priest made his own unforced error later, so he was reassured that, yes, everyone makes mistakes….

Monday: piano lesson and music theory class

Tuesday: Science center class (fighting the BIGGEST VETERAN’S DAY PARADE IN THE COUNTRY to get there no less…why they didn’t reschedule once they figured it out, I have no idea)

Wednesday: Should have been schola, but we skipped this time (with permission)  for a cub scout trip to the airport.

(Wednesday evening – 8th grader to a talk, with other boy scouts, from a US Army veteran who had been among the first to enter Dachau at the end of the war)

Thursday (today):   Macbeth, art class,  then talk on satellite technology and archaeology.  And there should have been another art class, but it was cancelled because the teacher was ill.

"amy welborn"

After-performance Q & A. 

"amy welborn"

Dr. Sarah Parcak talks about the role of satellite technology in archaeology. Not very long, and interesting and quite accessible to both the 13- and 9-year old.  She actually spoke quite a bit, and with considerable passion about the destruction of antiquities and archaeological sites  in the MIddle East over the past few years. 

And basketball starts next week…..what were you saying about “home” school????

Side note: For the 9-year old  homeschooler, Thursday was an interesting day, wasn’t it?  He saw a production of Macbeth, had art class, listened to a lecture on archaeology..did a page of cursive, played piano, did a couple of pages of Greek letters, listened to me read about Germany, read in one of the architectural books he checked out from the library, read Harry Potter book 7, and watched Lego videos. Not bad.

"amy welborn"

— 7 —

We are members of the local Levite Jewish Community Center – it’s basically the Jewish YMCA – with a history that goes back to 1906 –  and it’s great.

I’ve always been quite interested in how they balance their Jewish identity with being a public facility to which, er…all are welcome.

In short, the Jewish identity is strong and unapologetically lived.  Anyone is welcome, but just know, of course, that they won’t be open at your convenience.  You want to exercise or swim on Friday night or Saturday morning?  You’ll have to go elsewhere.  Do you want to come during Passover or the High Holy Days or Sukkot? Well…you can’t..but let us tell you all about our heritage and what these holy days are all about.  Yes, we have food, and it’s kosher, and please don’t bring non-kosher food into these areas….and let us tell you what that means.

All are welcome and no apologies about who they are and the boundaries that identity entails because they believe in who they are and that it’s good and life-giving.


"amy welborn"

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Quick, 26-hour trip to Atlanta and back this past weekend.

The purpose was to see the Shakespeare Tavern’s production of Macbeth. 

We prepped for the play by reviewing the story. We’d done a bit last year prepping for a production by the Alabama Shakespeare Festival which we ended up not seeing, after all.  This time, we read a couple of synopsis, reviewed some of the major speeches, watched a couple of clips from the Patrick Stewart version. (not the “bubble, bubble, toil and trouble” scene, though…super-creepy in that version. They’re Weird Sisters/Witches, so it should be creepy..but it’s a little much for kids.)

i had thought, if we arrived early enough, we would go either to the High or the Atlanta History Center.  We’ve been to the High a couple of times, and they were opening two new exhibits yesterday, both of which look great – one on Cezanne, the other on some architectural features of the Florence Duomo – which is why we didn’t go…I didn’t know they were opening until we actually drove past, and we could use some prep time for both of those exhibits as well.  We have until January….

And as it turned out, we left a little too late to get in a comfortable visit to the history museum.  So, another time for that as well.

On the way in, we stopped at the Varsity for a bite.  I’d been once, probably as a teenager, and the boys had never been.  "amy welborn"The food looked to be a step or two below good fast food. I dunno. I didn’t eat it.   I don’t think you really go for the food, anyway – you go for the experience, which is not nearly as intimidating as it used to be.  The cashiers still say, “What’ll ya have?” and the pace is brisk, but I guess since computers make everything so fast now anyway, the customer doesn’t feel the pressure and bluster of old, which was part of the place’s fame.

(The website says they serve 30,000 customers on Georgia Tech game days……not sure I believe that…)

We checked into the hotel (after fighting weirdly heavy traffic…even my older son who lives in Atlanta commented on it)  and walked over to Piedmont Park, where, I’d seen on the internet, an ATLANTA WORLD  KITE FESTIVAL was being held.  Wow!  How interesting! This should be fun!

Or not.  I mean…it was fun for the couple of dozen families flying kites in the meadow, but given that was it, aside from maybe four vendors…I’ll just say the website did its work of hype quite well.

We did meet Boo-Boo though.  He’s three.

"amy welborn"

After a good walk around and through the park it was time to go to the theater.  It’s basically dinner theater, and while you purchase seats in a particular section (floor, box or balcony), the actual seating is first come, first serve.  We arrived about 40 minutes before the show began and got a good table quite near the stage (near-er…since all the tables are actually near the stage.)

We recognized many of the actors in the production – it’s our fourth Shakespeare Tavern show. It was well done and held everyone’s interest, although I do think this company’s strength are the comedies.

Back to the hotel, up this morning to Mass at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, downtown:

"amy welborn"

A large, diverse congregation at Mass, with good music, although honestly, just do those ICEL chants in Latin.  The English is just awkward, the Latin won’t bite, and in a truly diverse community, it’s a powerful sign of unity . The homily was good, although it was all about All Saints’ and All Souls’  – next week.  But no matter, I guess. It was a good explanation of both feasts and devotions.  It’s a lovely church, although why the presider’s chair has to be right in front of the altar with him staring at us all through Mass is beyond me.

Drive back home – the good drive because you gain an hour going from eastern to central time – and back a little after noon.  We ran by Railroad Park before we hit the house – with me giving a crash course on the Four Noble Truths on I-20 on the way in –  because I wanted to show them the mandala the Dalai Lama’s crew was working on – he was speaking at the baseball stadium next to the park.  On the way, I passed a friend whose son was part of one of the choirs streaming by to sing at the event. She sort of rolled her eyes and said, “We’re singing ‘Let There be Peace on Earth…’  Whatever…”,)  I had zero interest in seeing the fellow himself,  but the mandala is a useful illustration of the core of Buddhist philosophy, which is all about impermanence and transience and “extinction”  –  the literal meaning of the word “nirvana.”

"amy welborn"

"amy welborn"

Beautiful and expressive of some truth about impermanence, yes? But even more “yes” in the crucifix above, which is not about impermanence, but about the deeper beauty of each person, eternally and permanently loved by that Heart, ,  and worth dying for.


Interesting breakfast conversation overheard at the Midtown Residence Inn where we were staying:

There was this sixtiesh man eating at the table I was sitting at, and then a sixtiesh woman stopped in front of him on her way out and said, “We’ve worked together.”

Turns out they’re both in the movie business. She is makeup and he is something else that I didn’t catch – lighting I think. He’s working on Nice Guys, starring Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling:

And then she was working on a film called Bolden, about a jazz musician.

It was an interesting conversation. Their shared theme was , “We’re too old for this.”  The man had been working all night shoots on this project to this point.

She’s been in Atlanta since September and then the location is switching to Wilmington, Delaware.

(They figured out that they had worked on Horrible Bosses together)

And I thought, “There it is, kids – full of vaulting ambition –  you think, I’ll work in the movies. It will be glamorous.”  But what really happens is that you end up living in a Residence Inn Atlanta for weeks and months at a time….

Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow….

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— 1 —

We finally got out of the Birmingham area this week – one day – one day  – without basketball, scouts or music…so I grabbed it, and we traveled….to ANNISTON. ALABAMA.

It’s about an hour from here, a little less than halfway to Atlanta, so we pass it regularly, but had never stopped.  In reading all of my “Alabama Day Trips” blogs and such, I had often run across mentions of the Anniston Natural History Museum, and all of those mentions had been positive – and without reservation.  As in, no well, at least they’re trying. Two points for that  None of that.

And “they” were right!

I mean, it’s not worth flying down from Bismark for, but really, for an off-the-beaten-path museum, it’s rather impressive.

"amy welborn"

As the name indicates, it’s all about the nature.  So yes, dinosaurs, minerals and volcanoes, as well as a condensed journey through Alabama’s various ecoystems (biomes? habitats? I get so confused. So much lingo.). But what impressed me were two particular exhibits.  One was on predators and prey – a big draw for young people, naturally. But it stood out because of the pedagogy behind it, which results in a substantive and clear exhibit.  Attacker and defender behavior was identified by one of three colored stripes, each representing a particular tactic: behavioral, physical or chemical. The subject matter was interesting to the boys anyway, but the whole stripe thing gave it a puzzle aspect that cemented the learning.

"amy welborn"

What was really lovely was the Birds of America exhibit.  I’m quite interested in the history of museums and collecting, being so appreciative of the efforts of  single-minded and sometimes eccentric collectors and “amateur” scientists whose passions form the nuclei of so many museums worldwide.  The Anniston bird exhibit is one of those. There is unfortunately, not much about the history of the collection on the museum’s website, but the Atlas Obscura tells us:

The Anninston Natural History Museum holds one of the oldest taxidermy collections in the United States, created by H. Severn Regan in 1930 with a donation of over 1000 birds, nests and eggs arranged in dioramas.

Today, the museum has over 400 species of birds on display. Of special interest is the museum’s collection of passenger pigeons (Ectopistes migratorius). Formerly one of the most common birds in North America, passenger pigeons could once be seen in migratory flocks a mile wide and 300 miles long, containing upwards of a billion birds. There are tales of pigeon swarms darkening the skies for days at a time. Due to wide-scale commercial hunting and deforestation, the passenger pigeon is today extinct, but it and several other extinct species are still preserved in this small natural history museum.

"amy welborn"


"amy welborn"

"amy welborn"

"amy welborn"

The exhibit is very well done, with attractive retro signage and an easy educational aspect, highlighting the various aspects of avian physiology.  As the entry above indicates, the dioramas were painted by Regan himself, and they are beautifully and faithfully preserved.   A really pleasant surprise.

— 2 —

Right next door is the Berman Museum, which features the collection of a local couple (not originally from the area – she was French).  It held a large collection of weaponry, and some interesting pieces – the boys were most interested in a number of weapons hidden in smaller objects like belt buckles.  But there was oddness like a toiletry set and camp plate of Napoleon’s, a crown from Czech royalty, some Mussolini gear and such. If you are interested in military history, it would be a good stop.  We ended up not having to pay because of our McWane membership, so go us.

"amy welborn"

"amy welborn"

— 3 —

Started the Taming of the Shrew.  We started fairly lowbrow, with a read through of this kids’ version, and then, this evening, watching the “Atomic Shakespeare” episode of Moonlighting.  I mean…it’s not faithful or anything (especially the ending), but it’s fun.   We’ll watch the BBC animated version tomorrow and then start our more serious read-through, probably along with the Taylor-Burton version.  And then at some point watch Kiss Me, Kate.  And I will get out the photos of Padua and sigh.

"amy welborn"

The street where our apartment was located.

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Right around the corner from the apartment…

"amy welborn"
"amy welborn"

(My goal? To enjoy Shakespeare. We talk about some themes  – but I don’t go hard core.  I basically want them to not be intimidated by Shakespeare, to offer them this really profound and rich window through which to view the human experience, and just….enjoy. I could do more “analytical” stuff, but you know what? I don’t want to. Our conversations and bit of memorization here and there are good enough.)

Both the Atlanta Shakespeare Tavern and the Alabama Shakespeare Festival are performing this play over the next few months, and I’m not sure if we’ll go to one or both. I love the Tavern, but we’ve never been to the ASF, so I’m leaning that way.

— 4 —

Tomorrow (Friday): a school performance of the Koresh Dance Company from Philadelphia. 

They are thrilled. 


— 5 —

A quick word in favor of formal prayer.

I wrote a whole book about this, I know, but our experiences with Morning and Night prayer have just deepened my appreciation and convictions on this score.

It can be done, you know.  Even with children, we can frame our prayer in terms of our own intentions and needs. We can offer up our relatives, friends and enemies, we can pray for the suffering throughout the world, we can offer God our own personal gratitude, hopes and sorrows, and then, stepping into the liturgy, join them to the prayers of the whole Body of Christ.  When we do this, we who “do not know how to pray as we ought” learn how to pray and are shaped by the Spirit in that prayer.

When we reflect on how the Holy Spirit acts in our lives, I think we should be wary of an overly individualistic take.  The way I have come to understand it is that the Spirit was poured out on the Church – the Church as a whole  – and that the primary way that I, as an individual, encounter the Holy Spirit is through the prayer, works of mercy and big T Tradition of that Church.

So in that light, it just seems to me that praying the amazing and rich liturgical prayers of the Church – from the Mass to the Liturgy of the Hours and other forms – is an encounter with the Holy Spirit that shapes me, if I am open, at my deepest level.

So, for example, Compline or Night Prayer.  We don’t have the patience to pray all of it, focusing on one Psalm, the short reading, and the prayers at the end.  Believe me, praying those prayers every night, puts everything in context much more than our own meanderings would:

1 Thessalonians 5:23 ©
May the God of peace make you perfect and holy; and may you all be kept safe and blameless, spirit, soul and body, for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Short Responsory
Into your hands, Lord, I commend my spirit.
– Into your hands, Lord, I commend my spirit.
You have redeemed us, Lord God of truth.
– Into your hands, Lord, I commend my spirit.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.
– Into your hands, Lord, I commend my spirit.

Canticle Nunc Dimittis
Save us, Lord, while we are awake; protect us while we sleep; that we may keep watch with Christ and rest with him in peace.
Now, Master, you let your servant go in peace.
  You have fulfilled your promise.
My own eyes have seen your salvation,
  which you have prepared in the sight of all peoples.
A light to bring the Gentiles from darkness;
  the glory of your people Israel.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit,
  as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be,
  world without end.
Save us, Lord, while we are awake; protect us while we sleep; that we may keep watch with Christ and rest with him in peace.

Let us pray.
Lord our God,
  restore us again by the repose of sleep
  after the fatigue of our daily work,
so that, continually renewed by your help,
  we may serve you in body and soul.
Through Christ our Lord,

The Lord grant us a quiet night and a perfect end.


Lex orandi, Lex credendi. That’s what it means.

— 6 —

I think our next major day trip will be down to Montgomery, even aside from the ASF.  Joseph did the state capitol on a school field trip,I’ve been to Hank Williams’ grave,  but I’d like to go to the art museum, the zoo, and some of the other civil rights sites down there – the King parsonage and the Rosa Parks Museum.  Maybe the Fitzgerald house.

Leave it to the Brits….isn’t it good?

— 7 —

Lent is late this year, but it’s still coming….if you’re looking for resources for your parish, I have a few:

Reconciled to God daily devotional (reviewed here)

This Bible study on the Passion narrative in Matthew from Loyola Press. (For some reason I’m not listed as the author on the Loyola website but…I am.)

Contributions in the Living Faith Lenten devotional.

John Paul II’s Biblical Way of the Cross , with paintings by Michael O’Brien (there’s also an app for that – linked on that page)

And then The Power of the Cross, which is available for a free download.  There are a few used copies available on Amazon.

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

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