Songs about Your Home

Everyone needs a song (or a few songs) about where they are from.  Here are mine, starting with "Back to Indiana" by the Elms . . .

Hoagy Carmichael's "Moon Country" is lovely. You can tell he talking about his home state (sycamores, possums, and he LIKES that stuff.  I mean, I do, too.)  While I like Eddie Condon's version best, here is a great version of "Back Home in Indiana" in a version with Kay Thompson (yes, the one who played that wonderful Miss Prescott, fashion guru in Funny Face with Audrey Hepburn and Fred Astaire).  The best song is The Samples' "I Remember the First Time I Drove Through Indiana."  Relish your own songs . . . sing them and love your home!

For Theater or Dance: Easy Starry Sky Backdrop

Once when staging Pedro Calderon de la Barca's Life is a Dream, I wanted to have a backdrop of stars, maybe even moving stars.  The plot of this play turns heavily on the king's fascination with astrology, and many speeches refer to the stars and the sky.  Have you ever priced a real starry sky theater backdrop?  Yikes.  Real ones, while spectacular, can run in the thousands.  But do you have a projector?  These can run from $300 to more than $2000.  If you don't have access to one, then you are still stuck.  But if you do, then try projecting a free planetarium via Stellarium onto a backdrop of white sheets.  When the stage lights were on, the stars were almost invisible.  Turn the lights off, and the entire room was plunged into a starry night.  We set Stellarium to simulate the passing of time, so the night sky shifted in the background during the play, not enough to be distracting, just enough to give a sense of what the play tries to capture--time is running out, we will all one day awake from this dream!  You can see the drawback, which is that the stars will be cast on anything before them.  The projector cast stars on the actors, on the backs of the heads in the audience.  And the audience members cast silhouettes on the stars.  I personally think this was cool.

Later, we hosted a waltz/swing dance and projected the stars again.  What a magical effect and very little setup!

I Day-dream about the Nobel Prize for Home-Making . . .

I recently read Agatha Christie's 4.50 from Paddington and was struck forcibly by the interesting-ness of one of the characters: Lucy Eyelesbarrow. The idea of "domestic service" has been kind of dismissed in the last century. I've seen a lot of criticism for "the new domesticity," as impractical or even demeaning. I was amazed to see this character, smart, creative, and likeable, choosing a life devoted to care of the home. Long live care for the home! And how about some honors for it? Here's the passage which introduces Lucy:

The name of Lucy Eyelesbarrow had already made itself felt in certain circles.

Lucy Eyelesbarrow was thirty‐two. She had taken a First in Mathematics at Oxford, was acknowledged to have a brilliant mind and was confidently expected to take up a distinguished academic career.

But Lucy Eyelesbarrow, in addition to scholarly brilliance, had a core of good sound common sense. She could not fail to observe that a life of academic distinction was singularly ill rewarded. She had no desire whatever to teach and she took pleasure in contacts with minds much less brilliant than her own. In short, she had a taste for people, all sorts of people;and not the same people the whole time. She also, quite frankly, liked money. To gain money one must exploit shortage.

Reflections on the Right Use of School Studies with a View to the Love of God (Updated 2017)

If you have not yet read this essay by mystic Simone Weil, you might want to pick up a copy of her Waiting for God or The Great Tradition, (which incidentally contains an excellent collection of original texts with educational significance--see a table of contents here). Both books contain Weil's essay. (In 2017, I found this online pdf of the magnificent essay.)

Her essay is more a collection of thoughts which explores the connection between applying oneself to a tedious geometry problem and the ultimate attitude of the soul to God. For a teacher or student, this essay is provocative and searching. And for anyone interested in love of neighbor, this piece has some striking things to say. Hugh of St. Victor said studies were a road to God in his Didascalicon. Jean LeClercq did a historical-cultural study on the Benedictine connection between the love of learning and the desire for God. Here Weil meditates on the same theme.

Here is an excerpt:

The capacity to give one's attention to a sufferer is a very rare and difficult thing; it is almost a miracle; it is a miracle. Nearly all those who think they have this capacity do not possess it. Warmth of heart, impulsiveness, pity are not enough. In the first legend of the Grail, it is said that the Grail (the miraculous vessel that satisfies all hunger by virtue of the consecrated Host) belongs to the first comer who asks the guardian of the vessel, a king three-quarters paralyzed by the most painful wound, "What are you going through?"

The love of our neighbor in all its fullness simply means being able to say to him: "What are you going through?" It is a recognition that the sufferer exists, not only as a unit in a collection, or a specimen from the social category labeled "unfortunate," but as a man, exactly like us, who was one day stamped with a special mark by affliction. . . . For an adolescent, capable of grasping this truth and generous enough to desire this fruit above all others, studies could have their fullest spiritual effect, quite apart from any particular religious belief. Academic work is one of those fields containing a pearl so precious that it is worthwhile to sell all our possessions, keeping nothing for ourselves, in order to be able to acquire it.

Finally, a School with a Weekly Reading Day

Why do schools push themselves so hard? The last forty years have seen thousands of new educational ventures spring up, and they all seem to adopt the five-day, all day work week.  In the Catholic and private schooling movement, it seems we could have decided for ourselves what makes a sufficiently rigorous study load. Isn't, as Josef Pieper says, "Leisure the Basis of Culture"?  Doesn't anyone else notice how easily Sunday becomes a day devoted to getting ready for Monday, instead of the greatest day of the week (see John Paul II, Dies Domini). Do we learn so much more by attending school five days a week? Really?

How delighted I was a few years ago to find this school in Louisville, KY called Immaculata Classical Academy bravely instituting a weekly Monday READING DAY.  Here's the text from its website.

Immaculata offers a four-day academic week which provides instruction time comparable to a five day school. Classes are held from 8:00am-3:30pm.  Our reduced academic week has these advantages: it lowers tuition and makes a quality education affordable for more families; it reduces the nightly homework burden and Sunday night blues by giving families Mondays as a reading and preparation day; it supports family life by increasing time spent at home and reducing time spent with peers; it enables parents to be more involved in their child’s education and provides one day for family enrichment activities; it reduces absenteeism by providing one day for doctor/dentist and other appointments; it encourages independent study skills, better preparing students for college; it gives families a three-day weekend for family trips. Read more here.

I also was impressed by the enormous practical advantages. I'm delighted to be presenting on February 9 as part of their speaker series and spending some time with the students and faculty.

Lenten Reading & Medieval Women Saints (Updated 2017)

A happy 2017 update -- it was only a matter of time before these meditations described below made their way into a user-friendly book form: Benedict XVI, Holy Men and Women of the Middle Ages and Beyond.

My 2011 post:
Where have I been and how did I miss that Pope Benedict made medieval saints the subject of his Wednesday audiences throughout 2010?  Find all the meditations here.  First, he went through the Mendicant orders, then St. Francis of Assisi, St. Dominic, St. Anthony of Padua, St. Bonaventure, St. Albert the Great, St. Leonard Murialdo, St. Joseph Cottolengo, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Joseph Cafasso, John Duns Scotus--and then to mix things up a little early Christian martyr Tarcisius and 19th century Pope Pius X.

Then he launched into meditations on the following women:  St. Hildegard of Bingen, St. Clare of Assisi, St. Matilda of Hackeborn, St. Gertrude the Great, Bl. Angelina of Foligno, St. Elizabeth of Hungary, St. Bridget of Sweden, Marguerite d'Oingt, St. Juliana of Cornillon, St. Catherine of Siena, Julian of Norwich, St. Veronica Giuliani, and St. Catherine of Bologna.

Cheat Out Diagram for Theater Directors

I drew this once upon a time to help some young actors staging a Shakespeare play.  I wish I'd had it a few years ago when staging Pedro Calderon's Life Is a Dream.  I kept saying, "You need to cheat out," but no one knew what I meant.  Since then, I've found my old diagram!  Of course, just as with poetry, it is okay to break the rules--NOT cheat out--for some chosen, dramatic reason which better conveys what the scene is trying to do.  But as a rule . . .

Nest Observation

When Natural History continues deep into the winter, a nest observation is a good exercise.  My students read selections from John James Audubon's Birds of North America (available for free here; note the wonderful description of the wood thrush!).  I collected a dozen different nests and we tried to identify them using Audubon's descriptions.  This was great for helping us dig deep into his text, as well as for training powers of observation.  And--it really is amazing how different nests can be, and that birds can make nests at all. 

Robin's nest at top--mud being the dead giveaway.  The lower one I can't identify . . .  any guesses?

Maple Syruping

We had a good snow the day we boiled the sap down for maple syrup.  The spring of 2012 was the first time I ever embarked on Maple Syruping.  What a lot of work, but what fun!  A good friend put me on to this starter kit from Maple Madness.  I got the Expansion Pack because all I wanted was the plastic tubing to be split into however many lengths you wanted (I did five equal pieces) and six plastic taps.  At Tractor Supply I got five 5-gallon buckets.  I also bought some cheesecloth and a candy thermometer there.

Here's what we did.  We followed directions more or less like these.  A few notes.  We tapped the trees in February when the sap was starting to run, i.e. when the daytime temperature was above freezing but the night-time temperature was below freezing.

We set out buckets on the ground and fed the tubing from the spout to the bucket through a little slit in the lid of the bucket.

The buckets had to be checked and emptied into the sap reservoir at varying rates.  Once a day or every other day is good.

For the New Year

Christ speaks: "Many love Mary as if she were their Mother . . . I want you to realize that Mary is your true Mother in the supernatural order . . . Mary has given you life--the most real life. She gave it to you at Nazareth, on Calvary, and in your Baptism. At Nazareth she conceived you, in conceiving Me. . . . By consenting to give Me life, she also consented to give it to you. In becoming My Mother, she became yours. . . . 

I was the Head and you were a member. Mary bore us both; though in different ways, in her maternal womb; for the members and the Head have not a separate existence."

--Fr. Emil Neubert, My Ideal: Jesus, Son of Mary

Mapping your Country Round

He loved maps, and in his hall there hung a large one of the Country Round with all his favorite walks marked on it in red ink. - The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

Mapping a favorite walk in your area is a great exercise for building powers of observation.  Furthermore, it's almost bound to strengthen the love you bear your home country.  I made some maps recently by hand for some friends of their home towns and the local roads, rivers, lakes, and paths nearby.  I wasn't even from that area, but drawing out the little woods and streams made me love this land more.  To map, I used paper, pencil, magic marker, and mostly Google.maps.  But there were some other helpful sites: is fine, but I wish I could get these topographical maps at! And a post over at the Forest Rat reminded me of the USGS free topographical maps.  You also ought to walk these areas, of course. This makes a good gift, too, but maybe next year!

Merry Christmas 2016

Break forth, O beauteous heavenly light,
and usher in the morning;

O shepherds, shrink not with affright,
but hear the angel’s warning.

This child, now weak in infancy,
our confidence and joy shall be,

the power of Satan breaking,
our peace eternal making.

Merry Christmas!

The Benefits of Writing Stories

I recently came across this article concerning a study about the mental and physical benefits of writing about personal experiences in a way which involves emotions. James W. Pennebaker and James D. Seagal presented research on this in "Forming a Story: The Health Benefits of Narrative," Journal of Clinical Psychology, 55, no. 10 (1999): 1243–1254. You can find a good bibliography of the extensive research in this area before 1999 at the end of the article.

This reminds me somewhat of Victor Frankl's thesis in Man's Search for Meaning, that is, that human beings have a need to understand the meaning of events. Understanding can be more important than merely ending the negative aspects of events, even terrible events. Other themes from MacIntyre, Bettelheim, etc. come to mind, too.


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