Sunday, September 30, 2012

Parish of the Sacred Heart and St. Catherine of Alexandria

On our visit to Hanbury Hall (which starts here), we went for Sunday Mass to the Parish of the Sacred Heart and St. Catherine of Alexandria in Droitwich Spa.

The front of the church

The bell tower (too bad I couldn't get it all in one shot)

The church was built between 1919 and 1921 and incorporates almost wall-to-wall mosaics. The effect is astounding and provides an amazing contrast to the simple brick exterior.

Above the sanctuary, Christ the King in Paradise

Sanctus Jacobus!

Nativity mosaic

St. Richard (c. 12th century, patron of Driotwich)  blessing the local springs

Mosaic are made up of small pieces of Venetian glass called "tesserae" that bring a luminous quality to the work. The church really needs to be visited to appreciate the wonder. It reminds me of the churches in Venice and of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC. If we hadn't been at Sacred Heart for Mass with a subsequent Mass pending, we would have spent a lot more time here (and taken many more pictures).

Who was St. Catherine of Alexandria?

Born in the early 300s, Catherine of Alexandria came from a well-to-do pagan family and was well educated. She converted to the Christian faith in her teenage years. She denounced the Roman Emperor Maxentius's persecution of Christians. The emperor had a succession of scholars and rhetoricians try to persuade her away from the faith. She converted them all. The emperor executed them all. He proposed marriage to her but she claimed she was a bride of Christ, and thus refused. Eventually he condemned her to death. She was to die on a spiked wheel but it broke. She was subsequently beheaded. 

She was highly venerated in the middle ages as a virgin martyr. Joan of Arc identified St. Catherine as one of the saints who appeared to her and counseled her.

Her feast day is November 25.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

More Andersen on Forgotten Classics!

I forgot to post to my own blog that I've recorded another fairy tale for Forgotten Classics. This time I read The Nightingale by Hans Christen Andersen, which was fun to read and had a surprisingly upbeat ending for an Andersen tale. Go check it out here.

Lots of other great recordings are available there too, including some Jeeves and Wooster stories and The Unforeseen by Dorothy MacArdle.

Book Review: Hellboy Vol. 11: The Bride of Hell and Others

Hellboy Volume 11: The Bride of Hell and Others by Mike Mignola (and others!)

This trade paperback collects half a dozen or so short adventures of Hellboy throughout his career with the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense (B.P.R.D.). The book features a variety of great comic artists, including Richard Corben and Kevin Nowlan, working on interesting stories. It is dedicated to "the twin masters of the ghost story--M. R. James and J. Sheridan Le Fanu." Mignola channels the history of horror storytelling quite well. His stories are always fascinating to me because they blend Lovecraft's Cthulu mythos with a lot of other mythology, folklore, history, and fantasy.

In addition to the title story about a woman seemingly sacrificed to the lust of the Devil, the collection also contains a personal favorite, "Hellboy in Mexico, or A Drunken Blur." He teams up with some luchadors (Mexican wrestlers who were inspired by the Virgin Mary) to fight a plague of monsters by day and drink a lot at night. The story has a lot of humor and pathos. (See my review of a follow-up story here.) Another fun story, "Buster Oakley Gets his Wish," involves some American mid-western teenagers messing with the occult and getting more than they bargained for. Hellboy's investigation is hilarious and action packed. All of the stories have a great blend of horror, humor, imagination, and action.

The trade paperback format is a great way to enjoy these stories because each tale has a one-page description of the origin of the story, what is factual, what is taken from other stories, and what Mignola made up himself. Also included in the back of the book are some sketches and early design work for the monsters and the creepy locations with comments by Mignola and the other artists. It gives a nice peek into the creative process.

Parental content advisory: there's some mild swearing and taking the Lord's name in vain; lots of blood and gore though not too realistic; some occult practices though they are depicted in a negative light. It's a horror comic, what do you expect? I'd recommend early teens and up.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Game Review: Oh Snap!

A new game has come out for iOS called Oh Snap! Basically it is a social game where you are given a set of words to chose from. After picking the word, you use a picture as a background and draw on it to have the other person guess the word. For example, I took a picture of myself and then drew this:

I was of course depicting a pirate, which the other player guessed. It looks like a fun way to while away the hours. You can have multiple games with multiple friends or random strangers who have signed up. Jacob loved posing for a picture this morning.

It's Pictionary with pictures!

Download it for iPad/iPhone/iPodtouch at For more info, check it out at

Book Review: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

One of the challenges in reading a great work of literature is that it often has many imitators. The imitations may be flattering or unflattering; they may be complimentary or subversive; they may borrow just little bits or just about everything. In addition to spoiling surprises (thanks a lot, I Walked with a Zombie!) it is possible for the original source to look cliched or hackneyed after experiencing all those others. Did that torpedo this book for me?

Consider some various elements in the story: The first conversation between Jane and Helen Burns at Lowood School reads like the best of Dostoyevsky. The plot meanders from location to location across England like the best of Dickens. Jane has romantic entanglements with noblemen and churchmen (it's Church of England, after all) like the best of Austen. Ghosts, crazy people, and supernatural/horrific events pop up like the best of Val Lewton.

Jane Eyre does not suffer at all by comparison. The story of the orphaned girl growing up in an unloving home with an indifferent aunt and cousins, moving out to a harsh boarding school where she gets her education, and taking a job as a governess at the lonely estate of Mr. Rochester is compelling reading. Her character grows throughout the book in believable and engaging ways. There are many deep conversations about Christianity, duty, missionary work, matrimony, etc., that fit naturally into the story and arise from the people's lives.  I found the book fascinating and hard to put down. This is a great work of literature undiminished by other similar works.

Thanks to Julie and Scott at A Good Story is Hard to Find for getting me to read this wonderful novel.

I did read the book  on Kindle for Android, which means I didn't really have a book. Unfortunately there were no annotations or notes and quite a bit of dialogue is in French (with a small bit of German, too). I remember just barely enough to get through but it would have been nice to have translations available. I don't know if other e-versions have better support for language-challenged readers. It is something to consider if you haven't read Jane Eyre and don't know French. I think a reader could get by without it but it can be frustrating. Hopefully this Dover Thrift Edition that I've linked to is better.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

FaithWorks Newsletter

Father Dwight Longenecker is one of my favorite contemporary authors. I've reviewed his book, Listen My Son, which is an inspiring work applying St. Benedict's rule for monasteries  to home life, especially for contemporary fathers like me. Now he is starting a free weekly e-newsletter providing practical tips for living and growing in the Catholic faith. The newsletter is called FaithWorks. The page for signing up is here.

Here's his synopsis of the latest issue:
This week my main article is the beginning of a series entitled Finding Forgiveness. One of the main problems many people have is that they are burdened with problems from the past. They are burdened with guilt, with bad memories, with regrets for things they have done and things that have been done to them.
They've been to confession and they know God has forgiven them, but the problem is they still don't FEEL forgiven! There are ways to deal with this problem, and I'd like to suggest a few in this article and in the articles in the weeks to come.
Have you learned how to listen to the voice of the Lord? The second article is the beginning of a series on contemplative prayer. We're getting started on this topic this week, and I'll be writing much more on prayer and how to pray in the weeks ahead.
The newsletter isn't very long. I read it in under five minutes. And it comes to your email, so you don't have to check a blog or blog reader to see if a new one has published. Best of all, it provides some spiritual nuggets to help you along the way. Check it out!

Hanbury Hall and Gardens Part IV: Our Apartments

Our visit to Hanbury Hall and Gardens was quite long since we rented the upstairs holiday suite for a long weekend. Many of the National Trust properties include a place that people can rent and stay self-catered style (which means it has a kitchen for the guests to use). The fun of pretending we were guests of the Vernon family was only part of the appeal (though to be honest, where we stayed would have been the servants' quarters). Running around the property after hours is the sort of forbidden treat that appeals to us too.

Our holiday suite is on the third floor. The two bedrooms are nice and spacious. 

Our bedroom (that's Jacob in the bed)

The sitting room is comfy and a decent kitchen is included. The dining room is big enough to accommodate the four of us plus two aunts for our meals. We did occasionally go down to the tea shop for snacks as well.

Sitting Room

Dining Room

Narrow Kitchen (but gets the job done!)

The bathroom is a little tricky. The bathtub has a showerhead attachment but it was not easy to get hot water to come out. I mean, you could either have just hot water, as in boiling hot, or mix in cold water, which gave a fairly icy stream of water. There's no shower curtain or such to keep the water in. Standing up in the tub is not so easy since the wall angles in. So you couldn't shower anyway. Otherwise the room is spacious.

Tricky bathroom

The stairs down from our flat

It was great to be on the property after closing time and to have the grounds to ourselves. We had a lovely time.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Hanbury Hall and Gardens Part III: The Gardens

The gardens at Hanbury Hall are divided into three parts. First is the Formal Garden which is in the immediate vicinity of the house. Second is the Later Gardens which are farther out and are more focused on practical planting, producing the fruit and veg needed to support a large house like Hanbury Hall. Third is the Park which is more of a rough land where the flora and fauna is free to grow. Several paths and avenues had been set up in the the early 18th century by George London, a famous garden designer hired by the Vernon family when they acquired the house around 1700. Thomas Vernon was a successful lawyer who put his money into making a fabulous home for himself.

The most striking garden is the Sunken Parterre. It is closely trimmed and very symmetric, featuring a variety of colors and sizes that are quite delightful to the eye.

Jacob looks on the Sunken Parterre

Centrepiece #1

Centrepiece #2

Centrepiece #3

Centrepiece #4

Daddy is sunk

Another part that we enjoyed is the Bowling Green. Bowling was quite popular back in the day since King Charles II loved to gamble on the sport. Maintaining a proper bowling green was rather expensive but it did provide entertainment for guests and show off wealth. We tried it out though we didn't know any of the rules.

The Bowling Green

Lucy tries it out without reading the rules

A later edition to the garden (in 1745!) was the Orangery. Growing citrus fruit in England's climate is quite a challenge. Installing a building dedicated to providing the proper heat and shelter showed the wealth of the Vernon family. The windows face south to take full advantage of what sunlight is available.

The Orangery

Inside the Orangery

Pineapples too!

A dog left is least it was only his foot

Lemons at the Orangery?!?

Behind the Orangery is the Mushroom House, where they would raise mushrooms to eat. The household would do as much as it could to raise what it needed. The National Trust is adopting that attitude again, growing as much as they can and serving it in the tea shop.

Jacob fearlessly leads the way

The door into the Mushroom House

Children of the Mushroom

A fruit garden is also found next to the house with a pond backing on it.


The same pond

The Later Gardens include the restored Long Walk and the Lime Tree Walk, originally planned by London for the delight of people staying at the house. The Walled Garden was originally connected to the house by a "Snobs Tunnel," preventing the upper-crusty types from seeing the gardeners at work.

Walkway to the ice house

Snobs Tunnel

Nice view of misty fields

Another part of the Later Gardens is the Orchard, which is full of apple trees of many varieties.

Jacob shows some sass

More of the orchard

The Long Walk and the Lime Tree Walk extend out into the Park, which was originally part of the forest where the king and his nobles hunted deer. Now the land seems to be overrun with sheep, which is also a pleasant sight to see, though maybe not so challenging to hunt.

Deer Park

Hey, those aren't deer!

A new vegetable garden has been planted by the front of the house, yielding a rather nice picture.

New garden and the old homestead

Now that we've seen the house and gardens, let's take a peek into the accommodations available at the house for visitors who want to spend the night. That's in the next post.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Hanbury Hall and Gardens Part II: The Playground

The playground at Hanbury Hall is craftily tucked away in a back corner of the back buildings on the property. Since we were staying in the guest rooms, we were able to explore after hours and have the playground to ourselves.

The wide shot of the playground

The playground slopes down a bit toward the back. The designers took good advantage of this fact to have a network of rope bridges lead back to some nice climbing down equipment, like a cargo net, a slide, and a fireman pole.

The beginning of the bridges

Jacob goes down the cargo net

Lucy at the crossroads bridges

Jacob comes out of the tube!

The children enjoyed the various swings. Lucy stuck to the more traditional swing set. She had all the adults push her on the swing, though I think Daddy was the favorite because I push her the most. I asked her if she was in outer space and she readily agreed. She tried to get Mommy to push her so high that she'd be in outer space, with mixed results.

Lucy gets some air

Mommy can't watch how high she is going!!

Jacob favored the less traditional swing.

Swinging sideways

Later, he did try out the more traditional swing, BUT he did fly as high as he could.

Mommy, look at me going into outer space!

Jacob tries to loop the swing

Jacob also convinced his aunties to try out the obstacle course on the playground. He had already practiced several times and had a head start, so here he is showing them how it's done.

A long way to go

The playground is quite fun and made the visit even better for us. Our next blog will go through the extensive gardens.