Sunday, December 30, 2007
And, as it happens, there have been times when major news stories break while we are away from home. In 1998, we were in Italy when the U.S. embassies in Dar Es Salaam, Tanganyika, and Nairobi, Kenya, were bombed. In 2003, we were in Berlin when the New York blackout occurred. In 2004, we were on a cruise to Bermuda when Ronald Reagan died.
Sometimes there has not been news that grabs the world headlines, but “news” that catches our attention. For our first trip abroad, we left from Newark Airport a day after a Fedex cargo plane had caught fire and burned up on one of the runways. We peered out of the airport terminal window to see the skeletal hulk of the plane. In 2000, an hour before we left, our daughter was driving home, when the car she was in caught on fire! Luckily for her, right behind her was a small truck with two men who were vendors of fire extinguishers. In 2002, we left on Christmas Day for an anniversary trip to Spain. It was snowing as we left, and on our way down the Pennsylvania Turnpike, we saw a car do a complete 360 degree spin, carom off the center divider, and then do one and a half rolls to land on its roof. Convinced we would find someone dead in the car, we stopped by it, and saw the driver emerge unscathed!
Perhaps, there is always news of significance and we are simply hyper-attuned to it. Whatever the circumstance, on this trip over Christmas, we were sitting talking on December 26, Boxing Day, and I remarked—it seems that when we travel there is frequently a major news story; this trip world news has been quiet.
My observation was premature, but certainly a bit eerie.
On December 27, as we watched BBC news, we saw the crawler begin across the screen—BREAKING NEWS!! There has been an explosion in Pakistan; 20 people injured or killed.
We went about our planned activities, and returned in the evening to the news: Benazir Bhutto had been assassinated by a gunman who subsequently blew himself up with a suicide bomb.
True, there is always news. If only it weren’t so earth-shaking.
Photo Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Image:Benazir_Bhutto.jpg
Future blogs in the next several days will reprise some of our Christmas trip to London; but I wanted first to acknowledge events of far greater importance than our trip--the assassination of Benazir Bhutto.
Monday, December 17, 2007
This is a brick walkway between our sunporch and our pool, now covered with fallen ice.
Close-up of same brick walkway.
And finally, our blue-tarp covered picnic table now littered with ice shards. Looks as though someone had a mad party smashing champagne glasses all night--and sounded the same way!
While driving around this morning, running errands, we saw many trees that had lost limbs. I cannot remember such a bad ice storm in central PA.
ANNOUNCING TWO WEEK HIATUS
We are off to London--to see the Queen? Probably not, but to see our daughter. No blogs written or read until we return.
Cheers to all--Merry Christmas
Happy New Year!
Sunday, December 16, 2007
When I see birches bend to left and right
Across the lines of straighter darker trees,
I like to think some boy's been swinging them.
But swinging doesn't bend them down to stay.
Ice-storms do that. Often you must have seen them
Loaded with ice a sunny winter morning
After a rain. They click upon themselves
As the breeze rises, and turn many-colored
As the stir cracks and crazes their enamel.
Soon the sun's warmth makes them shed crystal shells
Shattering and avalanching on the snow-crust
Such heaps of broken glass to sweep away
You'd think the inner dome of heaven had fallen.
Friday, December 14, 2007
Despite my brother's intense dislike of the song I used for my prior blog title, I will risk using another song reference.
The wonderful thing about endings is that they can lead to beginnings.
So, you might be saying--a very pretty sunrise, so what? Oh, my. We have had days on end of grey overcast skies, then drizzly days, or foggy evenings. And no sun--no sun at all (it seems) for days. Then this morning, I looked out our front window to see this lovely dawn.
As you might guess, my literary brain kicked into gear and I immediately began thinking:
"Now when the child of morning, rosy-fingered Dawn, appeared. . ." (Book II, The Odyssey by Homer)
This is one of the most famous opening lines in a literary work.
Of course, there are many many more wonderful opening lines to novels. Do you have a favorite?
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
(You can't see me, but here at my computer, I am doing a little happy dance, spinning the chair.)
Since returning to teaching, I have taught 5 years and one semester. The one semester is this one that has just finished. In those eleven semesters, I have noticed that each one has its own character, its own mix of peculiarities, despairs and triumphs.
This semester has the distinction of being the one where I had the highest attrition rate. I began with 26 students in each section. When the students sat for the final exam today, I had 17 in one section, and 13 in the other! (WOW! 50% attrition.)
This semester also had the distinction of being the one where I had the highest incidence of plagiarism--I had 3 different students who included wholesale sections in their research papers that they failed to quote and failed to credit. My very clear policy is that such an infraction results in a zero for the assignment. One student was very angry when I returned the research paper with its zero rating.
All the final exams are now graded, and the grades calculated. And I know you are all waiting to hear how the macaroni cheese student did. She did not pass--enough said. She is convinced that I had it in for her (I did not).
So, why you might be thinking along about now--why is this blog titled "face the final curtain"?
Well, I began hearing a melody in my head this afternoon.
And now, the end is near;
And so I face the final curtain.
Hum hum hum.
My friend, I'll say it clear,
I'll state my case, of which Im certain.
I've lived a life that's full.
I've traveled each and ev'ry highway;
And more, much more than this,
I did it my way.
I am being a little melodramatic--and I am not Old Blue Eyes singing my final swan song before the curtain call.
But I feel as though there were times when I was doing it my way this semester.
Student asks--why must I observe MLA conventions?
Student asks--do I need a cover page for my research paper?
(This right after I had said--include a cover page for your research paper).
Student asks--does the cover page count as 1 (toward the count of a 10 page paper).
Student sends me an email THE DAY THE RESEARCH PAPER IS DUE--and says, he can't make it to class (and of course can't turn in the paper) because he has to fly to mid-country for a family funeral.
So, I said--give me a copy of the airline ticket as written proof.
Student says--I threw it away.
So, I said--well give me a copy of the return ticket.
Student says--I can't; I rode back with my parents!
Student sends me an email the NIGHT BEFORE the exam and asks--how do I get on the library website to look at the course material stored there.
I answer--I went over that several times in class; I am NOT going to email you directions the night before the exam.
Student writes a paper that sounds just a bit too sophisticated.
I ask--please bring the source book you used to next class.
The student NEVER returns to class.
Student tells me--I missed class for 3 days because I was in an accident and hurt my foot.
I say--ok, bring a doctor's excuse.
Student brings in excuse--it says the doctor approves being off ONE day.
So, I declined to excuse the other two absences.
Student NEVER returns to class.
Student with a lot of potential comes to class, but doesn't turn in any papers.
I point out--you can't pass the course without writing the papers.
Student says--I know. Then stops attending class.
Student says--isn't there anything I can do to bring up my grade.
I suggest--do the work assigned.
Student says--I know, but I have a lot going on in my life right now (such as, his girlfriend is pregnant). But I want to do some extra credit.
I decline--do the REGULAR work.
Student stops attending class.
But for each of these students, there are ones like this--student who got into legal trouble early in the semester, buckles down and does well on research paper and final exam.
Or student who returned to school after losing job. During the semester, his father died--but he missed only one class. And came back full of enthusiasm. And as he said goodbye today said--I learned so much in your class.
Regrets, I've had a few;
But then again, too few to mention.
I did what I had to do
And saw it through without exemption.
I planned each charted course;
Each careful step along the byway,
But more, much more than this,
I did it my way.
Sunday, December 09, 2007
You know me, I am always curious about such little online ratings. You can discover what kind of book you are, what kind of bird, flower, song, etc.
You can discover the IQ of your blog (or your readers? which was it?).
So, I clicked on the Rate This Blog button, and I learned that my blog is:
I was mildly bemused by that, but then just underneath the rating was the explanation.
In the however many blogs the little rating machine "read," it found three references to DEATH and one to GUNS. Really? That's why "Parental Guidance" is needed to read my blog?
Well, I think I will just have to label this blog "guns and death" just to increase my blog rating.
I suppose all those blogs labeled "recipes" or "soup" didn't help either. Speaking of soup, I am taking a break until after the holidays. I have an inkling that those of you who are preparing food right now are NOT making soup, but rather baking cookies.
Closing note: if you decide to rate your blog, and if you cut and paste the HTML text to include in your blog--beware. As with some previous snippets of code that I have used, this one includes a tag line to direct you to a site for "cash advance." Why do these sites have to try to sneak unwanted ads in? I just snipped it out.
Friday, December 07, 2007
(Quote and photo from http://www.pcusa.org/pcnews/gulfrelief/001.htm where there is a longer story about Rich.)
In February 2006, Rich came back to the Gulf, this time as a volunteer, not as a parent returning his son to school. He was in charge of training and overseeing workteams. Then in September, 2007, he was put in charge of all the Volunteer Villages. It was in this capacity that we met him.
Wednesday, December 05, 2007
Considering our holiday schedule this year, and our impending trip to London, we decorated our house earlier than usual for Christmas. But, until today, I wasn't really in a Christmas mood.
So, today sets the mood.
Saturday, December 01, 2007
Turkey Chili with Black Beans and Cumin Yogurt
servings4 T. vegetable oil, divided
2-1/2 lbs. ground turkey breast
1-1/2 cups chopped yellow onions
2 T. minced garlic
1 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. each of ground cinnamon, dried basil, chili powder, freshly ground pepper, and ground sage
2 cans (19-3/4 oz. each) black beans, rinsed, drained and divided
2 cans (13-3/4 oz. each) fat-free, low sodium chicken broth
1 can (4 oz.) chopped green chilies, drained
2 cups frozen white shoepeg corn kernels
1) In large Dutch oven or heavy bottomed stock pot, heat 2 T. of oil. Add ground turkey in batches and brown. Drain fat from pan and set turkey aside.
2) Add remaining 2 T. of oil to the pan. Stir in onion and cook over medium heat for 2 minutes. Add garlic, 1 tsp. salt, and the spices; cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
3) In a blender, puree 1 can of beans with 1 can of chicken broth until smooth. Add to the pot with the remaining beans, the chilies, and the corn.
4) Bring to a boil; then reduce heat and simmer 5 minutes. Return turkey to the pot and heat through 2 minutes. Add up to one additional can of chicken broth if chili seems too thick.
5) Garnish each serving with 1 T. of cumin yogurt.
FOR CUMIN YOGURT GARNISH:
1/2 cup plain lowfat yogurt
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1/4 tsp. salt
Whisk all ingredients together in a small bowl.Serve soup with a dollop of yogurt garnish on top.
Thursday, November 29, 2007
Today, I just finished reading Memoirs of a Geisha, and now I am roaming the house looking for my next book to read. That search should prove fruitful as we have at least 500 books in the house! Many of them I have already read, but there are a few I bought and squirreled away for future reading. It’s just a matter of my deciding what kind of a reading mood I am in.
Memoirs of a Geisha is an unusual book. Set in Kyoto, Japan, just before the start of World War II, and then continuing into the 1960s or thereabouts, the novel gives you a glimpse into the highly ritualized stylized world of old-style geishas. The plot line of the novel is frequently chatty, shimmering on the surface. I found myself interested but not really invested on the lives of the characters. Thankfully, the novel was a quick read—contrast that to Simon Winchester’s A Crack at the Edge of the World, about the great San Francisco earthquake of 1906. Winchester is my kind of author, though I tend to be exhausted after reading one of his works.
So, now what do I want? Do I want something meaty? Something that will stir my blood? Or a good mystery read that engages my brain? Or a wonderful friendly novel that puts me in the mood for a cup of tea? What to choose, what to choose?
Watch the right hand side to see what I am currently reading, and you will know what I chose.
That’s all for now, dear blog friends. The semester is winding down, and in one week I will get some 40 research papers to read. And in a week after that, I will have the final exams to grade. THEN, and only then, I will be able to give you the sequels on some of the people you met from my classes—e.g. Ms. Mac Cheese.
Monday, November 26, 2007
Saturday, November 24, 2007
Since I spent Thanksgiving last year in Africa with my daughter, and this year with our son in Pittsburgh, I can’t help but compare a little these two Thanksgiving experiences.
My daughter Kristen and I did have a Thanksgiving dinner, sharing it with a friend, Alex, from the Netherlands. So there we were, two Americans, with one Dutch friend, eating kabobs for ourThanksgiving meal in an Argentinean restaurant run by a Lebanese manager, in Accra, the capital of Ghana in Africa! A most international experience.
For this year’s Thanksgiving, my husband and I drove to Pittsburgh, for a very traditional Thanksgiving with our son and his wife.
Last year, in Ghana which is just north of the equator, the outside temperature was usually in the 90s (F). Here’s the morning scene in Pittsburgh.
I went swimming in the hotel’s outdoor pool in Ghana; in Pittsburgh we drove through a display of Christmas lights on Thanksgiving night.
Both Thanksgivings are special because the main ingredient in each was the opportunity to be with family members.
Most Thanksgiving meals feature some recipe that is a traditional family dish. When she was living, my mother in law made a fabulous butterscotch pie, and I have her recipe. It has become one of our family traditions to have butterscotch pie for special occasions. So rather than post a Saturday soup, here’s the recipe:
Makes 2 pies
Make two pie crusts; bake and set aside. (I use the Joy of Cooking pie crust recipe and always get excellent results.)
2 cups brown sugar
½ cup flour
½ cup melted browned butter
Yolks of 4 large eggs (set aside the egg whites in a separate bowl)
4 cups milk (preferably whole)
1 tsp. vanilla
1. Brown butter in a saucepan, allowing it just to begin browning. Then mix flour into the browned butter, then the brown sugar. Make sure all the flour and sugar are mixed into the butter.
2. Stir the egg yolks into the milk, then add vanilla. Stir the liquid into the butter/sugar/flour mixture in the saucepan. Cook over medium heat until the whole mixture thickens—it should just come to a boil. STIR CONSTANTLY (this is the real trick to making this rich butterscotch.)
3. Pour the butterscotch mixture into the baked pie crusts.
4. Beat the set aside egg whites with 2 T regular sugar until the whites are stiff and peak nicely. Spread on top of pies—brown under broiler briefly.
5. Allow pies to cool several hours. Refrigerate.
Hope you enjoy Mother Mary’s wonderful butterscotch pies. We have found that the stirring spoon is a popular item. Extra butterscotch, if there is any, can be poured into small pudding dishes and eaten as a pudding.
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
My daughter was doing an internship with a non-governmental organization which had linked her up with a group “dedicated to the promotion of contemporary art within Ghana.” She had gone to Ghana in September, and so in November a year ago, I was getting ready to go spend Thanksgiving with her.
I say Back to Africa—as that is where I spent my childhood. I was born in the USA (sorry, Bruce) but grew up in then Northern and Southern Rhodesia (now Zambia and Zimbabwe). Maybe it is the experience of growing up in a culture other than one’s birth culture that does it, but I have been riveted with Africa all my life. At one time, I would have said Africa insinuates itself into the veins of anyone who has lived there for a while, and that may still be true. But I think other places have that same power—it’s just that I didn’t grow up in some other place.
Anyway, I was going back. Now, truth be told, I had one brief time of being back in Africa. The summer before Thanksgiving, 2006—my husband and I went on our annual vacation trip, visiting Spain, Portugal, and Morocco. If you look at a map of the Mediterranean, you can see how really close Spain and Africa are. While our brief visit in Morocco was most interesting, it didn’t feel like Africa to me. Of course, I should say—it didn’t feel like the Africa I remembered. My perception of Morocco, the little bit that we saw, is that it is very Mediterranean. Especially around Tangier, where we were, there is that sun-washed look of clear blue skies, dry climate, sparse vegetation, flashes of color in hardy native plants. The Moroccans—who are mostly Berbers—enhance the Mediterranean feel with their white-washed houses with bright blue doors. Being in Morocco, I felt like I could have been anywhere around the Mediterranean perimeter.
Back to Africa. To get to Ghana, I had to make a connection somewhere in Europe. Very few planes fly directly from the U.S. to Africa (although I did find one flight that went from the U.S. East Coast to the Gambia!). So, I flew from Philadelphia to Heathrow in London, then on to Accra, Ghana. I had a REALLY long layover in Heathrow (dumb planning on my part); as a result, most of the flight to Ghana was at night. That was a bit disappointing because my daughter had alerted me to anticipate the beauty of flying over the Sahara at sunset. Since my plane took off a bit late, I got to see the Mediterranean at sunset, and the Sahara at night.
When we landed in Accra, it was about 9 p.m. Since Ghana sits very near the equator, daylight hours year round are a constant 12 hours—sunrise around 6 a.m. and sunset around 6 p.m. So it was fully night by the time we landed. I stepped off the plane, full on anticipation. I was going to see our daughter, who I had not seen for about 3 months, and I was BACK in Africa.
First step off the plane, the heat hit me like a steam bath—waves of humidity, heightened by the artificial chill of the airplane. It took a bit of time to clear customs, gather my luggage, and head outside. The airport in Accra is set up in such a way that people coming to meet passengers can’t go into the airport. So my daughter was waiting outside with the throngs of people—a rare white face in a sea of black.
And then the real experience of being back in Africa hit me—I took a deep breath and smelled Africa. Perhaps the most pervasive scent is of wood burning. But mingled in is the smell of soil, of flowers, of decay, of promise and of despair. Ah, Africa. I am back.
Monday, November 19, 2007
Saturday, November 17, 2007
Now, if you want to check your own blog, go here.
Now, here's the truth.
I saw the blog reading level rating of Delia's blog.
So, I tried it. And I got--you need a high school education to read my blog. Hmmmm--interesting. Then I tried entering INDIVIDUAL blog entries, and depending on which one I entered, I got various ratings. Some require high school education (e.g. recipes); others require you be a genius (Dulce et Decorum est). Apparently, ones with Latin titles rate the GENIUS level.
So, you can fool blog rating sites!
Now, maybe that is worth the genius label.
Who knows why they really serve
Chili this way in Cincinnati? But it's delicious on or off the
spaghetti. A lot of spice, without an overwhelming amount of heat in this
winner recipe. It freezes very well too.
1 lb. red kidney beans, rinsed and picked over to remove debris
8 cups water
2 Tbsps. vegetable oil (canola or safflower is fine as well)
1 lb. ground beef
1 large yellow onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 (12 oz.) bottle beer
2 Tbsps. chili powder
1 Tbsp. dried oregano
1-1/2 tsps. ground coriander seeds
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground allspice
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1/4 tsp. cayenne
2 bay leaves
2 tsps. kosher salt
1 (28 oz.) can whole tomatoes, diced
1. Place the beans in a large stockpot. Pour over enough water to cover and place over medium high heat. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, partially cover, and simmer for 1 to 2 hours, until the beans are tender. Drain, reserving 1 cup of the cooking liquid, and set aside until ready to use.
2. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large stockpot over medium heat. Add the beef and cook for 5 minutes, until browned. Remove the beef from the pot with a slotted spoon, reserving the oil in pan; set aside.
3. Add the onion and garlic to the oil and sweat for 4 minutes, until tender.
4. Add the chili powder, oregano, coriander, cinnamon, allspice, cloves, cayenne, bay leaves, and salt and stir to coat. Cook for 5 minutes, until the spices are fragrant.
5. Add the tomatoes and simmer for 2 minutes.
6. Return the beef to the pot and bring to a boil. Add beer and return to boil. Reduce heat, partially cover, and simmer for 10 minutes.
7. Stir in the beans with the bean cooking liquid and simmer for 10 minutes.
8. To serve, remove the bay leaves, ladle the chili over spaghetti, and top with grated cheddar.
Oh, and, um--there's another state school also playing in Michigan today. . .let me think. Oh, yes--Penn State against Michigan State (at 3:30 p.m., in case you wondered).
THE Nittany Lion
Thursday, November 15, 2007
Make that a squirrel and a hawk.
I was teaching my 11 a.m. section. The classroom we are in is on the second floor, in a building that recently had new windows inserted. So, now we have a lovely unobstructed view of the great outdoors.
I had the students in groups doing work--smaller groups are so much more productive and conducive to all students entering into the conversation. Suddenly, the group nearest the window began looking out the window and animatedly making comments. Finally, I said--OK, what is going on?
Look, they said--there's a hawk that has caught a squirrel. So, I looked out--and right there was a large hawk sitting astride a still struggling squirrel. What a fascinating display of hunter and hunted, of powerful and powerless. The hawk had its talons positioned right over the squirrel's throat and conveyed an air of absolute unconcern for the squirming rodent under its claws. The squirrel struggled, then slowly moved less and less, until it stopped altogether.
By this time, I had persuaded students to go back to the discussion at hand. For one second, I glanced out the window just in time to see the hawk soaring into the air, its cargo in tow. The squirrel's tail dangled like a forlorn surrender flag.
A small death on campus.
What came next in our class discussion rivets me. Some of the students who had gotten up to look out the window expressed great sorrow at the poor squirrel. I must confess the divide of sympathy tended to fall along gender lines--the girls were more sympathetic, while the boys thought it was "cool" to see a squirrel die. The girls were rooting for the squirrel and the boys were cheering on the hawk.
Our current class discussion focuses on the one section of the reader we use--we are working on a chapter all about entertainment, including how news has morphed into entertainment. I asked this question:
"Most Americans get their news through television rather than through print. What do you think this shift has meant to our level of understanding of the world?"
One student who moments before was bemoaning the poor squirrel's fate opined that we shouldn't see images of the war in Iraq, because that "might turn people against the war." She firmly stated that the soldiers are over there fighting for us, and if we saw what they had to do, we would oppose the war.
I challenged her a bit--it was not time to debate her (that comes next semester when the course focuses on argument). What I said was since images have such power, we rob ourselves if we don't see these images, because the Arab world certainly sees them. Many of the images of injured or dead Iraqis are shown on Al Jazeera as standard fare.
How can a young woman who was so sympathetic to a squirrel, to the point that she was saying--let's go help it--be so unsympathetic to the Iraqi people? I know part of the answer is that she has bought the great lie that the "soldiers are over there to protect us and our way of life."
A small death on campus, indeed.