Sunday, December 30, 2007

All the News

My husband and I (and at various times, members of our family) have been traveling overseas for eleven years. Being attuned to news when we are at home, we search for news sources on these trips. Sometimes, the news we have access to comes via BBC or Sky News; sometimes it comes via the International Herald Tribune. Sometimes, we can’t get access to news, and when that occurs, I rue the world going by without my knowing what is happening.

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:

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

Shattered Shells

I could also title this blog--Ice storm Redux.
Here is the visual evidence of all the clatter last night. Even as we went to sleep, we could hear the ice crashing into the house. Nothing more broken, but most unnerving to hear!

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.


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

Crystal Shells

We have had two ice storms within the past week. The ambient air temperature is cold enough that when the predicted snow did not fall, but in its place rain fell, it instantly froze on tree branches. (Of course, we just filled our bird feeder before the ice storm hit!)

Last night the second such storm hit, and this time the trees gave way to the ponderous weight. In our yard, we lost about four branches, all from evergreen trees. Thus far, we have not had any entire tree go down.

And, thankfully, we have also not lost power. While central Pennsylvania has been hit, our circumstance is far less difficult than Oklahoma and those central parts of the U.S. that were hard hit last week by ice storms.

I did think of lines from Robert Frost's poem "Birches" as you might guess from the blog title of "Crystal Shells." What an apt description for the way ice encases tree branches.

As I write this blog tonight, our house is being peppered with these "shells." They clatter against the house, raising such a noise the two cats have fled in fright to parts unknown. No doubt, they have crawled under beds or into safe hiding places to ride out the aftermath of the storm.

From Robert Frost's poem "Birches"

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

Another opening. . .

. . .another show.

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.
This morning, I arose and looked out the window--nothing so very unusual in that, but the sight that greeted my eyes was. Herewith:

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.

Isn't that a perfect description--the child of morning, rosy-fingered dawn.
Well, that got me to thinking about other famous openings. Can you identify the source before I give you the answer?
Call me Ishmael.
(Moby Dick by Herman Melville)
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness. . .
(A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens)
Extra points if you can continue the opening!
Arms, and the man I sing. . .
(The Aeneid by Virgil)
All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.
(Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy)
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.
(Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen)
If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like. . .
(Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger)
It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents. . .
(Paul Clifford by Bulwer-Lytton)
The above opening line is frequently regarded as one of the worst examples of over-blown fiction, and has given rise to an annual tongue-in-cheek contest, appropriately called The Bulwer-Lytton Fiction contest, in which people compete to out-do that prose!
As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect.
(Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka)
Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow coming down along the road
(Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce)
Mother died today, or perhaps it was yesterday.
(The Stranger by Albert Camus)
The boy with fair hair lowered himself down the last few feet of rock and began to pick his way towards the lagoon.
(Lord of the Flies by William Golding)
I was not sorry when my brother died.
(Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga)
And, given the season we are entering, the last entry. . .
Marley was dead, to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that.
(A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens)

Of course, there are many many more wonderful opening lines to novels. Do you have a favorite?

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Face the Final Curtain

It's is over--it is over and done.

(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?
My answer--Because.

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).

My answer--no.

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.

Oh, yeah!

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Rate This Blog

Hmmmm--while cruising around some blogs site, I came upon a feature called Rate This Blog--as in movie ratings.

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:

free dating sites

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

Why do bad things. . .

. . .happen to good people?

This question is as old as humanity. An entire book of the Old Testament is devoted to this question: the book of Job.

Today, I learned some news that took my breath away.

As you recall, I was recently in New Orleans attending a meeting of the Presbyterian Disaster Assistance Advisory Committee, a group on which I serve. One of the people we met on that trip was a retired teacher--Rich Cozzone--who had come from Ohio to volunteer as the overall coordinator of the volunteer villages.

Rich's interest in helping Hurricane Katrina victims recover was sparked by a personal experience:

"Rich Cozzone first became interested in helping the Gulf recover when he was on his way back to Ohio after dropping his son — then a sophomore at Tulane University. Rich had just left his son at school when Katrina hit. Rich said 'He called me from a bus that was evacuating him to Jackson, MS. From there he hitchhiked to Tennessee where I picked him up, safe and sound. I figured that I owed something back and this relief work has become a passion'.”

(Quote and photo from 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.

When we met him, he exuded enthusiasm for the task at hand. He indicated he decided he had to leave his home in Ohio, and come to the Gulf coast area to volunteer--for however much time it took to help with the recovery effort.

Well, his time has now ended--tragically, he was killed in a traffic accident last night.

When I received this news, it absolutely took my breath away.

I do not often ask--why do bad things happen to good people. But this time I did.

There are no other words right now.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

It's Beginning. . .

. . .to look a lot like Christmas!

(Sorry, since I have now embedded that song in your brain for the remainder of your day.)

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.

Oh, I had the radio tuned to an XM channel that played lovely classical Christmas carols all day, and the house smelled of bayberry and pine. But my mood hadn't kicked into Christmas mode. And then, today, it did.

It snowed!

I am bemused at how much snow puts me in a Christmas spirit. Having grown up in the southern hemisphere, where Christmas falls in the middle of summer, I should be able to find any weather Christmas worthy. But somehow, the mental picture I have of Christmas is very Dickensian, and it absolutely requires snow.

So, today sets the mood.

Even the one cat and the dog got into the mood.

Inside and outside, all decorated for Christmas.

Daytime and night all set for Christ-

Now, if I could just get the baking, the shopping, the Christmas card sending all done. Then, I'd really be in the mood.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Saturday Soup 8 Fall 2007

If you can stand one more turkey recipe, here is a delicious soup using turkey. However, it doesn't call for left-over turkey, but rather ground turkey.

Turkey Chili with Black Beans and Cumin Yogurt
Makes 12

4 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.


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.
Any special requests for a particular type of soup?
Tomorrow is our church's Bistro, so I will have 4 new recipes to draw on. Since I haven't tasted any of the soups, I need to do some research before I can make recommendations.