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.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

A Reader in Search of a Book

Did you hear the drum roll when you opened this blog? (Not really, just a metaphorical drum roll!) Well, that was in recognition of my 200th blog entry!

That's right--200 blog entries.


Do you remember that play Six Characters in Search of an Author? Well, I have a variation on that title—I am a reader in search of a book.

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

Africa Reprise

When I made my trip to Ghana in November 2006, I was filled with anticipation--returning to Africa after a 45+ year absence, seeing our daughter, experiencing another culture.

Upon my return, I wrote a number of blogs on my observations. I was looking back over these blogs recently, and was struck with the dearth of comments. Now, truthfully, I don't write for the comments, but there is a sense that the number of comments is an indication of readership. Since a fair number of comments on my Back to Africa blog indicated an interest in reading my observations on my Ghana trip, I will have to be clever and reprise the information.

So, here goes.

First, as my brother has pointed out in several of his comments, West Africa is NOT south central Africa. I grew up in what was then Northern and Southern Rhodesia (now Zambia and Zimbabwe). These countries are definitely sub-tropical and have distinct southern hemisphere climates. Then too the people in Zambia and Zimbabwe have different tribal origins than the people in West Africa. West Africa probably is the source for most of the slaves who were forcibly brought to the New World. Southern Africa, while it had its tribal wars (I am thinking of someone like Shaka Zulu who re-wrote the rules of warfare in his day), it did not see the level of slave trade West Africa experienced.

When I went to Accra, Ghana, November a year ago, I had immediate first impressions. I had never seen a city with such an incredible level of street vendors, for example. They were everywhere.

The state of transportation left much to be desired in Accra. While there were many taxis, few of them seemed road-worthy. My daughter, who had gone to Ghana in September, 2006, rode some of the tro-tros (see my linked blog) but before she left in December, she decided NO MORE tro-tros. In fact, there had been some fatal accidents involving tro-tros. Of course, transporation in some countries around the world does require a spirit of adventure.

My daughter and I had a couple of priceless experiences during my visit. She had her own priceless experiences that helped demonstrate what the two of us experienced was by no means unique.

As we traveled around Accra, I was struck with the contrasts everywhere. Development side by side with ramshackle structures. Elements that reminded me of my youth in the Rhodesias--dirt roads, for example--side by side with superhighways.

Of course, I came home with an armful of purchases, many of them coming from the Accra Cultural Center.

So, now that I have had a year to contemplate the trip to Ghana--what do I think. Perhaps an obvious result is that I tend to pay close attention news from Ghana. I have encountered Africans from time to time, and try to elicit from them from which country they have come.

The first question many Ghanaians asked me was--how do you like Ghana? And that was always followed quickly by the second question--so when will you come back to Ghana?

The truth is I was much taken with Ghanaians--in general, all the people I met were warm, engaging and friendly. I was much less struck by the country itself--located very near the equator, the country does not have the breaktaking beauty of Zimbabwe.

So, rather than return to Africa, my next trip will be with my husband--this time to the place our daughter is living now--London.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

That was then. . .

(This post is in lieu of a Saturday soup)

. . .this is now.

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.

Thanksgiving is that quintessential American holiday. Admittedly, Canada celebrates Thanksgiving, but in October. So, when I went to Africa last year, I was taking advantage of the long weekend; I was not really going for Thanksgiving in Ghana.

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:

Butterscotch Pie
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

Back to Africa

I am going back to Africa. That was the thought buzzing around my brain one year ago—I was anticipating the trip I was going to make over the Thanksgiving holiday. One year ago, on November 20, I boarded a plane to London, then on to Accra, Ghana.

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

True Confessions

Remember those old magazines called True Confessions? Actually, as I began to write this post, I wondered if the magazine still exists. And it does!

Well, the confession I am about to make would never make this magazine. I have so little in my life that is racy enough for the cover announcements.

If I did, the announcement would read--I was not the most industrious student in the world! Or even in my college.

When I teach students, and interact with them, always at the back of my mind is the strong memory I have of the type of student I was. So, herewith three confessions.

1) I did not excel at all my subjects. When I entered college, I had aspirations of studying to become a physician. Well, I quickly ran into a subject called Chemistry, and knew my aspirations were doomed. I managed a C the first semester, and escaped with a D the second semester. So much for being a physician.

I still have my old grade transcripts, and as I look back over them, even in my eventual major subject--English--I did not always get top grades. In fact, I never made the Dean's list.

I did, however, excel at taking exams, and was exempted from one required course based on an exam. Further, I did very well on Graduate Record Exams (GREs) earning one of the highest grades anyone from my college had earned to that point.

2) I did not always start my papers timely. Perhaps the most egregious example of this tendency occurred when I was in graduate school. I was writing a paper for the seminar on Chaucer and. . .well, I just didn't get started early enough. By the time I had to leave for class, I was still typing the paper. So, I took along my little portable typewriter, and with it balanced on my knees, I kept typing while my girlfriend drove me to class. I scrunched what should have been 4 or 5 pages into one closing page. As a result, I failed the paper and the professor told me to rewrite it. When I did, he gave me a B, and told me in no uncertain terms that the paper would have been an A, had I put the effort into it initially.

3) I did not always read the assignments in advance of class. In fact, the habit was brought crashingly back to my recollection in a most unusual way. After grad school, I returned to my undergraduate alma mater as my first teaching career. Soon after I began teaching, some of my students came to me and said--do you know what Dr. S told us about you? Puzzled, I said--no. Then they said--he said we have to read our assignments; otherwise we won't be able to discuss intelligently in class. In fact, he continued, there is only one student that I had who could discuss intelligently without having read the assignment--Miss C was the only one who could do that (that was me!).

I went to him, my former professor and now colleague, and said--please stop telling my students about my old habits. Now, I find this story hilarious, but at the time I was mortified.

Don't tell the students what I did as a student!

Saturday, November 17, 2007

You have to be a Genius to read this blog

Or, if you read this blog, you are a genius!

Want proof?

cash advance

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.

Saturday Soup 7 Fall 2007

All week, Katdoc has been mentioning. . .something about a football game? Hmmm. Wonder what that's about.

Anyway, in "honor" of Ohio State, here's an unusual meat based soup.

Cincinnati skyline


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.

Serves 12

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.

Please note--based on the posting time of this blog, I have no way of knowing what the outcome of the Ohio State vs. Michigan game might be.

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

A Small Death on Campus

This week seems to be my week to have encounters with nature. First, it was the unseen but very much present deer. Now today it was a squirrel.

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.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Deer 1--Tree 0

As you might expect, based on the title of this blog, there's a back story.

Last Friday, I went out to rake leaves (yes, my autumn obsession). I raked several neat piles, muttering under my breath about "neighbor's leaves that blow into my yard" and then carried the leaves to the curb.

I offer this photographic evidence, and ask--which side do you think is my yard? and which, my neighbor's?

I mention this Friday chore only to pinpoint a time.

On Saturday, I looked out a back window and thought--that's odd. Why does the small Engelman spruce look so odd? So I trekked outside, and here's what I found.

Several deep gouges in the soft earth.

Many broken branches on the lower half of the tree.

And a gouge on the trunk of the tree.

Apparently, our neighborhood deer, or at least one of them, had issues with the tree. Or, more likely, used this little tree to rub velvet off its antlers. I didn't see the deer, but the evidence is quite clear.
The frustrating thing for me is that I have never seen these deer. Several neighbors have, and my husband and our dog encountered them one evening. We live in very suburban area, in a development that is almost 30 years old. We have lived in this house since 1980, and have NEVER seen deer, until this year. It is evidence of over-building and urban sprawl, that the habitat deer formerly occupied has been destroyed, and so they move into more settled areas.
So, for now, deer--1; tree--0.
UPDATE: On Tuesday, I came home to find my neigbor--I'll call her Phyllis--raking leaves into piles. I was so overjoyed that I went right over and volunteered to help her carry them to the curb. I have learned that leaves left in piles tend to blow into my yard--so I may as well transport them now, as later.