Thursday, May 31, 2007

Summertime. . .and the livin’ is easy

Apologies to DuBose Heyward who wrote the libretto for Porgy and Bess.

As I was driving home today, having visited my dad and step-mom at their retirement village, I was captured by the lovely fluffy clouds. Now, I know that such cumulous clouds can be a precursor to thunderstorms, but I am talking about the esthetics—the sheer beauty of such clouds.

I almost felt like a 15 year old girl again, gazing at clouds. And it got me to thinking about summertime. I can recall two idyllic summers when I lived with my uncle and aunt near the village of Grantham, PA. Too young to work (by the standards then), I had to find things to fill my summers. And I filled them very well, thank you.

What did we do? Well, we could walk to the little IGA grocer in the middle of the village. By today’s standards, this grocery would be a convenience store, but then it served to provide all the food goods we might need. And it had a soda cooler right inside the door. We would pad down the hill to the IGA, go inside in the relative cool, fish around for the right soda, then sucking our bottles, walk back home.

Or we would go to the local swimming holes. Do they even have swimming holes anymore? The one near Grantham was called the Riffles, and to get there you had to walk along the railroad tracks. The swimming hole was formed by an abandoned dam, which had since mostly fallen down, but the remnants of a deep water reservoir remained. There was a nearby tree with the proverbial swing on which braver souls than I could swing far out over the swimming hole then drop in. We could sit on the remnants of the dam, sunning, talking, (if old enough) with a boy.

Swimming hole photo from

Or we could go picking strawberries. My step-mom had gone picking strawberries this morning at a pay-to-pick place. I recall there being such places close enough to Grantham that we could go and pick. Maybe we were asked to do so by the grown-ups who wanted strawberries for making jam, or maybe we just went on our own. I don’t remember, but I recall going to pick them.

What else did we do? Hard to recall—summers seemed to last forever and yet fly by. As I was photographing the lovely cloud formations, I heard our neighbor’s dogs barking away. So I walked over into their yard, and their little boy seemed to have found a way to pass his summer day.

Oh, I just remembered one more thing we could do in the summertime. . .pull weeds!

Enough of my brief walk down memory lane. How did you spend your childhood summers?

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

In Praise of John Peter Zenger

The only valid censorship of ideas is the right of people not to listen.

Tommy Smothers*

This fall, I will be teaching English 101 again. For the past several semesters, I have concentrated on teaching English 102, which focuses on argument, logic and rhetoric. English 101 is by far the most popular course at my community college in the fall. Every student must take (and pass) 2 semesters of English above basic writing. So freshmen sign up for English 101 in droves. Hence my switch.

Since Eng 101 concentrates on introduction to various types of writing, that gives me some latitude and I have a little fun with some of the assignments. Each semester, I ask students about various current events, just to gauge their awareness of the larger world. Sadly but not surprisingly, their knowledge is usually somewhat limited. So, I craft an assignment that divides the class up into groups and assign them to watch a half hour evening news show on the national networks. With several teams, we cover ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, CNN and PBS. They are to look at content, balance between news and advertisements, visual approach, bias, and learn something about the anchors for each news show. Then they report to the class.

Just before I give this assignment, I throw in a little “extra credit” question: who knows who
John Peter Zenger is? Usually no one knows, but sometimes a student does. The question gives me the occasion to launch into an impassioned speech on the value of freedom of speech and a free press and how this concept is one of the cornerstones of our democracy.

You see, even though Zenger’s trial occurred in 1735 it is widely regarded as laying the foundation for freedom of speech in this country. Why, you might ask, am I thinking about freedom of speech.

Actually, two reasons. First, we have just passed Memorial Day where the news coverage invariably featured someone talking before the cameras about how the service people we honor with that day served and sometimes died to preserve our freedoms. I suspect we rarely think about the meaning of those freedoms. And second, this weekend I took part in a somewhat light-hearted conversation about freedom of speech. We were filling out an on-line questionnaire to determine where you line up politically. One of the questions went something like “do you favor government censorship?” My response was a vehement NO! I am pretty much opposed to any type of censorship.

Freedom of speech in the United States derives from the First Amendment in the Bill of Rights. The actual language is—“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” This amendment captures four basic freedoms: freedom of religion; freedom of speech; the right to assemble; and the right to petition the Government for redress of grievances. If you were to look at Norman Rockwell’s famous illustration of Freedoms—Ours to Fight For—you would see an illustration of FDR’s reworking of the four freedoms: freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from want and from fear. Check
here to see it.

One need not read far in the history of the Colonies to see why each of these freedoms was so important. King George III just didn’t get it. He appointed as Governor of New York a man named William Cosby. Cosby soon demonstrated his veniality, earning the dislike of many. When an opposition leader published a newspaper criticizing Cosby, an order went out to arrest the publisher—John Peter Zenger. (This recounting is greatly truncated. You can find a much better account here.) Zenger’s defense was handled by Alexander Hamilton who basically attacked the validity of the law that would bar such publishing. A jury, which had all but been hand picked to render a guilty verdict, came back with a not guilty verdict. Zenger was freed and the foundation of freedom of speech was established here before we even became a country.

Freedom of speech is not something totalitarian or dictatorial governments cherish. New technologies have greatly expanded the ways in which freedom of expression exists. The Internet has greatly challenged those countries around the world that try to limit freedom of expression. China began to experience an Internet explosion, and with it new-found access to information and free expression. When China sought to block searches on Google within the country, Google
agreed to limitations that really amount to censorship. And just this week, President Hugo Chavez in Venezuela shut down an opposition television network.

Is there no limitation, you might ask? Well, many Supreme Court rulings have followed over the centuries after the Zenger trial. Here is a fascinating overview of the approaches to
free speech. One famous judgment included in a Supreme Court ruling is that we do not have the right to yell “FIRE” in a crowded theater. Another famous statement, when the Court was considering whether or not pornography was covered, was in response to the need for a definition of pornography—“I know it when I see it.”

The next time you hear someone criticize freedom of speech—however distasteful some of the uses of it might be—remember, free speech is a foundation value for the U.S.

* I am old enough to remember CBS’ decision to censor the Smothers’ Brothers and subsequent cancellation of their very popular show.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Oh, the books I have read

I came upon the 100 books meme at Nature Woman’s blogsite. I rarely do memes but this one caught my eye as I am an avid reader. As explained by Nature Woman (aka Pam), here are the rules for participating (although I suspect many of her readers are also my readers and know “the drill”).

If you want to participate, this is how it works. Look at the list of books below.
  • Bold the ones you’ve read.
  • Italicize the ones you want to read.
  • Leave blank the ones that you aren’t interested in.
The one thing I do not know is the SOURCE of the list. Perhaps it started with someone’s “these are the books I have read thus far.” It is NOT a list of recommended books. Some are good, some are just trendy, a few are vapid.
1. The DaVinci Code (Dan Brown)
2. Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen)
3. To Kill A Mockingbird (Harper Lee)
4. Gone With The Wind (Margaret Mitchell)
5. The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (Tolkien) – with many many apologies to my brother who has read the LOTR series through. . .several times? BUT I did see the movies!
6. The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring (Tolkien)
7. The Lord of the Rings: Two Towers (Tolkien)
8. Anne of Green Gables (L.M. Montgomery)
9. Outlander (Diana Gabaldon) – another author I never got into.
10. A Fine Balance (Rohinton Mistry)
11. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Rowling)
12. Angels and Demons (Dan Brown)
13. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Rowling)
14. A Prayer for Owen Meany (John Irving) -- anything by Irving!
15. Memoirs of a Geisha (Arthur Golden)
16. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (Rowling)
17. Fall on Your Knees (Ann-Marie MacDonald)
18. The Stand (Stephen King) -- I read The Shining by King, and must say, while it is well-written, the horror genre is not one that appeals to me.
19. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Rowling)
20. Jane Eyre (Charlotte Bronte)
21. The Hobbit (Tolkien)
22. The Catcher in the Rye (J.D. Salinger)
23. Little Women (Louisa May Alcott)
24. The Lovely Bones (Alice Sebold)
25. Life of Pi (Yann Martel)
26. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Douglas Adams) – this was my son’s favorite book for quite some time; maybe it still is.
27. Wuthering Heights (Emily Bronte)
28. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (C. S. Lewis)
29. East of Eden (John Steinbeck) -- a marvelous reworking of the Genesis story in modern times.
30. Tuesdays with Morrie (Mitch Albom)
31. Dune (Frank Herbert)
32. The Notebook (Nicholas Sparks)
33. Atlas Shrugged (Ayn Rand) – I never caught the Ayn Rand bug.
34. 1984 (Orwell)
35. The Mists of Avalon (Marion Zimmer Bradley)
36. The Pillars of the Earth (Ken Follett)
37. The Power of One (Bryce Courtenay)
38. I Know This Much is True (Wally Lamb)
39. The Red Tent (Anita Diamant) –very trendy a while back; I had no interest in it.
40. The Alchemist (Paulo Coelho)
41. The Clan of the Cave Bear (Jean M. Auel) – in fact, her entire series.
42. The Kite Runner (Khaled Hosseini)
43. Confessions of a Shopaholic (Sophie Kinsella)
44. The Five People You Meet In Heaven (Mitch Albom)
45. The Bible (I can’t claim to have read it all, but a fair bit.)
46. Anna Karenina (Tolstoy)
47. The Count of Monte Cristo (Alexandre Dumas)
48. Angela’s Ashes (Frank McCourt)
49. The Grapes of Wrath (John Steinbeck)
50. She’s Come Undone (Wally Lamb)
51. The Poisonwood Bible (Barbara Kingsolver)
52. A Tale of Two Cities (Dickens)
53. Ender’s Game (Orson Scott Card)
54. Great Expectations (Dickens)
55. The Great Gatsby (Fitzgerald)
56. The Stone Angel (Margaret Laurence)
57. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Rowling)
58. The Thorn Birds (Colleen McCullough)
59. The Handmaid’s Tale (Margaret Atwood)
60. The Time Traveler’s Wife (Audrey Niffenegger)
61. Crime and Punishment (Fyodor Dostoyevsky)
62. The Fountainhead (Ayn Rand)
63. War and Peace (Tolstoy) -- I know this is considered to be Tolstoy's masterpiece, but I suspect it would take longer to read than the actual war lasted. Besides, I much prefer Anna Karenina.
64. Interview With The Vampire (Anne Rice)
65. Fifth Business (Robertson Davies) -- one of my favorite authors, I have
read everything that I can by Davies.
66. One Hundred Years Of Solitude (Gabriel Garcia Marquez)
67. The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (Ann Brashares)
68. Catch-22 (Joseph Heller)
69. Les Miserables (Hugo)
70. The Little Prince (Antoine de Saint-Exupéry)
71. Bridget Jones’ Diary (Fielding)
72. Love in the Time of Cholera (Gabriel Garcia Marquez)

73. Shogun (James Clavell) – again, the entire series.
74. The English Patient (Michael Ondaatje)
75. The Secret Garden (Frances Hodgson Burnett)
76. The Summer Tree (Guy Gavriel Kay)
77. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (Betty Smith)
78. The World According to Garp (John Irving)
79. The Diviners (Margaret Laurence)
80. Charlotte’s Web (E.B. White)
81. Not Wanted On The Voyage (Timothy Findley)
82. Of Mice And Men (Steinbeck)
83. Rebecca (Daphne DuMaurier)
84. Wizard’s First Rule (Terry Goodkind)
85. Emma (Jane Austen)
86. Watership Down (Richard Adams)
87. Brave New World (Aldous Huxley)
88. The Stone Diaries (Carol Shields)
89. Blindness (Jose Saramago)
90. Kane and Abel (Jeffrey Archer)
91. In The Skin Of A Lion (Michael Ondaatje)
92. Lord of the Flies (Golding)
93. The Good Earth (Pearl S. Buck)
94. The Secret Life of Bees (Sue Monk Kidd)
95. The Bourne Identity (Robert Ludlum)
96. The Outsiders (S.E. Hinton)
97. White Oleander (Janet Fitch)
98. A Woman of Substance (Barbara Taylor Bradford)
99. The Celestine Prophecy (James Redfield) -- also trendy for awhile, and I avoided it, partly because of that.
100. Ulysses (James Joyce) -- I love Joyce's Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and feel as an English major I "should" read Ulysses.

Of the books listed above, I have read 53. Had I started with my list of books I have read—I tried to recreate a list of all the books I have read—my list would have been 391 books. That is my trying to recall what I have read, and also recording as I read what I have read. But, I frequently forget to record them, so I suspect I have read more than that.

In my recent TERRIFIC READS, I have suggested books not on the list above: here, here, and here. Perhaps, I should take a list of the best 100 books of English language from 1923 to the present, and bold or italicize those. Or the BBC list of the best-loved novels. Respectively, I have 36 on the first list and 44 on the second. So I have read MORE of the 100 list of unknown original. The point is—where do you start. Whose list matters? Or really captures THE BEST?

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Two Dog Day

Occasionally, we have our son's dog come to visit. When she does--her name is Sonnet--she and Tipper instantly bond. In fact, before she arrives, we can say to Tipper--Sonnet is coming--and Tipper perks up and actually seems to get excited.

Maybe I am anthropomorphizing. But I am convinced Tipper understands the word "Sonnet"--not as in "would you like me to read you a sonnet" but as in "Sonnet is coming to visit." (Tipper also understands "walk" and "biscuit" and "ride.")

This morning, Tipper awoke at 5:30 a.m. She does that many mornings, but since today is Saturday, I had human thoughts of sleeping a tad longer. Oh well.

I got up, dressed, and brought Tipper downstairs. Then, of course, I had to get Sonnet. I got each of the dogs leashed up, and away we went for a nice long walk.

My duty during this walk--keep moving, and wave my arms about managing just barely to keep the leashes from tangling. Each dog has her desires--go here, sniff there, etc.

Bodily processes seem to bring out the territoriality in each dog. Sonnet pees--so Tipper has to remark the territory. And so on, the whole way around the block.

I am now back at the house, exhausted from untangling dogs. And ready for a nap!

Friday, May 25, 2007

Ratatouille Redux

If John Updike can revisit a character, write an entire new book--or even a series of books--and call his work Rabbit Redux, I figure I can blog about ratatouille again . . .and call it ratatouille redux.

Today, I made the first batch of ratatouille for the season. It felt like first fruits of the season going into the pot one by one.

First, I sliced green and orange peppers, then purple onion. While they saute in some olive oil, I go to work.

First, I assemble the cast of characters--eggplant, zucchini and yellow squash along with tomatoes.

Then I get the supporting characters ready--olive oil (already in the pot), salt & pepper and basil--LOTS of basil.

I cube the eggplant. And toss it on top of the simmering peppers and onions.

Between each squash layer, I put sliced tomatoes and generous sprinklings of basil.

Next, the sliced zucchini.

More sliced tomatoes (and basil).

Then sliced yellow squash.

When it is all layered, I pour a small can of V-8 over top (to make sure there is enough juice).

Finally, simmer until all the vegetables are tender.
One summer, I actually grew ALL of the ingredients for ratatouille. I admit--that was many years ago. Of course, as anyone who grows zucchini knows, you had best have a few other recipes handy for your harvest.
Tomorrow we will enjoy the ratatouille.
And celebrate the beginning of summer.
Post Script -- I forgot to link the original recipe. I have now done that above, and also here.

Monday, May 21, 2007

A Rose by any other name. . .

While many lines in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet are memorable, and frequently quoted, perhaps few are quoted as much as—

What's in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
Juliet speaks these lines in Act 2, scene 2. She is looking out a window, dreamily thinking of Romeo. Now, what precisely is the prompting of those lines? She has learned that Romeo, this handsome young boy who has stolen her heart, is the son of her family’s sworn enemy—the Montagues. Juliet is a Capulet, and for insults that happened long before the play began these two families have been feuding.

In this scene, she first says—

O Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art thou Romeo?
Deny thy father and refuse thy name;

Or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love,

And I'll no longer be a Capulet.

Even though these lines are frequently said as though Juliet is looking for Romeo, in fact she is wondering—why are you named Romeo Montague? Then, her declaration—

What's in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.
What she really wonders is—why can’t you be you and yet be named something else.

All of which brings me to my musing—what is in a name? Does it really matter what name our parents give us? If you have children, no doubt you pondered the name you picked out fairly carefully. Maybe you chose an old family name. Maybe you picked something trendy.

When we named our first child, we had two names—a boy’s and a girl’s name. When we had a boy, we named our son Geoffrey, choosing the old English spelling purposefully (after all, I was an English major, and Geoffrey Chaucer is a major author!). When we had our daughter, we selected only a girl’s name, as we knew what we were having. We purposefully didn’t pick something too trendy. Her first name begins with K (hence the KGMom name I use, i.e. the first initials of my children’s names).

My name, Donna, is one of those generational names. Usually, when I meet someone named Donna, she was born somewhere between 1940 and 1960. Donna has fallen away in popularity, although it was never in the top 10.

Speaking of top 10, every year, I have TWO of some name in my classes. Usually, the two will be a girl’s name, and I know it must have been the trendy name for whatever year in which these young women were born. This year, the double name was Ashley. One year it was Amanda. One year, Amber. A names are popular!

There are many places on the Internet that give a rundown of the top 10 names by year. One of the most comprehensive is the
Social Security Administration, which lists them back to 1880. You can learn there that from 1880 to 1924 the top boy’s name and the top girl’s name were John and Mary! In 1924, the top boy’s name changed to Robert. Not until 1947 does the girl’s top name change, and then it changed to Linda.

For kicks, here are tables for the top 10 names in 2006, 1950 and 1900.


1 Jacob; Emily
2 Michael; Emma
3 Joshua; Madison
4 Ethan; Isabella
5 Matthew; Ava
6 Daniel; Abigail
7 Christopher; Olivia
8 Andrew; Hannah
9 Anthony; Sophia
10 William; Samantha


1 James; Linda
2 Robert; Mary
3 John; Patricia
4 Michael; Barbara
5 David; Susan
6 William; Nancy
7 Richard; Deborah
8 Thomas; Sandra
9 Charles; Carol
10 Gary; Kathleen


1 John; Mary
2 William; Helen
3 James; Anna
4 George; Margaret
5 Charles; Ruth
6 Robert; Elizabeth
7 Joseph; Florence
8 Frank; Ethel
9 Edward; Marie
10 Henry; Lillian

In general, girls’ names change more than boys’ names.

I would bet that many people wonder, if they don’t already know, why they got the name they have. My birth family had first names all beginning with D. When my sister was born (written about in
Sibling Stories II) my parents contemplated giving her a non-D name, not to break the run of Ds but just because they were considering another name. I believe it was my aunt who said in horror—you have to give her a D name. Whatever the reason, my sister was named Denise. (My brother is Daryl.)

Sometimes being named for someone works out well. Sometimes not. My husband rues his first name which his mother had heard of from a family acquaintance. Since his name is in reality a surname, he frequently has his first name misunderstood. People call him various names, but not necessarily his first name.

When our daughter was little, she would challenge us and ask why we gave her the name we did. Well, I said—there weren’t family names that I thought would work. My mother-in-law was Mary, a grand old name, but it didn’t seem to fit. My mother’s name was Dorcas, which is really an old-fashioned name. I had aunts named Ada, Kathryn, Katherine, and Leoda. None of them seemed quite right, although our daughter said she would have liked Kate (at least she felt that way when she was little). And the grandmothers’ names were even less suitable: Ida, Lillian, Emma and Cora. Now, Emma is very trendy and might have worked—but, oh well.

When I was little, I coveted a grand sweeping name like Gloria. (Oh boy, am I ever NOT a Gloria!) We have many of us been there—thinking another name would change us in some way.

Just remember Juliet’s pronouncement—

What's in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Saturday Soup 12

Today is our neighborhood yard sale. That means, while the posted signs say 8 a.m. to ??, in reality people start trolling our streets around 6 a.m. or so. And that got our dog's attention. I don't know what part of her "breeding" this is, but she barks ferociously in response to outside noises. So, squirrels running across the roof --BARK, BARK! Car doors shutting --BARK, BARK! People walking by talking --BARK, BARK! Bicyclists whizzing by --BARK, BARK!

You get the picture. Since my husband has been out of town the last several days, the dog is ESPECIALLY on guard. In fact, she has taken to sleeping in the front entrance-way. Perhaps she thinks if he comes home, she will be the first to see him. Or maybe she thinks--just let any intruder try to get in--I'm all over it.

Well, I arose MUCH earlier on a Saturday than I would normally--up at 6:19 a.m. because the dog heard something.

What does this have to do with soup? (Tapping finger to lips, furrowing brow, scrunching up face!) Actually--nothing. Just thought I'd share the joy of an early morning.

Herewith today's soup. And an announcement--the Saturday Soup feature will begin a summer respite next week. I suspect most people don't make soup during the warmer months of the year (unless they are cold soups). Since all my recipes are from our church Bistro which is mid-winter, all the soups are hot. So, beginning Memorial Day weekend (in the US) and continuing until after Labor Day (also in the US) Saturday Soups will be on vacation.


Serves at least 12

1 medium eggplant
1 or 2 zucchini
1 or 2 yellow squash
8 medium size tomatoes
1 purple onion
1 green pepper
Olive oil
1 small can V-8 juice

1. In a large soup pot, place a good amount of olive oil, enough to cover the bottom of pot.
Wash the onion, remove skin and thinly slice. Wash and core green pepper, also slice. Place these in bottom of pot and saute on medium high heat until tender. Then turn heat back to low.

2. Take eggplant, wash and cut into 1" cubes. Place this on top of onion and peppers.

3. Take 2 tomatoes and slice, then place on top of eggplant, then season this layer liberally with basil, some salt and pepper.

4. Repeat this layering process with zucchini, and tomatoes with seasoning; then again with yellow squash, tomatoes and seasoning.

5. Pour the V-8 juice across the top of the whole mix.

6. Simmer the whole mixture until vegetable are tender.
This is really a vegetable stew, that can be served as a soup alone, or as a side-dish with a meal. It can be served hot or cold. It also stores well in the refrigerator.

I make ratatouille (pronounced rat-ta-too-ee) all summer long and it has become one of our favorite summer dishes.

Until the fall--enjoy summertime!

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Supping Along the Susquehanna

This evening, a friend of mine who lives in a lovely old house facing the Susquehanna River invited me to dinner. So, I went with camera in hand, anticipating some time for photographing this lovely old river.

Our dinner setting.

Partially consumed.

My friend's cat--the welcoming committee, sort of. She kept a wary eye out for evening joggers, bicyclists and the never-ending stream of dogs being walked. And then disappearred when anything approximating danger approached.

A roving cat from somewhere nearby--dubbed the Mighty Hunter by my friend. But not a successful hunter--she went home empty-pawed.

A family out for an evening swim.

And the Susquehanna.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007


It has been ages since I played tag—many reasons for that, of course. 1) I am not consistently around little people; 2) my knees; 3) I am too slow; 4) I have put away childish things. . .hmmm, probably not true. Anyway, I have been tagged by Mary of Mary’s View. Mary was tagged to pick 5 thinking bloggers (which means she was identified as a thinker before me!). She picked a sterling group of 4, and also me. Chuckle.

Now, it’s my turn to tag 5 thinking bloggers. First, a word. If you are tagged, and you would rather not tag 5 others—please do what you want. I am not a mathematician (by a long shot) but my son is, and he once cautioned me that exponentially speaking, it doesn’t take long before 1 person tagging 5, who then tag 5, etc. You get the picture. So anyone named can just say—I’ll sit this one out.

A while back, Cathy of
Looking Up challenged me to pick my 5 desert island books. Groan. . .Grimace. . . Pain. . . Agony. . . That was hard.

But picking 5 thinking bloggers—that’s easy. Even though many who have been picked before would have been among my picks (cf. above Mary and Cathy).

My first choice would have been Kris, who occasionally comments on my blog. But she isn’t blogging right now (pout). She wrote wonderful blogs from a recent trip she took, and I loved reading them. But until she travels again, no more blogs. And maybe not even then.

My next choice would have been the very first blog I read:
Natural Notes 3 but she is on a self-defined sabbatical while bird-banding season is at its height. I can’t wait for more encounters with the creatures, from birds to bears to beavers, all told by LauraO. It seems, however, that this sabbatical is regularly broken, so you can stop by and check out this site.

So, here goes. (Ahem, ahem DRUM ROLL) And the nominees are--

Vaughn and His Life. Why, you might ask? Well, you may have to ignore the occasional silly blog (although they are great fun). But if you want to read about international issues, mathematics (who would want to), or people doing public service, this is the spot.

2. Ocean and Forest Walks . Visit this blog daily (as I do) and be entranced with lovely views of Vancouver Island. Or learn about using digital cameras, or a touch of history. Visitors from around the world stop here; you can too.

3. Beth at Look What Love has Done. Beth writes from a very personal point of view, exploring issues such as living out one’s faith, or the challenges of parenting. Her honesty is unmistakable—she shrinks from nothing, but handles all topics with gentility.

4. Mon@rch at Were you hoping to go on a nature hike, and ran out of time? Let Mon@rch take you along on his hikes. Need a little brushing up on biology? Try here. If these hooks don’t get you, just stop by for the photography—it is superb.

5. Liza Lee at The Egret’s Nest. I am a relative newcomer to the Egret’s Nest (so apologies if she has previously been tagged). But, if you want a Ruby Tuesday fix, a bird fix, or joie de vivre fix, try the Egret’s Nest.

So what have you won?

Congratulations, you won a THINKING BLOGGER AWARD!

Should you choose to participate, please make sure you pass this list of rules to the blogs you are tagging.

The participation rules are simple:
1. If, and only if, you get tagged, write a post with links to 5 blogs that make you think,
2. Link to this post so that people can easily find the exact origin of the meme,
3. Optional: Proudly display the 'Thinking Blogger Award' with a link to the post that you wrote.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

In Memory of Mother

Editorial note: I waited until the end of Mother's Day to post this blog, so as not to sound too sad a note for this day of celebration.

My mother died on Mother’s Day, in 1991. So each year, as Mother’s Day comes and goes, it is a bittersweet celebration for me. While this day is for celebration of all the wonderful mothers, it is also a day of remembrance.

April 1, 1991, my mother had surgery for a relatively routine heart valve replacement. I believe the original problem with her heart valve was spotted during a complete physical that was required as a condition of being allowed to enter Ontario, Canada. My parents were moving to Guelph, Ontario, where my father would work as a minister. Since Ontario has a province wide health system that includes any resident, the provincial powers wanted some assurance (I presume) that my parents were not totally decrepit before they entered. Anyway, during that physical the doctor detected a tell-tale sound that indicated one of her heart valves was not closing properly, so blood was leaking between the chambers.

While this condition was not an immediate threat to her health, it would need to be remedied sometime. She continued for 6 years, (and by then my parents had moved back to the US) and then decided to have the valve replaced. She had been tiring more easily, and knew it was time to have the surgery.

The surgery on my mother went well—the defective heart valve was removed and a pig valve inserted in its place. But the evening of her surgery, she was rushed back into the OR as she was clearly losing blood somewhere internally. My dad and I had gone to see her, and she was very very pale. During that second surgery, they restitched some of the sutures, and returned her to the ICU for recovery. I do not know when—whether at the first or the second surgery—but sometime my mother contracted a staph infection. Staph is a ubiquitous bacterium, being basically everywhere. It is in the soil, on our skin, just everywhere. And it is one of those bacteria that hospitals dread.

We did not learn that she had a staph infection until just before she was due to come home. My sister had come in to see her (from Indiana) and was going to be with her for a few days while she recovered. The evening before Mother was due home, my sister and I were visiting her. I had taken along a little stuffed pig—in honor of the pig valve—and for my mother to hold against her stitches when she coughed. She began to cough, and by the look on her face it was plain that she was in deep pain.

So, returning home was cancelled. And my sister went back to Indiana. The hospital staff began to check for bacterial infection, but for whatever reasons, they waited two days before taking specific action; when they did, they operated again. What they found was that my mother’s sternum had basically been destroyed by the bacteria. So, the surgeon removed the necrotic bone, and packed the incision, so it could drain. And intubated my mother.

Thus began 5 agonizing weeks of roller coaster recovery, and relapse. After several weeks, my mother had another surgery, for a trachestomy to allow her to breathe through a tube in her neck, and talk if she chose. During the weeks she was intubated, she could not speak although she tried to talk around the tube. By circumstance, my work situation at the time was such that I was able to visit her almost every day. My dad, of course, also visited her. We tried to coordinate our visits so we could together try to understand my mother’s messages.

My brother was in a doctoral program in seminary in Kentucky, and was coming up on the end of term. Further, his wife Lois had just had her father die on Easter Sunday before our mother went in the hospital. Each time I would talk with my brother, giving him updates, he would ask—should he come and see Mother. I answered, no, I don’t think so yet. (To my everlasting regret, by the time I thought he should come and see her, it was too late. I have apologized to my brother for this failure of judgment on my part.)

The trauma of ICU care is very hard on family members who see their loved ones suffering. Of course, ICU was even more traumatizing on my mother. I distinctly remember one day when my dad and I visited, my dad asked if Mother wanted him to pray with her. She had been a woman of strong faith all her life, but whether from frustration or ICU psychosis or what—she refused. I don’t know how my dad felt, but that little incident underscored how dehumanizing ICU care can be.

I got to be an expert in reading chart notes, and in converting Celsius temperature readings to Fahrenheit—in the US we should have converted to decimal systems years ago, but we haven’t. But medicine has, so all the temp readings were noted in Celsius. I watched her fever, from her body’s efforts to fight off the bacteria, rise and fall. She went through courses on all the available antibiotics as one after another failed to whip the staph.

On Thursday before she died, her temp reached 40 C (104 F) and I knew. I just knew she wasn’t going to make it. I came home, after visiting her, and walked around the block of our neighborhood crying. I told my husband—she’s not going to make it.

The next couple days, she endured her final struggle. The staph infection had spread throughout her system, resulting in small intestine necrosis. The surgeons performed emergency surgery on Mother’s Day, and found only 2 feet of viable small intestine. As the one surgeon said—that is incompatible with adult life. As I drove to the hospital to “discuss treatment options” with the surgeon, having called my dad to alert him also, my mother had a heart attack on the operating table. She was resuscitated, but when she arrested a second time, the surgeon took the initiative and said—no more. By the time we got to the hospital, she was gone.

I write this without rancor, without tears. Not because my mother’s death didn’t touch me, but because time has passed and eased the sharp pain. We all still miss her. She was a remarkable woman. Having written of her death, I will write of her life on her birthday, which was July 7.

One final note—on that Thursday, when my dad and I visited Mother, I was standing on one side of her bed and my dad on the other. She could not turn her head, and as it happened she was looking at me. She looked at me long and lovingly. The depth of that look was other-worldly. She kept looking and looking. My dad remarked that he wished she could have looked at him. Quite frankly, we would have had to change positions, and that may have disturbed her peace. I told my brother and sister about it afterwards. I am convinced that in that look was a distillation of all the love my mother had for us all—especially my dad, and her three children. And perhaps she too knew that her life on earth was ending.

So, Mother’s Day—a day of bittersweet celebration, and loving memories.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Saturday Soup 11

I just returned from a Mother/daughter tea that my step-mother invited me to. They served watercress soup and potato soup, both of which were fine, but neither as tasty (we agreed at our table) as some other soups we have eaten.

I mention the Mother/daughter tea only because tomorrow is Mother's Day, and--truth be told--I do not know of a mother/daughter soup. Of course there are many recipes passed from mothers to daughters, but no soup that one would automatically associate with Mother's Day.

This soup recipe is probably one of the most unusual ones my church featured. It is called Stuffed Pepper Soup, and that is exactly what it tastes like. So, if you don't like stuffed peppers--skip this soup. On the other hand, if you DO like stuffed peppers, then this soup is a great way to get that same taste.


Serves 12

2 lbs lean ground beef
2 cups onions, chopped
1 can -- 28 oz -- tomato sauce
1 can -- 28 oz -- diced tomatoes, undrained
2 cups cooked converted or long grain white rice (not instant)
2 cups chopped green peppers
2 beef bouillon cubes
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon pepper

In large saucepan or dutch oven, brown meat and drain, removing meat from pan temporarily. In same pan, lightly brown the chopped onions. Add green peppers and stir to coat. Add tomato sauce and diced tomatoes, stirring to blend.

Dissolve bouillon cubes in 3 cups of boiling water. Add brown sugar to the solution and stir to dissolve.

Add ground beef, rice, and bouillon mixture to the pan and bring to a simmer.

Reduce heat, cover and simmer 30-40 minutes or until peppers are tender.

Season with salt and pepper.


Eat, enjoy--and have a happy Mother's Day.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Testing, testing. . .

It happens every semester--I construct a final exam that is absolutely drop-dead perfection, that I expect students will be as thrilled to take it as I am to construct it. But, no. They always complain!

Today, I gave the final exam for my English 102 course. The semester that began with such promise has now ended. One by one, as the students finished writing the exam, they brought their papers to the front, and mumbled--that was hard.

Well, I think smugly, if you had paid attention in class. . .

I have had to take drastic measures recently. Sadly, cheating continues to be a problem. A recent news story demonstrates that even the best of universities is not immune. My drastic measures are two-fold: 1) I assign seats. Basically, I arrange the students alphabetically. There is no magic to this approach; it is just a simple remedy so that students can't count on sitting next to someone they think might have easily seen answers. 2) I tell the students at the beginning of the exam no touching their cell phones. In fact, if they do, the exam is forfeited. Why so drastic? Some schools discovered students using the text messaging capabilities of cell phones to get answers. Students were so adept at texting that they did not even have to look at the cell phone to enter their message. So, my cell phone ban is a pre-emptive strike.

For many students, there is that awful moment of truth when they open the exam and see this.

EXCEPT. . .there are no labels on the triangle. And the question is--here is a diagram of the rhetorical triangle. Use a single word to name each of the three points, then define that word.

Out of my class of 23, I had only 3 students get this question correct. I have a feeling that for some students that question is the moment of truth--uh-oh. I knew I should have studied more. Or I knew I should have taken notes in class. Or I knew I should have attended the lectures. WHATEVER.

I have been teaching at my community college now for 5 years, spring and fall semesters. So that is 10 semesters of observation. My prior teaching at a 4 year liberal arts college (back in the 1970s) was very different.

I observe that community college students have little time to bond as students. They do not live on campus, leaving each day to go back to their homes, their families, their jobs. They all carry too much--many of them work at least part-time, some full-time. Many of them take full course loads. The result is their interest in learning is subjugated to their need to finish the course and get the grade. I had one student this semester who began sending me emails toward the end of the semester asking--what is my grade. I responded that she had the syllabus which gave the values for the work, and she knew what she had earned thus far. Finally, I told her--just study REALLY well for the exam! In some ways, I feel sorry for these kids because they are missing out on what makes education wonderful--the joy of discovery. The Aha! moments of college.

The other major observation I have is that each semester differs. This semester's class began at 12:30 p.m.--not bad. Mostly, everyone was awake. I have had 8 a.m. classes that are awful, or late afternoon classes where students are restless. This semester's class was also dominated by women--only 5 men in the class. Then one dropped out just before the end of the semester. That is the other marked difference between my community college teaching experience and my liberal arts teaching experience. Students at the community college have no qualms about dropping courses. They drop them early, or late. Sometimes they fill out the drop form, sometimes they don't. Sometimes they just quit coming. Then, when I drop them, I get irate phone calls--why did you drop me? I went to sign up for tennis (!) and learned I can't take it because I don't have 12 credits since you dropped me. I feel like saying--DUH--you have time for tennis but not to attend my class?

Oops--I am getting testy. Well, once the final exams are graded, I will enter the scores on my nifty Excel spreadsheet that will zip the calculations through in no time. Then, I will relax for the summer, and get ready for the fall--actually for mid-August, when classes start up again.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Oh My Aching Back!

Well, today my back has finally stopped hurting, but yesterday, and the day before, I had a royal aching back.

Now, why, you might ask? Because with spring finally here, we have been doing outside work like two crazed . . .whatevers. My husband took Thursday and Friday off work, so he could open our swimming pool. I help, but since much of the work is a solo act, I can't do a whole lot. I did wash the water bags that hold down the winter cover, and washed the winter cover. And I helped power scrub around the pool. But the technical work--reassembling the pump, putting in the ladders, attaching the diving board--all that work my husband does.

With the pool officially opened on Friday, we headed out on Saturday to buy flowers. This tradition began about 5 years ago, when my husband offered to buy me all the annual flowers I love to plant as a Mother's Day present. So, each year since, we head out on a Saturday near Mother's Day to buy annuals.

Preparing to buy the flowers, I counted the flower pots I have--I do most of my planting in flower pots that I can then place wherever I want. I have 65 pots! This year, our flower purchases went over the top to fill all those pots. We actually had two carts at the plant nursery--one with 3 shelves, and another cart filled with flats of flowers.

When we got home on Saturday, I set about planting. I worked for 4 or 5 hours, then again on Sunday for another 5 hours. By the end of Sunday, I had all the flowers planted, except one flat worth. And I had run out of pots. So Monday I headed out, bought two more pots, and planted the remaining flowers. So, now I have 67 pots--and an aching back.

But the results--oh, the results! We will have flowers all summer and into the fall. The flowers are just outside our sun porch, so we can sit inside and look at them; they are in the pool area, so we can look at them; and they are around the driveway--so passers-by can look at them.

All the photos are of this year's flowers. Except this lovely flower--which is in my neighbor's yard.