Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Last Rose of Summer

We have a student intern in our church right now, and she preached recently. One of the comments she made was—how many times do we look back in sorrow at the things we have left undone.

This thought has been kicking around in my head for some time—but not exactly with the emphasis she stated. We all celebrate and recognize the beginnings of important things in our lives—but we don’t always know when we see or do something for the last time.

A couple of years ago, my husband and I needed to get a new washer and dryer. Since we could afford it, we picked out quite good models—and the salesman said: This may be the last washer and dryer you need to buy. I think I was a little startled—was the world of weekly washing coming to an end? Did the salesman know something I did not about my projected life span? I think he was actually touting the longevity of his product, nothing more dire than that.

That expression—the last rose of summer—comes from a poem by Thomas Moore, an Irish poet. Sir John Stevenson set it to music, which you can hear
here. The phrase speaks to the bittersweet quality of approaching autumn.

'Tis the last rose of summer,
Left blooming all alone,
All her lovely companions
Are faded and gone.
No flower of her kindred,
No rose bud is nigh,
To reflect back her blushes,
Or give sigh for sigh.

I'll not leave thee, thou lone one,
To pine on the stem;
Since the lovely are sleeping,
Go sleep thou with them;
'Thus kindly I scatter
Thy leaves o'er the bed
Where thy mates of the garden
Lie scentless and dead.

So soon may I follow
When friendships decay,
And from love's shining circle
The gems drop away!
When true hearts lie withered
And fond ones are flown
Oh! who would inhabit
This bleak world alone?

I thought about titling this blog “The Last Robin of Summer” as that conveys the sweet melancholy that accompanies this time of year. The first robin of spring is much heralded, because you know when you see the first one. But the last robin goes unnoticed, as you don’t know it will be the last one you see.

Of course, it’s not really birds I am thinking about, or even roses. It is the last time we do something, or see someone. Maybe it’s my age, but I do find myself thinking, when an acquaintance dies, when was the last time I saw her?

Hmmm—this post is turning far too melancholic. So, let’s go back to the last rose of summer, and savors it beauty and fragrance, however brief.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Saturday Soup 4 Fall 2007

Having promised an orange soup for this week’s Saturday Soup, I decided to choose one that is a little different. Most of the orange soup recipes that I have (by orange I mean have an ingredient such as pumpkin, sweet potato, squash that gives the soup a distinct orange color) call for chicken stock. If you are a total vegan, no doubt you can substitute vegetable stock. This one is different in that the orange ingredient is carrots.

This soup has a lovely zing to it, thanks to the fresh ginger and nutmeg that the recipe calls for. And using carrots and pears gives it a fresh taste.

Carrot Ginger Pear Soup
Makes 12

1/2 cup butter (1 stick)
1-1/2 cups chopped onions
1/2 cup grated fresh ginger
20 large carrots–peeled and coarsely grated (about 8 cups)
2 quarts chicken stock
2-1/2 cups apple juice
3 large ripe Bartlett pears, peeled, cored and chopped (about 4 cups)
1 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg

1) In a large stock pot, heat the butter over low heat. When melted, add onions and ginger and cook slowly until soft (about 10 minutes). Add grated carrots, chicken stock, apple juice and chopped pears. Simmer for about 30 minutes. Stir in nutmeg. Let cool slightly.

2) Puree soup in a food processor or blender until perfectly smooth. Store in an airtight container overnight in the refrigerator or up to one month in the freezer. To serve, reheat slowly and garnish with thinly sliced pear or fried grated ginger. Most supermarkets–and all Asian groceries–carry whole fresh ginger root pieces. Choose a piece of root that is very firm with no visible wrinkles. To use ginger root for this recipe, peel all of the brown skin off of the ginger root and put it into a food processor or grater.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

The New Orleans Saints

No, this is not going to be about the football team—this post is going to be about the REAL New Orleans Saints—all the people who suffered through the devastation of Katrina, and stayed around to rebuild, and all the people who have gone to New Orleans to help the city recover.

There is a palpable difference between the Katrina recovery efforts in Mississippi and in New Orleans. Many factors contribute to that difference, and it is obvious that politics has played a significant role in that recovery. Immediately after Katrina had blown through the area, the governor of Mississippi was in contact with Washington DC. Perhaps you recall that the governor is Haley Barbour, formerly chair of the Republican National Committee. He received promises of aid from the White House that seemingly set a benchmark for federal aid.

You have no doubt heard of how dysfunctional New Orleans’ and Louisiana’s politicians were immediately before and after the storm. When they finally got around to requesting federal aid, they expected, reasonably, a level of response equal to what Mississippi got. Of course, the extent of damage was so much greater in New Orleans, and the White House balked. So the actual dollars, on a per capita basis, tracking to Louisiana for recovery is far lower than the funds that went to Mississippi.

Understandably, residents of New Orleans are deeply suspicious of the various government forces. This week’s election of a new governor in Louisiana bears testament to that. A young woman who drove me to the airport also bore testament to it—she said she can’t help but think that the government ALLOWED the levees to fail!

That’s enough said about the impact of politics on the recovery efforts. Money is the engine that drives the recovery machine.

After our visit to Mississippi, we drove around parts of New Orleans to see the damage. There is a seeming air of normalcy as you drive through neighborhoods, until you begin to look carefully and closely up and down streets. Apartment complexes stand empty—row after row of buildings that have been mucked out and the resulting pile of debris sits at the edge of a sidewalk. No rebuilding has gone on partly due to lack of finances for large scale reconstruction. So apartment complexes are devoid of life—no cars, no bikes, no kids.

Our next stop was a home dedication in New Orleans East. If you look at the map (see end of this post) of the section that we visited, and increase the resolution, you see a lot of blue—those are NOT swimming pools. Those are blue tarps slung over roofs that were damaged when Katrina winds ripped away the tiles.

New Orleans East was long outside the city of New Orleans’ limits, but in the early 20th century people began to build permanent homes there, as suburbs spread out. Initially, it was planned to be an area for wealthier whites, but they moved elsewhere, so middle class African-Americans, escaping poor areas in the downtown, moved there.

A combination of the effect of Hurricane Katrina itself, and the resulting breeching of the levees, caused much of the area to flood and with it the homes. The rebuilt home that we went to help dedicate was one such place. This place is now the home of Carol and Rudy. When Katrina hit, they were living elsewhere, and their home at that time was a single story home that was flooded with 11 feet of water in it. It was damaged beyond repair. So they were moved into a FEMA trailer. They tried to rebuild a semblance of their former lives, but the situation simply overwhelmed them. By his own words, Rudy suffered a near break-down. He would go to his sister-in-law’s house, and say—I just can’t stay in that trailer anymore.

The sister-in-law lived in New Orleans East, and nearby her place was a storm damaged house for sale. This house had 18 inches of water inside it, so it could be rehabbed. Here is where PDA stepped in. Because Carol and Rudy met the financial criteria, they qualified for rebuilding assistance. After they bought the house, and it was gutted, Rudy, still unable to stand staying in the trailer, would go into his new but damaged house and just sit on the floor.

In a city that had 80 % of its land mass flooded, that had 90 % of its resident evacuated, that had most of its protective levees breached which caused the majority of the flooding—in this city, it was a moment of sweet grace to stand in Carol and Rudy’s home. We gathered there, volunteers, visitors, Carol and Rudy and some of their family members—joining hands and singing “Amazing Grace.”

Thank goodness I have this image to replace the negative ones that haunt me: people stranded on roof tops, pleading to be rescued; people hacking their way out of their attics using axes they had placed there in a prior hurricane; pets wandering totally abandoned because their owners were forbidden to take them along; thousands gathered at the Superdome begging for someone, anyone to rescue them; police standing on the Gretna Bridge firing shots over the heads of people fleeing New Orleans; Michael Chertoff blithely responding on the evening news that he was unaware of a problem at the Superdome; President Bush standing in front of St. Louis Cathedral bathed in white light with no one around.

Amazing grace?—you bet. The deliverers of that grace are the true New Orleans’ saints—the people who survived and are rebuilding, and the volunteers from church organizations and from other organizations who come to help.

This statue of the Virgin Mary stands outside Rudy & Carol's new home

This is the last post on my visit to New Orleans and Mississippi. As I write this, I am listening to Fresh Air with Terri Gross interviewing Terence Blanchard who wrote music called "A Requiem for Katrina" to accompany Spike Lee's film A Tale of God's Will. And, of course, currently in the news are the fires in California, where 1 million people have fled their homes. Perhaps the lessons of Katrina will help others in disasters.
Map of New Orleans East--click on + to increase resolution and see blue tarp roofs

View Larger Map

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Village People

Let me describe the conditions at Pearlington Volunteer Village.

Every volunteer who comes to work at this village for a week is given critical information to make sure no one is surprised. People sleep in pods—these are plastic huts that are set up on wooden floors. The village managers are working on getting air conditioning and heating into each pod, since the outdoor heat can be excessive, and the pods have no insulation or means of keeping cool. The pods have no electricity, though that is being worked on.

Meals are eaten communally. Everyone shares breakfast, and then gets set to head of to work sites. If they are not within easy access to the Baptist church doing the lunch feedings, the volunteers pack a lunch to take along. Then they head out for the day’s work.

People are advised to bring their own tools, and supplies if possible. The work that is being done varies depending upon the condition of the house being worked on. Most of the mucking out, of clearing debris, and tearing out ruined interiors, has been done. Now comes the rebuilding, or even the total building. Once framing is in place, dry wall is installed, electrical wiring put in place, plumbing done. Obviously, the difference between the mucking out stage and the rebuilding stage has changed the demand for work level skill. Now the great need is for people who know what they are doing with the electrical and plumbing stage. Of course, once the interior work is done, painting needs to be done.

After the long day of work, volunteers return to the village, and shower. The sinks for washing up, shaving or brushing teeth are outdoors. Toilets are porta-potties. I refrained from taking a photo of those!

Some of the volunteers come along to cook. The kitchen is probably the most civilized looking portion of the village.
Each evening, the group holds devotions. Many people who have made the trip reflect on the need to process what they have seen and what they are doing. The evening devotions helps to lend a time of quieting, of settling their minds.

Even with these most primitive of conditions, we met people at lunch who were returning for their second, or even third trip. Many faith groups and other groups continue to respond to the incredible need of this area. Frankly, without these volunteers, it is difficult to imagine that governmental agencies would have known what to do, much less muster the will and resources to do it.

The items hanging from the support beams of the dining tent are the name tags of volunteer workers who have come and gone--leaving their tags behind is a kind of symbolic way of leaving a bit of their hearts behind.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Down in the Bayou

On the first day of our multi-day advisory committee meeting, we went touring. At 7:30 in the morning, we left New Orleans and drove east along I-10. Just as we crossed the Mississippi state line, we exited on to U.S. Route 190, connecting to Route 90. Within 10 miles, we were entering the small “town” of Pearlington.

Pearlington is really a “census-designated place.” I am not sure, but I suspect that is government-ese for “this town isn’t big enough to be called a town, but people are living here. . . so we’ll DESIGNATE it as a place.” About 1,600 people live there, of whom 77% are white and 20% black.

So, why all this information on Pearlington? Well, this little place was effectively ground zero when Katrina hit. The eye wall of the hurricane passed right over Pearlington. Here’s how someone who is keeping a blog about the recovery described it:

It is impossible to comprehend, in the comfort of our own homes, what it must be like to lose everything in a single day.
On Monday, August 29th, just after 10:00 a.m. local time, Hurricane Katrina made landfall, with the eastern eye wall directly over Pearlington, MS - sparing New Orleans the direct hit. Every home, building and vehicle in this town of 1600 was destroyed. If that wasn’t enough, a storm surge travelled 4.5 miles inland and drowned what little was left under 12-20 feet of the most toxic stew imaginable.
Since that day, a hardy coalition of volunteers - representing almost every faith, state, Canadian province, two European nations and an eastern Asian country - have travelled regularly to Pearlington to rebuild this forgotten bayou town.


While there are several churches in Pearlington, many of them some type of Baptist, there is no Presbyterian church there. Yet, I am told, the Presbyterians were among the first disaster recovery people there. One of the lessons we learned (mentioned in the previous blog) is that for volunteers to come and help rebuild, they need a place to stay. So Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA) has set up a series of Volunteer Villages. One of these is in Pearlington.

We first met with some of the volunteer leaders, then headed off to lunch. The place for lunch was the fellowship hall of the First Missionary Baptist Church. Its sanctuary (pictured above in a photo gleaned from another website) had been rendered unusable by the storm, but the Fellowship Hall, once scrubbed out, stood strong. So the pastor and his congregation decided their ministry would be feeding whoever came to town to work, and anyone else, for that matter. They have continued this ministry now for more than 2 years.

Lunch was freshly caught fish, Southern fried, rice, green beans and ham, corn, cole slaw, salad, fruit salad, and corn bread. I was really struck by the simple but sumptuous meal. During our meeting, I had led devotions for our group, using the account of the miracle of loaves and fishes where Jesus fed the 5,000. And now at lunch, here we all sat, side by side, white and black, town people, volunteers from every place, even a crew of county inmates who were doing yard clean-up, eating "loaves" and fish.

Everywhere we walked in this little town, we could see newly built houses. We also saw trailers scattered here and there. We saw dogs that just wandered into the volunteer village and stayed. The scene was chaotic, and very like a developing nation. It did not look much like the United States that most of us are accustomed to seeing.

But the place moved me. Pearlington will come back. People have stayed there. The one by-product of the storm that the workers there told us of is the new founded cooperation. They said—before the storm, black and white people tended not to interact much—but now they do. Storms bring adversity, but they also unite us.

This small child played in the muddy driveway leading to his family's trailer, right next to the Fellowship Hall of the First Missionary Baptist Church.

The First Missionary Baptist Church, as it is being rebuilt.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Following on the heels of Katrina

Perhaps many other folks making a trip to New Orleans would have a different tale to tell. Some might have made the trip for the food. In fact, my office mate said “bring me back some beignets.” Some might make the trip for the music—the jazz. Certainly most would come for the tourist attractions—the French Quarter, the Superdome.

Well, I made the trip for disaster assistance. I am a member of an advisory committee for the program of my church that
responds to disasters. New Orleans and a stretch along the Gulf Coast from Florida to Texas were most certainly disasters after Hurricane Katrina cut an incredibly wide swath through the area. (And then in the same year Hurricane Rita hit an almost identical area).

To get a refresher on the scope of the disaster, you can read
this overview. Picture it another way—the land mass affected, 90,000 square miles, is equivalent to the land mass of all of the United Kingdom—England, Scotland and N. Ireland! Over a half million people were evacuated. The number of homes damaged, destroyed or made unreachable by the hurricane was over 850,000.

What my church does in response is considered a second responder. The first responders are Red Cross and FEMA—even though the response was far too slow, these agencies are the first on the scene and do immediate provision of care. They rescue people, get them out of hazardous homes, house them temporarily and feed them. Church groups are among the second responders who come in and do the long term recovery work.

While my church has long had a strong disaster recovery presence around the world, response to Katrina has taught us many lessons. Before Katrina, we might have focused more on seeing if money alone could solve part of the problem. People are generous, and they do give in response to disasters. But, some problems are beyond the means of mere money to fix.

Before Katrina, we would have thought that recovery might be accomplished in a few short years. We had begun to learn some lessons from Hurricane Andrew, where the rebuilding took at least 10 years. We also learned some lessons responding to the Boxing Day earthquake and subsequent tsunami in December, 2004. There, people lost not only their lives, their homes, but also their means of livelihood. So, for example, we helped replace fishing boats that had been washed out to sea.

Once Katrina hit, and the magnitude of the damage became clear, we decided that we would need to keep responding for at least ten years. So we began to set up volunteer villages. More about these villages later.

For now, let me just say—I ate no beignets in New Orleans, I heard no jazz, and I didn’t even see the sights. But I saw and heard many things about which I will write a future blog or two.

This is as close as I got to the Superdome, or anywhere downtown--in the distance on the left, you can see the city skyline. I took this photo from my hotel room!

Friday, October 19, 2007

Saturday Soup 3 Fall 2007

Greetings from New Orleans. This is not a post about my visit here which is still in process, but it is my Saturday soup entry for the week.

I know I promised an "orange" soup this week, but there is no way I could pick any other recipe while in New Orleans than one for a gumbo! Next week it will be an orange soup, just in time for Hallowe'en. Herewith a fish gumbo.

Fish Gumbo with Shrimp

Makes 12 servings

1 1/2 cups chopped onion (1 large)
2 T. butter
2 carrots, shredded on medium grater
1 1/2 cups Clamato juice
6 cups chicken stock
10 oz. frozen sliced okra
20 oz. canned
whole plum tomatoes, chopped
1/2 cup white rice
2 tsp. dried basil
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
black pepper, to taste
few drops Tabasco or other hot sauce
1 1/2 pounds haddock, roughy or other firm fish, cut into 1" cubes
1 pound medium or large peeled shrimp

1) Saute onions and carrots in butter until they just begin to soften. Do not let them brown. Put sauteed vegetables into a large pot and add Clamato juice and 4 cups of chicken stock. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer.

2) Add chopped plum tomatoes, okra, rice and basil. Simmer for 15 minutes.

3) Add chopped parsley, Tabasco and fish. Stir and remove from heat. If soup is too thick, add more chicken broth. Season lightly with pepper, if necessary.

4) Serve garnished with shrimp cut in half lengthwise to preserve their shape.
A brief personal word--I indicated the reason I am in New Orleans is to attend the meeting of a national advisory board I sit on--it is a disaster response group. While I am here, I learned this morning that the town where my sister and her husband live, Nappanee, Indiana, was hit and severely damaged by a tornado that touched down late Thursday night. My sister and her husband are fine, but many people lost their homes, and a good portion of the town's business was wiped out.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

It’s Just Talk

In a couple of hours, I will be on my way to New Orleans for a meeting of the national advisory committee on which I serve.

I have never been to New Orleans, so I am anticipating a bit of a different cultural experience than. . .shall we say, central Pennsylvania?

The last several classes I have been teaching at my community college have been emphasizing language and how language matters. We have discussed the implications of language shaping reality. We have also looked at how language is power and authority. I can’t say that all the students “get it” but we have had good conversations.

One of the essays we discussed today was Barbara Mellix’s piece called “From Outside, In.” She writes about growing up as an African-American where the language spoken at home in an informal context was filled with expressions from what she calls “black English.” Her essay chronicles her discovery that how she learned to speak at home was not standard English. She eventually went to college, and earned both undergraduate and graduate degrees and now teaches English at the University of Pittsburgh.

Her essay prompted my students to begin thinking of some of the informal ways they spoke at home—take, for example, the word “you.” If you are from Pittsburgh, the word becomes “yunze” or “yinze” (you uns), or if from Philadelphia the word becomes “youse”.

Of course, as I am heading to a southern location, I am flexing my “y’alls.” So, back to my New Orleans’ meeting. Previously, this committee has met in Louisville. I find myself inexorably drawn into the languorous drawl of this near Southern city. One step off the plane, and I find myself battling to retain my uninflected (to my ears) mid-Atlantic accent. I expect the same may happen in New Orleans.

The English language is fascinating. There are so many variations to how we speak, as evidenced by the number of pages linked on
this website.

When I return from New Orleans, I will let you know whether my way of talking has been affected or not.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Games People Play

You TOOK my archer

“You took my archer!” That sentence burst from my lips in a wail.

How did I get to the place where my archer was in danger, much less subject to capture? Well, there’s always a story, isn’t there?

I grew up in a family that loved to play games. My mother was the leader in this regard. She loved playing games. One time, my brother and I were discussing our mother and her personality. I had recently gone through a
Myers-Briggs personality assessment, and learned that I am a strong J (Myers-Briggs’ term for those of us who like to plan—whatever needs planning). I thought Mother was a J, a planner, a decision maker. My brother was convinced she was a P (again, Myer-Briggs’ talk for those who like to keep options open, and be spontaneous). Long after this conversation, I thought about the different ways my brother and I perceived our mother. I was thinking about our mother in a business context, and my brother was thinking of her in a playful context. In a family gathering setting, it was quite likely we would hear Mother say—let’s play a game.

Of all the traits I have inherited from my mother, I know I got the game playing bug from her. Predictably, some of the games I love to play most are those that involve words, strategy, and displays of eclectic intelligence (hmmmm—might those games be called trivia games?). As our children were growing up, I spent hours playing games such as Othello, or Battleship with them. When we would go on family vacations, I made sure we took along Trivial Pursuit.

In fact, playing Classic Trivial Pursuit is still one of my favorites. For some time now, the test has been to see whether or not our college educated children and their partners could beat Mom and Dad—that was the test of whether these expensive educations had paid off! Thankfully, our tuition money has been well-invested and my husband and I are now regular losers at Trivial Pursuit.

But we have had some wonderful moments where we have flabbergasted our children playing games. One of my favorite such moments was when we were playing
Taboo. This game must be played in teams—you are to give clues to help your partner guess the word on a card. Among the clues you may not say are the taboo words. Next to you sits your opposite team member who sees the taboo words and buzzes if you inadvertently say one. In one game, I got the word BAYOU that I needed to get my husband to say. So, I said—it’s OK by me, if it’s OK ____? And my husband burst out BAYOU! Our kids sat there looking totally perplexed. My husband and I still cackle about that.

The little Taboo example demonstrates how well my husband and I can work together as a team, if we so choose. But it wasn’t always so. Yes—back to the YOU TOOK MY ARCHER wail.

Soon after we were married, I suggested we play a game or two. I should have been prepared for the demise of my archer, based on an earlier game experience I had with my husband. We were playing Chinese checkers, a game I had played as a child. I always built a “bridge” across the board, and then would march my marbles across. My husband watched and waited, and as soon as I had the bridge built, he marched his marbles across, blocking the way for me! I sat there with my mouth open in absolute disbelief!

So, I must have thought to change strategy by changing the game. Aha—Feudal. We settled down to play Feudal.

This game may no longer be made, and even when it was being sold, it was not well known. It combined elements of chess, but was played on a flat board. The object was to take your opponent’s castle, or capture all the royalty pieces in the game. Like chess, different pieces have different ranges of movement. The archer could shoot several spaces, so I would frequently position my archer on top of my castle. One evening, soon after we had begun to play, my husband skillfully (I can’t remember how) managed to maneuver around so that he captured my archer.

“You took my archer!”—the wail was coming from my lips. I was so upset, that we stopped playing the game. In fact, we shelved it, and there . . .it. . .sits. . .on. . .the. . .shelf. We have NEVER played it since. Oh, there have been one or two times when I have suggested—let’s play Feudal. But my husband remained strong and firm—no, you get too upset when I take your archer.

It’s true—not only do I love to play games, BUT I also love to WIN!

Friday, October 12, 2007

Saturday Soup 2 Fall 2007

As promised, here is a non-bean, non-pea soup. I realize not everyone can or wants to eat legumes.

My pick this week is a hearty soup that really makes a meal all in itself. It will not suit the vegetarians among my readers, so in advance I promise an orange soup recipe, maybe anticipating Hallowe’en.

The one caution I do remember from making this soup is that it is a rigorous job to prepare—lots of slicing, dicing and cubing. But the soup itself is very yummy and freezes well.

Beef and Barley Soup
Makes 12 servings

2 T. of vegetable oil
2 cups chopped onions
1 cup chopped peeled turnip
1 cup broccoli florets
1 cup cauliflower florets
1 cup chopped peeled yams (red skinned sweet potatoes)
1 cup chopped peeled potatoes
1 cup chopped celery

7 cups beef stock or canned beef broth
7 cups chicken stock or canned low-salt chicken broth
1 cup pearl barley
1-1/2 T. chopped fresh thyme
1-1/2 T. chopped fresh oregano
2 lbs. lean stew beef, cubed (3/4" x 3/4")

1) Heat oil in large heavy pot over medium heat. Add beef cubes and brown on all sides. Remove beef from pot and transfer to large bowl, retaining pan juices in the pot.

2) Return the pot to medium heat. Add onions to the pot and lightly sauté for 2 minutes (until just starting to become transparent). Add turnip, yams, potatoes, and celery to the pot and sauté for 10 minutes. Remove all of these vegetables from the pot and transfer them to the large bowl with the meat.

3) Returning the pot to medium heat once again, add pearl barley and stir to coat over the heat (about 1 minute). Carefully add beef stock and chicken stock to the pot. Simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add fresh herbs, then beef and sautéed vegetables back into the broth mixture. Bring the soup to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes.

4) Add broccoli and cauliflower florets and cook until just tender.

Now, enjoy.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

What I meant to say. . .

A number of years ago, a marvelous little book called Anguished English came out. Written by Richard Lederer, the book is a compilation of hilarious mistakes students have made on papers or exams. Any time you need a good laugh, click on the link and read a few.

When I teach students literature, I will begin teaching drama by asking them which is more universal, and more lasting: tragedy or comedy. Frequently, students will say—comedy. Of course, I expect that answer, which happens to be incorrect. Comedy frequently depends on understanding the social setting or the cultural mores or the verbal twists. True, there are some comedies (perhaps in the sense of “all’s well that ends well”) that bridge the cultural divide. But mostly comedy requires you understand what the norm is, so that when the events in the drama twist or distort the norm, you get the joke. Tragedy, on the other hand, appeals to deep seated human emotions that tend to span all time.

I confess to loving verbal humor—not surprisingly considering I teach English. I love a good pun; I love
shaggy dog stories, especially when they end with a wonderfully bad pun. All such stories depend on your knowing what the original expression is, again so you get the joke when it comes.

Well, I am in the midst of encountering unintended verbal humor. As I read my way through the second set of papers the students have turned in, I am highly amused at some of the inadvertent errors they make.

Herewith a few examples and my parenthetic comment as to what I think the student meant to say:

--Although once looked down upon, having a baseborn child in today’s society is strangely a great doing. (And, strangely, a great wording! I simply put an exclamation point over baseborn. And a question mark over a great doing.)

--This is probably because for the most part a woman getting pregnant is how most marriages spawned in my grandfather’s day. (While spawned has reproductive meaning, I believe the writer meant started.)

--In the past, a great eminence was place on overcoming adversity within a marriage and remaining loyal. (True, eminence means to grant high status, but I suspect the writer meant emphasis.)

--Six years later, their only biologically combined child was born, me. (The writer was speaking of her father and mother, each having previously been married, combining their families and then having one child together, her—but the wording came out humorously.)

--The anticipation of having a child is almost more than one can bare. (This error makes a wonderful pun, which is purely unintentional. The writer mistakes bare for bear.)

--Fortification, the act of making love without being wed, rarely occurred, or at least was not spoken freely of in the past. (Another hilarious confusion—fortification should be fornication—hmmmm!)

--In today's society, you see exuberant amounts of ethnically diverse and same sex couples. (I do believe the writer means exorbitant; in fact, I hope the writer means that!)

--While younger generations are not as effected by this, the older generations see those relationships as anomalistic. (This one has me puzzled. The word anomalistic means “departing from the rules”and is usually used in astronomy but I suspect the writer meant anomalous. Or maybe animalistic! Yikes, I hope not that latter.)

Not quite up to the Richard Lederer standard, but these examples were just enough to amuse me while I plowed through paper grading. Hope they amuse you too.

UPDATE: THREE new examples to add to the list above.

--The girl wonders how to end the idol conversation, so she can escape through the front door and into her house. (Maybe so she can watch American Idol? or so she can go idle in her house?)

--Society is defiantly not helping with making parenting easier on parents. (Um, make that definitely.)

--They did not have clichés in her class. (I'll bet they didn't have cliques either.)

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

The Rich Are Different from Us

There is a famous anecdote about a conversation that F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway had. Fitzgerald purportedly had said to Hemingway, “The rich are different from us.” To which Hemingway ostensibly had replied, “Yes, they have more money.”

(photo of Fitzgerald from Princeton.edu)

That exchange (whether it actually took place or not—here is an interesting reworking of this exchange) says much. The rich are different, and money, which sets the rich apart, sometimes breeds an attitude. Perhaps that is where the real difference comes in.

Perchance I should point out that my birth family is not a wealthy one. That may be self-evident, considering my parents were missionaries. But there is also a decided bent away from accumulating material wealth.

My great grandfather (my father’s mother’s dad) was something of an entrepreneur and through his life probably made a fortune or two, but circumstances rendered that accumulated wealth moot. He made noodles and, in a genius flash of marketing know-how, figured out how to increase demand for his product. The family legend goes that he would send some of his many children into little grocery stores to say “My mother wants me to buy Smith’s noodles. Do you have Smith’s noodles?” The bewildered store owner would say no. Then a day or so later, my great grandfather would walk into the store and say “I’m here to sell you Smith’s noodles.” Create the demand, then fill it—classic marketing. When he died, none of his children was available or capable of keeping the business running smoothly, and it all evaporated. That, as they say, is another story.

My paternal grandfather, who was a Canadian, had his fleeting chance at making a fortune. For a brief time, he homesteaded in Saskatchewan, Canada. The conditions of homesteading were that a person had to be on the land six months out of year, for a total of 3 years. The homesteader had to break 50 acres of land, and in return would get a 160-acre farm. Additionally, a person had to build a home worth $300. Upon completion of these terms, the person would then get a deed for the place and become the landowner. He had done the calculations, and figured he could make $4,000 selling the land—that is in 1910 dollars.

He never made his fortune, though, because he was courting my grandmother, who lived in Pennsylvania, at the time. He wrote and asked her what she thought of homesteading. She wrote back that she thought him more fit to be a preacher than a farmer. And, she also informed him, that three years was a long time to go without seeing him—a very subtle way of saying that she wouldn’t join him.

Her father (the noodle maker) had founded a new college around this time and wrote to ask my grandfather to join the new faculty, which my grandfather did. After my grandfather had made his decision and left behind homesteading and his future fortune, he wrote “I am in the place before God that I want to do all I can for the advancement of His cause.” He intentionally turned his back on financial reward, a decision that shaped his whole life.

Now, there have been other times when my family brushed up against the rich. When my father was a young man, he found summer employment as a butler in Bryn Mawr, PA, with a family named Crawford. Mr. Crawford was one of the founders of Acme Grocery stores. My father wrote of this experience:

They lived in a big spacious mansion in spacious grounds with trees and well manicured lawns surrounding the house. And they had a number of servants, a cook, several maids, a chauffeur, a number of gardeners or groundsmen, and I was the butler. My duties were several fold. They consisted amongst other things of answering the front door and obtaining the callers name (or card ‑ if the caller had a card I was to carry it on a tray to the Master or the Madam) and go to the said Master or Madam and receive permission to show the caller to "Master" or "Madam." Very formal and very officious!

My duties also consisted of waiting on the table at meal time, especially dinner time in the evening. That too was very formal. "Master" sat at one end of the large table in a large dining room, and "Madam" sat at the other end of the table. I don't know if conversation ensued or how much conversation ensued. I would receive the food to be served from the cook in the kitchen, carry it into the dining room one dish or casserole at a time, serve "Madam" first at her end of the table, then serve "Master" at his end of the table, and return for the next dish, and so forth. In addition to that I had certain cleaning duties or dusting duties in the large living room. I was instructed to dust certain high surfaces regularly (daily), like the mantel over the fireplace and surfaces over cupboards, with a feather duster. I thought I was learning my duties and expectations quite well and was feeling quite good about my employment. When all of a sudden I was fired.

The reason my father was fired had to do with serving dinner:

I served her a soufflé that had fallen. The "Master" had become somewhat indisposed and was confined to his bedroom. (They had separate bedrooms.) At dinner time "Madam" sat at her prepared place at the table, all alone. I was instructed to take the first course entree, a soufflé, to "Master" in his bedroom. I found him there sitting in a chair at a small table, dressed in his pajamas and bathrobe, and I served him his soufflé. He started asking me questions about who I was, where I was from, etc. And when he learned I had lived my childhood in Southern Rhodesia he asked more questions. When it came to southern Africa I was able to talk. And yet I was very conscious that "Madam" was sitting downstairs at the dining room table all alone, waiting to be served. I didn’t want to be impolite to him, and yet I was uneasy about not having served her. By the time I was able to excuse myself from his presence and serve her, the soufflé had fallen. . . I was fired summarily and immediately. She called me into the dining room, made a few comments about my services being unsatisfactory, and told me I was relieved of my duties immediately and forthwith.

To add insult to injury, these employers denied my father pay for his most recent weeks of employment, and demanded that he return a suit they had bought for him for his work capacity.

My encounters with the rich were not quite so dramatic, but I had a few small run-ins. During summers while I was in college, I worked in summer homes of rich people along Lake Erie. The first summer that I worked there, my employers were a family named Rich (!). I was the cleaning staff, with two other young women, one who cooked and one who cared for the grandchildren. The family had three children—all grown. The elder two were married, but the youngest was my age. He and his friends were very cordial, and we chatted from time to time. At the end of the summer, I assumed I would likely return there the next year. However, that option was closed when the mother in the family decided her son was paying too much attention to the hired help. She declined to re-employ me because I was fraternizing with the family! I worked for a different family the next two summers, and the main thing I recall about them is that they elected to pay me in either U.S. or Canadian dollars—whichever had the lower value at the time.

Back to Hemingway and Fitzgerald. Of course, part of the driver behind such a conversation was Fitzgerald's life long fascination with and longing for wealth. He immortalized that yearning in the character of Jay Gatsby who constantly looks across at the winking green light. Longing, longing. And Hemingway, ever the terse writer, cuts things down to size--yes, they have more money.

(photo of Hemingway from Cornell.edu)

Yes, the rich are different from us somehow!

Friday, October 05, 2007


NOTE: before someone points out to me that I posted this on Friday--
yes, I know.
Tomorrow is Saturday, and we will be on our way to watch
Penn State play and (maybe, just maybe) win.
Oh I hope so--I hate the thought of sitting through a hot football game just to see the home team lose.

Saturday Soup 1 for Fall 2007

DRUM ROLL, banging of soups pots. . .announcing the return of
Saturday soups.

While the weather here has been decidedly uncooperative, where making soup is concerned (I associate soup with cooler weather), it is fall. And I want to get back to posting Saturday soups.

So, weather ready or not, whether you are ready or not, here goes.

Our church is beginning to gear up for our annual soup Bistro, which is the source of all these soup recipes. I should hasten to point out that I have not made all the recipes I post, but I have tasted all of them, and they are always yummy.

The recipe gathering process is one of the first steps in planning this bistro. The church member currently in charge gets recipes from all over. This particular one came through another church member who had seen it in a Nantucket, MA newspaper.


Serves 12


2 cups dried yellow split peas
2 cups carrots, peeled and chopped
2 cups celery, chopped (including leaves)
2 cups onion, chopped
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
2 tsps. dried oregano
1 clove garlic, minced
salt & freshly ground pepper to taste
1 bay leaf
1 tsp. sugar
1 meaty ham bone or 2 ham hocks
1 lb. kielbasa, cut into bite-size pieces
1 14 oz. can chicken broth


1. Put 8 cups of water and all of the ingredients except the kielbasa into a Dutch oven or other large pot. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring frequently. Reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, for one and one-half hours, or until the peas have cooked down to a thick soup. Stir occasionally to prevent sticking.

2. Discard the bay leaf and remove the bone or hocks from the soup. Add the kielbasa and heat through. Taste and add more salt if necessary. Serve hot.

Get your spoons ready. . .go.


In case you missed the previous series on Saturday soups, you can scroll down the right hand side to the "previously on this blog" list--since it is frequency ordered, soups will appear close to the top. Right now, it is the fourth item down.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

One Bright Shining Moment

While it might seem that I have only complaints to air about students, there is the occasional bright moment with a student that makes this teaching gig worthwhile.

At the beginning of the semester, I had a student come up after class to indicate his extreme trepidation at the prospect of going back to school. He had lost his job of some 20 years, and was now returning to school under a special grant to help retrain displaced workers. He hadn’t written a paper in decades. Based on the quiver in his voice and the tremor in his hand, his nervousness was quite genuine, and not a ploy to elicit my sympathy.

Well, he absolutely nailed the first assignment. He understood all the parameters of writing a narrative, and selected a topic that was absolutely on prompt. As a result, he got one of the few A s earned in the class. He was shocked. Stunned. And of course pleased.

Today, he stopped by to talk about his next paper. He indicated he is using the on-campus writing center that we have, which includes both peer evaluators and tutors. This time, his voice was strong, and his hand steady.

He comes to class daily; he enters into discussions willingly. No excuses, none of the ennui that typifies too many younger students.

I have watched this student changing from a middle-aged man who had the stuffing knocked out of him through his job loss, to a man who sees the glimmer of a new future on the horizon. His demeanor shows someone who has gained new self-confidence.

One bright shining moment! That’s what keeps me teaching.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

The mystery of the blood trail

With our daughter now in England, we look forward to weekly phone calls. While she and her fiancé were here in the U.S. they used Vonage as their phone carrier. When they moved to London, they continued that service and kept a U.S. based number. Consequently, she can call for the same cost as a regular land-based call here. What a difference in the advances in technology.

Anyway, during the last phone call, she remarked that she prefers my stories about school—but, I thought, I have sooooo many fun little stories from her and our son’s childhood. (Insert here a slightly nasty little chuckle.)

This story features three characters—a mother, a father and a tiny baby girl. After our daughter was born, and was about six weeks old, I decided I just HAD to get a haircut. Our son was in grade school, so taking care of him was not an issue. However, as a tiny baby, our daughter could not be left alone, so my husband arranged his work schedule so he could come home early one day. I gleefully made a hair appointment.

It was great to leave the house without having to bundle up a new baby, and just drive off to be pampered a little bit. After an hour, I returned home. Thinking I was coming in to greet my husband and daughter—I called out “hello.” Nothing. Hello, again—NOTHING. Nothing but silence. Complete total silence.

So I started walking around. Still nothing—no sign of my husband, no sign of our daughter. I went upstairs to the bedrooms—the baby’s room first. Nothing. Our bedroom, our son’s bedroom—nothing, nothing.

Then I went to the kitchen—and saw a small spot on the floor—hmmm—looks dark red. Here’s another spot, and another. I followed a tiny trail of spots, all the way down to the basement. There was a whole bunch of spots, and they were clearly blood.

By now, I am verging on panic. It might help you to understand that I have a mind that jumps INSTANTLY to conclusions. Never mind gathering evidence, my mind races to the furthest point in the possible journey. So, I conjectured that our daughter had been kidnapped, my husband had been injured in protecting her, and that he too had been dragged away. I mean, what else could explain this mysterious trail of blood and no husband or baby in the house.

I went outside to pursue these attackers, whoever they might be, or even wherever they might be. Just as I began walking around the house, my next-door-neighbor Janie came out. Oh, hi, she said, your daughter is over here. Whew! HUGE sigh of relief. But, where was my husband, Oh, he’s at the local hospital emergency room. Overactive imagination leaping into action again. . . .no, no, she said, he accidentally hurt himself while doing something with tools in the basement. He grabbed the baby, took her next door and drove himself to the hospital. Whew, again.

Since it was obvious that our daughter was safe, I asked my neighbor if she minded watching the baby a few minutes more, and I drove to the hospital. There sat my husband in the emergency room, hand in a bowl of Betadine. He had been drilling into a metal electrical box, and the WOOD drill bit he was using spun off and bit into the fleshy space between his thumb and index finger. Luckily, if one can think of drilling one’s hand as lucky, he missed all vital tendons. Of course, it hurt and needed tending, but it resulted in no long term damage. The Betadine bath was intended to remove any contamination that may have been driven into the flesh.

So the blood trail? Since our daughter had sweetly gone to sleep, my husband decided to do a few house chores, and he was in the basement working when he had his drill accident. Of course, he started bleeding. First he went upstairs, dripping blood, then from somewhere quickly grabbed paper towels which he wrapped around his hand and secured with an ACE bandage. (Since he had worked as a trainer with athletic teams during college, he did a particularly good job, so that the bowl of Betadine was about all the hospital needed to do.)

He scooped up the sleeping baby, took her next door where he knew our neighbor would be, as she too had recently had a baby. He then drove directly to the hospital, figuring he would get the care he needed, and return home to clean up. Our neighbor was supposed to have intercepted me before I got inside.

Instead, I came home to the empty house and the blood trail. Mystery solved. Now you see why my daughter (and no doubt my husband) prefer me to stick to the school stories!