Wednesday, July 16, 2014


King Solomon of Kentucky
     I have a passion for travel, especially to remote, exotic places like Tibet and Burma. But sometimes travel-worthy sites with an intriguing story can be found closer to home . The other day I visited Lexington National Cemetery. Located in the middle of downtown Lexington, the cemetery houses the graves of several generations of Lexingtonians, including Henry Clay, and is the final resting place of soldiers from several wars. King Solomon is also buried there.  

     Solomon was a white vagrant who supported his drinking with wages earned as a digger of cisterns, graves, and cellars. In the spring of 1833, as punishment for his vagrancy, Lexington officials put Solomon up for sale as a slave for one year. He was bought by Aunt Charlotte, a slave brought to Lexington, KY in the late 1700s. After her owners died, Aunt Charlotte was freed and inherited property. She supported herself by selling fruit and baked goods at the open market. She and Solomon had known each other in Virginia. Aunt Charlotte bought Solomon for $13, outbidding two medical students who wanted to invest in a future cadaver.

     Aunt Charlotte set Solomon free, but he managed to get liquor immediately. After drinking his fill, he made his way back to Aunt Charlotte's home where he passed out on a Thursday. He woke on a Saturday to find that many had died or were dying of cholera. Those who could were evacuating the city. Aunt Charlotte was preparing to leave, but when Solomon refused to go, she stayed also. People were dying quicker than they could be buried, since the grave diggers were among those evacuating. Solomon found his shovel and began digging holes to bury the dead. His dedication probably prevented further spread of the disease. Both Solomon and Charlotte survived the epidemic.

     When Solomon returned to court at the end of his year of slavery, the judge shook his hand, and others thanked him for his heroic deed. He died in the poorhouse in 1854. In 1908, a large tombstone was placed at his grave. No one knows what happened to Aunt Charlotte.

- - - - - -

For more see "King Solomon of Kentucky" in Flute and Violin and other Kentucky Tales, by J.L. Allen; and "King Solomon, Heroic Gravedigger" in Offbeat Kentuckians, by K. McQueen.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Elephant Walk


Dame Daphne Sheldrick tells this story in her book, Life, Love, and Elephants: Her husband, the late David Sheldrick, chief warden of Tsavo National Park in Kenya for many years, once encountered a herd of twenty-five or so elephants as he returned from a trip to Mudanda. As the vehicle approached, the herd moved off, but three elephants remained behind, puzzled by the nervousness of their wild friends. David recognized the three as orphans who had been raised in the compound and then returned to the wild. He got out of the car and called to one they had named “Fatuma.” She came hurrying over to him, with the two smaller elephants following. Fatuma seemed to want David to join her in following the herd. Fatuma would start off but after a few paces turn around to see if he was coming. When he didn’t, she would return to him, rumble softly and wrap her trunk around him. When the three elephants still remained after the rest of the herd moved off, he decided to let the other passengers in the car drive back while he walked the three elephants home.

In the pitch black night, he could see only a few feet in front of him. However, the elephants knew the way. They seemed to understand that he needed guidance. They pressed close to him, so that he found himself sandwiched between Fatuma and Kanderi. As they headed back to the compound, he walked with a hand resting lightly against a foreleg of each elephant. They slowed their pace to match his. He heard and smelled other groups of elephants as they continued their journey, and it surprised him that the orphans avoided contact, presumably because they instinctively knew that David’s presence would he unwelcome. “It was such a humbling and stilling experience,” he said later. “I felt at one with them in their world, entirely dependent on them for my safety, sheltered and protected as I were one of their own.” It took about four hours to get back .

These marvelous creatures have been killed for many years for their tusks. In the beginning, they were killed one by one with poison. Poison-making was a highly specialized profession, and a closely guarded secret in the tribes who brewed and sold it. Ingredients included bark and leaves taken from acodanthera trees. The leaves were boiled in water for about seven hours with a few other ingredients until it was rendered down to a sticky tar-like substance. The poison was deadly, active as soon as it entered the bloodstream, and could kill an elephant within a couple of hours and a human within minutes. Before selling the poison, its potency and effectiveness was tested on a frog or lizard jabbed by a thorn dipped in poison or injected into an egg that apparently exploded. Poison-making was a lucrative trade,poaching elephants an even more lucrative trade.

Today, instead of poison arrows, poachers use assault rifles which enable them to mow down these lordly beasts with great proficiency and in massive numbers. China’s growing wealth and insatiable hunger for ivory has triggered a growing danger of extinction. Vietnam, Thailand, Taiwan, and the Philippines have also become major purchasers of elephant tusks. In Hong Kong, one of the ivory trade’s main transit points, seized ivory rose form 3.2 tons in 2010 to 7.9 tons in the first ten months of 2013. This is the equivalent of 1,675 dead elephants. In December, 2012, Malaysian authorities seized 1,000 elephant tusks smuggled into the country hidden in shipments of mahogany. This seizure was worth millions of dollars.

Of the 50,000 elephants that roamed Chad 50 years ago, barely 2 percent are left. In the neighboring countries of Central African Republic and Cameroon, the population may be even lower. The killing of elephants in these countries, when added to all the other countries where elephants are being slaughtered, adds up to a bleak future for these highly intelligent, sensitive, and socially aware animals.

According to Caitlin O’Connell-Rodwell, a Stanford ecologist who has written four books based on her Namibian field research on elephants, these animals are much like us. “If you watch a family group reuniting, their behavior is exactly like ours – the little cousins darting off together, the elaborate greetings of adults. Elephants offer a way of looking into the mirror, for better or worse,” she writes. “If we value human right, we should also value animals that have the same level of sophistication that we do. We should keep those beings with us here on earth.”

Check out O’Connell-Rodwell’s books on elephants:


Tuesday, June 24, 2014

            I can’t even comprehend how much $1.7 trillion is, but apparently that’s what the war in Iraq cost us. And we’re still paying. There will be an additional $490 billion in benefits owed to war veterans, and over the next four decades, that amount could grow to more than $6 trillion. Add the cost of our engagements in Afghanistan and Pakistan to what we spent in Iraq, and the figure goes up to nearly $4 trillion.
After destroying Iraq, we then had to rebuild it, spending more than $60 billion in taxpayer dollars. According to one report, there’s very little sign of where this money actually went. “. . . you can go into any city in Iraq and not find one building or project built by the U.S. government.” Check out httpp:// for the extravagant waste of our money – that’s your money and mine – in Iraq. Two examples among thousands of waste: billing $3000 for a circuit breaker valued at $94, and $900 for a control switch valued at $7.05.  
            What did we get for these trillions fighting a war that began with a lie? To begin with, an estimated 189,000 dead. We managed to get both Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden, but the war reinvigorated radical Islamist militants in the region. It’s sort of like pulling weeds in your garden. Pull one; two grow back. What we didn’t get is democracy in that region. I lived in the Middle East for eight years, and learned that they’re not interested in replicating what we have. Why must we force our views and practices on them?
            I find it hard to understand all the wrangling about cutting spending when we have wasted trillions in a war that accomplished nothing good, and much that was bad. We might have been just as well off to build a bonfire and burn our taxpayer dollars.  I’d like to suggest just a few of the ways that money would have been better spent.
1.      BRIDGES
I keep reading that the nation’s infrastructure is in dire need of repair. Why are we spending money on circuit breakers in Iraq, paying thirty times what they are worth, when no one can guarantee that our bridges won’t come toppling down any day now? I vote for new bridges instead of circuit breakers.
I love windmills. Maybe that has to do with loving Hans Brinker, but even so, windmills are a clean form of energy. Think of the new jobs we could create if we went on a wind-mill building spree. We could also have used some of that wasted money in developing other clean energy sources.
It’s a national disgrace. We spend more than $6 trillion killing people and destroying a country, yet leave our students with a horrendous debt load.
People keep harping on getting rid of bad teachers. I don’t hear anyone coming up with ways to entice our best and smartest into the teaching profession. If you have the brains to be successful in one of the more lucrative professions, why would you accept a measly teacher’s salary? Isn’t it time we coughed up money and made education a priority?
Every citizen of the United States should have access to information. Those states that have put money into improving school libraries and hiring adequate media personnel have shown a commensurate improvement in student test scores. We could have built a lot of new libraries and modernized a lot of old ones with all that money.
Maybe find a way to wipe out malaria? The common cold? Cancer? Nooooo, we’d rather waste trillions on a war in the Middle East.
So, let’s hear it from all you. How would have liked to spend those trillions?

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Qatar the World Cup

Qatar and the World Cup
     Qataris were very excited to win the bid for the 2022 World Cup. They hosted the Asian Games seven years ago and had tried to win the Olympics, but failed. Having lived in the country for eight years, I have to commend the Emir and the leaders of the country for attempting to bring this small emirate into the main stream of world events. They've done this in many ways, the bid for the World Cup being just one. In other ways, however, they have not lived up to expectations of the main stream, their treatment of their vast number of employees from Asian and African countries being a case in point.
     When I moved to Qatar in 2002, the population consisted of around 250,000 Qataris and 500,000 ex-pats. When I left in 2010, the number of Qataris had grown to around 270,000 while the overall population had doubled. Many people from the West go to Qatar to work, but Asians (especially Indians) and Africans form the vast majority of the ex-pat population. And while the westerners are treated well -- large salaries and perks -- the Asians and Africans are not. The conditions under which they are forced to live is what will probably cost Qatar their opportunity to host the World Cup.
     Thousands of workers are brought in to perform the labor the Qataris refuse to do.  The citizens of this tiny emirate have the highest per capita income in the world, so why should they build buildings, clean the streets, cook meals, and dress and entertain their babies? Instead, recruits are brought in and put to work. But there's nothing wrong with that so far, is there?
     The problem is the conditions that the imported workers must endure. First, salaries that would just about pay for my Starbucks and movie tickets. Forget the popcorn. The $100 per month that many get would never stretch that far. Maids, drivers, and nannies don't have it so bad. They get to live in the compound with their employers, thus, decent shelter and food, even if the salaries  are pitiful. Construction workers usually live in a dorm. They have a bunk, space for one suitcase and an electric pan of some sort, and no meals. They live on rice.  When the price of rice went up a few years ago, there was panic among them.
     So why don't these workers just leave? In spite of the low salaries, most manage to send money to their families. There are several countries where the money sent home from workers in the Gulf Countries form a significant amount of the national income.
      Money is one reason they stay, but the other reason is that they can't leave. No one leaves Qatar without an exit permit. This stricture includes Qataris and Westerners, as well as Asians and Africans. To get an exit permit, an expat must petition his employer. The employer has it in his power to deny the permit. And many are denied. Stories abound of Asians not being paid by their employers and not being given exit permits. There is only one way to describe this: slavery.
    The person, or persons, who allegedly succumbed to bribes and awarded Qatar the 2022 World Cup, obviously did not anticipate the attention of human rights organizations. The despicably paid workers, some of who may not be allowed to leave, are the ones building the soccer stadiums and other venues for the games. 
     It seems grossly unfair that the wealthiest per capita nation in the world builds its success and fame on the backs of less fortunate people.    

Saturday, May 31, 2014


        In Love, Life, and Elephants, Daphne Sheldrick relates how ice cream was made before the age of freezers and refrigerators in Kenya. She and her brothers and sisters prayed for hail despite the fact that hail meant doom for crops. For them, hail meant ice cream.
       On her lucky days when hail fell, she would rush outside with her siblings and frantically scoop up the hailstones while her mother rushed into the pantry to mix up the ingredients for ice cream. The mixture was poured into in a sealed container surrounded by the hailstones and salt and then placed inside a bucket. The bucket was rolled up and down the back verandah until the ice cream froze.
       Fortunately for the crops, but sadly for children who love ice cream, hail came only about once every three years in Kenya.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014


        Elephants are amazing creatures. Like so many other animals they're probably a lot smarter the we think. For some time, I have been fascinated with their intelligence, so when I saw a book entitled Love, Life, and Elephants I grabbed it. The author, Daphne Sheldrick, whose family arrived in Africa from Scotland in the 1820s, is the first person ever to have successfully hand-reared newborn elephants. Her pioneering work in perfecting the right husbandry and milk formula has saved countless elephants. Sheldrick claims that elephants have an extraordinary ability to communicate sophisticated messages to each other.
     The first chapter of the book tells the story of how her Scottish ancestors came to reside in Kenya. At first they journeyed from South Africa by ship to Mombasa, and then on to Nairobi by train. The final leg of their journey took them through the African wilderness by wagon to settle miles and miles from doctors, grocery stores, and everything else civilization has to offer. As I read the description of this journey, I found it almost scary just to think about being so many miles from help and from any sustenance other than what I could contrive myself. Not only were they surrounded 24/7 by herds of elephants, but also by all the animals you wouldn't want to come face to face with: snakes, rhinos, tigers.
     I look forward to reading the remainder of this book and learning more about her relations with  the elephants of Kenya.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Arrest at The Awful (... Waffle) House

The Awful (…Waffle) House

            Last week in Lexington, KY, a man was arrested at one of the local Waffle Houses. His crime was urinating in a booth. Reading the article about his arrest brought back memories of my own threatened arrest at the Waffle House not so long ago. My infraction, however, was of a more decent nature.

            Leftover broccoli with cheese sauce didn’t quite cut it for breakfast one Sunday morning. I was to meet two friends at noon for a basketball game, but the hunger pangs that commenced around ten o’clock warned me that I’d never make it through a basketball game without a more substantial breakfast. I dressed quickly, hopped in my car, and drove to one of my breakfast haunts (I do love breakfast out), the Waffle House in Lexington, KY near the Lexington Tennis Club. I’m pointing out which Waffle House it was so that my friends at the Beaumont Waffle House don’t take the guff I’m about to dish out here.

A hostess greeted me. Yes, the Waffle House has a hostess on Sunday morning. At least that one does. Who would have thought! She had a long, gray pony tail, a sunken mouth where her teeth should have been, and the good cheer of a crocodile. I’d patronized this particular Waffle House numerous times because it was close to the tennis club. I think you might even say I’d become one of their regulars.  Between tennis games I’d hop over to have a grilled cheese sandwich and chili. It’s difficult to find an old-fashioned, greasy grilled-cheese sandwich anymore, but the Waffle House still makes them.  

            “Anywhere you want to sit is fine,” the hostess said, waving in the direction of the booths.

            I chose one, sat down, and pulled my book out of my purse. A waitress scurried over, took my order, and then left me to enjoy my book. Breakfast was served up in due time. I ate and read. When I finished the last bite of waffle, I pushed my plate aside and grabbed my coffee in anticipation of enjoying my post-meal caffeine.


            “You need to leave.”

I looked up to see the hostess standing over me.

            “Excuse me?”

            “You have to leave.”

            “Why?” I asked, astounded.

            “People are waiting.”

            I looked toward the entry and, sure enough, three groups were waiting to be seated.

            I turned back to the hostess. “This is the first time in my life anyone has ordered me out of a restaurant.”


            “Well, you have to go.”

            “I’m not finished.” I brought my coffee cup to my lips and and purposefully looked away from her.


She reiterated her demand that I leave. I reiterated my refusal to leave until I had finished my coffee. Defeated, she walked away. I noticed that she asked no one else to leave in spite of the fact that many had finished their breakfasts and were dawdling, pushing salt shakers around, stretching, thumping the tables in time to the music on the juke box.

            Waffle House waitresses (sorry, but I’ve never been served by a waiter at a Waffle House, only waitresses), are like servers everywhere: they’ve learned to never look in the direction of their clients, so when I waved ostentatiously my waitress didn’t notice. I turned conspicuously in her direction, making a spectacle of myself by half-rising from my seat, and

flapping my menu. When I began to think I needed to tap dance on the table to get her attention, she finally walked over.  


            “I’d like to speak to the manager,” I said.

            She delivered my message; then she delivered his message to me: “I’m too busy.

            “Tell him . . .,” I spoke slowly and emphatically,  “. . . that I want to speak to him.”

            The waitress delivered the message three times; the request was denied three times. Meanwhile, I noticed that everyone had been seated, so that meant freeing up my table, or anyone else freeing up their table no longer mattered. I walked over to the counter. “Roger,” I called. I had learned his name at this point.

He put down his spatula, ran his forearm over his brow to wipe away grease (or sweat?), and strutted over to me. Scowling. He confronted me with crossed arms and a I-got-up-on-the-wrong-side-of-the-bed-so-don’t-mess-with-me look.


“You’re refusing to talk to me?” I asked.

“I’m here now.” Poison darts shot from of his eyes. If looks could kill, I would have died in the Waffle House right then and there. Imagine the obituary. Refined, educated, former-teacher, church-going, well-dressed senior citizen lady frightened to death by Waffle House manager.


“Are you in the habit of asking your customers to leave the instant the last bite slips down their throats?” I said.


“You’re occupying a booth reserved for two people.”

“I have the right to eat here, too.  I’ll leave when I’m finished.”

“I’ll call the police.”

“Feel free. I’m staying.”

“The police will drag you out of here. I’ll have them arrest you. That booth is for two people.”

I didn’t bother to explain that the hostess allowed me to sit there in the first place, or that the waitress took my order and served me without protesting that there was only one of me, or that there was no longer a line. I went back to my table and sat down. I took great pains to drink my coffee in tiny sips, gazing about between each one. I waited for the police, imagining the appeal the manager would make to them:


Manager: “Hello, police.”

Police: “Can we help you?”

Manager: “I have a woman, a senior citizen woman, sitting in a booth at the Waffle House. I need for you come and arrest her.”


Police: “What’s she doing?”

Manager: “Drinking coffee.”

Police: “Why do we need to arrest her?”

Manager: “I told you; she’s sitting there drinking coffee.”

Police: Confused silence.

Manager: “Well? Are you coming?”

Police: “We don’t arrest people for drinking coffee.”

Manager: “She’s in a booth for two people.”

Police: “You want us to arrest an old lady because she’s sitting in a booth for two people?”

Manager: “Yeah. Don’t you guys get it? She’s sitting in a booth. Booths are for two people.”


Police: Whispered aside to companion: Should we send the loony wagon over to the Waffle House for the manager?


The time for meeting my friends approached, and I had to leave. After the game, I duly reported the events of the day to my daughter. She likes to keep track of me in the event I decide to take off for some far corner of the world and forget to inform her.

“Well, Mom,” she said when I finished relating my adventure. “Now you know why they call the Waffle House the Awful House.”  


Thursday, February 27, 2014

E-Learning Journeys: #TeacherTuesday - Malawi: The struggle for literacy

E-Learning Journeys: #TeacherTuesday - Malawi: The struggle for literacy

I think digital means can enhance education abroad in many different ways, including literacy, of course. It also gives students the opportunity to examine different ideas. I though in Qatar for eight years, and I am hopeful that digital education can bring our lifestyles and choices more in sync.

Judy Higgins ---

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Young Cancer Survivor's Speech

(Kyle Pezzi is my grandson, and I couldn't be prouder of him. This is the speech he gave at DanceBlue, an annual event at the University of Kentucky that raises money for young cancer victims.)
Hello everyone! My name is Kyle Pezzi. I’m eighteen years old and I am a freshman finance student at American University in Washington DC. I spoke at DanceBlue last year and I wanted to come back again since I had such a great time. DanceBlue is one of the most exciting things I have ever experienced and I hope to come back every year.

Now that I have reintroduced myself, I want to share a little bit about my story. I have thought a lot about what I wanted to say this year and wanted to change my message from last year. Last year I talked about my journey with cancer and how DanceBlue helps children with pediatric cancer. However, this year I wanted to give some words of wisdom, and share what I have learned from my experience with cancer and what I have learned these last few years after my diagnosis. During these last few years I have learned a lot about life and I hope that I can share some things that will be of value to each of you.

            For those of you who do not know, I had Osteosarcoma, an aggressive form of bone cancer. I was diagnosed during my sophomore year in high school. The diagnosis was very sudden. One day I was playing tennis, and the next I began hospitalizations and treatments. I had to withdraw from school and everything else went into the backseat. My chemo treatments lasted for ten months and I had eight surgeries. I spent almost 150 days in the hospital and at the Hematology and oncology clinic at UK. Because of my treatment plan, I was unable to go out in public often. I spent more time at the clinic and the hospital than I did at home. Every holiday and birthday was spent in the hospital. It was a very difficult year.

Now comes my advice to you. Although I hope all of you will never experience hardships like this in your life, you will all experience inconveniences, setbacks, deaths, and other very difficult things.  At times these events may be very difficult. Even to this day things happen to me that get me down. However, since my treatments I have realized that failure and bad things happen to everyone, even the richest and the most powerful. It is how you deal with your difficulties and the lesson that you learn is what makes you stronger, more resilient, more grateful. Being negative never helped me and it won’t help you. Push through the difficult times, stay positive.

I want to tell you a story to illustrate what I mean. It’s about a guy named Peter Thiel. I don’t know if you know him but he went to law school in California and he really wanted to clerk at the Supreme Court. For a law school graduate the best credential you can get is to land a Supreme Court clerkship. After graduating from law school and clerking for a year for a district court judge, Thiel was one of the small handful of clerks who made it to the interview stage with two of the Supreme Court justices. It was all he wanted, it consumed his life. Guess what? He didn’t get it. He became depressed and felt like he would never succeed. This is a feeling that many of us have when we don’t succeed at something. Or when we encounter something difficult. We have the same reaction. Feeling of failure, sadness.  After grieving for a short period, Peter began to work very hard. He reevaluated his career and began working in business. Peter soon started to experience success and was able to recover from his setback. After a few years he built a business and sold it for a great deal of money. This business was called PayPal. He is also an investor in Facebook, an investment that has made him a billionaire. One of his old friends from law school who had won the clerkship over him and now worked in law said to him “So, aren’t you glad you didn’t get that Supreme Court clerkship?”

My point in telling you this is that sometimes things happen in life that you have no control over. I had cancer, something I had no control over. Peter, didn’t get his clerkship. It will happen to all of us at some point. I want to encourage you all not to worry about stuff when things don’t go your way. Take something away from the experience, move on, stay positive and keep working hard. Most importantly, realize that you are blessed to be healthy, be grateful that you go to a great school and are receiving a top-notch education. And remember that when things don’t work out the way you expect, its sometimes a gift.

Now I want to tell you  how my bad experiences have changed me. One thing I never really mentioned in my last speech was that in high school, I didn’t work that hard. I never was that interested in class and my mind often wandered to other things rather than schoolwork. For the first two years of high school, before I got cancer, I spent more time playing Halo, and not doing my schoolwork. I did okay but never reached my potential. I convinced myself that I would never excel like my cousin who went to Harvard Law School or my other cousin who was in Medical School. I kind of just accepted my fate to just be average. I just wasn’t’ as smart as them. Then sophomore year when I got cancer, my life took even a worse turn. I thought “How could it get any worse?” At that point I decided to take a different approach. The way I saw it, it could only get better from here because I had really hit the bottom. Sitting in the hospital for so long gave me a lot of time to think. I wanted to change my life. As soon as I got through treatment I started working much harder, and things did change. I quickly learned that I wasn’t any different from my cousins who were so successful, except they just worked harder and were more positive and better at dealing with setbacks. I went from being an academic underachiever to getting terrific grades and finally working to my potential. Now that I am in college I am continuing to work hard and it is paying off.  As difficult as cancer was, I can honestly say that it got me to where I am today.  I’m lucky and I’m grateful. I now know I will succeed in life.

We will all fail sometimes, we will all go through hardships. Try to learn something from everything, be the best you can be. Today you are being the best you can be. Thank you for sacrificing your time, energy and effort. By participating in DanceBlue you are helping create more survivors like me. Thank you.

Before I go, I’d like to thank a few people: my family for all the help throughout all of this, and my girlfriend Nisha Patel, who is here today with Kappa Kappa Gamma.  I’d also like to give a shout out to my friend, Emily Dawson, who you all met last night from the hospital. She is going through the same treatment that I did. We are all thinking of you Emily. Stay strong.  Thanks everyone.





Sunday, February 23, 2014

Fifty Shades of Gray and Cross-country Skiing.

Good Glide
       Apparently, the Norwegians lost the cross-country skiing event in the Olympics because their official ski wax technician messed up. And I always thought winning had to do with the athletes! 
        Droves of Norwegians are demanding the technician's resignation. Apparently he didn't study the ski-waxing e-book called "Good Glide." In Norway, "Good Glide" has displaced "Fifty Shades of Gray" as the top best-seller.
     I'd like to offer an alternate explanation as to why the Norwegians lost the cross-country events: lack of passion. If a country prefers a technical manual to a hot sex novel, then surely they must lack passion. Notice how much passion the winners in all the events have! So my suggestion to the cross-country coaches in Norway: have your competitors read "Fifty Shades of Gray" and get a little passion in your skiing.

Friday, February 21, 2014


"It is important that students bring a certain ragamuffin barefoot irreverence to their studies; they are not here to worship what is known , but to question it."
                                                                     Jacob Bronowski "The Ascent of Man"

"The important thing is not to stop questioning."
                                                                           Albert Einstein

Thursday, February 20, 2014


To get the brain going and the creative juices flowing:
Creativity Milkshake
1 cup milk
2 ripe bananas
1/2 cup peanut butter
1/4 cup chocolate syrup
1 pint vanilla-flavor Greek frozen yogurt
Whipped cream and a cherry for the top
Blend until blended!
Share, or drink the whole shebang yourself.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Turkey Disaster

Turkey Disaster
     My son and I lived in Aberdeen, Scotland for a year. Like the other Americans living there, we celebrated American holidays at the appropriate times. When Thanksgiving rolled around, I invited neighbors for a traditional holiday feast. I was quite busy during the week preceding Thanksgiving, so I neglected to buy the goodies until the last minute, paying no attention to my colleagues' talk about "ordering their turkeys." It seemed like a lot of bother to me: going to the store to order the turkey, and then going back to the store to pick it up.
     The day before Thanksgiving, I set out for the grocery store. There were no turkeys to be seen.
     "Where are the turkeys?" I asked.
     "Did you order one?" was the reply.
     "Why should I order one, don't you always have turkeys?"
     No, they did not. I spent the day making the rounds of the grocery stores in Aberdeen, always getting the same thing: "Why did you not order your turkey?"
     Finally, someone suggested I try the business that sold to restaurants. It was my last hope. I walked out with a forty-pound turkey, the smallest they had. That evening, after I had removed every item from the refrigerator to make room for the turkey, I calculated the time required to cook a forty-pound turkey.
     I set the alarm for three, hopped out of bed, prepared my giant turkey, but alas. The thing wouldn't fit in the oven. By shoving and squeezing, I finally managed to force it in, but the oven door wouldn't shut. I pushed a chair against the door to hold it in place, but there was a gap of three of four inches through which the heat escaped.
     Guests were invited for three. At seven we still waited for the turkey to finish cooking -- a thoroughly humiliating experience.
       There remained about five months worth of turkey leftovers and it took me at least five months to finish scraping the turkey from the sides of the oven.
     The next time I live in Scotland we're going out for Thanksgiving dinner and having haggis.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

If God Meant Woman to Cook

She wouldn’t have Invented Restaurants

            I have very few talents, and cooking definitely isn’t among them. Growing up, I learned to open a can, dump the contents into a pan, set the pan on the stove, and then turn on the eye. I learned to salt meat (heavily), coat it with flour, heat up the lard in the frying pan, and fry the meat. I didn’t know there was any other way to cook meat. Chicken, steaks, fish, pork chops all got the same treatment. Salt, coat, and fry. Better known as SCF cooking. It’s also known as Southern cooking.

 The only exception to the SCF method in the house where I grew up was turkey. My mother excused me from the preparation of the Thanksgiving meal (Company was coming so it needed to be edible!) hence its preparation remained something of a mystery. I knew it involved basting (I had no idea what that was), and brining (no idea about that either). When I married, I decided that if I’d learned to read (and I had), and if I’d learned what measuring spoons were (I’d learned that, too.), then I could cook a Thanksgiving turkey. I opened my Good Housekeeping Cook Book (a wedding present), turned to the turkey pages, and went from there. The turkey turned out fine, but I think its fineness had to do with my mother-in-law standing over me, explaining every step in the cookbook. Subsequent efforts in the kitchen weren't so successful.

            During my first year as a housewife, I decided it was my duty to prepare meals using something other than the SCF and open a can method. After studying the recipes in The Good Housekeeping Cook Book, I dog-eared the ones I thought I could handle, made grocery lists, and gave it the old college try. There were problems. The first arose when I didn’t know the difference between Worcestershire and Tabasco (How was I to know? They’re both the same color!). This made my first attempt at spaghetti . . . . well, interesting. The recipe called for Worcestershire. I liked to add a little extra of whatever I was using for good measure, just to make sure the taste got through. So I dumped goodly amounts of Tabasco into the spaghetti sauce. After that fiasco, I used the open a can approach for spaghetti sauce, or rather the open a jar approach. Even with my Good Housekeeping Cookbook, my successes in the kitchen were so few and far between, that I can’t actually remember any.

            Predictably, after marriage came children. Two of them. If the goodness of a mother is measured by the cookies she bakes for her children, then I was a bad mother. Except for a few occasions when I bought those rolls of pre-prepared cookie dough that you slice and pop into the oven, I didn’t do cookies. Not even Christmas cookies. Why bake cookies when everyone gives you little tins filled with their sparkly, iced, and spiced opuses shaped like trees, stars, and angels?  Besides, I hated the idea of scrubbing flour off the kitchen counter after baking. Not to mention the flour that coated the floor. And my hair. And the children’s hair.

The cookbook got lost in the shuffle of diapers, music lessons, soccer practice, chauffeuring, nagging about homework, laundry, et cetera. I got over feeling guilty about using the open a can and SCF technique. I believe I actually did my daughter-in-law a favor by being a bad cook. She will never have to hear my son say: “If you could only cook like my mother.”  Just in case she might actually threaten to cook like his mother, he learned to cook himself. Quite well, I have to say. As did my daughter. Being a terrible cook does have its advantages. When I visit them I sit with my gin-and-tonic while they cook delicious meals for me.

            Eventually, I wound up in the place most women do: widowed with married children thoughtless enough to go off and do their own thing. They say make lemonade when life gives you lemons. I have no idea how to make lemonade other than it involves a lot of lemon squeezing and sugar, but I decided my lemonade would be never cooking again. Isn’t that what restaurants are for? I reasoned that had God meant me to cook she would have given me a talent for cooking, but instead she invented restaurants. Behold the goodness of creation!

And so I’ve devoted the past few years to having someone else do the cooking.  Sometimes, though, it doesn’t quite work out the way you intended. Adventures happen, mishaps occur, the unexpected pops up, and sometimes everything that can possibly go wrong, goes wrong. Especially when you’re eating in a far corner of the world. I have scribbled down a few of these adventures and, over the next few weeks, will share.  


Friday, January 31, 2014

Living Abroad in the Middle East

       Living abroad is full of opportunities and surprises. For one thing, I traveled places I'd never have gone otherwise. In fact, I'd probably never have gone to the Middle East at all, had I not lived and taught in Qatar of eight years. Since the UAE, Jordan, Lebanon, Oman were all nearby, I visited each of these Middle Eastern countries (I went to Jordan twice, and would love to go again!).

      Oman is a lovely country to visit. Like the other Middle Eastern countries, Oman is Muslim. It seems to be a "softer" culture, however. Or appears to the outsider to be. For one thing, the Omani men wear different colors as opposed to the Qatari and Saudi men who wear stark white.
     My friend and I spent time in Muscat and then traveled to Salalah in the south. While shopping in a tiny village there, two children followed me from shop to shop, staring at my white hair and light skin. I felt like a spectacle! I guess I was to them.
     The above picture was taken while we traveled around the desert in an SUV. We'd stopped, and were walking around, enjoying bare feet in the sand when a group of Bedouins passed.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

C.S. Lewis

       In my late twenties and early thirties, I was a big fan of C.S. Lewis, reading everything he wrote, some of it twice. I also read everything about C.S. Lewis that I could get my hands on. It has been a long time since my twenties, but recently I was happy to see another book about him published.
       Devin Brown, a Lilly scholar and professor of English at Asbury University, has written, taught, and lectured on C.S. Lewis extensively for more than ten years and has authored a number of books related to both Lewis and Tolkien. His most recent, A Life Observed, A Spriritual Biography, contains a foreword by Douglas Gresham, Lewis's step son. Brown claims that the goal of his book was to focus closely on the story of Lewis's spiritual journey and his search for the object of the mysterious longing he called Joy, a quest which he claimed was the central story of his life.
      I went to Asbury University for the "kick-off" of the book. Douglas Gresham flew in from England to participate. I was surprised at the number of people who turned up in the Asbury auditorium to listen to Brown and Gresham, and I'm sure that the program ended much too soon for anyone who has ever been a C.S. Lewis fan. From start to finish, my attention was riveted to Gresham's anecdotes about his stepfather.
      C.S. Lewis and Tolkien were friends, both teaching at Oxford. While the movies based on Tolkien's books, The Ring series and The Hobbit have been lauded by many, I didn't like them. It seems to me that the movies didn't pick up so much of what was in Tolkien's books. The books based on C.S. Lewis's Narnia series, however, have translated wonderfully into movies.  
     The popularity of C.S. Lewis is something of a phenomenon. In so far as I know, there has never been a big publicity campaign upon publication, no talk shows, no big advertisements in magazines. So how did it happen? Has it all been word-of-mouth?

Saturday, January 18, 2014

No Toilet Paper in the Desert?


                             Qatari Boys                                                   American Girl Enjoying the Desert

Middle Eastern Etiquette
               Aware that I was about to be living in a culture far different from the one I'd grown up in, I did what I could to learn about the "do's" and "don'ts" of living in a Muslim society before I went. The Qataris are Sunni, and part of the conservative Wahabi sect, as are the Saudis. The great wealth of the Qataris has changed some elements in their lives, but not  basic etiquette. High on my list of things to remember was that I should always use my right hand for eating and touching anything that someone else was going to touch. The left hand, I learned, was used for "bodily functions."
             Regretably, I messed up right away. First week: a few parents take the new teachers out to a traditional tea house, where we're served traditional Middle Eastern snacks with our tea: hummus, of course, pita, some kind of big beans, other things that I couldn't identify. None of the new teachers had ever lived in a Muslim country, so we were all intent on exhibiting our best behavior and showing that we knew how to behave in a different culture. The dishes were being passed around the table for the third time when I realized I had used my left hand to pass the hummus to the Qatari mother sitting next to me. Quickly, I put both hands in my lap; I suppose I thought I could hide my error by making my hands disappear. Fortunately, she didn't notice my egregious mistake.
             The whole right hand, left hand thing seemed a bit odd to me until I gave it further thought. Much of the Arabian peninsula is desert, and thus many citizens of Arabia are descended from desert wanderers. In the past, there was no toilet paper. Worse, there was no water, except for the rare oasis, with which to wash hands. Hence, without the modern sanitation aids we have (toilet paper and water), using the left hand for "bodily functions" and the right hand for contact with food, makes complete sense.