Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Campbell Soup Co. was the only stock in the S&P 500 that escaped yesterday's historic sell-off. That’s right: 499 fell, and just one rose, according to Henry Blodget, a Wall Street reporter. I don't even think we have any in our cupboard. As usual, I'm investing in the wrong things. I hope I never see another day like yesterday, and I'm not even a trader. I picked up the news just before I left for school, and even my (usually not current-event driven) students were talking about it. One student thought that at least some CEO could have jumped out of a window to dramatize the situation. I pointed out that most office windows nowadays were sealed shut.

Other News
It's still too hot here. The house was 81 degrees when we went to bed, and the A/C clicked on by 8 a.m. It's October tomorrow. Can't we be done with summer? Outside currently (according to my Widget) it's 100 degrees. Enough already.

More News
I should be grading the third essay from my 101-ers, but got stalled by one student's cancer essay (LOTS of problems). However this day has not been without some productivity: I ran to the credit union this morning to put a fraud alert on my ATM card (old card now declared stolen). Someone in Florida decided to buy something in the two-hundred buck range at their local Wal-mart, then filled up their car to the tune of 100 bucks. Happy to help out. (Not.)

Friday, September 26, 2008

Fall? Here?
Well, even though it's going to be in the 90s today, temperature-wise, a writer for the LATimes (a transplant from the East Coast) said you just have to decide on a day for it to be fall, and then change out the clothes in your wardrobe.

Well, I don't feel like wearing sweaters when its 90 degrees outside, but I did change out the table linens this morning--away with popsicles and cherries and brightly colored prints and in with oranges, rusts, purples and fall tones.

Then today the New York Times published this amazing picture and recipe. I plan to try it. . . when it drops below 80 degrees here. . .maybe in October?

Pureed Red Pepper and Potato Soup
New York Times Recipe

This is a beautiful soup with a deep, rich flavor to match the color. Make sure to strain the soup after you puree it, a quick step that also saves you the trouble of peeling the peppers.

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus a drizzle for serving
1 medium onion, chopped
1 large carrot, peeled and chopped
Salt, preferably kosher
4 plump garlic cloves, green shoots removed, minced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 pounds (4 large) red bell peppers, seeded, membranes removed, cut in large dice
2 teaspoons sweet paprika
1 pound russet potatoes (about 2 medium), peeled and diced
2 quarts chicken or vegetable stock
A bouquet garni made with a bay leaf and a couple of sprigs each thyme and parsley, tied together in a bundle
Freshly ground pepper
For garnish (optional):
Garlic croutons (toast thin slices of baguette and rub with a cut clove of garlic)
Slivered basil leaves or chopped fresh thyme leaves

1. Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large, heavy soup pot, and add the onion and carrot. Cook, stirring often, until the onion begins to soften, and then add 1/2 teaspoon salt. Continue to cook, stirring often, until tender, about 5 minutes, and stir in the garlic and tomato paste. Stir for a minute or two, until the garlic is fragrant and the tomato paste has darkened, and then add the peppers, paprika, and another 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring often, until the peppers begin to soften, about 5 minutes.

2. Add the potatoes, stock, and bouquet garni, and bring to a simmer. Add salt to taste, one to two teaspoons, cover and simmer over low heat for one hour. Remove the bouquet garni.

3. Blend the soup until smooth in an immersion blender, or in a blender or food processor fitted with a steel blade. Work in batches, and cover the blender lid or food processor with a kitchen towel to prevent the hot soup from splashing. Strain the soup through a medium strainer, pushing it through the strainer with a spatula or the bowl of a ladle, and return to the heat. Heat through, add salt and pepper to taste, and serve. Garnish with garlic croutons and slivered fresh basil or chopped thyme, and drizzle a few drops of olive oil over each serving if desired.

Yield: Serves six to eight

Since I haven't made it yet, let me know how it tastes, and what changes I should make.
Happy Fall!
Funny debate commentary from Stadler and Waldorf, two Muppets creatures. I miss their show! As usual, click to enlarge.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Dear American:

I need to ask you to support an urgent secret business relationship with a transfer of funds of great magnitude.

I am Ministry of the Treasury of the Republic of America. My country has had crisis that has caused the need for large transfer of funds of 800 billion dollars US. If you would assist me in this transfer, it would be most profitable to you.

I am working with Mr. Phil Gram, lobbyist for UBS, who will be my replacement as Ministry of the Treasury in January. As a Senator, you may know him as the leader of the American banking deregulation movement in the 1990s. This transactin is 100% safe.

This is a matter of great urgency. We need a blank check. We need the funds as quickly as possible. We cannot directly transfer these funds in the names of our close friends because we are constantly under surveillance. My family lawyer advised me that I should look for a reliable and trustworthy person who will act as a next of kin so the funds can be transferred.

Please reply with all of your bank account, IRA and college fund account numbers and those of your children and grandchildren to wallstreetbailout@treasury.gov so that we may transfer your commission for this transaction. After I receive that information, I will respond with detailed information about safeguards that will be used to protect the funds.

Yours Faithfully Minister of Treasury Paulson

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Thursday, September 18, 2008

My Life Consists of Grading



Maybe Saturday

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

New York Fashion Week, part 2

As soon as I can head over to Home Depot and rustle up some old wallpaper rolls, I plan to make this dress so I can wear it to the grocery store. Or to Lowe's.

Skirt, thy name is perfection! These skirts by Catherine Holstein have a wonderfully detailed fly (with covered buttons--haven't seen those in a while) and wrap-waistband. I love the fluid look to them. I want five.

Okay, so far I love the Marc Jacobs show. The women, on incredibly high-heeled and sometimes platformed shoes, looked like they'd been stretched 5 inches taller. To corral their willowy height, he placed flat Mary Poppins' hats on the models. But what interested me was the sheer energy of the confusion and compilation of the fabrics and textures in the outfits.

So a blue metallic plaid shirt, with a ginghamy-looking undershirt and a richly colored reddish skirt with red hat, chunky necklace? Yes!

And here's the bag and shoes. Wrap belts, obi-style on most of the models as well. A veritable visual feast. And to think the whole show only lasts 10 minutes.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Public Service Announcement

A milestone has been reached:
It's the two year anniversary of this blog's beginnings.

Always willing to try something new, I began blogging two years ago, which seems like a blink of an eye (my mother says wait until I'm 80 when there's a whole lot more blinking of eye moments that transpire). I've been involved in multiple blogs since that time, both in the reading of and creating of. I have two for my teaching, a family blog, have run a blog for the quilting ladies in Virginia, participate now in a church women's blog, and read many many others.

I keep up with my family's lives, see what's important to them, get a lot of commentary and news from blogs, and enjoy--when I'm completely beat and have NO energy--reading random blogs from the web. It teaches me that we're more alike than not, more strident than I'd thought, and that I've learned to sit in my computer chair longer than I ever have before.

Some have typified this flooding of the internet as just so much noise. Indeed sometimes you just have to turn it all off and dance to really fast and loud music, although even my latest fun song I found via a blog (okay, it's Crush by David Archuleta--great harmonies). Yes, the noise from the blogosphere is huge--there's no easy statistic to point to, but in my introduction to web research in the library last week, I talked about the "old" days of the web, when Alta Vista was the search engine of choice and rarely did the .com sites or blogspot sites dominate a search. Is there some statistic showing how much more our lives depend on the web? When it went out one Sunday morning (couldn't log on) I was forced to resort to the lesson manual to prepare the Sunday School lesson, rather than grabbing it online, copying and pasting it into a document, then adding my own commentary and reflections. I resorted to sticky notes all over the pristine lesson manual, instead of lifting erudite tidbits from several Sunday School blogs I frequent for insight and information.

My bookmarks are a hierarchy of blogs along with the requisite "normal" websites. Who can live without Pioneer Woman's recipe collection? The almost-understandable theological musings from a UK blogger? An extremely irreverant and snarky (and occasionally profane) teachery blog that keeps me from going crazy?

There has been a lot of research about how the connections we make over the web are weaker links than those made in person. The New York Times article recently about NieNie Chronicles highlights the discussion about whether these online connections really foster closeness.
One of the beauties of blogging/blogs is that we can pick and choose what we place up there, or read about or interact with. One of the negatives is research showing that the more time spent online, the higher the rate of depression. Interesting trade-off. Can blogs really substitute for the nitty-gritty, fault-revealing, frustrating, loving, supporting real-life relationships that we build around us in our off-line life? Does anyone really expect them to?

For me, the blogging is my corner of my self-published world. Maybe I'm just too chicken to try the big time, after some fairly pointed critiques of my writing. The hurdle's too high to write "serious" fiction, the lengthy plotting and characterization deemed too taxing for my current energy level. Maybe I'm just a wimp, although my daily horoscope claims I have some gumption, at least occasionally. Certainly, as my father says, the bar is set really low for writers: all it requires is a pencil and paper. And for bloggers? A computer and a fast connection. The writing bar lowered even more, I suppose, when a person with half a mind, some cleverness and insight, a good amount of free time, and a liberal amount of snarkiness can post.

Of course, I'd place none of the blogs I read in that category. Just the ones I write.

Happy Birthday to OccasionalPiece.


Educational Life Map

I was trying to make a sample Life Map for my 101 class. I used Photoshop and wrote titles of land masses that correspond to taking 26 years to get the education, naming the high peaks "BA Peak and MFA Peak. Clever clever but not clever enough to get my ink jet printer to render it effectively enough to place on my prepared paper.

Back to the drawing board. But one thing this does is give me a good idea of how it will "look" to the students who have to do this assignment. My samples have been significantly downgraded so they don't spend too much time on the visuals, and less on the writing.

On a completely unrelated (weather) note: It's 9:40 a.m. and the air conditioner just clicked on. We did have several days of no A/C, windows open. We almost believed all those East-Coasters who proclaimed that summer's almost over. Then the heat came back. It's supposed to be 97-101 today. Back to sandals.

Monday, September 15, 2008


(Drew Friedman)

I've been reading comics all my life, so when the New York Times ran an article about how political cartoonists are depicting the Vice Presidential candidates, I had to read it. (Click on picture to link over.)

On a similar note, the LATimes is trying to decide whether or not to keep the strip "For Better or For Worse," by Lyn Johnston. I've been reading her for years, as have many of my sisters, but for me, the shine was off the apple when the news came out about her husband's affair and their subsequent divorce. The pretend comic intersected too eerily with the real life. I've been reading the "new" strip and it just doesn't have the punch.

I wrote into the Times and suggested they add "Pickles," by Brian Crane, one of my new favorites. This one reminds me of my English comp students, on occasion:
(click to enlarge)

Or this one, which is how I feel a lot of the time:

Sunday, September 14, 2008

When we were little girls, our father used to travel the road to Brattleboro Vermont quite frequently. So when I was looking through my King Arthur Cookie book for something new to bake, I was attracted to these cookies not only for their name, but because they were a specialty of a local baker in Brattleboro.

Brattleboro Bonbons
3/4 cup plus 1 Tbls. unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks, plus 1 Tbs.)
1/2 cup sugar
heaping 1/2 teaspoon salt
1 large egg plus 1 large egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup chopped pecans (for the dough)
1/2-1 cup finely chopped pecans (to roll on the outside of the dough)
2 cups flour

Cream together the butter, sugar and salt. Beat in the egg, egg yolk, and vanilla, scraping the bottom and sides of the bowl. Stir in the 1/2 cup chopped pecans and flour, mixing until cohesive.

Lay out a large sheet of wax paper. On this, shape the dough into a 17 x 2-inch log and roll the log in the finely chopped pecans. Wrap the log up (they suggest plastic wrap as well, but I just did the wax paper) and place in the freezer for about an hour.

Preheat the oven to 375F. Line with parchment two baking sheets. Slice the frozen dough into 1/4-inch thick patties and place them on the prepared baking sheets. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes until they're a deep golden brown and they feel set. Transfer to a rack to cool.

Note: We like less brittle cookies, so I only cooked them for the 12 minute time, preferring a light golden brown.

Good for days when life takes you for a ride. . .

Saturday, September 13, 2008

All Things: Column

This homeowner changed the decor over her door with the seasons: pumpkins, wooden nutcrackers, and flip-flops.

Side glance of Mt. Vernon's back porch, which overlooks the Potomac

From inside the Jefferson Memorial, looking out towards the Washington Monument.

Peter and The Supreme Court

World War I Memorial, National Mall

Thursday, September 11, 2008

I always ask my students to watch this 9/11 memorial piece so we can discuss it in class. Here's the link.

Today I'm thinking of my brother David, who was very near to Ground Zero on that day, in addition to countless others whose stories I heard the following year--it seems like everyone knows someone who was involved in that tragedy.
So, I guess, while I've been grading and teaching, the whole world's gone crazy over the phrase "lipstick on a pig." I laughed when I heard the bit on NPR about a farmer trying to put some color to a pig's lips--enjoy!

(Click on NPR image to listen.)

Fashion Week Spring 2009

Equally interesting things have been occurring in the Fashion World, as the Spring Collections for 2009 are being shown.

I'll bet Dave would look dapper in this get-up.

Or this one.

(What in heaven's name were they thinking?)

The women's clothing that I saw (stealing moments on my breaks) was beautifully colored in vibrant and muted tones that played off each other.

I liked the hemline on this dress--nice to see waisted dresses back. Now if I could only get my waist back. . .

Perfect summer dress in coral and orange.

And then there was this from Rodarte. That label is always interesting with their rips, shreds, drapes, swirls, deconstructed, constructed outfits. Perfect for church. (I'm kidding)

Start your markers and embroidery needles. Kind of reminds you of signing T-shirts at the end of school, or girls' camp, yes?

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

I've been grading papers all day.

My students were to write about that invisible line, that demarcation line between childhood and adulthood. I've read graduation-from-high-school stories, breakup stories, money worry stories. Also in there have been alcoholism, abuse, and death stories.

It's a challenging assignment--and certainly there are many lines in our lives, the number increasing as we age. When was I a child? When did I cross that line?

One student's story about the death of his grandfather was compelling. He was four at the time and every morning would fill his bowl with Fruit Loops, head down the hall and climb on his grandfather's bed and watch early morning cartoons with him. One morning, his grandfather didn't wake up, so he summoned his father. It was the last time he saw his grandfather. His parents kept the death from him at the time, but just after his fifth birthday he said to his father "I don't think Grandfather loves me at all. He didn't even come to my birthday party."

I'm not usually moved by the stories written for my class. I practice keeping my objective brain going--sorting out the fragments, the vague pronoun references, keeping track of the evidence and support for their thesis. But this one stopped me in my tracks, as I could hear one of my grandchildren's voices--Alex came to mind initially--asking this.

Sometimes I think I'm tooling along pretty well, dodging the big bullets of health issues, keeping the depression in the background, juggling work and family and service. But after reading this essay I sat and looked out the window, remembering my mother's phone call to me some years ago, at the end of my grandmother's life.

I was the first call she made to one of her children. She identified herself, fell silent, then said, "My mother's gone." We were both quiet then, struggling to speak through our emotion. Her voice broke as she described for me the ending, the last breath.

While I can point to many lines of demarcation in my adult life--having children, finding true love, learning not to spend everything in my pocket, working on complex relationships, taking responsibility when I don't want to, completing a difficult task, grandchildren arriving, an advanced degree--I realize that all my tooling along will come to a noisy crashing when my parents leave this earth. I don't wish for it, I hardly mention it--as my mother says, it's the unthinkable--for they have been my mainstay, my support in countless ways over many many years.

And even though I will have adult understanding, I will be like this small child, his longing so evident, so tangible.

Another line to cross.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

This one's interesting.

And so's this one:

Thursday, September 04, 2008

I must admit that while I was watching I was wondering what Burkeman was blogging, but I persisted until the very end. I sighed at the comments about how America should send out-of-job older adults to community college and retrain them.

As a community college teacher, I've taught a few of those and only the most determined make it through my remedial English class. I work really hard to make sure they feel included and try to help them, but it's tough out there.

I sighed again as I listened to McCain say boo hiss to teacher's unions, I wondered what he was thinking. It's because I have no teacher's union that as an adjunct I make less than my students do per hour at their Starbuck's jobs, that is when you factor in grading, emails, commuting, bookwork, keeping the grade sheets, writing the lessons, and organizing and schlepping. I have no benefits or job security. Many of my fellow adjuncts teach at two or three schools, juggling up to six classes (the norm is four classes--two campuses. . . we're not allowed to teach more than 2 classes at any one campus otherwise we might be considered "full-time" and they'd have to actually hire us). I love teaching, my husband has good job, so we're okay, but many of my friends are not.

In spite of the enthusiasm, and the very cute Palin girl (not her, above, but this one's cute too) McCain says bust the union's chops, but become a teacher and serve your country? I don't think you can have it both ways, which is really the problem my party has right now. You can't have been the party in power, creating all these problems, then want America to return the same party there for four more years.

(Bonnie Jo Mount-The Washington Post)

I was moved by his speech, found his personal story touching, was fascinated by the age of Cindy McCain's hands on the mike vs. the age on her face, thought McCain handled the protesters well during "his big moment." I like the guy, really. But as a moderate Republican, I didn't find enough to keep me here. Obama's not without his demerits, but I'm ready for someone who focuses on ideas, who doesn't do "sit-com" talk like his charismatic running mate who fires off clever zingers that preclude serious debate. I'm going to watch and see how the race plays out, make my decision after a a couple of the debates.

But unless something changes, I think I'll order some Obama buttons.

Monday, September 01, 2008

I feel like I'm one of those people watching a train wreck happen. I know I shouldn't be reading, listening, watching, but I can't help it. As one news broadcast person put it: "What a wild news cycle this last 96 hours has been from Obama's speech, to the Palin announcement, Hurrican Gustav, and now the teenage pregnancy of Palin's daughter" (from a guest on the Pat Morrison radio show, broadcast on KPCC in Pasadena).

Do I feel that Sarah Palin is a train wreck? Not hardly, as witnessed by this Photoshopped Vogue cover from Kodiak Konfidential. Apparently an Italian newspaper thought it was for real, as did some news sources in Minnesota.

I find the whole thing kind of fascinating, especially the oft-repeated phrase that "she'll pick up all the women who wanted to vote for Hillary." The people that say this have no idea how insulting it possibly is. Yes, she might pick up some women who are voting only on the basis of gender, rather than ideas or political positions. (Okay, now I'm sounding like my son Matthew who is a card-carrying Political Junkie. He's rubbing off on me.) I found there's another woman in my church who watched the whole DNC as well. When we were at a bridal shower I sat next to her and laughed when I found out that she's a political junkie as well. Her husband kept coming in the room making snotty remarks while she was watching Obama 's acceptance speech. She told him to hush. We both plan to compare notes after this week's RNC, although she watches it on CNN and I'm partial to PBS (they don't talk during the speeches).

The political conventions, back to back (sort of), have introduced me to a new blogger from the Guardian newspaper in the UK: Oliver Burkeman. I like his tongue-in-cheek humor on the political extravaganza that is happening here in the USA.

My niece has just moved back from England, and could probably give me an analysis of how reliable this Guardian is. I get the impression that most British newspapers are somewhat salacious, but that could be erroneous info doled out by Julia Roberts in Notting Hill. Anyway, this guy's humor is a good antidote for the earnestness of both campaigns.