Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A conversation

"Whatcha readin'?" She asked,kicking off Her sneakers and settling onto the chair across the room from me.

I tried in as simple and brief a manner as possible to explain that the book was about the "invention" of time. The concept of hours, minutes, etc.

She nodded, maybe caring, maybe not.

I read on for a few more minutes. Then I put the book away. I remembered what I had realized long ago -- every person is a story and while I could read my paper and ink book any time, far more precious is the story that one draws out from a living, breathing person in your presence.

It takes more work, granted. You have to actually listen. Come up with questions.

Already this evening I had had an unexpected, lengthy, but enjoyable conversation with a man I know as a colleague and acquaintance. Now, I thought, why not do the same with this almost-teen whom I know as an acquaintance at my church? We were both stuck in this room waiting on family members to finish with meetings.

She opened up unto me Her seventh grade world -- a world of teachers gruff and kind, of constant social jockeying, and of those notorious mean Girls that mystify guys like me who with all our might and mind want to believe that Girls just can't be like that.

"I'm not scared of 'em," She said. "If they hit me, I hit back. It's just a reflex. If they spread a rumor about me, I confront 'em."

"My Mom says, 'You won't get in trouble with me if you come home suspended for fighting -- if you didn't start it.'"

How quickly we forget, how hard it is to be a child!

Monday, September 28, 2009

A Can O' Beans

Two days before payday. So ... a can of pork and beans for lunch. The pork is but a vain hope in a heap of beans. How do they get away with that lie, year after year? There's so little pork in that tin can, it could almost pass a Kosher inspection.

Contemplating the bean can, thinking about the inherent humor in such a simple thing.

Imagine a hiker moseying into his campsite, tossing down his pack and pitching his tent. Meanwhile, a furry paw reaches from a bush and borrows the pack for a moment, then tosses it back. Camper fails to notice. Camper sits on a rock and extricates from the pack a can of beans. Reaches in again for the can opener. No can opener.

Goes berserk. Dumps out the pack. Searches the campsite. Then makes several attempts to open the can, using a fork, a stick, a rock, a hammer, etc.

Finally gives up in a rage and throws the can against a tree. It of course bounces back and knocks him out cold.

At which point we see a very dignified bear stride into the campsite and say:

"Man, I thought he would NEVER give up."

The bear then picks up the can of beans and calmly opens it with the can opener that he borrowed earlier from the camper's pack. Then sits on the rock and enjoys his meal.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Swimming for the children of Angola

My so-called geography project has two goals: One, to help me (and via this blog, all you wonderful readers) learn, month by month and country by country, about the many peoples of this world. Two, as I learn of a country and its peoples, it will become no longer just a word on a map, a geographic stranger, but rather, a friend.

So when I read this blip about an Illinois pastor swimming the English Channel on behalf of a school in Angola, it meant a little something to me, because Angola means a little something to me,now.

September 20, 2009
Illinois Pastor Swims English Channel for Charity
Filed at 7:28 p.m. ET

ROCKFORD, Ill. (AP) -- Twenty-one miles and nearly 14 hours later, a northern Illinois pastor has fulfilled his goal of swimming the English Channel to raise money for a school in Africa.

It took the Rev. Mike Solberg 13 hours and 31 minutes to swim from Samphire Hoe, England, to Wissant, France, on Saturday.

Solberg is senior pastor of Second Congregational Church in Rockford.

His goal is to raise $50,000 to build a school in Waku Kungo, Angola. So far, he's raised more than $30,000.

Solberg wrote on his blog after his swim that the first five hours were good, followed by four hours that were not.

Overall, he says, ''it was a great experience.''


On the Net:


Information from: Rockford Register Star,

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press

Saturday, September 26, 2009


Benin, Africa, is my geographic contemplation for September. History is layered deeply upon this tiny wedge of a country on Africa's west coast. Its capital, Porto Novo, was built in the 1600s by the Portugese as a slave port -- one of the wounds, then, through which Africa bled her people into the world.

It is to Benin that many emancipated slaves, especially from Brazil, later returned -- adding the flavor of Brazil to an African country whose official language is French.

Porto Novo is not a big city, as cities go -- has about 200,000 people. It would be a thrill, though, to turn on my t.v. and see this place featured, instead of yet another cliched re-tread of London or Rome. For every city in the world is unique; it centralizes and embodies the zeitgeist of a nation.

I found some tasty-sounding Benin recipes to enjoy this month.

Africa has problems -- but can you find any continent without them? Maybe Antarctica, but hey, it's melting.

Egypt, Madagascar, Morocco, South Africa, Ethiopia ... and Benin. Vastly different places, a scattering of geography, a handful of names out of so many on the map. And exquisite refutation of the notion that Africa fits a stereotype.

Of sinks and smart folk

Fixed the leaky "stem" in the kitchen faucet this morning, with just a little help from my Time Life Fix-It guide.

Feeling quite proud of myself.

Here's someone else who should feel proud: (My thoughts, besides being amazed at this man's stamina, are that his emphasis, "specializing in the works of Chuangtze, a 4th century B.C. Taoist master," should remind us that human genius is not limited in space and time to New York, London, Athens and Rome. That philosophy is more than Sartre and Plato.


96-year-old grad student’s secret? All-nighters
Taiwan man says method is only way to keep up with younger classmates

Chao Mu-he, 96, will receive his Masters degree in philosophy in Nanhua, southern Taiwan, this weekend. He says he's uncertain about his future plans, but that he just wants "to stay healthy."

TAIPEI, Taiwan - A 96-year-old Taiwanese man who will receive his master's degree in philosophy this weekend said he was able to compete with younger students by pulling all-nighters before exams.

Chao Mu-he, better known to his classmates at Nanhua University in southern Taiwan as "Grandpa Chao," said he began graduate school after being told he was too old to continue as a volunteer at a local hospital.

"I was bored after I left the hospital," Chao said Thursday. "I don't play mahjong or have other hobbies. I felt I had to do something with my life."

A spokeswoman for Guinness World Records said she could not say if Chao is the oldest recipient of a graduate degree because the company does not keep records in this category.

Memory lapses
Chao said the most difficult part of his studies was coping with a poor memory.

"I can't remember things as well as my fellow students," he said. "So before a test I would wake up at midnight and study all night. That way, the material was still fresh in my mind when the test began."

He specialized in the works of Chuangtze, a 4th century B.C. Taoist master.

Twenty-five-year-old classmate Liang Yu-chen described Chao as a polite and modest man who got on well with fellow students and paid great respect to younger teachers — making a deep bow before addressing them.

"Grandpa Chao is a living example of Chuangtze's teachings," Liang said. "He is always at ease, not fighting anyone."

Just wants ‘to stay healthy’
A spokeswoman at Nanhua's graduate school, where Chao will get his degree Saturday, confirmed that he was born on July 4, 1912.

Chao, who lives alone, said he was uncertain about his future plans.

"I just want to stay healthy," he said.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Random thoughts

Need to visit Molly, Chase and my other neglected blog friends -- and take off the blogrolls others from whom I've drifted away.

Need to start blogging daily again -- SO MUCH to write about, all the time, that it just seems overwhelming. And I hate the way Facebook forces me to limit my thoughts to one or two measly paragraphs, wrtng lke a txtng teenagr.

Listened to Vivaldi on the way in to work -- I simply love Baroque music. If it wasn't a time of such filth and cruelty, I might have liked to live back then. How did such gorgeous music arise in such a dungheap of a society?

Noted that one Fabio Biondi recorded this particular CD of Vivaldi. Looked up his name online. Fascinated by a line in his bio, "driven early on by an inexhaustible cultural curiosity ..." My kind of guy! Not that I care much about guys. But you Ladies might enjoy his baby blues glowing at You from

Weekend is on the way -- a palette of possibilities!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The cure for common education?

Could the idea with the funny name -- Waldorf -- be it?

Could this be the cure for that which is wrong with education in the U.S. -- schools in which the students feel and act as if they are in prison -- teachers who dare not leave a coffee cup unguarded lest the inma -- er, students -- defile or poison it -- and learning that is as ephemereal and elusive as a rainbow?

Meanwhile, I am told that children in Africa walk for miles to sit on a dirt floor in a boiling-hot, tin-roof shack with the barest of supplies, so hungry are they to learn.

I am intrigued by a public school concept in which love of learning is intrinsic to the curriculum, in which personal character is integral, in which a foundation is laid for a lifetime love of intellectual development and in which the classroom connects to the real world.

I myself love to learn. I read hard books, old books. I watch documentaries on everything from World War II to the bulldog ants of Australia. I enjoy participating in the great pageant of life.

I'm no prodigy, no genius, by any stretch of the imagination. I am not a know-it-all, either, I am a want-to-know-it-all. God gave you and I our brains for a reason. It is natural to want to learn -- watch a toddler exploring his or Her world sometime and you can't help but realize that.

So what happens? They go to school. They encounter bullies, boors and boredom. They discover that learning is not cool and playing down their natural intelligence is the way to survive socially. What should be a thrill -- classic literature, mathematics, the history of the world -- is made into a chore and becomes loathsome -- left behind gratefully upon graduation.

Whatever person, philosophy or organization kills the desire to learn, blights a human life and threatens civilization.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Sis in Law to marry

Such wonderful news!

Alone for so long, now to be married.

When I first met Her, my future Sister-in-law was a very unhappy Woman. Anyone could see that She was beautiful, though She battled a weight problem. As I got to know Her, I became quite aware that though She had the famous temper common to the Ladies of Her family (surprising, fierce and sudden, like a summer storm), She also had Their great big, golden hearts.

She was alone.

She of course was an enthusiastic part of Her Sister's wedding to me, but it had to have hurt, to go home alone that night.

Now we have met the wonderful man from the Bahamas, who has captured Her heart and She, his.

In delightful Caribbean fashion, the family patriarch will be forever-more addressed as "Dohd," as opposed to "Dad." We will learn a new culture as we bring this beautiful man into our Southern-fried family.

And we will celebrate that two have become one, now and forever.