What the World Eats...

I found this interesting photo essay that depicts families around the world with the foods they consume in a week.

Disclaimer: Our photo is not a true representation of what we consume in a week. Last week, we ate penne with bean balls and tomato sauce, with roasted eggplant on the side. We made falafel sandwiches with tahini dressing and tabouleh salad. We ate Mrs. T's pierogies with onions. Since there are only two of us, one night of cooking usually yields several days worth of food. For breakfast we had banana muffins or beans on toast, with ample cups of PG Tips tea. Lunch for me is usually leftovers from the night before. M either eats leftovers or dines out in Oakland, where he has plenty of choices of cheap, veg food (McKeesport is not so good for that selection, plus I only have about 20 minutes for lunch). the pink stuff in the giant jar is M's saurkraut, which we didn't really eat, so much as taste, as we are waiting for it to get nice and sour.

What would your photo look like?


Breaking News...

...more to follow...


Tests and more tests

Any chance my kindergarten students will ever be moved to do something like this?


This is What You Do at the River House

I recently obtained a sticker that says, "Don't just do something, stand there!" and that sort of examplifies the River House for me. Home to Jack's parents, as well as Jack (for the summer at least, as he works for the Country Lawyer). Of course, if you must do something, you can play bocce, or float down from Raystown Lake on a kayak. But mostly, you sit in the sun, lie in a hammock, gaze at the river, or warm yourself by an evening campfire. The weather was perfect this weekend, and a good time was had by all.

I believe strongly in the importance of doing a little bit of nothing each day. If you do a search for "do nothing", you will mostly find references to the United States Congress. That is one place where I believe people should probably not be doing nothing. My Representative is Mike Doyle. (You can find yours by clicking here.) He makes $165,200 a year. Thanks to the internet there are now all kinds of places where you can find out about what other people are making. I especially enjoy this one, where I can find out what my bosses are making. This kind of freedom of information is going to help me significantly the next time I negotiate for a salary. But all this talk about doing stuff for money, has made me realize that my three-day weekend is rapidly drawing to an end, so I'm off to do a little more nothing before bed.


Sandy Lives!

Sandy lives.

Sandy is our car, our 2000 Saturn LS, four cylinder, family starter sedan that has seen us through countless cross country voyages, patiently waited for us for six weeks as she baked in the Sonoran Desert sunshine (sorry, Sandy), and has served as home for the night on many an occasion. Most recently, we beat her up on the mountain road to Kincora (27 switchbacks). Our new friend, Pearl, even did the honors of applying a new state flag sticker to her, as we crossed briefly into North Carolina.

Yesterday, as I drove home, she began to shudder violently. White smoke puffed out the exhaust pipe. Fans were whirring uncontrollably. The Service Engine Soon light turned on. Whatever was wrong was very wrong.

We took her to Pep Boys and prepared for the worst. By prepared for the worst, we came home and had a glass of wine and searched for VW mini-buses online. But a mere six hundred dollars has her road worthy again, and she is definitely running better.

We're off to the River House, site of M & K's engagement some 6 years ago.


Happy Birthday K!

Though she'd like to keep it a secret, today is K's birthday! Leave wishes in the comments.

This time last year, we were in the Shenandoahs, staging a birthday party at a trail shelter. No party planned for this year, but we'll be headed out for dinner together this evening.



This weekend we drove down to Damascus, VA for Trail Days, the annual Appalachian Trail festival, and worked with Bob Peoples on his Hardcore trail building project. Bob Peoples, and his wife, Pat, are something of a legend on the AT, and for good reason. They run a lovely $4 hostel, for one. What thru-hiker can pass up a hot shower, warm bunk and laundry for that price? Last year, when we passed through we were among about 40 hikers that were housed and fed Easter dinner, as we sought shelter from a late spring snow storm. The accommodations at Kincora are simple, but the hospitality is endless.

Another thing Bob Peoples does is an annual trail building and maintenance project called Hardcore. He works with local trail clubs and recruits thru-hikers and alums (that's us!) to come out for a few days. Trail maintenance involves carrying very heavy tools, such as axes, pulaskis, and rock bars several miles into the forest (or over the balds, as it were), and then doing heavy labor all day before hiking back out. It's not for the faint-hearted. But Bob Peoples makes everyone work with a smile on their face. Over a hundred people came out this year, and we built about 3,800 feet of trail.

The best part of Trail Days was running into our hiker friends from last year. Bush Whacker, Eulah, Backyard Boogie, Brain, Yard Sale and Waffle, Diesel, Focus, Professor, Hellbender, Boo Boo, April Showers and Montreal, Shadow and Numbtoe, Hemlock and many others were there. It was great to see Bonnie Caroline, who started north on the very same day we did. I think the whole "walk a mile in another man's shoes" thing has some real validity, because I didn't know any of these people for a very long time, but I feel such a connection to them, even now.

We also met some kindred spirits who are making the trek this year. We'll be keeping track of Train Wreck and Pearl as they head north, and hopefully we'll be spreading around some Trail Magic later in the summer as the hikers hit Pennsylvania.

If I could do just one thing for my special education students, it would be to take them out into the woods and chill for a few days. Hunt for salamanders, walk some trail, build a campfire....these are the things that prime a young mind for true learning. I am working towards the day when that is the kind of instruction I will provide for children, compared to the bubble-filling-sit-in-your-desk crap I do now. I think it would be quite a bit easier to teach my hyperactive boys to read if their legs were tired from hard work and exercise.


Why Uganda?

You may have heard that M and I will be heading off to Uganda next month.

This being my first third-world-country-in-an-unstable-truce adventure, I am just a tiny bit nervous.

However, I must say this was my mother's idea.

I will pause a moment for those of you who know my mother to stop choking.


Several years ago, my mother watched a documentary that deeply affected her. A short time later, she met Fr. Michael Komakec at a lecture. Fr. Michael is from the very area of the world where this documentary was filmed. He is temporarily living in Pittsburgh, working on his doctorate, but will ultimately return to serve the people of Gulu, Uganda. Fr. Michael must have been pretty convincing, because my mother decided to round up a crew of missionaries and head over.

My parents are both just shy of saintly when it comes to helping other people, and have basically dedicated their lives to this, but their work to date has been pretty domestic. However, my mum, who until last summer, refused to camp at a place without hot showers, does not seem phased in the least about traveling to a place without paved roads, potable drinking water, and which required approximately $500 in immunizations. The Holy Spirit guides her, she says.

I can really get behind that kind of God.

This trip is really more of a reconnaissance mission. Being that war-torn areas are not wired for email or phone, it is hard to know exactly what to do next without actually going there. Our small team will go and make some contacts, brainstorm some projects, and bring this information back to my mother's parish, who will then send money and new teams of volunteers in the future until everything is All Better.

I'm kidding about the All Better part. We are under no illusion that we can take two weeks and change the world. I'm fairly paranoid that whatever we end up doing may have unintended consequences and actually screw up the world. So I guess I can say that I'm going to Uganda to help, but I'm suspending my judgement about what that help will look like, until I actually get there and find out who would actually like to be helped and what they might like.

One thing that comes to mind as I reflect upon this trip is Hurricane Katrina and all the time I spent saying, "somebody should go and help" when it was on CNN 24 hours a day, and then never got around to it until a year later...a YEAR later, and it was still all messed up, and I sort of regretted knowing about that situation and just putting it off until it was convenient for me.

If anybody is inclined to support this mission, you could donate pencils, chalk, paper or clothing, which I will be carrying in my suitcase. Drop an email if you have anything for me. You could also send a tax-deductible donation to St. Mary of the Assumption, 2510 Middle Road, Glenshaw, PA 15116. Indicate that the money is for the Uganda Hope mission and you can specify that it be used directly for the people of Uganda, or to defray our travel costs.


What's for (vegan) Brunch?

M and I hosted a small brunch today in honor of Mother's Day. I spent a lot of the weekend over at Matt and Loren's since they were hosting their wedding celebration dinner this weekend, so I wanted to make something that would be easy to pull together.

My vision was for some sort of a breakfast casserole. I found a ton of recipes, but all called for eggs and milk. Go figure. So I sort of improvised. And when I say "I", I really mean the dear sweet man I am married to, who really should be credited for the success of today's meal.

But anyway, it turned out pretty darn good, so here's the recipe.

3 large potatoes, shredded
1 green pepper, chopped
1 onion, chopped
1 pack vegan breakfast "sausages"
1 loaf soft italian bread, sliced and dried out overnight
some soy milk
some tofu
some herbs and spices that included; black pepper, salt, nutmeg, and turmeric (for color)

In a greased casserole dish, we placed the slices of bread, then spread the potato/pepper/onion/sausage mixture over top, added some more sliced bread on top of that, and then poured a mixture of tofu, soy milk and spices over top of the whole thing. I don't have the exact proportions for that, but I can advise you to use silken tofu, and some un-sweetened brand of soy milk and mix it up the blender until it is pourable. I also blended in the turmeric and seasoning.

Bake at 350 for about 45 minutes covered, then about 15-25 minutes uncovered so it will firm up on the top.

I also baked some of my famous strawberry muffins, and we made a little fruit platter.

So Happy Mother's Day to all of you moms out there, especially my own Mum, who only gets more adventuresome and interesting as she ages, and to my Mom-in-Law, Kate, who has welcomed me with open arms into her family for the past decade.

I am also thinking of my friend Trisha, who was not anybody's mom a year ago, but now is, and seems to be excellent in that role. I am thinking specifically of the way we watched her handle her son's explosive poop bomb (so powerful that the poo actually oozed up out of the diaper clear to the back of his neck) in an amazingly calm and matter of fact way.


26 Days Left

Or thereabouts. There seems to be some disagreement about what counts as a school day. Regardless, it's been an interesting year. In general I like my students. However, I find them to be among the most argumentative, catty, and socially immature students I have ever known. Do you remember when you were a kid and there were certain things that you would never dream of doing in school, even though you might attempt them at home? School as a Sacred Place? Well, maybe not. Maybe school was never a very positive place. I certainly hated it as a kid. I never felt particularly safe from ridicule or bullying, or boredom. So I feel particularly terrible whenever I feel powerless to stop this.

So in the 26 days I have left with them, here is what I want to focus on...

1. How to "tell him how I feel" - this is sort of a catch phrase that a lot of teachers use when they hear some tattling. But my 2nd grade students seem to be having trouble with the concept. Maybe because if you tell somebody how you feel and they don't listen the conversation never really goes anywhere. So I want to do some modeling and role playing and guided practice, and maybe learn to be a better listener myself.

2. Addition and subtraction facts. Good lord, they have to know these before third grade. No more counting by tapping fingers on their nose. Some things should just be memorized. Flash cards, five minute drills, contests, etc.

3. Waiting in line. There are so many places where one has to wait in line patiently. The bank. The post office. Airport security. The box office to pick up tickets to a sold-out show. Wedding reception greeting lines. Before a Barak Obama rally. I would like my students to master the ability to quietly day dream while appearing to be paying attention, which is what I do.

4. How to draw a picture with details. Quality not quantity.


Conversation 2: There is no God but God...

K: (Attempting to explain the definition of wampum to second graders) So, now everybody uses debit or credit cards to pay for stuff, but when I was a kid, we did not use that as much.

Student 1: So what did you use when you were a kid?!

K: More people used five or ten or twenty dollar bills to pay for things, or they wrote a check. And a long, long time before that, when the Native Americans we are reading about lived all over the continent, they used something different, and that is sort of what wampum is.

Student 2: So a long, long time ago, who was the first person born?

K: Well, we are not talking about when the first person was born, we are talking about later than that. A long time before I was born, but after Christopher Columbus came here, when Europeans first started coming here.

Student 2: It's God, isn't it? And Jesus is his son.

Student 3: No, Jesus was the first person born. Isn't that right?

K: Well, again, we talking about Native Americans, and all this stuff with the wampum is happening a long time after Jesus was born. And also on the other side of the world.

Student 4: So who was the first person? God or Jesus?

K: You know where a good place is to find answers about God? Church. If you are curious about Jesus and God, go to church, or the mosque, or synagogue, and...

Student 1: And ask your pastor! I'm afraid of my pastor.

Student 3: But can you just tell us who was born first?

K: Ok, let's get back to this idea about wampum.

Conversation 1: This is Not a Bill

O: This is UPMC Physician Services. We've been trying to reach you for several months regarding an unpaid bill.

K: Ok, what was the bill for?

O: A part of the account that was not settled.

K: Did you send me a bill?

O: Yes, I have on record that we sent several paper bills.

K: (searches through folder) Did you send a bill that was labeled, "This is not a bill"?

O: Umm, yes, it might say that.

K: So why would I think that it's a bill that I should pay?

O: It reflects $10 that was never paid.

K: Yes, but it says that it is not a bill.

O: Well, I can look it up to check. (O checks computer) Yes, that charge is correct. We did send you notice of this already.

K: Ok, then, can you please send me a bill that does not say, "This is not a bill" that reflects those charges? I will be happy to pay it.

O: Yes, I can send something else out.

***Two weeks passes***

K opens two letters - the first says, "This is not a bill"...the second says, "Your account is now seriously past due. Please act immediately to avoid collections."



Why I Love Google

We are off to Trexlertown for the weekend. While trying to decide what I would possibly want to buy at the swap meet to augment my bike, I googled cool helmet. No it has nothing to do with bikes, but then, this is google...which, when not being a productive means to find information, can certainly provide entertainment. Rosie, be afraid, be very, very afraid.