Wednesday, April 21, 2010

23. Eat a Vermontster

This week's New Thing was suggested by the students I'll be travelling with to the Dominican Republic for a service trip in less than a month. Unlike the Penguin Plunge, which they suggested, then left to poor trip leader Erin and I to do all by our own freezing selves, they also offered to help with the actual execution (as we can euphemistically refer to our gluttony) of the project. So, on a beautiful late April evening we found ourselves (minus Carolyn, who had to take part in the rehearsal of the school's MLK talent show)meeting up at Ben and Jerry's for the ultimate Vermont junk food experience -- eating a Vermonster.

Luckily, though I didn't know it going in, we had an expert in our midst. Ashley, featured in one of the pictures holding the almost-empty bucket, is actually a former Ben and Jerry's scoopster, and did a wonderful job orienting us on the ins and outs of ordering and eating this specialty item. For the uninitiated, I will share some of the tips I learned tonight. First, although the Vermonster features 20 scoops of ice cream, the wise eater will order only 4-5 flavors. Chocolate and vanilla bases with yummy chunks (like my personal favorite, chocolate chip cookie dough) are good choices, strong favors like coffee, mint and fruit are not. Hot fudge tastes great, but melts the ice cream in a hurry; and finally, be prepared for lots of big chunks of brownie and cookies swimming in melted ice cream at the bottom. Oh, and it's messy -- pay in advance, and set up your table with napkins, spoons and cups of water so you don't waste valuable still-frozen time getting them after the ice cream arrives.

So, as you can see here is the group arrayed around the Vermonster; Ashley, Erin, Corinne, Eireann, David, Mark, Kaitlin, me and Joy-Anne (who gets a huge shout out as the ultimate good sport. She's lactose intolerant, so came along to give moral support and watched the rest of the crew pig out with a smile on her face the whole time).

Final verdict: unlike some of my new things (like rock climbing) I think this one better not become a regular habit. But as a once-in-a-while indulgence with a crew of friends, I'd highly recommend it. And as the weather gets warmer and the evenings get longer, I'd say the season for ice cream pig-outs is just beginning.

52 Ways to Say I Love You Romanian. At long last, my ultra-witty and sophisticated British friend Matthew, who suggested the whole 52 language thing in the first place, has pitched in with a translation. The only reason it finally happened is because the Iceland volcano left him stranded on the island of Malta with the Pope, and it was either fulfill this long-postponed request from me or go find out if the Pope would have gin and tonics with him, and he had a feeling the Pope was more of a tequila shot kind of guy.

But better late than never. I'm still waiting for Maltese, but must thank Matthew for this (long-overdue) Romanian translation gleaned from his days living amidst the glorious Soviet-era architecture there.

Buna - Hello
Pa - Goodbye
Te iubesc - I love you
Doua bere va rog - 'Two beers please

Coming Attractions

Now that spring has well and truly sprung, there are all kinds of New Things to do. There won't be any this weekend, because I'm headed to New York City for a memorial service for a very great man, Dr. Alan Berkman, and a weekend long working retreat with Health GAP, the AIDS treatment access organization he founded. But once I get back, here's what's in the works:

Go bird watching. Saturday, May 1 at 7 am I'm planning on going with my friends and colleagues Kimberly and Valerie. Since I've never been bird-watching I don't know what an optimum-sized birdwatching group is, but if you're dying to check it out, and undeterred by the fact that we're starting at 7 am on a Saturday, let me know.

Learn to change a tire and jump start my car. I was all ready to learn these from Nigel last Sunday and it had to go and rain. Happily, we've tentatively rescheduled, and Saturday, May 1 is shaping up to be a New Thing double-header, with a lesson in the afternoon after Nigel completes whatever insane amount of miles are on his bicycling training schedule for the day.

Camel's Hump spring hike. Just waiting till the mountain is hikable, and there's a crew of graduating seniors (Josh, Luke, Ryan, Nigel and Sarah for starters), as well as alumni (like Kelly, who's just returned to Vermont from Washington DC and ready to get outdoors) who are ready to do the hike and follow it up with a trip to Claire's for a fabulous meal.

Travel, travel, travel. So, today I final worked out at least tentative dates for the summer's travel, and it's shaping up to be quite the adventure. If all goes as planned (still a big if), here's the line-up: May 18-28 Dominican Republic (new country for me) for a service learning trip with a crew of Saint Mike's finest. June 8-15 Head west to Tacoma to visit my sister and brother in law, Katrinka and Brian, and my fabulous niece Tigist. As a bonus, I'll be crashing their road trip to Idaho for Katrinka's high school reunion, and a chance to see a lot of old high school friends. June 19 - July 4. Trip to Jordan (and hopefully Lebanon and Syria -- all new countries for me) with friends and alumni Siham and Jamila and current student Connor, who will be researching the impact of water scarcity on Palestinian and Iraqi refugees in Jordan. July 5-10 Fly from Amman, Jordan to Kampala, Uganda (also a new country for me) to be a speaker and participant at an international workshop on AIDS, religion and social movements. And finally, July 26 - August 11: present a co-authored paper with my friend and colleague Jerry at Cambridge University at a conference August 2-5. Before the conference, do some hiking in Scotland (been there, but never to hike), and after the conference visit Denmark, yet another new country for me. Lots of new places and experiences in store!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

22. Take a ballet class

A bunch of people have asked me why I haven't posted this one on my blog, since my friend and colleague, Crystal, and I have been taking beginning ballet since mid-January. There are several reasons, but probably the biggest is that this is the thing on my list that I'm the most self-conscious about. Ice climbing was scarier, but this one made me the most anxious because it combines two things I've always been horrible at -- anything athletic and anything remotely artistic or expressive.

All the classes, including ours, will participate in a performance on May 18. I was guiltily relieved to realize that I'm going to miss it because I will be arriving in the Dominican Republic that day with the rest of the Saint Mike's service team. So, I thought I'd go ahead and bring my camera in and do a post. My plan was to make Crystal trade off on snapping some pictures, but alas, she didn't come to class tonight. Happily, though, Jamie, a more advanced student from the class after ours (pictured here standing next to our teacher, Elizabeth) agreed to take some pictures during our last 20 minutes, and they're posted above with my everlasting gratitude to Jamie.

For anyone who, like me until very recently, has found ballet a strange and mysterious thing, I can at least fill you in how a beginner begins. Basically, it's about learning some simple moves and exercises, and a little bit of French. We begin each class with some stretching in a circle, and then go to the barre. You hold on with one hand and stand in rows learning how to move your feet, legs and arms in moves like demi and grandes plies (half and full bends)and eleves (rising up on the balls of your feet or toes) and releves (rising from a plie). After 20-30 minutes of exercises at the barre, we put the barres to the side and space ourselves out to try the exercises in front of the wall-length mirror and put them together with other moves like tombes and pas de bourrees, both kinds of traveling steps, and jumps and turns (I'm much better at the jumps than the turns so far). The last major set of exercises are usually ones where we cross the floor in lines doing easy (except for me) runs, simple traveling steps and jumps.

There's pretty much no chance that I have discovered a new aptitude. I'm not very flexible, my sense of timing is awful, and it takes me forever to memorize any sequence of steps. But with all that said, the class has been a great experience. First, it's been a chance to hang out with my friend Crystal once a week in an atmosphere that has nothing to do with our academic lives. Second, my teacher, Elizabeth, and fellow classmates are awesome. No one takes it too seriously, and I think we're all enjoying learning something new. And that part-- learning some new things -- has been pretty great, too. I may not have any particular talent for it, but if you stay with it, you can't help but improve, at least moderately. I can tell that the ballet is helping my figure skating, for which I have bit more natural aptitude, and that's a nice confirmation of something I'm always telling my students -- that learning is never wasted, and that the applications are everywhere, if we just remember to look.

So, if you think that the opportunity to do beginning ballet (or beginning anything for that matter) expired on your 10th birthday, I say think again. You only live once (if the monotheists are right, anyway). You might as well keep learning things as long as you can.

52 Ways to Say I love You
In Afrikaans, with thanks to my brother in law Brian's dad, Pat, for yet another bit of language research.

Hello Hallo

Good by Totsiens

I love you. Ek het jou lief.

May I have two beers, please? Miskien hek et twee biere asseblief?

Coming Attractions

Vermonster Eating. Wednesday, April 21 at 8:00 (note time change), the Saint Michael's Dominican Republic service trip group will be meeting up at Ben and Jerrie's to down a massive mound of ice cream. Guyana service group may be joining us!

Bird watching. My friend and colleague Kimberly, has agreed to lead an excursion, in the next two weeks, and Valerie is definitely in. It might be on a weekend morning, but is equally likely to be very early in the morning on a weekday, so if you're dying to get up and see some birds, let me know so I can keep you posted.

Camel's Hump hike in all four seasons (Spring). I pasted the verbatim description from my last post, because I liked the idea so much I just had to put it in again. Who wants to hike and hit Claire's afterwards? It's arguably the perfect late spring Vermont afternoon.
Here's the original description: At Pi Sigma Alpha, our political science honor society dinner last night Luke, Nigel, Josh H., my colleague Mike and I hatched a fabulous plan to combine two new things in the coming weeks. As soon as it's hike-able, a bunch of us are going to do the Camel's Hump spring hike and then head to Hardwick, Vermont to my favorite restaurant, Claire's, (and of which my colleague Mike is a part-owner) where I will do something I've been saying I'd do for over a year -- eat a dessert for dinner and a dessert for dessert. Fun times.

Auto maintenance. Nigel has offered to teach me to change a car tire and learn some basic auto mechanics this weekend if we can find a good time. I'd like to do it on Sunday but don't know if that works for him. I know Amanda and Lauren are interested, and a long time ago Nicole wanted to join in. Are you guys still in, and anyone else want to learn? (Sadly, postponed due to rain. I'm in New York City this coming weekend, so hopefully the one after...)

Sunday, April 11, 2010

21. Visit the Washington Monument at night

Give the pupils something to do, not something to learn; and the doing is of such a nature as to demand thinking; learning naturally results. -- John Dewey (educator, philosopher and generally-great Vermonter)

I had a realization recently. The project of learning 52 New Things in a single year has cast me into the position of being a student again, and more times than not, with my own students and former students as teachers. My new realization is that I'm also doing the learning in the same way that I favor facilitating when I'm on the teaching side -- experientially. Without even thinking about it, I've spent the last three months learning by doing, and this last weekend I got to go back to the role of facilitating that for others. I also got to do some things that were new for me this weekend -- like visiting the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorials at night, which is a totally different experience than joining the throngs of daytime tourists. As you can see in the photo above, we all took the opportunity to see the monument from a different angle -- upside-down. I also got to see an old friend, Henry, for the first time in almost two decades, and meet his wife and four great kids (who completely annihilated me in running games on the Mall, because they take after their parents and are already fabulously fast).

Of course, the original purpose of the trip was our visit to Capitol Hill. The Saint Michael's Chapter of the Student Global AIDS Campaign (SGAC) have made an annual trip to Washington DC for the last five years, but this year the twelve students who came to Washington represented the first collective trip of the Social Justice League, and the students participated from SGAC, SLAM (our labor advocacy organization), Green-up and MOVE (Mobilization of Volunteer Efforts). We left mid-day on Thursday and did the eleven hour drive to arrive in Bethesda, Maryland a little before 1 am. Then we needed to sleep very fast so we could get dressed up (and we cleaned up pretty well, I must say. Check out Ryan and Pat looking particularly smart in front of the Capitol Building) and head to the hill for a day of office visits on Friday. We did five visits -- to the whole Vermont delegation (Senators Leahy and Sanders and Representative Welch), and to New York and Rhode Island Representatives Lowey and Kennedy. Since a couple of the meetings were at the same time, we had two teams (both pictured above): one with five members (Karri, Madison, Lauren, Josh B. and Ryan) and one with eight (Sarah, Anne Marie, Greg, Josh W., Alyssa, Heidi, me and Patrick).

We spoke to the Members of Congress about four issues: US attention (or the lack thereof) to the crisis of rape, violence and theft of resources in the Congo; the idea of a currency transaction tax to help finance the health-related Millennium Development Goals and efforts to combat global warming; the DREAM Act that has been proposed to help undocumented young people go to college and become full citizens; and funding for the Global Fund to Combat AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis. Although about a third of the group had done this kind of visit before, it was a new experience for the rest. One of the highlights for me came at Senator Bernie Sander's office, where one of the staffers we met with was Tim Warren (there's a picture above) who graduated as a political science major from our department less than a year ago.

In addition to the experience of learning to prepare for, and advocate on issues, the group really embraced the opportunity to do new things, and we did a lot of them. On Saturday morning we went to the street fair that was part of the annual Cherry Blossom festival -- something new for all of us, (and as you can see from the pic above, we managed to get deliciously bad-for-us Asian fast food served up in environmentally unfriendly Styrofoam). Friday night we went to an Ethiopian restaurant, which most of the group had never done. For one of the students, going to Washington was a new experience, and many picked places to go on our Saturday touring day that they had never visited. And I'm particularly grateful to Lauren, who decided in the spirit of embracing new challenges to drive the entire eleven hour ride home, thereby sparing her professor, who despises driving, especially school vans, from having to drive any of the return trip.

Next year, I'm hoping to do two student trips to Washington, DC -- one in the fall in connection with a new course I'm teaching on the Millennium Development Goals, and one like this is in the spring as a combined advocacy effort of the Social Justice League. It's a wonderful opportunity to learn by doing, and to put principles to action. And if Saint Mike's keeps producing students with such open attitudes to exploring new places and experiences, I'm pretty confident that there will always be something about the trip that's a new thing for me as well.

52 Ways to Say I Love You

In Irish, with many thanks to one of my favorite colleagues and biologists, Declan.

Hello Dia dhuit
Good by Slán
I love you Tá mé i ngrá leat
May I have two beers, please? or literally, "please give me two pints"
Tabhair dhá piontí dom le do thoil

Coming Attractions

A whole bunch of stuff is coming up, but I don't have specific dates for some of it yet, so if you're interested in participating, write a post or shoot me an email and I'll let you know as soon as I nail down the date and time.

Vermonster Eating. Wednesday, April 21 at 6:30, the Saint Michael's Dominican Republic service trip group will be meeting up at Ben and Jerrie's to down a massive mound of ice cream. Still waiting to see if the India and/or Guyana service groups will decide to join us.

Bird watching. Ran into my friend and colleague Kimberly, who told me that now is a fine time for bird watching (before the leaves on the trees are fully grown). I need to find a time and date that works for both of us in the next week or two.

Camel's Hump hike in all four seasons (Spring). At Pi Sigma Alpha, our political science honor society dinner last night Luke, Nigel, Josh H., my colleague Mike and I hatched a fabulous plan to combine two new things in the coming weeks. As soon as it's hike-able, a bunch of us are going to do the Camel's Hump spring hike and then head to Hardwick, Vermont to my favorite restaurant, Claire's, (and of which my colleague Mike is a part-owner) where I will do something I've been saying I'd do for over a year -- eat a dessert for dinner and a dessert for dessert. Fun times.

Auto maintenance. Nigel has offered to teach me to change a car tire and learn some basic auto mechanics this weekend if we can find a good time. I know some others are interested in learning this, too, so if you still want to, let me know so I can let you know which day we pick.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

20. Learn to make chocolate souffle

My friend Zan (Alexander) is a great guy. Earlier this week he called to invite me to Easter dinner at his and his partner Brett's house. As we were chatting on the phone he asked if there were anything "listworthy" I might want to learn how to make for the Easter dinner. After about two minutes of brainstorming, we came up with the perfect thing -- chocolate souffle. For me, chocolate souffle conjures up visions of Julia Child and sophisticated cooking and fifties kitsch all at the same time. Clearly, a necessary thing to know how to prepare for all these reasons -- not to mention the simple fact that it's a super-rich form of chocolate dessert.

In case you're now convinced you that you, too, must make chocolate souffle, here's the low-down. It's actually not nearly so hard as I expected. This is the slightly-simplified play-by-play.
1. Prepare the souffle dishes -- either small or big -- by greasing with butter and sprinkling with sugar.
2. Chop chocolate into smaller blocks, melt in a double boiler (or a large bowl over a pot of boiling water as we did here), and mix with cream and butter.
3. After chopping the chocolate but before melting and mixing the chocolate, whip egg whites, a teeny bit of cream of tartar, and some sugar until stiff peaks form (that means that if you make a little peak with the egg whites it won't flop over).
4. Quickly whisk in egg yolks to the melted chocolate mixture after it is taken off the heat.
5. The fun part -- fold the egg whites into the chocolate mixture (and if you're me, don't follow your inclination to mix it to death -- that will deflate the egg whites), and pour the whole thing into the souffles. Then it's into the oven for 15 or so minutes, till the puffiness happens, and you're ready to eat something wonderful.

Of course, if you really want to have the best souffle experience ever, it helps to do two things. First, you should dress the part, which I've done here in my fifties-style dress from the wardrobe of Mad Men (and Julia Child pearls, of course). More importantly, you have to be part of a super-delicious Easter dinner with a bunch of friends. In addition to Brett, Zan and I, the dinner (held on the back porch in the lovely sunshine) included SMC friends and colleagues Crystal, Tim, and Greta, and Ken, who is an education professor at UVM. We made two batches of souffle, with Zan doing the first one as a demo, and then turning his attention to rotisserie grilling of the lamb that was the main course, while I did the second round. My friend Crystal supplemented the souffles with a wonderfully elegant fruit tart and a tasty lemon meringue pie, so we all happily dug into a three-course dessert following our lamb-asparagus-red potato meal.

P.S. I know it's a total non-sequiter but I just had to include a photo of my niece Tigist in her Easter dress. She was having a New Thing of her own -- her first Easter in the United States, and from the reports, she and her adoring aunt have yet another thing in common -- wicked bad sweet tooths and an inability to stop eating chocolate once we get going.

52 Ways to Say I love You

In Swedish with many thanks to friend and former student Tyler Adkins.

hello hej,
good by hejdå,
I love you Jag älsker dig,
Can I have two beers, please? Kan jag få två öl, tack?

Coming Attractions

Uganda! It never rains but it pours. Just when I thought my summer travel agenda was about as packed as it could get, out of the blue I got an invitation to another country I've never been to. I came home from last night's fabulous food fest and checked my email, and guess what was there? An invitation to be a keynote speaker at a 5 day international workshop on religion, AIDS and social activism in Africa! It's going to be hosted at Makerere University in Kampala with scholars from Africa, North America, and Europe. So, from July 4-10 I'll be doing two more New Things -- going to Uganda (for all my comings and goings to Tanzania, I've never been beyond the airport at Entebbe in Uganda) and being a keynote speaker at an international meeting. I'm pretty excited, I must say. It's a little complicated because the dates overlap with the time I was going to be in Jordan and Lebanon, but if there's one thing I've learned in the last three months it's that if you have an opportunity to do something new, you should grab it, and then you can figure out how to make it work.

Ice skating. Still going to the rink at least twice a week, and when I can swing it, three times. I am grateful to report that Connor S. went with me on Friday, and seems no worse for wear, so if there are others who feel like coming along, just let me know (you can rent skates right at the rink).

Washington, DC. So, this coming week, from Thursday to Sunday, April 8-11, I'll be in Washington, DC with a dozen or so of Saint Michael's members of the Social Justice League, visiting Congressional Offices on Capital Hill. Since we'll only be busy part of the day on Saturday, I am looking for suggestions of a place I haven't been to, so I can do an official new thing while I'm there. Ideas?

Vermonster Eating. Wednesday, April 21 at 6:30, the Saint Michael's Dominican Republic service trip group will be meeting up at Ben and Jerrie's to down a massive mound of ice cream. It's not too late for the India and/or Guyana service groups to decide to join us...

Saturday, April 3, 2010

19. Learn to change a bicycle tire

It's funny to come face to face with my own blind spots. I like to think that I'm a feminist, but I've spent my entire life expecting the men in my life to deal with cars, home repairs, bicycles, and basically anything mechanical. Yesterday I finally took my first baby step to reverse that when I got a lesson from my friend and student Nigel in basic bicycle maintenance, including changing my own flat tires.

During the winter, when Nigel, a nationally-ranked bi athlete, had given me my second-ever lesson in skate skiing, he told me about his other athletic passion -- biking. In addition to racing, Nigel has worked in bike shops for years, and in that context, taught countless classes on bike maintenance. I am blessed with several friends who not only race, but know bikes and bike maintenance very well, and my friend Dan H. had also offered to help me learn some basic bike skills. So with this embarrassment of riches, I knew that I needed to get this lesson in absolutely as soon as possible (since my tires also really needed filling if I wanted to use my bike at all), and Nigel was gracious enough to offer to teach me yesterday, after his 63-mile ride.

I was pretty lucky to have such a patient teacher, because as I warned him, he was working with a true novice. Before I could learn how to change the tube in the tire, I had to learn how to take the tires off my bike. I also needed a basic bike anatomy lesson, and I learned some new vocabulary words --like cantilever brakes (the kind I have), derailleurs, beads (the wire that runs around the outer tire). Then I learned how to actually take the wheels off, then how to pop off the tire (and that another thing I never knew existed -- a tire lever, which I didn't have, makes that easier) and take out the tube within it. I learned how to put the new tube in and fill it, and the importance of making sure that the inner tube is not protruding through the bead of the tire. And I got a shopping list -- now I need to go get 2 spare tubes; a set of tire levers; a hand pump; and some lubricant for the chain.

As far as bike maintenance is concerned, my learning curve still has some very steep rising to do. But as the cliches point out, all journeys begin with the first step, and that one's done. And a major bonus is that my bike is ready to go. Thanks to Nigel, I now feel officially ready for summer!

52 Ways to Say I Love You

As my friend Henry recently pointed out, there was a time (summer of 1988 to be exact) when I knew all these phrases in Greek. I searched my memory banks, and retrieved hello and good by (especially good by, because our foreman on the cement crew I was on used to say it every day when we were winding up for the day) . For the others I had to cheat -- thanks to Pat for one, and to Madison for suggesting a cheating method for the other. Greek (using the English alphabet because I can't write it in the Greek letters).

hello yasus (informal: yasu)

good bye avrio

May I have two beers, please? Boro na echo parakalo dio bires.

I love you. S'agapo.

Coming Attractions

This afternoon I'm getting my chocolate souffle lesson from Zan, which means that I'll be doing another post very soon. I think I'll wait and write up the next new things in that post.