Category Archives: I’m Just Saying

The Amalfi Hotel – Chicago

I’m trying to think of a legitimate reason why we wouldn’t return to Chicago’s Amalfi Hotel (in the Near North Side neighborhood).  It wouldn’t be for the service, location, dependability, cleanliness, accommodations, or perks.  Check-in and -out was a breeze. The room was more than ample-sized for a Chicago hotel.  There’s a deluxe breakfast spread every morning on each hotel floor—free.  There’s a drinks and appetizer reception on the 6th floor every night—again, free.  Newspaper—free.  Water at check-in—free. In 10 minutes after our call, a hotel engineer appeared to fix our minor toilet leak.  The only reason, expressed by my son, is that the boutiqueness doesn’t extend beyond the lobby.

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Let’s start with a bit of history via Wikipedia:

On the day the hostages were seized, six American diplomats evaded capture and remained in hiding at the Swedish and Canadian embassies. In 1979, the Canadian Parliament held a secret session for the first time since World War II in order to pass special legislation allowing Canadian passports to be issued to some American citizens so that they could escape. In cooperation with the Central Intelligence Agency who used the cover story of a film project, the six American diplomats boarded a flight to ZürichSwitzerland, on January 28, 1980. Their escape and rescue from Iran by Canadian ambassador Ken Taylor has come to be known as the “Canadian Caper“.The subject of the six escapees and what went into the planning and execution was also covered in the 2012 film Argo, directed by Ben Affleck.

I liked two aspects of this movie—a lot! Continue reading

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close — But Not Close Enough

In Stephen Daldry’s Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, we follow a young boy’s searchings. We see his father’s (Tom Hanks’) tutelage and inspiration, which sends his son, Oskar Schell (played by Thomas Horn), on many a journey through the boroughs of New York City.  Before he dies on 9/11 in one of the towers, Thomas Schell  introduces his son to the “reconnaissance” mission of discovering the missing sixth borough.  But his death, and the six answering machine messages that he leaves prior to the tower’s collapse, detours his son to search for the lock that matches a key found in a blue vase hidden at the top of his father’s closet. Was that convoluted enough?  Through the five boroughs, Oskar visits everyone whose last name is “Black”—the single word written on the envelope containing the mysterious key.  OK, it did get more convoluted. Continue reading

The Master

The Master, written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, stars Philip Seymour Hoffman, Joaquin Phoenix and Amy Adams.  The two male leads dazzled me with their full-bodied performance. Whether it was Hoffman’s face, which combined humor and sinisterness (ala Jack Nicholson) or Phoenix’s posture and gait, of which he constantly struggled to gain control of, both deserve to win best actor awards, as they did at the Venice Film Festival.

This is a movie that you must watch more than once to speak intelligently about it.  I have seen it only once.

That leaves me with questions for my second viewing: Continue reading

A/Too Dangerous Method

Directed by David Cronenberg, A Dangerous Method attempts two agendas—to show us how the genesis of Sigmund Freud’s genius (psychotherapy) inspires and alienates Carl Jung and how Jung’s affair with a patient unravels his life. Starring Michael Fassbender, Keira Knightley and Viggo Mortensen, the movie adequately portrays each agenda but fails to correlate them seamlessly. That seems to be my job here. Continue reading

Cast Iron Steaks

The key to “grilling” steaks indoors is the cast iron skillet. You can use a flat one or a ribbed one. The ribbed ones are good for giving the steaks “grill” marks, but the flat one allows the steaks to cook in juices. Let’s start with those juices.

30 minutes before you preheat the oven, season the steaks on both sides. I use a steak seasoning from Aldis. Nothing extravagant, just lots of salt, pepper, and garlic. Continue reading

The Cote d’Azur Is More Than Nice

Nice isn’t what my husband and I expected.  We expected it to be, well, French. But it’s just as much—maybe more—Italian.  Picture being in an Italian countryside village like Assisi but with crepes and us speak English and practice it themselves.  Gloriously, there’s no Parisian language conceit.  In fact, Niceans are more accepting and relaxed all around.  For example, suddenly, while eating al fresco at a “kitchen”-type restaurant, munching on a rather mediocre salad Nicoise (originated in Nice, of course), an older man at a nearby table broke into song, soon joined by his fellow diners.  This went on for quite some time—until they left.  No one except my husband and I seemed to notice, yet alone mind.  Frankly, all my when-in-Rome hospitality convictions failed me as we found their extravagant warbling to be more annoying than charming.  Rather than enjoy the novelty, we analyzed the spectacle to death: What if we tried that? What if we joined it?  What if we voiced our disapproval?  Bad, bad hospitality on our part, I confess. Other than that episode, we found Niceans to be friendly and accepting. Continue reading

Son of Man

Up until the last scene, Son of Man should be called Mother of All, for Mary becomes the self-actualized driving force for all in her community.  If there is any hope for her neighbors, it is because Mary develops her self-confidence enough to inspire their hope and influence change.  Jesus, on the other hand, walks through his scenes without much emotion and deliberation.  Contrasting Jesus’ flat characterization to Mary’s fully developed portrayal; I hope to show how the film comes very close to portraying female self-actualization.

Let’s quickly review what I have determined (from Abraham Maslow’s work) to be the three criteria for self-actualizing: 1) know and accept who you are; 2) resist unhealthy, forced acculturation; and 3) contribute to a better relationship/world. Continue reading

Paris Syndrome

To be clear, I’m addressing Parisian hospitality, not the national hospitality of France.

France is my favorite place to visit, and Paris was high on my France list…until now.  I just returned from 6 nights in Paris.  Unfortunately, the Parisians—their rudeness, loudness, condescension, and lack of culinary effort—consistently disappointed me on my trip last week.

OK, I’m not saying I had “Paris Syndrome,” which is described by Wikipedia as follows: Continue reading

Hotels – Las Chullpas Eco-Lodge

Quero Cancha EN, Urubamba 084, Peru

Las Chullpas  is up on the mountain away from town but oh so wonderful! We found no reason to leave except to venture out hiking. The rooms are comfortable but with a rustic feel to them. They have used some clever ideas in the rooms and around the grounds that just put a smile on your face. See what they’ve done recycling bottles. They have wonderfully hot, hot showers! There are beautiful garden areas to sit in and enjoy a cup of coca tea. Also herb gardens all around. Continue reading

Hotels – The W

The W on Lexington Avenue in New York City — not our usual Starwood Hotel experience.

Although not informed at booking or during several calls to the hotel, our request for adjoining rooms lost us 50 sq. So instead of our usual Starwood upgrade, we were downgraded. No free rollaway or breakfast coupons compensated for the cramped space. Our final bill listed a $148 charge for touching sensored mini-bar items, which resulted in a ten-minute dispute at the reception desk. Continue reading

Sandy Coughlin’s The Reluctant Entertainer Well Worth Reading

My 10 Commandments of Hospitality:

          1. “Hospitality is not about you.”

I was just reading today that the host’s hospitality goal is not her own self-actualization but an appreciation of her guest’s identity. Hans-Georg Gadamer has worked on this issue of the possibility of ever knowing another’s “horizons.” Here’s what Thomas W. Ogletree notes: “This emphasis is a corrective to the Western tendency to begin and end the experiences of others in terms of his or her own experiences, and who assimilates the moral import of the other into his or her own self-actualization.”  Continue reading

Hotels – Hospederia Guts Muths

Clean, comfortable, and unique in Calle de la Matanza, Santiago Millas, Spain.

We were greeted upon our arrival by the friendly and helpful Shubert from the Netherlands. He and his wife operate this 17th century house, providing lodging, meals, and tourist information. The rooms are comfortable and roomy. We booked a triple for about $100.

There is a big lobby with seating, a large dining room, a lovely garden for al fresco dining, a lodge with a fireplace, a library, and another sitting room. Continue reading

The Skin I Live In

First, I’d like to be on record as saying that Pedro Almodóvar’s The Skin I Live In is a film worth seeing.  So see it and then continue reading.  Otherwise, be prepared for major spoiler alerts

Last night, we watched the film.  This morning, on our walk, my dear husband tried to explain to me Almodóvar’s ongoing cinematic interests.  Here’s what I recall from that conversation.

Him: Almodóvar is interested in gender-bending. Continue reading

Hotels – Pazo Cibran

San Xulian de Sales, Santiago de Compostela, Spain

This 17th century country house affords the traveler a real treat–a taste of the countryside in Galicia, a leisurely Spanish breakfast, an impeccably clean room with grand bath, enchanting communal area, and a lovely lawn/garden.

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Death of a Salesman: An Attempt at a Non-judgmental Look at One Man’s Failed Self-Actualization

I saw Philip Seymour Hoffman play Willy Loman for the 2012 penultimate performance at the Barrymore Theater.  That’s why I went. Just to see him play him—without much interest in the play.  But I left in love again with Miller’s play despite years of teaching it to unresponsive students.  I’d forgotten that watching  the play overwhelms its audience viewers.

Make no mistake though.  There’s more to the play than staging and performances. The script affords its readers great lines—and lessons—especially about the failure to self-actualize. Here are some gems that illumine Maslow’s 3 criteria for self-actualization.

1. Know yourself and accept who you are…

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The Taming of the Shrew: More than words could say…

If you read Katherine’s and Petruchio’s ping-pong banter about the sun and the moon, you’ll likely read her as puzzlingly submissive, given her spunky characterization at home.  But then when you see The Folger Theater’s production and witness how the director and actress interpret that scene, you begin to wonder.  It’s that age-old question: how do people with limited power subvert their oppressors?  More specifically, how do women self-actualize amidst patriarchal constraints?

For Kate, the answer is an uncomfortable one—through submission—or at least the illusion of submitting as the sun, moon, and eclipse repartee builds into the outlandishly “submissive” final speech about doing your duty to your husband. (See below.) Continue reading

American Dervish

Akhtar, Ayad. American Dervish. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2012.

Here’s the plot background for what I want to address: Nathan is a Jew who hopes to marry Mina who is a Muslim. Intending to convert to being a Muslim, Nathan tells his father, who has lost most of his family in the Holocaust, about his plans. His father warns, “No one will ever see you as anything other than a Jew” (178). But Mina’s sister irenically assures Nathan, “It’s what’s different about us—once you’re a Muslim, that’s who you are. And it doesn’t matter what you were or where you come from—it’s a true democracy. Where everyone gets to vote” (178-179).

Hurray for hospitality!

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The Ice Age

Drabble, Margaret. The Ice Age. Middlesex: Penguin Books, 1977.

In The Ice AgeMargaret Drabble switches to a male self-actalization story. When we first meet Anthony Keating, he seems relatively lucky compared to his acquaintances. After all, Keating has survived possible fraud charges and London bombings. Additionally, he is happily accompanied by his lover Alison in his newly acquired country home, despite his loss of fortune. Others around him are not so lucky. Len Winocbank is incarcerated for shading dealings, Kitty’s husband has been killed and Kitty has been maimed in a random London bombing, and Alison’s daughter Jane has been imprisoned in some hostile (toward Britain) country for causing a fatal accident. Anthony suffers for his friends and for himself. In Job-like fashion, he sees God as a tester of faith, who needn’t have bothered. Continue reading

Fifth Chinese Daughter, Part 2

Let’s continue our study of Fifth Chinese Daughter by considering how her work affects this female’s self-actualization. From early childhood through her post-college years, Jade works hard, saves fervently, and develops self-pride in her financial independence. More than cultivating a firm work ethic, Jade finds outlets for her creativity and establishes independent of the Chinese American restrictions for females. Continue reading

Thinking, Fast and Slow

Kahneman, Daniel. Thinking Fast and Slow. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011

I heard about Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel Prize winner in Economic Science for his work in psychology, on NPR a few weeks ago. It’s an easy book to follow—depth-wise—but a bit overwhelming—breath-wise. Meaning…I understood most of it but had to take many breaks to process what I understood. Consequently, I’m going to highlight some particularly interesting tidbits (or maybe the ones I understood the best) and encourage you to read the entire work. Continue reading

Ain’t Nothin’ Like the Real Thing: Reality vs. Romance in Margaret Drabble’s The Realms of Gold

Drabble, Margaret. The Realms of Gold. New York: Popular Library, 1975.

Margaret Drabble’s novel The Realms of Gold raises the most frustrating questions for my self-actualization study: Can we self-actualize while participating in a long-standing, physical, loving partnership. But is that the same as participating in a romance with all of its fantasy, flirtations, and frivolity? Think Carrie Bradshaw in Sex in the City. Or must we choose between falling in love and self-actualizing?

Let me briefly review what I consider to be the three characteristics of self-actualizers as gleaned from my reading of Abraham Maslow:

1. self-knowledge and self-acceptance;

2. rebellion against unhealthy acculturation; and

3. committing to something/one beyond one’s self.

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Crepe Quiche Lorraine

You're looking at 4 crepes and (right, background) more crepes!

I made Alton Brown’s Crepe Quiche Lorraine recipe from his “Crepe Expectations” episode. It’s a great concept but could have been explained so much more simply. It’s basically a quiche made in a muffin cup with the crepe as the liner instead of a pastry crust, sauteed bacon with onions on top, and filled with egg mixture with spinach or cooked veggie.  (Next time, I’ll take photos per stage of assembly and you’ll see how basic this is.)

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Fifth Chinese Daughter

Written in the third person, Fifth Chinese Daughter reveals the self-actualizations of both the younger Jade character and older Jade Snow Wong narrator. I’d like to consider how education—formal and informal—plays a big role in Jade’s self-actualizations, specifically her self-acceptance and resistance to forced acculturation.

Informally, at home, Jade’s early “education” is mostly painful, starting with the annual arrival of the rice barrel, which provides not only their main food staple, but also Father’s yearly switch supply. Capital punishment abounds in the Wong household. Bad enough. Worse, no explanations accompany the whippings. So little children are left to wonder what they did wrong. Understandably, Brother dreads the barrel’s arrival but, like his siblings, suffers without complaint. It seems that Father’s capital punishment guarantees filial piety. However, our older narrator ends the chapter “Learning to be a Chinese Housewife” with Jade as a little child, avoiding eating rice (twice a day) to forestall the next barrel’s arrival. Recounting such self-deprivation, Jade Snow Wong signifies on her father’s abuse and builds the case for Jade’s later detachment from her father’s iron will. (See Henry Louis Gates’ Jr.’s The Signifying Monkey.) Continue reading

Belated Thank You

Dear Miss Management,

A lovely couple invited me and my husband to dinner.  The wife had cooked interesting and tasty dishes. The conversation was so lively that we found ourselves crying with laughter (and no alcohol had been served/consumes). They even gave us a present from their latest trip to their homeland abroad. Shortly thereafter, my hubby and I traveled and returned about 2 weeks later.  Another week passed as we settled back into our routine.  Suddenly, I realized that I’d not formally thanked her.  I feel awful. A failure at hospitality–a value that I dearly prize.  But, most importantly, I want to sincerely convey how much I appreciate their generosity and company.  Should I send them flowers?  Write a belated thank-you? Satisfy myself that my husband’s verbal thanks at the tennis courts sufficed?

Mea culpa,

Negligent Guest Continue reading


From the onset, DeparturesWinner of the Best Foreign Film Oscar, directed by Yôjiro Takita and released in 2008, couples defeat—the protagonist loses his orchestra job—with humor—a live octopus, a botched video modeling attempt, and an embarrassing bath house encounter. Our protagonist, Daigo Kobayashi comes of age in many areas of his life: with his wife, profession, father, childhood neighbors, co-workers, fatherhood, and others’ deaths.

In four important ways, Takita’s film significantly departs from the coming-of-age cycle that Arnold Van Gennep describes: separation from home; transition (mentor, tasks and trials, failures, temptations, etc.); and acculturation back into an adult society. Continue reading

Jack Goes Boating

Jack Goes Boatingdirected by Phillip Seymour Hoffman and starring him, Amy Ryan, Daphne Rubin-Vega, and John Ortiz, is a charmingly disturbing movie, which investigates how to sustain a friendship between seriously flawed friends. Featuring platonic and non-traditional romantic relationships, the two friendships survive the chaos of secrets, disillusionment, and self-destruction.

Jack and Clyde are limo drivers with bigger dreams. Jack longs to work in public transportation and Clyde attends night school. Such are their hopes and strategies. What’s more important is that they don’t simply complain, they try so damn hard to improve how they see themselves. Without heroism but rather, plain grit, they endure closed doors, mockery, and personal limitations while Clyde’s marriage finally falls apart and Jack’s anti-romance slowly matures. Clyde teaches Jack to swim and connects him with a pastry chef who teaches Jack to cook. Jack follows Clyde’s and the chef’s directions in and out of the water, most importantly, learning to visualize success—one stroke and chop at a time. If you’ve ever learned to master a basic skill late in life, you’ll better understand his struggle to surmount shame and succeed. Continue reading

A Moveable Feast

Hemingway, Ernest. 1964. A Moveable Feast. New York: Charles Scrbner's Sons, 1967.

At the end of A Moveable FeastHemingway writes, “All things truly wicked start from an innocence. So you live day by day and enjoy what you have and do not worry. You lie and hate it and it destroys you and everyday is more dangerous, but you live day to day as in a war.” 208

He wars over his infidelity, his pained love of his wife, and his recollections of a Paris that will never be the same for him because he will never be so “very poor and very happy.”

From innocence comes wickedness. Do we know that when being innocent? Do we know that so little room lies between charm and connivance? Between childhood and adolescence? Between startle and terror?

So it’s not like Aristotle’s Golden Mean in The Nichomachean Ethic. It’s not that evil is excess, innocence is absence, and goodness is the mean. It’s not even that evil polarizes innocence. It’s that, Garden-of-Eden-wise, evil begins as innocence.

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Creamy Turkey, Rice, and Vegetable Soup

I made another turkey breast dinner for the fam last night. This morning, with baby in the bouncer, I’m concocting my version of creamy turkey and rice soup adapted from Cooks Recipes’ Williasburg Turkey Soup.

This is a healthier version (as the original recipes calls for 1 cup of butter). It freezes great.

Enjoy! Continue reading

At Mrs. Lippincote’s: Elizabeth Taylor begins her journey of female self-actualization.

Taylor, Elizabeth. 1945. At Mrs Lippincote’s. London: Virago Press, 1988.

Reed & Exceed has finished reading the twelve novels of Elizabeth Taylor, a 20th century British writer. R&E has decided to reread each through the lens of female self-actualization. That lens esteems another’s life vis-à-vis three of Abraham Maslow’s criteria: 1. self-reflection and self-acceptance; 2. resistance to forced and debilitating cultural assimilation; and 3. care for and cultivation of the world.

Let’s start at the very beginning…

A discussion of female self-actualization in Elizabeth Taylor’s first novel begins with a brief catalogue of the interesting female characters, leaving to last the protagonist and a discussion of her possible and potential self-actualization.

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Freedom: A Novel

Franzen, Jonathan. "Freedom: A Novel." New York: Picador, 2010.

I decided not to write about the story of Freedom: A Novel because I don’t think it’s nearly as good as The Corrections. But I didn’t want to waste reading those 500ish pages.  So I thought I’d do a “talking points” style, at least that’s what one professor called it at UNCG.  All I’m saying with this blog is that there’s more self-actualizing to be found past the plot (or despite it). Franzen, as always has a few keen insights–at least for me. (Bottom line, read The Corrections.) There are some good lines.

“Looking back now, the autobiographer sees her younger self as one of those miserable adolescents so angry at her parents that she needed to join a cult where she could be nicer and friendlier and more generous and subservient than she could bring herself to be at home anymore.” (53) So the kid joined the basketball team. What mother hasn’t wondered how someone outside the home clan remarks that her adolescent daughter is so “easy going” when the fam sees only Medea lurking about? Flashback to every parent-teacher conference I attended for my adolescent children. By the time I subjected myself to my third adolescent’s conferences, I was tempted to bring a photo: “No, I’m talking about this kid.” Franzen has clarified this issue for me. Continue reading

Love, Loss, and What I Wore

Love, Loss, and What I Wore by Ilene Beckerman is an unusual book.

Ilene coordinates her autobiography with her evolving wardrobe. She refashions “Where was I when…?” to “What was I wearing when…?” Beginning in the 1940s with her Brownie uniform, Ilene narrates her tales of love and loss to include education, dating, friendships, marriages, divorce, pregnancies, babies, social events, and shopping sprees. Perhaps, her affinity toward her outfits seems trivial. But no more so than recalling an amazing bistro dinner, a beautifully decorated hotel lobby, a breathtaking landscape, or a haunting movie as a means to recall our defining moments.

So I began to wonder, what’s the overarching theme by which I review my life. Food? I remember a stew in northern Spain, a paella in Barcelona, steak frittes in Paris, escargot in Lyon, crab cakes in San Francisco, ahi tuna in O’ahu and Schweinshaxe in Germany. But these are just food memories not life memories framed through eating. Back to Ilene.

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Constructive vs. Constricting Holiday Traditions

More and more, I’ve been puzzling about the limitations of hospitality.  Most recently, I’ve been worrying about the limits of holiday hospitality as it relates to the concept of tradition.  I’m wondering if some traditions are clearly designed to be exclusionary and thus, intend inhospitality.

Before I begin my bombast, I grant that under the banner of “tradition,” many people celebrate and communicate together, privileging the gathered more than the gathering.  I remember a holiday meal when, after 4 of the 20 guests were served their plates, the cook (from the kitchen) announced that the rest of the meat was too undercooked, which meant another 15-20 minutes seated without food.  Hell, what did we care?  We opened another bottle, passed it around, and continued our conversations around the long table.  That’s what I mean by privileging the gathered.  And, by the way, it was the absolutely best lamb chop I’ve ever tasted.

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Unnecessary Kindness

I’m thinking about the phrase “unnecessary kindness” that I read in someone’s blog story this morning.  The scenario was common enough: letting someone into a line when you’ve been waiting your turn. The outcome was less common: the merging driver pays your toll.

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Random Man

Dear Miss Management,

Yesterday, I, a grandmother, found myself attending to my newborn granddaughter in her baby stroller, along with the family dog (whom I have serious issues with but respect for his family tolerance to everyone, including me). Inside, my daughter (the mother and dog owner), my husband (the grandfather), and my granddaughter were making their dairy/sugar Baskin Robbins selections. In a matter of seconds, this random man at the only other outside table approaches, takes an instant liking to the dog, and stands mighty close to the stroller. Immediately, I double my hold on the stroller while I listen to him segway from one story to the next as he too closely approaches the stroller amidst his semi-coherent monologue about this being a good place to wait for a bus, Queen Elizabeth, her ugly dogs, her stay at a local hotel in a room right across from the stairs, how this is a good place to wait for the bus, the color of my daughter’s dog, his US patriotism, how this is a good place to wait for his bus… With each narrative transition, he moves closer to me and my iron-fist grasp on the stroller.

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Everyday Turkey Breast

This is embarrassingly simple but always a hit, even with a family of 2-year-old who’ve yet to eat anything else I’ve cooked.

Buy a turkey breast that has the gravy pouch inside the packaging. Harris Teeter has this.

Rinse off the breast, place it breast side up in a roasting pan or Dutch oven, smear over and under the skin with mayo, baste with the gravy juices frequently, and cook until the thermometer reads done for turkey — 180F.

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Frustrated with the Mess Public

I live in a Southern town with a huge military complex.  So don’t think Southern hospitality.  Think transient, fast-food, chains, payday frenzy, and fatigues.

For the most part, it’s futile to expect hospitality when being served.  After most shopping trips, I slink home disgusted with how I’ve been treated and determined to fling myself on any on-line website that I can count on.

Lest I continue to just rant away, I’m struggling to be positive.  I was driving to work today in silence because evidently, I can’t have a new battery along with 1) windows that raise up electronically, 2) a radio, 3) a cassette player, and 4) I’m afraid to know what else doesn’t work.  In order to stop thinking about how dealing with the mess public pisses me off, I began enumerating positive experiences.  I award the folks at these places (listed in no relevant order) my first annual Hospitality Morality Award.

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Hospitality and Card Playing

My husband and I play cards sometimes 3 times a day.  We call it Solitaire War.  We become very physical, me especially.  I never cheat but…there’s no way around admitting it…I am a sore loser.  I throw cards.  I scrape back my chair, rising furiously.  I wage outrageous accusations of “snaking,” sabotaging, and stalling.  Sometimes, I do all of this  even before we finish the game, I guess, because if I’m going to lose, at least my opponent won’t win. Lately, I’ve gotten worse because I’ve been losing more.  And I can’t figure out why.  I’ve been considering playing faster or more slowly, watching his cards being played while I’m playing mine, concentrating on playing my Kings and forgetting about the rest of my cards, preventing him from playing his Kings, and deliberately blocking future playing when I know I’ve played more cards.

Until now, I’ve spent little time considering my bad manners. But I just don’t see any way around it.  It’s not that I love to win so much as I absolutely must beat my husband–at cards.  Every time. Every day.

Well, at least I don’t cheat.

Squashes and Pear Soup

I have perfected my butternut squash soup through a series of happy screw-ups.  One adjustment is adding different kinds of squashes–like acorn squash and pumpkin–which, you know is a squash.  What you’re looking for, when you start to tinker with this and make it your own, is a combination of sweet, savory, and creamy.  It’s supposed to be a comfort food that creates a bit of curiosity.

Teacher Beseecher

Dear Miss Management,

Sometimes, even after over 10 years of teaching history, I still don’t understand students…

…the ones who expect me to be available on weekends and nights, urgently emailing me Monday 1 AM about Monday’s 8 AM history assignment.

 …the ones who email me with only their first name and expect me to know who they are although they’re email address is “” (which are the only capitals in the email).

…the ones who call me by my first name when I’m so clearly not that cool kind of teacher (think Mr. Belding, not Gabe Kotter).

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I returned from 16 days visiting family (but who’s counting?) to find a nearly bare refrigerator.  Faced with only veggie burgers and my homemade pickles, lunch was slim pickin’s. However, this provided me with an opportunity to savor the pickles I made a few weeks ago and to research in my newly acquired Food Lover’s Companion (by Sharon Tyler Herbst) the subject of pickles.

As a noun, pickles are created from submersion in brine or vinegar.  You can pickle cucumbers, onions, watermelon rind, cauliflower, pig’s feet, eggs, herring….You can add spices, like dill for dill pickles.  You can go sweet, sour, hot, or a combination.  As a verb, to pickle is to preserve in a brine or vinegar mixture, which is one type of curing.

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Perfect Bite

Yesterday, I made a meal for an injured friend. At the onset of her Baltic cruise, she fell on her back and remained inside her inside cabin for the duration of the cruise.  The story gets worse, but you get the idea.  Anyway, my meal.  I wanted to keep it simple and “comfort foody.”  I chose gravy and turkey breast (roasted in gravy with mayo smeared all over it), a slightly spicy and really gooey squash casserole, and crock pot mashed potatoes with butter and cream cheese.  Can you picture all that on the plate–a study in whitish-grey?  It comforted about as much as a Robert Rauschenberg white painting.  And, frankly, it looked just as unappealing.  Too late to revamp (or too lazy), I decided to mock my aesthetically-challenged meal and added rolls, apple pie, and daisies to complete the look.

That night, my husband and I ate the other half of the main meal.  After serving our portions on bright blue plates, I couldn’t stand the blahness of it and threw in sugar snap green beans at the last minute.

OMG it was so yummy. Except for the last-minute green beans.  In fact, they really didn’t fit in at all. It would have been better tasting as an all-white creation.  Rauschenberg redeemed.

This brings me to my culinary epiphany: Why shatter the perfect velvety bite of cheesy casserole, gravied turkey, and mashed potatoes with crunch and…nutrition?

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Margaret Drabble’s first novel, A Summer Bird-Cage

Drabble, Margaret.  A Summer Bird-Cage. New York: Popular Library, 1962.
The narrator of A Summer Bird-Cage wonders “what a girl can do with herself if over-educated and lacking a sense of vocation.” 6  Margaret Drabble’s 1962 novel affords its reader several answers:

Touring with a Group

If you’ve ever toured with a group, you know the pluses and minuses of traveling together, many of which relate to hospitality.

I’m very, very tempted to rant about several hospitality fatalities encountered during my experiences touring with other travelers. But in the spirit of good relations, I’ll veer toward prescriptions.

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A Cooking Metaphor for Self-Actualization

While reading Cooking for Geeks, I fixated on one of those startling but ever-so-obvious statements:  “When you see recipes calling for  ‘1 cup nuts, chopped,’ measure the nuts,then chop; likewise, if the recipe calls for ‘1 cup chopped nuts,’ chop the nuts and then measure out 1 cup.”  Here’s why I have been pondering that insight for a few days.

I live life by chopping nuts and cramming as many as possible into a 1 cup (day) vessel.  Is this better or worse—more or less self-actualizing —than living by scooping up 1 cup of nuts and chopping them later?  That is, am I going to parcel out the nuts or am I going to savor each nut scooped in which case, I don’t even need to chop them after they’re measured.  Stay with me here.
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Mary and Max

Adam Elliot, Director.  Mary and Max. 1900.

We are all imperfect, Max and Mary remind us.  Together, Mary and Max–he, with his obesity, loneliness, and Asperger’s syndrome, and she with her dysfunctional family, self-imposed seclusion, and facial birthmark—connect with, reject, and reconnect with each other as they both learn to love themselves and forgive each other’s imperfections.  Big questions concerning eschatology, love and sex, friendship, loyalty, and sanity pervade each of their lives.  Max battles violent and self-destructive reactions to everyday situations that confuse and torment him.  The movie suggests that for the most part, he is more logical, ethical, and common sensical than the “normal” people who infuriate him.  Mary battles self-isolating and self-deprecating reactions to her own everyday situations of abuse and bullying.  For the most part, she is the grown up amidst juvenile colleagues and immature parents.  The movie comically and painfully invites us to rethink normalcy.  As pen pals through the ages and stages of her coming of age, Max and Mary both become more uniquely who they always were and learn to let go of fixing their personalities and modifying their behavior.  As the film approaches it end, Max approaches the realization that he will never become a people-person; but he can, instead, cherish Mary as his one best friend.  Mary finally realizes that she will never become Earl Grey’s Cinderella; but she can, instead, become someone’s prized friend. They are both flawed—as are all humans—but not more flawed than all humans are.  Accepting their flaws and more importantly, responsibility for their flaws, they accept themselves and each other.  Watch the movie because it seriously approaches healthy individualism (a concept sorely lacking in the U.S.), hardship, misery, and hope.  Watch it because it’s very, very funny, as well.  Although the ending is bittersweet, it is endearing and realistic.  I hope that you enjoy this thoughtful take on self-actualizing without acculturating.

Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken

Hillenbrand, Laura.  Unbroken.   New York: Random House, 2010.

Nb: Although this is a male biography, it’s a self-actualization story for anyone.

Although most of the book is violent and disturbing, I continued to read to the end–500 pages—in order to learn how Louis Zamperini could emotionally and physically survive combat, prisoner of war camps, and a clueless post-war society.  I want to know if his endurance would ever fail him.  And when it finally (and I mean, finally) did fail him—when he was no good to himself and his families—I read to discover how he found ultimate comfort.  I won’t say what that is, but I will say that it wasn’t the answer I was reading for.

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Kathryn Stockett’s The Help

Stockett, Kathryn.  The Help.  New York: Amy Einhorn Books, 2009.

The Help  affords us a plethora of hospitality lessons—mostly proscriptions, mostly obvious ones:  Treat the caretaker of your elderly and children with respect.  Treat the person who maintains the order of your house with respect. And the most obvious—don’t piss off the person cooking your food.

I’d like to examine a less obvious one: Treat the person telling you her story with respect.

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Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Skloot, Rebecca.  The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.   New York: Crown Publishers, 2010.

As much as I blasted The Help  for how it handles the ethics of being a listener to and conveyor of someone else’s stories, I would like to laud The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks for its respectful handling of the life of Henrietta Lacks, her family, and others associated with the life of the HeLa cells.

But before launching into my encomium on this point, let me assure you that this is a fascinating book for other reasons, as well.  Here’s why: 1) You’ll learn about the HeLa cells and lots of other cool medical stuff.  2) You’ll meet people who refuse to tell their stories and appreciate their courage when they relent. 3) You’ll empathize with your narrator who’s trying to make sense of conflicting information amidst reactions of hatred, confusion, and paranoia. 4) You’ll get a glimpse into what can and can’t be done with the fluids and matter taken from you during lab appointments and checkups. 5) You’ll marvel at the immortality of one Mrs. Henrietta Lacks, who now has a name, a history, and a legacy.  You will realize how much we all owe her.
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Vowel, Sarah. The Wordy Shipmates

Vowel, Sarah. The Wordy Shipmates. New York: Riverhead Books, 2008.

“The only thing more dangerous than an idea is a belief. And by dangerous I don’t mean thought-provoking.  I mean: might get people killed” (1).  So begins Sarah Vowel’s rendition of the American “Puritans who fall between the cracks of 1620 Plymouth and  1692 Salem, the ones who settled the Massachusetts Bay Colony and then Rhode Island during what came to be called the Great Migration” (23). Admittedly, she’s no Perry Miller although she has read his works.  Rather, Vowel is funny, often irreverent, and always fact-oriented.  She’s done her homework and then some—travelling to many historic sights for an often disappointing but usually enlightening view of how we have memorialized (or failed to) these historic figures and events.
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