“MARY CHRISTMAS” FROM YOUR MUSLIM FRIENDS

“MARY CHRISTMAS” FROM YOUR MUSLIM FRIENDS

Mylar garlands. Muzak Jingle Bells. Santa hats. The normal gaudy props of American Christmas. I was surprised to encounter similar items when I spent time in non-Christian countries. In Singapore, a hotel lobby nearly the size of a football field greeted us with a half dozen flocked trees. In Delhi last year, a group of child carolers, who surely didn’t know the meaning of the words, warbled “Silver Bells” and…

A Craving For Crumbs: Our History of Baked Desserts

A Craving For Crumbs: Our History of Baked Desserts

I grew up with the oven on. In addition to baking meat and potato main dishes, my mother baked desserts:  pies, cookies, quick breads dense with fruits and walnuts, and frosted cakes in every flavor, one each week. Also crisps and crumbles, caramel rolls, and coffee cakes. Our kitchen, inexpertly designed by my parents, was the biggest room in our 1950s rambler house. Mom had a wall oven that she…

Ping Pong Diplomacy and the Birth of My Husband’s Career

Ping Pong Diplomacy and the Birth of My Husband’s Career

Dear readers: the term ping pong diplomacy was first coined to describe the exchange of table tennis players between the U.S.  and China in the early 1970s, which led to a thaw in diplomatic relations between the two countries.     Do you know how to calculate the logarithm of 20? If you’re not an engineer or scientist, you might have to ask an Indian immigrant.  My husband, Sankar, is…

Unexpected Kindness: A Caffeinated Tale

Unexpected Kindness: A Caffeinated Tale

My night owl son, Greg, just moved back to the Twin Cities and is living at home until his furniture arrives. He likes to head out between 9 and 10 each evening for coffee, and I often go with him in search of a coffee shop open late at night. Last Saturday evening we set out for Uptown, where he’ll soon reside, to visit the Starbucks on Hennepin and 22nd.…

The Problem With Pity

The Problem With Pity

Dear readers, I wrote this because in my teaching I discovered that feelings of sorrow can cause perceptions to narrow. That sometimes there is a problem with pity. “Teacher, come here!” “Teacher, I need help!” I race from one student to another, my face shiny with perspiration, answering questions that never seem to stop. After class, when my supervisor comes in to talk with me, I am so wound up…

Byzantine Mosaics: The Gold That Stayed

Byzantine Mosaics: The Gold That Stayed

According to the Robert Frost poem, nothing gold can stay. Frost’s take on nature’s hues is poignant and the metaphor is broad. Brilliant, talented people have their day and then pass on. Grand and mighty cities fall into ruin. But there is a town in Europe that has “stayed” for nearly twenty centuries. And it has done so, in part, due to gold: brilliant, exquisitely detailed Byzantine mosaics. A snug…

Work Friends: You Never Have Enough Time

Work Friends: You Never Have Enough Time

A friendship born at work. Someone you love talking with, even though your job doesn’t allow much time. But inevitably one of you leaves the job. And your paths don’t cross anymore. I had work friends in Turkey, and I have them here in Minnesota. Last November I was asked to relocate to an ESL teaching site on the east side of St. Paul, a half hour drive from my Minneapolis…

Of Chains and Invaders

Of Chains and Invaders

I hadn’t heard about the chain trick before I moved to Turkey, but when I did, I thought it was a good one. Stretch a massive chain across a narrow waterway to keep invaders out. That is what the Byzantines did in Constantinople in the 1400s. The actual chain they used to block the Golden Horn can be viewed at the military museum. It did keep the Ottomans out—for a…

Ode to Teaching

Ode to Teaching

At the end of a school year –and this particular teaching gig—it seems right to reflect back on my late choice of career. I was so pleased to receive a teaching job in Turkey. My credentials included just a measly adjunct semester teaching freshman English at a small St. Paul college. In 2010, at age 56, I signed my first teaching contract. I would be working full time, trying to nudge…

The Growing Influence of Turkish Culture

The Growing Influence of Turkish Culture

I spent the first week of April in Costa Rica and, as I said in last week’s blog, I was surprised to see Turkish items like nazar boncugu bracelets for sale there. This week I’ll include a few more Turkish sightings in unexpected places. When the group of vacationers I was with headed to beach near Puerto Viejo, friend Corinne took a colorful cloth to use as a towel. I recognized it as…