accomplishing something

Wednesday is trash day. We have three containers: trash, recycling, and yard waste. We have a lot of foliage that needs to be pruned, trimmed, and cut so I generally make Tuesday my yard work day. It’s good exercise, and once I get started I tend to keep going. I will usually go through two or three thirty minute lectures from The Great Courses on my iPod. When I’m done I feel as if I have accomplished something.

In reality, I would rather be generating income, but short of that I really do feel as if I have accomplished something by the time I’ve finished my yard work, taken out the trash and recycling, and had my shower. It’s a good feeling.

Berm in Bloom

our berm in bloom

life is fragile

I am doing something different today. I am sharing with you a recreation of the speech I gave at Toastmasters last Thursday. Once I decided what I wanted to talk about, I realized what an emotional impact the subject had on me. I gave the speech everything I had, and was delighted to have won the best speaker award for it. It was my first.


I was not able to get the video cameras on my desktop or laptop computer to capture me standing up in any kind of way that worked. So remember that when I actually gave the speech I was standing up in front of a group, moving about the floor, and using more gestures than I use here.

Still, I was pleased with how well the speech went over and I thought it was worth recreating on video. I hope you enjoy it.

Social Justice Music Friday: Til it Happens to You

“Til it Happens to You” by Three Miles Lost, an all female a cappella group at Hobart and William Smith Colleges (HWS) singing for survivors of sexual assault. The group directs our attention to the web site

the value of a college education

Recently my friend Jane Redmont shared an article on Facebook criticizing something called “learning outcomes.” Jane commented that the idea of learning outcomes has only been “a thing” for the past decade or so. Her post certainly put a bee under the bonnets of a few of her academic friends, one of whom commented that learning outcomes started showing up on accreditation standards in about 2000. In general, the article seemed to me to be filled with a lot of academic jargon, but one statement stood out: “All successful teaching therefore results in students who love to think and never stop thinking for the rest of their lives.”

I replied to Jane that I was glad that I was in college long before learning outcomes existed. I pointed out, however, that there was a truism we loved to repeat when I was in college in the early 1970’s:

quoteThe lecture system is a means of transferring information from the professor’s notebook to the student’s notebook while bypassing the brains of both.

I certainly had my share of lecture-based courses during my four years at Pitzer College in PitzerftnsmClaremont. Nonetheless, my college education was successful in that I do still “love to think and never stop thinking.”

I do get tired of Pitzer constantly asking me for money while having an essentially non-existent alumni career development and networking program at a time when my own career is in need of a reboot.

Even so, my time at Pitzer has meant a lot to me, and for the fact that I continue to think, read, and learn I am still grateful after 40 years.

existentialism and Christianity

There are aspects of existentialism.that have long attracted me. I first encountered Camus and Sartre in high school. I really loved the Great Courses series No Excuses: Existentialism and the Meaning of Life 1. I’ve listened to it twice.

ExistentialistCafeI was therefore delighted to learn of the new book At the Existentialist Café: Freedom, Being, and Apricot Cocktails, which Los Angeles Times reviewer Karen Long gave a glowing review. I’m looking forward to reading it soon.

I think the “no excuses” in the Great Courses title summarizes what is important to me in the existentialist philosophy. Of course as a Christian and an Episcopalian there are some conflicts. The existentialist catch phrase “existence precedes essence” is at odds with Christian belief. Many of the best known existentialists were atheists or agnostics.

At the same time Kierkegaard and Dostoyevsky (both of whom I have trouble reading) were considered “Christian Existentialists.” The great Hasidic Jewish philosopher, Martin Buber of I and Thou fame was also called an existentialist.

While I could never embrace the totality of existential philosophy, I think that the idea of individuals taking responsibility for themselves and their world is central to humankind’s ultimate survival.

As always, it’s about achieving the proper balance.

1 My usual Great Courses disclaimer applies: If the course is not on sale, check back. The sale price will come around again.

listening to people’s stories

When I joined Toastmasters I expected to do some networking. I also expected that I would have the opportunity to develop my speaking and personal presentation skills. The first has turned out to be somewhat the case, the second has been very much the case.

ToastmastersWhat I did not expect was that I would learn some surprisingly personal details about the lives of my fellow members. I have been impressed at how candid my colleagues have been willing to be.

One long-time member spoke about how she was in the rock music scene and worked at radio stations before going into social services. In a later speech she went into detail about her drug addiction before turning her life around and getting her B.A. and Masters degrees so she could go into social services and help people suffering from similar problems.

Another member gave a heart-rending speech about her mother’s dementia. Our president gave a speech about healthy eating in which he revealed that he had lost a toe to diabetes. A new member talked about his own serious addiction problems before joining the Marines and then going into pastoral care work in the area of addiction while also attending seminary.

Members are also candid during the impromptu table topics portion of the meeting. The member who spoke about her mother discussed how her husband’s moods had changed recently and that his demands were becoming annoying.

It’s a great group and the experience is enhanced by our members revealing their deeper selves.

spicy pot roast

I rarely reproduce recipes here, but this one was too good not to share. A week ago Sunday I PressureCookermade pot roast in my Cuisinart electric digital pressure cooker. When I make this I always follow Ray Knapp’s instructions in his 3 Envelope Pot Roast recipe for liquids and timing. You can find the recipe in Ray’s book, My Best Easy Pressure Cooker Recipes. Or you can join Ray’s Yahoo pressure cooker group and find the recipe in the files section. Ray calls for two cups liquid, water and/or red wine. I always use one cup of each. Cooking time is 70 minutes.

Rather than follow Ray’s seasoning instructions, however, I go my own way. This particular time I used the seasoning Nancy Fuller of Farmhouse Rules provides for her BBQ Braised Brisket Sandwiches.

  • chili flakes
  • chili powder
  • garlic powder
  • onion powder
  • paprika
  • packed light brown sugar
  • kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Nancy specifies I tablespoon of each, except for the salt and pepper. I didn’t measure; I simply eyeballed it. And I inadvertently omitted the brown sugar.

It came out superbly. It was one of the best pot roasts I have ever made. Terry loved it.

One caution for those of you who are not regular pressure cooker users. Although the cooking time is 70 minutes, allow a full two hours. You need to allow time for the cooker to come up to pressure before the clock starts. On the other side you need to allow for the pressure to drop naturally. You don’t want to do a quick pressure release as that will dry out the meat.

I fixed mashed potatoes with yogurt and garlic and made a packet of brown gravy mix. We used Terry’s granny’s good china.

A marvelous Sunday dinner.