Grandma Gertie always said there's not a savory dish that can't be made tastier by just a touch of tarragon.

Tsunami and Me

Tsunami and Me
too big to escape now....

Monday, July 29, 2013

Do You Want to Know a Secret?

“But some secrets are too delicious not to share.”
Suzanne Collins, Mockingjay

It's no secret that I've been remiss in soliciting contributions for Not Your Mother's Book: On Sharing Secrets! First I pleaded for stories for On Travel, and oh, how I appreciated all the stories that came pouring into the NYMB database. That book, with its glorious new cover, finally is available on Amazon, so I'm hoping that soon I'll see some reviews posted there.

Then I concentrated on suggesting writers reminisce about their very first time they tried this, that and especially the other for Not Your Mother's Book: My First Time. In fact, I'm still looking for stories for that book. Please be reminded once again that the suggested chapter headings on the NYMB database are suggestions only, just to get your brain in storming mode. Deadline? None has been set yet, but I'm hoping this book makes the 2015 production schedule. There's still time to contribute...but strike while your memory is still hot! I'll be reading the stories already in the database very soon.

What kind of stories is the NYMB series looking for? Freshly updated  guidelines are here:

A couple of words of clarification...a few fellow writers have asked me what the difference is between a story suitable for the NYMB series versus traditional anthology series such as Chicken Soup for the Soul or A Cup of Comfort. Those who read the new series will note that stories tend to entertain more than to inspire, to spur laughter rather than to elicit tears. NYMB stories need not be uplifting, but that could be a side benefit if you find yourself enjoying a little secret shameless schadenfreude!

One woman wondered if she'd strengthen her chances of having her story selected if she peppered it with a few four-letter words. I can answer that question in two- three- and four-letter words: No, non, and nein! Gratuitous swearing does not a strong story make. Nonetheless, if a story for authenticity requires an expletive a tad stronger than "cussy darn," remember that the guidelines state: stories may contain language and situations akin to a PG-13 or TV-14 rating.

Speaking of first times, this is the first time that I've asked writers to submit stories for On Sharing Secrets. I'm also asking for suggestions for possible topics or proposed chapters! Please email ideas to me at, with Secrets in the subject line. 

You have until Saturday, August 17, to submit suggestions. That date is International Homeless Animals Day. To honor critters who need homes, I'll spread the names of the contributors into an  open suitcase and ask my Akita, Tsunami, to point her paw to a winner. That winner will receive a copy of Not Your Mother's Book: On Travel. So tell me about the secrets that YOU want to hear about!

Sunday, July 28, 2013

I Fell For Oxford!

The History of the English Language class Week 3, Oxford

Peckwater Quad, where classes were conducted
What can you cram into nine days and nights in Oxford, England, while still allowing a few hours for sleep?
  • Popping into pubs for cider at the fabled King's Arms, The Turf Tavern (where Henry VIII quaffed a few ales and centuries later a famous Fulbright scholar, Bill Clinton, allegedly did not inhale) and The Lamb and Flag.
  • Admiring William Holman Hunt's 1853 allegorical painting, The Light of the World, in a sideroom of the chapel at Keble College, where I resided for three nights before moving to Christ Church.
  • Blinking in astonishment at the anachronistic hilarity and hodgepodge of musical parodies in the so-called pop oratario Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at the New Theatre. 
  • Shouldering my way through throngs of touring Asian students to stare at Picasso's Le Tub, painted in 1901 at the onset of the artist's "blue period," at the Ashmolean Museum. Founded in 1683, this repository became Britain's first public museum.
  • Fighting back tears at the heart-wrenching closing speech of Kate in the Globe Theatre Touring Company's all-female production of The Taming of the Shrew in the Bodleian Library Old Schools Quad.
  • Sitting down happily and hungrily to three hearty meals each day in the Christ Church dining hall, where Lewis Carroll once did, as rumor has it, Harry Potter!
  • Traveling to charming Kelmscott Manor, the Tudor home of William Morris, founder of the Arts and Crafts movement, and seeing in person the paintings by Dante Rosetti of  Morris' wife Jane, the ultimate pre-Raphaelite model...and Rosetti's lover.
  • Discussing language with noted lexicographer Julia Cresswell, tutor for my class, The History of the English Language. Julia is second from the left in the back row in the top photo above.
  • Touring the Oxford Universal Press building, where the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) is produced. Here's where I missed the final step and fell down the final stair of the landing, scraping and bruising my right arm and throwing me into momentary shock, as I recalled tumbling down the stairs at home right before Christmas 2006 and shattering my shoulder. (No permanent injury, but a bit of an embarrassment.)
  • Dining at High Table slightly to the left of the imposing painting of Henry the VIII, founder of Christ Church.
  • Learning, at last, why Hertford Bridge, across New College Street, acquired its nickname, The Bridge of bears some resemblance to the bridge in Venice, but not so much as it does to the Rialto bridge there.
  • Saying goodbye to my fellow classmates at the farewell dinner, with the spectacular Death by Chocolate dessert tray, and every course accompanied by fine wines.
Because I've also attended the International Summer School II and the History courses at the University of Cambridge, I've been asked which I prefer, Oxford or Cambridge. That's like asking a loving mom which child she prefers. Since this isn't Sophie's Choice, I'd say I'll choose them both!

Here's a comparison from a website,


  • A small city where almost a fifth of the population are students and the centre is dominated by the University; it could be the place for you if you’re after a small town feel.
  • Cambridge is more laidback than Oxford and arguably prettier, with a river flowing through the city centre and countryside surroundings.
  • If you’re into pubs more than clubs, Cambridge won’t disappoint.


  • If you’re after a bustling city, Oxford is livelier and busier than Cambridge, but it’s still small enough to cover on foot.
  • The city may appeal to culture fans with its museums and galleries – and it’s got more shops, too.
  • Oxford has more in the way of nightlife than Cambridge with more bars and clubs.
Here's the courses being offered in 2014, six weeks from July 6 to August 16...note the Week 3 course in The Beatles!

Old Tom

The Bridge of Sighs

Le Tub, Pablo Picasso

Thursday, July 4, 2013

School's In for Summer

Old Tom Bell Tower, Christ Church, Oxford

I'm sorry...but back in 1972 Alice Cooper got it dead wrong!

Nobody ever called me a nerd, much less a greasy grind. But I've had my nose stuck in a book since I was four...and it really gets out of joint if somebody suggests to me that taking classes at my advanced age demonstrates a basic lack of understanding of what constitutes a good time.

"Hey, you could be sitting on a tropical beach somewhere, sipping a Mai Tai! Why would you want to closet yourself in a classroom?"

I can hear the shudder in my friends' syllables as they spill out their impressions of what my summertime vacation will be like...tests, grades, pencils, books, teachers' dirty looks!

But the International Summer Schools at the Universities of Cambridge and Oxford seem to me like Montessori for grownups. No tests, no papers, no homework assignments...just a chance to explore an intriguing topic for the sheer joy of  learning. And an opportunity to mingle with other like-minded lovers of history, literature and science, men and women from all over the world of all ages, all professions, and all ethnic backgrounds. A treat indeed for a former Peace Corps Volunteer.

I treasure the memories of previous courses I've enjoyed.Where else but in the course, Napoleon and His Enemies, could I have learned from a Polish gentleman that in his country that bloodthirsty ego-maniacal villain is still revered in their national anthem?

If I hadn't taken The Triumphant Reign of Henry VIII  I would never have truly understood how the robust and pleasant young Henry morphed into the seemingly cold-blooded monster who approved the beheading of two of his wives.

I learned, in the Victorians and Their World, that the people of England in the late years of the reign of Queen Victoria were not the prissy prudes we think them today...and that the idea that they covered their piano legs in pantaloons is an urban myth.

Not all classes are set in classrooms. With the Road Scholar The Best of Times: Charles Dickens at 200 course, I spent a lot of time touring museums, and the places where Dickens was born, lived, and loved.

Next week for the first time I'll enjoy The Oxford Experience.About.Com describes this as:

Studying and living in the lap of history

The seminars take place at Christ Church, a college founded by Cardinal Wolsey in the 16th century. Not only do participants study in this prestigious college, they also stay in Christ Church student accommodation and dine in Christ Church's Hall, lined with portraits of former students - W.H. Auden, William Penn, Lewis Carroll, John Wesley, John Locke and William Gladstone among them. Once a week, each student is invited to dine at the High Table. There is also a champagne reception in Christ Church Cathedral Garden and a farewell celebration dinner in the Hall. 

The course I'm enrolled in, History of the English Language, covers these topics:
  • Theories on the origin of language, and the place of English in the Indo-European family, how it came to the British Isles and a survey of development of modern English
  • Vocabulary and word formation - where the words we  use come from
  • How meaning and expression changes...we'll look at passages from Shakespeare and others and learn what they really meant to say
  • How dictionaries and language reference books are put together...where we get our ideas of "good" and "bad" English...field trip to OED (Oxford English Dictionaries)
  • The varieties of English, how if varies in different countries, and the difference between written and spoken English
Already I have scheduled some additional adventures. I arrive a couple of days before class begins, so will explore the Ashmolean Museum and the famous pub, The Turf Tavern, tucked beneath the Bridge of Sighs, where Bill Clinton, as a Fulbright Scholar, allegedly "did not inhale."

Evenings? On Saturday night I'll attend the musical, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Raincoat, and on Tuesday, the Globe Theater Company production at the Bodleian Library of The Taming of the Shrew.

No, I won't sip any Mai Tais, but I'll bet that Oxford, like Cambridge, has plenty of cider on tap, including my favorite Old Rosie. And rather than bringing home a sunburn, I'll have new international friends to add to my Facebook circle.

Oh, and I bought a new little black dress to wear the night I get to sit at High Table.