Making bread


Yesterday, in a small glass bowl half filled with warm water, I mixed in several handfuls of flour (1/2 whole wheat and 1/2 bread flour). My hands squeezed it into a thick batter.   It’s the beginning of a bread starter using natural yeasts from the air, my hands, the bowl.  Covered with a towel, it will sit in a cool, shaded place for 2 or 3 days until bubbles begin to form.  This culture will then be fed for days with water and flour until “the starter ferments predictable — rising and falling after feedings.”  Then you can use it to make a bread dough.

I am following directions in “Tartine Bread” by Chad Robertson.  The Tartine approach is to use natural yeasts to produce the perfect basic country bread.  Robertson traveled and worked in bakeries in France and the U.S. before settling down in the  Tartine bakery in the mission district of San Francisco.  The book includes a variety of recipes once the home baker has mastered the basic country bread.


imageMy first experience with making bread was in the 1970s when Diane and I lived with John and Barbara Paglione on Old York Road in New Hope.  Each of us had kitchen duties that involved shopping and cooking.  Bread making became one of my responsibilities.  Two bread books survive from that kitchen — Dolores Casella’s “A World of Bread,” and a paperback, “Beard on Bread.”  Both are spotted and worn, although I don’t recall using any specific recipes.  In fact at one point I had a feeling for the amount of flour and liquid necessary to make an acceptable dough.  Some salt, maybe some sugar, honey or molasses.  From there I might add, raisins, nuts, onions or other treats.  I even published from my experience a generic recipe in a cookbook being developed by a local church organization.  I sometimes made pizza and I probably followed recipes for some special breads.

My bread baking stopped for decades.  In the 1990s I got “The Tassajara Bread Book” by Edward Espe Brown.  I think there was a bit of cult appeal — Brown was a student of Zen and Tassajara was the name of a Zen retreat in CA.  Brown’s small book was enlightenment to those of us who attempted to make bread in the 1960s and early 1970s.  Our yeast breads were frequently heavy, and quite unrefined.  The Tassajara Bread Bakery opened in San Francisco in 1976.  I’m not sure if I purchased the book or it was a gift.  It’s pristine and doesn’t look like it was used to bake bread.  I am sure I had good intentions.


About 15 years ago, I began to bake bread again.  I started with recipes from William-Sonoma’s “Bread.”  I tried about a dozen recipes from the book.  Amazing — every one worked.  Baguettes, corn bread, whole wheat, beer batter, zucchini, banana-nut, onion focaccia, ciabatta.  I’ve moved on to more sophisticated breads but still regularly make Buttermilk Biscuits, page 17.


I graduated to Peter Reinhart’s “The Bread Baker’s Apprentice.”  For several years this was my bread bible. Reinhart’s recipes usually start with a “polish” or “biga.”   Most of his doughs rise a second or third time overnight in the refrigerator.   His “Pain a l’Ancienne” for baguettes was the classic.  I was usually disappointed that mine were too flat.  The Ciabatta was quite good.  His corn bread with corn kernels and bacon is rich but delicious.  Over the years I’ve tried a lot of other breads from the “Apprentice” — Focaccia, French bread, Pane Siciliano, Challah.  Reinhart has a web site devoted to pizza.  I make a batch of his Pizza Napoletana dough,  freeze small balls of it and make pizza when I want.

Reinhart reigned for several years. I don’t totally rely on him now but the “Apprentice” is still a standard.   My next guide was  “King Arthur’s Flour Baker’s Companion.”  Since I order baking supplies from King Arthur I also get many emails with recipes and can search online.  The most recent that I’ve used is No-Knead Crusty White Bread ” such  a basic recipe-  water, flour, salt and yeast.  Mix, let rise, refrigerate (up to seven days).  I’ve made it several times — excellent.

In August 2014, I took a class at the King Arthur Baking Education Center in Norwich, Vermont.  We stayed in a delightful B and B, Grist Mill House, in South Woodstock.  Our innkeeper, Peter, gave classes in BMW motorcycle repair for years.  Students slept on the floor of the old Mill.  His wife Carole said, let’s put the kids on the floor and rent rooms to the students.  So was born their B and B.  My class at KA was making Rye breads.  For years I had tried unsuccessfully to bake a good Jewish, Deli Rye.  We made two breads — a traditional Deli rye and a pumpernickel-rye dough which we could use for rolls or loaves.  Both were delicious.  I learned that pumpernickel is made from rye berries. In Germany, pumpernickel was cooked a long time and became very dark.  In the U.S. some bakers add molasses or other coloring to give it a rich dark color and flavor.  While I took my class Diane hung out in the cafe and store.  We came home with several flours, a kitchen compost pail, thermometer and a small red bread box.  I hope to get back this summer.

About 10 years ago, I read about Carl Griffith’s 1847 Oregon Trail Sourdough Starter.  The starter is said to have been handed down from his grandmother. Carl began to share the starter, no charge, just send a stamped self-addressed envelope.  I did.  I followed Carl’s directions from a brochure he provides.  The starter continues today in my refrigerator.  It should be fed (addition of flour and water) every few weeks, but I admit I get lax. I’ve used the starter for biscuits, bread and pretty regularly the past few months, pancakes.  All recipes from Carl.


Never enough books, so I’ve bought several other related to baking bread.  “The Big Sur Bakery Cookbook”  isn’t really a bread book but a seasonal recipe book.  It’s subtitle is “a year in the life of a restaurant.”  There are some bread and dessert recipes from the bakery but all kinds from the restaurant. “The Village Baker: classic regional breads from Europe and America,” by Joe Ortiz  tells the story of village bakeries and their recipes from France, Italy and Germany.  So far I’ve tried a few.

Mike Kalanty was a science teacher at Holy Ghost Prep in the 1980s.  He left teaching and studied pastry cooking in France, Brazil and Italy.  For years he has been a teacher and Director of Education at the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco. Mike came to Philadelphia about seven years ago for a book signing.  Somehow we made contact and although I couldn’t make the signing, I did buy his book, “How to Bake Bread: the five families of bread.”  It’s basically a  book for students and professionals.  Recipes use a shorthand for measurement that is not easy to learn.  Mike’s premise is that there are only five different bread doughs.  Learn them and other recipes are variations.  Someday I will tackle his system.  Mike , by the way, is friend of  Peter Reinhart.

What collection of bread making books would be complete with a memoir or two.  I have “Dough” by Mort Zachter.  His Russian immigrant grandparents opened a bakery in NYC in 1926.  Mort took over the family’s Ninth Street Bakery from two uncles in 1994.  Mort sold the bakery after the memoir was published.  And due to high rents (350 East Ninth Street), the bakery closed in 2013 after 87 years.  For me “Dough” is a re-read.

I think I am ready for a new phase in bread making.  I will work on the Tartine starter and try to make a perfect country loaf.  I will begin to explore some recipes from the books, online or from breads I find in bakeries.

One ultimate bread experience happened around state college, PA.  We stopped at a farmer’s market that was closing.  A baker was loading several loaves in his car and he offered us one.  We chose a raisin- fennel.  We hadn’t eaten lunch.  So in the car, we broke bread.  And we were transported out.  It was amazing.  Our hostess at the B and B suggested it was from  Gemelli Bakery in State College.  On our way home we stopped and with effort found McAllister Alley and Gemelli Bakery.   Monday; closed.  Later looking online I discovered that the Semolina raisin and fennel was the signature bread of Amy’s Bread in the Chelsea Market in NYC.  We had been there.  I’ve made the raisin-fennel several times and before Christmas Jen and Rob brought us a loaf from Amy’s.

As much as I enjoy making bread.  Tasting the work of other bakers is an important part of the bread experience.  Making, exploring and tasting.



Cinema, film, “the movies”


Several nights ago, Diane and I watched “The Young Sherlock Holmes.”  We immediately saw traces of Harry Potter — boarding school, precocious kid, male and female sidekicks, a bad teacher, magic and mystery.  It’s a 1985 movie, pre-Harry, but most reviewers don’t believe that Rowling borrowed; just archetypal elements.  There are scenes of an Egyptian death cult obviously owing a debt to Indiana Jones. “Raiders of the Lost Ark” came out in 1981 and Steven Spielberg was an advisor to “Young Sherlock.” Film history can be interesting.

“Young Sherlock” is one of about 500 DVDs I have been bringing upstairs from the many boxes I brought home from Holy Ghost Prep and stored in the basement.  My collection developed when I committed to watching the AFIs (American Film Institute) best 100 American films.  In about two years I watched all of them except for the Jazz Singer which wasn’t available on VHS or DVD.  Anyone who reviews the list may want to do some additions and subtractions (actually I think the AFI has updated the list) but they are all good films worth watching more than once. As I worked my way through the list, I decided to teach a film course at HGP.  So I burned most of the films on the list — the beginnings of my DVD collection.

My serious interest in cinema (as an art form) began while I was a student at Boston College.  I was not alone.   The 1960s witnessed Americans interest in film,  foreign films, art theatres and film schools in CA and NYC.   I regularly went to films at the Brattle (one of Boston’s art theatres — Bergman, Fillini, Antonioni.  You didn’t need to hear the Swedish, French, or Italian to know these weren’t American, Hollywood movies.


At the end of my Freshman year, driving home with my father,  I shared an idea that I might leave BC and apply to NYU.  “Why” my father asked, “your already in a college.”  He didn’t get the idea of majoring in film making.  Lucas, Scorsese, Coppola, Spielberg and many others from my generation were the first to attend college to learn film making. But I returned to BC and was satisfied to take several courses in film offered by the English Department (my major).


The instructor was Mannie Grossman, a new young addition to the department who was interested in film.  The courses offered were history and critique not production.  Mannie and I became good friends (both recently married), went out to dinner and the movies. A standing joke between us was who read (prepared more for class).  The courses introduced me to early cinema — French, German and Russian films.  I carried my interest into other courses, writing screenplays, reviewing Shakespearean films, comparing novels to filmed versions.  Most professors were quite open to these alternatives to traditional English papers. Books about film history, film as art, directors, genres flooded the market.  Few existed before the 1960s.

Minor production experience came outside of class.  At BC student activity funds became available to make films.  I applied and got money to shoot a documentary film  about the Harcourt Bindery  — a shop where I worked with machinery and employees straight out of the 19th century.  My film was shot with super 8mm; sound was on a separate reel to reel tape that had to be synced when shown.  There was only one public showing during a campus wide film festival.  But it’s basically impossible to blow up Super 8 to a theatre size.  Despite that, the film was well recieved (probably due to subject matter) and I thought I may have gotten an “A” in my seventeenth century prose course because the professor liked the film.

About 2 years ago, I sent “The Bindery” to a company to have it digitized.  Scan Digital lost the film.  I was shocked.  It’s worth mentioning, the retired teacher who bought Harcourt Bindery from my boss, Fred Young, made two documentary films with National Endowment money.  They are much more sophisticated than mine. But loss of “The Bindery” was unfortunate.

In Boston and the years right out of college, I continued to shoot film, instead of taking 35 mm photographs.  Most of it was just raw footage.  I few times I tried to tell a story.  When Diane and I were in the Peace Corps, I asked for funding and was given money to rent equipment and document our training program. PC made several copies.  Scan Digital didn’t lose this one and so I have a DVD but haven’t watched it yet.  Some time soon I need to go through my Super 8 footage and get more converted.

In the 1970s, I put down my movie camera (I’d bought a Bolieu) and started taking 35 mm photographs.  First with my father’s Argus; then with Canons purchased by HGP, finally with my own Nikon equipment.  For about 10 years I sent slides to stock companies and did a few yearbooks and weddings.  I still get an ocassional royalty check from images stock companies accepted over 40 years ago.  Unfortunately I stopped when administration and school work took up more of my time. Film was watching movies.

I never got very involved with a VHS camera.  I used one in class and gave students film making assignments, but I only brought the camera home one Christmas.  While Diane cooked dinner, Jenny and I made a PBS style home show.  I probably should get that on a DVD and also transfer several 16 mm films that Diane’s father made. One is of a car trip out west he made with a friend in the 1930s; another are clips of Diane growing up. More retirement projects.


I taught the film course at HGP for about 8 years.  The textbook by John Belton was used in many college classes was the basis of my course title,  “American Cinema/American Culture.”  For  the first month, we reviewed the early history of film, Edison, through “Birth of a Nation.”  Most students had never seen a silent film nor a black and white film.  On the first day of class I gave them a list of about 20 important American films.  Most had seen one or two — i.e. “The Godfather,” maybe “The Graduate.”


imageAfter Chaplin’s “The Kid'” we turned to comedy as a genre.  “Some Like it Hot” was always a big hit.  To my surprise “Doctor Strangelove” and “Mash” would get mixed reviews.  I enjoyed comparing Astaire-Rogers in “Swing Time” with “West Side Story” and Travalta in “Saturday Night Fever.” Students were also required to watch some films at home, keep a journal and write some formal reviews. For instance, “Tootsie” might be assigned after “Some Like it Hot.”


Although I changed films annually there were other regulars including “Mr Smith Goes to Washington,” “Rebel Without a Cause,” “Bonnie and Clyde,” “Fargo,” and of course “Casablanca.”  One year I had time for one last film.  “Milk” was getting a lot of press.  Quiet and hesitant in the beginning, particularly with the open homosexual scenes, almost every kid in the class was cheering for Harvey Milk by the end of the film.  I kept “Milk” on the list as the last film shown in the course.  It was a fun course to teach and I never minded rewatching classic films.

Recently I’ve been watching quite a few movies.  That term “movies,” by the way,  came about because the early film makers from NYC and NJ “moved around a lot when they moved to Hollywood.  Locals took to calling them “the movies.”  It wasn’t complimentary.  Just a bit of trivia from the film course.

I currently watch streaming on Amazon and our Comcast account.  Unfortunately there is an awful lot of junk.   Streaming Turner Classics  usually offers an older film that is new to me or some classic favorite. I watch a lot of PBS streaming — the American Experience and Masterpiece.  Diane borrows CDs from the Library.  Usually I can buy into her choices which run heavy into series like “Foyle’s War'” or “Call the Midwives.”  We get one Nexflix at a time — trying to see some current hits.  And every few weeks we go to the County Theatre in Doylestown or the Ritz in Society Hill — versions of the old art cinemas.  And now I have my 500 DVDS.

Maybe I need to find a pattern or purpose in my watching or maybe watching a good film enough.  Tonight I’m going to watch “Mr.Holmes.”  I just finished the book.  Holmes has retired, is raising bees, trying to understand life and old age.  Unfortunately I can’t have popcorn anymore.





Recently the stock market tumbled. My TIAA accounts lost about 10%.  Analysts report that it’s because the Chinese economy is faltering.  At home in Yardley I have been thinking about China.  I started writing in a “Dream Journal” I bought at the Library of Congress last year.  There is an antique map on the cover.  “What are my travel dreams.”  If we went to Asia just once, would it be China, Japan, Vietnam, Thailand, India, or some other new destination. “What would influence our choice?”

Before Christmas, Diane and I visited Pearl Buck’s home, Green Hill Farm, in Perkasie.  It’s been decades since we’d been there but they had been advertising a Christmas tree and craft display so we went.  The decorated trees in each room are done by local businesses and organizations.  Most interesting for me was the refresher on Pearl Buck.

I suspect that most Americans today do not recognize the name Pearl Buck.  My first encounter with her was finding an inexpensive set of books in my Nanny’s (Grandmother Gallager) apartment.  I now wonder who bought them?  Did someone read them?  Nanny wasn’t a reader and I can’t imagine she had an interest in China! But I probably read one or more in high school.  I was exposed to the story.

Pearl Buck was the daughter of missionaries.  From her birth in the 1890s until the mid 1930s she lived in China.  In many ways her outlook on life was more Chinese than American.  She became a writer winning the Pulitizer and Nobel prizes.  Her writing was autobiographical, about family and China.  “The Good Earth,” her most famous book (and Pulitizer winner) was a best seller in the early 1930s.  Her writings created a bridge between east and west, opening up China for many Americans.  Buck wrote about farmers, poverty, the underside of Chinese life and culture.


Years ago we enjoyed a production of “The Good Earth” at the Riveside Theatre in Bristol.  I’ve also seen the 1937  Hollywood production of “The Good Earth” staring Paul Muni and I believe an all white or almost  all white cast.  It wasn’t very good but I have added it to my current Netflix list. I also found a paperback copy in my library which I will read.

In the library, I checked out a copy of “Pearl Buck in China: journey to the good earth” by Hilary Spurling.  It was a fascinating read.  Pearl’s experience in China: she was poor, not always accepted, felt Chinese, saw violence, the class system and gender inequality.  She married, began writing, became critical of the missionary movement, published in the United States and gained significant notoriety, much of it due to her publisher, and second husband, Richard Walsh.

Her writings became controversial, too raw and sexual for some, the Chinese didn’t like the graphic portrayal of Chinese life, And some Americans thought she was pro-Communist.  Her family grew as she adopted Chinese children.  After World War II she would establish Welcome House an adoption agency for Amerasian children.  The adoption agency would eventually merge with a foundation that currently owns the Perkasie House and continues to honor her legacy.

I think Pearl would have been an interesting person to know. in the post WWII years.  She was a friend of Eleanor Rooselvelt, involved in a variety of civil rights and humanitarian efforts, was within the Kennedy orbit.  At the same time she withdrew in her last years to a home in Vermont.  She died in 1973.

My philosophy of themantic living has me watching movies made from Pearl Buck novels.  None is very good.  But I enjoyed “Pavilion of Women,” first in the queue.   It was made in 2001 by a Chinese woman Luo Yan, who produced, directed and stared in the adaptation.  Although critics have not been kind, I enjoyed watching it.  In brief: at age 40, Madame Wu is tired of servicing her husband so she buys him a young concubine.  He becomes more interested in a local brothel and she becomes romantically involved with a missionary priest (Willem Dafoe).  In the mid 1930s, the Japanese attack, Father Andre  sacrifices his life to save Madame Wu and his orphanage of children.

I enjoyed the film since much of it was shot on location in China.  The cinematography was quite good and there were some interesting aspects of Chinese culture and Pearl Bucks’s experience that kept my interest.  I have just started watching Dragon Seed.  Imagine the leading lady is Katherine Hepburn!

But Chinese history and culture barely register for me.  Why would I decide to travel to China.

In the past few years, I  have been intrigued by a few Chinese artists.  A few years ago we heard about Xu Bing’s “Phoenix” on exhibition at Mass Moca.  We decided to go.  However, we were unprepared for the size and presentation of the 3 ton birds that greeted us.  Simply amazing.  About a year later, I was excited to see the same Phoenixes flying in Saint John the Devine cathedral in NYC.  Another Chinese artist that has intrigued me is Ai Weiwei, a political activist. I read or looked at a book of his work ,”According to What: Ai Weiwei,” and then I watched a documentary. Some amazing installations.

Recently I have read several books about Chinese food. “On the Noodle Road: from Beining to Rome with love and pasta.”  The author, Jen Lin Liv travels the Silk Road exploring the relationship between Chinese noodles and Italian pasta.  Her conclusion, can’t tell which was first. Another was “Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper: a sweet-sour memoir of eating in China.  The food is quite different from what we get in Chinese-American restaurants. Nobody knows General Tso in China. After reading  “Fortune Cookie Chronicles: adventures in the world of Chinese food.” by Jennifer Lee,  I was hoping to find some authentic Chinese restaurants in the area, maybe Chinatown in Philadelphia. Several years ago, I even bought a Chinese cookbook, “Simple Chinese Cooking” by Kylie Kwons.

Despite all my reading we haven’t had very much Chinese food in recent years.  The only exception are Asian (not necessarily Chinese) noodle soups I’ve been making.  It started with some seaweed broth (dashi), a big bag of dried shiitake mushrooms, add miso and maybe tofu.  I’ve bought a variety of noodles (some from a trip to Chinatown) and have made several interesting variations.  Quite good.  A few weeks ago,  Diane and I have ordered take-out Chinese. The first time in years.  We decided to try a new (to us) Chinese restaurant in Lower Makefield.  Unfortunately we were totally unimpressed, basically dissatisfied. Need to try another.

Why travel to China?  What is the attraction.  Standard tours will mention the Great Wall, Tiananmen Square, Terra-cotta Warriors,  the Forbidden City,  Summer Palace, Yangtze River, Hong Kong, Yellow Mountains, West Lake, and Yungang Grottoes  — I know very little about China and don’t even recognize all of these tourist attractions.  But maybe that’s what interests me.

Maybe China for me is like China for Americans before Pearl Buck.  It is a mysterious.   The culture seems so different.  Images of Marco Polo’s travels.  Traditional, backward according to Western values, but modern and global in another perspective.  China may become an entry in my dream journal.



On Dying

imageI admit I thought about dying when I was laying in the hospital bed at Penn last September.  But that’s fairly normal, we’re all working our way to death.  My grandfather and father lived passed 90 so I thought I had a shot at another 20 years.  I think I still have that expectation.  But on my retirement “to do” list was to rewrite the will, and make the final plans.

Several days ago, Diane and I drove to Solebury Friends Meeting cemetery on Sugan Road.  For years we’d driven past Carversville Christian Church a few miles away and commented that it  looked like a peaceful place to be buried.  The church has an annual oyster dinner that has caught our attention but we always miss going.  Several months ago we stopped at Solebury Friends cemetery — our friend Rodney Hamilton was buried there in the 1980s.  I have quiet memories of his burial, and  I thought how lucky he was to find such a perfect place. Diane and I commented,  “Maybe we should buy a plot here.”

I thought that we would use Wade’s funeral home in Bristol.  So I contacted Mark, making sure they could drive to Solebury.  John, the cemetery contact sent me some information.  A standard plot was $1,000; $500 for meeting members; $350 for cremation.  I plan on cremation; Diane maybe not.  What we learned today was that one plot would be good for one standard casket burial and up to 4 cremations.

John showed us some open lots.  We chose one. Not too complicated.  Just mail in the check.  As we left we noticed Jim Farley and his wife were in the row behind us.  Rodney is in an older section of the original cemetery.  A small glitch is that the traditional burial must happen before  cremated ashes can be buried.  If I go first, cremated, someone needs to hold the ashes for burial after Diane is gone.  Maybe several tablespoons could be sprinkled in the Delaware River.

Assuming that our funerals are at Wade’s  in Bristol, on our way to Solebury, we will pass through Yardley, no reason not to tip hats at 121 N Delaware Ave. A footnote: Wade’s (Murphy’s when I was young) is the Irish funeral home.  Galzerano’s several blocks away is the Italian home.  My immediate family went to Wade’s since Catholic tradition dictated following the mother’s church (Irish mother, St. Mark’s parish, Murphy (Wade) funeral home). Maybe even bagpipes.

If the funeral procession uses GPS, it will turn off River Road  onto Sugan  Road just past Bowman’s Hill. It will pass the Nakashima compound, then the old mill where Jim Hamilton and his wife raised his family (Lambertville’s Hamilton’s Grill).  Around the corner on Old York Road is where we lived with John and Barbara Paglione for 4 years.  The funeral cars can slow down again; another place to tip hats.  It’s only 15 minutes up Sugan Road to the cemetery.


This week after  the cemetery visit, we drove a few minutes to lunch at the Carversville Inn.  We hadn’t been there in years but have great memories.  In the 1970s, from our perspective,  Carversville was the perfect Bucks County village — historic houses, an Inn and several other commercial properties. Today across the street from the Inn is an upscale Gereral Store (Hansen’s). A block way, during  the 1970s, a hip mother and her daughter brought NY musicians to their old mill for small concerts.  The venu was their living quarters on the second floor, wine and cheese before the music, homemade desserts and coffee after.  Very exclusive.  If you missed one performance,  your name was removed from the mailing list.

In the 1970s, with Paglione’s we looked for at a house to buy in Carversville.   I even brought my cousin Bill Mignoni to see the property.  Bill asked, “Why would anyone want to live out here?”  But it was beyond our pockets, no sale.  Months later Carversville became a national historic site.  Property values spiked.

Although we only lived in New Hope-Solebury for a few years, we feel we have some roots in the area. And now we can afford a small place.



Teaching: the first twenty years



Although I posted this cartoon  on FB and I always enjoyed longer Christmas breaks — longer any vacation, including summer — it’s not totally true.  I usually looked forward to the return to school, it was an opportunity to start again, a new notebook, a clean blackboard, sometimes it was the start of new courses, new classes.  Good teachers; effective teachers — like classrooms, maybe as much as vacations.

My first experience as a classroom teacher was in Peace Corps training in 1969.  Diane and I were in Bisbee, AZ training to be TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) instructors in Libya.  Ron Swartz, from the Modern Language Association’s DC office, was in charge of teacher training.  Ron was amazing, always moving, orchestrating, pushing us to creative teaching.  Dozens of courses and thousands of dollars later, I would often say I learned how to teach in the PC in Bisbee.

Daily we would take a bus into Mexico.  Elementary students came to school in the summer to learn English (remember TEFL).   Most of us didn’t speak Spanish; and the kids didn’t speak English.  They pushed small desks around the room, birds and bats flew in and out, we produced our posters, games, linguistic exercises in an attempt to keep them engaged.  “Be careful, don’t fall into one of the large holes in the floor.” Sitting in the back of the room observing were other volunteers, maybe Ron Swartz. But it was so much fun.

It was January 1970.   The Gandafi Revolution ended our Libyan assignment and we didn’t have a new posting.  The draft was at my back.  So I  became a seventh grade teacher at Saint Michael’s in Levittown.   I would teach English, American History, a few minor subjects. I recall sharing some apprehension with the principal (an older nun).  “Just tell them about the PC.” She said.  And I did for several days, weeks.  In a month the kids knew as much Arabic as I did.


I spent several years at Saint Michael’s.  I was one of two male teachers in the school. One  summer I made five small square tables that could be turned on end to save space.  I also made 2 science lab benches on wheels. As much as possible, class was small group and hands on — unlike the stock photo above.  I monitored my first field trip — a bus to Valley Forge.  Other memories: I ivolved kids in “movie” making, planted  a Christmas tree, had a class vegetable garden, repaired small gasoline engines.

Diane was teaching Special Education students in a private school — this was before federal legislation.  I realized that similar students were in my classes.  In 1972 or 73,  I worked with Sister Margaret to establish a class of “special education” students.  They were segregated for Reading, English and Mathematics but mainstreamed for other subjects.

 It’s  amazing when I think about it today but these  students participated in a summer program at our canal side house in Yardley.  I transported them in my car, no insurance.  Mornings were academics, afternoons were crafts and field trips — canoe or car trips.  About 15 years ago one of my Saint Michael’s classes had a reunion.  One of the girls in the special class attended.  She looked at a picture of kids boarding a school bus, “the Prep kids” was the caption.  She was so proud.  I took them to Holy Ghost Prep for an weekly afternoon of tutoring.

In 1972, the war in Vietnam Nam was winding down.  The draft was a lottery (no more teacher deferments). I had a low number and it was low.   For the third time I appealed a draft induction.  I got letters from the parents of the special class, testimony from my principal and parish priest. A State review board heard my case, “I was not just “a” teacher, I was “the” teacher and could not be replaced.”  I had taught the specials in 7th grade, in a summer camp, and I was scheduled to teach them in eighth grade.  I was given a deferment.

By 1974 the war and draft ended.  I quit Saint Mike’s and within a week Father Hanley, the Headmaster, offered me a job at Holy Ghost Prep.  I was to become the school Librarian and teach Junior English (3 sections).  Kids were tracked according to math ability and there was virtually no movement between tracks.  If you started in Freshman 1, you probably graduated in Senior 1 — the Honors track.  The 3rd section reminded me of the TV show, “Welcome Back Kotter” — very non academic.

 There was no specified curriculum for English classes; just “Junior English,” you taught what you wanted.  John Buettler taught Seniors and liked theatre, so Senior English was  Drama class.  My Junior course could have been titled “Communications.”  I lectured about Marshall McLuhan (“the media is the message”).  Kids did projects using photography, video (equipment borrowed through the IU), radio show production.  I established a darkroom and an audio lab.

I had strong ideas about education and began to share them with Father Hanley. I didn’t like the tracking system; supported faculty independence but thought there should be titled courses, maybe American Literature for Juniors and British Literature for Seniors. I supported and encouraged progressive teaching methods.  HGP tended to be very textbook, lecture orientated.  I wanted to see more hands on.  By the late 1970s, Hanley had made me Assistant Headmaster, charged with scheduling, curriculum and faculty development.  A young lay person in the HGP administration; there was some resentment from a few Spiritans.

Hanley was replaced by Father Jim McNally, who had been one of my math teachers when I attended HGP (class of 1965).  Mac didn’t arrive until mid August.  I remember him plopping down in a chair in my office, “You can remain as Assistant Headmaster for a year and we will see how it works out.”  Mac and I got along great and I served as his assistant (and partner) for 10 years.

I believed that administrators should teach and so I always taught at least one course.  An older Spiritan taught the non-honors Seniors two social studies courses — Problems of Democracy and American History.  He literally read from the textbook and took no responsibility for discipline.  I decided it would be better if I taught one of the courses.  My American Studies as I titled the course was heavy in American Literature (I was a English (i.e. Literature) major at Boston College.  Gradually the course focus became the American response to nature, land, conservation, ecology.  I used a lot of local examples.

My course changed to “Local Studies” after I took a month long National Endowment workshop at the University of Pennsylvania with Walter Licht.  Walter introduced us to the New Social History.  History of the everyday life of average people.  New Social historians were interested in how butchers slaughtered a cow; what a slave ate; the religious beliefs of Italian immigrants.  Traditional history had been about the rich and famous, Kings, Presidents, Generals.  Local History dovetailed nicely with New Social History.

I took the train to Philadelphia for the National Endowment workshop.  Several hours before class, I walked and photographed the city.  A slide show of  my photography was my final project.  We usually had a guest lecturer in the morning and a related field trip in the afternoon.  We visited dozens of historic sites in the Phildelphia area.

For the next ten years, Local Studies became my signature course at HGP.  I read extensively, continued to visit sites, developed two class field trips — one to Center City Philadelphia, another in Bucks County (rural townships, small town boroughs, and automobile suburbs).  Alumni frequently tell me how they now walk city streets looking up, looking down, seeing so much history.

In the 1980s’ Father McNally was replaced as Headmaster.  It was not a friendly transition.  I was also removed from administration.  The next year I applied for a sabbatical.  I had finished all course work but was ABD (all but dissertation).  Initially Temple told me my time had expired.  I no longer had an advisor.  A former dean in the school of education took me on and eventually hooked me up with Ellis Katz who had done research on my topic — educational policy making in Pennsylvania.

In 1990 I graduated with a doctorate in educational leadership and immediately began teaching at LaSalle and Holy Family. College teaching was a new world.  Although I still enjoyed most classes at HGP, I totally enjoyed the transition to college undergraduates and within a few years, graduate students.  Now I could share my beliefs and experience teaching with teachers.


2015 — a mixed review


For me, 2015 gets a mixed review.  January to June completed the first year of retirement for us.  We continued to travel.  In January, we spent a few days in Washington, DC.  The inspiration for the trip was a visit to the Holocaust Museum.  Diane had never been there.  The memory of our friend, Ragna Hamilton, who was a survivor, is very strong.  I read several books about her camp, Ravensbruck, and exchanged e-mails with a woman who has written about the women of Ravensbruck.  We located the rough English translation of Ragna’s memoir published in Denmark. Could we work on the translation and guide it through an English publication.  We spent an entire day in the museum and met with someone in the Library. Need to work on this idea in 2016.

In February, John Paglione and I headed to James Madison’s plantation, Montpelier, in Virginia.  We stopped in DC (hospitality of cousin Ellen again). We  spent one day in the Library of Congress — took a tour, lingered in the new installation, the recreated library of Thomas Jefferson, looked at displays in several rooms, even applied for  and got our Library of Congress cards.  Now we can read books in reading rooms.  In the gift shop I purchased a new journal with a antique world map cover. I christened it “the dream journal” — places I want to visit.   2016 projects — a reading visit to the Library of Congress and begin entries in the dream journal.

Our trip to Montpelier was to participate with other volunters and several professionals in reconstructing a slave cabin (check out my post, “Building a slave cabin in Virginia.”  Temperatures dropped below zero, we had snow several days, so construction took place in a huge shed.  For the most part we used historic, traditional tools.  Quite a project but oh, so rewarding.  This Christmas I received cards from Montpelier archaeology staff inviting us back in 2016.  Diane did a week of archaeology in September 2014 but I don’t think another week at Montpelier is high on her to do list.

In March we spent four nights with John and Barbara Paglione on the Upper West Side.  Friends exploring art and food in NYC.  Lunch at Eataly; dinner at Prune.  We took a immigrant and food tour of the Lower East Side. We visited McSorley’s Ale House and Russ and Daughters; the Museum of Modern Art, 911 Memorial and Tenament Museum.  A great trip.

In April Diane and I spent a night in Concord, MA.  I crossed Walden Pond off my must see list.  We continued on for two nights in Portland, ME.  We wandered around the old city, visited the Portland Art Museum and the Historical Society.  As on most trips we ate well — J’s Oyster and Street and Company were our favorites.

April and May I went on a trip to Italy with my cousin Joey Lentz.  The trip was to visit my grandfather’s hometown, Rocavivaro, on a mountaintop along the Adriatic.  We stayed with my cousin Nick and his wife Marie.  Many days we spent exploring the village, meeting people, some related.  We took some day trips to Capracotta (Paglione hometown), Termoli (seaside resort), Trevento (where grandfather was in the seminary), Castle Petrosa (shrine visited by popes).  I got to know Nick’s sons better.  Hopefully with their help I can get back to Rocavivaro for another, maybe longer trip.

The first half of 2015 wasn’t all travel.  We got Moe, a terrier mix from the SPCA.  Moe kept us walking, most mornings I did a canal walk. Diane liked to take him in the afternoon on one of the many trails we’ve discovered in NJ.  Unfortunately Moe was too lively, a jumper, just too  much work and when I came home from the hospital, he had to go back to the SPCA.

We bought a new car — a Toyota Highlander.  Hired a contractor to paint the exterior of the house and I began some additional outside painting.  Bought a new wifi printer for our Apple devices.


Diane and I took a lot of local trips — Bucks and NJ explores.  Food trips; lunches at restaurants.  We went to plays, museums, and the flower show.  I regularly took the train to Philadelphia  (senior $1.00 fare)  — sometimes with plans; sometimes serendipitous.  We discovered the Farm Cooking School in Stockton and I took two classes.  For Christmas, I gave Diane  gift certificate for a class.

I joined a Great Books discussion group and help start a Yardley Photography group that meets monthly in the Continental Tavern.  I have not been able to attend since surgery but hope to get back with both groups. Academically I worked with a teacher from the Science Leadership Academy in developing a draft curriculum for the book, “On the Run.”  We were hired by Jon Amsterdam who is attempting to get a grant to finish and distribute the curriculum.

Most important for us in the first half of 2015 was the time we had to spend with our grandchildren — Eli and Viv.  Jen might call us to babysit.  We took them to plays, museums, and they spent overnights in Yardley.  We also had time to make contact, have lunch, and visits with friends, alumni and faculty from HGP.  One of the rewards of retirement is time to contact and be with friends and relatives.

My life and Diane’s changed dramatically in the second half of 2015.  It started about two weeks after I returned from Italy when I developed a urinary track infection. The infection cleared up with antibiotics but I knew something was still wrong with my internal plumbing.  A urologist at Penn diagnosed immediately — a fistula.  Holes that developed due to tissue damaged during proton radiation to treat my prostrate cancer. The damaged tissue and fistula isn’t  common but someone ends up as part of the low but  “bad” statistic.  We put off surgery until after  a short  trip to the Litchfield, MA area and our two week vacation with the Kwaits in Cape Cod.

September 16 I was admitted to Pennsylvania hospital.  Surgery to repair (close) the fistula was 11 hours.  There was more damaged tissue than expected.  My hospital stay was a week, including the weekend of the Pope’s visit — no visitors.  I was discharged to Manor Care in Lower Makefield for rehab.  Nursing homes can be very unpleasant, demand constant advocacy.  We realized the surgery failed during a visit to my urology surgeon.  It wasn’t a total surprise since I had been told that the repair would be very difficult.  Back to Penn for some tests to confirm the failure.

Mid- October, we were finally home.  I carried two catheters and an ileostomy.  I was still very weak and had a wound on my bottom from surgery that wasn’t healed.  Diane and I have spent the past two months adjusting to a “different life.”

Several weeks ago, I saw a cartoon on Facebook.  A small girl asked her mother, ” What’s normal, Mommy.”  The mother responded, “Oh, it’s just a setting on the dryer.”  Like the little girl I have been judging my days by asking, ” what’s normal.”

I don’t sleep through most nights, get up with heartburn (despite medication), can have bladder contractions (again medication)  or must empty my new “appliances.”  So I sleep later.  Not too normal.

Breakfast, e-mail and newspaper are normal.  We might have plans to go out — lots of normal activities — shopping, doctor visit, lunch with friends, car tour, or museum.  It’s not easy getting in and out of the car and I walk quite slowly.  But we keep fairly busy.  On days that we stay home, I have been cleaning and organizing — slower than Diane would like.  But it’s happening — car, coins, books sold.  Photographs in albums, video and DVD collection being edited.  These are all activities planned to do pre-fistula — rated normal.

We hired someone to finish the outside paint projects that I started, had the wood stove  chimney cleaned, had grab bars installed in the shower and tub.  Normal house projects that had to be done.  But I am limited in what I can do.  We read, listen to music, and watch movies — again all normal. We have continued to stay in contact with friends and see Viv and Eli (but not as much as we would like).  They haven’t been able to stay overnight in Yardley — not normal.

Most days about 80% of my activity can be labeled normal.  It’s the other 20% that can be an annoyance, a distraction, frightening.  I have difficulty sitting, climbing steps, walking, bending, taking a shower and dressing.  My appetite is limited.  Much of the daily routine is not normal.  Surgery, probably, hopefully, in January will make my exterior plumbing permanate. So I think 2016 will be a year of adjusting to a “new normal.”  Can’t say I am pleased but it’s the hand I have been dealt.

Yesterday I began a daily walk on the canal.  Something I did regularly for the first year of retirement.  We hope to plan some Spring and Summer trips.  We will expand our local explores, gardening, and cooking.  House projects will continue.  I would like to restart train trips to Philadelphia, maybe NYC.  Interior painting is needed.  Hopefully we can have Viv and Eli for overnights in Yardley and can continue to visit with friends.

I think 2016 will be a year to regroup.  We need to get back to where we were in the first half of 2015.  Once we do that we can look to other things we want to do in retirement. In 2016, we need to create the dreams, the plans for the rest of the decade, living with the new normal.