Monday, March 31, 2008

Stress Scale

Making friends with the staff in our agency’s Member Care (now called ‘Member Development’) department has proven a strategic decision. They’re all such kind people who really care and have insight into how we’re doing and know how to express it well. One of the Member Development staff members, Mike, gave a presentation about their ministry at the meeting I was attending. At one point he passed out copies of the following tool used for evaluating one’s stress levels. 

Holmes-Rahe Scale
Adjusted for overseas living; starred items have been added
Source: Heartstream Resources
Please mark events occurring in the last year of your life. If any events occur more than once a year, multiply the score.
Points Event
100 1. Death of a spouse or child
73 2. Divorce
65 3. Marital Separation
63 4. Jail term, personal assault,* terrorism near you*
63 5. Death of a close family member
63 6. Move to a foreign country*
53 7. Personal injury or serious illness
50 8. Marriage
50 9. Live/work in a foreign culture*
47 10. Learn a new language in a foreign country*
47 11. Fired at work
45 12. Marital reconciliation
45 13. Retirement
44 14. Change in health of a family member
40 15. Pregnancy
39 16. Difficulties in sexual life
39 17. Gain of a new family member
39 18. Do support discovery/deputation*
39 19. Business readjustment
38 20. Change in financial state
38 21. Learning to live without a fixed salary*
37 22. Death of a close friend
37 23. Leaving all relatives and close friends at one time*
36 24. Change to a different line of work
35 25. Change in number of arguments with spouse
31 26. Mortgage over $100,000
30 27. Foreclosure of mortgage or loan
30 28. Attend a candidate/training program to be evaluated
29 29. Change in responsibilities at work
29 30. Son or daughter leaving home

Mike gave us a few minutes to read through the list and evaluate ourselves. "A score above 200 is high, and indicates you are probably at risk for a physical or mental illness," he said. I’m not so bad off, I thought, even knowing some of the things that have been tough about my past year evaded such easy categories. I had only ticked two items. But then Mike pointed out that the sheet was two-sided; "Make sure you do the second side as well.” Drat. Here’s the rest of the list.
29 31. Trouble with in-laws
28 32. Outstanding personal achievement
26 33. Wife begins or stops work
25 34. Change in living conditions
24 35. Revision of personal habits
23 36. Trouble with boss
23 37. Being misunderstood by family/relatives*
22 38. Adjusting to a new climate*
20 39. Change in work hours or conditions
20 40. Change in residence
20 41. Change in schools
19 42. Change in recreation
19 43. Change in church activities
18 44. Change in social activities
18 45. Change in level of physical activities*
17 46. Mortgage or loan less than $100,000
16 47. Frequent travel away from home*
16 48. Change in sleeping circumstances
15 49. Change in number of family get-togethers
15 50. Making new close friends*
15 51. Change in eating habits/food available*
13 52. Vacation
12 53. Christmas
11 54. Minor violations of the law
? 55. Other stresses not listed
With the second page of items my score went up to about 300. I found another website that uses the Holmes-Rohe scale and it told me my score indicated I have an 80% chance of a serious illness within the next two years. Didn't say what I could do to prevent such a thing, to mitigate the effects of stressful things I've experienced. So that's not so helpful. May need to look into this more, eh?

But listen to this. Mike said the average cross-cultural missionary, even after a good term, may have a score of 600. Serious stuff. Guess we’d better take member care, debriefing, and the like pretty seriously!

NOTE: Yikes, one of my Member Development pals had a heart attack today and died. So the staff there are not only caring for people who have been through trauma, but facing it themselves.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Sandhill Cranes

Enjoyed my trip to our agency's headquarters in Florida this last week. It was a nice time of year to be there; no storms or bugs. The place I stayed for the final evening of my visit was in a very "Southern" looking neighborhood, with charming houses shadowed by enormous, moss-covered trees.

Taking the dog out the back door for a walk I found a lovely little lake being enjoyed by a sizable flock of ducks. The next morning the dog was straining and barking toward something in the tops of the trees and took no notice of the half dozen large and lanky cranes that gathered about ten yards away.

Eventually they started flapping their wings, calling out, and jumping a few feet straight up in the air (we pay millions for airplanes that can do that!) I wondered what it meant, but they didn't say ; - ) And they didn't attack or fly away. Remarkable creatures.


Wednesday, March 26, 2008

First Quarter Reading, 2008. Part 2: Nonfiction

I enjoyed both these two history books greatly. Some people say Armstrong, who describes herself as a ‘freelance monotheist,’ is too soft on Islam. That’s just what I was looking for as it happens; she had just the right content and attitude to use as a foundation for my teaching on the history of Islam for an Encountering the World of Islam class. We want people to come away from the class with a balanced view of the topic. Since so many Christians start out with a negative view of Islam we find it more important to swing the balance the other direction, knowing the students will self-correct.

One key to understanding current world events is to see how great the world-of-Islam was for the centuries of its hey-day, and what a difficult and confusing thing it was to see all that fall apart when Western powers became (suddenly) dominant and moved in as if they were taking over a vacant lot.

Stewart’s book – about the Asian civilizations of 500-1500 - was a good follow-up on the same issues. It taught me a lot about the networks of trade, influence, religion, and respect during that period.

I loved this book; don’t even know where to start. I listened to it on tape and then bought myself a paperback so I could mark it up. Guess you’d classify the genre as sociology. Part of the appeal may be how it relates to my work, which has much to do with communication and “advocacy” for certain ideas, values, and commitments. I want to change the world, and anyone who describes how that can be done is someone I want to pay attention to.

Both these books, which I picked up over the holidays, gave me a sense of connection with the land - especially the land where I grew up (though Kingsolver's is set elsewhere). Both are written in beautiful prose, with a good mix of context, story, and analysis of their topics. Egan’s is a collection of essays about the land and people of the Pacific Northwest. Published when I was in college, it describes the Northwest I remember and read about, not quite the way things are now. I wrote more about Kingsolver’s book and its themes here.

Up Next:

I have “holds” on with our library system for Surprised by Hope, by N.T. Wright, after reading what Andrew Jones said about it, and Listening Is an Act of Love: A Celebration of American Life from the StoryCorps Project, after hearing about in on NPR.

Books I’ve purchased that are waiting on my bookshelf (a less effective path to being read than being due back at the library is) include The Bondage Breaker, by Neil Anderson, and Red Moon Rising, by Peter Grieg.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

First Quarter Reading, 2008. Part 1: Fiction

So, it’s been three months, time to clear out my “Recent Reading” list. But I don’t want to delete it all together, just put it on course to land in the blog archives. Here are some of the things I read in the first quarter of 2008, with links and commentary. First the fiction. I’ll write about the nonfiction in a separate post.

  • The Singing Sands, by Josephine Tey. I love to read most anything well written, and had forgotten what a wonderful writer Tey is. I picked up this book – the last the author wrote before her death in 1952, when I needed a slim, satisfying volume to take on the plane somewhere. Satisfying it was. Set in Scotland (one of my chief virtual destinations this quarter) and full of place-y details and great character development. Think Dorothy Sayers, Agatha Christie, etc.
  • The Sunday Philosophy Club; Friends, Lovers, Chocolate; The Right Attitude to Rain; and The Careful Use of Compliments, by Alexander McCall Smith. I enjoyed the introduction to the city of Edinburgh and other parts of Scotland provided by this series, and the relationships, observations, and reflections of the main character, a philosopher. The plots are on the slow side – as in all of his works, it’s more about the characters. The only real complaint I had, though, was one character’s too-graceful transition into single motherhood. (It can’t be that easy, Sandy…)
  • Sweet Revenge, by Diane Mott Davidson. Yes, another by one of Colorado’s most popular authors – in the mysteries-and-food genre. Goldy is a caterer. This volume is partially set in the local public library, which added a fun element. Not her best, but worth picking up in the library or reading at the bookstore.
  • Summer Island, and On Mystic Lake, by Kristin Hannah. Not great literature but good reads of the hard-to-put-down variety. The first is set in the San Juan Islands and deals well with parent/child relationships, the second on the Olympic Peninsula (and had too much sex in it, I thought). Think of Debbie Macomber, particular her more thoughtful stuff (like Changing Habits).
  • Charlie Bone and the Time Twister, by Jenny Nimmo. I was hoping for a multiple-volume series of fantasy books for kids or young adults that would be well-written, engaging, and keep my mind occupied with something outside this world but wholesome (vs. books that are too hard, over too fast, not relaxing, or not the kind of thing I should be filling my head with). But Charlie Bone (sometimes compared to Harry Potter) hasn’t grabbed me. Any suggestions?
  • Persuasion, by Jane Austen. This is the Austen book I’m least familiar with. Though I’ve probably read it, I’d forgotten it. Got the book on tape from the library and loaded it on my MP3 player, but this one, at least at the slow pace of an audio book, is a yawner. I’d do better with a Dover paperback so I could skip ahead or look back. Roommate and I watched the new-ish movie Becoming Jane recently, though, and I would recommend that.
  • Around the World in 80 Days, by Jules Verne. Jules Verne is a lot of fun – well-written but fairly light, and quite action-packed for its time. There are at least a couple of film versions of this one, aren’t there. Anyone seen them?
  • The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I read his stories on and off throughout the winter. Good stuff. Mystery short-stories tend to trade in murder and deceit, so I try not to read a bunch at once, but otherwise these were a good mental diet. Like doing puzzles, in moderation.
Up Next:

Among the fiction books I plan to pick up are...

- Something by Colorado science-fiction author Connie Willis, recommended by my friend Barb
- The Shack, by William Young, at the recommendation of my friends Shane and Ann

I could use some additional alternatives to the murder mysteries (dark or not so dark), "relationship" focused books that take my mind where it needn't go, and books that model value systems I don't want to be overly influenced by. (Sadly, too many 'Christian' books do the same, so that may not be the answer.)

Don't get me wrong, I am not against reading things that move my emotions or challenge my thinking, and some of the nonfiction I've read has been great. But I could use some more wholesome fiction of various genres to read when I'm relaxing.

Any suggestions?

Sunday, March 23, 2008


I see and hear this word everywhere in the headline news...
Obama condemns the words of his former pastor
Candidates condemn Bhutto assassination
Chinese Premiere condemned riots in Tibet
Pelosi urges world to condemn China
Cuba condemns criticism of China
Prime Minister condemned the attack
Security counsel tried to pass a resolution condemning the violence in Jerusalem
Muslim countries urged the U.N. to condemn Israel’s attacks
Palestinian leader condemned the shooting
The Church condemns stem cell research using embryos
Has it always been this way? Must world figures throw their weight around by condemning things? I suppose it is nothing new. It’s the same as cursing, isn’t it?

I recently re-read the Baburnama, the diary of the Mongol warlord and poet, Babur. Not Babar. (He was an elephant.) Babur wrote around AD 1500. About one man who had betrayed an ally, Babur says, ‘Anyone who hears of this and does not curse him deserves to be cursed himself.’ I’m impressed; it’s like a chain-letter. A self-replicating curse!

Well, curses come to the mind and tongue pretty easily, don’t they? At least, in my case they do. And when one’s sense of what is just and right is turned on oneself, our hearts condemn us. We feel under a blanket of condemnation, deserved condemnation.

The scriptures have just as many statements of people or behaviors being cursed or condemned as the headlines do. On this weekend, when so many Christians commemorate how Christ, too, was condemned – literally condemned to die (and cursed and mocked and humiliated and tortured and killed, though he was without sin).

But three statements of being not condemned stand out to me. These two:
For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. (John 8:9-11)

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1)
And finally, the story of the woman caught in adultery and brought before Jesus. How does Jesus respond?
At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ ‘No one, sir,’ she said. ‘Then neither do I condemn you,’ Jesus declared. ‘Go now and leave your life of sin.’ (John 8:9-11)
Certainly there are a lot of different things going on in this passage, but what jumps out to me today is that it appears she was guilty. When I feel guilty or ashamed or afraid or condemned, when I am caught in the very act of my sin, whether it is anger, selfishness, laziness, lust, or treating others with contempt, might God speak to me the same words he spoke to this woman caught in her sin?

Friday, March 21, 2008

Getting a Break from the 'Burbs

I was in the Pacific Northwest one weekend this month for a women’s retreat, and confided in someone I met there that I am a bit hesitant to attend such things…

Women’s events can be a bit, too, well, weird! Like you have to dress fashionably, think and feel the same things as everyone else, have lots of fancy little touches, and call each other “ladies.” Not that such things are so terrible; please don't be offended. But they are not my cup of tea.

Women from my church in WA are more independent and down-to-earth that that, so I thought this retreat would be safer and more comfortable for me.

“I know what you mean,” my new acquaintance said immediately. “My husband and I moved from [upscale community in another state] to [local rural community] a year ago, and I don’t think I’ve bought any new clothes since!”

Wednesday, March 19, 2008


When I saw the headline from one of my favorite news sources, Joel News, I wondered if we should pick up the story for our Missions Catalyst News Briefs. Sure enough. Pat, our news sleuth, said, “Being Easter week I thought it a good time to use a resurrection story.” Take a look at Ethiopia – Woman Raised from the Dead. It proved our most popular item, at least based on the click-through rates. Whether or not anyone "has a problem" with this story or questions our journalistic integrity over it, I do not know!

At any rate, I’m pleased to announce further resurrection is coming.

Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed — in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true:

"Death has been swallowed up in victory."
"Where, O death, is your victory?
"Where, O death, is your sting?"

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.

1 Corinthians 15:51-58

Home Group Model

(In response to a discussion, about what we like in a church, which Lu and I have been having, on her blog, here.)

The small group that I’m part of, through my church, is a highlight of my life these days. Maybe it’s just some magic or chemistry coming from the people who are involved, or maybe it’s a special blessing from God, but I think a lot of the appeal comes from some simple aspects of the way the whole thing is set up.

I’ve been in groups where I learned more or was challenged more or was known more. Many people prefer groups that ask more of the participants, or that are limited by age group, marital status, gender, etc. So I don’t want to say this is the ultimate model. But it’s a good one, and I wish more churches had small groups that ran this way. They would be a lot more fun.

Here are some “distinctives” of the approach:

  1. GOOD TIME TO MEET: We don’t meet on a “school night,” but get together, instead, a couple of Fridays a month. With the work week over and the weekend stretching out ahead our time together feels unbounded. We always have some kind of wrap up at 9:30 so people who are busy or tired know they are free to go, but we can (and often do) stay and hang out late.

    The frequency is right, too: We used to meet the first three Fridays of the month (taking off the fourth, and fifth if there is one). Now it’s just the first and third Fridays of the month – not quite enough for me, but I’m the only one without a family.

  2. GOOD PLACE TO MEET: We meet in the home of the host couple. It’s a comfortable, conveniently located place that’s just the right mix of architectural openness and separateness to facilitate mingling. There’s a big dining room, nice kitchen, comfy living room, and a basement where the kids can hang out.

  3. FOOD AND FELLOWSHIP: Our time together starts with hanging out in the kitchen finishing dinner prep, chatting, and waiting for people to arrive. Often we have chips and salsa. Then we sit down to a meal together. The casual environment of the meal is great for facilitating catch-up and conversation. Taking turns helping with the meal also provides a way for everyone to participate fairly often, without burdening anyone.

  4. CONTACT THROUGHOUT THE WEEK: Organizing the meal requires email communication in the couple of days before we meet. It's a small way of keeping up with what’s going on with each, sharing words of encouragement, and letting us know who is going to make it or not.

  5. WELCOMING AND INCLUSIVE: The group is open to new people or visitors at any time. If anyone new has come, as we transition from the dining room to the living room we pass out copies of the sheet the leaders wrote up describing what our group is about and how it works, and we all walk through it together. This helps people know what to expect and sets them at ease.

  6. WORSHIP AND PRAYER: Next, someone passes out song sheets and hits play on the stereo, and we sing and worship along with a CD. This is much simpler than many other approaches, but just as effective.

    After a couple of songs we go straight into corporate prayer. This group loves to pray and is comfortable praying together, so we skip “sharing requests” or making plans for who will pray for what. We don't have to talk about it, we just do it. Dinner and email conversation gave us enough insight into how everyone is. We can always pray again if someone has something they want to share and explain to the whole group.

  7. STUDY AND DISCUSSION: It was unanimous, we wanted this to be a group with no homework. What we usually do is read something together and discuss it. The couple that leads the group – both teachers, which probably helps – have a large collection of pencils, pens, and highlighters, and they will have photocopied a section from whatever book we’re studying (or a section from the scriptures) as well as preparing sort of an agenda for the evening so everyone can see where we’re going with it.

    One introduces the topic and leads us in discussing a related question, while the other makes and brings out the coffee. Then, individually, we read some or all of the chapter, and discuss what we’ve read. The first book from which we studied excerpts was 21 Most Effective Prayers of the Bible. We didn't have to agree with everything in the book or with each other, but it gave us a good focus.

    Making the copies and coming up with discussion questions involves some work for the leaders, but it’s nice for those who come to be relieved of the small burdens of buying the book and bringing it each week as well as reading ahead and organizing their thoughts. We just all do it together.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Word for the Day -

"God rewrote the text of my life
when I opened the book of my heart to his eyes."

(from Psalm 18, The Message. Read the whole psalm here.)

Sorry for no deep and reflective postings in a while. Haven't found / made much space in my life for that lately. Why do we make choices like that? I tend to treat journaling, prayer, reflection, as 'dessert,' to be postponed and used as a reward if I make it through the rest of what's on my plate.

Found myself mildly depressed this weekend and realized it was resentment about not having enough time for myself - and the old shame / guilt thing of not being "behind" on too many things, which primarily results from having too many things on my plate (and not following through on any of them adequately).

So, maybe the trick is to treat rest and reflection as essential, finishing my work as optional - 'dessert' if you will.
This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says:
"In repentance and rest is your salvation,
in quietness and trust is your strength,
but you would have none of it."

(Isaiah 30:15)

Tuesday, March 11, 2008


Here's my new afghan - made of wool hand spun, dyed, and woven by my very own mother!

Nice, huh? And very cosy.

Matches the living room perfectly, where it will decorate the back of the couch when not required to warm one of the residents while she reads the Sunday paper. Temps were in the 70s today but we're expecting several more snows this spring, so wool is still quite seasonable.

(Sadly, I'm having a hard time getting a decent picture of it. Is my camera bad, or is it just that I don't know how to use it well? On some settings the blues came out brighter and scarier than on the creatures below, which they are not...)

Monday, March 10, 2008

More Local "Fauna"

What's with the blue animals? This piece, about the same size, is perhaps more charming. It also has its share of detractors, though, apparently. (I might not want to have a desk by the window on this side of the building!)

This work is called "I See What You Mean" although it is of course more commonly known as "The Big Blue Bear." The artist is Lawrence Argent.

See more Denver public art here (a site which is also the source of this photo, which accompanied a press release).

Friday, March 07, 2008

New Public Art

Photo by Cyrus McCrimmon, Denver Post
The latest piece of public art at Denver's airport, installed about a month ago, is a 32-foot, bright-blue mustang rearing up on its hind legs above the rolling plains. You can see it from quite far away; its eyes are a glowing red.

This definitely sends a message. I am not sure what the message is... The flashing red eyes are a bit creepy, especially at night. The public response has been strong, and much of it critical.

I was not able to get close enough to take a photo but here's one from the web from when the work was being installed.

Well, it turns out there's quite a story behind "Mustang," the most interesting part of which is that the statue is guilty of manslaughter. (Patricide?) A large piece of it fell on the artist when he was working on it and killed him. (Read more.)

Here's a closeup. The artist, by the way, was a well-known New Mexican sculptor named Luis Jimenez.

Photo from

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Medical Myths?

"Some claim drinking eight glasses of water a day leads to good health, while reading in dim light damages eyesight. Others believe we only use 10% of our brains or that shaving legs causes hair to grow back thicker. But a review of evidence by US researchers surrounding seven commonly held beliefs suggests they are actually 'medical myths.'" (Click on title bar for the rest of this story from the BBC a few months ago.)

I don't know if it's my postmodern POV or my orneriness that likes to see Westerners discover they may not necessarily have a better lock-down on health and science than societies where people live more or less as their ancestors have for generations. We just have newer folk beliefs, spread by different means.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

A Series of Blind Dates

I’m a big fan of the short, short story. Often just one line long, but full of suggestion. Traveling as I’ve been doing means meeting lots of strangers and getting glimpses of their stories. Someone will agree to pick me up; someone will have me stay at their home; someone else will fetch me before class and take me to dinner. I don’t know any of these people in advance. It’s like what I imagine a series of blind dates would be like, only nicer.

Others will come up to me during whatever class I’m teaching to ask me a question, or tell me a few lines of their story. If there is more time, though, some will go on and on. I enjoy it. One woman told me about her granddaughter adopted from China who as a small child had looked at her mother searchingly and asked, “Mommy, when you were little, were you Chinese?” Another told me about her experiences in the Peace Corps in Malaysia some 30 years ago.

One woman told me all about her mother, a woman who knew how to do everything and was given to lavishly entertaining. Even a bowl of cereal at breakfast requires a full table setting, if you are married to a career-military officer, she told me. Her mother was a highly "prepared" person, and kept index cards listing what was on every shelf of the cupboards, even the refrigerator. When the Y2K scare came she had her garage lined with full kitchen cupboards. Other people were stocking up on water, which she did – but also made sure she had extra truffles in oil, and that she had plenty of cans of capers, under lock and key.

One day this capable woman was diagnosed with breast cancer. It took seven years to take her life. But that day her husband resigned from his job to be with his wife for the rest of her days. As he dedicated himself to her; she dedicated herself to him: specifically, somewhere along the line, she decided to teach him how to take care of himself to the standards to which she had accustomed him. Taught him how to wash and iron his clothes, how to keep house, how to cook. (Not just how to open a can, but how to make balanced, elegant meals; she was a gourmet.) He could do none of these things, before. When she was done teaching him, she died.

“It was four years ago. I miss her so much,” said her daughter. “When she had cancer, she never wanted people to know it. ‘Do I look sick?’ she’d ask, before going out anywhere. When I look at the pictures, though, I can still see the pain in her eyes. But she didn’t want to ever look sick.”

I also liked the story about (and seeing the picture of) her seven handsome uncles, all members of the Portuguese mafia (under cover of running a family catering business!)

Each evening this week when I was teaching I would share a few pieces of my own story. I told them about the time I sat down and wrote out my autobiography, looking for God’s fingerprints on my life. I asked them to give it a try themselves. “Take just a minute and think about two or three things God has done for you, and write them down. Think of something more specific than ‘He died for my sins’! You might think particularly about the things he did to free you up to be part of this class, provide the time and finances, and get you here. What is God doing for you through this experience, or in other areas of your life?”

Then I asked them to turn to someone next to them and share what they’d seen God do, and take a minute to pray and thank God for his work in the other person’s life. The last night I asked if anyone wanted to share with the whole group. “I was impressed how easy it was to relate, in some way – to find common ground,” said one. Perfect. I love to see that happen. And of course this is a setup for teaching history; I want them to relate to William Carey, Cameron Townsend, Maria Taylor, or Lottie Moon.

Often when a man approaches me in these contexts, he’s saved up something controversial and wants to hear what I have to say about it. So he brings up his topic or asks his questions, and we begin to spar. Sometimes this takes me by surprise; I have to switch gears, but I love it. We may get to “finding common ground” pretty quickly, but not without some friendly intellectual wrestling. When I’ve been relating to people in this way a lot I sometimes forget that it’s not always appropriate, especially in a conversation with a woman, especially if we’ve never met before.

I particularly enjoyed spending time with one man who took me to dinner and quizzed me about missiology, then told me about his life as a music teacher, about retirement, and how good it feels to play the trombone (so much more physical than pushing the keys on a clarinet), why he loves fly fishing (the aesthetics of casting, among other things), and his recent experiences visiting Turkey. He gave me a couple of restaurants to choose from; I chose The Olive Garden. “My wife will be jealous, we’re going to her favorite place!” he crowed. (I met her later, and she was!)

It never seemed to occur to him that I might be uncomfortable having dinner alone with a married man,* or that others might look askance; I didn't bring it up but just pretended he was my uncle or something. It was not hard to find the family resemblances. We both wanted pasta e fagioli, and bread sticks, and lots of cheese on our salad.

I was in a jovial mood when I got to class and told more jokes then I intended, cracking myself up: I may have squandered some of my dignity and weakened my teaching. But we had a good time.

Book report: Want to meet some appealing, interesting characters without even leaving your armchair? Let me recommend to readers a series of books I’ve been enjoying as I travel, the “Sunday Philosophy Club” series, by best-selling author Alexander McCall Smith.

* OK, I know, some of you find this sketchy. I don't make a habit of it. These people were taking care of me and it was the plan that they made. I =did= object when a Perspectives coordinator arranged for me to spend the night at a the home of a single man, recently divorced. She did not know him well and assumed his wife was still in the picture. It was a bit awkward. I asked her not to do that again.