What I Learned from a Produce Stand

Brian picSummer is the time for fresh fruits and vegetables. Officemate Anne Stahl brought in a gift of heirloom tomatoes from her garden. It doesn’t get any easier than that. A number of those tomatoes went directly into sandwiches, mostly along with some avocado and a slice of candy onion (much sweeter than Vidalia). I had never heard of a candy onion until one day at the roadside produce stand on Lafayette Road in Hopkinsville, still well within a heavily traveled part of town. In fact, it’s across from the mom and pop pharmacy I use, and also along the way to work on days when driving a two-lane road sounds fun.

What I’m trying to say is that the produce stand is right there. Just pull over into the gravel and step up to a colorful display of summer’s favorites, one of them being peaches. The place is open six days a week, meaning that there is no need to get up early on market days downtown, or at the mall parking lot. Somehow the oomph on market days seldom happens.produce

Peaches were my mother-in-law’s favorite fruit, and she was a peach herself. This summer, we’ve had peaches out on the counter a lot more often, as well as squash in the pot, and okra for my wife (not me on the okra thank you, but I do like it in soups and chowders). Peaches sliced on cereal are incredible, as well as in a bowl with bits of pie crust baked and stored for the occasion. Pour on some half and half, and the worst problems can disappear for at least fifteen minutes.

What I’m getting at though is that appetite alone remains in the mind unless action is taken, and action isn’t taken if access isn’t easy enough. That sounds lazy. However, isn’t the average person lazy about something? I suggest that we all have a few things that we like, but not well enough to make much of an effort for until accessibility gets so ridiculously simple that any self-respecting person would say, “It’s right here. I can at least stop for five minutes and do this.”

peachesThis experience got me to thinking about education. Not everybody hunts down education and takes advantage of it no matter what. Even with all the recruiting and ads for education, prospective students can think, “That would be good,” but not go after it. But what if education landed right in a person’s path, and ignoring it became embarrassingly ridiculous. Ideally, it should be embarrassingly ridiculous not to read, learn, and think. Practically speaking, such are more of an acquired taste.

That is why we bait people—to entice them by making access easy. Then with a good experience or two, inertia decreases, or at least that’s the idea. Desire has to form. Bait has to do its job and stir a reaction to try a thing. Momentum can then build and escalate. We weren’t born doing much of anything except being held, feeding, and sleeping. Everything after that came from adults putting things in our way, or along our way, to stimulate all those things that are good and proper for maturing into reasonable and satisfactory human beings—who eat their fruits and vegetables among other things.takeabite


Ending on an Up Note: “Bueller…Bueller”

Ferris-Bueller-300x168“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

—Ferris Bueller. (Can you believe that this week marks the 30th anniversary of the movie?)

My Good Luck

ReadingthuRsday-R2I consider myself very lucky because I am often surrounded by folks who are readers. Over the years, close friends and relatives have shared books, borrowed books, and made book recommendations. My friend, Ann, kept me in a steady supply of books for years. In true friendship, when I moved a distance away, she would ship boxes of books to me with a note inside that simply read “Distractions.” Those boxes of books helped me through many long days and nights while I tried to balance being a professor and a single parent. Trips to a bigger city library in Albany, Georgia with my friend Lisa and her daughter, Miriam, helped my daughter Ali and myself adjust to living in our new small town. We would come home with a car full of books after we spent many hours looking at books and talking about books. The memory of two little blond girls with their heads in books is still vivid in my mind. Books continue to be a part of conversations with friends, such as a talk I recently had with my friend Jan. She started off our talk with “What good books have you read lately?”box of books

Of all my friends who love books, I have to single out my friend Deb. I encourage everyone to read her blog, bookconscious.com. Deb has forgotten more about books than I will ever know. She is a librarian and reviewer of books. In a recent posting, Deb lamented how her current life situations have prevented her from finishing books, and how at last she has given herself permission to not finish every book she touches (On not finishing books by Deb Baker). So, now I am also lucky to know someone who loves reading but who also understands the struggle to want to read it all but knows she just cannot do so. I have left a few books unfinished, so I know how difficult it is to either give up on a book or to just let it go.

readersI have recently moved to the town of my childhood and to a new job. My first order of business in my relocation was to get my library card. Going to the Public County Library helped me feel comfortable and connected. My new job helped me widen my circle of friends who are book lovers, and gave us a place to begin our conversations and acquaintance. Brief book discussions with Ann, Karen, Ken, Brian, and Chris eased me into a new workplace because we had the love of reading as a starting point. I consider myself lucky to have a job where my main concern is to encourage students to read. At our community college we will soon begin our Common Read project and our Three Book Challenge project. My luck continues because I had to read books and book reviews to make this year’s selections. My encounters with so many readers and their books over the years play in the back of my mind as I try to find just ‘the right book at the right time” for our students. I hope we are all lucky enough to be surrounded by readers.

I Mean This Most Kindly…


The title phrase, borrowed from a dear British friend, has become a signal at our house that you should prepare to hear a hard truth. No one likes to be corrected, especially when our transgression results from ignorance. My 82-year-old mother still smarts at the memory of a respected teacher’s lesson in the difference between “pitcher,” a common Appalachian mispronunciation, and “picture.” I cringe when I recall a college roommate telling me that her mother was scandalized by my using a fork to stab my green beans rather than to scoop them up. It’s no fun at all to be called out for our misdeeds.

Which brings us back to our Tuesday topic: soft skills. Our college is making an effort to help our students improve the skills that will make them better employees and more successful citizens. We’ve had no trouble identifying areas that could use some serious improvements. The tricky part is knowing how to fix what so desperately needs fixing without alienating our audience. A recent inadvertent observation of a colleague’s advising session provides a good example.stop

The advisee arrived for her session with red flags a-flying. She had claimed that she’d been trying to reach her advisor, despite no evidence in phone or email records that this was so. She arrived very late, calling well after the scheduled hour to beg the advisor to wait for her. When the session finally began, she didn’t make eye contact or contribute to the conversation. She frequently monitored the continual buzzing of the cell phone in her lap.

Advisor (pointing to MAP template): “Now you need to look with me at this section right here. These are the developmental classes that you need to take to get you ready for college-level work.”

Student makes no response and continues to monitor cell phone.

Advisor: “You might need to turn your phone off until we finish this. This plan is really important for you to understand as you choose classes.”

Student nods, but phone continues frequent buzzing as student continues diligently monitoring.

Advisor: “You need to realize that if you are trying to get a job and talking to a prospective employer, you can’t be fiddling with that phone. You won’t get the job.”

Student finally puts phone away and participates in advising process.

respectNote the progression: First gentle redirection, then explicit suggestion, and finally firm instruction with clear connection to future employability.

Well done.

The soft skills initiative is enjoying acceptance, but we as faculty welcome concrete and realistic suggestions about how to move students toward attaining better skills.

Commuter Choices

Brian picPerhaps you are a commuter, which in Western Kentucky doesn’t mean the train or subway, but the basic staple of the highway—your car. It’s you and your car. So what do you do? If you drive a sporty car, there is the feel of the wondrous machine, its sound, the feel of shifting; and the sensation of the car, the curves, and you. A friend of mine, a senior citizen who owns a small business selling preowned cars, came across a convertible at auction, and he and his wife enjoy driving it themselves while it awaits a buyer.carcouple

For others, commuting is less sensational. I’ve long preferred silence to sound, and thus rarely touch the radio button. Even a dull highway can have the joy of simply enjoying the absence of sound. If you half way enjoy your own thoughts, a little solitude can be a relief. Another friend commented the other day about modern times that, “Too many people have to be entertained all of the time.”

This is not to disparage music, or talk radio, or other media. So much could be said about music that I won’t say anything. Others might choose to catch up on news, or listen to opinion shows, and those with tips on … well, things that aficionados give tips on.

bertieRecently, a high school classmate loaned me an MP3 with stories by P.G. Wodehouse, 20th century British humorist whose stories feature a somewhat inept but lovable gentleman and his ingenious valet, Jeeves. The MP3 works in the car’s CD player, making the stories literary, culturally interesting, and highly entertaining these days.

Since To Kill a Mockingbird is on the docket at the college and in the community, I checked out prices for a used, audio edition. It’s affordable, but not exactly cheap, starting at just under $25, so I emailed Bonnie Matherly at our library for an interlibrary loan, but she was glad to say that our library has it. Two trips to Nashville with my wife have knocked out a third of it already, and I had forgotten how wonderful it is to be read to.

Last, a diversionary route to work in a rural area can bring the delight of pastures, animals, crops, implements, Amish, and other entities that city folks may have seen more often in books and magazines than by firsthand observation. If you head out for a two lane drive to work, try to avoid getting behind the garbage truck in a school zone. Other than that, you should be fine.buggy

If you hardly have a commute, all of this probably makes you wish for a job in which you could have a commute. However, if it is a good job, hold on to it and take a few joy rides for pleasure. See you out on the road (if I’m watching it).

Intrepid Women Travelers

ReadingthuRsday-R2My daughter gave me Book Lust: Recommended Reading for Every Moon, Moment, and Reason by Nancy Pearl as part of my Christmas last year. I love it. I love reading about books as much as I love reading books. Every now and then, I just open it up, and look at the various topics discussed and books suggested for each topic.book_lust

Last week, my topic was Lady Travelers. According to Pearl, the Victorian era was a “prime time for intrepid women travelers.” Two books Pearl recommends as overviews are Victorian Lady Travellers (Dorothy Middleton) that cover well-known travelers (but not to me) and lesser known travelers, and Unsuitable for Ladies: An Anthology of Women Travellers (Jane Robinson) which includes writings from women during various time periods and “their great and mundane experiences far from home.” Pearl then goes on to list various women travelers such as Mary Kingley, Caroline Alexander, and Freya Stark. Emily Hahn, Ella Maillart, Rebecca West, and Martha Gellhorn are examples of twentieth-century women travelers.8b6f9d95f34965731da557da96f4b999

Reading about these Victorian and twentieth-century travelers made me wonder about more recent memoirs of travel written by women. My current knowledge of this type of writing is slim, because while I love to travel, I have not read very much about other folks’ adventures. I keep telling myself I will read Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed, but I just haven’t picked it up yet although my daughter gives it a high recommendation. However, after looking through the offerings at Amazon and their varied memoirs in both traditional editions and kindle editions, I realize a lot of folks are writing about their travels, and some folks must be reading about them. I chose just a few to explore further and read their descriptions.

The books I chose were written by women and for lack of a better system, I chose books with titles I liked. In each case, the traveler learns about herself as much as she learns about the world in which she is moving from point A to point B. Some more current choices in the genre are:

  • What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding: A Memoir by Kristin Newman
  • Without Reservations: The Travels of an Independent Woman by Alice Steinbach
  • If Your Dream Doesn’t Scare You, It Isn’t Big Enough: A Solo Journey Around the World by Kristine K. Stevens
  • Life is a Trip by Judith Fein, Have Mother, Will Travel, A Mother and Daughter Discover Themselves, Each Other and the World by Claire and Mia Fontaine
  • How Not to Travel the World: Adventures of a Disaster-Prone Backpacker by Lauren Juliff.

So, now I have a major decision to make. Do I get lured into this genre? I realize reading travel memoirs will take me out of my comfort zone, and I like the coziness of curling up with those mysteries. However, I think I will take the plunge the next time I am at the library, and choose to go along with a woman traveler.

Note: The titles of the two Victorian anthologies spell the word “traveller” with two “l’s”. I assume it is a British spelling.