Saturday, June 27, 2009

Slow Food Indy: Urban Gardening and Local Foods

Slow Food Indy is taking reservations for an urban-gardening seminar and a related lecture titled "Staying Home for Dinner: Ruminations on Local Food in a Cosmopolitan Society."

Both events, with professor Lisa Heldke of Gustavus Adolphus College, are scheduled for Monday, Sept. 28, at IUPUI. If previous Slow Food events are any indication, this will sell out quickly, so claim your spot now if you're interested.

Friday, June 26, 2009

IU Mini University, Day 6 (The End)

If you've been reading this blog for any length of time, you know I'm a certified Shakespeare junkie. So, naturally, I loved my final class this morning at Mini University: "Early Modern Racism in the Works of Shakespeare."

We looked specifically at Othello and The Merchant of Venice, exploring the source materials for the plays and the cultural influences of the time. We also had some spirited discussion about whether Shakespeare's portrayals of Shylock and Othello were racist (and how to fairly evaluate that question, 400 years later). I have some new things to consider: the sure sign of a worthwhile class.

After the final class, we all gathered for the graduation ceremony -- complete with diplomas and "Hail to Old IU." I'm feeling all tingly with school spirit, and I'm happy to report that I was not awarded the green beanie.

My final evaluation of IU Mini University: For $250, this program is a steal. In a week, I took fifteen classes on a huge variety of topics, from sustainability to sex to stars. The program was well organized and efficiently run, and the faculty were outstanding. I learned a lot. I have new things to think about.

At the beginning of the week, I saw the people who had been coming every year for 35 years and thought, "Well, that's a bit excessive." Now, I know exactly where I'll be in 34 years.

And now, back to our regularly scheduled learning.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

IU Mini University, Day 5

It's hard to believe this week is almost over: Time flies when you're having fun and learning great things.

I had two stand-out classes today. One was "Religion and Sex in America," taught by Sylvester Johnson. We looked at three different religious groups with very different views of sex: the Shakers (no sex at all), the Oneida community (sexual freedom outside the confines of marriage) and the Mormons (regulated sex within polygamous marriages).

All three of these groups came to prominence in the mid-1800s, and all three groups were vilified (and sometimes physically attacked) for their views. No matter what you do, it seems, there will always be people who attack you for going outside the parameters of sex within a one man-one woman marriage. And here we are, 150 years later, still fighting the same kind of battle.

Another great class today was "Star Cities of the Milky Way," taught by astronomer Catherine Pilachowski. Our focus was globular clusters -- giant balls containing hundreds of thousands of stars. There are about 200 of these clusters in the Milky Way galaxy.

Fun fact of the day: There are two types of globular clusters. The "blue" clusters are older and probably were formed at the same time as their galaxies. The "red" clusters, on the other hand, are younger and probably were formed during galaxy-merger events.

So, now what? I have a class tomorrow morning on anti-Semitism in the works of Shakespeare. Then, it's time for the graduation ceremony (where someone --hopefully not me -- will win the green beanie award for most-enthusiastic freshman).

In the meantime, I don't think I can leave Bloomington without ordering some Mad Mushroom cheesy bread. That sounds like a pretty nutritious dinner to me!

IU Mini University, Day 4

If you're looking for people with cool job titles, try Jillian Hinchliffe. The lucky lady works at the Lilly Library, where her enviable title is curator of puzzles. At this morning's Mini University session, she introduced us to the library's extensive puzzle collection, which contains everything from Rubik's cubes to interlocking magician rings.

After a brief overview of the collection, Hinchliffe narrowed her focus, discussing the use of puzzles as an advertising technique throughout history. We also looked at puzzles with political messages and wartime themes, then had time to play with a few puzzles. It was a fascinating session, but I think the most fascinating thing is that this person actually gets paid to play with puzzles and curate exhibits about brainteasers.

My next session of the day was a more serious topic: "The Impact of Race and Gender on News Coverage of Political Candidates," with journalism professor Lesa Hatley Major. No surprises here: Research shows that journalists inadvertently perpetuate race and gender stereotypes by covering stories and framing issues in certain ways. We had a pretty vigorous debate, especially about the coverage of Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign.

Next up was a session called "X Marks the Spot: The Archaeology of Piracy." This class focused on IU's recent excavation of Captain Kidd's pirate ship, discovered off the coast of the Dominican Republic. We learned about the captain (who wasn't actually a pirate at all, but who was convicted of piracy in a trumped-up trial). And, we learned about the researchers' efforts to turn the wreck into a conservation area and permanent dive site.

Today's sessions offered a good mix of the serious and the light-hearted, and I'm hoping for the same tomorrow. My schedule includes classes on old-world diseases in the new world, religion and sex in America, and "star cities" of the Milky Way.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

IU Mini University, Day 3

Let's start with a quote from T.H. White's The Once and Future King:

"The best thing for being sad," replied Merlin, beginning to puff and blow, "is to learn something. That's the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honor trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then -- to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the only thing for you. Look what a lot of things there are to learn."

One of my instructors shared that quote yesterday, and there certainly are "a lot of things" to learn here at Mini University.

I started the day with "Biological Indicators of our Future Condition on Earth," with professor Albert Ruesink. This was a fairly elementary introduction to the concept of sustainability, with a focus on population growth and food, water and energy supplies. If you've read Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma, you already know much of what we discussed today. Still, it was a good reminder that the choices we make -- individually and as a society -- have far-reaching consequences.

My next class was "The Literary Hoax," with professor Alyce Miller. She shared many examples of memoirs that were later revealed to be fiction -- James Frey's A Million Little Pieces, Forrest Carter's The Education of Little Tree and scores of fake Holocaust narratives (such as Fragments and Angel at the Fence).

The point of the class, however, was to consider this question: Where does an author cross the line and break faith with his or her readers? Does it still count as a "hoax" if the author tells the truth but embellishes some key details? What if the author "inhabits" the false persona as a kind of artistic expression? What if the author really comes to believe what he or she has written? What if an author writes a work of fiction, which the publisher then markets as memoir?

Those are difficult questions to answer, and the class didn't reach a consensus. It's always a pleasure to take a class that sparks thought and discussion in that way.

Now, if you've been paying attention, you know I had a third class on the schedule for this afternoon. Well, here's the confession: I played hooky. I needed a nap. I'm not proud of it, but there it is. Sometimes even the most dedicated students need a break.

But I promise to be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for tomorrow's classes: puzzles in American history, the impact of race and gender on political coverage, and the archaeology of piracy.

Monday, June 22, 2009

IU Mini University, Day 2

Mini University started bright and early this morning with a welcome session and continental breakfast. At the session, the director recognized a handful of participants who had attended for more than 30 years in a row. Yes, some of these people have been attending Mini University every year since before I was born.

On the opposite end of the spectrum are the freshmen like me (about 50 of the 505 participants). Our name tags are marked with green stars so that everyone knows to make us feel welcome. And we have an incentive to get to know people, too: At the graduation ceremony on Friday, one of us will win the coveted "green beanie" award, recognizing the most enthusiastic new participant.

This is, apparently, a very big deal. Campaigning has already begun, but I'm staying out of it.

After the welcome session, I headed to my first class: "How the Supreme Court Decides Cases ... and Why that Matters," with instructor Beth Cate. She discussed the different schools of thought on constitutional interpretation and walked through some key cases, then touched briefly on the upcoming confirmation hearings.

There were some great questions from the audience, as well: These people take their education vacation very seriously, as they should.

Next up, after lunch, was a session called "Famous and Imaginative Con Games by Spies, Crooks and Authors," with instructor Gene Coyle (who is apparently one of the more popular Mini University presenters). He essentially shared a greatest-hits collection of clever con games, ranging from ancient to modern times.

My favorite: The FBI set up a fake pawn shop and spread the word that the Gambino family was using it as a front to hire new thugs. Criminals came from across the nation to apply for the fake jobs, and they confessed to a wide range of crimes to prove they were tough enough for the jobs. And were promptly arrested, of course.

My final session of the day was "The Importance of Lifelong Learning for Adults," with presenter Frank DiSilvestro. The gist of the presentation: Lifelong learning leads to a healthier, happier, longer life. Well, you and I already knew that, didn't we?

Up tomorrow: sustainability, literary hoaxes and story-telling techniques.

Now, please excuse me while I go eat the fresh-baked cookies that Baked of Bloomington just delivered to my door.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

IU Mini University, Day 1

In the years since I graduated from IU-Bloomington, not much has changed. There's a new Honors College building across from the Indiana Memorial Union. And, there are a few new restaurants, shops and apartment buildings. But everything else looks pretty familiar, and being here feels like coming home.

So, I'm happy to be here for a week at IU Mini University -- a week-long "education vacation" sponsored each June by the alumni association and the continuing-studies department. (My husband might call it "Disney World for dorks.") I arrived this afternoon for registration and an orientation session, and classes get underway tomorrow morning.

As anticipated, I am the youngest participant by a full generation, if not two. The other participants probably suspect that I'm here to spend quality time with a grandparent. But I don't think it makes much difference, as I don't plan to take the classes about healthy aging or choosing the best hearing aid.

Several of the classes have limited enrollment, and slots are assigned on a lottery basis. So, I won't know my final schedule until tomorrow morning. On the preliminary schedule for tomorrow are classes on the Supreme Court's decision-making process, the importance of life-long learning for adults, and high-profile con games throughout history.

Check back each day this week for another update! Now, I'm off to dinner in Bloomington. Yum.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Greetings from Stratford, Part II

Stratford, Ontario, is my own personal miracle: a town full of people who not only appreciate Shakespeare but even depend on him for their way of life. On top of that, it's a haven for world-class independent restaurants and the epicenter of Canada's slow-food movement.

And, there are so many educational opportunities here: lectures on the plays, discussion groups, theater tours, acting classes and more. (Yesterday, I overheard a woman discussing her recent stage-fighting class. Now that sounds like fun!)

So, as promised, here's a quick photo tour of the city. First, here are the two largest of the four theaters. The Festival theater, at left, overlooks the River Avon (yes, really). The Avon theater is downtown.

Here are a few of the independent restaurants downtown. Both Tango and Bentley's have inns upstairs (which are both wonderful). Balzac's is the town's independent answer to Starbucks.

The city also has lots of green spaces, including a Shakespeare garden. On Saturdays, you can stop by Art in the Park (a mini Penrod) or head over to the year-round farmers' market, which is fully stocked with meats, cheeses, veggies, herbs and baked goods. Build your own picnic and head down to the water:

Intrigued? The festival runs each year from April to early November, so there's still time for a trip this year. Visit the festival Web site for more information, and shoot me an e-mail for tips about inns, restaurants and timing.

Classes This Week

Sad but true: Summer is always a quiet time for adult continuing-education classes. If you're desperately hunting for something to learn this week, here are a few options:
  • The IMCPL Glendale branch is offering a creative writing workshop, from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. Tuesday. The instructor is Susan Lawson, a published writer. Call (317) 275-4410 to register. (If you can't make it this week, the class repeats on July 21, Aug. 18 and Sept. 15.)
  • The Indianapolis Art Center is offering several workshops this coming weekend. Topics include interior design, pastel painting, metal patinas and steel fabrication sculpture.
  • The Holcomb Observatory at Butler University is open this weekend for public tours. Don't miss the planetarium show, which focuses on the planet Saturn.
  • Kiss Z Cook will offer classes this week on cooking with fruit (6:30 p.m., Wednesday) and grilling seafood favorites (2 p.m., Saturday).
  • At Frasier's Gourmet Foods, chef Brad Kline will teach a class on summer soups (6:30 p.m., Thursday).
  • Boca Loca Beads is offering a mini lampworking session (6 p.m., Wednesday). You'll learn about safety precautions and the basics of glass before making a few glass beads of your own.
  • The IUPUI Community Learning Network is offering its one-week Spanish Immersion Institute (level one) this week, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday.
Not bad for a quiet week, huh? I'm sure I've missed a few events, so feel free to send that information my way.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Greetings from Stratford, Ontario

Today's post comes to you from north of the border: I'm in Stratford, Ontario, for the annual Shakespeare Festival. Every time I come here, I'm reminded how incredible it is to visit a town that lives and breathes Shakespeare (and has a world-class culinary tradition, to boot).

Check back over the next few days for updates and photos of some of my favorite Stratford sites. (I know, this blog is supposed to be about Indianapolis. I'm cheating. Stratford is a quick seven-hour drive north--easy to accomplish in a long weekend--and there's really no other place on earth like this one.)

As a quick overview, here's my theater schedule for the weekend:

Friday, 8 p.m.: The Importance of Being Earnest
Saturday, 9 a.m.: Backstage tour
Saturday, 2 p.m.: Macbeth
Saturday, 8 p.m.: Julius Caesar (Wow, Saturday is going to be intense.)
Sunday, 2 p.m.: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

And, just for fun, let's conclude with my favorite quote from my favorite Shakespeare play (King Lear):

O reason not the need! Our basest beggars
Are in the poorest thing superfluous.

Allow not nature more than nature needs,

Man's life is cheap as beast's.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Topic Overview: Brushing Up on Language Skills

On my recent jaunt through Egypt, I survived with an Arabic phrase book and a two-word vocabulary (the words for "no" and "thank you"). But to really experience a place and interact with the people, it's nice to be able to carry on a basic conversation in the native language.

If you need to brush up on your own language skills--to prepare for a trip or just for fun--you have a few options.

One of the most convenient options is the IUPUI Community Learning Network. Its broad range of classes includes Spanish (at several levels), French, Italian, Russian, German, Japanese, Chinese and Arabic.

Another option is the Indy Foreign Language Academy, which offers all of the above, plus American Sign Language and Portuguese. You can opt for group classes, private instruction or immersion programs. And, if you want to learn a more obscure language (like Finnish or Ukranian), they'll arrange a tutor for you.

If you want to brush up on your Spanish, you have a few extra options. The J. Everett Light Career Center has several levels of Spanish classes for adults, as does Lawrence Township Community Education.

But, if you can't find time to take a class, here's the back-up plan: Download a language tutorial to your iPod, and pick up a few basics during your flight. I like the Living Language In Flight series, available for download on iTunes.

One option I haven't tried--primarily because of its hefty price tag--is the Rosetta Stone series. If you've tried one of these programs, let us know whether you think it was worth the price.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Upcoming Class: Welding for Women

This summer, Boca Loca Beads is christening its new welding studio with a host of classes. Among them is a three-day workshop called "Welding 4 Women," taught by artist and welder Bonnie Ramirez.

Designed "for women who want to melt metal," the class will start with an overview of equipment function and safety requirements. Then, students will learn how to cut, melt, bend and twist metal into small sculptures. Whether you want to be a metal artist or just relieve some stress, it sounds like fun!

Boca Loca is offering two options for the class: June 12-14 or July 31-Aug. 2 (Friday evening and all day Saturday and Sunday). Cost is $250 and includes all materials.