By request. (AJP, Sig, and Trond)

Out of all the things anyone would want to see in Chicago, why storage?  Okay, this is my storage at my old apartment building that I get in exchange for mowing the lawn.

Lawnmower next to door. Note padlock. This used to be a coal chute.
I hope you are satisfied.
This is the real reason for going. My Jordanian mint.
Once a week when I mow the lawn I also grab seven sprigs of mint and take them back to my new apartment. They go in a vase by the window for my tea. When they are gone, it’s time to mow again. The small leaf blades aren’t grass, they’re fresh garlic.

Norwegian American Press

More photos from My Summer Vacation…

My great grandfather signed his name with a X. For a while the family puzzled over the old documents, thinking he must have been illiterate.  But no, someone else remembered he always read the Swedish paper that he got from Minneapolis–there were several–so now the mystery is only deeper.

There were several Norwegian-language papers as well.  Here is what they were printed with and what they looked like, the equipment being part of a display in the basement of Vesterheim museum in Decorah, Iowa.

The explanatory sign:
1 Norwegian Press sign

Linotype (?) machine:
2 linotype

Explanatory sign for hand printing press:
3 hand printing press sign

Hand Printing Press:

4 press

The newspapers:
5 papers
6 Decorah papers

7 Norwegian newspapers

Lord, Enrich Me

koran lord enrich me with knowledge1-300Eid is over, time to replace the Ed Mubarak widget.  The new one says “rabbi zidni illma” or “Lord enrich me with knowledge.” It’s from Koran 20:114

فَتَعَٰلَى ٱللَّهُ ٱلْمَلِكُ ٱلْحَقُّ ۗ وَلَا تَعْجَلْ بِٱلْقُرْءَانِ مِن قَبْلِ أَن يُقْضَىٰٓ إِلَيْكَ وَحْيُهُۥ ۖ وَقُل رَّبِّ زِدْنِى عِلْمًۭا ﴿٤١١﴾

I love to read those internet discussions about Islam.  This one is from a Pakistani forum where someone asks:

I want to learn any kalmaat 1) to recite before starting to study so that my mind won’t get distract ( i’m sick of it) _ 2) or to help in memorizing ,heard of such things but don’t know any , hoping anyone of u would help. one famous one I know is “Rabbi zidni illmaa”.

Kalimah in the Koran is usually translated as “word”; Kalimaat is the plural.

Here are some suggestions from the forum:

Dua While Studying Something Difficult

“Allahumma la sahla illama ja-‘altahu sahla anta taj ‘alu al hazana eza ma shi’ta sahal”

“Oh Allah! Nothing is easy except what you have made easy. If you wish, you can make the difficult easy”

which I also found here, along with more duas for studying.


Some of My Favorite and they work like missile

1. Ya alliem—— For Study
2. Ya latifon—–For every thing

Please recite them numberless with your breath in and breath out

How mysterious that they “work like missile”.  But participants’ requests for more information did not produce further explanation.  Googling Ya alliem yields a redirect to “al-‘Alim (‘a-leem) the All-Knowing”, the second of the 99 names of Allah. Ya latifon redirects to Ya Latif! O Gently Kind! Another of the ninety-nine names.

Another of the forum members adds:

ya haseebo is great for studies too… especially exams

Al-Haseebo is another of the names of God meaning “The Reckoner” and having to do with accounting.

From this description of a recitation for curing jaundice, we learn the system of using the names:

The way to recite:
Allahumma Ya-Haseebo, Ya-Haseebo, Ya-Haseebo …….
In the next breath you will again say Allahumma Ya-Haseebo …….. like that to
complete 300 times.

I should be taking notes here, since I don’t have health insurance.

The ninety-nine names of God seem to be quite popular, here is a list.

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Eid Chicago-style: prayers and guns

There are two “eids” or festivals in the Moslem religious calendar: the “big eid“, a feast for those who are returning from the Haj, or pilgrimage to Mecca, and the small eid, the three day feast that follows the fasting month of Ramadan. Today is the first day of the post-Ramadan feast.

A few years ago prayers were held in the mosque, with overflow, mostly for the women, in adjoining buildings where the prayers could be seen on large TV screens.  For the last few years the prayer has been at a local soccer stadium.

eid parking lot

The men are in the front, the women in back.  An empty twenty-foot strip of grass separates them.

eid crowd in soccer stadium

The governor even showed up and gave a talk. For more mainstream-type photos, see the Chicago Tribune‘s coverage of the event.

For my view, keep going.

The traffic was worse than rush hour, and crowd control was provided by the police department and by the soccer stadium staff, who referred to the women’s entrance as “entrance for women”, not the “entrance for sisters”, as the mosque staff do.

eid traffic

Here is a typical sight in this neighborhood–women with scarves driving land rover type vehicles, here seen in the rear view mirror.

eid rear view mirror

Then on to the mosque parking lot, where there are events for children, mostly moon walks and toys for sale. Small boys with toy pistols run through the crowd shooting at various people.  “We’re out of bullets,” says one.

eid mosque

I am reminded of the year I was in Jerusalem during eid.  Small boys ran though the ancient streets shooting at each other with toy machine guns. Not an impromptu activity.  I once saw an organized school program in which girls did folk dances and little boys, five years old at the most, marched around the stage with plywood machine guns. What a childhood. And how lucky I am to be born in a country where children can be children instead of being expected to go to war.

But what’s this? The guns are toys, I think, but it looks to me like the little Moslem boys are being taught warfare.

eid gun1

eid gun2

eid gun3

eid gun4

eid gun5

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Eid Mubarak

eid mubarak2

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An Old Hack

australian akubra hatCanehan, a sometime commenter at Languagehat, has started his own blog, An Old Hack. This is going to be great.  Not only did Calahan once live in my home-away-from-home, Amman Jordan, but he also had my secret dream job–he was a reporter for a major news service.

What exactly is an Old Hack?  Says Canehan, it’s a self-depreciating British journalists’ term for a grizzled old veteran who can do the job and has no illusions about being a star. It’s a term that’s not age-related, but just means veteran or experienced.  I would love to be an “Old Hack”–it sounds so worldly and jaded and Guy Noir-ish–more serious and atmospheric than the Lois Lane kind of thing, but Canehan says it’s a term that’s only used for guys.

What’s a “Canehan” and how do you pronounce it? He explains that all here.

And the hat?–it’s an Akubra, the signature hat from Canehan’s native Australia.

Some people learn once when they are young and in school and then stop learning.  For me, learning has been a lifelong adventure and has often taken place in non-traditional ways or outside of academia.  My discovery of writing came late; I owe it to an editor who encouraged me by introducing me as “a journalist” before I even had my first piece published.  I can’t begin to tell what a thrill it was the first time I saw my name in a byline.  It’s a greater pleasure than even chocolate, and I do take my chocolate seriously!

So I will be very eager to see what Canehan has to say about the Middle East…and about writing.

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There are those who say Americans don’t know how to garden. Not true, although the climate here is not as temperate or favorable to some plants as countries that enjoy the warming influence of the other side of the Gulf Stream, and the typical American neighborhood doesn’t look as landscaped as European ones. Someone once remarked that Europe looked “finished”. American is far from being finished and someone with the itch to play with landscaping materials will find plenty to do.

Here is this week’s gardening activity. It started with a problem area, the north side of an entrance.


front garden before

Turning the soil proved harder than it looked.  It was one huge mass of intertwined roots, with a couple of eight or ten inch concrete blocks buried a few inches down, maybe part of an old porch support.

The next problem was where to obtain free plants.  Hostas start at seven bucks for the ordinary kind and go up from there.  It’s not my property and I don’t have a budget to work with, so I’ll have to be creative. Time to start another project.

Here is the back yard of where I used to live, that I still take care of in exchange for storage.  Looks a bit overgrown.  Maybe time to trim things and divide a few plants. Before I started in on this area, maybe three years ago, it was a poorly growing lawn.  I added a border with plants that I either bought or were gifts from my mother’s yard, and rejuvenated the lawn.


back yard before

After it’s been cleaned, I have an entire trash bag full of hosta, iris, daylily, and ornamental basil left over.


back yard after

I water it thoroughly, edge the bricks with a spade, and throw some Miracle-Gro foliar feeder on it for good measure.

Then it’s back across the street to install the plant divisions in the problem area, with a little peat moss mixed into the soil under each plant.


front garden after

In the front, a row of shade-loving hosta, the ordinary kind with white on the outer leaves. These grow rapidly and there are always enough to divide–in a year one plant will yield two more plants.  In the middle, a blue leaved hosta and a yellow leaved hosta, interspersed with impatients.  The yellow ones looks identical to green hostas until you put them in the sun, then they turn yellow.  Impatients grow well here, in either sun or shade, although they do a little better in the sun.  In the back are irises and a jade plant, both survive in shade. The soil here is sandy–this was once the bottom of a prehistoric Lake Michigan that was much larger–and the soil drains quickly.  Ideally the soil should have four inches of peat moss dug into it, or even compost, but again, I don’t have a budget for this project.  Instead I had a little Miracle-Gro infused peat moss left over from some other project and mixed it with the soil under each plant. Hopefully that will help it retain moisture around the root.

The real purpose of a garden like this is to get perennials established so you don’t have to plant annuals every year.  Realistically, gardeners die or move away, but a good established perennial bed will look good even without care.  Even though it’s the skeleton of perennials that make the garden, it’s the flowers that people notice and comment on.  I find if I include some showy flowers, nobody has much comment about the rest of what I do and I am allowed to proceed without impedance.

front garden longshot

It’s still a little straggly right now, but in time everything should fill in nicely until it looks something like this, but without the rampaging morning glory (yes, this was a mass of weeds before I took over):

front garden comparison

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Critter of the week

This has been a dry week, but at least the stifling hot and humid weather that is so typically Chicago has abated. Also I live in a micro-climate that is close enough to Lake Michigan to get some sort of breeze.  If you go a few blocks south and cross the railroad bridge, you don’t feel the lake effect any more. (This is the same “lake effect” that dumps tons of snow across the expressways in Indiana and closes the roads every winter.) So this week would have been a good week for gardening if school hadn’t started. Still I was able to get in a couple of walks and mow the lawn across the street at my old apartment building. So here is my haul for the week:

Cricket. These are singing at night now.


Morning glories. Variety: self-seeding Grandpa Ott

morning glories in gas line

As you can see, they’re pretty much out of control and covering up the hostas.  The “red basil” with the purple leaves is not at it’s most attractive phase right now–it’s going to seed, and I let it–this comes up true to variety every year.

More morning glories seeded themselves around the clothes line pole. In the background you can see a snake skin on the grass before I mowed.

morning glory on clothes line pole

The snake skin close up. The snake itself hasn’t been seen since this post in June.


But the brightest spot in the whole day was the discovery of mutant Creeping Jenny on the neighbors fence across the alley.

For seven years  I have battled a plant that on the farm we used to call Creeping Jenny. It has a tiny, white morning glory-like flower, but the leaves are longer.  Every year it keeps coming in from the yards of neighbors who are less fastidious about weeds.  Creeping Jenny is hard enough to eradicate from one yard–like the morning glory, it’s an annual that keeps reseeding itself–but when it’s in neighboring yards, or on the farm if it’s in the fields, it’s nearly impossible to root out.

Now it seems I have accidentally hit on genetic warfare.  This neighbor’s Creeping Jenny no longer has the small white flowers and tiny elongated leaves.   It has cross-pollinated with my purple morning glories and mutated.  Mwa-ha-ha-ha.

creeping jenny on fence

Hmmm.  One word.  Seeds.

We’ll have to see what comes up next year in that spot, Creeping Jenny, thistles, and pigweed, or ….something else.

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Recipe: Plantains

plantainThe Spanish translation of the following recipe (in parentheses) was provided by students from Mexico, Guatemala, and Puerto Rico.

Plantains (platanos) from Guatemala

[feeds a class of 10]


5 ripe yellow plantains (platanos maduras amarillos)

½ c. sugar or Splenda [sugar substitute] (media taza azucar)

1 stick cinnamon (raja de canela)

water to cover ( agua para cubrir)


Cut plantains in circles about one inch or less (cortar en circulos ≈ 2 cm.)

Put plantains in a pot (poner en la olla)

Cover with water (cubrir con agua)

Break cinnamon in pieces and add to pot (despedasar la canela y añadir a la olla)

Add sugar (añadir el azucar)

Bring to a boil (llevarlo a hervir)

Boil 25 minutes until soft (hervir 25 minutos hasta esté suave)

Serve for breakfast (servirlo para desayuno)


#1 Fry yellow plantains in oil-about 5 minutes until gold, then turn and fry the other side (freir plantano en aceite para 5 minuntos hasta que esté dorado, voltear y dorar el otro lado.)

Serve with eggs scrambled or over easy and fried black beans (servir con huevos revueltos o estrellados, frijoles-frijoles negros)

Sour cream over plantain or on the side (creme agria sobre platanos o en el lado)

#2 “Platanina”

Cut green plantains lengthwise and fry in oil (cortar los platanos verdes a lo largo, freir en aceite)

#3 Mash plantains and form into a ball, poke a hole in the ball and fill with mashed, boiled black beans or manjar de leche [a type of flan, milk boiled with sugar to make custard], fry the balls in oil until gold (machacar los platanos y formar en bolas/bolitas, hacerle un hoyo en medio de bola y meter [much laughter at this verb, followed by discussion, then more or less consensus that the verb was used correctly and not crudely in this instance] con el frijol, freir las botas en aceite, hacer dorado)

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Reading Talmud

Daf yomi is a world wide systematic reading of the Talmud, a page a day, which can be completed in a seven year cycle.  The end of the reading cycle is celebrated public ceremonies called Siyum HaShas. Unfortunately the Daf yomi program looks pretty formidable, like one would need a lot of prior knowledge to navigate the readings. Not for me, at least not yet.

I would love to study another language; Hebrew would help me with my Arabic, and might provide me with interesting insights about the Old Testament portion of my own religious tradition as well.  On my latest summer vacation trip, I couldn’t resist a copy of Learn to Write the Hebrew Script–it looks like such fun, but when will I have time to read it?

I’m currently back to reading Joyce’s Ulysses; after a rocky start and some diversions–the writing style initially appeared incoherent and requires a whole different system of reading–it suddenly started to unfold like a film with a voiceover narrative, and I’m well into the second chapter.

After that maybe Markham’s West with the Night,  a copy having been bequeathed to me by an old friend on my summer peregrinations. Said Ernest Hemingway (according to the back of the cover),

I knew her fairly well in Africa and never would have suspected that she could and would put pen to paper except to write in her flyer’s log book.  As it is, she has written so well, and marvelously well, that I was completely ashamed of myself as a writer.  I felt that I was simply a carpenter with words, picking up whatever was furnished on the job and nailing them together and sometimes making an okay pig pen.  But [she ] can write rings around all of us who consider ourselves as writers. The only parts of it that I know about personally, on account of having been there at the time and heard the other people’s stories, are absolutely true…. I wish you would get it and read it because it is really a bloody wonderful book.

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