Saturday, November 28, 2015


One of Kansas City's biggest claims to fame is the National World War I Museum and Memorial, which Congress designated America's official World War I Museum in 2004.
The story is that in a fit of post-war patriotism, Kansas City residents raised $2 million for a war memorial in less than two weeks, an astonishing sum in those days. When construction was completed in 1926, the museum was dedicated by President Calvin Coolidge. All five Allied Forces generals attended the dedication.

The memorial is built in the Egyptian Revival style and is marked by a massive obelisk called the Liberty Memorial Tower. It soars 268 feet and has an observation deck on the top. The current museum, which was added later, is partially underground and is accessed by large doors below the tower.
View from behind
The inscription on the base of the Tower, seen below, reads, "In honor of those who served in the World War in defense of liberty and our country."

Wednesday, November 25, 2015


For the past four years I've joined a valiant force of high school AP English teachers and other college writing teachers like myself to score the infamous AP English Language and Composition tests. I've written about it on my personal family blog in past years, but there is enough travel and tourism involved that I think it is worth a mention here. Rather than reinvent the wheel--or rewrite the post--I am going to borrow some of what I have already written from my previous posts on my other blog.

For my first three years the reading took place in Louisville, Kentucky, a city I hadn't been to previous to my AP experience. This year the English Lang & Comp scoring was moved to Kansas City, Missouri, another new city for me. I had gotten pretty comfortable in Louisville and felt like I'd seen what I wanted to see there, so I was really excited about the move. Incorporated in 1853, Kansas City now has a population of about 470,000. While that is about two-thirds the population of Louisville, I figured there would still be plenty to see and do during our free time in the evenings.

A little bit of background on the AP Reading here would probably be helpful. Friends and family look pretty skeptical when I tell them that I really enjoy the AP scoring work. Honestly, it's rather hard to believe it myself. After all, I am the Queen of Grading Avoidance when it comes to my own students' papers, but there are many things that are wonderfully rewarding about the AP scoring experience.

First, the AP Reading gives me a family of about 2,000 other English teachers for the eight days we are together. (Yes, EIGHT CONSECUTIVE DAYS of reading essays from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM.) We trade quips and tips about our teaching experiences, and during those eight days I feel the camaraderie that is sadly lacking for adjunct professors at community colleges. 

Second, I am amazed by attitude of these teachers. Everyone arrives on time in the morning. We work hard, focusing on the work in front of us. There is no goofing off during our work sessions--no whispering, no texting, no photography, and absolutely no use of any form of social media in the scoring rooms. Okay, so there might be an occasional person staring blankly into space for short periods of time (Who, me?), but for the most part the work ethic is pretty incredible, which I think says a lot about America's teachers, and I love being part of that. (Our table leaders do supply us with copious amounts of chocolate and other treats. Any person who has graded stacks of papers knows that constant munching is the key to focus.)

Third, the College Board (the nonprofit corporation that runs the AP system, the SAT/PSAT tests, etc.)  treats the readers very well. It pays all our travel costs and gives us a pretty good stipend. There are so many of us that we take up two hotels. This year we were split between the Westin and Sheraton, both first-class places.

Thursday, November 19, 2015


After spending a few hours on top of one of Amman's seven hills at the Citadel, we drove into the valley and got an up-close look at the spectacular 2nd century AD amphitheater that we had seen from above.  It seats 6,000 and is thoughtfully oriented towards the north to provide minimum sun exposure for patrons:
We had noticed the green, plastic-looking dome of this mosque from the Citadel. We wish we could have gotten closer:
With a population of four million, and with the basic layout of the city centuries old, traffic in Amman is just what you would expect: horrible.
Amman is considered one of the most liberal and westernized cities in the Middle East, and we saw evidence of that, along with some things we would never see in the West, such as the raw meat hanging up in the butcher shop window:

Tuesday, November 10, 2015


Citadel: a fortress that provides security and protection for a city.

One of Amman's oldest sites is its citadel at the top of the highest hill in the center of the city of Amman, the capital of Jordan.
The citadel is part of some interesting geology that reminded me a lot of an old-fashioned lemon juicer:
The citadel is on top of the center peak. At its base is a narrow valley, and on the other side of the valley are a series of additional steep hills on which the city is built.That means that the 360 degree view from the top of the citadel is of hills that are almost as steep and high as the citadel itself.
In nearly every direction we could see these unimaginative, desert-colored, matchbox-style buildings:
How can a place with so much natural beauty build such ugly neighborhoods?

On a distant hillside we could see the Raghadan Flagpole, which is planted at the compound used as the royal residence by King Abdullah I and King Hussein, although not by the current king. At 416 feet tall, it was the tallest free-standing flagpole in the world when it was erected in 2003. The flag is 200 x 100 feet, or about two-thirds the size of a football field. These days the Raghadan Flagpole is only the 7th tallest flagpole in the world, far behind Saudi Arabia's 558-foot-tall flagpole in Jeddah.

Friday, November 6, 2015


Just the name Petra alone evokes magic, like Xanadu, Shangri-La, or Timbuktu. It's the boutonniere of the Middle East, a shimmering, illusory place, carved out of salmon-colored mountains. 
                                                                      ~Bruce Feiler, Walking the Bible

It's hard to talk about Petra, Jordan's most visited tourist attraction, without indulging in an over-abundance of adjectives and figurative language. It is, quite simply, indescribable, but it is so compelling that we visitors all try to convey our awe anyway.

It starts out like most tourist spots in the area, with the customary gauntlet of tourist shops, but even here the mysterious calm of the place permeates, and no shopkeepers jump out of the recesses to hawk their wares.
It's too bad that our time was so limited. I would have enjoyed a little shopping without someone in my face the whole time.
Our hike into the canyon began with interesting but not unusual scenery that included a shepherd and his grazing sheep:
We could see gaping maws carved into the rock, orifices evoking silent screams, but then we noticed that some of them were rimmed by intricate carving, as the one in the center of the photo below:
Petra was created and inhabited by the Nabateans, a wandering Arabic tribe, beginning as early as the 5th century BC. They became the ancient equivalent of our modern-day millionaires by controlling the transport of frankincense and myrrh (yep, same stuff the wisemen had--dried up sap used in perfumes and incense) from Southern Arabia through "their" desert to Gaza via what is now called the Incense Road. Some scholars say that in the 1st century, the Nabateans were the richest race on earth. It's no wonder that Petra, their capital city, is so ostentatious.

In Walking the Bible, Feiler describes the transition the Nabateans made from nomads to landowners:

First the tribe of shepherds became traders, then they began to see how much money they could make trading, then they began to travel for months at a time across the desert, then they realized the need to protect their trade routes, then they decided they needed a central power to organize their riches. "Sure enough, in a few years the Nabateans had a king," [Feiler's guide Avner] said, "and suddenly a society that was built around equal tribes, with people helping one another, now became a stratified society, with nobles, merchants, administrators, and so on. It became like an urban society. That is the same change that the Israelites went through when they came to the Holy Land."

The first structure we came upon, if you can call it a structure because it is not built but rather carved into the rocky hillside, was the 1st century Obelisk Tomb and Bab el-Siq Triclinium:
The Obelisk Tomb on the upper level consists of four elongated pyramids and a cavern where five bodies were once placed for burial. (They are gone now.) What makes the structure especially interesting is the Triclinium, or dining room, on the lower level. Annual celebrations to remember the dead were held in the large, bench-lined room, a custom borrowed from the Romans.  This structure dates to 25-70 AD, or about the time of the crucifixion of Christ.