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Spanocchia & Sustainable Living

Current MALS student, Elizabeth Robb, writes about her experience in Tuscany:

There are events in life that change you. It may be a big change or a little change but it is a change nonetheless and a part of you has grown or shifted. I knew that I wanted to change and grow when I applied for the Master of Arts in Liberal Studies program this summer but I had no idea changes would start occurring so quickly.

For Spannocchia blog_Tuscany

I registered for the Sustainable Living and Culture class in Tuscany because who doesn’t want to get graduate credit while sipping wine in Italy? I didn’t realize the great people I would meet and the experiences I would have until they were surrounding me and opening my mind to new ideas. While staying at Spannocchia, we took cooking classes, learned the history of the area and the history of Spannocchia itself, learned about beekeeping, tasted wines, olive oils, honey, and learned all about locally cured meats. We continually focused on how we could bring what we were learning back home with us to create a more sustainable community. I could go on and on about the adventures we had in Italy, the late night discussions or barefoot walks through the tenuta de Spannocchia, and the knowledge that was acquired on this journey, but the most important aspect of the trip was the change that occurred when I returned home.

Leaving Spannocchia was hard but who isn’t ready for their own bed and air conditioning after being away for a little while? I came home ready to write my final paper and move on to my next class. As I worked on my final, I noticed myself heading to local markets to buy my produce because they “just tasted more like Spannocchia produce.” I inquired about my local beekeeping association and made a new friend who let me harvest honey with him in his hives. I cooked, and I didn’t throw things in the microwave because I was more worried about the way my food tasted and not how quickly it was ready. I have been picking up books that deal with ecology and sustainability just to read on my own and to learn more. Spannocchia was my stepping stone to a healthier and more sustainable lifestyle. Sustainable Living was only my second class in the MALS program but it is obvious to me that a person can change and grow in this program and they can have fun while they are doing it!

Check out a few of her photos on the MALS Facebook fan page.

Posted in Graduate Liberal Studies.

What’s Age Got to Do with It?

Coventry Kessler, DCL Staff

Sense and Sensibility low res image from WikipediaLike many other middle-aged women, I enjoy Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility and have watched the movie many times on DVD.  Who wouldn’t like the story of the marriageable young Dashwood women? They were models of womanhood in the early 19th century.

It’s amazing how much has changed for modern women!

In the book, first published in 1811, the marriageable young Marion is a girl of 16; her nearly old-maid sister is 19.  Colonel Brandon, whom Marion originally describes as having “outlived all acuteness of feeling and every exquisite power of enjoyment” is all of 35. Marion also remarks that “a woman of seven and twenty can never hope to feel or inspire affection again.”  Their widowed mother, Mrs. Dashwood, is obviously too old to enjoy anything but the successes of her children.  She’s 40.

What a difference two centuries can make.

When actress Emma Thompson wrote the screenplay and then starred in the movie as Elinor, she was 36, nearly twice the character’s stated age.  Shortly afterwards, she married the handsome actor who played the feckless Willoughby and gave birth to their first child in 1999, when she was 40.

In England when the book was written, average live expectancy varied from the 30s-50s, depending on your class and where you lived.  Now in the U.S. it’s nearly 80.  Far from being “over the hill,” many 35-year-olds have just gotten married and had kids and won’t be considered middle age for another 10 to 15 years.  Not only have our life expectancies changed, but so have our ideas about what is appropriate for each age. The screen is replete these days with beautiful actresses hovering around 60-Meryl Streep, Diane Keaton, Helen Mirren, Susan Sarandon-who star in romances.

Graduate education reflects this trend.  According to the National Center for Education Statistics, as reported in “Older, and Wiser, Students” in the New York Times October 22, 2008, graduate students older than 50 grew by 38 percent between 2001 and 2005, up to about 173,000.  Older folks are enrolling at twice the rate of their younger peers.

MALS students like Julie Goodwin and others are perfect examples of this trend.  Goodin, a dog trainer and retired veterinary assistant, earned her undergraduate degree at 68! Lillian and Wood Nordenholz, both in their 70s, decided to pursue a degree together. Martha Alexander, 71  and former MALS student, now heads the State Appropriations Committee. Frances Caroline Webber, 67, a retired businesswoman who worked in Mexico, plans to earn her Ph.D. in Latin American History and then teach after finishing the MALS program.. This trend is not limited to men.  Though Norman Plaks, Ph.D., had to stop out of the program, he remains the teaching assistant for MALS610: Biorhythms at 82.

What’s age got to do with it?  These days, apparently not much.  I wonder:  What would Jane Austen say?

Posted in Graduate Liberal Studies, MALS.

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Critical Condition by Spring 2010 MALS Graduate Colleen Down

This blog was first posted by Colleen Down at her site on Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Buried in the back of my closet is my old baby book. Tucked in its pages are a lock of hair, immunization records, and my first grade report card. Under the comment section, my first grade teacher penned these words, “Does not take criticism well.” Nearly twenty years of schooling, numerous report cards, and working with several magazine editors has not changed that immortal statement. Faced with criticism, I still get a pit in my stomach, I wake up at 4:00 a.m. to stew, and I declare to the universe that I will spend the remainder of my days working in my garden far away from critical eyes. However, buried in my graduate school experience has been an important lesson. Criticism can also be the greatest gift one can receive. It has caused me to stretch. It has opened my mind to sail in previously uncharted waters, and it has taught me to plant my feet firmly and take a stand.

I recently received a paper with an extremely low score. Next to each paragraph the teacher had written, “Beautiful writing, you did not answer the question.” The stomach acid began to pump and my defenses went into motion. I wanted to write back, “Well, you did not ask a very good question, did you!” Moving quickly through the course, I soon had another opportunity to answer a new set of questions. This second time, I took no chances. I read the questions. I understood the questions. I searched for answers. I formulated answers. I sought with all diligence to present my answers in a clear and concise manner. I stretched myself…and I learned something new.

Henry V

While studying Shakespeare, I went into unknown waters. How one gets to graduate school with no experience with the Bard says something about my public education and narrow college experience. But it happened. I learned to “start at the very beginning” and thanked God for Cliff Notes and BBC broadcasts. In sophomoric fashion, I muddled through several of Shakespeare’s great plays. I addressed what I thought were profound thoughts on patriotism while studying Henry V, only to receive a stinging rebuke from the professor. He said that I had not addressed the negative side of patriotism and the religious zeal to which it can be taken in the extreme. Really?? I said myself. I had no idea what he was talking about. I had no idea until the next semester when I took the class “The Age of Revolutions.” Over and over, in revolutionary figures, I encountered Henry V and his speech to the troops before the Battle of Agincourt. Over and over I wanted the opportunity to “rewrite” my Henry V paper.

An exchange of emails with a fellow student in my Middle Eastern History class once again confirmed “doesn’t handle criticism well.” I would have “defriended” him had we been using Facebook instead of ISpartan. Late into the night, I was unsettled by his pressing questions as we discussed Islamic fundamentalism, Palestinian/Israeli relationships, and the King James Version of the Bible. Who was this stranger in cyberspace that dared to question what I knew as “the truth?” (And why did I search him out three years later to thank him?) Speaking of “”defriending,” what about my fellow students in Global Economics? They hurt my feelings with their Keynesian philosophies. Criticism of Hayek was criticism of me. It still is, but at least now I know how the other side views the world and how to defend myself.

Finally, the process of writing my final reflective essay has almost cured me of my “critical condition.” First I sent my final draft to a professor friend. His reply, “Beautiful,” fed my ego but was not very helpful. It took an advisor, who truly cared, to say “lacks intellectual empathy.” Ouch! After many middle of the night ponderings, a lot of emails, and several rewrites to finish the process, I found myself saying what I really wanted to say. She forced me to clarify thoughts that I needed to express. She caused me to dig deep inside and ask myself, do I value courage above empathy, criticism over kindness, progress over tradition, freedom over security, and writing over gardening? Thank you, Deborah! I will always be grateful for your critiques and your encouragement!

I will soon receive a transcript from UNCG. I think I will write a comment on the bottom. “Still doesn’t take criticism well—but oh, how I appreciate it!”

Posted in Graduate Liberal Studies, MALS, Masters Liberal Arts.

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Writing My Life by MALS Graduate Lynne Brandon

I am currently taking advantage of one of the many benefits of being a graduate of the MALS program; I’m auditing a wonderful class, Writing Your Life, which is taught by Dr. Chris Poulos, Associate Professor in the Communications Department. This class is a crystal clear reminder to me of why I loved the MALS program so much and was so sad to have it come to end when I graduated in 2005. The choices of courses in MALS are endless, mind-stretching, enticing, creative, and above all, challenging.

The Writing Your Life class is my first writing class in several years and like any writing course could be viewed as intimidating, even for the most seasoned writer. For one, writing about and delving into one’s past life is not always easy or fun. This class breaks down those barriers and fears. The manner in which Chris teaches is fun, creative, and engaging. This class is stretching my thinking about memoir writing and getting me to think about the act of writing in a way that I haven’t done in a long time. Chris has brought a renewed love of writing back to me. I was on a business trip recently and took my journal with me (a part of our class work) because, thanks to this class, writing has become integral to my life again. Chris teaches in a style that has promoted a sense of community, making sharing personal experiences easy and not fearful. Chris teaches from the heart and is able to get his students to write from the heart. It is truly fulfilling, enjoyable, and possibly life changing for most of us.

Writing Your Life is an example of the excellent experiences you will receive if you dip your toe into the creative waters of MALS. What are you waiting for?

Posted in Graduate Liberal Studies, MALS.

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Tea Parties, Stephen Colbert, and Free Speech

By Coventry Kessler, DCL staff

OK.  I admit it.  It irks me when I see Tea Party protesters out there with signs showing President Obama as The Joker, Adolph Hitler, or even Alfred E. Newman, and calling him names like “Obamao.”   Where is civility? I think.  Where is your understanding of history?

On Facebook recently I got into a 2-day smackdown with members of the ultraconservative Constitution Party.  Finally, after demanding if they knew anything about the 19th century robber barons (Rockefeller, Stanford, Carnegie, Vanderbilt, et al) and how they ran roughshod over workers, I threw up my hands and resigned them to the “unregulated capitalist paradise of their dreams” with no FDA, no NIH, no Centers for Disease Control, no Medicare, no Social Security, and an arsenal of bazookas and surface-to-air missiles owned by every nutjob on their block.

Where was all your outrage, I want to shriek, when the previous president took a budget surplus and turned it into the biggest deficit in history over a manufactured war?  Picture me as Donald Duck, jumping up and down, squawking in perfect fury.  The truth is, part of me just wants to make them shut the heck up.  And the other part of me wants to say, WE liberals don’t act like that.

Satire: Dick Cheney as devil

OK.  Liberal Texas columnist Mollie Ivins did call George W. Bush “Shrub” throughout his career.  Dick Cheney occasionally got depicted as the Devil, not to mention a threat to hunting buddies.  Oliver Stone did dedicate an entire movie, “W,” to showing how hapless and dumb he thought the 43rd President was, and Tina Fey forever skewered Sarah Palin’s lack of foreign policy expertise with her immortal line, “I can see Russia from  my house.”  We’re just a little less inclined to call names.  Except you, Keith “Bill-O the Clown Wingnut Worst-Persons-in-the-World” Olbermann.

Lincoln as monkey

Politics has always been pretty rough business in the U.S.  During the Civil War, President Lincoln was frequently depicted as a monkey, including holding the Emancipation Proclamation that freed the slaves.  President Lyndon Baines Johnson’s Daisy ad against Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater in 1964, implying that Goldwater would start a nuclear war, is probably the most infamous political ad of the 20th century.  Republican President George H. W. Bush’s “Willie Horton” ad against Democrat Michael Dukakis probably runs a close second.  Each side seems able to give as good as it gets.

But the single bravest political attack I ever witnessed was by comedian Stephen Colbert, who roasted Present Bush during the 2006 White House Correspondents Dinner.  In a 20-minute speech, Colbert mocked the leader of the free world mercilessly with such lines as:

“I stand by this man. I stand by this man because he stands for things. Not only for things, he stands on things. Things like aircraft carriers and rubble and recently flooded city squares. And that sends a strong message, that no matter what happens to America, she will always rebound—with the most powerfully staged photo ops in the world.”*

Bush reaction to Colbert

Throughout the speech, President Bush sat seething. Few audience members laughed and some shocked members of the Washington Press Corps even booed, finding the routine disrespectful and decidedly unfunny.

There were no political ramifications.  The next day, the video of Colbert’s speech became an internet sensation, and the ratings of his show The Colbert Report shot up nearly 40%.

The U.S. Constitution guarantees freedom of speech and freedom of the press.  Nowhere was this more vividly illustrated than watching the most powerful politician in the world endure being mocked on the public stage by an ordinary citizen exercising his constitutional rights.  There are lots of countries in this world where this could not happen.

So, Tea Partiers, carry on with your graceless, disrespectful signs with which I totally disagree.  I will grit my teeth and give thanks, once again, that speech does not have to be correct to be protected.  The fact that you can hurl “Socialist! Communist! Fascist! Tyranny!” at the President with impunity just shows that this still really is the freest country in the world.

*Retrieved from: Scherer, Michael (May 2, 2006). “The truthiness hurts”.

Posted in Graduate Liberal Studies, MALS.

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UNCG MALS Students Presenting at the 2010 North Carolina Graduate Liberal Studies Conference

by Julee Johnson with Coventry Kessler

I was thrilled to learn that three of our UNC Greensboro MALS students have been invited to present at the NC Graduate Liberal Studies Conference on April 9, 2010 at UNC Wilmington. Check out the abstracts from their presentations and plan to attend the conference—it’s also Azalea Festival weekend!


Lee Todhunter, “Opposition in Okinawa: The Future of the U.S.-Japan Security Alliance”

There are 90 American military facilities in Japan, of which 75 percent are based in the geographically small Okinawan islands. Since the end of World War II, the local population has endured land confiscation, noise pollution, military accidents, and crimes committed by American servicemen. This presentation explores the current relationship of the U.S.-Japan security alliance. The question remains whether the Japanese government will side with its own people and take a new direction in its security alliance or if it will continue to make concessions for the U.S. military presence.

Connie Styers, “I Saw an Armadillo in Alabama”

“I Saw an Armadillo in Alabama” is told through the eyes of an aging construction worker who travels to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina to help in the recovery efforts of removing trash and debris. Based on a true account, the story depicts the hard times and government red tape he and a 24-year-old former construction student encounter over a three-month period.

Capturing the entrepreneurial spirit of a blue-collar American, they coin their adventures the “New Orleans Gold Rush,” but their ambition to work to earn an honest day’s wages is crushed and destroyed. The story depicts the triumphs, the mishaps, the living conditions, and the colorful individuals they encounter in New Orleans.

The two men return to North Carolina after losing several thousand dollars with a practical understanding of government bureaucracy.  The older construction worker returns home not with broken dreams, but a renewed spirit of what it takes to survive in our evolving American society.

Will Bobbitt, “Mystery Fiction: The Art of the Whodunit”

DeHavilland Tiger Moth

The genre of mystery fiction began during the Islamic Renaissance (8th-10th centuries C.E.) with “The Tale of the Murdered Young Woman,” one of the stories narrated by Scheherazade in the One Thousand and One Nights. We find few other examples until Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” in which we are introduced to the dispassionate detective, his unwitting accomplice and story narrator, and the factual flotsam and jetsam that our sleuth assembles in solving the mystery.

During the Fall 2009 term at UNCG, I chose to venture into what was for me the very foreign world of literature and literary criticism by taking a course from Dr. Joe Rosenblum on Mystery and Detective Fiction. As my final project, I wrote a short story entitled “Bawdy Night,” a tale set in the South Island of New Zealand in contemporary times. The plot is torsadic, the real clues mixed with red herring chaff like gravel mixed with Portland cement in concrete. The greatest loss in this case isn’t the victim but a vintage de Havilland DH 82 Tiger Moth!

Posted in Graduate Liberal Studies, MALS, Masters Liberal Arts.

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What is the good life?

by Coventry Kessler

When I was asked to write a GLS blog on the topic, “What is the good life?” I honestly did not know what to say.  I’m an epigram person.  A quick snappy saying always does it for me.  So, a number I have clung to over the years sprang to mind.

“Any day above ground is a good day.”  That’s one I learned to prize after going through breast cancer (fortunately now 15 years ago).

“A book, a bed, a rainy day, and a 3-lb bag of M&Ms.” That was my motto at 235 lbs.  Every once in a while, it’s still tempting.

“Exactly how much fun can I have before I go to hell?”  That one probably doesn’t need much explanation.

But over the years, the saying that has most closely captured my own feeling is by Sigmund Freud:

“Every man needs productive love and productive work.”

Of course, sexist old 19th century Sigmund was a product of his time and left out the ladies (putz!). We all long for work and love that means something and goes somewhere, no matter what sex, orientation, ethnicity, size, shape, or color we are, blue N’avi included.  Thank goodness the doors are much more open than they used to be.

But defining the good life is also intensely personal.  I much doubt that Troy Polamalu would find plowing through “Learned Optimism,” “The Ghost Map,” and “Twilight” his idea of a good time, and while plowing into the tackling sled sounds like fun, it’s not something I’m planning to do any time soon.  The circumstances of our own life—the possibilities open to us—also shape our feelings about the good life.

This year I turned 63—still “young enough” and healthy, but old enough to have endured the losses that come with any reasonably long life:  parents, grandparents, in-laws, darling friends.  People I would fall down and give thanks to speak with once more.  And so for me, the good life is to cherish those you love and hope like hell they cherish you.  Without those we love, what are we?  As the Torah says, besides that, everything else is commentary.

Posted in Graduate Liberal Studies, MALS.

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How MALS Changed My Life (MALS Student Testimonials)

by Scott Brewster

Every once in a while, we like to check in on our past MALS graduates and find out what’s going on in their lives. It’s always exciting for us to hear how our students’ lives have been positively impacted by their experiences in the graduate liberal studies program.  See below for a video collage of some of our most recent student testimonials.

Posted in Graduate Liberal Studies, MALS.

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Life is Good with a Kindle

by Dody Williams (MALS Graduate)

When I first announced in a status message on my Facebook page how much I wanted a Kindle, my friends’ responses were surprisingly disapproving. The hue and cry was a decisive “no!”  The general feeling seemed to be a protectionist stance, a kind of defensiveness for books, beloved books. “I will never give up books!” one told me. “I love the way a new book smells when I open it,” declared another.

I was a little bemused and found myself defending my love of books. I saw the Kindle not as a repudiation, but as a way to access MORE books. I knew I would never give up my love of the physicality of books, the spine, the end boards, the paper in between. I remember writing, “I have books scattered on nearly every surface of my house!” which was part of the reason a Kindle intrigued me so. I am literally running out of space. Books are my guilty pleasure and while I could resort to only using the public library, as an amateur writer I decided years ago I wanted to support the publishing industry by being a consumer. So, I buy a lot of books. Unfortunately, I began to see that I will run out of room eventually. Fortunately, Kindle came on the scene.

At first, I wanted a Kindle because it holds thousands of books and they are less expensive to buy. Now that I have one, I love it for its compact size. It is light weight and has revolutionized reading in bed. No more bulky book to hold, no more having to take my arm outside of the warm covers to turn a page because with the Kindle, I just click the button and the next page appears. I also love the built-in Oxford English Dictionary and the book marking ability. Plus, I never lose my place since Kindle remembers where I stopped reading.

Kindle or other varieties of e-book readers such as the Nook or the Sony e-reader could also transform purchasing and managing the reading requirements for programs such as MALS. I would like to think e-readers are the future of the textbook industry. Imagine, the book store would never run out of books. People who travel long distances to participate in MALS would have easy access, especially those people who take online classes. When I was working on my MALS, some of my classes required as many as seven or eight books. If I had been able to download all the books onto my Kindle, it would have made transporting the books to and from classes a breeze, Not to mention NEVER being without one of the books during class, which happened on occasion.

Having a Kindle has not made me love books any less. It has increased my desire to continue to build my library. So far, I have read five complete Kindle books and I have purchased two of the actual books to add to my library. If anything, reading them on my reading device made me want to hold them and peruse them even more. On the other hand, I am glad I don’t have to give shelf room to the other three because they weren’t as shelf worthy as the two I ended up adding to my library.

We live in an e-world. Many MALS classes are only available online. Kindle and other e-readers are just another option, not a replacement for traditional books. If anything, Kindle just makes room for more. The way I see it, you can never have enough books…

(Dody blogs all sorts of stuff at

Posted in Graduate Liberal Studies, MALS.

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Synchronicity/ MALS/ Spannocchia/Hollyhocks: It’s All Connected

by MALS Graduate Jean McDowall

I’ve been spending a great deal of time in my studio these days, painting hollyhocks in summer gardens in defiance of the wintery views from my north window. I’ve also been thinking about MALS and synchronicity and how these two are somehow responsible for the fact that I am here in this studio at all.

Synchronicity has been on my radar screen ever since I first heard about it in the MALS Creative Process class taught by Dr. Jo Leeds. I remember at the time thinking, Wow! That is so cool! (Clearly I do remember the 60s!)

Ever since, I’ve kept a list of synchronous  events. Like when we discussed a somewhat obscure book, which suddenly was mentioned on NPR and PBS and in the New Yorker the very next week.  I wrote it down. Over the years, the list has grown and grown.

In class, a comment Dr. Leeds made—and a project she suggested—started me thinking of how much I’d like to paint. It was such a bizarre idea! But slowly over the next few years, I found myself drawn in some almost unexplainable way into the realm of art. Often, MALS was a part of this.

For example, I traveled to Italy and stayed at Tenuta di Spannocchia in Tuscany, as part of the Sustainable Food and Culture class led by Charlie Headington. When I wasn’t soaking up Etruscan culture and sampling the wine, olives, and prosciutto, I found myself thinking of how I’d love to capture the light of those beautiful hills, or to sketch the Cinta Senese pigs the way Deb Bettini did so well.  Somehow the path Jo Leeds had pointed out kept unwinding in new directions.

I wasn’t doing much with painting, though. For starters, I did not know how to draw or how to find a teacher—or even if I was supposed to do something so out of my comfort zone. But MALS has a way of doing this, doesn’t it, exposing you to radical new ideas and different ways of seeing the world?  Anyway, fast forward to the fall 2008.  There I was, wandering through an art exhibit in Winston-Salem, thinking about painting, when I had one of those incredible synchronicity moments. On an easel in front of me was an oil portrait of—Graziella Capanni?

What? Graziella was one of the talented cooks at Spannocchia in Tuscany who routinely brought those glorious meals of leek soup and wild boar and polenta and tiramisu to our table.

And here she was, smiling down at me in North Carolina, two years and thousands of miles later.  It was—astonishing. I ended up buying the painting (how could I not?) and, in the way synchronicity happens, met the artist who introduced me to another artist who was (drum roll here) giving art lessons to beginners.  So, of course, I signed up. Two years later, here I am, painting hollyhocks and reflecting on Spannocchia and MALS and how everything connects. Life—and MALS—are so full of surprises. And synchronicity.

Posted in Graduate Liberal Studies, MALS.

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