Archive for July, 2013


Thank YOU, Ms. Thomas!

Thank you, Ms. Thomas

Her phone number was easy enough to find: it was listed in the DC phone book when I looked it up and called veteran White House reporter Helen Thomas back in 2007 to ask if she would consider writing the foreword for my book on women in broadcasting. I called back a few times when I did not receive a response but on the fourth or fifth try, her unmistable, gravelly voice picked up and said “This is Helen Thomas.” After I introduced myself she apologized profusely for not getting back to me and agreed to write the foreword after she read my manuscript. I shipped out my pages immediately and in a month or so the fax machine at Penn State started whirring as it received her thoughtful and insightful foreword.

She certainly didn’t need the fame and was no fortune involved (I couldn’t pay her), so why did she do it? I think because she believed in the project and she knew first hand what the women in the book had gone through to get the top of the heap as newscasters. She worked her way up at a time when most women were going to college to get their Mrs. Degree and few used the degree they got if they made it to graduation. Helen Thomas was a worker.

She loved staying active, and in the game, which is another reason she probably said yes. I could imagine her thinking: “What is more fun then helping another woman get ahead by writing a few pages for a book about women?” She also accepted an invitation to speak at Penn State Lehigh Valley’s graduation a year later and asked only that we pay her: “What you think its worth.”

Tributes to her describe her as “feisty” and a “firebrand” but I remember her as nice, warm and happy to have been asked to share her considerable experience as a woman who has had a front row to history in the making for ten presidencies.

In the foreword she wrote:

The women in this book toughed it out and fortunately were driven enough to insist on equity. It wasn’t easy. I’ve seen the best in the business sidelines in the networks’ avid accent on youth over experience and gravitas.

She added that she loved being a journalist because “it was an education every day” and that “you never stop learning.”

President Obama paid tribute to her by saying: “Helen was a true pioneer, opening doors and breaking down barriers for generations of women in journalism. She covered every White House since President Kennedy’s, and during that time she never failed to keep presidents – myself included – on their toes.”

There is no denying that every journalist who came after her in the press corps owes Helen Thomas a hearty thanks. She elevated the role and brought integrity to it by holding her interviwees accountable, and she wasn’t intimidated by the presidents, quite the opposite, I think.

She was persistent and pointed but to me, Helen Thomas will always also be just plain nice.

Thank you, Ms. Thomas.Image


I could have ride-shared with a Creamery Ice Cream Truck!

Last weekend I had the supreme honor to speak at the Penn State Lehigh Valley Chapter and Society Picnic at Macungie Park. Picture it: an enthusiastic band played the alma mater, Penn State’s fight song and other motivational tunes, the grill was smoking, and the Penn State Berkey Creamery ice cream was being scooped out as fast as we could eat it and the almost 100 degree temps could melt it! Next time (and I really hope there is one) I’m going to hitch a ride with the Creamery Ice Cream folks. I would like to get as close to the ice cream as possible. It was fun and here’s my speech!

As the Penn State alma mater goes: “When we stood at childhood’s gate, Shapeless in the hands of fate, Thou didst mold us, dear old State, Dear old State, dear old state.” For me, that sentiment has special significance. I was relatively young when I lost my parents: 19 when my dad died and 28 when my mom died. Certainly not a ’child’ as the lyrics suggest, but young enough to still be looking for (and certainly in need of) some guidance, ‘shaping,’ if you will. For me, Penn State and many of the Penn State people (whether you realize it or not) served as a surrogate family. And no one will ever love you more than your family. Penn State has given me a supportive, extended family and one I cherish. And as a Penn Stater, I want to see other Penn Staters succeed. That supportive success is at the heart of what it means to be an active Penn Stater long after we’ve donned our caps and gowns at commencement.

As chapter members you may know better than anyone how Penn State continues to keep you under its wing and bring you together with people who share similar passions and experiences better than anyone. Here you are at the Penn State Lehigh Valley chapter picnic, enjoying the beautiful summer season with other Penn Staters. In Pennsylvania there are thirty-six active Alumni Chapters that sponsor events like this one, in effect reaching out the arms of Penn State to hold its extended family throughout the state. And while there are chapters throughout the United States, if you traveled to Berlin, Germany or Edmonton, Canada or to more than thirty-five other countries all around the globe, you could feel like family at the chapter gatherings there. That “one big family” feeling is what is so attractive about Penn State to me and maybe to you, too.

I’m an alumnae, and I’ve taught at Penn State Lehigh Valley for more than 20 years. Just two weeks ago I started my dream job as associate dean of academic affairs at Schreyer Honors College. So I “feel” Penn State (you could say) from a number of entry points. And it is that accessibility of Penn State that keeps it connected to its land grand mission. There really is a Penn State for everyone.

Maybe you started at a Penn State campus and transferred to University Park or maybe you completed your entire degree at a campus. At Penn State Lehigh Valley campus there are several four year degree programs including education, business, psychology, IST and the new BA in corporate communication.

You may have started when you were fresh out of high school or you might be one of many returning students who finish a degree or earn a certificate well into your adulthood. Or, you may not be an alum, instead you may be more active in the great community based education programs that Penn State offers. Or, like so many people I meet, you may be a huge Penn State football fan even though you might have gone to another school (we won’t mention names!) Everywhere I go I meet Penn Staters – and I mean everywhere—from here at Macungie Park to Beijing, China where I traveled with students – a hearty “we are” connected me to another Penn Stater. That’s that family feeling —

As an active researcher, I write about extraordinary women who have overcome significant obstacles to achieve their dreams. Though none of the women I’ve written about are Penn State alums, they knew the power of networks and alumni families. Women like Margaret Chase Smith – who was the first woman to serve in both the House and the Senate. She got the courage to amplify her voice against her colleagues – all male—and speak out against McCarthyism. Upon leaving office, she was the longest-serving female Senator in history, a distinction that was not surpassed until 2011, when Senator Barbara Mikulski was sworn in for a fifth term. Margaret Chase Smith may have been dubbed “The quiet woman” but she didn’t back down and she didn’t go away.

Another remarkable woman is Shirley Chisholm who in 1972 ran for president. She broke a lot of barriers because she was both an African American and a woman. When Barack Obama became president he acknowledged that she made the way easier for him.

It isn’t too surprising that some of the women I’ve researched have Penn State ties. Hillary Clinton’s father and brother played football for Penn State and Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan’s parents met on a train both traveling home from Penn State on holiday break. And you can be sure I tried to use those connections to interview them for my research! (Sorry to say neither attempt succeeded!) Okay – neither multiple attempts—but if anyone here knows either of them, please let me know! My research is always “ongoing.”

These women knew that leaning on their alma maters and connecting with the people that they grew up with would help them to do the work they wanted to do. It would help them to continue to serve people.

A few years ago I gave a talk about my research at Cal State Chico. The audience was filled with about 300 undergraduates, and I could see that some of them were holding my 2006 book, “Paving the Way for Madam President.” When my talk was over, many hands went up. I was thrilled, thinking ‘wow, these young people really care about women and the US presidency.’ Then the questions came: “Have you ever met JoePa?” (yes, briefly) “Will Penn State have a winning football team this year?” (I had no clue) “Will the Big Ten expand?” (again, no idea)…! Well, you get the idea. Penn State is beloved the country and world-over for many things and football is certainly one of those things!

In addition to the many Penn State Chapters, there are Penn State Societies that connect alumni to an academic unit such as the College of Agricultural Sciences, the Graduate School, and Penn State Altoona. Every college and most Penn State locations have a society. Alumni societies’ activities and programs vary but often include mentoring programs between current students and alumni, networking events for alumni and students, and student recruitment activities.

As our dean at Schreyer Honors College, Dean Christian Brady states: “Any student may enter into the Schreyer Honors College if they meet the criteria, even after the highly selective first year admission process. In the Penn State community, this sort of egalitarian “academic boot strapping” resonates positively. If you are good enough, you can make the team.” There are the sophomore and junior gates and the Paterno Fellows Program. All serve as “feeders” to the Schreyer Honors College that has approximately 1800 scholars.

At Schreyer Honor s College, alumni involvement is available in many ways that work for our alumni. Alumni give back with their talents and time, in addition to giving back philanthropically. There is the Schreyer Honors College Mentoring Program. With Mentoring with Honors, alumni mentors are matched with Schreyer Honors College students in their field. Larger alumni programming opportunities are available to alumni in their region as well. For example, the alumni admissions interview program provides alumni a way to connect to the College by interviewing prospective students seeking admission to Schreyer Honors College. This program is a wonderful way to connect alumni who want to make a difference but can’t make it to campus. There are also Career and Student Programming Initiatives. Alumni are also involved in many various career development and student programming joint initiatives. These alumni tend to be those who have stepped forward and pledged to help the Schhreyer Honors College. Scholars use these resources, often mentioning they made important networking connections with Schhreyer Honors College alumni who will help them professionally. An example, is our 19th Annual Mark Luchinsky Memorial Lecture held in each fall to showcase the achievements of Scholar Alumni. This year’s speaker will be Scholar Alumnus Dr. Casimer DeCusatis, a Distinguished Engineer with IBM System Networking Strategic Alliances. The lecture will be held on Wednesday, October 23, at 8 p.m. at University Park. I’m a former middle school classmate of Casimer’s and since he is from Hazleton, maybe some of you here may recognize him name. Talk about a family feeling.

At Schreyer Honors College our most involved alumni, volunteer-wise, are those who sit on our Scholar Alumni Society Board, and those alumni who are members of our External Advisory Board. Both groups give their time and talents by returning to campus multiple times per year and spearheading Schreyer Honors College initiatives. Without the support of our alumni donors, Schreyer Honors College students would not have the opportunities that they need to succeed and grow into leaders. Alumni support, from annual gifts to our Future Fund to large endowed gifts for scholarships and program funds make a difference in the lives of Scholars everyday. At Schreyer Honors College we shape people who shape the world and our alumni volunteers help us do that.

And being here today you are continuing to strengthen the Penn State family and I thank you for that.

Penn State has been a wonderful, supportive family to me and it is an honor to give back and to continue to serve Penn State. The ways to become a member of the Penn State family are many and varied. And I’m sure you’ll agree it is great to be part of it. We are…..



Tour-de-Foodie State College, Part 2

As I type this I’m doing something I haven’t done for weeks: cooking. And don’t believe the efficiency “experts” who say multi-tasking doesn’t result in increased productively. For me, it definitely does. The asparagus sauteed in olive oil is delicious and I’m almost 50 words into this blog post. If all the would-be writers in the world would just put fifty words down a day their big dream to write a book would one day be a dream-come-true. But that’s a blog for another day.

Today I continue my tour-de-foodie with an update of the restaurants I visited now that I am living and working in Happy Valley. To review the epic events of the past few months, my husband Geoff and I have relocated from Allentown to State College because I get to work at the wondrous Schreyer Honors College surrounded by passionate professionals who are devoted to their work, led by a visionary, inspiring leader who brings out the best in everyone. I keep pinching myself. But besides all the pinching and working I’ve got to eat, too, so I’ve been having a ball trying the many diverse and delicious restaurants in Happy Valley.

All I kept hearing was “You’ve got to try Cozy Thai.” So I did. I definitely get the adulation. One professor who was bubbling over with enthusiasm said, “There are a few places here that could make it in a big city and Cozy Thai Bistro is one of them.” I would agree. Being a vegetarian, I delighted in the many vegetarian offerings and settled on the vegetables with fried rice. It was really flavorful and the portions are big, too. Geoff didn’t like his as much but I think that’s only because he tinkered with the ingredients by requesting less coconut in his coconut shrimp. (He drove the waitress, who was trying to be patient, a little nutsy, nutsy coo-coo), but she was trying to maintain her poise, which she did for the most part. I mean what did he expect when he ordered the coconut shrimp ‘light on the coconut?’

My very smart and sweet new assistant Tatyana suggested Inferno Brick Oven Bar for lunch and being a major Italian food lover, I was enthusiastic to try it. It was good, and the pear salad I ate was a whopping $6. Tatyana had a chicken salad that she liked but there is no tea and no dessert at lunch (why no tea?) and the menu is very limited. The service is good and fast, the location awesome (pretty much right across the street from SHC on College Avenue) and the prices low. A few evenings later I ate there for dinner with Geoff and we ordered the pizza. That’s what Inferno does best: it was really delectable. Brick oven baked and perfect with lots of fresh toppings.

For lunch I ran to “Baby’s Burgers and Shakes” one day, “Chili’s” another day and “Golden Dragon” during the Arts Festival for my Asian fix. Maybe partially because I almost never eat breakfast (another myth: breakfast eaters weigh less – not this one), and I’m ready to start eating the copier paper by noon, all three places were good. I love veggie burgers and Baby’s Diner’s is a little greasy, but good. And I got a kick out the fake-rude “Eat and Get Out!” slogan. I lingered with my New York Times and my nice young waiter kept bringing me more hot water (my favorite drink). It was really cheap, too. I like the fun vibe and the cheesy music.

Chili’s also makes a mean veggie burger served with fries that’s very inexpensive ($6) and was served by a very cheerful young person. LOVE the place. And, the Golden Dragon’s broccoli and rice were really delicious, too and you get a lot of food, really enough for two people for lunch. Xie-xie!

On the suggestion of Tatyana, who speaks Italian and loves Italian food, my husband and I tried Rotelli’s. It wasn’t bad, but again, we are big Italian food snobs and in the Allentown area it is easy to find Italian food as good as the food we ate in Rome. Rotelli’s is a chain and the food is a bit “chain-y” but like Mario’s, if you need your mozzerella cheese fix, it will probably suffice. AND, we will definitely go back this summer because on the patio, dogs on leashes are welcome and we would love to bring Roo for an epic Italian food outing. It isn’t every day you can bring your furry friend for dinner. There was an awfully cute dachshund who was doing his best to behave while his parents were having their dinner and he only once jumped up at a nearby table.

All of these meals were supplemented by Geoff’s outstanding coffee and a number of trips to The Creamery. One evening, as Geoff made his way back to the car, savoring his Peachy Paterno cone, he enthused (somewhat matter-of-factly and uncharacteristically) “This is a good life.”

Oh, and remember my little tug of war with wanting to eat at every new place I see and stay in my size 6 petite suits? Well, I made my way over to the Weight Watchers on North Atherton last week and to my delight I was 2.5 pounds less than I was last month. I’ve got to keep my commitments.

In State College I feel a little like Dorothy when she opens the door after her house crashes to the ground. The technicolor choices of places to go is as good as New York City and all I could think is: “I’m not in Fogelsville anymore!” And at Rotelli’s you can bring Toto, too.



Plate after Delicious Plate in Dear Old State!

This is a transition time for me and for my family. My husband and I are officially “empty nesters” with our son entering his senior year at Oberlin College and our daughter a freshman at Penn State. And since I started a new job this summer and the kids are “booked” as well, we moved to State College where we are setting up house. While I couldn’t even cook anything elaborate if I tried right now since we have yet to move some pots to our new place, I did buy some pasta and veggies and the other night I said to Geoff, “Should I make something? Asparagus and pasta?” And then I realized I forgot to pack the pots! How convenient!

The truth is I don’t have big plans to cook the way I used to when the kids were younger. I can cook some things really well (lasagna, pasta primavera, rice and veggies are some of my family’s most requested specialties) Even before I accepted my dream job at University Park, I was already imagining that in fall after I finished my time on campus each day I’d meet my husband at a new place for dinner. As Michelle Obama famously told The Washington Post in 2009 “Cooking isn’t one of my huge things.” It isn’t that I don’t like to cook, but night after night it starts to feel like a chore. Besides, going out to eat is one of our pleasures! We are foodies! So it has been a real pleasure for my husband Geoff and me this week to eat at some new (for us) State College restaurants. Here’s the rundown:

American Ale House & Grill in Totfrees is fabulous, and as the Web Site describes, “sexy and cozy.” As a three decade long vegetarian I was thrilled to see some inspired vegetarian dishes like the roasted asparagus sandwich (under the heading “enjoy every sandwich”) and the chopped salad (hold the bacon). Geoff loved the gazpacho soup and ratatouille (he’s a pescetarian) and the many beer selections. I’m not a beer drinker but the selection does look impressive (thus the name “ale house”). The service is great, the place comfortable and full of charm. There’s a gallery and in the winter, I bet the soaring fire is perfect. This may be our favorite spot so far. We’ll be going back. Highly recommended!

Next we tried The Green Bowl. On Beaver Avenue near Geoff’s favorite coffee shop, Saint’s is the somewhat no-frills, buffet style vegetarian paradise (though they do have meat). You fill up your bowl and the exuberant, accommodating young staff cooks it on the grill. I was grateful to see that for the meat-averse (ME) they use a wok to cook vegetables so they don’t touch the meat. I had a cold salad (with edamame!!) and then a hot dish of veggies with a lot of broccoli! It was really good and the sauces are delicious. While I usually avoid buffets, this one is a little different because it is as custom as a buffet can get. The price is right, too. During the week lunch is $8.99 and weekends it is $12.49. Highly recommend! We will be going back!

Next, being big Italian food lovers we tried Faccia Luna. (I just like saying it–try it ten times fast) I’ve been wanting to go there for years. My bruschetta appetizer was outstanding! VERY fresh tomatoes, but Geoff didn’t like his wine (so I drank it — I liked it), and the eggplant parmesan was good, but not epic. Mind you we are both of partial Italian descent and we’ve been spoiled a bit growing up around authentic Italian food. Doesn’t quite compare to Mama Nina’s or Amore in Bethlehem and our beloved Paese Mio in Allentown, but I want to go back, of course. The pizza looks ridiculously good, the service was great and sitting outside on a summer night? Forgettaboutit. I give it a hearty recommended, for sure!

The next night we tried Spats on College Avenue. At the New Orleans inspired restaurant we ordered several tapas and the array of vegetarian offerings is great. The vegetarian potato soup was outstanding and the roasted vegetables were delicious, but the portions were small and Geoff was hungry again by the time we drove near Wegman’s so he stopped and bought an ice cream pie and promptly polished off a huge slice. The food is delicious at Spats and the service was great, but the portions were a little small for us.

Finally, last night we went to Mario’s (I think it is no longer Mario *and* Luigi’s (old Italian food habits die hard) and it was good. We ordered salads and eggplant parm, and again it didn’t quite live up to our hard-core non-chain Italian restaurant dreams, but it was good, and the server was nice. We’d been there before and we’ll probably go back because the food is good and the prices are reasonable. For a quick Italian food fix it is fine.

We still want to visit Cozy Thai and we heard of an Italian restaurant in Bellefonte that’s good. We’ve also tried Mad Mex and we are regulars at The Corner Room and the Creamery.

Oh, and I found where the local Weight Watchers is and I’ve marked the meeting on my schedule, so I’ll have to make sure all this restaurant hopping isn’t working against my hard fought battle to be trim!

I know I’ll eventually get some pots in the kitchen here and I’ll whip up some good food but for now, it has been really fun restaurant hopping and, like our first lady, I’m not missing cooking!

We are having fun discovering State College and today we’ll meet Emily, our daughter for breakfast at The Corner Room, so the nest doesn’t feel quite that empty and that’s just fine with me. Image

July 2013
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