A Cozy Fall Dinner...Little Acorn Squash with Roasted Garlic Cream and Crunchy Toffee Cookies for dessert

Fresh from the Farmer's Market...little Acorn Squash

We have just returned from a fall road trip.  Everyone was certainly ready for a mid-semester break to unwind, enjoy the seasonal colors, and recharge for the push towards the holidays and the end of a semester.

The week before leaving, I tried to keep the meals simple.  The seasonal produce continues to beckon with its beautiful colors and flavors and I don't want to pass them by.  We put together a couple of simple weeknight meals before packing up and heading over the Boston Mountains of Arkansas as well as the Ozark Hills of southern Missouri for a relaxing visit with Patrick's family.

Morning Sunrise over Houston, Texas

I cannot wait to compile the photos and memories from this trip.  The colors were beautiful, the temperatures crisp, the farm stands overflowing with all varieties of pumpkins, squashes, corn, and pecans...all ready to be baked into pies and cookies for the season or roasted in the oven like this simple acorn squash with garlic cream.

Warm bowls of Oatmeal and subtle changes of Fall color

But, we had to stay focused first and get lots of work done before we could enjoy a seasonal road trip.  Riley and I are deep into the history of Africa since World War II.  Often, I don't know who is learning more.  So much taught today, I don't recall being taught when I was growing up.

The world globe and a variety of other maps surround us as we try to name, study, understand, and struggle to digest the horrific troubles that plague the many countries of this huge African continent.  

Part of an assignment he had was to identify some of the causes of the turmoil that continue to torment African nations today.  Colonialization, military rule, misunderstood territory divisions after WWII, resource mismanagement, cultural conflicts, religious conflicts, and rampant disease are all pieces of a puzzle that result in a horrific image of what appears to be insurmountable instability.

Sometimes the conflicting elements of daily life in our home combined with global study seem so baffling and surreal.  For example, in one moment, as I was sliding these lovely acorn squash into the oven and the aroma of garlic began to permeate the house,  the next moment I am with Riley reading or watching youtube videos concerning the plight of Somali refugees.  

The stark contrast of how incredibly fortunate we are compared to the plight of so many African nations is palpable and dispiriting.  

When we read through the issues confronting Nigeria, I suddenly remembered a situation from my college days.  I worked during college as a tutor in the English lab helping students who were struggling with their English essays.  

What struck me was that they needed help because English was usually their second language.  Many of the students were from various countries in Africa.  This one man, from Nigeria, came frequently to the tutoring lab to get help writing his English essays.

We often worked together on his writing.  I recall getting frustrated with him because he made the same errors repeatedly.  He would smile politely and promise to work harder.  

How little I knew back then about his background in Nigeria as well as the continent of Africa.  This would have been in the late 1980's and the problems plaguing the country since the 1950's were bad indeed.  People were fleeing right and left and landing in places such as the English tutoring lab in the U.S., where I worked as young college student and was completely ignorant of his plight.

So as I sat at our kitchen table with Riley last week, reading about the horrid history of the country, I realized the man I tutored for that year had possibly fled his country and was trying to make it through the American college system.  He didn't seem to have much in the way of luxuries as he always wore the same simple shirt and trousers.

How could I have not had more empathy for this fellow?  How could I have scolded him repeatedly for making grammatical and spelling errors when he was struggling with daily communication.  It is obvious to me today, but not to me back then that he was trying to get through college the best way he knew how coming from goodness knows what back home in Nigeria.  

Crunchy Toffee Cookies

I told Riley this story of how unaware I was of global events and history back during my early college days.  We sat  quietly reflecting on the easy lifestyle we enjoy here in the U.S.  And all by chance really!  We were simply fortunate to have been born in this country as opposed to somewhere else in the world dealing with conflict, disease, and oppression.  How important it is to teach our kids about the conflicts facing people in the world so we don't assume everyone is operating under the same experiences as our own.

Now, every time a news story comes on NPR or I encounter someone from the Sudan or the Congo, I have so much more awareness of their heritage and possible suffering.  With the recent mall attack in South Africa, I find myself trying to sort out the reasons for the attack from a political, religious, and cultural perspective.

My daughter and her friends were home the other weekend for a mid semester break. It is so enlightening to hear these young people talk while sharing meals with us at the kitchen table.  Patrick baked loads of these Crunchy Toffee Cookies for them to take back to the dorm as treats during the week.  

This generation seems to me more informed about global events and their ramifications throughout the world to a better extent than my generation perhaps.  I'm sure technology has helped to increase the education and awareness of events happening around the world for this generation more so than for my generation.

Technology...the Internet, Facebook, Instagram,Twitter, Youtube videos, etc. are social media outlets that are suspected of being nothing more than worthless time wasters.  Their use and overuse is such a hot topic that is being debated more than ever.  Each generation has their own opinion about the value and harm of too much technology taking over how we all spend our time constantly plugged into news, entertainment, events, and social media.

It is fascinating to be a part of this current generational technological boom.  I find myself with one foot in each camp as far as my opinions.  

On one hand, I am constantly harping on my kids to disengage from social media, virtual worlds, and cyber living.  On another hand, I wonder if I had the internet tools to better understand the history of our century better or had I more casual "cyber" acquaintances from different parts of the world, if I would have had more empathy back in college.  

I think the answer to whether or not there is positive value of being hyper connected to global news these days is "yes".  Technology is a good thing for the most part.  Often, even if our socialization or use of technology might be through gaming, blogging, or social media outlets, we are meeting, talking, and sharing more and more with people all over the world as opposed to only in our communities.  Our kids are so much better informed then we were as young people and I do hope that means better things for humanity as a whole.  

Hopefully, with being better informed, they can improve the need for improved empathy towards others, have more understanding of cultural differences that cause potential conflicts, and be compelled to reach out and take action whether it be in another country or right here at home in an English tutoring lab, neighborhood sporting event, or cultural weekend festival for example.   

So here I sit, one foot in two generations of thought.  I live in a city with an ethnic diversity that rivals that of NYC.  So many stories out there to hear and to digest.  So many opportunities to challenge the next generation to look further than color, language, and ethnicity.  We need to look more at the modern history of our world, not just our own country or only life during ancient times...there is much to learn there.

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