Monthly Archives: November 2012

10 Outstanding Apps

November 26, 2012

The following is a list of 10 apps we like this month for smartphones and tablets for health, fitness, lifestyle, entertainment and more.


Flixster – Includes local showtimes, reviews from Rotten Tomatoes, DVD releases and more, all available in one app. FREE




Flipboard: Offers news, tech, style articles from the major magazines and other media and also functions as social media, letting you create your own news from Facebook and Twitter accounts. FREE


Gifts HD – This new app was created to help you track, budget, and compare prices for your holiday shopping. You can shop within the app while comparing products, and this app has a multi-user functions for others in the family, who have their own password. Also featured are summary reports, to-do lists, and a calculator. $4.99



Food in the Kitchen – Offers thousands of all-star recipes from Food Network chefs and their shows. $1.99





Cloth – This app makes it easy to save and categorize your outfits and more. Has a weather feature that uses real-time weather conditions to make it easy to find the perfect outfit. FREE


Ambiance – Environment enhancer that creates the perfect ambient atmosphere to relax or to experience new environments aurally. Sounds range from Moscow thunderstorms to Desert winds to Scottish evenings. Not all the sounds are meant for relaxing…Munich Train station and NYC Subway Rush may be best used to combat lethargy. $2.99


Pocket Yoga – Offers 3 different difficulty levels, durations, and practices with illustrated pose images, allowing you to start your practice wherever you are. Features detailed voice and visual instructions (breathing guidance also), and maintains an ongoing log of your practices. $2.99




iTriage – Created by two ER doctors. Not only can you check your symptoms, but you can start with any symptom, understand the causes, get medical help, and book your appointment all in one app. There are long lists of medications and their side effects, conditions, procedures, along with the latest health news. FREE



Fitness Buddy -The ultimate fitness journal, with 1000+ exercises, 45+ tailored workouts, images and animations. It lets you track your fitness progress all on one page, and select exercises to fit your daily workout plan. $0.99.

Art and Barbarism: Opera’s Lost Boys

November 26, 2012

In some ideologies, the ends justify the means. Centuries ago,  the barbaric mutilation of young boys was deemed necessary to retain their soprano, mezzo-soprano, or contralto voices and create the careers of opera’s famous (and not so famous) castratis. Ann Thompson has a lot to say on this most controversial aspect of opera in her Spring class, titled “Boys Will Be Boys: Except In Opera Where They May Be Girls“. We recently caught up with Ann Thompson to find out more.

Farinelli, the most famous castrato

WIH Reporter: What is most important for us to know about your class?

Thompson: Opera is first and foremost entertainment, meant to distract, engage, delight, provoke, and otherwise break routine.

WIH Reporter: But opera has a dark side, which is the topic of your class. How did you become interested in the subject of the castrati?

Thompson: It piqued my curiosity because it is so barbaric and it goes to show what high regard people must have had for music/singing that they would go to such lengths.

WIH Reporter: What is important for us to know about the castrati?

Thompson: The impact on the boys was tremendous, especially if they did not become singing stars which was unfortunately the case most of the time.

WIH Reporter: What are some of the misconceptions that we have?

Thompson: It should be remembered that they could have sex, just not impregnate a woman.

WIH Reporter: In what ways have the castrati affected our view of sex roles?

Thompson: The castrati have not made any difference in sex roles in the past or in modern times inasmuch as humanity has always enjoyed gender bending, cross dressing, sexual role playing, make believe, experimentation of every kind – transgendering is the latest wrinkle in sexual adventurousness about which no opera has been written as of yet.

WIH Reporter: What can we learn about this issue that mirrors ourselves and the opera culture?

Thompson: What we learn from all this is: chacun a son gout- to each his own, there is no accounting for tastes and trends and preferences AND tempora mutantur nos et mutamur in illis – times change and we change with them, and finally: ars gratia artis – art for the sake of art – never mind if it’s cruel, unfair, inhumane, ineffective or even lethal (think of the infections), if it promotes beauty (in the eye of the beholder or the creator) it’s no holds barred.
WIH Reporter: What books would we find on your night table?

Thompson: Books on my night table would be related to the opera at hand – whether it was opera that I was going to or the one I was/am working on.  Some of those books could be risque, some heavy going, some hilarious – all pertain to the Human Comedy.

Ann Thompson is a part of the Houston Grand Opera Guild’s volunteer docent program.  She discovered an affinity for sharing her interest in the performing arts and has been speaking on opera and related subjects for over 30 years.  She gives the pre-curtain lectures before the HGO performances and lectures for the West University Senior Center and at Lone Star College, The Woodlands.

Her class, “Boys Will Be Boys: Except In Opera Where They May Be Girls” begins February 13, 2013.

Silk Road

November 16, 2012
WIH Reporter: What is important for us to know about your class?  

Urban: The story of the Silk Road(s) is the story of communication. Ideas spread along with the goods in commerce. It is this notion that makes the subject so interesting.

WIH Reporter: What were the results of the intermingling of cultures on the Silk Road?

Urban:  Communication fostered the exchange of ideas, along with a mutual understanding among these people from diverse cultures. This lesson is as true and important today as it was 2000+ years ago.

WIH Reporter: What were some of the lasting changes?

Urban:  The simple answer to that question is that various elements of material culture were adopted into other traditions. These elements fostered the growth of art, artisanship, even manufacturing. The more complex answer harks back to the idea of a better understanding among the various cultures found along the trading routes. Without this better understanding, how many traders and explorers would have ventured beyond their known worlds?

WIH Reporter: How did your interest get started in this subject?
Urban:  My interest in the subject developed, in part, throughh study of Asian art and cultures. It grew as I tried to piece together how what happened in one part of the world affected those events in other parts of the world. What I have found is that events were never isolated. There were always consequences, and those consequences can be traced over long distances. It’s a fascinating story.

WIH Reporter: Along with silk, what other commodities could be found along the Silk Road?
Urban:  Silk, of course, was among the most sought-after luxury goods to be carried. It was relatively lightweight and brought a high price. Similarly, gems and exotic spices were favorite commodities in demand. The answer depends in part on whether one is talking about land travel or sea travel, both of which carried commercial enterprise from before the era of the Romans.

WIH Reporter: Can you find paralles between that time and now?
Urban:  Yes, there are some parallels. Most obviously, wealth and patronage drive material culture to a certain extent. If there is no independent wealth or art, skilled artisans receive very little support and cannot enrich the culture they live in. On the other hand, the speed of communication in our own day seems to pass over some of the steps that might have enhanced the process in centuries long ago.

WIH Reporter: What books would we find on your night table?
Urban:  Right now? I’m trying to read the autobiography of Mark Twain, but it is slow going. Not too long ago I read the Shahnama by Firdausi, the 10th century compilation of the Book of Persian Kings. I hope to talk about it a little bit during my lectures, as part of the rich culture fostered by the Islamic empire. The book served as inspiration to many generations of painters who were hired to illustrate their stories.

Melanie R. Urban received her Diploma in Asian Art from the Royal Holloway College of the University of London/British Museum.  A graduate of Purdue University, she received her J.D. from Lousiana State University and practiced law with the federal government for 15 years before moving to Singapore.  While in Singapore, Mrs. Urban began her studies in Asian culture, history, and art; she traveled extensively throughout regions from Central Asia to China, from Tibet to Viet Nam, and points in between.

East Meets West: The Silk Road begins on March 19, 2013.

How Much Do You Know About Mark Twain?

November 26, 2012



1. What was Mark Twain’s real name?

2. Where did he get the name “Mark Twain” and what is it related to?

3. What part did Halley’s comet play in his life?

4. What did he name his three dogs?

5. From which prestigious university did he receive his doctorate in letters in 1907?


1. Twain’s birth name is Samuel Langhorne Clemens.

2. The pseudonym Mark Twain, meant “two fathoms deep” on the Mississippi, and was called out on the steamboat to indicate the boat was in sufficiently deep water. Clemens first used the name in a publication on February 3, 1863, in a piece he contributed to the Virginia City Territorial Enterprise.

3. Twain was born (1835) and died (1910) in years in which Halley’s Comet passed by earth. In “Mark Twain: A Biography“, he is quoted as saying, “I came in with Halley’s comet in 1835.  It’s coming again next year (1910), and I expect to go out with it.”  Clemens died on April 21, 1910, the day after the comet’s orbit came closest to the Earth.

4. He named his dogs “I Know” ,”You Know” and “Don’t Know”.

5. Twain received a Doctorate in Letters from Oxford University in 1907.

Magnificent Mansions of the Loire Valley

November 26, 2012

World-famous chateaux are only a part of the glorious Loire Valley, which also includes privately-owned chateaux owned for generations by some of France’s oldest and most prestigious families. Lynda Kelly and her husband are dedicated Francophiles, and over the years, have immersed themselves in the history, architecture, and culture of France. In Kelly’s latest class, “The Other Loire Valley“, she exposes us to the world of privately-owned mansions that are available to the public. We asked Kelly to tell us more about her upcoming class.

WIH Reporter: What is important for us to know about your class?

Kelly: The Loire Valley is, after Paris and the Ile-de-France, the most important region of France from a historical perspective.  Many of the finest 15th and 16th century chateaux were built by financiers and other wealthy bourgeois who held important positions at court.  In my class last spring, I discussed the famous chateaux of Blois, Chambord, and Chenonceau.  In this upcoming class, I will present some equally grand, but less well-known chateaux.  Most of them are privately-owned and open to the public.

WIH Reporter: What were the most interesting events occurring in that region that still reverberate today?

Kelly: In 1429, Joan of Arc liberated Orleans and other towns on the Loire, which began the process of booting the English out of France. If she hadn’t come along, English might have become the official language of France.

In 1519, Francois I persuaded Leonardo da Vinci to come to live in France. After Leonardo’s death, the king acquired several paintings that Leonardo had brought with him to France, including the Mona Lisa and the Virgin and Child with St. Anne, which are now in the Louvre.

WIH Reporter: What are some of the most interesting tidbits about this area?

Kelly: The old quarter of LeMans is popular with film makers because it has over 100 half-timbered houses and many beautiful stone Renaissance mansions. Among the films made in Le Man are “Cyrano de Bergerac” with Gerard Depardieu and “Les Trois Mousquetaires” with Emmanuelle Beart.

WIH Reporter: It sounds like your class offers a lot more than history and architecture, and includes films, photos, culture, and more.

Kelly: In my lectures, I tend to focus on history and architecture, but I also talk about culture, cuisine, places to stay and restaurants.  The lectures are illustrated with hundreds of photos taken by my husband, architect Frank Kelly.  He contributes immensely to my courses with his superb photographs.
In 1966-67, we spent a year living in Paris and travelling around France.  That experience fostered a life-long interest in the country’s rich history and architectural heritage.  We marvel at the diversity and sheer beauty of the French landscape.  We are fascinated by the French food culture and love to visit and photograph markets.  To experience the pleasures of the table in France, one doesn’t have to spend a fortune at a three-star restaurant.  We have had outstanding meals produced in less-renowned kitchens.  In short, Frank and I are unabashedly Francoholic.  I try to communicate this enthusiasm for France to the students in my classes.

This course, L’Autre Val de Loire: The “Other Loire Valley: begins on March 13, 2013.

Mark Twain: New Perspectives on America’s Quintessential Writer

November 26, 2012
Mark Twain was described by William Faulkner as the “father of American literature”, and his work continues to resonate with us more than 100 years later. Abby Goode’s Spring class, “The Literary Legacy of Mark Twain” explores the life and work of Mark Twain. We visited with her recently to find out more.
WIH Reporter: What is Mark Twain’s literary legacy?
Goode:  Mark Twain tends to be characterized as one of the quintessential granddaddies of American literature. In this class, we will explore his literary legacy, and determine what it is about Mark Twain and his work that continues to reverberate in contemporary culture. We’ll read and discuss a range of his works, from his regional writings, to his humorist sketches, to his historical romances, to his travel writings, from his most famous to his lesser-known, from his most serious to his most satirical. We’ll explore the complexity of his style, intellect, and wit, and talk about why figures like Huck Finn and stories like Connecticut Yankee are still relevant in national and public life.
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, 1st Edition


WIH Reporter: Is it a fair question to ask, who was Mark Twain, really? His opinions, as expressed in his work, changed significantly over time.

Goode: Twain had changing and evolving views, whether it was on education, civil rights, labor, nationalism, and imperialism. Literary scholarship has recently taken up his essay “The German Chicago” and the newly-reprinted “The Treaty with China.” By the end of the course, we will evaluate whether the Mark Twain we’ve explored corresponds with the Mark Twain that exists in popular consciousness, or if there are multiple Mark Twains.

WIH Reporter: In what ways has Mark Twain influenced writers of modern literature?
Goode: There seems to be some scholarly debate around this subject, since it seems far from accurate, but the general belief is that Mark Twain really solidified the emergence of literary realism in the U.S. The first half of the century is generally characterized as “American Romanticism”, culminating in the half-decade of 1850-1855 called the “American Renaissance” (which, as some scholars have argued, saw the production of the best works by Thoreau, Emerson, Hawthorne, Melville, and Whitman). This is perhaps a generalization.

But Twain’s work deeply expanded the possibilities for American literature by introducing realist writing which interweaves romance, satire, and regionalism. His realist style is also characteristic of other writers producing work in the later half of the century such as William Dean Howells, Sarah Orne Jewett, and Rebecca Harding Davis. To speak extremely broadly, Mark Twain’s work marks a distinct shift in American literature from romantic to realist. But he was also constantly satirizing the literary style of others in his novels, or just plain making fun of them, as he did to James Fenimore Cooper, something we’ll talk about in class.

WIH Reporter: Will you be utilizing other media in this class?

Goode: The fun thing about this class is that we’ll be able to explore other media besides the written word. This is because Mark Twain’s literary legacy has extended beyond literature to other media and material cultures. We will watch film adaptations of Twain’s work, and, if there’s time, read some dramatic interpretations or even listen to some musical versions of his major works. Some of his works have even been animated or made into childrens’ shows! We’ll explore the promotion of this famous author’s house in Hartford, CT, and the many Mark Twain museums throughout the country. We can then ask: How is Mark Twain commemorated today and how does that memory connect with his living, breathing written work. How is he portrayed in the digital world?

WIH Reporter: What fueled your interest in Mark Twain?

Goode: As a literary critic in training, I’m always trying to “outsmart”, so to speak, these authors, but Twain always seems to outsmart me. He needs his own intensive study because he’s such a multi-faceted, hard-to-pin-down figure, even though he has become so iconic. I think in this class, we can try to master this crazy Twain character together. Or we may find that he is much more complex than we anticipated.

WIH Reporter: Which well-known writers were extremely influenced by Mark Twain?

Goode: Twain worked closely with William Dean Howells in the latter half of the nineteenth century, a writer who was also a champion of Henry James. The three figures were central to the production of literature in the late nineteenth century. Twain’s popularity soared because he was not only a compelling writer, but a gifted public speaker. Along with James and Howells, Twain set the course of American literature in the years after he came on the scene, probably influencing such other realist writers like naturalist novelist Stephen Crane, or regionalist short story writer Hamlin Garland. Modernist writers acknowledged his incredible impact on the literary landscape also. Ernest Hemingway wrote in 1935 that “all modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called “Huckleberry Finn.” And William Faulkner referred to Twain as “the father of American literature.”

WIH Reporter: Are there parallels in Twain’s time to modern times? The wit and wisdom of his writing – how does in serve us in these times?

Goode: Most scholars of Twain see him as imperialist and nationalist in his early writing career, particularly during the production of Huckleberry Finn, and mark 1900 as the year that Twain began to critique American imperialism. Yet the recent printing of his “Treaty with China,” originally published in 1868, has complicated that reading of Twain’s politics. Twain was both nationalist and critical of his nation. And Twain’s political critique forms part of a larger conversation still going on today. His observations of racial and international tensions in particular continue to be relevant. We will talk about his views on religion, race, and imperialism in detail in the class, and explore how his words might impact our current world.

WIH Reporter: What books would we find on your night table?

Goode: I read so many things at once. Currently I am reading Willa Cather’s O Pioneers (1913), Edith Wharton’s Ethan Frome (1911), and excerpts of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass (1855). I have just recently finished Catharine Sedgwick’s Hope Leslie (1827), which takes place in seventeenth-century Massachusetts. I tend to focus my energies on American literature and also literary criticism. Right now I’m reading Robert S. Levine’s Dislocating Race and Nation: Episodes in Nineteenth-Century American Literary Nationalism (2008) and Stephanie LeMenager’s Manifest and Other Destinies: Territorial Fictions of the Nineteenth-Century United States (2004).

Abby Goode earned her B.A. in English and Spanish from the University of Vermont, where she received the Samuel N. Bogorad Award from the Department of English and the Hannah Howard Prize for Outstanding Achievement in the College of Arts and Sciences.  She also completed an M.A. in Education from Pace University in New York, NY.  Before coming to Houston, Abby taught Spanish Language and Latin American Literature at the Urban Assembly School of Music and Art in Brooklyn, NY.  It was there that she spearheaded and developed the curriculum for an original college preparatory program for eleventh graders, led an instructional development team of eleventh-grade teachers at her school, and conducted teaching workshops for ATLAS Learning Communities and The Urban Assembly.  Currently, she is working towards her Ph.D. in English at Rice University, where she is studying a range of topics related to early American and 19th century American literature.

The Literary Legacy of Mark Twain” begins March 19, 2013.