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Immerse in the History, Culture, Food, and Wine in the Heart of France 

March 1, 2017

Place François-Rude dite du Bareuzai in Dijon, wikipedia

Experience the Champagne and Burgundy regions in all their historical and cultural glory in Linda Kelly’s upcoming class “History, Culture, Food And Wine In The Heart of France.” We visited with Linda to get all the details.




WIH Reporter: What do we need to know about your class?

Kelly: The aim of all my classes is to help people become informed travelers. This particular class will spotlight the historic monuments, museums, culture, and gastronomy of Champagne and Burgundy. Both regions played a major role in French history.

WIH Reporter: Can you give us some examples of the role these regions played in French history?

Kelly: The Gothic cathedral at Reims was the site of royal coronations for over a thousand years. The town of Troyes prospered in the Middle Ages, thanks to its trade fairs created by the counts of Champagne. The walls of the city’s many churches glow with medieval and Renaissance stained-glass. Among the many châteaux featured in the course, the most fascinating ones belonged to the flamboyant Count Roger de Rabutin, who decorated the interior with portraits of kings, royal mistresses, and ladies of the Sun King’s court.

WIH Reporter: What can you tell us about the Burgundy region and about Dijon, its capital city?

Kelly: Burgundy was the cradle of the monastic movement which spread from Cluny and Cîteaux all over Europe. The Cluniac monks promoted a flowering of the arts-architecture, sculpture, and painting. To the Cistercians, we owe advances in agriculture, metallurgy, and the cultivation of the vine. The historic center of Dijon boasts a wealth of medieval, Renaissance, and neo-Classical buildings. Among the city’s many treasures are the ornate tombs of two dukes of the Valois dynasty on display in the former ducal palace (now the Museum of Fine Arts). The course will feature masterpieces of painting and sculpture commissioned by the dukes, who were great collectors and patrons of art.

WIH Reporter: What do you consider to be the most interesting events occurring in that region that still reverberate today?

Kelly: The death of Charles the Bold, the last Valois duke of Burgundy, during the Battle of Nancy in January 1477 was a decisive event in European history. His defeat put an end to the threat of the formation of an independent kingdom of Burgundy stretching from Burgundy to the North Sea. The map of Europe would have been different had the duke succeeded in uniting his northern and southern territories.

I have always been fascinated by the critical role played by the Valois dukes of Burgundy during the Hundred Years’ War.  During the reign of the mad king, Charles VI, the second Valois duke, John the Fearless, had the king’s brother killed.  Duke John lusted for power and control of the royal treasury.  His cousin, the king’s brother, stood in his way.  The murder of Louis d’Orléans triggered a civil war between Burgundians and followers of the dead prince.  Henry V of England took advantage of a divided France to inflict a humiliating defeat on the French on the battlefield at Agincourt.

WIH Reporter: What more should we know about your classes?

Kelly: Showing the historical background of a region makes travel more meaningful.  Anyone planning a trip to the area covered in the class, will benefit by the research I have done in planning my own trip.  I think that armchair travelers, who may not have immediate plans to visit France, will find the class intellectually stimulating & visually exciting.  My lectures are illustrated with hundreds of photographs taken during our travels by my husband, architect Frank Kelly.

Although I tend to focus on history, art, and architecture, I also talk about culture, cuisine, places to stay and restaurants.  Frank and I are fascinated by the French food culture.   We love to visit and photograph markets.  The market at Dijon will be featured in the class.

We will also go south of Dijon to the fabled wine road of the Côte d’Or leading to Beaune, renowned for its Hotel-Dieu, a 15th century charity hospital with a spectacular multi-colored glazed tile roof.  Southern Burgundy is a land of picture-postcard scenery, villages with lovely Romanesque churches, stone-walled vineyards, and fields of grazing cattle.

WIH Reporter: What other advice can you give us as armchair travelers?

Kelly: 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.

Linda Kelly’s 6-week class begins on March 21st at 1:00. For more information or to register, click here.

Aid in War: The Pros and Cons of Humanitarian Action

August 18, 2014

RAF plane airdropping food during 1985 famine (Wikipedia)

From Ebola vaccine distribution to aid for Yazidis fleeing Iraq, the scourges of war necessitate international help. However, humanitarian aid all too often comes with political and economic strings attached, bringing with it long range repercussions. In her upcoming class, “Aid and War: The Investigation of Humanitarian Action”, instructor Rebecca Timsar explores the complex world of humanitarian aid in time of conflict. We spoke with her to find out more.


WIH Reporter: What is important for us to know about the issue of humanitarian aid?

Timsar: First of all, this subject is very timely in view of what is happening in the Middle East and Africa at the moment. Secondly, I will give an insider’s look at the aid world and its key players. Finally, we will look into important humanitarian principles such as neutrality and independence and investigate why these are important when giving assistance in a war zone.

For example, in Iraq, US military assistance is certainly not neutral, especially given our long history of war in this country. Thus questions regarding perception and security of the victims as well as independence from political power arise. We will delve into these and many other topics on humanitarian assistance. Another example is the recent concern over delivery of Russian humanitarian aid to Ukraine. The international community was calling for distribution by the International Committee of the Red Cross and not Russian soldiers – we will probe the reasons behind this.

WIH Reporter: What would surprise people to know about aid during conflict?

Timsar: Aid most often comes with strings attached. It is not impartial and neutral at all, even in the most acute situations. In my class, we will use lectures, witnesses, PowerPoint slides, news media, video, and guest speakers to enrich the 8-week odyssey we plan to undertake. I have worked in the field of humanitarian aid for almost 2 decades and will certainly be calling on my own experiences to add complexity to the problems we study.

WIH Reporter: In a nutshell, can you tell us the biggest misconception we have about aid?

Timsar: The biggest misconception we have about humanitarian aid during conflict is that all aid is good aid.

A Guided Tour of Ancient Egypt: Immerse in the Mystery & Magic

August 27, 2013

Steep yourself in the 5,000 year-old world of ancient Egypt! Participate in a fascinating lecture at WIH and then a guided tour of the new Houston Museum of Natural Science’s 10,000-sq ft Egypt Hall. It’s all happening on Sunday, Sept. 8th, 2 p.m to 6 p.m., as we join renowned speaker and guide Dirk Van Tuerenhout, Anthropology Curator of the museum.

Designed to be a completely immersive experience, this exhibition has been described as the most comprehensive ancient Egypt display in the southwestern United States. From Chiddingstone Castle to Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, Germany’s Roemer und Pelizaeus Museum to Emory University, stunning artifacts have come into Egypt Hall, and numerous items will continue to move through HMNS’ ever-changing yet permanent display.

The preliminary lecture will be held at Women’s Institute of Houston, after which participants will proceed to the Houston Museum of Natural Science. The guided tour begins in Egypt Hall, with a walk along the river Nile, and moves forward into the daily life of ancient Egyptians, with up-close views and explanations of their temples, mummies, sarcophagi, hieroglyphic panels, friezes, and more. The tour then segues into the modern day, with stories of the most exciting discoveries of the 1920s, and the latest technological methods of artifact gathering. Join us for a one-of-a-kind experience!

 For more information, and to sign up, visit the Sunday lecture page by clicking here.  

How Much Do You Know About…Ancient Egypt?

August 27, 2013

1. Cleopatra was:

A. Egyptian.
B. Greek Macedonian.
C. Jordanian.

2. The pyramids were built by:

A. Slaves
B. Israelites.
C. Paid workers.

 3. In order to stop incessant flies from landing on him, one Pharaoh:

A. Never went outdoors.
B. Had honey smeared on slaves near him.
C. Created an effective bug killing substance.

4. Early Egyptian medical innovations included:

A. Treating infections with moldy bread.
B. Using copper to disinfect wounds.
C. Sewing wounds with needle and thread.
D. All of the above.

5. Egyptian children wore:

A. No clothing at all.
B. Body makeup.
C. Robes, like their parents.

6. A Pharaoh’s hair was:

A. Braided by slaves daily.
B. Oiled and scented by slaves daily.
C. Never seen.


1. B – Cleopatra was Greek Macedonian. Although she was born in Alexandra, she was descended from Ptolemy I, one of Alexander the Great’s lieutenants. The Ptolemaic Dynasty ruled Egypt for 275 years, from 305 BC to 30 BC, and retained their Greek heritage. Cleopatra was one of the first members of this dynasty to speak the Egyptian language.

2. C – Evidence points to the fact that pyramids were build by paid workers. The workers who built the pyramids ate meat and worked in three-month shifts. Although paid, their labor was extremely hard as shown by their bone damage.

3. B - In order to stop flies from landing on him, Pepi II of Egypt always kept several naked slaves nearby whose bodies were smeared with honey.

4. D – All of the above. In early Egyptian medicine infections were treated with moldy bread which has antibiotic properties. They used copper as a disinfectant for wounds, performed autopsies and surgeries, and more.

5. A – Due to the high temperatures, Egyptian children wore no clothes until they were in their teens.

6. C - A Pharaoh never allowed his hair be seen. A crown or headdress was worn instead.

A Writer’s World

October 13, 2011

Christopher Woods has been teaching his popular creative writing class at the Women’s Institute for years. The class is designed for those who wish to express themselves in writing and participants are encouraged to write poetry, fiction, or non-fiction.  They are also encouraged to experiment in new forms in order to build a stronger writing foundation. We recently got a chance to visit with Chris. 

WIH Reporter: Of all the topics you could have chosen, was makes this one especially important to you?  

Woods: Conducting a writing workshop is the most natural thing I can do. I have been writing in one form or another since I was seventeen. I enjoy becoming familiar with the work of others, and encouraging them to find their voice. An added treat is to watch them find their way in the world and to begin to publish their work, which is a very gratifying thing.

WIH Reporter: What books would we find on your night table this month?
Woods:  You would find literary journals and photography books.

WIH Reporter: What were the strongest influences in your life?
Woods:  My parents. They provided such a normal childhood that I am surprised I became a writer. Later, a special creative writing teacher encouraged me, and in a way, he gave me permission to explore my own creativity. 

WIH Reporter: What is the one thing people should know about you (but do not)?
I once played guitar in a jug band on a ship crossing the Atlantic. Fortunately the ship was far away from the U.S., so no one here had to listen to my music. I don’t know that anyone needs to know about this, but it is something different. Other than that, as a writer I struggle as much as anyone else to find the right words. It’s an endless battle. 

WIH Reporter: What advice do you have for other writers?

Woods: Every writer should keep a journal, and make entries as often as possible. Most of the information in the journal will be perceptions, descriptions, and general thoughts about day to day life. From those journal entries, ideas for longer pieces can come about. A description of a person might lead to the creation of a fictional character, for example. Keep in mind that our lives are often frenetic, so any specific details that we record can be extremely helpful later when we attempt creative writing, in any form.

When an idea for a poem or story comes to me, I try to sit down and write immediately if at all possible. Otherwise, the inspiration passes. If I wait until later the moment could be lost.

WIH Reporter: What about writer’s block?

Personally, I do not believe in such a thing as writer’s block. But, we are very good at making excuses. If we want to be writers, our job is to write. Life throws roadblocks, crises, all kinds of things to take us away from our writing. There are even writing workshops for victims of trauma. I think we should try to make use of our life experiences, all kinds, and in the end we can become better writers because of it.

Foreign (and other) Affairs

October 13, 2011
Sidney Buchannan’s class has arrived at an opportune time, as representatives from the nation’s political  parties are debating the size and power of the federal government

Buchannan’s class delves into the important subject of constitutionality, exploring each branch of the federal government and the powers it can exercise.  In particular, he will examine the constitutionality of forced detention of aliens (and US citizens) without trial, the use of military power without formal declarations of war, recognition of foreign governments, and more – all of which are have occurred in recent years. We asked Professor Buchannan to tell us the particulars about his class, and his propensity to burst into song at unexpected moments.

WIH Reporter: Why have you chosen this particular subject for your class?
Buchannan: I have chosen The Constitution and Foreign Affairs as my topic for the current fall season because if fits neatly with the present foreign affairs issues that confront our nation. This course also gives me a chance to show how difficult it often is to even get the Supreme Court to review a case.

WIH Reporter:  We understand that you often sing in your classes, placing your own lyrics into well-known songs to get the point across. Can you tell us more about this?  
Buchannan: From childhood forward, I have thrived on putting my own lyrics to familiar tunes. As I surged through boarding school, college, and law school, I did this frequently, and it became a regular habit as I entered my adult years, a habit from which people could not escape even if they wanted to.  And so, at family birthday occasions, in the law school classroom, and in various church activities I belt out songs with lyrics appropriate to the situation at hand.   It is advantageous to me in that, because of the settings in which these songs occur, no one expects me to sing in operatic tones.  It is like the dog that can stand on three legs: it is not that I do it well, but that I do it at all.  In any event, it has brought me great joy to sing my lyrics to the various audiences that have been subjected to them over the past decades!  

WIH Reporter:  Can you tell us what books are on your night table?
Buchannan: I am currently reading “How Would a Patriot Act” by Glenn Greenwald and “The Land of Painted Caves” by Jean M. Auel, the last in her excellent series on Earth’s Children.  The strongest influences on my life are too numerous to list but certainly include my family, my church, my close friends, and my teaching career at the University of Houston Law Center.  I think most people who know me well would describe me as a joyous person, and I plead guilty to that charge!  Finally, as a child, I was a fervent fan of the Oz books authored by L. Frank Baum and later by Ruth Plumly Thompson.  I am “joyously” happy to share that fact with the world at large.

Are You Well Read? – October

October 13, 2011
Venice is one of the most magical cities in Europe, and authors over the centuries have made ample use of its enchanting ambiance in their work. Here are just a few of the well-known books set in Venice:
Death in Venice, Thomas Mann
The Aspern Papers, Henry James

Death at La Fenice, Donna Leon

A Venetian Affair, Andrea di Robilant

Venice Observed, Mary McCarthy

The World of Venice, Jan Morris

The Comfort of Strangers, Ian McEwan

Don’t Look Now, Daphne du Maurier

For a more comprehensive list, along with a description of some of the books, see the following web page: Fictional Cities.

Are You Well Read?

September 5, 2011

Question: How many 19th century novels (short stories or novellas) can you name that prominently feature a character who descends into madness?

Hint: One famous novel features a madwoman in the attic.

Answer: Nineteenth-century literature reflects changing Victorian attitudes to mental illness. In the early decades, madness was often described in terms conveying horror and disgust. Only in later novels do we find a more compassionate portrait of mental illness. Indeed, this adjustment in attitude was evidenced in two separate works by author Charlotte Bronte. Her earlier novel, “Jane Eyre”, offered a characteristically Gothic interpretation, introducing the repulsive, feral madwoman in the attic. Some years later, Bronte painted a more enlightened picture of mental illness in her semi-autobiographical novel, “Villette”.
Here is a list: 
Pickwick Papers, Charles Dickens (1837)

Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte (1847)
Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte (1847)
David Copperfield, Charles Dickens (1850)
Vilette, Charlotte Bronte (1853)

Little Dorritt, Charles Dickens (1857)

Cassandra Florence Nightengale (1860)

Lady Audley’s Secret, Mary Braddon (1862)

He Knew He Was Right, Anthony Trollope (1869)

The Yellow Wallpaper, Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1892)

Follow-up Reading:

Books and articles on this subject can be found as follows:

Allan Beveridge and Edward Renvoiz

McCandless, P. (1981) Liberty and lunacy: The Victorians and wrongful confinement. In Madhouses, Mad doctors, and Madmen: The Social History of Psychiatry in the Victorian Era.

Lisa Appignanesi, Mad, Bad and Sad: A history of the mind doctors from 1800 to the present (Virago 2008)
Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar, The Madwoman in the Attic: The woman writer and the nineteenth-century literary imagination (Yale University Press, 1979)
Elaine Showalter, The Female Malady: Women, madness and English culture 1830-1980 (Virago, 1985).

New Perspectives on 9/11

September 5, 2011
September 11, 2011 marks the 10-year anniversary of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. Professor Terry Doody is teaching “Politics and Other Fictions”,  a literature class that centers around this event. Recently, we visited with Professor Doody to find out more.
WIH Reporter: Three of the novels featured in your class focus on the actual event, but the rest do not. What informed your choice of novels for this class?

Doody: The anniversary of 9/11 is exactly the reason I want to teach the books–not only the three of them immediately focused on the event itself, but the other novels that give us a sense of Islam, in some of its very many forms.

WIH Reporter:  How can reading fiction enlarge our perspectives in approaching this event? 

Doody: Shelley says in “The Defense of Poetry” that we must be able to imagine what we know. What we merely know are facts.  Imagination, at least for the Romantic writers of the nineteenth century, is the greater power necessary to comprehend our whole reality with the fullness of our consciousness.  And fiction is not merely useful but always essential to our comprehension precisely because it takes us beyond ourselves and our familiar reality into the minds of others.

WIH Reporter: What is an example of the importance of imagination in relation to merely knowing facts?

Doody: One of the reasons we lost the war in Viet Nam is that we could not imagine losing it. We could not imagine the culture, the need, the endurance of the Vietnamese.  We thought they would react just as we would react, and they didn’t. 

As the old saying goes, the generals are always fighting the last war, which was in the jungle not in the mountains and deserts of Afghanistan, which itself is not a modern nation-state. They are not us, and we are having trouble imagining them, despite all the information technology at our disposal.-

Politics and Other Fictions begins on September 8th, 2011, and features the following novels: Malgudi Days (Narayan),  The Satanic Verses (Rushdie);  Palace Walk (Mahfouz);  Let the Great World Spin (McCann);  Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (Foer);  The Good Life (McInerney);  Say You’re One of Them (Akpan);  Unaccustomed Earth (Lahiri); and  The Thing Around Your Neck. (Adichie).

Of Biblical Proportions: Power, Revenge, and Salvation in The Book of Samuel

September 5, 2011
For two thousand years, Jews, Christians, and Muslims have been reading the Bible, and it has never lost its fascination. This fall at the Women’s Institute of Houston, Professor Seymour Rossel’s is offering a dynamic class about the Book of Samuel, titled “Prophets, Priests, and Kings”. We asked Professor Rossel to tell us about the particulars about his class, and more. 

WIH ReporterWhy have you chosen this particular book of the Bible for your class?

Rossel: It is one of my personal favorites among the books of the Bible. I like it for the same reason that I admire the three films of “The Godfather.” It is filled with towering moments of drama, with characters struggling for power and repute, with stories of Judges, priests, prophets, and kings and how they interact, with stories of soothsayers and witches, with the desires of real people to make a better nation for themselves, with tales of marriage and divorce, rape and murder, crime and punishment, and wars with enemies and wars within families. 

The Book of Samuel (found in modern translations in two parts, as First Samuel and Second Samuel, but still one book) has everything that made the “Godfather” so compelling (aside, perhaps from a horsehead in the bed).

WIH ReporterWhat other parallels to our time can we find in The Book of Samuel?

Rossel: In a time when we ponder with issues of how much power should be vested in our national, state, and local government, Samuel takes on the same issue and provides some surprising insights. In a time when we wonder why so many of those who rise to high office manage to fall through their own human weakness, the Book of Samuel proves that this is an age-old dilemma. At a time when splinter groups seem to wield so much political power and divisiveness seems to dominate our national politics, the Book of Samuel gives us glimpses into the processes that drive people apart and the best in us which can sometimes reunite and heal our national will. No wonder, then, that the ancient sages recommended that we “Turn it, turn it, and turn it again, for everything is in it.”

WIH ReporterWhat were the strongest influences in your life and work?

Rossel: The strongest influences in my life have always been teachers who became friends and friends who became teachers. I have been remarkably blessed in this sense. You might not recognize many of the teachers I have had the honor of knowing, but you would certainly recognize one or more. As a youth, I had a brief interview with Martin Buber that proved influential. Ever since, when I read his books and essays, I hear his voice and recall his presence, so he has remained my teacher. 

I was fortunate enough to study writing with Marshall Terry, a fine Texas author, and Ken Shields, a brilliant critic and interpreter, both of SMU and both of whom became lifelong friends. In New York, I studied at NYU with Cyrus Gordon and Manuel Gold, both of whom became close friends; and I was fortunate to study with Joseph Campbell at his workshop The Open Eye and to become his friend, as well. As a teacher, I continue to try to emulate these folk and others who brought wisdom and learning into my life and what I love most about the Women’s Institute is the closeness that allows those of us who teach to be friends with those of us who are taught. We have so much to learn from one another.

Professor Rossel’s class meets on Tuesday afternoons, from 1:00 – 3:00, and starts September 6, 2011.

June 22, 2011
John K. Graham
Irene Guenther

Fall Classes Address the “Hard” Questions in Life
Three classes will be offered this fall to examine the hard questions in life.  John K. Graham will visit “The Moral, Ethical and Religious Response to 21st Century Biotechnology”.  His questions are not futuristic, but need answers that we must be prepared to grapple with today!  Irene Guenther will present “Genocide:  A Crime Without A Name”.  Genocide remains one of the preeminent problems facing the human community in the 21st century.  Understandably, emotionally and intellectually demanding, it is of great importance.  And Dr. Jill Carroll will be teaching “Topics in Applied Ethics” which challenges the way we live our lives.  Join The Women’s Institute for one or all of these thought provoking classes.  These are classes that make a difference!

Fall Classes on the Hard Questions in LIfe

May 25, 2011

Three class will be offered this fall on the hard questions in life.    John K. Graham will visit The Moral, Ethical and Religious Response to 21st Century Biotechnology.  His questions are not futuristic, but need answers that we must be prepared to  grapple with today!   Dr. Irene Guenther will present Genocide:”A Crime Without a Name”.  Genocide remains one of the preemininent problems facing the human community in the 21st century.   Understandably, emotionally and intellectually demanding, it is of great importance.  And Dr. Jill Carroll will be teaching Applied Ethics which always challenges the way we live our lives.  Join us for one or all of this thought provoking classes.  They are classes that make a difference!        

Meet Our New Music Professor!

September 29, 2010

Aaron Alon’s music has been performed around the world, by such acclaimed musicians as Leone Buyse, Ian Davidson, Sounds New, and the Vientos Trio. His works have been included on three labels, including a recent release from Capstone Records, and have received numerous national and international composition honors.
Composer, musician, teacher….he has it all!  He is teaching American Musical Theatre, a eight week course, on Wednesday afternoons at 1:00 p.m.

For more about him and his works click on

1st Lecture Luncheon October 22nd with Dr. Anne Chao

September 23, 2010
Yesterday – The Royal Palace
Today – City of Taipei
A Modern Chinese Woman

Dr. Anne Chao will kick off the Women’s Institute’s 60th season.  In keeping with our tradition of providing our members with stimulating and informative cultural insights, Dr. Chao’s lecture is entitled “A Modern Chinese Woman Looks at Her Homeland.”