My Photo


  • The last photo
    July 4, 2010, 17 GMU students became Oxford students for three weeks. The opening dinner, when everyone was sleepy and disoriented, began with a reception in the Fellows' Garden, and proceeded with several courses--including a sorbet as a palate cleanser.

Sagonne with Ruth

  • Baby shower for Adriana
    May in France can be chilly, but the time Ruth and I spent with David and Michael in Sagonne was memorable in many ways. It was Ruth's first visit since she and Morrie saw it for the first time in 2005, so it was a "homecoming" of sorts for her. The home is beautiful, overlooks a chateau, and has an amazing wine cellar. Fabulous meals are a short, lovely drive away. Even the new puppy, Albion, is a loving part of this magical place. Ruth positively glowed during the whole visit! Click on any photo to enlarge. To see the whole series, click on the first one and then click "next."

Venice in November!

  • Screensaver
    Mark was giving the Keynote address at a conference in Venice, and I decided to go at the last minute. I had visions of wet feet and grey days, but it was a glorious five days, and I loved the architecture, the food, and the company. Click on the photo to enlarge.

Cioppino Feast

  • Before dinner the seafood is arrayed for its close-up
    My mother's annual Christmas Eve meal was a huge cioppino feast with San Francisco sourdough bread and fresh cracked crab from Fisherman's wharf. There was also always shrimp, clams, and fresh fish. It was legendary, and her friends would starve themselves all day before arriving! I have cooked East Coast versions which don't come close to her meals since the crab is frozen and the bread flown in. But our friends still revel in the garlicky seafood, and we always make a delightful mess. Click on any photo to enlarge.

At The White House

  • The entry past the bars
    On February 26, I was one of about a dozen reporters who joined the White House Press Corps for the launch of the Picturing America initiative, sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities. Both George and Laura Bush spoke in the White House East Room, and a host of important people (including Tom Wolfe, Justice Scalia, untold numbers of congressmen, and other literati I didn't recognize) attended and later mingled with the Bushes at a reception in the West Room Dining Room. Reporters weren't invited to the reception! Click on any photo to enlarge.

Pizza Night

  • Upskirt
    All winter long, the Trenchers have come over for "Pizza Nights" at our house. It's a time to experiment with toppings, drink red wine (so good for our health!) and forget about our woes.

Parent Seminar 2006

  • The week after Thanksgiving may be an unusual time to have a turkey and ham gathering, but Eliot Waxman and I welcomed thirty-seven parents of our Senior Seminar students to the ninth annual microcosm of the "seminar" experience. The parents actively participated and the evening was, as always, enjoyable. Each year we find out why our students are so good---it comes from their parents!

Party at Museum of Natural History

  • 18
    The Bat Mitzvah party of my niece Rachel was unlike any party any of us had ever seen. Several large spaces at the Museum of Natural History were dedicated to the party, including the Mammoth Hall, the Grand Foyer with dinosaur skeletons, and the two story Marine Hall. The juxtaposition of modern technology, music, food, lights, and the ancient artifacts was breathtaking. Click on the thumbnails to enlarge each photo.

Cardinals and Squirrel

  • Baby is ready to fly away, because Dad still wants to give him nuts.
    Click to enlarge any photo. These photos are taken through the side door of our kitchen, because that way the birds seems to feel safe. A squirrel with no use of his right leg---due to a squirrel rumble in our backyard---enjoys eating the bird leftovers on our porch. Daddy cardinal comes to feed junior after the Blue Jays leave. Baby ruffles his feathers and cheeps while Dad breaks the nuts apart, then goes over to place the piece in baby's beak. CUTE!!!!

Birds on Sunday Morning

  • Female cardinal
    Quite early each morning, blue jays start cawing outside our kitchen door for some nuts. On this Sunday morning, I took pictures of all the usual suspects arriving to nosh. They have a "holding pattern," like planes in a crowded airport, and one by one (with many more jays than anything else,) they approach for a landing. Here are a few I caught on camera.


  • The color of these baked, not fried, empnandas comes from an egg wash.
    Adriana has inspired me to make empanadas, a delectable finger food with meat or vegetable interiors.

The Last Daytona AP Lit Reading

  • The Daytona Beach pier from my hotel window.
    2006 was the tenth and last time English Literature would be read at Daytona Beach. I will miss the pelicans, the waves from my hotel window, the trips to St. Augustine. I won't miss the tatoo parlors.

Wildlife in Fairfax Subdivision

  • Chipmunk cheeks
    Staying home from school has brought surprises: a buck, a coyote, and a fox all sharing space in our less-than-an-acre subdivision yard. You'll need to click on the photos to have any chance of seeing the Fairfax wildlife. I used to think our son David was as wild as it would ever get---but I was wrong!

Eggs and Conch Fritters

  • Eggs
    After eating the Cafe Atlantico conch fritters, I went on an internet quest to find the recipe, and was successful. They are the best recipe, by far, of an AP favorite from Florida. Score all day---conch fritters at night! The Farmers' Market eggs come from different varieties of hens---all free range, of course.

Dinner for California Guests

  • After dinner, the dishes are stacked and ready to put away
    When Joan Sills told me her friend Gail and daughter Lily were visiting colleges from Walnut Creek, California, I knew I had to show them some Eastern hospitality. Joan, Mary, and the visitors dined well after viewing Brown, Yale, Amherst, and other colleges. The menu: smoked salmon, spinach balls, parsnip soup, crab cakes with avocado puree, salad, fingerling potatoes, racks of lamb with mustard glaze, Chocolate temptation cake.

Homage to Julia Child

  • Puff pastry shells in the shape of fish will hold the seafood first course
    Since her death a few months ago, I have been wanting to serve an all-Julia dinner, as a kind of tribute to her and her influence on home cooks. December 10 I pulled it off! Click on any picture to enlarge.


  • Cambridge 2004
    These are photos from the George Mason University Center for Global Education Cambridge program. For three years I was their faculty sponsor in English Literature. Click on each picture for a description.

Faris Dinner

  • Anna and Ben
    When Jack and Karen Faris (friends of 32 years) arrived with their children, Bob and Anna, Anna's husband Ben, and their guest from Italy, Piero, it was time to pull out all the stops for dinner.
Blog powered by Typepad
Member since 09/2004

« Hamlet, A Modern Fantasy? | Main | Parents Prove They are Advanced Placement, Too! »



It was so good to see you!! You are very right about high school- i told one class, "if you don't fit in high school, go to college, because everyone fits in at college."
Maybe I'll come back again when I am on intersession in January-legally, of course...
(I emailed this to my dad, and he said, "which Liz are you?")

PS- you should link your son's blog from your site. Just a thought.

Dr. Jacobs

Liz----it was great to see you as well. And I've linked my son's site!

Account Deleted

I must agree with you. High school really is its own little world. Seperated from reality we are housed in this isolated "utopia" for four years as we are prepared for what is to come. Thinking about it this way makes it seem almost inhumane. But then theres always the fact that Oakton High School shares some disturbing similirities to a jail. Like how sassy and class xp run the same programming that they use to keep track of inmates in jails. Or how we have prison guards, aka administrators. And how you're not allowed to leave jail, I mean school, without valid permission. It really is unlike any other educational experience one can possibly recieve. You make a good point about how returning students all return moderately happy. It is true they probably return because of those few good memories from the past, but then who can spend four years in a building and not develop some type of bond? Braind washing? lets not go there. Well anyways I just wanted to say that i realy liked this post. High school students really are like zombies, half asleep, feet shuffling as we stumble our way into first period at 715 in the morning after a 30 minute drive through traffic on 66.

David Jacobs

Thank you for the link! I will keep your original comment about my weblog as a testimonial: "My son's blog is a little political and techie, but it is rather stunning in its construction." :)


I gotta say... Dr J got Oakton's number. Lots of classes in college are just interesting and it motivates me to go to class, rather than forcing me to be there. I thoroughly enjoy my theology class but I'm sure that my teacher could care less if I were to come. Therefor the class is more interesting as only people who want to be there and are interested show up.

Dr. Jacobs

There is no greater compliment than the comments of TWO graduates on this column. I will always love you, Liz and Pat!


Today's Washington Post listed the largest schools in the region and the nation. Robinson is #25 in the nation at 4000+. Oakton is just off the bottom of the region list at 2600. In a second article, Diane Ravitch, education historian at New York University, noted that supersize schools may have outlived their value - the smorgasbord approach to education has not proved especially successful. I wonder if the creation of oversize schools has not led to the isolated utopia you mentioned. Everything within four walls means there is no need to experience the real world (I betray my empiricist leanings).


The biggest thing that high school students worry about is acceptance, and they'll find acceptance wherever they can get it. There are a lot of kids out there who are interested in something but are afraid to be "too" interested, simply because of the social issues you describe.

My wife, a high school chemistry teacher, was able to successfully start a chemistry club at her school. The students in the group are passionate about chemistry and were able to make many new friendships through the group; in fact, many of them are more or less in their own clique now, sharing interests far beyond chemistry.

Have you considered starting an independent student reading/literature group? This could provide the opportunity for students with that fundamental spark to not only explore that spark, but find other students with common interests.


Hi Trent,

There are a couple links about Dr. Jacobs' book club, although it's on school grounds, it is extracurricular.


Erica Jacobs

As for the literature group, there are student reading groups of several varieties in the school, and many other extracurricular opportunities that provide students with a sense of belonging. But, despite those groups, I still think the nature of the place and the endemic peer pressure create a sense of alienation for nearly all students. And it's often even worse in smaller schools. I wish I had the answer, but reading George Orwell and others about schools early in the 20th century leads me to believe the high school culture hasn't changed much over time. Perhaps it's what has to happen at that stage of adolescent development!


Dr. Jacobs -
I really liked this little post about students returning from college - not only because it is mostly true but becasue i just like how its cleverly written. I like how you called high school a world of make believe because in a sense, its true. There are the students who do care but there are are even fewer who genuinely have a passion for what theyre learning. I hope to develop those passions more next year in college; these hallways of oakton can be so stifling sometimes. I'm also comforted by your acknowledgement of our school's similarity to a prison.. (at least that's the image i got from it). See you in class!


Dr. Jacobs--Hello! I enjoyed reading your post on returning students. It took me back to a few years ago, when I still regularly visited with some friends of mine. They and their parents have moved from the NoVa area (and my work schedule is just crazy these days!) so I haven't gone back in a while, but the visits were always interesting. You had already (been) transferred to Oakton, so I couldn't stop by your classroom on any of my visits.

It's been interesting for me to learn, from those visits and from high school and college reunions, is how many assumptions I made back then about people and where they'd wind up or what they'd end up doing based on what they were doing or wanted to do at the time. I had so many preconceived notions! (prejudices?)

And I agree that high school can be pretty miserable at times. I remember thinking at times that the only thing worse than it was the social crucible known as middle school. Thank god that I'll never have to repeat those 2 years of my life!!! But I also have some great memories from high school and had a lot of fun and enjoyed (some) of my classes.

Now, as residents of a large city, my husband and I are faced with the dilemma of what to do when we have children and they reach school age. Most families around us move to the suburbs or send their children to private school. I never realized how different school systems could be until I came to here, where some of the schools (even elementary schools) have police or staff at the doors with metal detectors, where some schools don't have functioning libraries, where some schools have very few computers, and so on. My husband assumes that any private school will be better than the public schools, but that's hard for me to wrap my mind around, since I was fortunate to attend public school in an area where the private schools weren't necessarily better. I definitely wasn't thinking about this much in high school.

Anyhow, I majored in English lit. in college (minored in French) and am now a managing editor at an independent academic publisher ( I love editing and I love working with editors. Just this week, we had our holiday luncheon at Ruth's Chris Steakhouse, and we were all grousing that the possessive in Ruth's really bothered us (a Chris Steakhouse that belongs to Ruth?). The one shocking thing about college was that although I was an English lit. major, I never once took a college-level course in Shakespeare! (I took the Chaucer seminar instead of the Shakespeare or Renaissance lit seminars.) It's my dirty little secret from college....

Anyhow, I really like your blog and the sleek look of all of the TypePad blogs that I've looked at, so I'm thinking of starting one of my own....

Mika (from your Humanities class from 1991 or 1992 or so...)

Dr. Jacobs

Hi Mika,
Thanks so much for your comment and for catching me up on your whereabouts. It's hard to believe that a petite junior could now be all grown, an editor, with a family of your own! I loved that class with Mr. Lindo, and I'm glad you remember it. When your kids are ready for school, visit and look carefully at the expressions on the students' faces. If they're happy and feel free, that's the place for your children!

The comments to this entry are closed.


  • Deepa Mehta: Water

    Deepa Mehta: Water
    A remarkable film with wonderful acting and visually stunning scenes. The subject is powerful, and Mehta took considerable risks in directing this film. (*****)

  • : Brokeback Mountain

    Brokeback Mountain
    Mature themes, beautiful cinematography. (*****)

  • : Smoke Signals

    Smoke Signals
    One of the great movies of all time. Like "Napolean Dynamite," you start out laughing AT the characters, and end up laughing and crying WITH them. This is brilliant about fathers and sons. (*****)

  • : Mad Hot Ballroom

    Mad Hot Ballroom
    I have been really into documentaries in recent months. This film made me want to throw out the AP test and hire a dance instructor for Senior Seminar! (*****)

  • : March of the Penguins

    March of the Penguins
    This is a great documentary that displays the power of community and pairing. (*****)

  • : Mark Bittner: The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill

    Mark Bittner: The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill
    This documentary will make you want to go out and buy a parrot, or---if you are lucky to have one already---want to give him a big smooch. (*****)


  • Richard Russo: Bridge of Sighs: A Novel (Vintage Contemporaries)

    Richard Russo: Bridge of Sighs: A Novel (Vintage Contemporaries)
    The structure of this very complex novel is a tour de force. I don't think younger people will love it, but if you're middle aged, order it right now. It is about missed opportunities, reconciling yourself with failure, and finding the beauty in what you have. I loved this novel, and it kept surprising me with its beauty and subtlety. (*****)

  • Kate Jacobs: The Friday Night Knitting Club

    Kate Jacobs: The Friday Night Knitting Club
    For those who knit, or have women friends who support them in rough times, or have ever lived on NY's Upper West Side, this book's for you. The characters are funny and endearing, if a bit unidimensional. But the narrative itself is quite skillfully crafted. (****)

  • Nicole Mones: The Last Chinese Chef: A Novel

    Nicole Mones: The Last Chinese Chef: A Novel
    I loved all three of Nicole Mones' novels, which I stumbled on accidentally thinking her "Lost in Translation" had something to do with the film. (It doesn't, but it's still very good.) This one, though, is fabulous. It is about an obsessive food culture, mourning, and love--the ups and downs that make life worth living. Her characters have enormous depth and nuance. (*****)

  • Erik Larson: The Devil in the White City:  Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America

    Erik Larson: The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America
    This book was so much better than I thought it would be. It reads like historical fiction, but it's all true. It made me want to go back to Chicago and look again at the area where I spent two years, only vaguely aware that the Chicago World's Fair had taken place right where I was living. It's also a great murder mystery. (*****)

  • Curtis Sittenfeld: Prep

    Curtis Sittenfeld: Prep
    I couldn't put this book down. It's a grisly look at the social pressures in high school---magnified by money and privilege in this preppy environment. The main character, though, is incredibly endearing---moreso even than Holden Caulfield. (*****)

  • Anne Tyler: Digging in America

    Anne Tyler: Digging in America
    Anne Tyler's latest, and best novel.(And since I love all her novels, that's saying something.) Her characters are, as always, funny, quirky, and very human. This time, though, I occasionally just sit back and admire a particular sentence. Is it possible she has become an even better writer, or am I just noticing how skilled she is? (*****)

  • : Kafka On The Shore

    Kafka On The Shore
    This is a remarkable journey of a young man who is both archetypal and postmodern in his preoccupations and journey. Every student who studies Japanese---and lovers of beautiful language---should read this book. (****)

  • Amy Tan: Saving Fish From Drowning

    Amy Tan: Saving Fish From Drowning
    I liked "The Joy Luck Club" a lot, but (with the exception of "Kitchen God's Wife") I have liked every subsequent novel even more. Tan reinvents herself each time she writes a novel. This one is a brillliant satire on tourists in addition to exploring the big issues of life and death. (****)

  • J.K. Rowling: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

    J.K. Rowling: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
    They just keep getting better. This one is about love and loss and a post-September 11th world. (*****)

  • Khaled Hosseini: Kite Runner

    Khaled Hosseini: Kite Runner
    One of the saddest books I've ever read, but also one of the best. You'll never think about Afghanistan the same way again. (*****)

  • Sue Monk Kidd: The Mermaid Chair: A Novel

    Sue Monk Kidd: The Mermaid Chair: A Novel
    Even though this book isn't bad, save your energy and read "The Secret Life of Bees" again instead. (**)

  • Eventide: Kent Haruf

    Eventide: Kent Haruf
    A sequel to Plainsong, this novel continues to explore the two silent brothers and their "new" family, plus other unusual family configurations as well. I love the dialogue. (*****)

  • Alexander McCall Smith: The Company of Cheerful Ladies

    Alexander McCall Smith: The Company of Cheerful Ladies
    Another great Ramotswe novel. Even recognizing that it's a formula of sorts does not diminish my pleasure in reading about Botswana and "traditional" values. (****)

  • Chimamanda Adichie: Purple Hibiscus

    Chimamanda Adichie: Purple Hibiscus
    An amazing coming-of-age novel by a Nigerian woman who carries on the literary legacy of "Things Fall Apart." The characters are both disturbing and moving and altogether fascinating. I read this in a day. (*****)

  • Gish Jen: The Love Wife

    Gish Jen: The Love Wife
    I loved "Typical American" and "Mona in the Promised Land," but this is Jen's best novel. It's really all about adoption: adopting children, adopting countries, adopting cultural traditions. The characters are all winning and flawed at the same time. Real life! (*****)

  • Tim Gautreaux: The Clearing

    Tim Gautreaux: The Clearing
    Gautreaux's first novel, reviewed earlier here, was very good, but this one is great. For one, the ending follows seamlessly from the themes of family love, ambivalence, guilt, and injury. A satisfying conclusion to a great novel is rare these days. This is "Slaughterhous Five" in the bayous---only better. (*****)

  • Alexander McCall Smith: The Sunday Philosophy Club

    Alexander McCall Smith: The Sunday Philosophy Club
    I love Smith's Precious Ramotswe books (see below) so much that I bought this first volume of a new series in hardback---something I almost never do! His heroine Isabel is not quite as splendid as Precious, but pretty darn close. This series rates 5 starts--the other even higher, if the scale would accommmodate the extra stars. Smith has the wit of a British male writer, and the compassion and wisdom of a female American one. He comes from Zimbabwe. Read him---he defies stereotypes. (*****)

  • Alexander McCall Smith: The Full Cupboard of Life

    Alexander McCall Smith: The Full Cupboard of Life

  • Alexander McCall Smith: The Kalahari Typing School for Men

    Alexander McCall Smith: The Kalahari Typing School for Men

  • Alexander McCall Smith: The #1 Ladies Detective Agency

    Alexander McCall Smith: The #1 Ladies Detective Agency

  • Jasper Fforde: The Well of Lost Plots

    Jasper Fforde: The Well of Lost Plots
    The most recent in the Thursday Next series, this novel culminates in a wonderful scene where fictional characters hold their own "Academy Awards," called the "Bookies." Heathcliff is about to receive his 18th consecutive award for "Most Troubled Romantic Lead" when Thursday shakes up the august assembly. (*****)

  • Jasper Fforde: Lost in a Good Book

    Jasper Fforde: Lost in a Good Book
    In Fforde's second novel about Thursday Next, her accomplice in book-hopping and time travel is Miss Havisham, who enjoys driving cars(!) Although the extreme cleverness becomes a bit annoying at times, Fforde is so literary and literate that I found myself looking forward to entering its zaniness. Note that Hades' evil little sister surfaces unexpectedly. (Isn't that the way with all evil little sisters?) (****)

  • Jasper Fforde: The Eyre Affair

    Jasper Fforde: The Eyre Affair
    Wildly popular in the UK, this literary detective novel is the first of Fforde's inventive hybrids of "Back to the Future" time travel, and literary detection. In this novel, the heroine saves Jane Eyre from evil (a man appropriately named Hades) and Rochester saves the heroine's life in a few different ways, as well. I enjoyed the ease with which Fforde moves in and out of fiction, through a book "portal." (***)

  • Haven Kimmel: The Solace of Leaving Early

    Haven Kimmel: The Solace of Leaving Early
    Some novels begin well and end poorly, but this first novel by Kimmel is good throughout---especially once the characters begin to drop their masks. At the center are a hard-to-like academic, a pastor wracked with guilt, and two traumatized children who have daily appointments with the divine. (****)

  • Kent Haruf: Plainsong

    Kent Haruf: Plainsong
    This well-written novel explores unconventional alliances as ways to avoid isolation. Reading it will make you appreciate your family! (*****)

  • Lee Smith: Fair and Tender Ladies

    Lee Smith: Fair and Tender Ladies
    Lee Smith's best novel. Ivy is a character whose life spans the pages of the novel as she becomes like family to the reader. She is funny, irreverent, compassionate, and unlike anyone else in literature. (*****)

  • Lee Smith: Family Linen

    Lee Smith: Family Linen
    Every bit as good as "Oral History," Lee Smith is a great writer, and underappreciated. (*****)