Wednesday, May 12, 2021

May Celebrations

The weather is chilly here, I am still wearing a warmer coat to walk the dogs, and haven't planted anything yet because it gets too cold at night. Every once in a while the sun is strong in the afternoon and feels nice and warm. I'm ready for the intense heat of summertime. I'm also ready for my school students to run wildly out the door, to be free for the summer, to put this year behind. I don't know what next year will look like but these kids need a summer break. 

Yesterday I drove back home after visiting my brother and sister-in-law in the Minneapolis area. It was cold there also. Friday night we had an excellent dinner with this chickpea soup prepared by both my brother and his wife and old family friends helped as well.  I feel like I've known them my whole life and there is something so reassuring about having people in your life that knew you as a young person.  Marv was one of my dad's best friends and Marcia still remains one of my mother's besties. It was wonderful to watch the two of them talk at the table together, heads leaning in. My mother broke her hip in a recent fall and uses a walker right now and Marcia has her own. Marv recently recovered from a very serious heart surgery as well. We are all getting older.  Yep. The night was magical though and it was lovely to visit with both Marv and Marcia, sharing and listening to their life stories. My nephew Beckett interviewed Marv about his Cold War experiences guarding the Berlin Wall. I loved hearing Marcia's stories about childbirth in the 1970s where she had to argue to have her husband in the delivery room. We've come a long way baby.

The next day we had a lazy morning (I slept until 9:30!) and then went to Excelsior, browsed and had lunch at Coalition.  We celebrated Mother's Day all weekend and my brother's 49th birthday. We had four different delicious desserts over the course of two days. And then I made fresh cinnamon rolls for Sunday brunch before we left town.  I should think about giving up sugar for a few weeks. My brother is an amazing chef and really enjoys planning a menu and sharing food with friends and neighbors. 

And then we had to come home, back to reality, back to lesson planning and waking up early. I did come home to a lovely daughter, and another calling me to leave a happy message from Brooklyn, and a son who took time to call and chat about everything. I felt loved all weekend long and even more so pulling into my own driveway, reaching my home destination because my family was happy to see me and my dogs were so excited to see me. I could tell because of the full body tail shake! 

I finished The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich, an excellent read, Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi, the author of Homecoming, another excellent read. Now I am reading The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett, author of The Mothers, both wonderful stories. I'm trying to squeeze in lots of adult fiction before summer hits because I'm taking two classes and I have lots of award contenders to read before August. Librarian Life. Enjoy...

Friday, April 30, 2021

Let’s touch base...

It's the end of April! We’ve had a fantastic month of poetry for most of my students at school. I mean of course there are a few hold-outs who just can’t get into it but that’s okay. We did some borrowed poetry with Kwame Alexander and my littles did a few acrostic and concrete poems about trees, the weather and Earth Day. We read a lot of poetry together and kids of all ages love the You Read to me; I’ll read to you series of poetry books by Mary Ann Hoberman. Reading a poem out loud to a group of your peers is a brave thing to do and reading it with a friend just makes it easier. 5th and 6th graders are doing a mash-up with The Hill We Climb by the amazing Amanda Gorman, poet laureate. We listened to her recite this poem and through Google Classroom each student has their own copy to edit how they choose. Ms. Gorman has many beautiful and meaningful phrases and some students were really able to conceptualize what Amanda’s intention was in this piece. The poem they compose with me will then be illustrated with our beautiful art teacher.  

Last week I made a really delicious sweet potato dish from the NYT with wild rice that gave me lots of great lunches for school. I made some yummy m & m bars last night for a student party today at school and at the beginning of the week I made a chocolate vegan birthday cake for our son’s birthday. He took all the cake with him (or we gave him all the cake?) but I’m still thinking about the rich dark chocolate flavor. I am ready for the weekend, ready to relax and prepare mentally for the last month of school. Groovy Girl is almost finished with her freshman year of college and I’m ready for her to be home and in a summer routine. 

And tomorrow is May Day! Ya’ll have your May Day baskets prepared yet? We don’t either but will do them tomorrow for maybe an early evening delivery time. Let’s head into May with a positive mindset and  good weather for spending time outside. 

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Today and tomorrow

I  anxiously awaited the end of the Chauvin trial, as millions of others did, because I wanted a trend to be set and I am very happy with the outcome. In fact I cried. If we can convict one police officer then it can happen again and hopefully start a fire burning for better policing. City and state budgets need to be spent on training for officers on how to de-escalate with more emphasis on better understanding and compassion. Long live the memory of George Floyd! It's one tiny step to restorative justice in these United States.

I finished The Night Watchman Louise Erdrich’s excellent novel which recounts the story of her grandfather in 1953.. There has been no time in our country’s history where we’ve treated the First People with the respect they deserve and this book recounts the “emancipation bill” created by Senator Arthur V. Watkins, a Mormon, of Utah. This bill was set to relieve the Native people of their status as a tribe and force integration into bigger cities like Minneapolis/St Paul. Watkins pushed this idea as the Emancipation Proclamation for Natives. Erdrich’s ability to weave facts into her beautifully-written prose makes this a majestic book to read. I strive to read whatever she publishes.  My favorite quote from The Night Watchman: 

"We're from here," said Thomas. He thought awhile, drank some tea. "Think about this. If we Indians had picked up and gone over there and killed most of you and took over your land, what about that? Say you had a big farm in England. We camp there and kick you off. What do you say?" Barnes was struck by this scenario. He raised his eyebrows so fast his hair flopped up." I say we were here first!"

Many aren't aware that Erdrich has a historical fiction series that begins with The Birchbark House for elementary students. This 5 book series is a wonderful look into Native life as they attempt to survive while European explorers and settlers encroach on their land and way of life.

I'm feeling burned out from school and look forward to summer. I will be happy to have Groovy Girl back home and hope for somewhat of a "normal" summer with threads of pre-pandemic moments.  I am taking my worries to my yoga mat and have challenged myself to show up everyday for at least 20-30 minutes with Adriene. I thought I would have so much extra time this year and I just ended up juggling more work and stress. I always have hope and know this is temporary. Be good to yourself.  Peace be with you...

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Caste: the origins of our discontents by Isabel Wilkerson

 I finished this after 4 months. It just wasn’t a book I could rush and I needed to take a break after sections to think about it ALL because there is so much in here. I very much enjoyed her writing style.  At almost 400 pages and seven sections long the book dissects all that you would ever need to know about the social construct of the caste system in these United States, Nazi Germany, and India.  I only want to present a few highlights that stood out to  me. I encourage anyone interested in understanding better how the conquering men stole the land, crushing the original inhabitants, and built this country up using enslaved people from the continent of Africa. 

"Colonial laws herded European workers and African workers into separate and unequal queues and set in motion the caste system that would become the cornerstone of the social, political, and economic system in America. ...triggering the deadliest war on U.S. soil, lead to the ritual killings of thousands of subordinate-caste people in lynchings, and become the source of inequalities that becloud and destabilize the country to this day." (41)

For slavery to have existed here in the "land of the free" is horrid enough but after the Civil War was fought collectively people and our government should have stood up for actual freedom. Civil War generals should have been put on trial in the North and been tried for treason instead of celebrated. Freed slaves should have been offered education and training instead of sharecropping.  Even as they fled north they were given minimal opportunities. Jim Crow laws continued this mindset and paved the way for the equity issues we struggle with today. 

Wilkerson shares many personal stories of racism from her own life and of others that help to shine a light on the difficulties black and brown people experience daily. People from the dominate caste feel they have the right to dictate, bully and get involved in situations that have nothing to do with them. She shares a story of her encounter with a plumber who isn't interested in helping her find the source of her wet basement until she humanizes the situation for him and about airline attendants who doubt her first class status. 

 I read each word, each sentence, each chapter slowly as to fully absorb the emotion and meaning I often had to walk away from the book to regain some composure. While it is brutal and often left me chilled; this book is a must read for anyone seeking enlightenment on how we got here.  Understanding the why is important. We have got to do better. My biggest take away is that we have to step in and say something as these situations happen both on a grand scale for racist policies and on a more personal scale to the Karens we encounter. 

Monday, April 5, 2021

Hello Fresh and other news

Out of curiosity I used a coupon card and signed up for meals from Hello Fresh; one of the many subscription food services out in the world. And I found that like many things it is filled with false promises and inaccurate advertising. It was a lot of fun to look through the week's menus and pick and choose what to look forward to for the week. The meals look delicious online and honestly when you cook them up out of their handy brown paper bag they tasted good. So the flavor and ease were a hit but there was so much waste with tiny packaging for sauces and herbs that as an eco-conscience person it was not a good fit. Also the advertising on their page is like "ten free meals..." which is just not true. You get a big discount on your first week's order but the price goes up significantly after that. I was happy to give it a fun try at a time when it was just the two of us to cook for and we needed a mental health boost as we were trying to desperately leave winter behind. I will use the recipe cards again and again because the flavors were good - I'll just plan to use my own pantry items here on out. 

It's National Poetry Month and I've worked this in to my lesson plans for some spring fun. I read a few excerpts from Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein. I loved that many students  knew many of the poems in this book and even had specific requests for me to read aloud. I had this book as a child and love Shel's first poem inside. It's still a great message for today.


If you are a dreamer, come in.

If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar, 

A hope-er, a pray-er, a magic bean buyer,

If you're a magic bean buyer, come sit by the fire

For we have some flax-golden tales to spin,

Come in!

Come in!

I discovered a series of videos with Kwame Alexander sharing his experiences with writing that are engaging and short so perfect for students. He has kids chanting after him when he repeats his "blue black, blue black, black black" and they are amazed at how his words flow. Enjoy the week and embrace the Spring weather that is hopefully here to stay. I know I need the sunshine on my face. 

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Walking Toward Race


 Last weekend I had the opportunity to attend my favorite writer’s retreat in Minnesota. I love to walk on the expansive trail and we were offered the chance to collect sap from the many maple trees on the Charlson Meadows property.  We were to be in the foyer by 11am if we were interested in going along.

I did a quick yoga vinyasa after reading for an hour and changed clothes to head out. I stood ready with my coat on at 11am, waiting and wondering if I was the only one taking up the caretaker, Renee’s invitation. I stood there until someone passed through saying she thought they'd already headed out. I bristled a little (what?!) because how had I missed them but headed out anyway to see if I could find them so intrigued was I by the idea of collecting tree sap for eventual syrup. Up and around the trail I traveled quickly only spotting a few heads once far ahead. I felt frustrated that I was missing this small event. I kept replaying how I'd missed them and knew they must have started out earlier than expected. No matter how fast I seemed to be hiking along the windy trail I could not catch up. 

Earlier in the day I’d been reading about caste and my thoughts in a very visceral way connected my trying to catch up, constantly feeling just out of reach, not good enough to get there and linked it to race in America. This is what we've done systematically  to my brothers and sisters of color throughout the history of our country. This small instance of feeling a little lost, a little left behind is in no way truly similar to how we've actually treated POC but the deep physical connection was made for me once again in that instance. I eventually did catch up to the group and was able to collect syrup but the heavy feeling stayed with me.

The American caste system was created with diligence as a means to dehumanize those enslaved by how they were treated like property and could not be educated in any way. After the Emancipation Proclamation granted freedom we made no attempt to create a balance of equity through housing, education, or quality of life.  Jim Crow laws continued to dehumanize people of color and the rules seemed to change and shift like moving earth continually keeping folk unstable. 

And then this week the Atlanta shooting of 8 people, 6 of those dead are 6 Asian American women which brings to attention almost 4,000 records of hate, discrimination, and harassment incidents against Asian Americans this year brought on by our hate-filled former president who mocked the pandemic and blamed people of Asian descent. You reap what you sow. 

How can we help people of color to catch up? How can we stop hate crimes? Big questions. We have to humanize what was formally dehumanized by our government and by individuals who cannot see past a person’s skin color or race.  I’m always alarmed by how white criminals, like Robert Long and Dylan Roof, are treated with a dignity undeserving of someone who has robbed the lives of other human beings, especially when it is racially motivated. And how can you say it wasn’t racially motivated? It was also a crime against hard-working women. Know their names:

I think we need a department of justice that oversees all crimes that might be race or gender related with specific standards of punishment. It needs to go beyond the local and state because we cannot always trust law enforcement to make the best choices. Thankfully, most people "having a bad day" don’t purchase a gun and proceed to shoot others.  As a white person we have to look at how we are using our privilege. Here is a link to an interactive list of Black/Brown people killed in the U.S. There are far too many names on the list. It should shatter us every day that this takes place. When can people of color be able to feel truly free in this country?

How can we be part of the solution? Tomorrow is a new day. We haven't corrected the mistakes made in the Breonna Taylor case and America keeps piling on more hate crimes.

What I’m reading: 


Caste by Isabel Wilkerson - Yes, this is taking me a long time but it’s not to be rushed

The Science of Breakable Things by Tae Keller - she won this year’s Newbery Award for When You Trap a Tiger, which I read earlier over break. Both books are excellent!


Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Year of the woman

For February and March I’ve shared important women and POC like Bessie Coleman, Harriet Tubman, Mae Jamison, and Rosa Parks with all my library students. We’ve read books like  The Oldest Student; How Mary Walker learned to read by Rita Lorraine Hubbard and Oge Mora and Counting on Katherine; how Katherine Johnson saved Apollo 13 by Helaine Becker. We’ve discussed men such as Thurgood Marshall, George Washington Carver, John Lewis, Sammy Lee, and Henry “Box” Brown. 

Invariably one of my older students will ask why isn’t there a men’s month? My answer sounds something like ... Well we live in a a patriarchal system and white males predominate in every field available except perhaps education and you’ve studied American history from a white lens. You learned about our white “founding fathers”, explorers, scientists, and inventors in school using a text book that generally gives an age old slice of approved information and it’s up to you to seek out a more well-rounded view on everything. And it’s my job to help you see things in new ways through research and exploration. 

It’s hard to know how far to take it; I don’t want to overwhelm my students yet I want to push them enough to look outside their predominantly white community at the larger world and see others with compassion, as humans. 

Other resources to explore: The Black History Channel and the's Women's History 

With our first female vice president it is more important than every to help all our students understand how important these achievements are and we need to keep pushing for more. 

Sunday, March 7, 2021

Winter Reading

 Oh, the weekend has been beautiful, the sun was bright and warm. It felt like Spring weather was here for a few days. I'm craving that so we can get outside more, take walks, hang out on patios, and see friends. During the cold spell of January and February I did fit in a ton of reading.  My top 5 books were: 

1. Fighting Words by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley (2020) :  Della and her older sister Suki are taken in to foster care after escaping from their incarcerated mother's boyfriend. Della has always been able to count on her sister as protector but Suki is fighting her own demons and tries to commit suicide. The two sisters along with their caretaker learn to look out for each other through all the trauma they've experienced. This book is graphic about tough topics but Bradley does it with grace.  I read this is two days so riveted was I by the characters and their resilience. 

2. The boy, the mole, the fox, and the horse by Charlie Mackesy (2019) : A delightful tale reminiscent of Christopher Robin and his stuffed animal friends. Filled with whimsical drawings and lovely poetic conversations between the charming characters. I go back to this on days when I need a little happiness. 

3. The Midnight Library by Matt Haig (2020) : This book blew my mind like The Overstory. I read a recommendation about this book and put it on hold at our local library. Nora Seed faces her own mortality and finds herself in the Midnight Library with her favorite high school librarian as her guide. She is offered the opportunity to try out different paths her life might have taken and through each one she learns a little bit more about herself and the people around her. This made me think about my own experiences and other paths I might have taken. In the long run Nora and her readers learn the ultimate lesson about life. You'll have to read it to find out. 

4. When all is said by Anne Griffin (2019) : This is the story of cantankerous old Maurice Hannigan told in one night through stories about his life as he reflects back on his five favorite people. Over drinks at the pub inside the Rainford House Hotel he toasts and ruminates over mistakes and memories explaining to us in perfect detail all that life has offered him and taken from his as well. As a reader I connected with Maurice and found this to be an amazing debut novel. Her next book is scheduled to be out this Spring. 

I know March won't be all sunshine and warmth yet I know spring is still close at hand. Enjoy.