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.

Invitation

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


SAY THEIR NAMES
KNOW JUSTICE,
KNOW PEACE



 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 History.com'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. 


Saturday, February 27, 2021

What really matters...


Recently I wrote posts on the  love I have for my three children and my passion for politics; now I have food on my mind. This might be my life trifecta: children, food, and politics and intersecting through that is working with students as a librarian. I love my work, enjoy helping students find books, information, and fresh ideas. 

And at the end of most days I love coming home and cooking in my kitchen. My kitchen is too small for a lot of cooks in the kitchen and in fact it is only enough room for Groovy Girl and I to cook together. And we have to do a well-executed dance to not bump into each other. Having music on helps. Usually I just play my own jams but if she steps into the kitchen to help then she she plays her own music. Just like with anything good in life it is most perfect when you have all your ingredients right there and ready. I like a well-stocked pantry and when I have the space and time to put things together, relaxed with a glass of wine.  More often though it's rushed after school but even quick I can pull something together that is unique and delicious. 

{Curried Lentils}

Last week I made Maharajah's Rice from Meera Sodha's Fresh India cookbook and it was very easy to make right after school. I loved the flavors of the basmati rice mixed with the soft apricot, almonds and aromatic cinnamon. It's quite similar to this basmati rice recipe from Analida's Ethnic Spoon.  And while browsing her site I found this chickpea and lentil recipe that I'll have to try soon. A few weeks ago Groovy Girl said she needed some comfort food when she came home the next time; something like lentils she said. That's like a special invitation connecting your children with food. I searched for the perfect lentil recipe and found a curry that we all loved and will make again. She said "this is the perfect comfort food, mama" while holding the bowl up and breathing in the smells and heat. I found that easy recipe, Creamy One-Pot Curried Lentils and Quinoa on Yup..It's Vegan!    That same weekend I also whipped up blueberry lemon muffins for her to take back to school. 

My second favorite place to be in the kitchen is at my brother's house where I can just be the sous to his chef. He has a beautiful kitchen and makes a wide variety of foods. It's nice to relax there and not be in charge of the meal. I can watch him cook or help along the way. 

Now why is Prince gracing this post about food? Because I often listen to music while I write and today I thought he deserved to be on top. Let's go crazy. 

Each and everyone of us are multidimensional and hopefully you've found things in your life to feed your soul. Enjoy! 


Monday, February 15, 2021

Talking about love and other important stuff


We should love one another. We should be accepting of other's thoughts and ideas, be open by way of love with empathy at the core of all we do. This does not seem to be our Republican-led legislators are starting off our new term. We have a host of new bills introduced that take away from our democratic means of living and equality for all. 

Senate File 160: Student First Scholarships; basically vouchers for private/religious schools, taking away  money from public education, a right granted to us in the Bill of Rights. This is a terrible idea for Iowa. (Kim Reynolds) 

House File 222: will reduce funding for any school (K-12 and higher education) for using the 1619 Project created by Nikole Hannah-Jones and The New York Times. Hannah-Jones won a Pulitzer Prize for the essay that started the project. We should be celebrating her as a fellow Iowan instead of censoring real history.  (Skyler Wheeler - skyler.wheeler@legis.iowa.gov

House File 193: prohibits transgender kids from receiving medically necessary treatment. (Sandy Salmon - sandy.salmon@legis.iowa.gov) Why, just why? 

House File 109: This would give the legislative rule over Supreme Court decisions. Again this is a crazy idea as the judicial branch is purposely separate from the other two branches so as to be fair. (Sandy Salmon)

Senate File 41: would prohibit tenure at all three of our public universities in the state. Also it was proposed that all faculty at these universities should reveal their political affiliation as the Republicans say with more Democratic professors students are getting a biased education. (face plant) Just because we are teaching the truth, history, and independent thinking...(Brad Zaun) 

Each one of these laws is draconian and we need to put up a fight. Please contact your representatives and talk about why all five of these bills would be terrible for Iowa. With such an overwhelming amount of Republicans voted in this last round and with our Trump-loving governor Kim Reynolds we are indeed in trouble here. Send logical help please.  

I sent an email to Skyler Wheeler right before I typed this. Sandy Salmon, bless her heart, is next on my list. 

 

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Showing UP: a love letter

 I love the three children that grew up in our house together. I tried my best to show up and be a good mama. It didn't happen every day or every moment but I hope my children remember times that I was there for them, that I supported and encouraged them. All three are adults now off in the world doing their own things. 

Kaylee, the oldest of the three and my stepdaughter, produces a podcast, Heavyweight, for Gimlet Media and she lives in Brooklyn, NY. She's been stuck in NY throughout the pandemic learning to live there without the restaurants and live theatre that brought her great joy in previous years. 

Tristan, my first born but middle in our family, manages the McGrath Kia & Hyundai dealership in Hiawatha, IA. He finished a degree in Political Science at the U of I two winters ago and loves working with cars.


Japhy, my youngest and better known here as Groovy Girl, is in her freshman year at U of I in Iowa City. She is learning to navigate college life through a pandemic with virtual classes and a very different dorm life than expected. 

All three children enjoy spending time together, and I hope will continue to seek each other throughout their adult lives. After a few ups and downs with each child I'm most interested in their happiness. I hope they find good life partners who bring out the best in each other. I hope they enjoy their work and lead socially responsible lives. 

I've reflected back recently on my talents as a parent and I realized I am good at cuddling and we spent hours curled up reading or talking together. This makes me a great emotional support animal: you can bring me anywhere. I'm also a pretty good personal chef.  My kids have a wide variety of food they eat and don't eat.  Kaylee eats chicken but not red meat, Tristan went from begging for meat in our mostly vegetarian diet when he was a middle school student and is now a fully committed vegan. Japhy eats a wide variety and loves to cook but learned this summer that she is allergic to eating tomatoes after she did the elimination diet. She has had digestion problems throughout high school and we can't seem to find all the culprits.

I am there for them when they need food or drink-most of the time. I've faltered a few times. In my beginning stages of learning to cook vegan I had some rough patches but as we usually do- we made it to the other side. Forgive me if I can't remember who likes apples, kiwi, cranberries, or extra cheese! I love all three of these amazing adult children with all their unique personalities. I know they will show up for me as well. The empty nest feels strange but I'm happy to share these three humans with the world.