Saturday, January 28, 2017

The Lovely Bones

The Lovely BonesThe Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'm ten years late to the party, but I finally read The Lovely Bones. Even though I'm behind on this one, I did know the basic premise & wasn't surprised by the beyond-the-grave narration. It was still a different take on a murder mystery - knowing the killer from the get go, but now if or how he's apprehended.

First thoughts: This book goes 0-100 real quick.

Sex thoughts (spoilers): Okay, I was doing real well on suspending disbelief the whole way through, for the sake of a unique style. But the body switch sex scene? Yeah, that felt way out of place. A stretch - if that had been the original premise of the book, maybe...but that's not something you throw in last minute like that. And I couldn't help but feel awful for Ruth in that scenario.

Recommended for: I think almost everyone has already read this book.

Final thoughts: All-in-all, a sad/sweet book. Some strange scenes.

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Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Why I March

Because women's rights are human rights. We deserve equal pay for equal work, access to affordable health care, and safety from abuse, harassment, and discriminatory laws. This country was founded on liberty and justice for all, but our definition of "all" is still far too narrow and fails to include our most vulnerable citizens.

Because I refuse to normalize a presidency based in greed, misogyny, hatred, and lies. In case anyone forgot, Trump ridiculed a disabled reporter. He won't release his tax returns. He called Mexican immigrants rapists. He spends more time tweeting insults and being offended by everything than he does getting intelligence briefings. He has harassed nearly every woman he comes in contact with. These are only a few of his growing list of scandals.

Because I shouldn't have to explain that my Muslim/Latino/LGBTQ/disabled/Black/female students have worth by virtue of their humanity.

Because I can't remain silent when I have a voice, and when so many others still don't. I marched for the women who don't think they need to march, because they "feel" equal. (You're not. We're not.) I marched for the women too afraid to march - those who were born scared, who didn't have the privilege of becoming scared in 2016.

Because we are stronger together. A peaceful protest is democracy in progress; we must exercise our rights or watch them be taken away.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood...and the Rest of Y'all Too

For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood... and the Rest of Y'all Too: Reality Pedagogy and Urban EducationFor White Folks Who Teach in the Hood... and the Rest of Y'all Too: Reality Pedagogy and Urban Education by Christopher Emdin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The title pretty much sums this one up: a book about "teaching and learning in urban schools" by a man who was once a student in those schools, and is now an educator.

First thoughts: Emdin has practical advice for teachers, but also writes from a theoretical perspective on the larger picture of white/privileged teachers in urban classrooms. He calls it Reality Pedagogy, or "an approach to teaching and learning with the primary goal of meeting students on their cultural and emotional turf." (p27)

How does it work?: Using this technique, teachers deliver the content, but the students shape how the content is taught. That means no more cookie-cutter lessons delivered in the same style classroom to classroom, from year to year. For example, if I first taught at my alma mater and expected the same lesson plans to fly in my current school, I'd be very disappointed.

The Seven Cs: The strategies Emdin provides for transforming education range from simple things like the way the classroom is arranged and treated by both teacher and students to more complex techniques "Cogenerative Dialogues" where student ambassadors generate plans of action for improving the classroom culture. Each could be used in sequence or in addition to strategies already in place, and could be useful in any classroom, in any zip code.

Favorite quotes:

"Once educators realize that they are biased against forms of brilliance other than their own, they can finally begin to truly teach." -p42 (How true this many teachers forget about all the different types of intelligence our students possess.)

"The kind of teacher you will become is directly related to the kind of teachers you associate with. Teaching is a profession where misery does more than just love company - it recruits, seduces, and romances it. Avoid people who are unhappy and disgruntled about the possibilities for transforming education. They are the enemy of the spirit of the teacher." -p208 (I may have decided traditional classroom teaching isn't my calling, but I've been very lucky to work with some of the best teachers and coaches during my fellowship. If I had decided teaching was for me, I'd be in great company.)

Recommended for: ALL educators - fresh out of school, tenured, suburban, CPS, elementary, middle, secondary...if you work with a group of students, please read this book at least for a better understanding of the variety of students and learning environments that exist.

Final thoughts: I think I could read books on education for a very long time and still have more to learn (and more to want to learn), which is saying something about myself (I should work in education, but not in a classroom) and/or about the state of education in this country (it's got some issues).

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Friday, January 20, 2017

Friday (Day) Links 38

We're going to get through the next four years together or not at all:

For anyone who wants to do something (anything) to help our planet, county, or your neighborhood, from the very simple (give up paper towels!) to the more complex (volunteering with refugee rescue organizations): actions.

For anyone who needs some information (then check out #5 for the action): Post-Election Sanity Guide.

For all my readers: fight hate with books.

For anyone who needs a plan: 8 steps to surviving the next four years.

Whatever you are doing today and the next and the next, do it with love for your fellow human. Be kind to others. If you can't be kind, be quiet.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Hidden Figures

2017 is going to be the year I get better about voting with my time/dollar, specifically in arts and  entertainment. I started strong in the book department with several books by women writers and I'm excited to carry that momentum into movies. Jesus and I watched Hidden Figures last weekend, and we have no  complaints. The acting was brilliant, the music (by Pharrell) was fun, and the story is an important one to tell.

Set in 1960s Virginia and based off a book by the same title, Hidden Figures follows the real life stories of three black women (Taraji P. Henson as Katherine Goble Johnson, Janelle Monae as Mary Jackson, and Octavia Spencer as Dorothy Vaughan) hired as human computers for the NASA space program. While these women and their coworkers all hold advanced degrees, they're still segregated from the (white, male) engineers and their plans for advancement within NASA aren't taken seriously.

Several times one of the characters said something that could have been said in America in 2017 (I know, movies reflect their current culture - but it's always so powerful when they do). When a judge tells Mary that no black woman - or any person of color - has attended a specific school offering the classes she needs for an engineering certificate, she responds with: "I can't change the color of my skin so I have no choice but to be the first." When an engineer tells Katherine that there is no protocol for a woman attending a Pentagon briefing, she responds with: "There's no protocol for men circling the earth either, sir." When a supervisor tells Dorothy that she has nothing against her, she responds with: "I know you probably believe that." Time after time the women meet stubborn injustices and benign racism with common sense, honesty, and composure. We clapped for them several times, both for clever comebacks and for their math genius.

Because each woman has different strengths and goals, we get to see three very different yet frustratingly similar struggles: smart, capable, driven woman unable to progress because of years of ingrained prejudice and racist laws. We also get to see what progress has been made in civil rights, although those advances highlight how far we still have to go. I hope everyone gets the chance to see this movie, especially young students who need to see more examples of American Heroes of all genders and races. 

Monday, January 16, 2017

MLK 2017

How bizarre is it that today we celebrate a man who spent his life working for political, civil, and economic justice and on Friday a man who has shown zero consideration for any of those will be inaugurated president? Barf.

In the name of spreading knowledge & love & empowerment, let's remember that Dr. King was not passive in his beliefs. Often we (white people specifically) want to remember him as only a peaceful protester and law-abiding citizen, when in reality he found himself at odds with the police more than we like to admit. He went to jail 29 times and many of his actions were, at the time, considered illegal. (Some of those actions, like protesting and civil disobedience, are still criminalized today in a way that targets and effects minorities disproportionately.)

King didn't fear the obvious racists, those who were clear in where they stood with him. The real dangers were with the "white moderate, who is more devoted to 'order' than to justice." In the next four years (hell, in the next four days) we have some choices to make - let's not grow complacent just because things lack "tension," or give lip service to the struggles of minorities in this country without backing it up with "direct action." The future is waiting to see how we act. Let's not disappoint it.

*MLK quote here*
*MLK's full "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" here*

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Like Water for Chocolate

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Park cookbook, part magical realism, part dramatic love story.

First thoughts: This was an easy and fast read. I enjoyed the story itself and most of the folktale aspects. (In general I do like magic and magical realism, but I still need it to "make sense" or have purpose.)

The food: I don't think I'll be making any of the recipes listed any time soon. They're all pretty labor intensive or meant for large crowds. Still, I did like reading the recipe descriptions and imagining the work put into elaborate meals.

The love story: I wasn't convinced by Pedro & Tita's love. There wasn't enough backstory or description of what exactly they found attractive in each other besides "love at first sight" - I wanted to know what they have in common, what they talk about, what they fight about, and what their love was really based on.

Recommended for: anyone with an interest in book translations or the magical realism of Mexico. Not anyone looking for a book about the intricacies of relationships.

Final thoughts: I guess in the end, my issue isn't with the magical realism, it's with the love story.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Thanks Obama

I sure did tear up while watching all of these:

When Biden realizes what's happening...

 This is his full speech, but when Obama talks about Biden, Michelle, his daughters...

When he starts to sing "Amazing Grace"...

My Obama moment: Barack Obama is the first and only president I've voted for, and I'm feeling lots of feelings about the end of his presidency. I'm going to miss having such a class act in the White House.  #thanksobama

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

High/Low: Food Documentaries

Jesus and I watched two food documentaries this weekend. In one, a solitary man and his small team of apprentices serve single pieces of sushi to an intimate group in their small Japanese restaurant. In the other, hundreds of Chinese restaurants dotting highways across America serve their take on a dish we've all heard of (or eaten): General Tso's chicken. The juxtaposition between the delicate art of sushi-making and the widespread popularity of General Tso's was fascinating to me, a person who appreciates the combination of high and low culture (pairing designer tops with thrift store jeans, or eating Kraft mac & cheese on fine china).

Jiro Dreams of Sushi
I've heard of this documentary, but finally found the time to watch (and not judge it too harshly). There's a fine balance between honoring and respecting your craft and living so deeply in your bubble that you aren't quite in touch with reality. I believe that Jiro's sushi is some of (or the) best in the world, and I think the way he approaches his business is laudable, but I'd be lying if I said I don't like sushi from convenience stores. What I found most interesting was the family dynamics at play in Jiro's restaurant - of his two sons, the younger (Takashi) choose to branch off on his own, leaving the older (Yoshikazu) to apprentice and inherit their father's business, as is tradition. This means Yoshikazu is still waiting for his chance since Jiro (at 91) is still doing his thing, while Takashi already has his own Michelin-starred restaurant.

The Search for General Tso
Who knew all the things we don't know about General Tso? I always assumed he was fictional, like KFC's Colonel, or an exaggerated story, like the Earl of Sandwich. And the dish itself? Well, I usually get fried rice or lo mein. The movie gives us some backstory on General Tso himself, and if he had anything to do with the creation of his dish (he didn't), then we hear more about the dish's many variations. The bigger point of the movie was to delve into the familiarity Americans have with Chinese restaurants - everywhere you go, there they are - and I could relate to knowing the comfort of an "all-American" dish like General Tso's.

Saturday, January 7, 2017


BlindnessBlindness by José Saramago
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When people in a city all start to experience "white blindness," local authorities send them to an abandoned mental hospital until they can figure out the source of the epidemic. Inside the hospital, the blind lead the blind as strangers learn how to cope with their new reality alongside others who are affected.

First thoughts: I wasn't sure I'd get into this book - it starts slowly and the style takes some time to get used to (it helps knowing that the run-on sentences and lack of dialogue indicators is supposed to make you feel blind as well).

Next thoughts: Once I was into it, I was really into it. I wanted to discuss it with everyone, and especially with a blind person. I wanted to know if Saramago captured the feeling of blindness. While the situation of the book is different than what a blind person would/does experience in reality, I was interested to hear the take of a blind person. That being said, Blindness is about more than "being blind" - it's about our visual society and how blind we can become to the things around us when we don't question what is happening. Taken this way, blindness is an epidemic. It's what happens when we re-tweet or share a story without fact-checking it first. It's what happens when we let ourselves get carried away by mob thought and forget that we have autonomy. It's happening in our country and around the world right now.

Favorite quote: "Fighting has always been, more or less, a form of blindness." -p133

Recommended for: I think many students (high school and college) would appreciate this book, but some may find they can access it better a few years out of school. Free thinkers, status-quo-questioners, and anyone wanting to expand their library to include translated books will find something to like here.

Final thoughts: I was left unsettled, which I think was the point. [Spoilers ahead!] We never learn why everyone goes blind (or why the doctor's wife doesn't), and we also don't learn why they regain their sight. Saramago's next book, Seeing is on my list, so maybe more is revealed then. Either way - this book was intense and apocalyptic, a thinker and one worthy of the struggle.

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Friday, January 6, 2017

First Friday

One day shy of our first full week of 2017, and this blog post sums up how I am feeling about this space specifically. (I don't generally question the point of my day job, something I'm grateful for & challenged by in other ways.) As The Romans Do is 7 years old, and has adapted in those years from online journal to scrapbook to something like a security blanket - comfortable and always there. But what is the point of it, really?

I think the answer, for me, is sanity. If my personal (offline) journal is my place for anything and everything, including the crazy (without judgement), then this space is for edited-but-authentic thoughts and entertainment. I can't save the world with my keyboard, but I can make it more tolerable for myself and anyone else who wants to join in.

We'll call this my intention for 2017 - writing that is kind, honest, and thoughtful.