Tuesday, February 28, 2017


"From slave to criminal with one amendment" is the subtitle to the Oscar- nominated Netflix documentary, 13th. There's no better way to describe how the United States treats and has historically treated minority populations and this film by director Ava DuVernay does a perfect job of elaborating the role the 13th amendment plays in preserving racial inequality in America, specifically in America's prison system.

From 1970 to today, the prison population in the United States has gone from 200,000 to 2 million, largely as a result of legislature claiming to "crack down" on crime. The criminalization of certain behaviors, the enforcement of Jim Crow laws, and most recently the "war on drugs" have all been used to disguise the perpetuation of slavery. Now, with mass incarceration and the corporate prison industry, businesses are making large amounts of money through "legal" slavery and the cycle of racial control continues. Featuring public figures, academics, and activists of all political leanings, DuVernay tells the story of slavery's economics, past and present.

This was not an easy movie to watch, but it's a necessary one - both for viewers who know the system isn't broken (it was built this way), and for viewers who may not even realize the extent to which our laws and criminal justice system unfairly target people of color. We can't fight injustice we aren't aware of, and we don't always see injustice that doesn't directly impact us, but it's on us to educate ourselves so that we know what challenges we're facing as a country.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

A Mercy

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A Mercy tells the story of Florens, a slave girl given as payment to a Northern trader, Jacob. Readers hear Florens tell her own story with input from other voices in her new life so we get different perspectives on the events that transpire on Jacob's farm.

First thoughts: While a relatively quick read, it took me a few different points of view to get into the story. I'm glad the narrators changed throughout the story because that helped me check that I understood what was happening. Morrison conjures a multitude of emotions with sparse language, using perfect phrases and nothing extra.

Favorite quote: "What I know is there is magic in learning." p163

Recommended for: Anyone not sure what to read next, needing something brief yet powerful.

Final thoughts: While I kept hoping for just a bit more character description, there was no shortage of poetic imagery. There is a tension between emotion and plot that Morrison navigates expertly. She is one of the greats for a reason.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Free Museum February

Chicago/Illinois people: the Field Museum is free all February! Go find something new there, like the creative additions to the Native American exhibit, or pay for the upgrade to see the temporary Tattoo exhibit (the exhibit is temporary...not the tattoos). Whatever you do, take advantage of living in a city with a vibrant museum culture.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Reading is Respectful: Book Recommendations to Honor History

While I believe Black History should be taught and learned year round, this month we elevate and celebrate the accomplishments and achievements of black Americans - and that includes in our reading. The article I'm sharing lists seven books to start with, but these should be treated as just that - a starting point. From my own personal reading, I would add A Lesson Before Dying and Loving Day. (I'm not proud that I've read so few books by black women writers, especially recently. #readinggoals2017)

Again - even if history, coming of age, or historical sci-fi isn't your thing, black writers and black books come in all shapes and sizes and genres. Research the variety of authors that contribute to your preferred genres and try a novel or biography or romance or mystery or graphic novel by someone who you haven't read before, or someone who doesn't look like you. You just might find your new favorite author.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

A Day Without Immigrants...

...is not a day I like to experience (again). My life wouldn't have the same meaning without immigrants. I'd have no future in-laws, basically zero students, and a lot less music to listen to, food to eat, and art to appreciate. It would be a boring, lonely day. Immigrants make America. Period.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Love is Love is Washing Dishes and Candy

Is it really Valentine's Day if you only see your fiance for 10 minutes between him waking you up from where you fell asleep on the couch until he tucked you into bed so you could keep sleeping? He did bring me roses. And candy.

With our opposite schedules, a romantic evening is rare. We find time to show our love for each other in different ways: leaving leftovers on the stove, washing the dishes, and sending quick texts throughout the day. As a quality time lover, I've had to adjust my expectations, at least on weekdays, and Jesus has had to get used to giving me all the attention on weekends (and on weekdays when I'm extra needy).

I'm glad we get to be each other's Valentines again next year...and the year after that...and 100 more years after that. :)

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food LifeAnimal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A re-read for me that's relevant as ever, and also Chicago's One Book, One Chicago read for 2016 - 2017. Kingsolver recruits her family to eat as locally as they can (ideally from their own farm/garden) for a year, and uses this experience to create an expanded journal/guide for how to eat intentionally.

First thoughts: After remembering that I read this in 2011, I was excited to see how my feelings to local food had developed in the past 5 years. Most of what Kingsolver writes came back to me (see my original thoughts here), but I enjoyed reading it through a new lens of living in a post-truth America (and not as a nanny).

Farm thoughts: No, I didn't grow up on a farm, but I come from farmers. I grew up with farm kids. Seeing farm animals, acres of corn/soybeans, and real food isn't foreign to me. And yet, in my city life, I can see how easy it would be to forget all of that and only recognize food as what I see in my grocery store or at restaurants.

Favorite quotes (there a lot):

"...the children of farmers are likely to know where food comes from, and...the rest of us might do well to pay attention." -p8 (I'd add to that the children who grow up in farming communities!)

"We'd surely do better, if only we knew any better." -p8

"Knowing how foods grow is to know how and when to look for them; such expertise is useful for certain kinds of people, namely, the ones who eat, no matter where they live or grocery shop." -p10

"At its heart, a genuine food culture is an affinity between people and the land that feeds them." -p20

"Most of us are creatures so comforted by habit, it can take something on the order of religion to invoke new, more conscious behaviors..." -p38

"Concentrating on local foods means thinking of fruit invariably as the product of an orchard, and a winter squash as the fruit of an early-winter farm. It's a strategy that will keep grocery money in the neighborhood, where it gets recycled into your own school system and local businesses." -p69

Re-read thoughts: As always, this book makes me want to be better about local foods/farmers markets - baby steps. I'd say I'm pretty good at looking for local produce in the grocery store and I almost always eat in season produce over fruits/vegetables trucked across the country.

Teacher thoughts: I love the curriculum tie-in (something I wouldn't have thought about during my first read). If only gardening was tied to state standards everywhere! Almost all the students I know would love it, and they are the ones who need it the most. CPS has gotten better (even in the past two years) at seeking out local food sources, serving a variety of in season produce, and teaching students about where their food comes from, but that's not quite the same as learning from the source.

Recommended for: anyone who eats.

Final thoughts: This re-read reminded me of values I hold and allowed me to see food culture from the perspective of someone working in public schools vs as a "housewife"/nanny.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Let America Be America Again

A poem for Black History Month:

Let America Be America Again
Langston Hughes, 1935

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed--
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There's never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this "homeland of the free.")

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery's scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek--
And finding the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one's own greed!

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean--
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today--O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
I am the poorest worker bartered through the years.

Yet I'm the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That's made America the land it has become.
O, I'm the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home--
For I'm the one who left dark Ireland's shore,
And Poland's plain, and England's grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa's strand I came
To build a "homeland of the free."

The free?

Who said the free? Not me?
Surely not me? The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we've dreamed
And all the songs we've sung
And all the hoped we've held
And all the flags we've hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay--
Except the dream that's almost dead today.

O, let America be America again--
The land that never has been yet--
And yet must be--the land where every man is free.
The land that's mine--the poor man's, Indian's, Negro's, ME--
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose--
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people's lives,
We must take back our land again,

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me
And yet I swear this oath--
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain--
All, all the stretch of these great green states--
And make America again!

Monday, February 6, 2017

Super Bowl LI: America, the Beautiful

The real winners last night? America. Because for several hours we could all focus our energies on cheering for the Falcons. Did they pull through for us? No. But at this point, we're used to things not going our way. We're used to picking ourselves up, dusting off our shoulders, and preparing for next season. Tom Brady may have another ring for whatever reason we still do that, but the rest of us have Lady Gaga, Hulu, Margaret Atwood, and Expedia.


The women of Hamilton started us off strong, with their gorgeous rendition of "America the Beautiful" and spot on addition of "sisterhood" to the lyrics:

Lady Gaga picked up the torch at Halftime, proving her one-woman show is just enough (alright, her dancers and crowd back up were pretty great too) :

A slew of commercials got it right by casting women as more than just party-goers, sex objects, or nagging wives:

My Name is Offred: I'm working my way through a few Margaret Atwood books this year, but The Handmaid's Tale was my first (in high school? college? a while ago). This trailer has me close to activating a Hulu premium account.

Hero's Journey: Despite the unfortunate name (Niro? Really, Kia?), this spot for an otherwise forgettable car was memorable thanks to Melissa McCarthy using her comedic talents AND a timely message about doing what we can do save our one and only planet.

Red Zone: Secret is a women's deodorant line, so it makes sense for their ad to feature a woman. They up their game by giving us a woman who knows her football and isn't afraid to share her knowledge. Bonus points for Packer apparel!

It's a strange state of affairs when a commercial displaying positive (dare I say American?) values is viewed as a message of opposition to the current administration, and yet here we are. A few companies weren't afraid to take a stance on today's biggest issues, namely immigration and inclusion, and they deserve recognition (along with the pressure of following through on their statements).

Born the Hard Way: History has a funny way of showing us the present, and this Budweiser ad does just that. Lest we forget we're all immigrants here (Native Americans excluded), Eberhard Anheuser and Adolphus Busch are here to remind us that the dreams of our ancestors brought us to this country.

Home: Despite the craziness it caused in actual homes, this ad did it right by showing us how the product can help you in your home - I believed in all of those families and their situations. Google featured plenty of subtle nods to diversity and inclusion, as well as empowerment to all through the use of available resources.

Train: What's the key to this 30-second love letter to travel? Its conclusion that "you" are what makes the world a better place, and you do it through broadening your horizons. Travel has the power to change the world, even if it's just your own.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Reading is Revolutionary: Book Recommendations to Battle Ignorance

We'll return to our regularly Saturday book reviews at some point, but today I'd like to share an article with book recommendations from countries targeted by Trump's racist "travel" ban. The article shares a bit about why this ban is problematic and inhumane, and its recommendations fit my "more women and minorities" reading goals for 2017. I find translated books fascinating, and I can't wait to get to a few of these this year.

From the article:
We stand at the edge of one of the most important periods of our lives. We cannot become immune to the suffering of others simply because they are not in front of us. One of literature’s greatest powers is the ability to illustrate our shared humanity and evoke empathy within the reader.
In a world where clickbait exaggerations become news, the power of novels and reading is even more important. Knowledge kills prejudice and reading makes the foreign relatable and human. Even if historical fiction, short story collections, memoirs, coming of age stories, or just novels in general aren't usually your thing, I challenge you to read at least one book on this list. You'll expand your horizons and resist falling trap to hateful and ignorant rhetoric, plus you'll be supporting writers who need it most right now.

Book Recommendations From Countries Targeted by Trump's Travel Ban

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Things My Students Say 6

Because it's been quite the week (and it's only Wednesday), a few nuggets of humor to get you to Friday:

Teacher: What is a Spanish word that sounds like California and describes it?
Student: Coliflor? (Cauliflower)
[correct answer...calor (heat)]

Student: When was Curious George invented?
Me: I don't know, but he was around when I was a kid.
Student: So, 1957?

Student while creating a drawing of things they want to know about space exploration: Does this look like the Death Star?

Teacher: Are you playing Pokemon in my class?
Student: Yes.
Teacher: My 7 yr old nephew plays Pokemon.
Me, to myself: My 28 yr old fiance plays Pokemon.

Student: So, you don't have any kids?
Me: Nope.
Student: You know, you're not getting any younger.

Student, during a fire drill: Are we going to have fire drills every Wednesday?!?