Sunday, February 28, 2010

Books read in February

Some very good nonfiction this month that will probably appear on the end of year wrap up. Some okay fiction.


Courageous Conversations about Race
Glenn E. Singleton.
Curtis Linton
Explains how to have conversations about race in a constructive and courageous way. I liked that the authors were very clear that conversations about race would be uncomfortable. They also discussed many of the ways people use to avoid talking about race. I entered this book a skeptic, but came out a convert.

Food Rules
Michael Pollen
A tiny book—I read it in the span of the bus ride beginning downtown and ending at my mother’s house 35 minutes later. I wouldn’t pay the $11.00 price for this book, but it was fun to get from the library and read.

Some of my favorite rules:
  • Avoid foods you see advertised on television
  • Eat only foods that have been cooked by humans
  • It’s not food if it arrived through the window of your car
  • It’s not food if it’s called the same thing in every language. (Think Big Mac, Cheetos or Pringles.)
  • Eat animals that have themselves eaten well.
  • The whiter the bread, the sooner you will be dead.
  • Eat all the junk food you want as long as you cook it yourself.
  • Be the kind of person who takes supplements—then skip the supplements.
  • Eat more like the French. Or the Japanese. Or the Italians. Or the Greeks.
  • Regard nontraditional foods with skepticism.
  • Have a glass of wine with dinner
  • Pay more, eat less.
  • …Eat less
  • Stop eating before you are full.
  • Eat when you are hungry, not when you are board.
  • If you are not hungry enough to eat an apple, you are not hungry.
  • Eat slowly
  • Drink your food and chew your drink.
  • Spend as much time enjoying the meal as it took to prepare it.
  • Serve a proper portion and don’t go back for seconds.
  • Breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, dinner like a pauper
  • After lunch, sleep awhile, after dinner, walk a mile.
  • Eat meals
  • Limit your snacks to unprocessed snack food.
  • Do all your eating at a table.
  • Try not to eat alone
  • Treat treats as treats.
  • No snacks, no seconds, no sweets, except on days that begin with S.
  • Leave something on your plate
  • Cook.

Julius Caesar
Wm. Shakespeare
Much like Henry the IV parts I & II are not really about Henry IV, so Julius Caesar is not really about Julius Caesar.
Can we talk about race?
Beverly Daniel Tatum, Ph. D.
A short book, based on a series of lectures, Tatum discusses her experience as an "integration baby" and the re-segregation of schools today. Many good tidbits in this book such as:
The ABC approach to creating affirming classrooms: Affirm identity, building community and cultivating leadership. Verna Ford’s mantra: “Think you can—work hard—get smart.” I’m looking forward to reading the author’s other book, “Why are all the black kids sitting together in the cafeteria?", but it is currently on hold at the library.

A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints
Dito Montel
This didn’t have the most coherent narrative, but I kept reading for the sheer joy of the voice. Dito Montel’s misadventures in the 90s make for some engaging reading. It also includes pictures, and Dito isn’t too hard on the eyes. Note that the movie and the book have absolutely nothing in common.

The Time Machine: Secret of the Knights.
I read this because Matt brought it home from the library. We both read these Choose Your Own Adventure stories as children. Like many things, it was much easier this time to make the correct jumps in time to solve the puzzle, but I still had to look at the hints.

My Sister’s Keeper
Jodi Picoult
Alert! For those of you who saw the movie first a warning that the book does not have the same ending! It seems as though it will, because the movie story follows the book story so closely, but it does not! Do not get caught like I did.

Overall, an engaging story, but one where my eye skipped over, I would guess, 10% of the words, those words having something to do with medical procedures. Medical procedures make me queasy.

The Teaching Gap: best ideas from the world's teachers for improving education in the classroom
James W. Stigler & James Hiebert
A book that provided a lot of food for thought. It discusses the results of a world-wide study of eighth grade math teachers and the methods they use to educate their students. It shed light on the strange gap in education in the United States: the "professional" educators are not the people in the classrooms. "Researchers" supposedly know more about teaching than the people who teach every day. I've always been confused by this mindset and this book suggests a way that teachers could not only incrementally improve their teaching, but also be seen as the professionals they are.

Started but did not finish
Doing Simple Math in Your Head
W. J. Howard
I didn't finish reading this book, but I purchased it. It shows simple ways of accomplishing addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. Ways that were obvious once I read about them, but which never occurred to me in the past. I used some of the tricks to develop a math program to "catch up" my future math students. Great book.

Don Berry
I was surprised at how much the narrative drew me in. Trask, the first book in the trilogy is on Oregon's list of 150 books for Oregon's Sesquicentennial. At the time of reading the library didn't have a lending copy of book one. So I kept getting distracted by the fact that I hadn't read the first book. But Berry's writing style is incredibly modern. I kept flipping to the front of the book to see when the book was published. 1962? Really? After I read Trask, I will return to this book.

Poem for February: February

Margaret Atwood

Go here* to read it. Then come back.

From the first line I loved this poem. As stated repeatedly, I'm not the biggest fan of winter and February happens to be my most hated month of the year. It is the shortest month in days, but in actual "time served" time it is seemingly 6-8 weeks worth of freezing cold weather, dark and drear, all packed into 28 "short" days. When I lived in Massachusetts it was even worse because the very long month of February was followed by March which was another seemingly 8-12 weeks of snow, ice, cold winds and no sign of spring all packed into 31 very long days. My mother used to call from relatively balmy Idaho and talk about the crocuses popping up and I would shrivel.

So comparably, February in Portland is lovely, but of course I have acclimated, so it seems still miserable. Will it ever stop raining? Can the sun come out maybe for more than 4 hours? For me, February is a very dark time, both in terms of daylight hours and internally. This poem captures my mental state perfectly, from the need to stay in bed longer to the incredible amount of fortitude it takes to get me through the day with any measure of cheer. And I know I'm not the only one. One of my workmates was having a miserable time at the same time I happened to be committing these lines to memory:
February, month of despair,
with a skewered heart in the centre.
I think dire thoughts, and lust for French fries
with a splash of vinegar.

I recited them to her dramatically one day before school started and we both laughed.

I also love how this poem mirrors the journey through February. In the beginning, the days are short and dark, the rains come heavily and we are all still paying off our Christmas bills. By the end, the days are longer, the spring flowers have popped up and there is hope that perhaps the easy living of the summer months is something that isn't terribly far away. The poem moves through a black period that ends on a note of hope for spring. The month of February ends the same way. Unless, of course, you live in Massachusetts.


Friday, February 26, 2010

Three sentence movie reviews: Crazy Heart

Let's just get it out of the way and say that Jeff Bridges was fabulous in this movie. Having said that, I can spend my two remaining sentences telling you that the lack of good development of a female lead made this movie incredibly weak. I spent so much time questioning her motivation that it detracted from the movie and perhaps if they would have given a good fifteen minute chunk over to her character development, this would have been a good movie.

p.s. It was really nice to see the desert in the middle of a cold, wet and green Portland winter.

poster from:

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Random sign maker.

This random sign made me laugh. Writing this from the future, I can tell you that this random sign maker posted funny things throughout spring quarter, making my climb up three long flights of stairs to my math class much more fun.
It says:
The Vagina Monolouges
The Elbow Quatrains
The Tooth Performances
The Kidney Sonatas
The Eyebrow Sonnetts.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


I'm a "retired" high school youth group leader, but one of my youth from last year was playing with a small Jazz combo with other high school students at Jimmy Macs. I went to see him with Dana, who runs the religious education program for youth at my church.

It had been so long since I've been to a club I had a strange moment with the bouncer. I stepped inside and he greeted me and we engaged in small talk. He was very friendly and smiley but he seemed to want something. Eventually it came to me. Right! Cover charge! I paid it and walked in.

Dana arrived and we both enjoyed the set. I was a below average high school musician, who enjoyed the ensemble factor more than actual practice and craft. So I'm always impressed by incredibly musical talent, which Tristan has. The energy of the group was high and they all enjoyed taking solos and were excited to play. They sounded tight and brassy and vibrant and I had a lovely evening.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Lent: cake

I love my small batch baking book. Here, as part of my Lent goals,
I've made a delicious tiny cake.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Corn Snake

One of the moms at school works for OMSI giving presentations to classrooms. Today, she brought in the snakes and lizards. I've never handled a snake, but this corn snake was mighty friendly.
It liked to knot itself around things and also tried to crawl up my sleeve.

Tara also liked the corn snake and soon we were joined.
In some cultures, I think we'd be married by now.

Savings Bond

Back in November of 1974, someone was excited about my birth and bought me a $25.00 savings bond. I'm 35 now, and that savings bond matured some time ago. It is worth about $130.00, which is a lot, but that weird amount, where I don't want to cash it and spend it on something like groceries, but also it needs to be spent on something special, so I can point to it and say, "my savings bond bought that." I've been hemming and hawing for years as to what to use it for.

It has finally come to me: I'm going to use it to renew my teaching license. The total cost is around $200 dollars, so I will supplement the savings bond with some birthday money. But I think I finally hit on a fitting reason to cash this bond.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

2010 Mardi Gras

As stated before, the Unitiarian Universalist church isn't so into Lent. Which means that I can do fun things with Lent, like revamping my wardrobe. This year, I am going to revamp my eating habits a bit. I am going to only eat dessert or junk food that I make myself.

I got the idea from Michael Pollen in the book What to Eat, which is a delightful book to check out of the library. It is full of fun advice such as: Eat all the junk food you want as long as you cook it yourself. The idea is that if we all had to fry up the french fries or donuts ourselves, we wouldn't be that into eating them. If we had to bake the cake or the cookies, we wouldn't make them that often.

Helping me with my Lenten goal is my go-to book of tiny desserts. When the mood for cookies strikes me, I don't have to make four dozen. I can just make six. If I want a layer cake, I can make a tiny one. Because I learned long ago that when I bake a whole cake, I eat the whole cake.
At this point, the thing I don't have the ability to make myself is ice cream. So on this Ash Wednesday, I had my own Mardi Gras and treated myself to Ben and Jerry's ice cream with hot fudge. Delicious.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Requiem: Black Backpack

It was April, 2001. I began my stint as a summer park ranger on the Boston Harbor Islands and realized I was completely without a backpack to carry five days worth of clothes, books and food to the island. Roommate Felicia took me to Target where I bought this guy for something like $35.00. It was worth every penny. This backpack was much like Mary Poppins' carpetbag in that I could keep putting things into it even though it seemed full. After my short career as a park ranger ended, this backpack went to Hungary and Romania twice and was fabulous for my walks to the grocery store. The checkers were sometimes amazed I didn't need additional bags. When Matt took over the grocery shopping, he used it too.
In the end, two things landed this in the donation pile. The strap, which I bought black duct tape specifically to repair, sometimes made me feel like a scroungy person. Also, lifestyle changes (I ride my bike to the store now, and the bike setup means I don't need a huge backpack and Matt is getting a car) mean that its large size works against it. I've acquired another backpack (from Matt? Aunt Carol? I'm not sure) which is of normal size and it gets used more often than this one. It absolutely killed me to donate this, but I can't hold onto every unused thing I'm attached to, or this house will fill up with detritus. So I bid it a very sad farewell.

Requiem: Kienow's Bag

I was in Portland for Christmas in 1997 and I convinced my mother that I needed reusable shopping bags beause the plastic bags from 'Friendly" Findleys in South Boston were piling up in my apartment. We were at Kienow's and she bought me four of their shopping bags.* The one pictured is my second-to-last, I have one lone survivor. We shall see how long the handles hold out on that one. And yes, I could fix that handle on this one, but I'm winnowing my bag collection.

During my three days of librarian school in Boston, I was waiting in line and carrying one of these bags and the woman behind me recognized the Kienow's name asked if I was from Portland. It turned out she went to Gresham High School and we had a lovely chat. Today, that same Kienow's location is a New Seasons, but I will always remember running over there to pick up some milk for my grandmother. I sometimes wonder where that Gresham High School turned Librarian is today.

*side note: I remember these bags costing something like $4.95 apiece. That seems crazy now that you can buy Fred Meyer reusable bags for $0.89. Of course, I think the canvas shopping bags are much nicer, but still. Demand in action! Economics, baby!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Three sentence movie reviews: Valentine's Day

It is rare that I see a movie without knowing anything about it--Howard's End comes to mind, but nothing else. However, my mother and I had an Ikea trip planned, and then we went to dinner and this movie. It was a movie-for-the-masses, but fun, and fairly well done.

ps. Oh-my-gosh, until I grabbed the poster I forgot about the "two Taylors" in this. They were hilarious!

poster from:

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Random quote.

From the depths of my inbox--clearly the resolution is going well--clipped from the paper at some indeterminate time:

When I walk into my kitchen today, I am not alone...We bring fathers and mothers and kitchen tables, and every meal we have ever eaten. Food is never just food. It's also a way of getting at something else: who we are, who we have been, and who we want to be.

--Molly Wizenberg.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Requiem: red gloves

For years--and we're talking 5+ here--I've been using these red stretchy gloves when I ride my bike. They are the kind that you can buy at Fred Meyer for $1.00 at Christmas and they are synthetic and most likely made in China, etc. But this pair had lost their stretchy characteristic, which made them very handy for biking, as I usually am pulling my gloves off and on while the wheels are going round and round. It involves steering with one hand and teeth to get them on and off, and the lack of stretch was perfect.

Their lack of stretch was one of the signs of their age. They also had holes all over them. I had to make sure to put the right one on the right hand, or the holes would let in the cold air. Today, when performing the steering with one hand teeth grabbing maneuver, one of the gloves dropped to the ground. I gave a movie worthy cry of anguish, but didn't stop the bike and backtrack to rescue the glove. I just let it go. It was time to move on to another pair of gloves.