Monday, November 28, 2011

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

Oh, goody! Another book to shuffle up to the top of my TBR pile. Sherman Alexie's award-winning novel, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, has just been banned by a school district in Georgia.

Here is a quote from an article about the incident that really gets to the heart of why banning books is not only misguided, but also potentially harmful.

"The idea that what is inside a book -- offensive language, sexual references, thematic material, violence, witchcraft, etc. -- should determine its availability to students is a direct challenge to freedom of choice and educational mission.

Discussion of sensitive or weighty topics in a school setting can promote intellectual growth and maturity. Banning a book, conversely, can deprive students of the opportunity to broaden their understanding of the world." Read the full article here

Parents certainly have the right to limit their own children's access to materials that they find offensive or otherwise inappropriate. But making that decision for EVERYONE'S children is simply wrong. Rather than banning books, perhaps it would be smarter to read along with our children and then TALK ABOUT the ideas. What a great opportunity to clarify the moral values that we want to pass along to our children! It's called a teachable moment, folks. Use it.

Review to follow. Feel free to add yours, too.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Adventures in Fruit, Part 2

Another fruit that is in season right now is the mythical pomegranate. Fans of Hades, Demeter, and Persephone will remember that the reason we have six months of winter is because of the six pomegranate seeds that Persephone ate after being kidnapped by Hades and held captive in the underworld. Her mother, Demeter, managed to bring her home, but because of those tricky pomegranate seeds, Persephone must return to the underworld to live with Hades for six months out of every year. While Persephone languishes in the underworld, Demeter misses her daughter. And while Demeter mourns, the land dies. When Persephone returns to her mother, Demeter rejoices and the land blooms. It sure is lucky for us that Persephone didn't like pomegranates as much as I do or we'd have winter all year.

As delicious as the pomegranate tastes, it is not the easiest fruit to peel and eat. And it makes a big mess. Follow the steps below to eat a pomegranate, but whatever you do, be sure to wear dark-colored clothing or an apron because the juice is likely to spray exactly where you don't want it.

This is a pomegranate. For best results, look for a deep red colored fruit that is not too squishy:

Step one:

Cut off the top of the pomegranate.

Step two:

Score the peel so the fruit can be divided into quarters. Try not to cut into the seeds. Pull the fruit apart with your hands.

Step three:

I've seen some instructions that say you have to soak the fruit, but I simply put a colander in the sink and direct the seeds into it as they come out of the peel. This is very messy however you do it. Take a section of the pomegranate and pull the peel side toward you while pushing the seed side toward the colander. Some seeds will pop right out; others you'll need to kind of ease out. Use the pads of you fingers or thumb. If you use your fingernails, the juice squirts out EVERYWHERE.

Repeat this process with each section. When all the seeds are separated, the peel looks like this:

Step four:

Clean up your mess! Discard this stuff.

Run water over the seeds in the colander, shake it around, and pick out any white bits you missed. Rinse out the sink (notice how the juice gets all over). If you do this like I do, you'll also be wiping down random juice splatters from the counters, walls, floor, and miniblinds. If you wear glasses, chances are you'll need to rinse them, too, especially the first time.


Sunday, November 20, 2011

Mudbound by Hillary Jordan

Wow. This is amazing book had me enthralled from the very first sentence. The writing is beautiful and the different perspectives of each character ( Laura, Henry, Jamie, Ronsel, Hap, and Florence) dovetail neatly together in this meticulously crafted story.

The book opens with the digging of a grave. Then we meet the characters. Laura, a teacher resigned to spinsterhood, who marries steady, dependable Henry, mainly because he's the only man who ever asked. Henry isn't a bad guy, but he's not very aware of his wife's needs. He buys a farm in Mississippi and springs it on Laura. Not pleased, city-born and raised Laura dubs the farm "Mudbound." Despite the fact that Henry's crotchety father comes to live with them, Laura makes peace with her lot in life, only occasionally letting herself acknowledge her wish for something more.

Hap is one of the sharecroppers who lives and works on Henry's farm. His wife, Florence, is a midwife. Both are strong, hardworking people who have struggled to make a better life for themselves and their children.

The real heart of the story, however, revolves around the friendship of two soldiers recently returned to Mississippi after WWII. Both are heroes tortured by their memories of the war; both feel like strangers in the place they once called home. Jamie is Henry's charismatic younger brother. He deals with his demons by drinking. Ronsel is the son of Hap and Florence. A gifted student, he was the first in his family to learn to read. He served in the 761st Black Panther Battalion, the only colored tank unit in the US army. It is especially difficult for him to get a taste of being treated like a human being, only to return to his "boy" status when he comes home.

Hauntingly beautiful and tragic. A must read.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Adventures in Fruit

The theme of this week has been "Adventures in Fruit." After having a positive, if messy, experience with a pomegranate, (and because the berries I normally love are out of season and not looking especially delicious right now) I decided to sample a few unfamiliar fruits this week. Well, two, actually. That is, I daresay, quite enough fruit adventure when it involves watching You Tube videos to figure out how to peel and eat said fruit.

Fruit number one was a persimmon. The preparation was quick and easy, but the gustatory experience was, shall we say, less than optimum. YUCK! I know now that I had a hachiya persimmon, which tastes bitter and leaves your mouth feeling "furry" if you eat it before it's ripe. Which I, unfortunately, did. I may try one again sometime, but not soon.

Understandably, the huge, impressive looking pomelos sat on the counter for several days while my taste buds and my sense of adventure recovered from the persimmon fiasco. Today was the day to peel the pomelos. They are about twice the size of a grapefruit and the taste is similar, although milder. Normally, I have to add sugar to enjoy grapefruit; these I could eat with no added sugar. The pith is quite spongy and pillowy. I found the texture entrancing and spent more time than I'd like to admit poking at it. If you've got kids, I can pretty much guarantee that they'll want to touch the peels. The verdict is: time-consuming and somewhat messy to peel (though not nearly as messy as a pomegranate), but delicious.

The following pictures will show how to peel a pomelo:

Step One:

Cut off the top and score all the way around so that the peel can be divided into quarters.

Step Two:

Sort of like peeling a grapefruit--slide fingers between the fruit and the peel on each quarter until you've got something that resembles a blooming flower. Then, and this is crucial, be sure to stop and take a picture.

Step Three:

Remove fruit from the peel.

Step Four:

This is the messy and time-consuming part of the process. Divide into sections as you would a grapefruit or an orange. Peel off the white stuff. Toss the large pile of pith and peel that's left over.

Step Five:


For me, the downside of being (mostly) unemployed is mainly about the whole having no money thing, and also the isolation that comes from living in a new city AND having no job, and thus no co-workers and potential friendships. Surprisingly, though, to a person who has not gone for more than a couple of weeks between jobs since around 1984, this time off has been a blessing. I'm not gonna lie--I've had some truly epics naps and my fair share of pajama days. But I'm also refining my career focus and developing some skills that will help me be a better teacher. Between naps, I'm making serious progress through my tottering TBR pile (including all those teaching books that I buy but never find time to read while I'm actually teaching), studying Spanish, and finding out without a doubt that I make a much better teacher than a housewife. My part-time tutoring jobs are letting me keep a toe in the water until I can get back in the classroom. And I miss teaching, most days, anyway. But I'm also learning to appreciate the freedom to do the things that require a little extra time. Like peeling a pomelo.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Alliterative Haiku by Calvin

Perhaps it's an indication of deep levels of immaturity, but I (truly, madly, deeply) love Calvin and Hobbes. Calvin is such a perfect combination of endearing and annoying, and a little too smart and imaginative to have an easy life ahead of him.

I have never been able to pick a favorite strip, but I am partial to the snowmen series. I found this page where the comics inspired some real-life snowman mayhem based on Calvin's outdoor antics. Hilarious.

What could be better than homicidal snowmen and snow shark attacks? Well, how about this Calvin and Hobbes haiku that shows some love to the letter t. What's not to love about a meeting of the minds that includes Calvin, haiku, and alliteration? Enjoy.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Sarah Kay and an inspiring TED Talk on spoken word poetry

I'm busily stockpiling resources to enrich my teaching once I'm back in the classroom again. This TED Talk by Sarah Kay starts with her poem "B." The poem itself is marvelous and very much what I try to pass on to my students. She goes on to talk about her empowering early experiences at New York City's Bowery Poetry Club and her work with Project V.O.I.C.E. She ends with the performance of another poem, "Hiroshima." Inspiring!