Sunday, May 22, 2016

Veronika Decides to Die by Paulo Coelho

My people, you guys know that I love some writers, and yes I do have some favorites: Toni Morrison, Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes, James McBride, James Baldwin.... BUT, I am going to have to put Paulo Coelho at the very top of my list. Yep, this guy is at the very top of my favorite authors' list.

I do believe that there are prophets still walking this earth, and I strongly believe that Paulo is one of them. He truly knows human nature, and he uses his writings to get readers to think about things such as love, fear, death, and sex in ways that just may solidify some things that we already know or to help us to think about these things from different perspectives. Every single time that I read one of his books, I am moved and changed.

In Veronika Decides to Die, Paulo deals with life, death, love, sanity....

Veronika, the main character, takes a lot of pills in the hopes of committing suicide. But, like in most books, there is no way that the protagonist is going to die in the beginning of the book. Veronika wakes up in a ‘lunatic asylum’ with someone saying to her “You’ve landed slap bang in hell, so you’d better make the most of it.” And, the rest of the book takes place mostly in the insane asylum.

Paulo takes us into the mind of Veronika and a few of the other patients in the insane asylum. It seems, through narration, that almost everyone in the insane asylum are there because they were living lives that he/she did not want to live. So, they escaped real life and ended up in the asylum. Paulo is trying to tell us something about the importance of being true to ourselves and overcoming every obstacle to live a life that gives us meaning.

In the asylum, Veronika and the other patients, realize that they could be whomever they want to be and do whatever they want to do without being judged; there was a sense of freedom on the inside. Veronika’s presence has an effect on several of the patients and causes them to exam their lives, and they decide to go out into the world and live their lives differently than they had before.

Inside, Veronika is drawn back into her passions of music and explores love and life.

My people, what would you do if you weren’t afraid????

Now, in real life Paulo Coelho was committed to a mental institution by his parents three times, because they thought that he must be mentally ill if he wanted to be a writer. He infuses this into the book, and mentions himself in third person. I found this very intriguing; haven’t seen to many authors do this before. This caused me to think about people who go against the norm and pursue their passions and appear to be crazy......

What would you do if you weren’t afraid????

This is a well-written, thought-provoking book that can cause a reader to think about his life, love, death, and the pursuit of happiness.

Paulo’s work should be read, read, and reread!!

Other blogs that I have written about books by Paulo:

The Alchemist 
Eleven Minutes

Happy Sunday, My People!!!

Monday, May 2, 2016

The Color of Water by James McBride

I found this book, The Color of Water, to be quite fascinating.....

James tells the story of his White mother raising twelve Black children, and they all graduated from college and went on to have successful careers.

Now, here are a few things that I have been reflecting on since finishing this book:

James’ mother, Ruth, first husband died when she was pregnant with her eighth child. After he died, she married another man and had four more children. James is the child that she was pregnant with when her first husband died. So, of course James does not talk about what her life was like when his mother and father were raising the seven children together. So, based on this book, the reader can not determine if Ruth raised her children differently when her husband was alive. However, based on James’ recollection, his mother was not a good housekeeper, not a good cook, and she seemed to not be a great decision maker either; however, she managed to send all twelve of her children to college.

Now, when we think about education and children at risk, it would appear that these children should have been perfect candidates to drop out school: poor and living in the projects. However, college was in their future. James even talked about a period of his life, during high school, when he stopped going to school for awhile, but it was already instilled in him, maybe from seeing his older siblings go off to college or by his mother, that he would go to college. His mom gave him the bus fair, and off he went to college.

My people, we know that this strong women did quite a few things right, and I am curious to know what were some of the determining factors that contributed to this incredible woman sending all of her children to college, and they went on to become doctors, teachers, writers, nurses etc.

Also, since reading this book, I have been thinking about public transportation. Yes, public transportation!! I read this article that was talking about poverty in the South and places where there is limited to no public transportation and how the lack of public transportation negatively impacts the poor.

So, in New York, James’ family had no trouble getting around because of public transportation. However, once they moved to Delaware, without a car, even going to the grocery story was a big deal and could be quite costly. The lack of public transportation drastically changed their lives. Now, I know that the lack of public transportation greatly impacts the poor, and I am not sure what we should do about it, but I know that we should do something.

Race, Race, Race was throughout this book!!!

James did not seem to even notice that his mother was White until other people brought it to his attention by saying inappropriate comments or staring. Which leads me to believe that racism is definitely taught. Also, Ruth was estranged from her entire White, Jewish family, her father was a Rabbi, because she married a Black man. She made her way into the Black community, and that is where she stayed for most of her adult life. She refused to talk about race or being White until she was asked by James in order to write this book. James nor his siblings did not know until the writing of this book that they had White, Jewish blood running through their veins.

This book confirms that race is complex and rules this country, and I am not sure what we can do about this.

Ruth went to Temple University at the age of sixty-five and earned a degree in social work, and she used that degree after she earned it. “She worked as a volunteer in a Philadelphia social service agency that helped pregnant unwed mothers; then she moved on to run a weekly reading group for literate and illiterate senior citizens at the local library.”

This, I found fascinating and made me think about my own 80 year old mother who wants to go to her senior activities every day; folks need purpose. I just believe that we need to stop living when we die and not one day before....

This is a well-written thought provoking book that I think is very relevant to add to the conversations on race that we are having today. Consider reading this book to get another perspective on being Black in America.

By the way, I read the Good Lord Bird which is also by James McBride, and I loved every word. You may want to try that one also.

Let’s get busy, My People!

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Bo Bikes Bama 2016

As a middle school person, I remember having the hugest crush on The Bo Jackson. When I heard that he has been doing a charity ride in Alabama for the past five years called Bo Bikes Bama for The Alabama Relief Fund, I knew that I had to do this ride that would provide me the opportunity to give back to my home state, and it would also give me the opportunity to possibly meet Bo Jackson.

I decided to stay on the campus of Tuskegee University, my Alma Mater, which is only about fifteen minutes away from Auburn which is where Bo Jackson would be hosting the Bo Bikes Bama ride. I have a niece and great nephew who are both current students at Tuskegee. So, I got the chance to spend time with both of them, as well as, spend time with my nephew and his wife who live a few miles away in Montgomery, Alabama.

Great nephew

Saturday, the day of the ride, I excitedly gathered with about 900 other cyclist to ride the country sides of Alabama. Right before the ride, I had to get out of the lineup to take care of a mechanical issue on my bike, and just as I was finishing the work on my bike, I looked up and was looking right at Bo Jackson who was trying to make his way to the starting line. (Swoon). 

Bo got to the front of the line and thanked us for coming out, and he talked about the fact that he has raised around $1 million dollars in the last five years and has built about 500 homes and quite a few tornado shelters. He went on to tell us that Bret Favre and Lance Armstrong would be riding with us. However, what he said that stuck out the most to me was “Enjoy the ride, and do not complain about things that we have no control over.” This set the tone of the ride for me, and I must admit that I took everything in stride and completely enjoyed the ride.

Being that I was cycling, I was not able to take many pictures, but my people, I had forgotten or maybe never noticed the beauty of Alabama. Lakes, ponds, streams, beautiful trees, and miles and miles of highway with very low traffic. Alabama the Beautiful!!!

And, ain’t nothing like Southern hospitality. There were three rest stops, and the volunteers were extremely happy and friendly. The second rest stop was hosted by a church, and the church members had chairs ready for us and many of the church members were there to greet us. Also, at this particular rest stop, I ran into a cousin through marriage, who is a state trooper, and he was keeping us safe. I felt like I had my own personal protection.

Cousin, the state trooper and protection!

However, true to Alabama style, there was fried chicken at the last stop!! (You got to love Alabama!)

At the finish line there was a live band, plenty of food for the riders, and of course Bo Jackson which is when I got the opportunity to take the picture with him. There were lots of people gathered around Bo, and he handled all of the attention with such grace. He stood for hours and allowed people to take pictures with him, and he wrote his name lots and lots of times on almost anything that was provided.

My people, the great outdoors, cycling, and being around lots of people make me extremely happy, and this weekend, my happiness level went through the roof. I talked with so many people before, during, and after the ride who all seemed to be equally excited and happy to be riding in the state of Alabama.

My people, if you don’t know what makes you happy, then I am highly encouraging you to try lots and lots of things until you find the things that bring you complete joy, and consider doing those things often. You know, I’ve learned that I am 100% responsible for my happiness, and I realize that it does not take much to make me extremely happy: people, teaching, books, authors, the great outdoors, exercise, cycling, traveling, rest..... AND, the bonus is that I can enjoy most of these things on a regular basis.

My people, the joy that I had this weekend can not be contained, and I am sure that it will spill over into other areas of my life and all into next week.

My People, find a hobby that you love, and become its slave!

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

It’s Our 5th Year Anniversary....

Five years ago, the life of a person who was in my circle took a turn for the worse, and it just so happened that many people whom I had not seen in awhile ended up at the hospital for support of this young man whose life was hanging in the balance.

It was apparent that a few of these people whom I have not seen in awhile had been working out. Their bodies and spirits reflected that they had been taking some awfully good care of their inner bodies.

There is no way that I can not see this type of change in someone and not acknowledge it, and of course they told me about their health journey with this wonderful personal trainer named Berhane.

At this time I was religiously going to the gym, running lots of miles, and I thought my diet was pretty good. So, when they suggested that I try Berhane, I was reluctant; I already had a plan. However, Berhane ended up coming to the hospital, and I was completely drawn into his quiet, caring personality. However, what I loved about him the most is that he was not trying to convince me that I needed to work out with me. He confidently spoke about his services, and after talking to him, I knew that I had to at least try him once.

My first workout with him was hard and eye-opening; I was definitely not in the shape that I thought I was. However, he did not make me feel bad about that fact, but he let me know that I could improve. In the beginning I was doing his workouts with all of my heart, but it took me a little longer to get on board with my diet. Being a happy hour girl, I loved my drinks and what I thought was good food on the weekends. What I didn’t know is that my eating habits on the weekends were completely destroying my workouts. (Working out does not make up for bad eating habits!) Finally, I got the full revelation that diet and exercise go hand in hand, and the rest is history!

I have been training with Berhane every Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday for the last five years, and I hope to be training with him for quite a long while into the future...

What I know for sure is:

Our health is our wealth, and it ain't a destination; it’s a journey. I remember thinking that when I reached a certain size, or at the end of the first year, then the second year, I could relax. However, Berhane quickly reminded that relaxing would have me ending up right back where I was before: high body fat, slightly high cholesterol, fatigued etc.

My people, I have to be vigilant, making sure that I work out and be conscious about every single thing that I put in my mouth. There is no ideal number on the scale at all, but there is an ideal lifestyle that we can strive for, and that is one that puts our health first.

When I first started training with Berhane, I just wanted to lose weight, but he reminded me over and over again that “If I take care of the inside of my body, the outside would take care of itself.” Now for most of us, we love the outward appearance; what folks can see when we have our clothes on and when we do not. However, I have learned that the outside of our bodies are a direct reflection of the inside. When our insides are hydrated, nourished with good foods, and worked with quite a bit of intensity, the reward is that the outside of our bodies reflect the healthiness of the inside of our bodies.

These last five years have been better than I can even articulate. You know, just knowing where I will be on Monday, Tuesday, and Thursdays at 4 brings me a lot of comfort and reduces the anxiety of when to fit in the workouts. I plan most of my meals, and guys this ain't something that I like to do, but it sure does help me to monitor what I eat.

In addition to working out with Berhane where we mostly focus on me having a lean body with more muscle than fat through strength training and diet, I make sure that I do lots of cardio, and I just happened to have found a cardio activity that I absolutely love, cycling, and I cycle five or six days a week even during the winter.

My people, it’s been five years, and I promise, I wouldn't believe it if I did not have four previous anniversary blogs that are reminders that it really has been five, good years. These five years have been fun and rewarding, and I can not even imagine a life where I did not did put my health first.

If you are reading this blog and you are on a health journey, keep on keeping on. However, if you need to take your journey to another level, switch it up, or even get started, remember, it is never to late to work on your health. I can guarantee you that once you make taking care of your health apart of what you do, you will have a better life overall.

Oh, how I am loving this journey.....

It's been five years, and I am just getting started!!

Anniversary One Blog
Anniversary Two Blog
Anniversary Three Blog
Anniversary Four Blog

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol S. Dweck

"For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he!"
Proverbs 23:7King James Version (KJV)

My people, this book is a game changer.....

In this book, Carol discusses her research on the mind. Carol breaks down our beliefs into two categories: fixed vs. growth mindset, and we can go back and forth between the two mindsets.

People with a growth mindset believes that their qualities and abilities can be cultivated; they can change with effort. People with the growth mindset do not have to always be seen as the smartest person or the best at everything; this mindset values learning, failing, and learning from the failure.

People with a fixed mindset believes that we have all of the abilities that we will ever have and the abilities are fixed; we can’t change our qualities or abilities. These people do not want people to see them fail, they feel that they must always show their good side, and do not value effort.

To a person with a fixed mindset a failure is the end of the world, but to a person with a growth mindset, failure means an opportunity to learn, and that person will try and try and try over and over.

Carol gives the example of Michael Jordan having to literally work and work to become Michael Jordan; he had to cultivate his basketball skills. The famous Picasso painted horribly for years until he practiced and practiced and practiced and became the Picasso that we know today. Darwin’s work on The Original of Species took years of teamwork and half a lifetime of dedication before it came to fruition. Most folks ain't a natural at anything; but Oh the value of hard work and dedication.

Now, let me tell you how this book applies to me... I believe and know for a fact that we can change our intelligence and almost every area of our lives if we believe that we can and work at it. We can study and become better at math, writing, reading, and even at the arts. We can become more considerate, compassionate etc. I believe that every student, person, and myself can become better in every single area of our lives. I must believe this in order to be a teacher right? (I surely hope that all people who work with children believe that people can improve.)

However, with cycling, I was beginning to believe that I could not get better. Now, I’ve come a long way from where I started and that improvement came from just riding as often as I could. I LOVE CYCLING!  However, competitive cycling took me completely out of my comfort zone and was stealing my joy of cycling, because I was not seeing improvements right away. (fixed mindset!) I am not a natural athlete at all. So, for me to be a competitive cyclist, I have to work my butt off and then enter races and get dropped. (Dropped means that the other cyclist leave you behind!) I was and was not enjoying the journey. I enjoyed the camaraderie of racing but did not enjoy being last. However, I just couldn't give up.

My first year of racing I did not know anything about cycling workouts or what to do to get better, and my team did not offer any support at all. So, of course, my first year of racing I was getting dropped and was always the last person to finish each race. Can I tell you that I cried, felt embarrassed, had self-doubt and everything else that you can name? However, I kept going back, because I enjoyed it, but I had no idea what to do to be competitive. During my second year of racing, I still did not know anything about cycling workouts, and I was getting my butt ran in the ground. Finally, I started hearing people talk about workouts, and I decided to hire a coach. Also, I switched to a more supportive cycling team.

Now, I have a cycling coach, and he works my butt off. But, because of my first two years of unsuccessful racing, I am having to work on my mindset. Yep, I am having to work on mindset. I was beginning to believe that I could not get better, and it did not help that I changed racing teams and on my first ride with them I struggled and struggled bad. I was not focusing on the fact that I was learning from my team and my new teammates were super supportive and helpful. I was focusing on the fact that I probably looked like a failure to my new team...(fixed mindset!) Of course, I went home and called my coach and blamed him. We almost parted ways, but we didn't thankfully. (He did not give up on me.)

Now, when I put my cycling life in the grand scheme of things, I am a pretty good cyclist; however, to ride with the big boys, I am going to have to train, train, train and give up riding for fun all of the time. I must do the workouts so that I can enjoy the rides that I do for pleasure and enjoy competing. Also, I must be prepared for failures along the way. (Growth Mindset.. Failing ain’t easy for me.) 

I have been doing every single one of my workouts and praying that I am getting stronger.... Now, do you hear that doubt? (Fixed mindset.) My people, you know and I know that I am getting stronger. (Growth Mindset.)

Two weeks ago I had my first race of this season, and because I had convinced myself that I am not good with climbing because of being dropped on hills quite often, (fixed mindset), the small incline that was on the race course was mentally freaking me out... I was not focusing on my improvements from all the workouts that I had been doing to get stronger, and of course, I got dropped on the very first lap.

I cried and felt crazy and talked to my coach who was surprised that I had gotten dropped so quickly, and he talked to me about my mindset. He state that “You must believe that you belong in the race.” And, before he stated this, I did not realize that I may have been having those thoughts.

Of course, I belong in the race, because I have being working hard like the other racers to be in the race. After much thought, I am convinced that my fixed mindset caused me to get dropped in that first race, not my abilities.

Since that first race, I have been determined to enjoy every workout and every ride. I am looking forward to riding with folks who are stronger than me so that I can learn and grow. I have decided to no longer feel bad about getting dropped, but acknowledge that getting dropped is part of the growing experience and having a growth mindset. Now, don't think that it will be easy to change my mindset, but just because it won't be easy, it does not mean that I will not do it.

I am going to continue to do my workouts, ride for fun, and compete...

World, Look Out.... Here I come!

My people, read this book and challenge yourself!!

Monday, April 18, 2016

The Other Wes Moore by Wes Moore

One of my students did a presentation on this book, and she suggested that I read it, and I did.

This is one of those books that I have put on my “recommend to everybody” list, because it brings up a very important question that we could probably ponder forever and never, ever come up with a single answer: “Why do some people ‘make it’ and some people don’t? Notice that I put “make it” in quotation marks, because that is another idea that we could probably ponder forever and ever and ever......

Both Wes Moores started their lives in similar neighborhoods, were raised by single mothers, and were subjected to failing schools early on. However, one went to college and one is in prison for life. How in the world did this happen? In the very beginning of the book, Wes states that “This book is meant to show that our destinies can be determined by a single stumble down the wrong path, or a tentative step in the right one.” (Hmmmmmmm!!)f

After reading this book, I fully understood the story of the Wes Moore who made it; his story is similar to mine... My folks found a way to instill the importance of school, I went to ok schools and had ok grades, my parents made a way out of no way for me to attend college, and that was that. Yea, I could have been a teenage mother, could have dropped out of school, or could have done a whole bunch of other stuff that could have sent my life on a different course. However, thanks to parents who were very clear about what I was and was not going to do, siblings who went before me and paved the way, and “tentative steps in the right direction," I ended up going to college. So, I am wondering what does expectations, especially our parents’ expectations, have to do with how we feel about ourselves and the decisions that we make?

However, the story of the Wes Moore that ended up in prison for life is the story that has been haunting me every since I read it.... I have been trying to understand why he didn't go to school regularly, didn’t use condoms, sold and used drugs, participated in crimes etc?

I've been thinking about the cutting of Pell Grants to pay for college that caused the imprisoned Wes Moore’s mom to have to drop out of college, I've been thinking about equity vs. equality when it comes to public school funding, I've been thinking about teenage pregnancy and is there anything that we can do to reduce that number, I've been thinking about public housing, I've been thinking about the decision making process, I've been thinking about fate! - All of the things that seem to have impacted Moore’s life. I am not sure if these things added up to play a part in Moore being in prison for life, or was it simply that Moore did not have anyone to believe in him, he did not believe in himself, or did he just take “a single stumble down the wrong path." (I wish I had an answer?) 

If we somehow managed to go back and fix every single issue in the incarcerated Wes Moore’s life, would he be in prison for life? 

The Wes Moores’ stories are all about race and racism, and we must add these stories to the many other stories to continue the discussions to identify and combat systematic racism. I heard Bryan Stevenson, the author of Just Mercy, speak, and he stated that “We are taught to stay away from tough neighborhoods, but that is where we are needed the most.”

My people, I wish I had some solutions to offer people like the Wes Moore who ended up in prison, but sadly, I just don't have any right now.

Read this book, and let’s talk!

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The Crossover by Kwame Alexander

Last night, I finished reading The Crossover, and My People, this book is a page turner....

First of all, this book is written for young adult readers, and it is written in verse. If you are around kids, you know how much they love poetry especially when the language is accessible and the topic is relatable. So, most students, even those who are a little older than young adult, will love this book.

I just love how Kwame uses words. He uses the words’ position to give visual meaning, and you must read this novel to find out how the title, The Crossover, is cleverly used as a pun. The language is simple enough yet complex enough to catch and hold the reader’s attention right from the very beginning. Kwame also beautifully uses verse to develop each individual character’s voice, the storyline which is infused with sports and sports terminology which Kwame carefully explains, and many themes which students will appreciate such as overcoming obstacles, coming of age, the complex dynamics of relationships, love, family etc.

This is not one of those "I had it tough, but I made it kind of books.” This is a book where the mother is an assistant principal, the dad is an ex-professional basketball player, and the twins, Jordan (JB) and Josh (Filthy McNasty), are twelve year old boys who are the stars of their middle school basketball team, but they still have common middle school problems. I was completely drawn into the authenticity of this family where we are shown the image of a strong African American father figure who has close bonds with his sons and wife.

I have desperately been trying to think of ways that I can use this more of a middle school book in my 10th grade classes: as a read aloud, as an independent reading that rotates throughout the class, as a group reading assignment where the kids read to each other. Also, I’ve thought about the possibility of using some of the quotes that are meant to teach lessons as writing prompts. However, if you are a middle school teacher, you can google The Crossover, and all types of things will come up, including teaching ideas. You can take those ideas, modify them, and make them your own. I’m thinking that I can also modify some of those plans to teach this novel to high school students as well.

Regardless of age or race, I think that almost any person can enjoy and even relate to this book!

Kwame Alexander will reach so many students, even reluctant readers, with this book.

I know exactly why this book won The Newbery Medal and The Coretta Scott King Award; IT’S GREAT!

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