Friday, March 30, 2012

The Hunger Games! The Hunger Games! The Hunger Games!

People, I am totally caught up in this Hunger Games madness, but it is good madness.

When The Hunger Games movie was slowly, but surely, approaching the theatres, my school was bubbling over with excitement. Quite a few of the students were franticly reading the book, the librarians were extremely busy checking this book out, and I was getting emails from the librarians telling me to let a student know that he/she needed to come check this book out, or they were going to give it to the next student who was anxiously waiting. All of this did not move me, but when I saw one of my serious 12th grade students reading this book, I realized, at that moment, that I needed to read this book.

I didn't want to buy it, but I did want to read it. I went to the school's library, and it was not in. So, I asked my class, "Does anyone have The Hunger Games?" Several students pulled it out of their backpacks, and I began the journey into The Hunger Games world.

From the very first page, this book is absolutely captivating. Suzanne Collins knows how to make the reader identify with the characters right away. Who doesn't love a family who is poor but are doing whatever it takes to survive?

The main character is a 16 year old, smart, tough girl named Katniss Everdeen who also has a soft side. I must admit that most books that have girls and/or women as strong characters with a tender side, are some of my favorite books: Their Eyes Were Watching, Pride and Prejudice, Sula etc. I love when I have a girl student who wears cute vintage dresses but is a great basketball player, runner, rower, etc. The best of both worlds!!!

Once Katniss is put in "The Games," the will to survive kicks in, and she WINS!!!!!!! Long live Katniss.

This is a book with the themes of "We Need Others to Survive" and "The Underdog CAN win." I really believe in these themes. I think of all of the people in life that really help me to survive. People who offer words of encouragement, who are just present, and people who are willing to fight when I need someone to fight with me. When Katniss was in "The Games" trying to survive on her own, I was wondering how was she going to do this? But once she partnered up with Peeta, I knew that it was on. People Need Other People.

With the theme of "The Underdog CAN Win," I really believe this as well. It has been proven over and over, but I guess it sort of depends on a person's definition of winning. Winning, to me, is overcoming an obstacle such as poverty, mistreatment, yourself, abuse. The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind is a great example of someone who was the underdog, but he won and was able to help his people.

Collins really develops these themes in The Hunger Games, and now I understand what all of the buzz was about in the school. Over my Springbreak, which is next week, I will be anxiously going to the movies to see The Hunger Games.

I really needed something good and light to read, and The Hunger Games filled that desire.

I highly recommend that you read this book and see the movie!!!!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Perks of Being a WallFlower by Stephen Chbosky

My seniors and I have really had our ups and downs this year. They have been ready for graduation since October, and I have been focusing on the AP exam: true conflict of interest. However, through the ups and downs, the one thing that we have in common is that many of my students love to read. I have a list of books on my desk that they have recommended that I read. I have tried many of their recommendations, In True Bloods, Like Water for Chocolate etc, and I have not been disappointed yet.

A few students told me about The Perks of Being a Wallflower. One student told me she loved it so much that she read it twice. I had to give it a try, and I really, really loved this book.

The main character, Charlie, is a 9th grade student who is dealing with the death of his aunt, being in love with a girl who does not love him back, experimenting with drugs, trying to find his place and all of the other issues that teenagers deal with while being a wallflower. Charlie tells this story through a series of letters that he is writing to an anonymous person.

Reading this story reminded me that teenagers really are faced with a lot of things that people of my generations did not face, or maybe I did not face these issues, because I  was raised in rural Alabama with parents who did not allow a lot freedom. Not really sure how parents should handle all of the things that teenagers deal with today, but I think that they must be dealt with in order to give our students informed knowledge. However, I am not sure if they should or would listen to us. All I know is that it is complicated.

I need to share my thoughts that are a little to the left. After reading this, I thought about Trayvon Martin, who was recently gunned down in Florida. This seventeen year old kid, like many other kids, had to deal with a whole lot, but then I thought, no different than what Emmitt Till had to deal with. Both teens, one in the 1950s and one in the 2000s, needed to be told to watch themselves at all times; the same message different time periods. So, maybe teenagers today have the same issues that students had a long time ago: bullying, drugs, divorce, single parents, poverty, sex, AIDS, facebook, being profiled, competing to get into college, paying for college, looking for a job, being treated unfairly by teachers, being in terrible schools etc. (Shaking my head!)

So, I must thank my students for recommending this awesome book which helps the reader to see and maybe understand some of the issues that teenagers are faced with daily. I would love to be a wallflower sometimes and know what's going on with them, but other times, I think that it's best that I don't know.

I must add that I believe in the youth of today, and I do believe that many deal with the obstacles and come out unscathed.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

A Spring Day in the Life of a Teacher

I have to tell you about a great spring day in the life of a teacher. Not every day is a good day, but that's really in the way that you see things. So, most of my days are pretty darn good as a teacher.

So, yesterday, I got up around 6am, took a shower and ate the same breakfast that I eat every day. (Old fashioned oatmeal with cinnamon and a protein shake with a few blueberries.) I grabbed my lunch that I prepared the day before and my bicycle, and I headed out the door.

My first class started with a student doing a presentation on Romeo and Juliet. Once she said that she was doing her presentation on Romeo and Juliet, I gave her this puzzled looked and asked, "Did I give you permission to do that play?" She said that I did. I was wondering why would I say yes to doing a presentation on Romeo and Juliet when it is taught extensively to every student in this school? But, Oh well, I sucked it up and got ready for ANOTHER presentation on Romeo and Juliet.

This student totally shocked her classmates and me by giving a very refreshing spin on William Shakespeare and Romeo and Juliet. She even introduced some ideas that I had never heard before. Her presentation really gave the class a warm feeling, and we all left feeling upbeat, or at least I was feeling upbeat. (We really thought that we knew everything that there was to know about Shakespeare and Romeo and Juliet.)

My next class was working on essays on Romeo and Juliet. (As stated before, every student in this school extensively studies Romeo and Juliet.) I had to talk to them about the fact that my name is not editor. I want them to get use to the idea of reading over their own papers, correcting their mistakes, then asking me to correct the mistakes that they do no find. This went pretty well. I ended up reading six or seven essays that were actually good. (I must pat myself on the back.)

After that class, I had my planning period and lunch. So, I ran to wholefoods to get an omelet and later talked to a teacher about Treayvon Martin, the Revolution, the faculty meeting that would be held later etc. Then, I scurried to my classroom to get some work done: answering emails, grading papers, planning, and adding more things to my "to do list."

My last class of the day was a group of ninth graders who were working on Greek Mythology projects. It was so great to see students working in groups to create a puppet show, comic strip, powerpoint or any other idea that they would like to demonstrate their understanding of their chosen Greek Myth. We ended the class by watching a PBS special on God and Goddessses

After my last class, I headed downstairs to a faculty meeting where we were given ice cream and discussed a training that our entire school will participate in next year. (I didn't eat the ice cream. Hooray for me) The meeting was quite interesting.......We have to wait to see how the training goes next year. (I am keeping my fingers cross, because we all know how those trainings can go.)

Then, the other part of my life started!!!!

I changed into my biking gear, and my co-workers and I rode our bikes into DC to see the famous Cherry Blossoms. What a fun filled, good for the heart, ride in more than one way!

I got home around 7:30, had a great salad, and thought "Everything's gonna be alright!"

Teachers do "A Million Things" in a single day and usually with love.

I wonder what non-teachers do at work? Hmmmmmmmmmmmm

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel

There is no reason for me to continue to say that I am a sucker for a good love story, but for the sake of love, I am going to say it again "I am a sucker for a good love story."

Esquivel is an Mexican writer who often explores the relationship between men and women in Mexico in her works. She is best known for Like Water for Chocolate which is a combination of novel and cookbook. (What a great combination: great story and great food?)

In this love story, she does a great job of showing how good food and family traditions are very important in the Mexican culture. At the beginning of every chapter she gives a recipe for a dish, and she weaves this great story into the making of the dish. (She does this with so much love.)

The characters are people that you may absolutely love: Tita who is a sucker for love; Gertrudis who is strong and tough but is a sucker for passionate love; Chencha who is a loving, understanding companion and maid; and Esperanza who finally breaks the family tradition for love.

This book is such a delight to read. If you want something quick and fun, read this book.

Love and Spring are in the air!!

Laura Esquivel

Monday, March 19, 2012

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer

William Kamkwamba

This book, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, is a truly inspiring story of the idea that Anything is Possible. This phrase has been on my mind a whole lot for whatever reason, and it has been reinforced through many of the things that I have read lately! Whatever I am being prepared for: I AM READY!!!!

So, Willliam Kamkwamba is a 25 year old man from Dowa, Malawi. For financial reasons, William was in and out of school. But, he did not let this stop him from learning. He spent lots of time in the library reading about electricity, because that is a luxury that only about 2% of the people in Malalwi have, and I am talking about in the 2000s. (Reading this book, I had to remind myself often that this book is telling the life of William and people in Dowa in the 2000s: famine, limited access to education, no electricity etc.)

Really wanting electricity in his town, William read about and built a windmill using scavenged parts from a scrap yard. His first windmill was made from PVC pipe, a tractor fan, an old bicycle frame, and tree branches, and powered four light bulbs and charge mobile phones. William is truly a self-taught man.

A local news outlets wrote about William in 2007, and his life really changed. He was invited to present his windmill at the TEDGlobal conference in Arusha, Tanzania. TED is a nonprofit devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading. It is a conference bringing together people from three worlds: Technology, Entertainment, Design. (It really is a big deal to be invited to present at this conference.)

At this conference, many people donated money to William, and he "installed iron sheets on every relative's home in the village to replace the grass thatch. I got mattresses so my sister no longer had to sleep on grass mats on the dirt floor, plus covered water buckets to keep our drinking water supply from pests. I bought better blankets to keep us warm at night in winter, malaria pills and mosquito nets for the rainy season, and I arranged to send everyone in my family to the doctor and the dentist," and he put several of his cousins, who were not attending school for financial reasons, back in school. (Shaking my head.)

Here are some of the ideas that I took away from William's great story:
  • It was reconfirmed to me that Reading is Fundamental, and this was definitely true for William. Also, I know about William, because I read his story. Sometimes I get caught up in my world, and need to be reminded about the rest of the world and be moved to action. People, read like it is a matter of life or death, and sometimes it is.
  • I know for sure, without a doubt, as stated by William: "Anything is Possible when your dreams are powered from the heart!"
  • Also, in the words of William: If you want to make it, all you have to do is try."

This is a book that Purdue University is encouraging all of its students to read, and I agree that all Purdue students should read this book, as well as, all other people who live in countries who have an abundance.

Everytime that I flip on a light, I will think of William and his people.

Click the link below to watch this amazing clip on William!

William Kamkwamba!

William and his windmill!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Black Women Bike DC (BWBDC)

The Washington Post wrote an article titled "Black Women Take Their Place in DC's Bike lanes" in July 2011, and all I know is that I got tons of emails from my friends about this article, because my friends know that I LOVE to bike.

The article stated that:
"But the racial gap for cycling is huge, both locally and nationally. Cycling advocates and enthusiasts say groups like Black Women Bike DC, which launched on Facebook six weeks ago with three women and now has more than 60 members, could encourage more African Americans to consider biking for transportation and recreation. Those pushing to expand biking infrastructure throughout the city hope that more participation by black cyclists would stem opposition to bike lanes, racks and bike-sharing facilities."
I have been in DC for 12 glorious years, and I have seen lots, and lots of bike lanes pop up all over the place thanks to the former Mayor, Adrian Fenty, and gentrification. The why does not matter to me; I'm just thrilled that the bike lanes exist. However, many of the bikers that I see are White, but I do see Black cyclist as well; I'm one of them.  (For those who may be living somewhere where biking is not that big of a deal, bikes lanes are lanes on the streets that are dedicated for biking.)

Bike Lane!
I have been bike riding for about ten years now, of course I rode as a kid, but I really started riding as an adult about ten years ago. My biggest influence for riding is where I live. The DC area is an outdoor place. On any sunny day, there are lots of cyclist and runners everywhere, and I mean everywhere. Seeing the excitement that biking and running generated in this area, I had to get in on the excitement. A few friends and I bought bikes, and we started riding. I'm not sure if they turned their recreational riding into a passion or not, but I sure have. I absolutely love riding, and I do it often.

Let me tell you why women and men all over the place should consider biking!!!!!

For all of my readers, I really need to let you in on a secret. Quiet as it is kept, biking is the fountain of youth. Yep, it's the fountain of youth. It really is great for the entire body: back, arms, stomach, legs, heart etc, and there is NO wear and tear on the body. A person can really ride forever, and I mean forever:

Couple that I ran into at brunch. They biked from their home to lunch,
and they were leaving to bike and pay some bills. They were in their
late 70's or 80's!
The gear! I love the biking gear. Those tops with the pockets are absolutely adorable, and those biking shorts makes a rider looks like she may have boo boo in her pants, but from the front, they look awesome. For years I rode in shorts and T-shirts, but one day I decided that I wanted to look like a biker. So, I bought the biking clothes, and I must say that the clothes really make me want to bike even more!

The dreaded picture in front of a mirror using a cell phone :(
but the biking gear is cute right?

Last, but not least, biking is fun and builds camaraderie! I have a group that I ride with in my neighborhood, and they are people whom I would never know day to day, but some kind of way, I ended up on their email list, and I love riding with them. We ride, eat breakfast, and ride back home. I am extremely blessed, because I have quite a few co-workers who bike as well, and we bike right after work. I also ride with my friends Nancy, Tammy, and hopefully Rodney soon!

 However, last night, I went to a happy hour hosted by BWBDC, and this opened up a whole new world of cyclist and cycling. We met at this great bar in DC, and talked about biking. You know that I had to show pictures of my new bike. Now, I have a whole new crew of riding buddies. My first ride with them is Sunday at 11. (Mom, don't panic; I"m going to 8am church service. I won't miss church to bike. My priorities are straight.)

I am soooo grateful to The Washington Post for writing that article, otherwise, I would have never found BWBDC. And, I am equally grateful for all of my friends who read The Washington Post article and made sure that I read it as well!

People, here is another option to get fit for life alone with good, clean eating, and all of the other exercises that you may do.

If you live somewhere where people do not bike, start packing your bags NOW!!!!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

It's the Simple Things!

In a post back in August, I wrote about Waiting. In that post, I was encouraging myself and others to stop waiting to do whatever it is that we wanted to do: a new job, more free time, peace, a new boyfriend/girlfriend, a healthier life style etc.

A few days later I took my hybrid bike to Vermont to do a biking trip with Bike Vermont. On that trip, I saw people who were much older than me gracefully riding the hills, while I was struggling on those same hills. I do not want to imply that I should be riding better than the others, because they were older, but I had been doing great workouts, so I knew that I should at least be able to keep up with them. Being a little envious, I really wanted to ride just as gracefully as the other bikers. After much observation, I realized that it was my bike; I needed a more powerful bike in order to really enjoy my bike rides more and keep up with the other bikers.

After I had that aha moment, I wrote a blog titled I Get It. I wrote that I may know one reason why people wait: FEAR. I learned this after realizing that the reason that I did not have one of those powerful bikes is because I was afraid of the feet clips, the speed, the power etc. However, on that trip, I faced my fears, rode a more powerful bike, and was determined to buy a more powerful bike once I got back home.

Once I got home, I went on a mad search to find a powerful bike, but I learned quickly that those bikes cost about three months of my mortgage payment. (Really!) So, I had to go with the layaway plan. (Yes, there are stores that still have layaway.)

Last week, I got my new bike out of layaway, and yesterday, I took my first ride on my powerful bike. All I can say is that I had the best ride that I have ever had. When I got home from the ride, I felt soooooo happy. I thought about my new bike all night, and I couldn't wait to leave work so that I can ride it again.

People, whatever you are waiting to do is more than likely not as scary as you may think. Those feet clips are very easy to get in and out of, and the speed of the bike is so manageable and not scary at all; it's actually really enjoyable.

Face Your Fears, and Enjoy the Ride.

It's The Simple Things like riding a great bike, working out with the greatest trainer in the world, running into a friend randomly and having dinner, lying on my mother's couch, reading a good book etc.  that really make me so happy. I notice and greatly appreciate The Little Things!

My new bike!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Something Like Beautiful by asha bandele

The gifted writer asha bandele!

1 Corinthians 13:13:And now these three remain: faith, hope and
love. But the greatest of these is love.
I am a true sucker for love. I love great love stories; they really make my heart glad. But, I am learning that love does not always have the type of ending that we think it should. Love takes all types of shapes and forms. There are people who love each other, but really can't stand to be around each other for long, there are people who love each other, but for whatever reason or reasons, they just can't be together. But one thing that I know for sure is that self love is really the greatest love of all, and it does conquer all. Once we really love and accept ourselves, it becomes so much easier to love and accept others with our whole heart. Love is soooo good.

With that being said, asha bandele sho' nuff knows how to write a good love story. She puts words together in a way that makes her books seem urgent, it seems as if she is trying to tell the entire story in one breathe, while the reader anxiously sits and listens and hate for that one breathe to end.

The first book that I read by asha bandele was The Prisoner's Wife, and all I can say about this book is that it is a love story like no love story that I have ever read. It is written in a fashion that makes the reader want to really support this love, really want this love to overcome every obstacle, and really have a happy ending. (Those fairy tales have surely messed a lot of us up.) I met asha at the Essence Festival in New Orleans, and I ran up to her and said, "What happened to you and Rashid?" I really wanted this story to have a happy ending like Cinderella's!

With The Prisoner's Wife, asha had me hooked with the first paragraph:

"This is a love story like every love story I had always known, like no story I could ever have imagined. It's everything beautiful--bright colors, candle-scented rooms, orange silk, and lavender amethyst. It's everything grotesque, disfigured. It's long twisting wounds, open and unhealed, nerves pricked raw, exposed."
After this first paragraph to emphasize that this IS a love story, asha continues to repeat "This is a love story," and she uses many, many analogies to describe this love such as "it's an Alvin Ailey dance," and if you have ever seen the Ailey Ailey dance troupe, you know exactly what she is talking. If you have not seen the Alvin Ailey troupe, please go and see them and see how tragically, beautifully those dancers dance. Tragically beautiful because while they are dancing no one is smiling, the audience is really looking in disbelief and wondering how can anyone move his body like that. But, once the dance is over, the entire audience breathes and smiles with relief because the tragically beautiful dances ends without one flaw that is noticeable to the audience.

When I finished reading The Prisoner's Wife, all I could do was shake my head and say my, my, my......... I really wanted more. And, almost twelve years later, asha has given us more of that love story with Something Like Beautiful.

With Something Like Beautiful, asha picks up where The Prisoner's Wife left off. Asha, and Rashid, her prisoner husband, has had a daughter, and asha must deal with the fact that she and Rashid will more than likely never be together. This book is her journey to deal with being in love with a man who may never get out of prison, being a single mom, being adopted, being molested as a child, alcohol abuse, physical and emotional abuse from a lover, depression, and in this midst of all of these struggles, finding herself and realizing that "And if it did, if all of this happened on my watch and if it is not simply my cross to bear, but a cross that I allowed and that I willingly offered to carry alone, I want to say I'm sorry." 

Asha tells this story just as beautifully as she told the first part of this story in The Prisoner's Wife. This girl really knows how to tell a story.

Asha and I are around the same age, and reading her story, I could really identify with asha going on a journey to be present everyday in her life, because that is just where I am. Once I turned 40, this huge light bulb came on in my life, and I was able to see my life clearly because of this new light. (Thank God for Light.) I made a conscious decision to show up wherever I am on any given day in any given moment, because I want to be present in my life and in the lifes of the people whom I care about. 

Asha pretty much sums up how I feel and many other women feel who are on this incredible journey called life. Women who are determined to ride this thing out for all that it is worth. Here is what she says in a conversation with her sister:
"But I want to claim my life now, for all that it has been and all that it has not been..... This is my life... I want to have it and have it fully, no matter what that means."

These two books by asha bandele are works of art..... and all I can do is wave my hand!

Read these books PLEASE, and let's have a conversation!!!!!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

No Future Without Forgiveness by Desmond Mpilo Tutu

I literally just completed reading No Future Without Forgiveness by Desmond Tutu, and I must admit that this book made my heart heavy. To read what people went through in South Africa during Apartheid is enough to make a person "cry a river," and I really mean, "cry a river!"

When Bishop Desmond Tutu heard of all of the horrible things that happened to people under Apartheid he wrote:

"In a bold anthropomorphic vein I can picture God surveying the awful wrecks that litter human history- how the earth is soaked with the blood of so many innocent who have died brutally. God has seen two World Wars in this century alone plus the Holocaust, the genocide in Cambodia and Rwanda, the awfulness in the Sudan, Sierra Leone, the two Congos, Northern Ireland, and the Middle East, and the excess that have characterized Latin America. It is a baneful catalog that records our capacity to wreck considerable harm on one another and our gross inhumanity to our fellow humans. I imagine God surveying it all, seeing how His children treat their sisters and brothers. God would weep as Jesus wept over the hardhearted and unresponsive Jerusalem, where he had come to his own people, and they would not receive him......." (Excerpted from No Future Without by Forgiveness by Desmond Tutu. Page 95.)

However, later in the book Bishop Tutu states:

"But I am certain there had been many more times when God has looked and seen all those wonderful people who have shone in the dark night of evil and torture and abuses and suffering; shone as they have demonstrated  their nobility of spirit, their magnanimity as they have been ready to forgive, and so they have dispelled the murkiness, and fresh air has blown into that situation to transfigure it......Each of us has a capacity for great good and that is what makes God say it was well worth the risk to bring us into existence.... God believes in us. God depends on us to help make this world all that God wants it to be."(Excerpted from No Future Without Forgiveness by Desmond Tutu. Page 123.)

When you want to know how to forgive and move forward, this book could definitely be a starting point; however, my mind is still grappling with the idea of a WHOLE country persevering and moving forward and being an example for the rest of the world.

Anything, and I mean, Anything is possible.......

Two of my favorite men: Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela

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