Friday, December 17, 2010

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Black Friday versus Buy Nothing Day

In the past few days, I've heard Black Friday mentioned a number of times. You might prefer to do yourself a favor and celebrate Buy Nothing Day instead. (Both are names for the day after Thanksgiving.)

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Halloween: Scary-wonderful

My 8-year-old son adores Halloween. For weeks, he's been begging to go to the Halloween stores, just so he can check it all out. He didn't know what costume he wanted, though, and almost lost it today because he "doesn't have a costume". He has a pretend chainsaw and a bloody sword and a machete and a cleaver, and he has a great skeleton mask. I think he decided it would be more fun if he didn't melt down. (Yeay for progress!)

His cousin, who's 11, is here too. I figured they would enjoy it more without me this year, but they said they wanted me to knock on the doors for them. "OK." But when kids started knocking on our door, and my boys wanted to go, I said they'd have to wait if they wanted me. They decided to do it solo.

This is a great first. My son has had so many fears, and they're all starting to fade away. I'm very happy tonight.

For years, I've given out stickers instead of candy. I try to find really cool sparkly ones, so kids will be happy to get them. My son thought no candy to offer was very uncool. So this year, I've offered both. I'm happy to report that lots of kids chose stickers or little toys (like plastic finger puppets) instead of the candy.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Link: Oil Destroys the Oceans

Good article at Mother Jones on the ecology of the oceans, and how it is all being ravaged by oil.

It is shameful that we haven't reinvented our way of life, to stop needing oil.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

My Son Is Reading!

...and I didn't write this when it happened, so I'm not sure of the date. It was a few weeks ago.

One night, my son was stuffed up and couldn't sleep. It was the middle of the night, and I wanted to sleep, so I suggested he read Grasshopper on the Road, by Arnold Lobel, and go to sleep when he finished. He did. And in the morning, he read 3 chapters of it to me. With feeling. The worm had a high voice - so cool!

Swimming, reading, getting better at not losing it when he's mad. Wow! It's pretty exciting to be his mama.

[I will most likely continue to neglect this blog for a while. Too busy.]

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Our Chickens: A Dilemma, a Tragedy, and Some Confusion Cleared Up

I wrote about our chickens last fall when we first got them. I guess I didn't tell an important story that leads up to recent events.

We got Blackie first, and a few days later picked up Penny and Squawk, who looked almost alike. (Penny is speckled.) The first or second day at our house, they were running around the yard, and wouldn't come out from behind the brush pile when I wanted to put them in the coop in the evening. I finally got Blackie but not the other two. I knew there was a danger that a raccoon would attack them, so I left my shoes and a flashlight ready near the door.

Sure enough, I heard a bunch of squawking in the middle of the night and rushed out. I saw a commotion over by the greenhouse, and thought I'd shine my light on a chicken. Nope, it was the raccoon I saw in my beam. I found Squawk, and two piles of feathers the raccoon had ripped off her. She didn't seem to have any scratches or blood, though, so I hoped she was ok. I put her into the coop, and the next morning Penny showed up, just fine.

I thought we'd had a lucky escape, but Squawk almost never laid proper eggs, and I had to wonder if the trauma of the raccoon attack had messed her up. She usually laid eggs with no shell in the coop, and they'd fall to the metal bottom, looking something like fried eggs. Once in a great while, we'd get proper eggs from her, but the shells would be very rough. We got less than a dozen eggs from her in all these months.

When we came back from our Michigan trip in July, one of the chickens had gotten lighter, but I couldn't tell if it was Penny or Squawk. They both seemed speckled now. We were getting less eggs, and I began to suspect that the chickens were eating their own eggs. (Chickens need lots of calcium to make their eggshells, and feeding them eggshells is a good way to make sure they get it - except that some people fear this will encourage them to eat their eggs. I had been feeding them their own eggshells.) Well, last week I got confirmation when I saw a wet eggshell in their run. So I knew they were eating the eggs, and I couldn't figure out what to do about it. I figured I'd have to do some research when I had a little extra time. I stopped getting any eggs at all, and every day with no eggs, I wondered if there would be any solution...

That's the dilemma I had on my hands. Then we had a tragedy occur. It was exceptionally hot for the Bay Area this past week, and on Tuesday I found one of the chickens lying in the run, dead. (They had all seemed just fine that morning.) I felt guilty for not providing them better shade. The run is near the redwood tree, and is shaded for much of the day, but not all of it. I was so sad, and wondered if the other chickens would be bothered. We didn't know for sure if it was Penny or Squawk who had died. We decided to say it was Squawk, and call the living light-colored chicken Penny.

Not only have the chickens seemed fine, but we're suddenly getting two eggs a day. So it turns out that just one of the chickens was eating the eggs. And this morning I looked at the eggshells and knew. I had eggs from Blackie and Penny in my hands. It was Squawk who'd been eating the eggs, and Squawk who'd died. We are sad about her death, but grateful to be getting eggs again.

This also means the coop will be much easier to clean from now on, without all those raw eggs stuck to the bottom. I'm grateful.

Thank you Squawk for the eggs you gave us. May your next life be a better one.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Milestones: My Son is Swimming!

My son was scared of the waves at the Pacific Ocean beaches when we visited those when he was 1 and 2 years old. And he's been wary of the water ever since. At my family's cottage, he's always loved riding in the speedboat, but was never big on playing in the water until this summer. He still was nowhere close to swimming.

We stayed one night at a motel while in Michigan, to visit with close friends. He loved using my goggles in the pool. A family friend then bought him his own facemask. His new school, Homeschool By the Bay, will be held in a home that has access to a pool. School starts next week, but he's been going there for the past few weeks since I started back to work. He's suddenly swimming like wild! I showed him how to use his arms more effectively and the next day he told me I had sort of taught him to swim. :^)

The other day he showed me his summersaults in the water. He decided to try a back summersault. At first, it just wouldn't work. A minute later, he had it. Two minutes later, he was doing three in a row. And his handstands in the water are pretty good. He can only swim about 10 feet so far, but I won't be surprised if he's swimming the length of the pool in a few weeks. (Or maybe it will take a few years, like all the other big advances... I never can predict.)

Amazing how fast they learn, when they're ready!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Woo Hoo! My Poem Got Published (on another blog...) ;^)

Awhile back, while a bunch of us math folks were talking about math poems, I posted my poem, Desire In a Math Class, here on my more personal blog. That math poetry project eventually ended up with me meeting (just through email) JoAnne Growney, who co-edited Strange Attractors, and publishes math-related poems on her blog, Intersections -- Poetry with Mathematics.

Today she published my poem on her blog. I am honored! Years ago I tried, to no avail, to get my favorite poem, Tree Spirit, published. Some day I'll work at it again, and get that one into a book. For now, I'm delighted that one of my poems has finally been published, even if it is online and not in a book.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

War Is Criminal: The Money Side

The war in Iraq and the war in Afghanistan have both been against civilian populations. (Neither has a government fighting us back.) That's the most criminal aspect of our government's conduct. But here's another criminal aspect. Nathan Yau at Flowing Data shows a graph of the way money in Development Fund for Iraq was spent.

Seems to me this is grounds for prosecution.

I'd like to see some graphs showing how far that money would go (both here and in Iraq) if well-spent.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Rachel Maddow Show

I just got a link (from Dina, at The Line) to Rachel Maddow's commencement speech at Smith College in May. It impressed me so much, I thought I'd check out her news show. Wow! She is doing what I've wished for years the news would do - giving good background history to help viewers understand the issues.

My close friend Linda got a TV about a year ago, just so she could watch the Rachel Maddow show.  She joked about how cute Rachel was, and it didn't occur to me to dig deeper. So now I can tell Linda, I'm finally watching it too - online. (No TV in this house, but lately that doesn't seem to make a difference.)

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Same Sex Marriage: A Very Good Court Ruling

You may live in a state where you can marry your same sex partner, but that doesn't allow you to claim her (or him) as your spouse on your 1040. The federal government has not moved forward yet on this. So couples in Massachusetts have sued the federal government. They recently won in U.S. district court.

Here's the Slate article.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Celebrating Breaking the Gender Rules

I used to identify as bi, and I said then that I was attracted to women with short hair and men with long hair, people with a sparkle in their eye. I've always liked people who bend gender.

Pilar did a post on “My Sins Against Gender-Stereotypes”, in response to a challenge from a blog friend of hers. I can't call it a sin, though, so I'm going to call it "Celebrating Breaking the Gender Rules".

Here's what I do that breaks the rules:
  1. Let my chin hairs grow! At 53, I've got quite a few. Each semester, I carefully cut them off with scissors before my first class, so I won't scare my students. Then I let them grow. Right now they're longer than they've ever been, due to my sabbatical year.
  2. Wear men's pants when they fit better (often), and men's fitted button downs (European fit) to fit my long arms.
  3. Neglect my clothes.
  4. Speak my mind.
  5. Love math.
  6. Hate shopping.
  7. Eat what I want.
  8. I don't cook much. (Which is why I love Three Stone Hearth for allowing me to eat healthy food.)
I'm sure there's more. I'm probably less aware of gender rules than most folks.  ;^)

Anyone care to join this party?

Learning Is Such a Natural Thing

I don't worry much about my son's learning. I trust that being around me and my incessant reading and thinking will be enough to help him move forward in most ways. I do regret that I'm not more musical - he'd blossom with a musical adult quietly mentoring his amazing musicality.

We're at my family's cottage and my brother left his iphone out for everyone to play with. My son has found two different hangman games. He's getting a great spelling lesson from his play, and I'm tickled.

Maria (who may be the only one reading this blog regularly) talked about believing in 'strong guidance'. I like her way of looking at these things, but I think I'm more laissez faire.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Kid Power

My son's school is closing, due in part to tough economic times and a big mortgage. Luckily for us, one door closed and another opened. One of the parents decided to open a mini-school in her home. (No payments for space will make it much easier for this school to survive.) It's very exciting to be in on this as it forms. I've been studying educational alternatives since I was a teenager, and I have lots of resources to offer.

We will probably set up a school blog or wiki, or something, but meanwhile I'm going to start linking to good posts here. I think this post about kids changing the food system will be exciting for the parents and interesting for the kids (who are mostly 8 years old). My favorite part:
[Orren] Fox has twenty-seven hens and four ducks in Newburyport, 35 miles north of Boston. Last year, he started O’s Eggs, a small farm business selling eggs for $5 a dozen.

That Sunday, he held one of Novak’s hens, which he used to discuss chicken anatomy. He pointed out the crop, where food goes to be digested with the aid of swallowed rocks, the comb (he suggested using Vaseline in winter to keep it from freezing) and tail, where the hen produces wax that she uses to clean her feathers. “If your hen looks like she doesn’t have a head, she is probably just cleaning herself,” he said to laughter.

His love of chickens started early. At age nine he was a volunteer cleaning chicken coops at a local farm, learning all he could about the birds. Then he adopted his own flock. After choosing chickens as the subject of a school research project, “I found out how horribly most hens in this country are raised,” he said. “I know chickens are smart, they have personalities, and opinions. I am not ok with what I consider mistreatment of these cool birds for cheap meat and eggs.”

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Playin' Around With the Technology

On the phone with jd, and talkin' about the Mac. So I installed Google chat and so did he, and when his phone died, we did a video chat. My first ever video call, I believe. Here's a photo booth pic just before that.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

He's Reading!

John Spencer was musing on his blog, and wrote:
Joel catches onto phonics right now, but should he be reading?  [Joel is 5.]

After replying, I realized I wanted to write a post on my own blog, so I could find it later. Here's my revised version of my reply:

Homeschoolers (especially unschoolers) can tell you, there is no should about when they start. My son goes to a 'freeschool'. There are classes, but he doesn't have to go. He was in that almost reading stage for about two years. I remember my ecstasy when he 'read' Go, Dog, Go to me two years ago. (I helped with some of the words, and the rest he had almost memorized.)

It's just in the past month or two (he just turned 8) that he has picked up a book and read. The Wimpy Kid books are what did it for him. He pores over them, sometimes for hours. I wasn't sure how much he was getting, but then I bought him Mouse Tales, by Arnold Lobel, on Saturday. He read it that night, and the next morning read it out loud to me. Ahh... He's reading!

To me, the most important thing is liking it, so it wasn't hard to wait. We love books here, and I trusted he'd get there. But am I excited? Oh yeah!!!

He's at the stage where he needs 'beginning reader' books. Most really good kids' books do not have severely limited vocabularies. The writers write naturally, the way they would in telling a story to a young person. Some of the words will make a young reader stretch, but there's enough easier words that it's ok for a reader who's been reading for a while. My son needs books right now with limited vocabulary, and I haven't found many good ones. Arnold Lobel works magic. He writes good fun stories (check out Frog and Toad!) that a beginner can read.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Freedom Flotilla Update

A few days ago I linked to Starhawk's report on the Israeli attack. Here's her update in full.

Here’s just a short post as I’m currently teaching 14 hour days this weekend…my friend Caoimhe is still on the Rachel Corrie which I believe has just been intercepted by the Israelis.  All the others are now safe–Hedy apparently was sick and never made it on board and I can’t help but be thankful.  Anne Wright is back in New York–both she and Huwaidaa report that the women were treated brutally by the Israelis but are now safe and okay.  Another friend, Paul Larudee, was badly beaten but is now free.  Eyewitness reports are coming in which completely contradict the Israeli propaganda machine’s attempts to smear the flotilla activists.  Most horrifying–the autopsy report on the nine Turkish activists who were killed report that they were shot close range, several in the head and face, and multiple times.  The evidence is consistant with eye-witness reports of commandos attacking with intent to kill.    Below are some links to reputable sources:
UK Guardian article:  Gaza Flotilla Activists Were Shot in Head at Close Range
Michigan Peace Team–link to French video

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Racism in Well-Loved Children's Books

I read about a book a week to my son. We've read lots of wonderful books over the years. When he was younger, I made sure to have lots of picture books with Black characters, celebrating their lives. (My son is Black and Latino; I'm white. The Latino books have been harder to find.) Some were about escaping slavery, some were about civil rights, and many were just simple stories of children's lives. When we shifted up to mostly reading chapter books, I found a few good series: The Julian books and the mystery series starring Ziggy and the Black Dinosaurs. There are also fantasy books, like The Moorchild, that address issues related to racism. (In The Moorchild the villagers react violently to a fairy child living among them, their fear of difference blinding them to any other possibility.)

We recently read two books by Lawrence Yep about families coming to the U.S. from China, which featured characters dealing with racism, with strength and dignity. (Mountain Light, set in the 1850's, and Dragonwings, set in the early 1900's.) Recently, though, we've read two books that made me cringe.

A dear friend gave us a book that is fascinating, sometimes delightful, sometimes terribly sad. King Matt the First, written in 1923 by Janusz Korczak, is translated from Polish.  In this book King Matt,  about ten years old, learns to govern his kingdom, becoming wiser as he gains experience. (In his first month in office, he commands that every child be given candy.) I like the character, and liked watching him grow, until the book introduced the 'savages'.

King Matt befriends King Bum Drum, an African cannibal king, and convinces him to stop eating people. The Africans are repeatedly called savages; they're depicted as quite smart, but backward. One of Kin Bum Drum's hundreds of daughters, Klu Klu, falls in love with Matt. When Bum Drum comes to visit Matt, she stows away in a crate and comes too. She is smart and wise, and saves the day many times. But the overall feel is of the white king Matt  liberating the savages by showing them civilized ways of living - colonialism unquestioned.

The next book we picked up was Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, by Roald Dahl. I knew what to expect in that one, because my son has watched both of the movie versions multiple times. I was hoping that reading it would give us more space for questioning things. Also, books are usually better than movies, so I was hoping for a bit more depth. (Nope.) The problem is colonialism again. The Oompa-Loompa's are officially white (page 76, "His skin was rosy-white, his long hair was golden brown, and the top of his head came just above the height of Mr. Wonka's knee." ), but...
So I shipped them all over here, every man, woman, and child in the Oompa-Loompa tribe. It was easy. I smuggled them over in large packing boxes with holes in them, and they all got here safely. They are wonderful workers. they all speak English now. They love dancing and music. They are always making up songs. (page 71)
I told my son it reminded me of slavery, of how the owners would say their slaves were happy. The Oompa-Loompas had previously lived in Loompaland, where they were being eaten left and right by whangdoodles. So once again we have the white 'hero' saving the natives. Doctor Doolittle has more of the same. I'd like to be able to read 'classics' to my son, but I'm much happier with contemporary novels.

Do you know of any 'classics' that show contact between different cultures, and don't glorify colonialism?


From Starhawk's blog, Dirt Worship:
Early Monday morning, at 4:30 AM  local time, commandos from an Israeli military helicopter assaulted the lead ship of the Gaza Freedom flotilla while it was still in international waters.  Soldiers droped from the air in full combat mode and fired live ammunition at the unarmed activists—killing somewhere between ten and twenty people and wounding dozens.
Israel has captured the ships, forced them into harbor at Ashdod in Israel, arrested the activists and embargoed the media.  They have not released the names of the dead.
If you have a TV, I suppose you knew this already. Here are the information and action sites she linked to:

I am sending this:
President Obama,

Can you stand up for what is right? Israel gets so much of its military money from the U.S. Now they've killed unarmed civilians in international waters.

I don't know how you sleep at night, with your decisions in Afghanistan. Now there is this, too.

I voted for a person I thought understood right and wrong.

Please do what is right.

Sue VanHattum

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Fox News: An Action You Can Take

I just signed the petition. Would you like to also?

From Color of Change:

Dear friends, On Wednesday, Rand Paul, the GOP's US Senate candidate for Kentucky repeated his claim that a central piece of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was wrong, and that businesses should be free to discriminate against whomever they please.1 Paul and his supporters don't seem to care that without federal intervention, Black people might still be second-class citizens in most aspects of American life: where we eat, where we work, even where we live.
Then, on Thursday, FOX contributor and business anchor John Stossel went even further than Paul and called for the section of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that applies to business to be repealed.2 And he's refused to back down.
While Paul may have started this outrage, he can be taken care of at the ballot box — FOX News can't.
Stossel's position is an affront to Black America and everyone in this country who believes in racial progress. It's one thing to be a candidate with backwards views. It's another to be employed by a supposed news network and to use that platform to push hateful ideas that our nation repudiated decades ago.
It's time that FOX drop Stossel. It's why I've joined in demanding Fox do so immediately. If after hearing from thousands of people like you and I, FOX refuses to act, it will make clear that FOX stands with Stossel and his values, and ColorOfChange has pledged to go directly after the network with a major public campaign.
Can you take a moment to add your voice to the call to fire Stossel? After you do, please ask your friends and family to do the same:

FOX has a history of providing a platform for bigoted views and race-baiting. Most recently more than 300,000 people helped us hold FOX accountable by stripping Glenn Beck of more than 100 of his advertisers, after Beck called President Obama a "racist" with a "deep-seated hatred for white people."3
But Stossel has arguably gone beyond Beck, echoing segregationist arguments from the Jim Crow era:
"It's time now to repeal that part of the law because private businesses ought to get to discriminate. And I won't ever go to a place that's racist and I will tell everybody else not to and I'll speak against them. But it should be their right to be racist."
Stossel went on to argue something that history has disproved time and again — that private business will do the right thing, without being compelled by laws, because no one would patronize a business that discriminates. It's a blind belief in market fundamentalism that just isn't in sync with reality. In the '60s, white-owned businesses that allowed Blacks as customers lost business. Market forces actually perpetuated discrimination; they didn't combat it. Simply put: segregation would still be active in parts of this country if government hadn't stepped in.
And recent history has shown that the public accommodations section of the Civil Rights Act is still needed. In 1994, it was used to hold Denny's Restaurants accountable, after the chain repeatedly refused to seat Black customers.4 Just last year, it was used to go after a Philadelphia pool that prevented Black children from swimming there.5
It's time for Fox News to make a choice. Are they willing to continue to give a platform to racially-divisive rhetoric and revive dangerously outdated perspectives? Or will they move with the rest of the nation into into the 21st century? Please join me in calling on Fox News to fire John Stossel. And once you do, please ask your friends and family to do the same:
Thank you.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

What the World Needs

Howard Thurman:

Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Playing with Photo Booth

I was trying to record myself performing Tree Spirit, but I'm not happy with my results so far. When I gave that up for the moment, I decided to mess around. Here I am, laughing at the 'comic book' special effects.

Oil Spills

Doug Noon, writing at Borderland, reminds us of the last oil spill, which was never properly taken care of.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Get Up, Stand Up

Anyone reading this probably knows more than I do about the hideous Tea Party movement.  Tim Wise suggests imagining the races reversed, with Black protesters threatening a white president.

Doug Noon quotes him and adds this:
Hate groups are making a stand. Everyone else needs to stand, as well. We could start with a boycott of Fox News, and anyone who advertises there. A list would be useful.
I would be delighted to boycott anyone who advertises on Fox News. (I don't have a TV, and try to stay away from anything Fox already, but I'd love to expand that.) Their hate-mongering is so dangerous.

Anyone here want to join a boycott?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Spending on War

I wish I could be like Yes! magazine, and bring you mostly good news about all these hard issues (bigotry, war, poverty, environment). I'm realizing how hard that is to do. The good news is, one city is making the cost of war visible:
This week the mayor of Binghamton, New York ... exposed the elephant in the room of local budget crises – the obese, yet untouchable, military budget which over-consumes our income taxes and causes cities and towns to starve as their federal aid declines.  Urged by residents he will install a large, digital cost-of-war counter, funded by private citizens, on the front of City Hall.  Binghamton taxpayers have paid $138.6 million since 2001 to support failed wars...
The bad news needs more detail, unfortunately... Here's a great article sent to me by War Times / Tiempo de Guerras. I don't see it on their website, and the longer version (worth reading) has a different focus.

Local Budgets and War Spending:
A Reflection on Tax Day, April 15

By H. Patricia Hynes
Traprock Center for Peace and Justice

From every corner of America – urban, suburban and rural – the news of shrinking budgets and slashed community services sounds forth like the chorus of a Greek tragedy.

According to Pew Trust’s Philadelphia Research Initiative, balancing a city’s budget has become a year-long necessity due to the uncertainty of revenues and cutbacks in state aid.  In 2009, Baltimore, Boston and Phoenix had to revise already completed budgets.  Bus services are being canceled in Clayton County Georgia leaving suburban working poor, many of whom are car-less, stranded from their jobs in sprawled metropolitan Atlanta.  A national survey of 151 public transit agencies found that 3 of 5 agencies cut services or raised fares because of flat or decreased local and state funding. On March 13, 2010, my local newspaperlaid out in bold front page headlines a litany of economic woes for Franklin County, Massachusetts: “United Way falling short on fundraising goals”; “Tight times in Franklin County”; “State aid to towns to be cut by up to 4%.”  Human service programs, education, police officers, firefighters, and child support are threatened with continuing budget cuts and losses in tax income, according to the news articles.

With striking consistency, local politicians, media, and economic analysts lay the blame for budget woes on the unholy trinity of recession, falling tax revenues, and diminished federal aid to states, cities and towns.  Their consistent remedial response: cut jobs and services; raise sales and property taxes, institute work furloughs, and negotiate with unions to reduce pension and health benefits.

This week, however, the mayor of Binghamton, New York broke with this mantra and exposed the elephant in the room of local budget crises – the obese, yet untouchable, military budget which over-consumes our income taxes and causes cities and towns to starve as their federal aid declines.  Urged by residents he will install a large, digital cost-of-war counter, funded by private citizens, on the front of City Hall.  Binghamton taxpayers have paid $138.6 million since 2001 to support failed wars, an amount which could fund renewable electricity for every home over the next 11 years and provide 4 year scholarships for most of the 2010 entering class of SUNY Binghamton.

Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq bleed resources from my county as well.  According to the National Priorities Project taxes paid by Franklin County residents for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, namely $270 million, could have funded 28,027 scholarships for university students for one year, or the construction costs of 934 affordable housing units, or as many public safety officers and elementary school teachers needed plus renewable electricity costs for tens of thousands of homes for one year.

 Defense apologists argue that the Pentagon and the military industrial complex form the keystone of the economy, assuring military and defense-related civilian jobs as well as technical innovation. However, recent analysis of the effect of defense spending on job creation challenges this axiomatic notion. Comparing $1 billion spent on clean energy, health care, and education to the same amount spent on defense, researchers found that a larger number of jobs with mid- to high-range salaries and benefits would be created in the non-defense sectors than in defense. The reason? Military jobs provide higher average wages and much more generous benefits than the other sectors, thus fewer jobs overall per billion dollars spent. A related study assessed the long-term (20 year) effect on jobs and economic growth of current defense spending. The results reveal a diminished economy: a loss of 2 million jobs and a reduction of 1.8% GDP.

In the end, it’s a question of learning from recent history and choosing our priorities.  Will we join the club of 20th century militarized empires which over-stretched and failed, namely Britain at mid-century and the Soviet Union at the century’s end?  Do we want our core identity to be that of the world’s largest military (currently as large as the rest of the world’s together), the world’s largest maker and marketer of military weapons (currently 70% of world’s market), a defacto military society masquerading as a civil society?  Do we want to continue spending more on defense (now 55% of the discretionary budget) than on education, energy, environment, social services, housing, and new job creation taken together (45% of the discretionary budget)?  If so, we may fulfill the intent of Osama bin Laden – to draw the U.S. into a long war and bleed us dry. But spiritual decay may overtake us first.  “A nation that continues to spend more money on military defenses than on programs of social uplift,” warned Martin Luther King, “is approaching spiritual death.”

Pat Hynes, a retired Professor of Environmental Health, is on the board of the Traprock Center for Peace and Justice.  A longer version of this article can be found on the Traprock Center website.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Blogging about Racism

Mark Chu-Carroll wrote a post titled I am a racist, in which he lists some ways in which he is privileged by being white, and ways he participates in a white power structure. There are 171 comments to his post, but not a lot of depth. He had to close comments because a white supremacist site linked to his post.

I was in bed this morning, thinking about what he'd said. I wanted to discuss it with him, so I'm going to do so here. You'll need to read his post first, as this is a response to it.

Dear Mark,
Thanks for your post. Anything that gets me thinking about these issues is important to me, as I'm the white mother of a Black son* and really want to be the best parent I can be. I do think the way you framed this is problematic, though. Your description feels static - it sounds like: this is the way it is, and it's not changing.

Partly that comes of saying "I am a racist." Nouns feel solid and permanent. I think saying something like "I benefit from racism and haven't done enough to challenge that" (shorter title: "How I benefit from racism") allows for more of a sense of movement. It would also lead toward writing about how you'd like to move toward a better relationship with this issue.

Another problem is that your list doesn't tell enough stories about your life. Why do you live in a sunset town? ('Sunset town' refers to a white only town in which servants and workers of color are there in the daytime, and are required to be out by sundown. Ugly.) Is it really still that way? If you feel a need to stay there, what might you do about the policies? If you haven't done anything about it, why not? There must be so much story here, and those details would help people understand this issue deeply, much better than your list of 11 items does. Many of the items seem repetitive. I bet if you told a personal story for each one, you could easily clarify how each one is different.

You wrote: I am a racist, because I instinctively react to members of minorities with fear.

My guess is that you don't react to women of any race with fear, just men. I'd also guess that the fear you feel depends on the person's particular race (Black versus Asian?) and class (business suit gets a pass?). Race and class are thoroughly intertwined in this country. (I'm sometimes afraid of skinhead white guys and I'm afraid of anyone who seems out of control angry.) I'd appreciate a post where you go back to a particular incident, describe the person you feared, and what your fears were. (I hear that you're embarrassed, but writing the details will help us think about this very common problem.) Yes, white people are trained to fear Black men in this culture. How can white people overcome that training? I think we need to see clearly what's happening and try to understand it.

When my son is older, will you be afraid of him? Maybe. You won't know him, he'll be tall, and he might choose to wear the current in-your-face fashion. But he'll have had a lot of privilege, and it might show in his body language. Maybe you'll know he's no threat to you. Some people will be afraid of him, though. That is crazy and damaging, and I wish I could change the world before it harms my boy.

Thanks for pointing out how hard it is to remember that our success is not our own. You and I had thousands of invisible privileges - some that everyone should have, some that no one should have. U.S. culture is all about individualism, and doesn't acknowledge the power of community. Let's celebrate the power of community, and do what we can to open it up, to spread the love.

Keep writing, Mark. I'm looking forward to some interesting stories.


Dear Readers,
Now I'll take my own advice and tell a story or two that comes out of Mark's list. It's hard for me to write about this, because I want to be perfect for my son. Of course I'm not... But my fear of ever saying anything that would alienate him makes it hard for me to expose any lingering racist attitudes. I'll do my best to write as much healing truth as I can.

Mark wrote:
1. I am a racist - because I never noticed all of the unearned privileges that are given to me until someone pointed them out.

Yep. It's amazing how blind we are, isn't it? I'm still trying to understand how we were trained to be so blind. Maybe it's not training, maybe it's human nature not to notice things that benefit us.

In my first women's studies course in college (1974), I 'learned' that the crayon labeled 'flesh' was the color of a white person's skin, ditto for band-aids, which only came in that peachy color back then. Now you can get clear ones, and decorated ones, and maybe you can find ones that match a darker skin color. My son likes the Blues Clues bandaids. I prefer clear - they're cheaper. And Crayola sells a package of 8 crayons in 8 different skin tones. (Of course corporations are happy to make another product to fill another niche.) What do they call that peachy color now?

Why did I have to 'learn' those things in a course? Why had I never noticed? It is upsetting, isn't it? But it keeps happening.

If you are white, did you know that Black people's skin colors don't show up as well in photographs as white people's? I didn't learn about this until I was in my 30's. Whatever the reason for it, you know the skin color of the folks in charge is going to show up well, because someone is going to make money figuring out how to do it.

If you are white, did you know that Black men have trouble getting taxis? I didn't realize this until the day I participated in protests after the cops who beat up Rodney King were proclaimed innocent. A speaker talked about his problem catching a taxi, and I once again was faced with how ignorant I had been of the reality Black people face. I started asking taxi drivers about it, and some of them were quite comfortable admitting that they didn't pick up Black men, because ... they were scared. I'd like anti-racist taxi drivers to get together and talk about the issues they face with people who rob them, and how to deal with those issues without oppressing innocent people.

If you are white, do you know how often Black people are watched and followed in stores? When I was a kid, I accidentally walked out of the store without paying (this happened a number of time). As soon as I realized it, I went back in and paid. I used to think, "I must look innocent." Yeah, how about realizing that my skin color (and other markers of class) made me look innocent? Hmm. My son's godmother is older and middle-class, and looks it. But she's still followed in stores sometimes.

My colleague's husband was in Palo Alto in the evening, and was asked by a cop what he was doing there. I overheard her telling a Black student about the incident. As friendly as she and I are, I don't think it would have occurred to her to tell me about it. There's a big inhibition among Blacks about sharing these stories with whites.

White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack, by Peggy MacIntosh, is a classic article on this issue. Worth reading. I also found the psychology study on our unconscious reactions (mentioned in the comments at Mark's post) interesting and worth doing.

I'll try to keep writing about this uncomfortable topic, trying to find ways to move from this bad, ugly reality toward something healing. I've written in this post primarily about Black and white, but I'm aware that racism is directed against lots of other races. The issues are complex and can benefit from some intelligent discussion. Please join me in the comments.


*A note on capitalization: Black describes a cultural group with a common history; white describes the people who were allowed into the group who were seen as 'us', inside, not different. I am Dutch, German, a small part Native American, etc. My ancestors were able to assimilate as white. In doing that, they lost much that isn't about power, but more about rootedness, and they gained privilege. Similarly, most men are trained into maleness, and lose connections to feelings, etc, but gain privilege. Gay men don't get the same quality of male privilege. It's all connected...

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Book Review: Attack of the Fluffy Bunnies

Last week was my son's spring break, and we went up to Guerneville to see the redwoods. While we were there, we visited the local bookstore, River Reader. I had bought four books, and began to chat with the owner, Susan. My son wanted to leave, but saw it was going to be a while. He discovered a book in the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, and sat down on the floor to check it out. He wanted it, but I'd already bought him another book, and I told him we'd have to wait for it to come out in paperback, or else buy it used. He was bummed.

Susan offered him a free book from her box of advance review copies, on the condition he (or we) review it. We were both excited and looked carefully at each book in the box. My son selected Attack of the Fluffy Bunnies, by Andrea Beaty. It was his choice, so I didn't say anything, but it didn't look good to me.

I was in for a big surprise. It was hilarious (in a silly sort of way), and we both loved it.

The Fluffs came from another galaxy when their marshmallow planet was burnt up by a meteor. Fluff is an acronym for Fierce, Large, Ugly, Ferocious Furballs - these are not your average Earth bunnies.

The main characters, Joules and Kevin Rockman, are twelve-year-old twins on Earth who love horror movies, and know too much about Famous Last Words. When their parents drop them off at the overgrown entrance to Camp Whatsitooya, their own horror show begins.

My son kept cracking up at the jokes, and I started smiling in anticipation. We highly recommend this book.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Economics: Does anyone really know what time it is?

Owen got me thinking. Here are my scattered thoughts...

  • In many countries, the courses you take are in Political Economy, instead of Economics. Perhaps I would have majored in political economy, but economics seemed like it was just about how our capitalist system works, as if that were the only way things could possibly be.
  • At Notre Dame, dissenting voices in economics were pushed out.
  • What does it mean that most people do not understand economics?
  •  Owen Thomas, blogging as vlorbik, went to a local conference in Columbus, Ohio, and has pointed the rest of us to some good documents here.
  • About 25 years ago, I went to a People’s Economics Seminar. It was good stuff, but (ironically) what I remember is being bummed that they weren’t progressive enough about how to do education. Too much lecture left me antsy…
  •  I subscribed to Dollars and Sense for a while. I don't remember it very well. Their site looks like it has some good information. It also looks a bit overwhelming. Does understanding economics require understanding what's going on all over the globe? That's big.
  • This site, The People's Economics, looks interesting too.
When I have time to read something other than math, I'd like to come back to this...

Monday, March 29, 2010

Anarchism = Extreme Democracy

On my math education blog* I just thought about calling myself an anarchist, and decided not to mention it. Why? Have I actually put myself in the closet? Well, I'm not sure, but I do know that most folks have no idea what the word means. It's kind of like if you said you were a lesbian in a conventional sort of gathering in the 50's. People would be puzzled and think you were a bit nutso.

In most people's minds, I think it goes like this: anarchist = bomb thrower = terrorist. Maybe I should make a pin, and a bumper sticker, etc, saying: Anarchism = Extreme Democracy.

Here's the definition of anarchism at
1. a doctrine urging the abolition of government or governmental restraint as the indispensable condition for full social and political liberty.
2. the methods or practices of anarchists, as the use of violence to undermine government.
Oh yeah, and anarchy, that means chaos, right? No... Let's look at the roots. an-arch-y. an is a negation. arch is in monarch, which means one ruler. So anarchy is no ruler. Hmm, that does not equal chaos in my mind... 

I think part of the p.r. problem for this idea (anarchy, anarchism, anarchist) is that it's defined in the negative. I think of it now as connected to my paganism. That's my spiritual direction (call it religion if you want, but it's different - there's no One Right Way), and anarchism is my philosophy of social organization (you can't really call it government, can you?). They go together because they're both about equality in some sense, about taking our direction from our inner moral compass.
Why is it a problem for a word to be defined in a negative sense? Well, anarchism is a hard concept for most people to wrap their heads around. The word should give them a picture, or a direction, or something more than 'not this'. Also I've read that, when you're training a dog, you need to use positive commands. If you say "don't jump!" mostly the dog just hears the jump part. Our subconscious works the same way.  If you're trying to change a habit, it's important to phrase your thoughts in the positive. (Instead of telling myself to stop biting my nails, I could try to visualize how great it would be to have good looking fingers.)

So I'll mention extreme democracy on the other blog, and I think that will send the message I'm trying to send better than 'anarchist' would.

*Math Mama Writes, which has had over 17,000 visitors. This blog is climbing over 500.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Earth Hour

I wish I had known about this before today. It would be great to have a party, unplug everything a few minutes before 8:30, and then talk about the earth, play on the trampoline carefully in the dark, walk around the block together, come home and eat easy finger snacks. I'd like to do this monthly. It would be best to invite people who live close enough to walk. Hmm, maybe there's still time. I'll consult with my son when he wakes up.

Earth Hour only makes sense if it helps us change our lives. Before I took on single parenting, I rode my bike to get places. Each time I do that now, I remember how marvelous it feels to be on the bike, and to really see the neighborhoods I'm passing through. Can I think of some other way to use less energy and enrich my life? During our hour of less energy use today, may we each find one joyful way to simplify.

(My thanks to Professor Susurro for the heads up.)

Sunday, March 21, 2010

African American Picture Books for Black History Month

Throughout Black History Month, I was trying to post a book review a day. It didn't quite work out that smoothly, but I reviewed over 30 books for the month. I'd also written a number of reviews before, in A Dozen African American Picture Books, that I've included in this list.

I put this list together when I saw that Professor Susurro had written a post about my series in her blog, Like a Whisper. She mentioned young adult fiction, which I've reviewed in another post, A Dozen Delectable African American Chapter Books. Maybe I can expand that list next year for Black History Month. If I know people are following me, I'll be able to be more diligent.

1. Freedom On the Menu, by Carole Boston Weatherford
2. Pictures for Miss Josie, by Sandra Belton
3. The Escape of Oney Judge: Martha Washington's Slave Finds Freedom, by Emily Arnold McCully
4. Henry's Freedom Box, by Ellen Levine
5. Big Jabe, by Jerdine Nelson
6a. Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt, by Deborah Hopkinson
6b. Aunt Harriet's Underground Railroad in the Sky, by Faith Ringgold
6c. Under the Quilt of Night, by Deborah Hopkinson
6d. Show Way, by Jacqueline Woodson
6e. The Patchwork Quilt, by Valerie Flourney
7a.  Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, by Mildred Taylor
7b. Bigmama's, by Donald Crews
8. Corduroy, by Don Freeman
9. Whistle for Willie, by Ezra Jack Keats
10. Joy, by Joyce Carol Thomas
11. Goodnight, Baby, by Cheryl Hudson
12. Baby Dance, by Ann Taylor
13. Billie and Belle, by Sarah Garland
14. Do Like Kyla, by Angela Johnson
15. Yo, Jo! by Rachel Isadora
16. Christopher Changes His Name, by Itah Sadu
17. Lily Brown's Paintings, by Angela Johnson
18. Regina's Big Mistake, Marissa Moss
19. The Car Washing Street, by Denise Lewis Patrick
20. Earth Mother, by Ellen Jackson
21. Coming On Home Soon, by Jacqueline Woodson
22. John Henry, by Julius Lester
23. A Million Fish ... More or Less, by Patricia McKissack
24. Flossie and the Fox, by Patricia McKissack
25. Liza Lou and the Yeller Belly Swamp, by Mercer Mayer
26. Z's Gift, by Neal Starkman
27. To Hell With Dying, by Alice Walker
28. From Miss Ida's Porch, by Sandra Belton
29. Ben's Trumpet, by Rachel Isadora
30a. Amazing Grace, by Mary Hoffman
30b. Boundless Grace, by Mary Hoffman
31. Nappy Hair, by Carolivia Herron
32. Smoky Night, by Eve Bunting

Here's one more bonus book. It's set in Africa, so I don't think of it as African American. When I get around to posting my list of books from diverse cultures, it will be in that list. Where Are You Going, Manyoni? by Catherine Stock, is a delightful story of a very long walk to school. The story is told mostly through the watercolor pictures of Manyoni's long walk through the African veld, near the Limpopo River in Zimbabwe.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

My son and the telephone

My son, who's 7 now, mostly will not talk on the phone. I think he's actually talked to someone on the phone about 5 times in his life. He just called me from school to ask if his friend could come over for a playdate.

This post is mainly for myself, so I'll have a record of this milestone.  :^)

Friday, March 5, 2010

Dont' Forget Haiti

Mud Mothers
the children of haiti
are not mythological
we are starving
or eating salty cakes
made of clay
because in 1804 we felled
our former slave captors
the graceless losers sunk
vindictive yellow
teeth into our forests
what was green is now
dust & everyone knows
trees unleash oxygen
(another humble word
for life)
they took off
with our torn branches
beheaded our future
stuck our breath up on pikes
for all the world to see
we are a living dead example
of what happens to warriors who―
in lieu of fighting for white men’s countries―
dare to fight
for their own lives
during carnival
we could care less
about our bloated empty bellies
where there are voices
we are dancing
where there is vodou
we are horses
where there are drums
we are possessed
with joy & stubborn jamboree
but when the makeshift
trumpet player
runs out of rhythmic breath
the only sound left is guts
& we sigh
to remember
that food
& freedom
are not free
is haiti really free
if our babies die starving?
if we cannot write our names
read our rights keep
our leaders in their seats?
can we be free
really? if our mothers are mud? if dead
columbus keeps cursing us
& nothing changes
when we curse back
we are a proud resilient people
though we return to dust daily
salt gray clay with hot black tears
savor snot cakes
over suicide
we are hungry
creative people
sip bits of laughter
when we are thirsty
dance despite
this asthma
called debt
legendarily liberated
- Lenelle Moïse
Lenelle Moïse hailed “a masterful performer” by, is an award-winning “culturally hyphenated pomosexual” poet, playwright and performance artist. She creates jazz-infused, hip-hop bred, politicized texts about Haitian-American identity and the intersection of race, class, gender, sexuality, spirituality and resistance. In addition to featured performances in venues as diverse as the Louisiana Superdome, the United Nations General Assembly Hall and a number of theatres, bookstores, cafes and activist conferences, Lenelle regularly performs her acclaimed autobiographical one-woman show WOMB-WORDS, THIRSTING at colleges across the United States.
Moïse will be featured at Split This Rock Poetry Festival: Poems of Provocation & Witness, March 10-13, 2010, in Washington, DC. The festival will present readings, workshops, panel discussions, youth programming, film, activism – four days of creative transformation as we imagine a way forward, hone our community and activist skills, and celebrate the many ways that poetry can act as an agent for social change. For more information:
Please feel free to forward Split This Rock Poem-of-the-Week widely. We just ask you to include all of the information in this email, including this request. Thanks!
This poem is reprinted from Split This Rock’s blog–where you can find other great poems and poetry news <>

Copied from Like a Whisper. Pass it forward.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

BHM Wrap-up: 8 More Books

Well, I lost steam. I have no idea if anyone is reading these, so the daily thing didn't work. But I do want to finish up. Here are 8 more picture books we love, with Black main characters. And that makes one for each day of the month.

In Coming On Home Soon, by Jacqueline Woodson, Ada Ruth's mama is going away to Chicago to find work, "They're hiring colored women in Chicago since all the men are off fighting in the war." After Mama leaves, Grandma holds Ada Ruth when she cries. While they wait for Mama to come on home, a kitten comes around. Grandma says, "You know we can't keep it." But they do. Grandma and Ada Ruth make it through a rough winter, and eventually Mama does come on home.

We have two different books about John Henry. The one we like best is by Julius Lester, with pictures by Jerry Pinkney. In a wonderful introduction, we're told that John Henry may, or may not, have been a real person. The legends around him grew and grew, and in this story, he grows as big as a man within a few days of being born. Soon he goes to work building the railroad. One day John Henry and a steam drill have a contest... (If you don't know the song, google it.)

Want another tall tale? Patricia McKissack's, A Million Fish ... More or Less, about the weird things that happen in the Bayou Clapateaux, is one of our favorites. Papa-Daddy and Elder Abbajon come rowing by while Hugh Thomas is trying to catch some fish, and remind him of some of their adventures in the bayou. After they leave, he catches a million fish (more or less), and then has his own strange encounters with the creatures of the bayou.

In Flossie and the Fox, also by Patricia McKissack, Big Mama asks Flossie to take some eggs over to Miz Viola at the McCutchin place, but tells her to watch out for the fox. Flossie does as she's told, and when the fox comes round, she outsmarts him somethin' fierce!

Liza Lou is good at outsmarting trouble too, in Liza Lou and the Yeller Belly Swamp, by Mercer Mayer. She outsmarts a haunt (with a confederate cap on), a witch, a gobblygook, and a devil, all while running errands for her mama.

Two years ago, my son had to deal with someone he loves dying, so we started reading lots of books about death. One of them, Z's Gift, by Neal Starkman, is about a boy who helps his mom and classmates realize that their teacher who has AIDS is not contagious. He makes her passing a little easier, and she offers him a gift after she's gone.

Alice Walker has written the most amazing children's book, To Hell With Dying, a true story about her childhood neighbor, Mr. Sweet. Over and over, he'd be at death's door, and Alice's father would say, "To hell with dying. These children want Mr. Sweet!" And she and her brothers and sisters
... would come crowding around the bed and throw themselves on the covers, and whoever was the smallest at the time would kiss him all over his wrinkled brown face and begin to tickle him so that he would laugh all down in his stomach...
 Although Mr. Sweet was alcoholic, he was a good playmate, and they were determined to bring him back.
It did not occur to us that we were doing anything special; we had not learned that death was final when it did come.
While Alice was in college, she got a telegram asking her to hurry home, Mr. Sweet was dying. She made it in time, but this time there was no bringing him back. He was really gone. Such a tender story! And such an affirmation that "I did not need to be perfect to be loved. No one does." Mmm...

I started out the month with a civil rights book, and I'll end it that way, too. In From Miss Ida's Porch, Sandra Belton offers a fantastic introduction to the issues, and a warm affirmation of community.
There's a very best time of day on Church Street. My street. It begins when the sky and my feelings match, both kind of rosy around the edges.
Most of the best times ... just about all of us end up at Miss Ida's. Sitting on her porch. ... the biggest reason we all end up there is that Miss Ida's porch is a telling place.
The kids don't believe it's possible that Lena Horne stayed at Miz Jackson's place. The adults tell them why famous people did stay at their houses. Mr. Fisher says:
Nowhere else for them to stay! Couldn't stay in hotels. Hotels didn't allow no black guests! Famous or not. When our folk came to town to give a speech, put on a show, or whatever they came to do, we had to be the ones to give 'em a bed.
Then he gets to tell his story about the time Duke Ellington stayed at the boarding house he lived at. Shoo Kate follows with her story of the time she got to see Marian Anderson at the Lincoln Memorial, because Anderson's concert at Constitution Hall had been canceled - the hall owners would not allow a black performer to sing there. Lots more stories in the book, told in just the right way.

Happy reading!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

BHM: Earth Mother, by Ellen Jackson

The story is a lovely sort of joke. Man thanks Earth Mother for yummy frogs, but wishes she hadn't made mosquitos. Frog says the same about mosquitoes (yummy) and man (bad), and of course Mosquito agrees, sort of.

What a sweet introduction to the complexity of ecological awareness!

Friday, February 19, 2010

BHM: 5 books for 5 days

Oh dear, I don't do well with assignments. I love these books, and I enjoy writing about them, but I don't find the time to do it daily. If anyone's following me, I apologize for the fits and starts...

I'm sort of working my way up now, from our favorite baby books last week, to our favorite young kids books today, and on back into the world next week.

Yo, Jo! by Rachel Isadora is a simple book. Mama tells big brother Franklin to watch Jomar until Grnadpa gets home, and the two boys hang out on their front steps. All their friends come by, and each says a different sort of hello. My son loves this book because of all the interactions between the different kids.

Christopher Changes His Name
, by Itah Sadu, is another favorite. There are lots of scenes at Christopher's school, as his teacher deals with his repeatedly changing name.

Lily Brown's Paintings take her to a whole new wonderful world, but at the end of the day she comes back to her own world, also wonderful. (Angela Johnson wrote it, and E.B. Lewis illustrated it.)

Regina, in Regina's Big Mistake, is drawing, and wants to do it perfectly. After she crumples up one sheet of paper, and her teacher says not to crumple another, she has to figure out how to rescue her drawing when her sun comes out lumpy. (Written and illustrated by Marissa Moss.)

In The Car Washing Street, Denise Lewis Patrick shows us a hot Saturday morning in the city. Matthew loves his block, because everyone comes out to wash their cars together on days like this. And my son loves the playfulness of these books.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

BHM: Today is Family Day for us

Seven years ago today, my son came home to live with me. He was 9 months old; we had been visiting for about 3 weeks. Every year on February 14th we celebrate Family Day. We go out to dinner early, so we can avoid those hordes of people celebrating that other holiday that comes on February 14th. ;^) (We have a thing about multi-tasking holidays - he was born on Mother's Day and we finalized the adoption on my birthday.)

When my son came home to live with me, his foster mom gave me a big suitcase full of his clothes and toys, and a few books. Goodnight, Baby, by Cheryl Hudson of Just Us Books, was one of those books. I memorized the whole thing and recited it to him every night when I put him to bed. I still get shivers when I recite it:
Baby's getting sleepy.
You had such a busy day.
You played with toys
And made much noise
With friends who came to play.

You splashed and sang
Some bath-time songs,
And made them sound just right.
And now a story ends your day.
It's time to say good night.

Good night, Baby,
Sleep tight.
There was also one of those little books with a photo of a baby on each page, each one with a different skin color. In my experience, those books of baby faces are the first books babies really look at.

Before I adopted my son, I had been collecting books with stories of strong girls and women. When I became a mama, I immediately began expanding my collection, and spent a lot of time at Cody's Books looking for good ones. (Sadly, Cody's is gone now...) One of the first ones I found, Baby Dance, became my all-time favorite board book. The text comes from a poem by Ann Taylor, written in the 1800's. It's been changed some, and I like this version from our book better than the original:
Hush little baby, don't you cry
Hush little baby, Mama's nearby.

Dance, little baby,
move to and fro
Coo and crow, baby,
there you go.

Up to the ceiling,
down to the ground
Backward, forward,
'round and 'round.

Dance, little baby,
dance and sing
Dance along, sing along
The illustrations by Marjorie van Heerden are so luscious, and the story they tell warms my heart. Mama's napping on the sofa, and Daddy's holding the baby, who has a tear in her eye. Daddy dances the baby around, she cheers up, and at the end Mama wakes up, and Baby and Momma are reaching out to one another.

We found Billy and Belle, by Sarah Garland, more recently. It's about an interracial family (Black dad, white mum) in England. Belle, about 3, comes to school with Billy, because Mum is going to the hospital to have a baby. My son loves this book, perhaps because it's one of the few we have that shows a boy like him with a white mama.

In Do Like Kyla, by Angela Johnson, the little sister tells of her day. As they wake up, dress, and walk through the snow to the corner store, she watches and then, "I do like Kyla." At the end, Kyla follows her lead. In James Ransome's paintings, you can just see how hard she's working at getting dressed and walking through the snow. But she keeps up with Kyla just the same.

If you've been reading along as I write these, you may remember James Ransome did the illustrations in Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt, too. I just now looked at his website, and he's done lots more! His website also led me to an intriguing project he's involved in. Children's book authors and illustrators are collaborating on a story, started by Jon Scieszka, called The Exquisite Corpse, in which each author writes one chapter, and no one knows what will come next.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

BHM posts coming soon

I wasn't able to post on Thursday and Friday, because I was working on a deadline. Today I was just too busy having fun with my sweet boy. Tomorrow I'll review 4 books and tell a story. The books: Baby Dance, Goodnight Baby, Billy and Belle, and Do like Kyla.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Hmm, Google is not making me happy today

They've got this buzz thing on my gmail screen. It said there was one message, so I clicked it and saw a bunch of twitter like stuff from people whose blogs I follow. I thought, "Maybe on a slow day" and closed it.

Just now I start reading the stuff in my Google Reader, and there were a bunch of things I haven't subscribed to. Turns out I'm allegedly 'following' 10 people. I figured out how to 'unfollow' them, so maybe that's the end of this nonsense. But, geez, whatever happened to asking first?

Ok. Rant over.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

BHM: Joy, by Joyce Carol Thomas

My copy of Joy is a board book. It was one of the first books my son and I shared, and it became a deep part of our lives. Often, when I'm moved by my love for my boy, I'll tell him, "You are my joy."

You are my joy

In every season
Summer, fall, winter, spring
You touch my heartstrings
You are my joy

It was published by Jump At the Sun, a division of Hyperion Books for Children. Hyperion's site seems to have no information about children's books. Apparently Disney Hyperion Books for Children is a separate company completely, with its own website, completely unconnected to the first Hyperion I looked at. (Did Disney buy out the children's section?) Jump At the Sun is part of DHBfC, but Joy isn't easy to find there.

In fact, no books are listed when you first click on Jump At the Sun, just a video about how great JAtS is. There's one clickable phrase that will take you to a page of 6 books, and there you can find a small button to take you to more books. That page has no pictures. Hmm, if I were an author with Jump At the Sun, I'd feel like there was a serious lack of marketing going on.

I giggled when I saw the description. It says, "Throughout the year, a grandmother expresses her unconditional love for her grandson." And I thought it was the mommy - an older mom, like me. Maybe it is.

Joyce Carol Thomas has written dozens of books - this site offers a good bio and bibliography. While reading it, I found out that... she worked at my college!! ("She remained at San Jose until 1972, when she moved to Contra Costa College.") Now I want to find out more.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

BHM: Corduroy and Whistle for Willie

The books I've highlighted so far are about Black History. The books I intend to highlight this week do not relate to historical events. But they speak of an aspect of Black History by their very existence. The first two (for yesterday and today) are books whose main character is Black, but they are both written by white authors. Tomorrow I'll bring us closer to the present with a book by a Black author. I haven't done any serious research, but I'm guessing there wasn't much support for Black authors in the 60's when these first two books were published.

Written in 1968 by Don Freeman, Corduroy is the story of "a bear who once lived in the toy department of a big store. Day after day he waited … for somebody to come along and take him home.” Lisa wants him but mom dissuades her. She comes back later with the money from her piggy bank, and takes him home. Corduroy is a simple story of the friendship between a girl and a stuffed bear. My son has loved it for most of his life.

Written in 1964 by Ezra Jack Keats, Whistle for Willie is about Peter and his dog, Willie. Peter wants to be able to whistle for Willie, but he can't quite get it. The book follows Peter and Willie in their day's adventures.

Does anyone know of any good picture books with Black protagonists, written by a Black author before 1970? I'd be eager to find more 'classics'.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

BHM: Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry

Hmm, yesterday I said I'd tell about this book today, but it's not a picture book. Maybe I can figure out a picture book that goes with this one somehow.

In Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, by Mildred Taylor, Cassie Logan tells us about her family. They own a farm in Mississippi, and it's the 1930's. Impressively, at the beginning of the story Cassie has no notion that whites would consider her family inferior. But when she goes to a store in town and the shopkeeper waits on every white person in the store before dealing with her, she is faced with the ugly reality. I haven't been able to find my copy today, so can't tell much more of the storyline. But the solidity and courage of her family in the face of racist attacks has stayed with me for many years.

I hope to raise my son with as solid a sense of himself and as much courage as Cassie Logan showed.

Taylor has written a sequel, Let the Circle Be Unbroken, and a wide range of other books (most shorter) about the Logan family. In my search for more information, I found this biographical site, where Mildred Taylor said, "As a small child, I loved the South. In my early years, the trip was a marvelous adventure, a twenty-hour picnic that took us into another time and another world." And that reminds me of a thoroughly delightful picture book set in the south - Bigmama's, by Donald Crews. I think he'd describe his trips south in the same way. This book is the best vicarious experience of the pleasures of summertime I ever had.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

BHM: Escaping Slavery, Sweet Clara

Ok, I promise, this is the last post on escaping slavery, and then I'll move on. Like Big Jabe, Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt, by Deborah Hopkinson, with paintings by James Ransome, is fiction. Big Jabe is like the stories people told themselves to keep up their courage (like the folk history of The People Could Fly, by Virginia Hamilton), while Sweet Clara's story is more realistic - like the stories people told each other to share the path to freedom.

Oney Judge and Henry Brown had unusual circumstances. Most people did not have the same sorts of opportunities to escape that they did. And their need for secrecy means that we have less evidence of their lives. So most of the stories told about them almost have to be fictional. And then, even real people like Harriet Tubman show up in some great fiction, like Aunt Harriet's Underground Railroad in the Sky, by Faith Ringgold. The quilt in this story tells whether it's safe to approach a house for shelter, while Sweet Clara's quilt makes a map.

Sweet Clara was taken away from her momma before she was twelve, to work in the fields of another plantation close by. She was taken in by 'Aunt' Rachel, who helped her learn to sew, and got her moved from the fields to the Big House. While she sewed, she thought, and listened. And one day she began to sew a quilt from scraps, "blue calico and flowered blue silk for creeks and rivers, and greens and blue-greens for the fields, and white sheeting for roads."

This story of a quilt, and of a journey, is very moving. Deborah Hopkinson has written an equally moving sequel in verse. Under the Quilt of Night is also supported by James Ransome's moving illustrations.

One last quilt story: In Show Way, Jacqueline Woodson tells the story of her own family's memories of sewing messages about the path to freedom into quilts.

Tomorrow: Sometimes we help our children become strong by protecting them from the painful realities around us.