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Monthly Archives: August 2013

Writer’s Block: Riffing on a Recipe

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Food is an inspiration to me in the most free-floating, free-association way possible. I don’t write recipes, I just follow them pretty well and I have an urge to document and share the ones that tasted especially good.

That said, I’ve noticed that recipes have a few things in common with poetry: line breaks, sensory details, precise, concise language, to name a few. So I’m taking some of my favorite recipes, adding some whimsy,  turning them into “food poems,” and calling them “Recipe Riffs” (whoa, alliteration.) That’s my spin — “chopping” my way through food writer’s block with some wordplay (whoa, the puns!) And there’s a recipe involved. The muse for this one is Ina Garten’s “summer garden pasta” recipe, which I’ve enjoyed all summer long 🙂

LBD

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Depending on your sensibilities
(fashionista versus foodie)
this is a term for
Little Black Dress
or Light & Basic Dinner

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Have it either way.
In the case of a young Sophia Loren
or muddled tomatoes

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both are Italian-inspired,
Heirloom-worthy
Or effortlessy elegant

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as dolce vita
as Dolce and Gabbana.

The light-and-basic-dinner
creates Madonna’s nirvana

with a bowl of steaming noodles
(a pound of angel hair, to be precise)
1 1/2 to 2 cups of shredded mozzarella
and the following, caprese-style marinade:

cherry tomatoes (4 pints, halved)
six cloves garlic (minced)
olive oil (1/2 cup)
basil (a fistful, julienned)

with a sprinkling of

red pepper flakes
salt (1 tsp.)
and pepper (1/2 tsp.)

a meal of unstudied elegance
best consumed in stylish black
worthy of Ava

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or Ina, or for that matter,
any barefoot contessa.

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[Photos in order: http://www.modcloth.com/shop/dresses/where-to-tonight-dress?SSAID=687298&utm_medium=ad&utm_source=affiliateprogram_sas&utm_campaign=sas_feed&utm_content=687298, my camera,  Lexinatrix flickr photostream, shutterbean flickr photo stream]

Empathy As Change & We Are Not Trayvon Martin

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I recently heard Bill Clinton being interviewed on BBC News about his philanthropic work in Africa. When asked whether his poor, Alabama upbringing allows him to empathize with people there, he said that he is proud of his humanitarian work because it comes from a place of empathy, not necessarily of mutual experience.

It was so refreshing to hear someone elevate pure empathy as a foundation for social change. Often, it seems that leading social change requires a certain degree of “street cred”  in the form of a shared connection to the population or situation being served. I recently attended a non-profit gathering, during which several organizations shared their story. They attributed their success to effectively spreading a narrative. The story usually went something like this: I had cancer and I started a mentoring program for kids with cancer; I am Muslim and I started a theatre company to address issues facing Muslim Americans.

This is a beautiful thing.

But what if your struggles/experience/story don’t mirror those of the population you serve? Can you be a credible leader of change? Let’s hope so. It’s much harder to be complacent when experiencing other people’s pain vicariously, through imagination and compassion, rather than through personal experience, is a sufficient call to action. 

This is what I love about http://wearenottrayvonmartin.com.

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What an enlightened, beautiful, and courageous public forum for the pain we ALL feel, as in, all races, ethnicities, sexual orientations, religions, socioeconomic backgrounds, and combination thereof, regarding Trayvon Martin’s death and the racial tensions that surround it.

I think the flood of responses shows how many everyday people of racial or socioeconomic privilege are affected by issues of race, but they don’t typically express their feelings. Why is this? Perhaps they feel uncomfortable or tentative about claiming any part of race-related struggles as their own, for fear of seeming insensitive to their own privilege.

I am not Trayvon Martin. I am a white female. I probably get more welcoming looks in a hoodie than I do in preppy clothes. Like most people, my upbringing, education, and day-to-day adult life defies and embodies stereotypes. I have lived with, been longtime friends with, attended school and church with, been neighbors with, been colleagues with, and supervised by “people of color.” My grandfather’s memorial service disproved the trope that 11:00 on a Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in America, for someone born long before the civil rights movement in Saint Louis, Missouri.

Growing up in Saint Louis, attending a private high school located in a very manicured, affluent, white suburb, I encountered excellent teachers, some cringe-worthy wealth, some outdated traditions, and some of the most open-minded, well-traveled, and socially conscious people I know. I attended undergrad in another affluent, manicured, and predominantly white neighborhood, but my peers were Egyptian, Indian/Muslim, Nigerian, Chinese, Sikh, Hindu, and Israeli.

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Living in Chicago, segregation is normalized. Racial inequality is one of many talking points in the news, built into segments between inefficient lawmakers or expensive city parking. Riding the el pretty well lays out the situation.

I do not have to make peace with, or normalize the possibility that my skin color might invite violence, legal trouble, or certain forms of harrassment. It would be easy to say that I live in a different world, but the truth is, it is very obvious to me that our society is racially tinged and driven by appearances and stereotypes.

Depending on who I am with, what I am wearing, or what neighborhood I am in, people don’t look at me at all, or they look at me with curiosity, or they look at me with mild hostility. It doesn’t compromise my safety or tangibly impact me in a negative way. But the predictability of such reactions is a subtle, demoralizing reminder that “we” — the heterogenous mix of people that make up a city like Chicago, any city in urban America — go about our business in a state of quiet alienation and mistrust.

As the racial minority in my classroom, I have a glimpse of what it feels like to be judged on small attributes of my appearance, demeanor, or language. For example, pronouncing names correctly on the first day of school can bridge the unspoken racial difference. I am careful to offer unwarranted assistance with say, a reading assignment so that the help is not interpreted racially — otherwise, such “help” might cause a struggling student to shut down. I may consider myself enlightened, I may have diverse experiences, but I am also, unavoidably, a white authority figure. As such, it takes a little more time, a little more effort, and a little more care to build trust.

The polarized reactions to George Zimmerman’s trial, the racially charged criticism of President Obama, the various perspectives on Paula Deen’s racial slurs  — all are public, sobering reminders that race divides us. Apparently, whites, blacks, and all shades in between feel mutually misunderstood, or in the words of Ralph Ellison, “invisible… simply because people refuse to see [them].”

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To get beyond this state of mutual misunderstanding, we need to legitimize empathy and compassion as catalysts of social change, independent of shared experience. They may be abstractions, but they have concrete power.

Check out this story about Viola Liuzzo, the only white woman protestor to die in the civil rights movement. She acted on the belief that civil rights were “everybody’s fight.” For years, the purity of her motives was questioned. The family was finally vindicated when last May, Liuzzo was awarded the Ford Freedom Humanitarian Award, an honor shared by none other than Nelson Mandela.

I have to believe that the prestige of this award, and the magnitude of Liuzzo’s courage, reflects her ability to translate empathy into action, boldly, despite her status as a privileged outsider. For those of us who are not Trayvon, we are still hit hard by his loss, and we can still be part of the solution.

[Photos: Picture called “L’empreinte Digitale Oubliée” from Twistiti’s Flickr Photostream, “Rain on Hand Prints” from jcoterhals’ photostream, “Bean in Black and White” from james_clear’s photostream, “Raised Hand” by feverblue’s photo stream]

Pro Dev, Seriously

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As the school year approaches, those of us in the teaching profession start pondering things like “motivation,” “engagement,” and other intangibles that either invigorate our classrooms with the best kind of energy, or swallow our best efforts.

Hence, August Professional Development!

I was recently required to watch a video on the use of humor in the classroom, including appropriate targets for humor, explicit reasons why humor is important, and suggestions for incorporating humor cues into your planning. This breakdown could easily sound a bit OCD, but I thought it was one of the better professional development topics I’ve encountered.

I remember last year I was reading a teacher’s blog. It made the astute, somewhat taboo assertion that yes, you should care about your students liking you. Obviously, set limits with your students, build a structured classroom environment, set a goal of mutual respect and not personal popularity. Whew. That sounds familiar.

That said, teaching (and learning) are both benefited when students like the teacher. The importance of like-ability is widely accepted when it comes to landing a job or interviewing at a college, so why dance around the issue between teachers and students? What is the best route to like-ability? As demonstrated by Cosmo Brown in Singin’ in the Rain, “Make ‘em laugh…”

To me, the really smart aspect of the humor PD was the suggestion of scripting humor into your lessons, alongside transitions and pacing and other planned elements. This seemingly uptight approach to humor is perfect for the teachers who are more to the point, so to speak, who could most benefit from using humor to lighten the mood. Planned humor may be excessive, but it acknowledges the relationship building skills at the heart of teaching, and the fact that everyone can build these relationships in their own way.

It also acknowledges the importance of being yourself in a position of authority. So much of high school teaching boils down to effectively asserting your authority and respecting students’ sense of independence. One of the best pieces of “professional development” anyone gave me was this quote by Nelson Mandela:

“There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We were born to make manifest the glory within us. It is not just some. It is in everyone. And as we let our own light shine we consciously give other people permission to do the same.”

Humor is one, small way to give students permission to “let their light shine” by consciously doing it yourself. To be fair, certain instances of unbridled “self-expression” are not so enlightened — for example, doing a standing split against the door frame and farting in the middle of class, or sitting out a dance class, eating a tub of icing in the corner. These are horrible examples of “letting your light shine,” but I had to end with them. They make me laugh out loud.

[Photo is from Charlottes Photo Gallery on flickr]

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