Sunday, August 12, 2018

A Moving Sale


I'm moving and I was wondering if you'd visit me at my new digs? I'm not taking much with me, especially not the ridiculous title I picked seven years ago when I thought all I was doing was signing on so I could read a friend's blog. A cat on the ghetto box. The sweet cat died and the box has been recycled.

Visit me at for more of the same kind of stories of my frustrating, ridiculous, happy life. Yes, a life can be frustrating and happy at the same time.

It has been a pleasure growing up with you and I hope to see you again at my new home.

Thank you for listening, jb

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Learning to Be Sensitive

I'm sitting here, staring into space, literally. I look out the window and see the lights from a plane blinking across my little arc of sky. My cat Blitz plays with the CD rack, threatening to pull a whole pile of them down onto himself. That would not be good. It would be a setback to any progress he's made toward feeling secure. Still, it seems like it's a setback to tell him no. When I say the word, he flattens out and runs away from the CD rack, yet another thing in the house for him to fear. I hate that he's so fearful in our little house.

I just finished reading 'So You Want to Talk About Race' by Ijeoma Oluo, an incredible book, one that should be read by every high school student for a start. It should be on every library list of must-reads.

I figure it's the continuation of my self-education in social justice. W. Kamau Bell was the funny teacher who's lessons you love and soak in as much as you can. Phoebe Robinson is the poetry teacher and she speaks in metaphors and rifs you think you understand but don't, not yet. Michael Eric Dyson is that great professor whose class you audit and you sit in the back of the lecture hall feeling his booming oration wash over you and hope that some of it sinks in. Ijeoma Oluo is the teacher who speaks clearly, sets clear rules for the class and your life, and puts you on a different path. She blindfolds you, spins you around, and when she pulls the blindfold off your eyes, you're walking in a different direction. At least I hope I am.

Oluo spent a lot of time explaining that we might not intend to hurt with our micro-aggressive comments, but that it hurts just the same because so many people do intend to hurt. Like that time I sang in the lobby of my dorm room freshman year and some tiny blonde girl asked me, with such a snarky attitude, why I sang like a black woman. It was intended as an insult, so I was insulted. But the right answer, I realize after all these years, would have been for me to turn to her and say, "Thank you." Instead, I lowered my head, walked out of the lobby, and hid in the library until I calmed down. I never sang at that school again.

That was a micro-aggression, but it wasn't about me. It was about racism. The part I needed to work the hardest to understand, how a well-meaning white person could screw up so easily, was how I became a part of that racist circus when I didn't say anything back to that tiny blonde racist girl.

It wasn't the first or the last time I screwed up. It wasn't. 

After I read Michael Eric Dyson's book last fall, I still didn't get it. I got so excited to finally have a place to put my feelings and questions about race that I wrote him an email. I got an automatic reply. That bothered me. Didn't he want to engage in the conversation about his wonderful book?

But even that expectation was a micro-aggression, to expect a busy author to take the time to educate me personally. I still wish I could apologize to him.

So Oluo's book spelled it out for so many of us privileged white people. If a person of color is insulted by something stupid we've said, then we can't try to say we didn't mean to hurt so it shouldn't hurt. I've had that very same argument with my husband when his jokes fell flat and hurt my feelings. It was early in our marriage. We were learning.

I finally told him that I was already damaged and his comments, knowing me the way he did, made me damaged all over again. And he stopped. Now and then, I have that same conversation with my son. I don't allow either of them to tell me not to be so sensitive. That is the point, isn't it?

So, I'm still going to make mistakes regarding social justice, but maybe I can understand cultural sensitivity a little better the more I look for answers in the books I read.

I just wish I could manage some wisdom with my little cat.

Thank you for listening, jb

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

The Null Set of Dinner

I don't like pea protein in my smoothies. Mike doesn't like rice protein. Nick doesn't eat anything healthy at all.

The other morning, I heard Mike in the kitchen making his lunch and his smoothie. Nick was still in bed. He's seventeen. He stays up late. He eats junk in the night and leaves piles of garbage and dirty dishes on the end table so when I came out of my bedroom and headed toward the kitchen, I could see exactly what he'd eaten. That morning, there was no evidence of the romaine I'd prepared and put next to Caesar dressing and croutons in the fridge. There was no evidence he ate the ready-to-eat snap peas or the carrots from the fridge either or especially the daikon radish I sliced and placed in a prominent spot after offering him a taste.

I shuffled into the kitchen and hugged Mike good morning. Then, I pulled out the ingredients for my smoothie. I was almost out of rice protein.

"Hey, when you get done with the pea protein you're eating, will you try the pea protein Nutribiotic sent me?" I asked Mike.

Nutribiotic had responded to a complaint I had about an altered taste in their rice protein by sending me three huge bottles of improved rice protein along with a container of pea protein to try. It was the most personal and generous response to a complaint I had ever gotten. But I'd eaten all the rice protein they'd sent and only had the pea protein left. I didn't want to try the pea protein. I liked my rice protein.

See, I put hemp milk, a little bit of half and half, cocoa, stevia, rice protein, and ice cubes into my Nutribullet cup and I've got a milk shake for breakfast that tastes like a chocolate malt. Every single morning, I drink a chocolate malt. I remembered standing in the Dairy Queen line on a hot Saturday afternoon with my family and scouring the menu. Even after considering all the possibilities, I would order a chocolate malt. I liked my chocolate malt. Who would have thought I'd get away with having one for breakfast every day when I became an adult? My attention came back to Mike when I realized he'd answered me.

"What?" I said. He thinks I'm hard of hearing. I'm not, not so much. I just have ADD, I think, or brain damage. I stare into space sometimes when people talk to me.

"I like the stuff I've got," Mike repeated.

"You might like this stuff too."

"But you don't like it."

"I haven't tried it, but I like my rice protein."

"So, why should I try it?"

"Because we have a whole jug of it and I don't want to throw it away."

Mike didn't say anything. Stalemate.

As we've gotten older, we've all diverged in terms of food. I mean it-we have diverged in almost all areas of food.

I should explain that some of this is because of our food allergies and intolerances. Yes, we have more than one.

Nick has a life-threatening tree nut allergy for which he carries a set of EpiPens everywhere with him. I eat almonds or cashews almost every day, but I have to do it so carefully that he never comes in contact with them, with even the dust from them. He won't even unload them from the groceries when I shop. I get that. I do.

Mike has IBS that is totally managed by eliminating fibrous vegetables like onions, greens, broccoli, asparagus, radishes, peppers, and celery. Have you ever tried to cook without onions? He can eat onion powder, but onion flakes give him problems. You know, problems, digestive problems. I eat some combination of onions, greens, broccoli, radishes, and celery every single day. Peppers give me gas though, so I don't eat peppers.

Nick has a fructose intolerance, so he can't eat too much of anything that is related to that, high fructose corn syrup, sugar, natural fructose in fruits, honey, or even stevia. It gives him a stomach ache. The doctor says it causes no damage, but it hurts. You'd think that would slow him down, but it doesn't. He eats junk right up to his limit and sometimes beyond. We've told him that if he eats too much sugar and his stomach hurts, he still has to go to school. He's had some pretty miserable days at school. Did you know that there is high fructose corn syrup in bread and in roast beef from the deli? That shit is in so much stuff in the grocery store. It's ridiculous.

I have developed an allergy to shrimp. That sucks, doesn't it? I love shrimp. I love sushi. So now, I have to brink Nick and his EpiPen every time I go eat sushi in case I get some shrimp and my reaction gets worse than the last time I goofed up, ate shrimp, and my eyes and lips swelled up.

And I have to eat a low-carb diet like a diabetic because I'm prediabetic and my doctor and I agree that I should handle it with diet instead of drugs. I can't eat sugar, high fructose corn syrup, sugar, or honey. And yes, for all those cheerful people who like to make suggestions, agave has just as many carbs in it as sugar and honey, so that's out too. On top of that, I can't eat much rice, potatoes, pasta, cereal, oats, bread, or beans. It sucks. I miss hanging onto a sandwich. I miss carbo-loading. I miss spaghetti, ham and beans, oatmeal. I fucking miss eating a bowl of Miniwheats.

On top of that, I've become lactose intolerant. This is totally fucked because before when I didn't feel I got enough to eat, I'd go to the fridge and eat a hunk of cheese. Man, I used to have seven or eight different kinds of cheeses in the cheese drawer at any given time. It was glorious when we went to France. I didn't mind not eating the pastries because I ate French cheese.

Now I can't eat any dairy but lactose-free milk and a touch of cheese if I remember to take a pill with it. Do you know how many restaurants throw cheese on everything? Try ordering a salad without cheese.

You know that math in fifth grade-sets? They give you a logic question about who read how many books and you're supposed to figure out the answer by putting the people and the numbers in overlapping circles. Do you remember that shit?

Well, if you put all the foods my family can eat into circles and overlap them accordingly, then Mike, Nick, and I only have meat, green beans, carrots, zucchini, yellow squash, and cauliflower in common in our diets. We can all eat apples, but I don't usually eat a whole one. We can all eat fruit, but I have to watch those carbs rise so I never get to eat very much. You'd think that would make me thin, but just look at me.

We eat meat together. Every single member of our family can eat meat and eggs. No, wait. Mike had a heart attack, a mild one. Yes, he's okay. Thank you for asking. But he can't eat real eggs or any transfats. Imagine that, no butter. He eliminated cheese for a while, but eventually, he missed it too much and he eats it now anyway.

So, imagine cooking a meal for my family. Just try to make something we can all eat. I'll tell you what it is:

steak or roasted chicken or pork
roasted cauliflower and zucchini
steamed green beans and carrots
That's it. That's your meal. If you eat that even once a week, you get to a point that you hate it. Mike is not thrilled by it. Nick hates it. I hate it. I fucking hate it.

So the rest of the 313 days a year, I get the joy of making all this shit I can't eat so my family has a decent dinner. I eat greens while they have roasted potatoes, chicken Alfredo, beef stroganoff, pizza, calzones, orange chicken, chili, pulled pork sandwiches with barbecue sauce, gyros, spaghetti and meatballs, enchiladas, lasagna, skewered chicken in peanut sauce, hamburgers, oatmeal with raisins, rice pudding, apple pie, pumpkin pie, lemon meringue pie, and fucking chocolate chip cookies made with the traditional tollhouse recipe.

You're hungry now, aren't you? I'll cook it. I will. But can't you just shoot me before dinner? Or maybe not because I get to have a chocolate malt for breakfast.

Thank you for listening, jb

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

'You Don't Have to Say You Love Me' by Sherman Alexie

I'm reading Sherman Alexie's book You Don't Have to Say You Love Me.

Now, Dusty Springfield's voice runs through my head. I wonder how long that will last? It could be minutes. It could be years. The funny, the funny and sad thing for me is that Alexie changed that song from a love song to a song that a child sings to his mother in an instant. The tragic switch in perspective of that song threw me. Hard. It's hard enough to listen to when it's a love song. It's agonizing when it's a lullaby a child sings to himself at night.

My heart aches just thinking of it it.

So, as I listen to the funny tragedy of this book Sherman Alexie wrote, I find myself talking to him, almost out loud. I try to tell him through the ether that things are going to be okay.

I don't actually know that things are going to be okay. I just want that to be true for him. I need that to be true for him.

Alexie's story is raw. He makes it real. He makes it real funny sometimes. When he wrote about the ICU nurse telling him about his response to his own nakedness in recovery, I laughed.

I was swiftly brought to my own naked-on-the-operating table story. It stands out in my head in vivid color in that white operating room, the doctors and nurses already wearing green or pink scrubs and white masks.

I was twenty-four and in the OR for a laminectomy. I couldn't feel my right leg. I was cute, not beautiful and still looked like I was fifteen. I had long dark hair that would have reached a third of the way to the floor. I was still innocent, mostly, and had big brown doe eyes.  I wasn't yet anesthetized, but the anesthesiologist had given me something to make me relax, completely relax. I was so very relaxed, aware that they'd put me on the operating table and that I was completely uncovered, but I didn't care. That is not a state that is natural for me. I am not comfortable being naked in anything resembling the public.

But, I somehow I started a drunken rant and told five dirty jokes I knew. These were three-beer dirty jokes. I told them one right after another. I got good laughs. I loved it. I would have kept going except that a rancid nurse said, "Doctor, shouldn't we get started?"

And the doctor replied, my doctor, my wonderful doctor said, "Do we have to?"

Can you picture that scene? That was my first and last standup comedy set.

Sherman Alexie, thank you for reminding me of that moment.

But hey, dude, take your time with your grief over your mother. If it was complicated in life, it will still be complicated after her death. I know. I wish I didn't know. And feel free to hide under the covers out of the public eye until you're done. We can wait. We love your work, but we are happy to wait until you're through at least a few stages of your grief.

Thank you for listening, jb

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Learning My Shit

So it's summer and my tutoring job has been different since school got out and kids don't want to have to think. I have to really work to get kids interested in thinking again at the beginning of summer.

I blame standardized testing.

After they've been taught to the test, after they've sat for endless hours with that dry book that mimics the standardized test, after they've sat with me with tears in their eyes and said, "I am so stressed that I just hate myself," they finish these exams, school finally ends, grades are posted, and then their eyes roll back into their heads. When they come for tutoring, they look at me as if I am the executioner. They act like they've just gone blind and deaf. They come in with their hair still damp from swimming. They do not want to be sitting in a white room with a desk, a workbook, and a tutor.

They think that they do not want to learn.

But they do.

When I brought up quantum physics, one student leaned back in his chair and corrected me. I had been thinking on the level of particles and he was thinking of the multiverse. We were both right.

Whenever we worked with the workbook, at the proper pace, doing the ordinary school material, that boy fell asleep on his workbook, groaning whenever I woke him up. He complained that he hadn't slept that night, that he just couldn't think. But then I suggested he write a question on a PostIt note and put it by his bed, then try to answer that question when he couldn't sleep in the middle of the night. Suddenly, he woke right up and we made a list of questions he should work on answering while he wasn't sleeping at night.

Why does gravity work the way it does?
What are particles?
Why is the sky blue?
How does an engine work? That was something I suggested. His mind was more in the stars than mine. He was imagining the universe.

And for the rest of the session while he wasn't actively working on a worksheet, he was doodling on that piece of paper, drawing space-time fabric around a large mass. He kept trying to explain it to me whenever I turned toward him. He was awake, alert, thinking, and trying to teach me. He was teaching me.

It was awesome. 

When I brought in random pine cones and showed my students how the number of spirals matched a Fibonacci number in one direction and the number of spirals in the other direction was the next up or the next down from that particular number, the kids marked the pine cones and took them home to show their parents. They took the Fibonacci numbers, 1,1,2,3,5,8, and 13 to them to test whether or not they could guess the next number in the series. They were excited when they deduced the next numbers faster than their parents could.

When I showed some kids how to count, add, and multiply in binary numbers, some of them were interested, some weren't. But one boy kept going with it. I had to run, metaphorically, to keep ahead of what he wanted to do with the binary numbers. Octal, check. Hexadecimal, check. Converting the numbers from one base to another, check.

Crap! I was almost at my limit.

I showed him an AND gate, then an OR gate, digital logic used for electronic circuits. That kid ate it all up and we finally ran out of time. Just in time. I was going to have to refer to my college text book to show him the next thing, the logic tables, the schematics, multiplexers.

Another girl, disinterested in binary numbers, got excited when we talked about the physics of music, of wave theory. She already understood the frequencies of octaves, of volume, and of pitch. She intuitively understood the sine wave and only needed a little prodding to understand the Doppler effect, how the tone of a car driving by on a highway drops in frequency when it passes and heads away from you. She understood that immediately.


I'm going to have to learn some new tricks. I'm going to have to study. This summer program, the idea I had of going off the workbooks for a while and figuring out what the kids loved to learn, is going to require me to know my stuff.

I've been skating along only half-knowing my stuff for a while now. I'm going to have to crack open some books. I'm going to have to learn some shit.

Thank you for listening, jb

It's All a Ruse

I haven't come here in a while. I'm sorry about that. See, I'm working on a website, a real website, but it's hard and now I'm procrastinating working on a website. In the meantime, I have no real news. I have no real life. I'm constantly thinking about my students now that I tutor and how inept I am at understanding learning disabilities.

Can I just take a class in learning disabilities without getting the whole teaching certificate?

Here's where I love the Internet.

The Internet tells me that I should use sandpaper letters with students who have dyslexia. Who would have thought?

The Internet says I should be patient with students who are uncooperative, that they have their reasons for not working with me.

Because, ultimately, I'm a bitch and have absolutely no patience. The kids who can see through me can tell. They are the most sensitive and the most likely to have no patience themselves.

So, I'm starting a new thing with uncooperative students.

They get what they want. If they do even a little bit of work, they get rewards and shit. I don't care if they learn. They need to figure that out themselves, that teachers have already learned their multiplication tables and really have no interest in dragging yet another student through the muck of memorizing it. But it comes in handy at a restaurant when everyone is splitting the bill and no one knows how much of a tip to leave.

Please don't cheat the waitress because you didn't pay attention in math class. Please. She's probably a starving artist and she only waitresses to earn some money and get out of the house a few times a week. She'd much rather stand in front of her blank canvas and stare into space to see what it is supposed to turn into.

I can't actually wait to get to work today. My resolve to let my uncooperative student do whatever she wants begins now. She can waste her mother's money. She can draw, read, write about how mad she is at me for pushing her. Anything except distract the other students. She can turn her jacket backwards and pull her hood up over her face so that I am reminded of Helen Keller.

Yes, I have a student who is practically Helen Keller in the first scenes of the movie.

And I am not going to drag her by the arm. I am not going to pull her under a running tap. I am not going to jam my fist into her fist to spell the word water.

I am going to let her define the rules. I am going to ask her to determine if what I am trying to get her to do is ultimately good for her.

She can hear, after all. And she can see.

I'll still have no patience with my students. It's all a ruse, any of them who think I have. It's all a ruse.

Thank you for listening, jb

Friday, June 15, 2018

Beyond the Moon by R.J. Wood

I'm always reading something. Lots of times I read books intended for kids. Don't ask me why I read middle grade adventure, but my latest was Beyond the Moon by R.J. Wood, the second book in The Voyages of Jake Flynn series. I used to tell people that I read to see what my son was reading or what he might like to read next. Since he's seventeen, I had to change my story so I started telling people I read kid books because I needed to be able to recommend stuff to my students. That's a good ruse, right?

But none of it was true.

I just like reading books intended for kids. Adventures are the best. Bring an awkward kid into a new universe. This awkward girl still loves characters like Jake Flynn. Plus, I always wanted to learn to sail so the nautical themes draw me farther in. Twist space and time, add compelling characters, then I'm completely hooked.

In Beyond the Moon, Jake Flynn's latest adventure brings me back into the story after I met him in the first book, Destiny's Gambit. There, he'd gathered a motley assortment of friends, the best kind, and discovered that he had talents he'd never dreamed a boy could have.

Here's an excerpt:

Far from civilization, in a clearing surrounded by the wild leafage and vines of an ancient rainforest, sat a wide pool fed by a stony creek. Near and far the calls of birds and animals mixed with the sounds of gurgling water in an endless discord. The air was warm and humid, made more so than usual by a furious rain shower just an hour before. Normalcy ended here. The vegetation was not the expected shades of green and yellow, but rather a tie dye of fantastic colors that ran the rainbow spectrum. This was not Earth, it was the Calico Jungle of the planet Abongo.
Jake Flynn stood on a red blanket of thick moss that ran along the bank of the natural pond. His hands were shoved deep within his pockets while he reflected on the past few weeks. The last of the wounded crewmen had died that morning, and the full responsibility for what had happened in the battle above Nystal washed over him. He stood there lost in thought for a long while, until bright sunshine broke through upon the pool. A perfect reflection of the vibrant foliage formed on the still water. This caught his eye, and he glanced up at the light, but it had little effect on his mood that better matched the brooding darkness under the jungle canopy. He took a deep breath for a moment of relief.
Jake returned to his purpose. He reached down and picked up a stone from a small pile he had gathered earlier. The smooth rock hurtled out over the pond with a tight twist as it went. Splunk! It landed with a splash that sent a short spray of water up into the air. He reached down for another stone. This one skipped thrice before it submerged. Perfect circles atop the water rippled toward the banks of the pond. Jake watched the rings expand until he became captured again by his own thoughts. Once more the sounds of battle and the cries of the injured returned. He stood frozen there well after the water had become motionless once more.
It was not until the clouds above closed in again that Jake emerged from his inner self. The image on the pond was gone now and replaced by an ebony sheen. Footsteps met his ear and he turned his head. Someone was coming. The bushes rustled, and he prepared to bolt. Out came a girl his own age, Jehnna Marik. She held in her arms a shaggy house cat with a large head.
Jehnna took one look at Jake and exhaled in a huff.
“You still worrying about the carpenter’s mate?” she asked as she came forward.
Jake had already heard Jehnna’s opinion on the matter. Mourn the loss, but move on. It was a sentiment shared by the rest of his companions as well. None of them seemed to understand. Being a Corsair, a Cosmic Magian who could power and fly ships, and having people look up to him as the ‘Justicar’ was a lot of pressure for a twelve-year-old.
“Where did you get that cat?” he asked. Jehnna motioned back the way she had come.
“Back there, up the ridge a way by a cave. It was limping. Poor thing. It had a thorn in its paw, but I got it out. It bled a little, but seems fine now. It’s a baby you know.”
The cub resembled an earth tiger, but its fur was a speckled grey save for a pink spot on its wounded forepaw. Jake’s eyes widened and he looked around.
“Jehn, put it down,” he said with new found caution. “We have to get out of here.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Now, Jehn!”
She bristled.
“Don’t order me around like I’m one of your sailors. If you want me to do something, ask, nicely!”
The loud snarl of a big feline rumbled from the ridge up behind Jehnna and the jungle grew quieter.
“What was that?” Jehnna asked, her eyes wide.

The hard part of having talents is that things don't always run smoothly when you have to use them under pressure. Leadership comes naturally to Jake, but he doesn't know if he wants to be a leader. He just wants to find his father. If it were me, I'd take all the flying skills and see the universe, without having to battle an evil snake-woman.

There's always an snake-woman or someone equally disturbing, isn't there?

 Jake and his crew pull it together, race through an asteroid field with evil in hot pursuit and danger closing in on all sides. They travel into cultures rife with complexity and ancient beauty. I could close my eyes and see the universe that R.J. Wood put on his pages. This story is rich with detail, and complex characters all vying to get to Jake before his powers are fully realized. Only his intuition and his friends save him.

So, forget that the lawn needs to be mowed and dirty dishes fill the sink. You just want to sit on the couch with your son's copy of Beyond the Moon.

Never mind that he wanted to crack the spine before you got to it. You need an adventure. You deserve an adventure. Go for it.

Thank you for listening, jb