Free Reading Friday: Fresh Off the Boat

Frest off the boatOnce again, I really had very little idea what I was getting into with this book. I vaguely remember hearing that Fresh off the Boat was the name of a TV series, but as I haven’t had any sort of cable in a few years, I’d never seen it. I actually just saw part of it at the gym earlier this week. I always bring music or a book to listen to while working out, but when I glanced up at the TV hanging over the Arc Trainer, I saw the intro for the show and found myself glancing up at it several times during my workout.

Before picking up this book I’d never heard of Eddie Huang or Baohaus. I actually bought the book after reading a short synopsis of it in a catalog I get a few times a year which previews books teachers might want to use in their classroom. As I am always looking for new, interesting works of non-fiction for my AP Language kids and I have only a handful of non-fiction books in my classroom by Asian writers, I bought a copy and added this one to my summer reading list.

At times I struggled reading it. It’s not that the book is hard to read, bu there is a lot of slang in it, and even when I was young, I was never extremely fluent in slang. Well, I did 80’s Valley Girl ok, but that’s because I actually grew up in Southern California in the 1980’s and mostly just picked it up from friends. East Coast street slang is an entirely different world to me. I also know next to nothing about sneakers and my hip-hop/rap knowledge could definitely stand to be better.

What I really enjoyed about this book was that I feel like Huang’s voice is authentically his in this book. He starts off as a young man, searching for himself, trapped in world where the only faces he sees that look like his are members of his family. As he grows up, he is caught between cultures and trying very hard not to become the “stereotypical Asian” he sees so many people around him becoming. His identification with hip hop and rap artists felt so real to him because like them, he felt like an outsider, looking into a world that didn’t really want him.

I think it’s great that Eddie is unapologetically himself in his memoir. He doesn’t try to turn himself into some sort of flawless hero. He shows the world who he is and was, warts and all, so to speak. He admits to mistakes. He talks about what he’s learned. He shares his frustrations and anger with his readers.

He also shares his very real disdain for a number of people in this book. While I do think he goes overboard with the way he airs his disdain, I haven’t lived his life. I am white and have never felt out of place in America. Disappointed in my country, sure, but never like I don’t belong here, which he has clearly felt, and been made to feel, countless times in his life. I think his anger is justified. I can’t imagine what it is like to grow up in a world where I barely see myself reflected in the media or where I feel pushed toward a minuscule number of professions.

I’m glad Huang wrote this book. I’m glad he started a business that truly reflects who he is as a person and gives others the chance to do the same. I’m glad I read this book and I hope several of my students read it as well. I think it may give some of them a perspective they’ve never thought of before. I love the line he has near the end of the book, “My main objective with Baohaus was to become a voice for Asian Americans,*” which he follows up with this footnote: *”Note that I say ‘a voice’ not ‘the voice.’ I don’t speak for all Asian Americans, I speak for a few rotten bananas like me.”

I think more voices like Huang’s need to be heard in our country.

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Throwback Thursday: Travel mugs

owlI have lost another travel mug. I don’t quite understand how I have done this, but this is the second mug I’ve lost in the past two years. And once again, it is not one of the random travel mugs students or extended family members have gotten me as gifts.

This mug was one from my children’s first school. It was not only easy to carry and easy to clean, but also the exact perfect size to hold the water I heat up for my tea in my Keurig. I don’t actually make the tea in the Keurig…I think it’s too weak that way, but I get the hot water from my Keurig and the mug that has gone missing perfectly held one run on the medium fill and one on the small.

Although I did love this mug, it was not quite as important as the first one I lost. The first one, which I’d had for several years, was full of pictures of my kids and my dad, who has passed away. I know exactly where I left it: at an education conference on a university campus. When I realized it was gone the next day, I knew I’d never see it again. I lost it the Tuesday before Thanksgiving break and the only reason the building was open was because of our meeting. I knew everyone would be gone until Monday and that by the time I called about it, some janitor would have tossed it. I was right.

I should be clear that I am not someone who loses things often. I may misplace my keys for a few minutes or forget where I set something down in my house, but I never just leave things behind. So to do it twice, in two years, is a big deal. Especially since I used these mugs all the time. I had the one with my kids on it for about 3 years and the one from my kids’ school for 6.

The only upshot to losing my mug is that I had to use one of those generic mugs someone got me as a gift. It is not a great mug: it’s too heavy, is not insulated so it gets way too hot and is a sort of ugly plaid color. The reason I’m calling this an upshot is because I do get to use the adorable drink koozie one of my best friends got me a few years back. She bought it not just because it was adorable, but also because an owl was the mascot for my kids’ school. Every day when I see it on my desk in my classroom, it makes me smile.

So even though I’m drinking from a new mug, I get to see my old friend the owl every day.

 

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Wildcard Wednesday: Dieting update

popcornersI’ve been doing this whole eating better and exercising bit for 18 days now. I know that isn’t long, but considering the last few times I’ve tried to start I’ve quit before I even made it a full week, I’m feeling pretty good about my chances this time.

Not only have I kept my calories below 1600 every day for the past 18 (usually below 1400), I’ve been to the gym for 16 of the last 18 days. Each day I did 30 minutes of exercise on either the Arc Trainer, the elliptical, the treadmill or the stationary bike. I alternated each day so I never did the same activity twice in a row.

I knew I was going to have to ease myself back into this routine, which is why I started off at 1600 calories. If the last 30 so years of dieting and exercise have taught me anything, it’s that I don’t really like dieting or exercising, so if I am going to commit, I have to trick myself into doing it. Rather than jump back in all the way, slashing my calories by, well…let’s just say a large percentage, I have to dip my toes in and slowly warm up to this diet.

Right now I feel like not only are my toes in, but starting yesterday, I took my first step toward submerging myself in this diet. I dropped my calories to 1500 per day and upped my exercise to 35 minutes.

Image1In my 18 days, I’ve lost 3 pounds, which is really helping to motivate me. I’ve also cleaned out a lot of the junk food in my house and replaced it with healthier choices. I am CRAZY about chips and salsa. I know that while salsa is a great diet option, chips are a big no no. I know myself too well…one serving of tortilla chips is never enough.

As it happens, I was at World Market the other day and happened upon some fun, low calories snacks. One of the bags I grabbed was Salt of the Earth Popcorners by Our Little Rebellion. Not only are these delicious on their own, but dipped in salsa they taste a lot like tortilla chips. However, one ounce, which is a HUGE serving, has only 110 calories. I can heap them with salsa and get away with a snack that has about 150 calories. Tasty, satisfying and surprisingly filling. I also tried the same company’s Spicy Salsa Bean Crisps and fell in love. They have some nice heat to them and are also great dipped in salsa.

I did have a bit of a set back today though. I was craving a cheeseburger. I wanted one so badly. We’d been stuck in traffic on the way home from school for over an hour and I caved. I stopped at the McDonald’s drive-thru and got a burger and fries. However, thanks to my calorie conscious breakfast and lunch, I still have 130 calories left for the day–not that I plan to use them. A burger and fries were a big enough treat.

My ultimate goal is to lose 50 pounds. However, I think that might be more than a bit ambitious. I did it once before, but I was an awful lot younger back then. And I didn’t have children, so I could be more flexible with my diet and my workouts.

Still, I think I can at least lose 20, which would make all of my clothes fit better. I might even be able to drop 30, which would be my pre-second baby weight.

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Teaching Tuesday: Back to School

It’s official, we are back to school. While I was completely ready for my children to go back–they were extremely argumentative that last week–I was not ready to go back.

Ok, technically I was ready. My lesson plans were done. My courses were set up in Canvas, our classroom management system. My room was clean, in order and even had new posters and bulletin boards up. I had student books ready for distribution and class lists printed. My new grade book was sitting on my desk (although I can’t put names in it until the end of the second week as students are still dropping and adding classes now).

Anyone looking into my room on Monday morning at 8:00 am, would have seen a very prepared teacher.

Except, of course, I wasn’t. Not mentally anyway. My daughter woke up in the early hours of Monday morning. At 3:45 am to be exact. She had a nightmare about a zombie apocalypse. Despite not watching any shows/movies with zombies or playing any games with zombies, she has seen her older brother’s Plants vs. Zombies books and so bad dreams ensued. Even as I tried to console her and tell her zombies were not real, all she could do was cry, “but what if they are?!?!?!” There was no reasoning with her. So, I made the mistake of letting her spread her sleeping bag on our bedroom floor to finish out the night.

Not that either of us slept. I dozed off for just long enough to have not one, not two, but three dreams about sending her back to her room to sleep. Each one was interrupted by her making lots of noise. First she was “whispering” to the cat to come down and play with her. Then, she woke me up to tell me she heard some kind of buzzing noise in my room. Next, she woke me up again to tell me about the mysterious buzzing noise. She had a string of coughs that sounded decidedly fake. There was also general tossing and turning…all of which my husband slept through.

Finally, five minutes before my alarm clock was set to go off, she shouted out “YES!” so loud I almost fell out of bed. It seems it was close enough to wake up time, so she thought we should all just get up and get ready for our first day of school.

I did, but boy was I unhappy about it.

It doesn’t help that I don’t drink coffee and all my school teas are herbal, so there was not even an artificial pick me up for me.

I made it through the day though. My students all seemed fairly alert and as I looked out over my classroom to gauge how well they were handing the first day back, I got several enthusiastic head nods, a ton of smiles and even some laughter.

Although I was exhausted by the end of the day, I made it. And, when I picked my daughter up after school, even though we still had to get through some pretty major traffic and swim lessons, I liked her a lot more that afternoon than I had in the morning. At 4:00 her enthusiasm about her good day was endearing.

Despite a rocky start, I think it may be a good year.

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Chocolate Monday: David’s Tea “Just Peachy” tea-infused chocolate bar

David's Tea close upIt took my most of my adult life to start liking tea. My step-dad loved cheap old Lipton iced tea, so we always had it in the house. Try as I might, I couldn’t stand the smell of it, much less the taste.

I tried tea again in high school, this time at the insistence of one of my best friends. I was losing my voice and we had a big show choir concert coming up, so she made me hot tea with honey. I choked it down…and I am not exaggerating, it was a struggle to drink it. Plus, when one cup didn’t magically cure me, I stopped trying it and went back to lozenges and Chloraseptic.

In college one of my boyfriends was addicted to a Chinese buffet place. Although I have never been an enthusiastic eater of Chinese food,* he could eat it almost daily. So, we compromised on once every few weeks, which meant way more time than I would have liked in that buffet line. I did, however, like the sugar donuts. I also took another chance on tea because it was free and we were broke. This time it was green tea and I found that if I dumped enough sugar in it, I could actually stand the taste of it. Of course, enough sugar was usually three packets in that tiny little cup, so I pretty much voided any potential health benefits from it.

A few years later, during another bout with illness, a friend brought me some peppermint tea and again, with the help of my friend sugar, I could not only drink it, but actually like it. It became my new cold/sore throat aid.

It wasn’t until I went on my super big diet in my late 20’s (when I lost 50 lbs), that I actually learned to like tea. I had to give up all sugary drinks and even though I still hate coffee to this day, giving up drink calories meant basically giving up my spiced chai lattes. I had to find an alternative and it came in the form of tea. Of course, since I had cut out most of my sugar, I added a bit of Splenda instead, and viola! I liked tea.

I am now a bit of a tea fiend, usually going through at least two travel mug-sized servings a day. Which means I spend a lot of time in tea stores.

david's tea packageAnd it is this time spent in tea stores that brought me to my latest find: David’s Tea’s tea-infused chocolate bars.

I first stumbled into the store after a visit to their competitor Teavana. I had no idea the mall I was at had two tea stores, but I needed a Godiva fix and David’s Tea opened up a mere two shops down from my chocolate mecca. Since the new tea shop was on my way to Godiva and it was full of bright, eye-popping colors AND they were offering free tea samples, I had to stop in.

I’m glad I did, because I fell in LOVE with their teas. When I was paying for my first batch of tea, I couldn’t help but notice the equally brightly colored boxes of chocolate right next to the register. I didn’t grab one then. After all, I had to make sure I liked the tea first, but I definitely looked at all the flavors.

I’ve been eyeing these bars ever since. Finally, on a recent trip, I noticed this peachy chocolate on sale and I figured what the heck. I might as well try it. I happen to really love peach flavored tea. I’ve never really had any peach flavored chocolate before, but I also love peaches, so I thought it might be an undiscovered gem.

David's tea full barThe bar is pretty thick. It’s separated into five distinct segments, each with the name of the tea shop on it. It’s not particularly interesting to look at. The back has a few little “bumps” where I assume peach or tea bits are, but for the most part it is pretty smooth. The chocolate itself doesn’t smell very peachy.

At first I didn’t get much of a peach flavor either. It’s definitely got a creamy milk chocolate texture. Letting it slowly dissolve in my mouth gave me a vague hint of peach, but nothing too grabbing. With the next bite I decided to really just bite into it. When I did, got a burst of peach that tasted not so much like a fresh summer peach, but exactly like a mug of peach tea, which has been slightly sweetened (these days I sweeten with Stevia). That’s when I noticed the gritty texture of actual tea leaves in the chocolate. It was a bit unsettling at first. After all, it sort of remind me of chewing on a twig, but once I got over that, I enjoyed it.

Subsequent bites were not quite as infused with peach flavor. It seems the peach tea portions are spread out so that for the most part it was creamy chocolate with just the tiniest hint of peach and then BOOM! full peach tea flavor.

It was definitely a unique tasting experience and I’m glad I tried it. I really want to try their milk chocolate macaroon bar as their chocolate macaroon tea is one of my absolute favorites. If the bar really has the flavor of the tea the way this peachy one does, I’m guessing it’ll be quite good.

Overall:

Taste: 7/10
Appearance: 5/10
Value: 8/10 (this bar was on sale for half price, so it was only $3, which is a good price for quality chocolate. At full value I’d give it a 6/10)

*I know I sound really picky here, but honestly, aside from Chinese food and lima beans, there’s not much I try to avoid. And I will eat Chinese food, it’s just never my go to and I always feel I could have eaten something tastier, like Thai food or Japanese food. I’ll also eat lima beans if they are in something…like soup. On their own those beans are dead to me.

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Free Reading Friday: The Handmaid’s Tale

HandmaidThe start of the school year means I have to get the summer reading I assigned to my Advanced Placement students finished. Don’t misunderstand, I never assign them a novel I have not read before, but before teaching any novel I re-read and annotate it.

I can’t even count the number of times I have read The Great Gatsby.

I first read The Handmaid’s Tale in my early 20’s. As much as it disturbed me then, I never really thought of it as a reflection of society or any sort of actuality…at least not in the US where it is set. I saw it more as a statement against conservative politics and the danger of letting religion take too strong of a hold on society. I thought of it as a warning to women not to forget some very, very dark times of old.

And while the book is still all of these things, reading it again today, considering the current state of our government, it no longer seems a reflection of things past, but frighteningly of those that may come.

Now, I still don’t believe it could ever get to the disturbing, disgusting levels Offred describes, one message keeps jumping out to me: people can get used to anything if given no real choice and no real voice. Even as Americans, we are willing to sacrifice a disturbing amount of our freedom for “safety.” The Patriot Act is living proof.

We are also seeing scary cuts and changes to reproductive care in this country. Health committees, made up of entirely men, are making decisions about what health services women can receive. State governments are making laws requiring women to get their rapist’s permission in order to get abortions. Planned Parenthhod, the largest single provider of women’s health care, may be defended.

We are seeing news called “fake” and access to our government, one that is supposed to be “for the people, by the people,” restricted from reporters. We are demonizing single mothers and trying to restrict governmental benefits for them. We are also seeing a rise in people demanding we, as a nation, return to “Christian values,” and trying to mirror local, state and national laws on the Bible.

Our country and Gilead are merging in very upsetting ways. Now, more than ever, this is an important book for people to read. It is why Hulu decided, 30 years after its first publication to turn the novel into a modern series.

I’m very interested to see what my students think of its relevance to today’s world.

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Throwback Thursdays: Doll Houses

dollhouse boxWhen I was a kid, one of my good friends had the most amazing dollhouse I’d ever seen. I didn’t realize it at the time, but it was something straight out of a museum really. It actually reminds quite a bit of the dollhouse at the Indianapolis Children’s Museum, although it might have been a tad bit smaller. I know the house had 8 rooms in it and was almost as long as we were if we laid down beside it. Not only was her dollhouse huge, but it was fully furnished with the tiniest and most detailed furniture and accessories I could imagine. The kitchen had tiny little fruits on the table. The baby’s room had a tiny cradle, and even tinier blankets and rattles. The laundry room actually had infinitesimally small boxes of laundry soap that we could actually read the names of.

While it was not behind glass, she was never really allowed to play with it. Or at least not when she had friends over. I’m not really sure if she got to play with it when she was alone. Not that it mattered to me. I was perfectly happy to spend hours just staring at all of the tiny fixtures in that amazing house. I am not sure I have ever envied anything the way I envied Tiffany’s doll house.

Well, maybe the Colleen Moore Fairy Castle dollhouse at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, but that was in an actual museum and had a weeping willow try that “wept” real water. Even though I got to see the Moore castle at least once a year when I visited my dad, to me that doll house was a true fairy tale, whereas Tiffany’s doll house, which I saw every couple of weeks, was a reality.

I had a few dollhouse-like toys. I had a Little People A frame dollhouse when I was really young. One year I got the Barbie Dream House for my birthday. That was amazing and I loved it greatly, but it didn’t quite fit the niche of the dollhouse I always wanted. Everything in it was plastic and for giant Barbies. There was nothing small and delicate and artistic about it.

I knew my parents couldn’t afford a dollhouse like the one Tiffany had, but it didn’t stop me from wanting one.

old dollhouseWhen I was in my late teens, my great-aunt, who knew how much I’d always loved dollhouses, gave me this one. It only has one room and after some recent research, I’ve learned it was sold in catalogs between 1910-1920 for about $1.25. When I was a kid, I remember it had some metal furniture that looked very old-fashioned (there was an ice box). While I don’t have any of the furniture, it looked just like the furniture found on this dollhouse history website that was manufactured between 1920-1930. This makes sense as my great-aunt was born around 1915 (there is some debate about what year she was actually born).

It was very sweet of my great aunt to give me this treasure of hers, but I was not only afraid of breaking it, but also a bit disappointed that there was only one room to decorate.

Even as an adult, I still wanted a dollhouse. There was a store, about two hours from my house in a crafty little town that sold doll house kits and all that perfect little, tiny furniture and whenever I visited, I used to spend forever in it. There was a hardware/crafty store I used to go into when I’d visit with my parents and they always had these amazing dollhouse kits. I knew I could never build one, but I would just stare wistfully. I remember telling my dad that when I had a daughter of my own, she was getting an amazing dollhouse.

Seven years ago, I finally had a daughter of my own and one of my first thoughts was: this little girl is getting a dollhouse. For her first birthday, my aunt got her her very first dollhouse: another Little People one. She definitely loved it. So did my son. It was perfect for her because at 1 most of her toys went straight into her mouth. It also got me dreaming about her “one day” dollhouse.

daddy doll houseFor Christmas that year, my dad surprised both my daughter and me by refurbishing a dollhouse that had belonged to the daughter of a friend of his. He didn’t tell me about his project because he wanted to surprise both of us. Even though he put all that time and effort into painting it and finding new carpet for the my daughter, as soon as I saw the house, I knew that he’d really done it for me. He knew how much the dollhouse meant to me and that while my daughter would eventually love it, she wasn’t even two yet, so she couldn’t appreciate it the way I did.

Little did I know that it would be my dad’s last Christmas with us. His beautiful gift, to both of us, is still something we both cherish, although my daughter is still a bit too young to realize the full importance of it.

Since he fixed up the dollhouse over 5 years ago, my daughter has added a couple of additional “dollhouses” to her room. Two Christmas’s ago, my aunt got my daughter Elsa’s Frozen palace. Although it’s a dollhouse the same way Barbie’s Dream House was (at least in my eyes), my daughter still calls it her dollhouse and loves it.

doll house backAnd earlier this week my daughter spent her very own money on a 3-D dollhouse puzzle by Melissa and Doug. Of course while my daughter spent her money on the dollhouse puzzle, it was really my son and I who put it together. My daughter has never been a huge fan of puzzles, however my son is obsessed. The newest dollhouse is pretty cute and actually has movable furniture, two dolls, a cat and a dog to play with. Unlike her Elsa castle it did not come pre-assembled, but the hour and a half we spent putting it together was considerably less than my dad spent on her first one. She loves it and it appears her room is now turning into a small village.

Unlike my friend Tiffany’s house, my daughter plays with all of her dollhouses. Right now two of them are full of large plastic doll furniture and dolls, but my daughter is only 7 and not quite ready to turn any of them into art pieces. She may never be. And that’s ok. As much as that perfect, beautiful dollhouse with the tiny oranges and paintings and delicate bedding was my dream, I love watching my daughter actually play with her dollhouse. I won’t lie and say that when all the furniture gets turned upside down, I don’t sneak in there and fix it. And it does pain me greatly when I see the mess she makes in the rooms. But, I take a deep breath and try to remember that my dreams are not her dreams. Just because I liked to play one way doesn’t mean she has to.

I may not have gotten to have the dollhouse I always dreamed of, but she gets to.

all three dollhouses

 

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