Thursday, October 29, 2009

When to start talking about race?

So a friend of mine recently got her hands on two copies of Faith Ringgold's book Tar Beach and was so kind as to give me one. I actually really love this story and had used it in the classroom with older children (sixth grade) while doing my student teaching.

Well now that it's in my possession, I wonder if it's too early to introduce it to my children. Here is how it's described:

"Quilt paintings"--acrylic on canvas paper, with fabric borders from Ringgold's story quilt of the same name--illustrate a Depression era girl's imaginative foray to heights from which she can see and therefore claim her world. Picnicking on the roof of her family's Harlem apartment building--a "tar beach" to which they bring fried chicken and roasted peanuts, watermelon and beer, and, not least, friends and laughter--Cassie pictures herself soaring above New York City: above the George Washington Bridge, which her father helped build; above the headquarters of the union that has denied him membership, because he's black; above the rooms in which they live. Ringgold's strong figures and flattened perspective bring a distinctive magic to this dreamy and yet wonderfully concrete vision, narrated in poetic cadences that capture the language and feel of flight. Ages 4-8.
Copyright 1990 Reed Business Information
I have no problem with books that talk about working-class families and even families living in poverty. I think it gives the literature children are introduced to and familiar with a balance that if you don't strive for, you won't achieve. There are plenty of stories where the protagonists' problems, while not trivial, pale in comparison to stories where the main character's are facing life and death issues such as homelessness, hunger and displacement. It's important to have a diverse array of books--books that feature people of all colors and cultures and background. It rounds out our children's ideas of the stories that should be told, or more precisely, the stories worth telling.

In Tar Beach, however, there is a very strong reference to the father of the main character being kept out of a union (the very same union for which he's working on a building) because "he's colored or a half-breed Indian". This would be an excellent jumping off point to begin talking about the history of segregation in the United States but when is the appropriate age to do so? The description says it's appropriate for children ages 4-8 but just when are children mature enough to handle issues around race? Can this book be read with just an appreciation for the art? For the imagination of the story? The beauty of the simplicity in the way it's told? I'm not sure. So for now, I'll just keep it out of the rotation.

Knitting as Meditation?

I just finished reading a book by Susan Gordon Lydon called The Knitting Sutra: Craft as Spiritual Practice.
It was an interesting read and overall I liked the book. Lydon, a recovering drug addict, writer and master knitter, details how through her knitting she was able to heal herself and find her way spiritually. She tells of how she jumped from one religious practice to another trying to find her true path. Somehow, the act of knitting led her to the conclusion that her own path was something she alone could articulate and find. While reading the book though, I worried that her obsessive knitting was actually just a replacement for her drug addiction. Sometimes I felt that way but other times, I really did see how the absolute concentration of doing intricate knitting work could just be that absorbing.

Well, it's a funny thing . . . I was looking for a book to detail just how (i.e. the steps by which) we may turn crafting into prayer. Lydon does a good job of explaining how in many indigenous cultures, that's what it is but it is certainly not a blueprint for doing so in your own crafting. Still, this book re-inspired me to pick up my needles and I started a new project--a soaker--probably the last one I will ever need to knit. I also realized that for the time being, I am going to stick to small, simple projects to reduce the frustration and increase the enjoyment. As the kids get older, though, I'm determined to become a better, more advanced crafter (sewing, knitting and crochet).

I have to admit, though. It's a little off-putting (just a smidge) all this new age-y type books (check out on all the suggested related titles to Lydon's book) that place emphasis on both knitting and meditating, two things which are now ultra-chic but which the ancients have been doing since, well, ancient times. It feels like folks are trying to make a profit from something that should be obvious, that should have been passed down but somehow wasn't, something that wound up lost but really isn't. But I believe that if knitting/crafting and meditating or knitting/crafting as meditating can be reintroduced to us to bring more peace to our lives, bring us back to our roots, and reconnect us to the Earth and to each other, then it's really all good.

So, when you craft (cook, knit, sew, crochet) is your work a meditation? Or are you more focused on the finished product? I tend to be outcome oriented but after reading this book, I'm once again inspired to find "the stillness within, a way to contact the soul" through my work.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Apple Muffins sans Bran

I really wanted to bake something today. It's a rainy day and we're stuck inside plus I'm not in the best of moods. Baking helps with all that.

The other day I bought a bag of apples and made apple bran muffins. I've got quite a bit of apples left over and lots of applesauce too. So I decided to make muffins again but this time, not as "wholesome" tasting. So I used Cathe Olson's recipe for applesauce cake:

Applesauce Cake
  • 1/4 cup oil
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup, brown rice syrup, or agave nectar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 3/4 cup raisins
  • 3/4 cup chopped walnuts
  • 2 cups whole wheat or whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon powdered ginger
Preheat oven to 350ºF. Oil a 10-inch round cake pan or 8- or 9-inch square baking pan. Beat oil, maple syrup, and vanilla together until smooth. Stir in applesauce, raisins, and walnuts. In separate bowl, sift remaining ingredients together. Dough will be stiff. Spread into prepared pan. Bake 30 minutes, or until cake pulls away from edges of pan and knife inserted in center comes out dry. Cool on rack. Serve cake plain or with whipped tofu topping. It's also delicious frosted.

Makes 12 servings
I added one chopped Granny Smith apple (left the skin on). I also did not use maple syrup since it's simply too expensive these days. I substituted a half cup of soy milk (+ a little) and 3/4 cup turbinado sugar. This recipe makes 12+1 large, really moist muffins.

On top of the muffins, I sprinkled on a crumb topping which is very simple to make either using your hands or the food processor.

Crumb Topping
3 tablespoons of unbleached white flour
1/4 cup oats
pinch cinnamon
1 1/2 tablespoon non-hydrogenated margarine
1/4 cup (plus a little) turbinado sugar

You process that in the food processor or with your hands until it's crumbly.

The crumb topping adds a little bit of extra sweetness but overall, this is not a sweet muffin which is great. The applesauce cake recipe is recommended time and time again as a good option for a first birthday cake.

As usual, the kids are devouring them. Which is a good thing because it seems like all I really wanted to do was bake them and not eat them. I can't wait till I'm in a better mood.

Monday, October 26, 2009

I Can't Stand Freecycle Flakes

Warning: I'm in a foul mood today.

Freecycle is a brilliant concept. If you don't want or need something anymore, offer it on Freecycle. Someone who could use it requests it and they come and pick it up. Wonderful. Perfect. Great.

But the last few times, I've offered and people have requested, they have not shown up. Now, I don't dictate the times when these people should come. They tell me when they'll show up. I always make sure to have it on my front porch, properly labelled and such. It ticks me off tremendously when I come home from being out with the boys all day and someone who was supposed to pick up at 10 AM in the morning has not shown up. By 6 PM, they're still a no show. I e-mail . . . are you coming to pick this up? No response. There the stuff is . . . sitting on my front porch. Looking like clutter and mess an annoying the heck out of me.

Is it like a reflex to ask for things just because it's free? An uncontrollable urge to to say, "Gimme, gimme!"? I mean, when I ask for things on Freecycle, I take a moment to think. Where would I put this? Do I really need this? Am I willing to drive that far to get it? Could someone use it more than me? Am I asking just because?

I mean, I love the concept of Freecycle and how waste is eliminated. I love the fact that I've been able to give things away when people post "Wanteds" and I've gotten wonderful things that people have offered or that I've asked for including a bicycle for Z1, a checkers set, hundreds of die cast toy cars, cloth diapers, books, and other learning materials for the kids. I mean, really, it's been so worth it. But why, oh why, do these Freecycle Flakes insist on wasting my time? I could easily drop this stuff off at the Salvation Army or Habitat for Humanity and be done with it. I try to do Freecycle to cut out the middle man especially since I've noticed that the Salvation Army likes to overprice things these days--things that they are getting for free. But I hate complicating my life and making extra effort to no avail. Really, it's getting annoying and I've sent out some strongly worded e-mails to these no-shows instead of simply ignoring them and moving on to the next person who responded.

Ugh . . . I can't stand Freecycle Corny Flakes.

Photo Credit: Morning Ritual by vinduhl on

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Keeping My Head

We were in the backyard today enjoying the lovely fall foliage and the bright, warm sun. Z1 was out there playing with his friend and Z2 was bumbling around doing baby stuff. At one point, he decided to play the game of going in and out of the house, opening and closing the screen door. This goes on for a few minutes and then he decided to close the back door. I didn't even *think* to take off the slam and so there we were. Z2 was locked inside and we were locked outside. I started to wrack my brain thinking of what to do. I hate drama and didn't want the firefighters and police in my space. I ran around the front to see if maybe I had left the front door open for some reason. It was locked. I called my family who lives upstairs hoping that maybe someone had stayed home from church. No one was home. I told myself to stay calm. Z2 had just started to cry now that he realized I couldn't get to him. I listened to myself and stayed calm. I took one of the resin chairs to the window at the side of the house, pried the bug screen off and shimmied the window open. There are stops on the windows that keep it from opening more than 3-4 inches. I applied some force and broke the stops. Then I scooted through the window surprised at the upper body strength I have. I mean really surprised. Once in, I dusted myself off and closed the window on to get my baby. As soon as the crisis was over, I had some time to reflect. I am disturbed at how simple it is to get into our locked house but pleased that an intruder couldn't really get in undetected if someone is home. I was very pleased with my ability to stay calm and collected. I was pleased with my ability to keep my head and with my ability to think without panicking. I was pleased with my own strength too.

Other projects today included finally collecting my family's emergency supplies in one large bin and putting together our grab-and-go bag (the hubby still needs to put in his change of clothes). I developed a list of things I still need to purchase and I'll be working on that within the grocery budget this week. This week I'm thinking about meet-up plans in the case of emergency, i.e. developing a plan to get us all out of immediate danger even if we're in different places. I also want to get a laminated checklist of things to grab/we should have in a hurry.

Of course, I'm approaching all this with a levelheadedness that was not there before. I'm watching and waiting patiently. And keeping my gas tank 1/2 full at all times.
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