Sundays Are For Spanish: Something Like a Book Review

The Good Food Revolution, written by Will Allen and Charles Wilson, is a book that I read about four or five years ago. The story remains in my mind, however, and has been something of an inspiration to me. Before I discuss the book, I would like to tell a short story (un cuento) about how the book and I came to meet.

At the second university I attended (out of three), I took an intensive writing course in Spanish. It was required for my major: Spanish Education. No problem (no problema), I thought. Well, it was the most difficult class I have ever taken. On the first day of class, our professor, una colombiana, told us that we would not be allowed to speak in English while in the classroom. Everyone nodded their heads in agreement.

On the second day of class, I, in a somewhat boisterous mood that day, spoke loudly in English. La profesora turned and yelled my name. The classroom fell silent.

“Alexandra!” she said before all. “If you speak in English again, I will take off 20% of your grade.”

I was in shock, as were the rest of the students. I sat, stunned, staring at her with embarassment (vergüenza) and anger (ira). Leaving the classroom, I vowed to speak only Spanish in the class, and to speak Spanish well.

Having studied Spanish, English, and the educational theories of teaching either, I know that many young Spanish speakers have been yelled at and forbidden to speak their own languages in school. Now it had happened to me and I would accept it. A stronger piece of my character decided that I would accept the rebuke and the challenge (reto).

So, I worked very hard and spoke only in Spanish while in that classroom. We learned so much that semester. The class culminated in a six page research paper, due entirely in Spanish. I wrote mine on the topic of motorcycles (motocicletas). I don’t remember the particular grade, but I will never forget what happened on the last day of class.

La profesora approached me in the hallway. We never spoke about the incident on the first day of class but I no longer felt the need to. She recommended I sign up for an Honors class. I was surprised, but thrilled. We had come to respect each other.

Taking the advice of a woman that I had come to regard highly, I signed up for an Honors class the next semester. Her referral got me in. On the list of required texts for the Honors class was The Good Food Revolution. I remember wondering, “What the hell do we need that book for?”

The Honors class was about mentoring others and, as I suspected, had a vague connection to The Good Food Revolution. The author, Will Allen, did mentor others along his way, but his book taught me so much more about taking chances, getting your hands dirty, and bringing people with you on your way to greatness.

Will Allen is a black man from the Wisconsin area. He discusses the connection between black people and farming: how it’s in their bones, how they have always cared for the land. After travelling abroad as a basketball player and later, selling medications as a pharmaceutical rep, Will Allen did something crazy. He quit his job and bought an old greenhouse. From there, he learned to grow food, help urban communities, and bring people together around the garden.

Will Allen experimented in everything from composting, to aquaponics, to vertical farming. After a lot of work in his own community, he and his daughter worked to build community gardens in Chicago and bring fresh food to people that don’t have access to it. He offered workshops in growing vegetables, raising fish, cooking what came from the garden. I believe his lessons are crucial today.

Allen tells his story with grace and includes pictures of his life in the book. The history he tells of black people in this country is tragic, but he offers good food as a solution to the problems of urban living. His moral is entirely uplifting: we can help those that have been oppressed by giving back to them their own skills, and teaching them to feed themselves well.

I have never forgotten this book and, though I don’t think it has much to do with mentoring, I have fallen in love with growing things, saving things, and turning old things into something new. Good food (la comida buena) is important to our success as a community, as Allen demonstrates. We must work hard, but we are inherently equipped to do so.

You may not be very interested in this book. I wasn’t. But, I read it. I fell in love with it. And I never forgot it.

P.S. If you’ve seen this post before that’s because I’ve posted it before. Some or all may have been changed.

Thursday’s Reflection

I am trying to spend more time living in the moment. However, reflections still occur. Only now, I will schedule a time for them. Thursdays just seemed right.

I want to thank my followers and all the other bloggers on WordPress. Without you guys I don’t know if I would have made it. You reading my words means a lot to me and I have seriously enjoyed my first year of blogging, even with the ups and downs.

Writing has always been a big part of who I am and I am happy to have found some great creators on this platform. I have been inspired by you often.

Again, thank you. Gracias. Have a great Thursday.

Sundays Are For Spanish: Lovely Lamb’s Ear

Me encanta esta planta: la oreja del cordero. Por sus hojas y sus flores pequeñas. A las abejas les gusta tambien.

I love this plant: lamb’s ear. For its leaves and its little flowers. The bees like it too.

Sus hojas son muy suaves y no necesita mucha agua.

Its leaves are very soft and it doesn’t need much water.

¿Cual es tu planta favorita?

What’s your favorite plant?

Sundays Are For Spanish: What’s Up, Buttercup?

Just kidding. This is spiderwort. We know it as a prairie flower and, according to Wikipedia, is native from Southern Canada to Argentina. She only blooms in the morning when its cooler.

¿Que bonita, no?

How beautiful, no?

Fish Lake

I recently found an old piece of writing of mine, scribbled on the inside of the front cover of a book that I carried with me everywhere during the summer of 2013. The book is The Intellectual Devotional and is a book of lessons in history, religion, visual arts, and other topics. For awhile, I was consistent in reading its pages. But then I put it away, and forgot about it. Here’s the inscription: a description of a place and day that apparently I really wanted to save.

7-17-13 Fish Lake

Tall, lush reeds created a barrier near the shore of the entire lake. A bright, lively green, they stood stiff and strong, partnered with wide, flat-open lily pads that were accompanied by white or yellow flowers. Trees of every color, in the shades of green only summer can provide, protected the cool, clean lake on almost all sides. To the Northeast the trees thinned to reveal softly rolling hills. Phone lines stretched between the crests of these and the sky was a heated, pale blue. Thick, happy clouds floated gently by, above a healthy cornfield hugging one of the far off slopes. A lone dead tree, which was sun-bleached and bare like a bone, stretched its boughs over the water. It sang the land a silent song of ancient wisdom, long forgotten by the buzzing horseflies and oblivious sunfish. Silver-backed leaves rustled loudly when a dainty, playful breeze skipped through the forest.

We had been fishing in a small boat on a still lake, the sun beating over us. I had tired of fishing and reclined to write this description of what I was seeing.

Have you ever done the same? How does it feel to look back on your own writing?

Lessening Screen Time With Sergio

Day 2

Surprisingly, our second day of abstaining from YouTube went quite well. At 10:00 a.m. there had still been no mention of the phone and shortly after, the two babes went on a rare outing with S. to wash his work truck.

The day was not without its hiccups, however. When my family returned from the truck washing, S. offered Sergio the phone because he was being whiny and inconsolable.

“Let’s go outside,” I suggested, putting a stop the argument over the phone.

We ventured forth into the sun and spent most of the day outside. We had a backyard picnic and watered our garden boxes. Things went well.

Until around 4:00 p.m. when I considered giving in. S. had gone to the store, sending Sergio into a temper tantrum. Thankfully, S. returned rather quickly and the phone was forgotten.

Around 5:00 p.m. Sergio begged for the phone again. I ignored him.

Finally, Sergio got his phone from 7:30 p.m. to about 8:30 p.m. He laid in bed with it, relaxing until he fell asleep.

Ah well, we did our best.

First Day

So, Dick was a real prick, right? He was old. His wife, Marcela, (no, I’M NOT MAKING THIS UP) was German (pretty positive) and she usually stayed inside. Dick’s place was off a scenic highway that led from one small town to a bigger city. A curvy road. Fun to drive, but oh, so dangerous. A big river gave its steep bank to the road. Don’t over-steer! You’ll go right into the water.

People liked to drive fast on that route. Why not? Rules are made to be broken. Are all of them? Is there not another cliche that says without rules chaos will lead instead? And chaos is one grizzled, mean, chain-smoking cowboy. Or cowgirl. She (or he) rides a mean horse, one that’s gasping for water in the middle of the desert (Y’all seen Hidalgo?). Desperation can make you fearless. Or it can make you bold. It can also make you vulnerable. And it can turn you cold.

Anyway. I was thirteen, and the first class with Dick was on a Thursday (they all were). I was starting high school the next week and I was terrified of all the rumors. What was a period? (LOL) How did lunches work? Would I have any friends? Did those showers really work?

I was terrified of the training class, too. Because my mother had told me rumors. She is the one who called him, she knew where he was. My last mentor had been a woman who taught me to play the oboe. She was great, too. Just a little harsher.

I thought I looked great! Thought I looked cute! I had some flip-flops on (yellow with a plastic daisy glued to them) and shorts, I think. Dick snapped at me as soon as I strode up, pulling that stubborn Bull Terrier behind me. She was a great bitch. Beautiful, funny, strong, agile. Stocky and tough. Quiet but sensitive.

“What are you gonna do with flip-flops on?” He snapped. I had not even said my name. The memory is clear because of the embarrassment I felt. This is not the only time that Dick called me out, but this was on the first day.

I didn’t have shoes, so he said oh well! We would tour his woods, then. Everyone (older people with skittish German Shepherds, mixed breeds, all kinds of dogs) traipsed up a hill and onto the path. That path led into a confusing agility course – created almost entirely by nature. Old tires and boards had been used to create make-shift agility obstacles among the pine needles littered by all those beautiful trees.

Sucked. Cause I had fucking flip-flops on. I also had to learn to put the choker on right and to give it a good snap – so that the stubborn Isabella could hear it, as well as feel it. We made it. We all had to go through the obstacles – even me, with a brat of a dog and the wrong footwear.

“Dumb on a leash is what you’ve got there,” he liked to tell me.

“I know, but I think she’s beautiful,” I would always smile, in return.

I always came prepared after that first day. I had learned my lesson. Dick gave me leads for conformation, and we always worked on showmanship after the regular training classes. Just me and him. Bull Terriers are dumb on a leash. But not in the ways you think.

That dog still puts a smile on my face, and I can feel her breathing. Grief can be caused by anything. It’s sad. It’s tragic.

But she was hilarious! I have so many great memories! She’s still here, snuggling up next to me!

They call Bull Terriers clowns, pigs (dog world terms meant to be endearing), but I just called her Bella. And nothin’ beats sittin’ under the sun with a dog, remembering your teachers, not saying a damn word at all.

Thinking on a Maria

What a disappointing night. I have a lot of stuff to do (for a lot of people) and I’m just pacing around, forgetting what I’m doing. The life of a “writer” is such a “romantic” one. I believe that anyone alive can write. Because writing makes you feel alive.

Anyway! It’s time for some simple language. I had to talk last night. And I kept leaving the train car, to go looking for a passenger in another one. As I was talking to some of my favorite people (my nephew recently got braces. Ouch! Now, beauty is pain. And pain comes from beauty. Blah, blah, blah), los truenos (thunder) y relampagos (lightning) were threatening a storm. Ah, but what is a threat if you don’t bring it?

It didn’t rain last night. Well, I don’t think it did. Finally slept. It’s raining now. Which is a disappointment to me. I wanted to turn my compost today! I wanted to show you my muse! (She’s got too much paper in at the moment [literally] and I’ve got to mix new stuff up).

Inspiration is a bitch. She comes. She goes. She likes you. She likes you not. But as some wise writers once wrote me, inspiration must be sought (in everything/one) and an example is not always the best teacher. I’m a kinetic learner, which means I learn through practice. An italiana taught me that. And her name was Maria.

I’m referring to Montessori. Yes, she is the original muse. She taught me how to find inspiration. How to look for it. Figuratively, and yes, literally. It’s exciting to know the method of your mentor. And boy, do I love a mentor.

My favorite mentor was an old man named Dick (life writes the best puns lol). He was a dog trainer with a great story. He traveled to Germany as a boy, and learned to train the hardest dogs. The dogs that bark and bite. He taught me everything. But we’ve lost touch. I miss him. I miss him a lot. I don’t know if he’s alive, what he’s doing. But my story, I learned from him.

I learn from the Marias. And the Marys, too. And certainly, a Marisol.

I have more to share. So buckle up. Let’s go for a drive.

That Blasted Chevrolet

So, am I the side-chick, or is she? “She” is a black Chevy Silverado, complete with a black “bull-bar” attached to the front bumper (shout out to Australians for that word. It’s a “brush bar” in America), tinted windows (gotta have ’em in the South and probably Everywhere! Coming Soon!), and loud speakers that I mostly use for NPR (I like rap, hip-hop, rapeo, regeaton, whatever has a lot of cool twists and turns of phrases – exactly what most artists of color produce and which is why there are those that try to rip ’em off. I just love to listen, but I ain’t got rhythm, so I stick to the written word. But wait, what? Turn off the damn radio for a second).

I have never asked my husband that question (Mi amor, who’s the side-chick? Me or the vehicle?) because really, it’s just a personal joke of mine (I think I’m literally the only one that gets it. Like, why would you joke that your husband’s having an affair with his truck?) Eh, why not?

That Chevy and he were ride-or-die long before I came into the picture. Now, I drive that truck, and I can tell that she don’t like me much. Jealousy. But who is the envious one, really?

My husband and I live, and communicate, over long distance. Marriage is difficult, and that difficulty is compounded by many miles. I should be accustomed, though. I’ve always had a long-distance relationship with my father (he drives the long haul). As for friends, you can probably make an educated guess.

What’s the deal with men and their cars? Or, in my case, with cars and their women? Why am I personifying a Chevy? I don’t know what this post means, and I suspect it’s the result of some miscommunications (you can speak the same language, but still misunderstand every, single word) that transpired over a very short weekend. The kids are sick, and I’m in a frenzy of writing what I’ve always wanted to say (the sickness and the writing have made for a lot of crying the last few days; on the part of everyone in my house).

Ah, well, I’m not asking for any sympathy. Sympathy doesn’t do me any good when the kitchen’s still a mess, the coffee pot’s on it’s last leg, and the baby’s teeth have a while before they finish coming in. Sympathy doesn’t help a writing woman, who’s terrified of becoming one of inspiration’s many side-chicks. Inspiration is like a toxic relationship: each of you stalk the other, and then threaten to leave forever. But alas, back to my argument with the truck.

Sometimes, I start to feel lonely. But then I think, “Nah, we’ve got the tomato plants to check, and the TV to turn on.” I refuse to hop in the Chevy to go see anyone, ‘cuz I hate to drive that truck. And that’s only because I’m pretty sure I know who the side-chick really is.

Some Pages From Some Books

I said that I would dive into my pile of new books by reading The Green Witch. I did glance at a few pages. But other books were calling my name with much more urgency. After settling the children for a nap, I found a place to read and decided to browse a few, rather than working to finish one. Some of the books I chose were new to me, some were comfortable members of my library. These are the pages I was able to read and the bits of information I was able to skim off the top.

First, I read a page on kudzu, from Leaves in Myth, Magic & Medicine by Alice Thoms Vitale. This book has always belonged to my grandmother and, not per her death (she is very much alive), has come to reside at my house, on my coffee table. I have loved (and envied the owner of) this book almost before I was sure of what a book even was.

Kudzu caught my eye in the index. I have always been intrigued by kudzu. Mostly for its name, but also for its reputation. I am from the North, so have never seen, touched, or pondered on the leaf of the invasive, fast-growing vine of the South in person. I have heard many times of kudzu, however, and am sure I have seen it draped along fences and small trees from the passenger seat as we travel the highways of Mississippi, Tennessee, Missouri, or Arkansas.

I discovered that there are many people, throughout the world, working to use the ‘mile-a-minute’ plant in innovative ways. The leaves are interesting, calming in a way. Now that I know its leaf, I think I would be able to identify it among many others (a personal goal of mine is to be able to identify many plants and trees by the leaf or stem or bark. My great grandmother was able to do this and, though I never met her, I want to know her by learning what she knew).

After the page on kudzu, I picked up the third edition of Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius by Angeline Stoll Lillard. Maria Montessori is another idol of mine so I read anything with her name attached. I attended a private (pretty much the only kind) Montessori school ages 4 to 6 and during that time fell in love with learning and discovery. Montessori developed her own method, materials, and curricula after extensive research, observation, and work in various fields. She was a physician, a feminist, a speaker, a teacher, a writer. She was an incredible woman and I owe my outlook on learning to her hard work and brilliance.

Traditional public schools have many faults, as Lillard argues. The biggest being in their design and overarching view of children and how they learn. I do not agree with their style and have always felt pushed, roped in, or quieted in conventional American schools. My goal for the future is to teach Maria’s way, but I have much to learn. For now, I will simply gather the information that I need and prepare my casa for the bambini to learn in.

But to go to school in a summer morn,

O, it drives all joy away!

Under a cruel eye outworn,

The little ones spend the day

In sighing and dismay

Schoolboy by William Blake

On one of the first pages of Lillard’s book, I encountered this poem that embodies how I came to view school, after being introduced to the public school system in fourth grade (I skipped third grade and I make no motions to brag here. I usually forget this fact of my life and owe it to being taught to love learning, rather than an extraordinary intelligence).

Figure 1.1 The Casa dei Bambini today at the original location, at 58 Via dei Marsi near the University of Rome. Photograph by the author. (page 17 Lillard)

I also found this photo in that book, and was immediately charmed upon finding it. I would love to walk down this street and see where Montessori’s first experiment in teaching her methods took place.

Finally, when I had tired of educating myself, I pulled out a pen and circled (with many wobbly lines) some words in a book of word-finds with the theme of inspirational quotes. My second puzzle was a quote I thought I might share.

He who wishes to teach us a truth should not tell it to us,

but simply suggest it with a brief gesture,

a gesture which starts an ideal trajectory in the air

along which we glide until we find ourselves

at the feet of the new truth.

Jose Ortega Y Gasset

I believe it is important to take a break often while studying (I have kids so there’s always a reason to stop) and think about other things. I like to use my hands while I think, and puzzle books always come in handy for decompressing. How strange that the words I circled were so meaningful (at least to me, at that time).

So, I will take Ortega Y Gasset’s advice and leave you on your trajectory. May it lead you to a pile of new books and some kind of new truth.

A Storm of The Mind

Unfortunately, in my opinion, I am a writer. I was born with thoughts in my head that wanted to be written on paper. I set to work as a young girl, creating an office from upturned plastic tubs, giving myself deadlines, bringing my copies to anyone who would read them. I wrote about dogs, and birthdays, and the animals I met on the farm. What is there to write when you have yet to live a life?

As I grew older, the thoughts, wanting to be written, remained. But a pen would not fit in my hand, the cursor would not stop blinking, the sight of a notebook turned my stomach. I could not, would not write. Yes, I wrote for school, and always received good feedback. But that feedback never felt right.

I don’t write for feedback. I don’t know what I write for. Yes, I write for feedback. Of course, I want to affect with my words. But there are so many sometimes, and then there are none. How do I capture, organize, remember?

Unfortunately, I will always have to write and there will always be a storm in my mind. I am learning to capture the inspiration, to reign in the winds of words, and put something down, finally, after so much time of blank paper.