Month: May 2015

Book Fridays: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

A pandemic wipes out 99% of the human population. What happens afterwards? This is one of the questions that this book seeks to answer. The Georgia Flu hits fast and hard. Civilization collapses. Everyone is on their own. Apocalyptic stories scare me, mostly because they’re possible but also because I have zero faith in my surviving beyond the first few days if that. How does society make a comeback?

The story moves back and forth between pre and post apocalypse. You get to see the trivial and completely useless lives that people lived. The things that mattered but soon wouldn’t because Maslow’s hierarchy of needs would come into play before people knew what hit them. The story follows regular people on this journey and I think that is why I enjoyed this book so much. It was about survival but it was also about the human spirit and how it can be challenged but still manage to shine bright.

One of the characters, Clark is on an aeroplane when the pandemic reaches critical mass and is forced to make an emergency landing. The airport becomes his home. Fortunately none of the passengers are infected but a plane does land and is kept quarantined. All the passengers die inside that plane. The horror, the decision made to keep the flu contained inside that vessel is one that kept me thinking long after it happened. It wasn’t even a particularly important part of the story as it was not delved into but my mind delved into it.

“A rape on the night of Day Eighty-five, the airport woken after midnight by a woman’s scream. They tied the man up until sunrise and then drove him into the forest at gunpoint, told him if he returned he would be shot. “I’ll die out here alone,” he said, sobbing, and no one disagreed but what else could they do?”

Justice and safety are important and this passage illustrates that beautifully. That rapist broke the social contract and he faced consequences that sadly he might not have faced in our civilization. He was exiled and it most likely meant his death but order HAD to be maintained. And how awful would it have been for the woman he raped if he had been allowed to stay out of pity. Life inside the airport was fragile but good prevailed.

During a mission to gather whatever supplies they could from outside the airport a group walked by a hotel. Abandoned and reeking with death they did not enter but were later followed by a resident of the same. His sheer relief at finding people broke my heart. It once again brought to mind Maslow’s hierarchy of needs which are as follows: physiological, safety, love/belonging, esteem, self-actualization.

People naturally sought to have their physiological needs met first as these are essential for survival. Food, water, and shelter are the first needs to be met. This is followed by safety and then love/belonging. Humans are social animals and this interpersonal need is important. It is why people were grouped together, not just for survival but because psychologically it hurts to be without company. A lot of the story follows characters as they meet these three needs first and slowly branch out to other things.

What I loved about this story is that it looked at humanity with hopefulness. Even in adversity there is good in people and good can win. That’s not to say that there weren’t any bad apples along the way but by and large there was a faith in humanity that came across loud and clear.

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How to kill a chocolate craving

Have you ever been sitting at home and suddenly had the urge to eat a smallish piece of cake? Specifically chocolate cake. I was craving some chocolatey goodness but I had no cake and it was almost midnight and I wasn’t about to bake an entire cake to satisfy a craving. I looked up mug cakes and found this recipe. Well, I found many recipes but this one sounded the best to me and I had all the ingredients on hand.

The results were delicious and I was very impressed. I love to bake and I do plenty of it but this is the cake recipe you want when you’re in a pinch. I would recommend using a mug larger than you think you will need. You don’t want to lose any precious batter to spillage.

I have made this mug cake twice now. Once with peanut butter and a leftover chocolate easter egg in the center the other with almond butter instead of peanut butter. Both times I added a generous squirt of Hershey’s chocolate syrup to the batter. The cake was moist, with a runny sauce in the middle.

Try it!

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Book Fridays: We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

It’s the dreaded F word of modern times… I find that men and women alike are afraid of the word feminist. So much so that it’s becoming common for female celebrities to publicly distance themselves from the term but why is that? Now, among women of color (especially black women) there is an understandable aversion to mainstream feminism because it is often not intersectional. It doesn’t include black women but that’s material for a whole other post.

I have found myself more times than I care to count in conversation with people who truly have no idea what feminism is. They base their opinions on misinformation and anecdotes that support it. Feminism is NOT about superiority over men. Also, feminism is NOT misandry. Misandry is also not a real thing. It is not the counterpart to mysoginy much like reverse racism is a myth.

We Should All Be Feminists is a wonderful essay adapted from Adichie’s Tedx talk of the same name. It is a short read but a powerful one. Her Tedx talk is just as wonderful and you can watch it here. She approaches the topic in a way that is accessible and powerful.

I found it difficult to choose an excerpt to share but I succeeded:

“Gender matters everywhere in the world. And I would like today to ask that we begin to dream about and plan for a different world. A fairer wold. A world of happier men and happier women who are truer to themselves. And this is how to start: We must raise our daughters differently. We must also raise our sons differently.

We do a great disservice to boys in how we raise them. We stifle the humanity of boys. We define masculinity in a very narrow way. Masculinity is a hard, small cage, and we put boys inside this cage.”

Feminism is not just about women, it’s about men, too. We should all be feminists because this cage affects us all.

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“Girl” stuff is good stuff

Our kids don’t live in a bubble. Eventually, we will share them with the world and that world has opinions. If we stop to think about our own convictions we can see how they have been shaped by our families, our friends, our communities, etc. What we read, what music we listen to, it all has messages. We internalize a lot of them. Society influences us, it has a voice and that voice whispers a lot of crap into our collective ear. I stopped buying what society is selling a long time ago.

Before I became a parent I knew that the whole pink is for girls blue is for boys dichotomy was not for me. I don’t believe there are toys for girls and toys for boys. There are toys. ONE category. If you browse a Sunday paper circular you’ll find that toys are gendered. The store TELLS you and your children which toys are meant for them. We see little girls playing with a pink vacuum cleaner and rocking a baby doll to sleep. In a way, it’s grooming girls for their role in life while reinforcing the idea that these toys are not meant for boys. Foregoing this is often seen as something radical. You buy your son a toy vacuum and your daughter a model airplane and you’re making a political statement. Personally, I am not seeking to make a political statement. I don’t consider my parenting style anything other than love for my son as a human being.

I’ve witnessed parents direct their kids to “gender appropriate” toys. It makes me sad. If you browse long enough at Toys R Us you are bound to pick up on something of the sort. I’ve never tried to influence what Diego plays with. Early on he gravitated towards toys with wheels. Cars and trains are some of his favorites. But his interests don’t end there. Whenever we visit the toy store we browse all the aisles not just the ones that are intended for boys. I let him explore without directing him. Of course toys that pose a choking hazard etc are out of the question but he has carte blanche over anything that’s safe for his age group.

Diego often uses my husband’s iPad. He has several apps on it that he can access. On YouTube he loves watching toy unboxing videos. ToyGenie is one of his favorites. On the Nick Jr. app he can watch cartoons. I often watch him navigate these and my observations tell me that he doesn’t have gender based preferences. He likes Peppa Pig, Lalaloopsy, Little Charmers, Paw Patrol, and Blaze the monster truck. He has no concept of our idea of gender. He’s brand new, innocent, uncorrupted and untainted by society. On Disney Jr. he watches just about every show, Octonauts is his absolute favorite but he gets excited about Sofia the First and Doc McStuffins, too. Mickey Mouse Clubhouse has a place of honor in his rotation. Within age appropriate shows he picks different things on different days but my point is that he does not reject a show about a princess. He hasn’t been taught to.

Today I took him to the drug store to buy some cold medicine for my husband. After we picked up what we needed we took a walk around the store. Naturally, we ended up on the toy aisle. We looked at different toys, talked about them, took a close look at a few and then we came to some metal lunch boxes that housed a puzzle inside. He recognized Sofia the First on one of them and grabbed for it. Behind it there was an Avengers one. He pointed to it and identified Captain America and then went back to the Sofia one. I thought, okay he is showing a preference for Sofia between the two of them. I didn’t question his choice because why would I put it in his head that his choice is somehow wrong? He saw the options and he picked what he liked. I decided to get it for him since I had been wanting to do a puzzle for him anyway.

We picked up a gallon of milk before heading to the register. Shopping with Diego can be tricky because when he has an item in his hand he is hesitant to let go of it so it can be scanned. He surprised me by handing it over to the cashier. The cashier looked at the lunch box and asked him if he had a sister. I answered for him in the negative. She addressed him again telling him that he couldn’t have that lunchbox as it was for girls and he was a boy. I told her that he wanted it and that’s all that mattered to me. Thankfully, Diego has no idea what she was talking about but one day he will understand and he will feel something. His self-confidence will be zapped and he will question his interests.

There are several things that bothered me about this interaction and I will list them below:

  1. The idea that it’s wrong for boys to like “girly” things. For one it suggests that “girl” things are bad. For the most part qualities that are regarded as feminine are considered weak and negative. Especially in boys and men. Why the put down? Sophia is a great role model for girls AND boys. She’s kind, values honesty and friendship, is brave and takes charge when things go south.
  2. Regardless of her intent she was ostensibly shaming my child for something he wanted and made him happy. Nobody should be shamed or made to feel wrong about what they like.
  3. Boys liking “girl” stuff is judged more often and more harshly than girls liking superheroes (traditionally considered to be for boys).
  4. The idea that children need to be indoctrinated about gender. We need to do away with this notion. It serves no purpose and it harms us. All of us.
  5. The fact that she was, for all intents and purposes, undermining me as a parent and questioning me through her interaction with my child. At the most basic level, whether or not you agree with my stance or not, she was rude. She should not have said anything.
  6. There is usually a reflex reaction to put down women, whether it be putting down “girly” things or femininity in general it’s internalized to the point where women themselves contribute and perpetuate this.

As a parent I don’t have the answers to everything. I am learning constantly but on a social level there are things about which I am certain. I know that I do not want to raise my son in an environment that values toxic masculinity. I want him to learn to embrace and express his emotions in healthy ways. I want him to feel confident about who he is, whoever that may turn out to be. There is this idea that our kids are blank slates for us to mold. As I nurture my child and watch him grow I am constantly reminded that as much as I nurture him he is an individual. He is a person that I have the honor and privilege to care for but he is not something for me to live through.

I am fortunate to be raising him at a time where conversations about gender are happening. We are questioning societal constructs, we are challenging them and in my own ways I am dismantling them. My son is not wrong for liking Sofia the First. I am not a hero for advocating for the freedom to like whatever he wants to like. I am merely doing what I consider to be the right thing.

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Book Fridays: The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

This book was sitting on my shelf for a while and when I picked it up I was unsure as to whether or not I had read it. I bought this book in the days before I logged my reading on Goodreads so I had nowhere to look for clues. I decided to just read it and if it turned out I had already read it then it would turn into a re-read. The beginning felt a little familiar so I looked to Goodreads reviews for a refresher. What I found were very harsh, passionate reviews dissing this book to hell and back. Seriously, it was scary to read the bad reviews. I read it anyway and I really enjoyed it!

The book is long and a little slow-paced. Personally, the pacing was fine for me but I will concede that I can see how it would be a sticking point for others. The writing is beautiful and detailed. In all, this book is possibly not everybody’s cup of tea. The epilogue bugged me as I found it unnecessary and I wish it had been left out.

This story is about vampires, more specifically it’s about Dracula but it’s different. It’s an academic approach to the story. I was hesitant to use the word academic because it feels a bit stuffy but that’s the best way I can describe it. The amount of research that went into writing this book is significant and woven together beautifully. I am only sad that I didn’t read it sooner.

If you’re into vampire stories this is worth checking out.

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Update to my volunteer rejection post

Last week I wrote a post about being rejected by my local library when I called them to enquire about volunteering to read in Spanish. You can read that post here. On Friday I received a phone call from the Youth Services Department of my county’s library system. They saw my tweet and wanted to reach out to me. I would like to point out just how powerful social media can be. The lady I spoke with was very helpful and gave me contact information of people who would be able to direct me to where my services could be used.

Last night I sent off an email and this morning I spoke to somebody about my experience. It was explained to me that library volunteers go through an application process and are then placed based on the needs of the community. I am very grateful to have this information as it was what should have been given to me when I called the library. My issue with my initial interaction was two-fold: on one hand I took issue with being dismissed and on the other I was concerned that Spanish language programs were considered “not needed” by the children’s librarian. Of course, I did not expect the library to pick me off from the street and set me in front of a group of children without some sort of screening process and possible training. But I also did not expect to be sent off without any information or possibility of volunteering.

At this point I have no way of knowing if anything will come of this. All I know is that I am hoping for the inclusion/creation of Spanish language programing for children and I remain a willing volunteer. I am grateful that the Libraries Division took an interest in my experience and listened to what I had to say. That is an important step. The person I spoke with earlier today is supposed to get back to be after speaking to the librarian I spoke with in order to figure out what programs they are running in the library and what role, if any, I could play in that.

I will write another update when appropriate.

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Volunteer rejection

When I decided to call my local library and offer to read to young library patrons in Spanish I was expecting it to go over well. I knew they already had a story-time program in place so when I called I asked if they had any reading in Spanish. I was told that they did not and I explained that I wanted to speak to somebody about volunteering in their library in order to meet this need. The lady who I initially spoke to sounded enthusiastic about it and transferred me to the children’s librarian. The gentleman who answered the phone did not initially seem to be paying me much attention as he misunderstood my query and thought I was seeking a story-time program in Spanish for my son. I repeated myself and this time he understood but responded that Spanish story-time was not needed.

Not needed. I was taken aback. This was not the response I was expecting given that I live in South Florida. He did not offer to put me in touch with anybody, or even thank me for my call. He dismissed me. There are many things about that phone call that do not sit right with me. The first and most obvious one is the fact that a children’s librarian said to me that Spanish language resources are not needed. Nothing could be further from the truth and that he believes as such worries me. Especially considering that there are over 500 Hispanic students enrolled in the two elementary schools within my city.

Something else that bothered me is that a library’s response to a volunteer is to send them away. Libraries are wonderful resources. They are often underfunded and yet the role they have in the community is an important one. Communities are strengthened when members take part in them. I wanted to get involved but I was shot down. Now what? I should have asked more questions but I was stunned and didn’t feel like arguing. I was hoping for dialog, collaboration. Instead I got an immediate knee-jerk no.

I do not feel personally slighted. He doesn’t know me and I don’t know him, but I do feel disappointed. Reading is such an important component in a child’s education and it’s been shown to be beneficial to children of all ages. I know that my community is home to a lot of Spanish speakers who by virtue of their environment are raising bilingual children just like I am. Exposing children to a different language is a good thing, so even non-Spanish speakers could benefit and enjoy story-time in Spanish. In my opinion there was no reason to reject my offer. It would have cost the library nothing to try it out and if nobody came it would have been no skin off their nose.

I wrote the library a letter. I am hoping that by reaching out to express my disappointment that somebody will in turn reach out to me. I feel very strongly that reading programs are necessary and there’s no harm in adding on Spanish language to already existing ones.

Thank you for reading. I needed to vent a little about this as I can’t stop thinking about it and replaying the conversation in my mind. If I receive any kind of response or find somewhere to volunteer I will write a follow-up post.

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I need to talk about harassment

When I started this post I was sure about what I wanted to write and how I was going to write it but the more I thought about it the more discouraged I became. I realize when you take on a subject such a harassment you are guaranteed to alienate some people. Men, those who are even remotely interested in reading about harassment beyond refuting the accusations and declaring “not ALL men!”, might feel attacked and women might just not agree with your position. After all, you don’t have to be male to uphold male privilege. Regardless, those readers who are here in good faith will hopefully read with the intent of listening instead of responding.

Social media can be filled with land mines. Some people never encounter any of them. I have been on IG for years and this is the first time I have been harassed but I know that it happens daily to women everywhere. We might not see it, or hear about it but it’s happening.  It’s a problem. I have been called names on Twitter, from bitch to an ableist slur. I had one guy tag his response to me with the gamer gate hashtag in the hopes that they would come after me. How is that anything other than violence? I reached out to someone who told me about blockbot and I now have all known gamer gate accounts blocked just in case. If you’re wondering what my offense was to incur this, you are likely part of the problem. What these men do is search keywords and hashtags on Twitter in order to harass women, threaten women, dox women. If you ever come across any such account you will see their TL is nothing but the same spam message copied and pasted to different women.

I’ve been on IG for a couple of years and I enjoy sharing photos, especially of food. It’s a fun community and because I like browsing and sharing to hashtags and the like I have never locked my account. Last Saturday I participated in Dewey’s 24hr Read-a-thon and as part of the event I posted several reading related pictures to my IG including this one:

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Six days after I posted said photograph I received various IG notifications from the same account. They liked a few of my pics, left a comment on this one, and followed me. I was not inviting men to look at my legs. I was not looking for their gaze. But of course this is lost on this guy. Initially, I decided to accept the compliment and be done with it. Not surprisingly he took that as an invitation to take things further (because complimenting a woman is a social transaction that requires payment in the form of attention paid to the man that bequeathed such a gift) and asked if we could “have a nice talk”.  I ignored him.

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Moments later I received a private message from him. I honestly don’t know why IG even has this feature but nevertheless he thought it appropriate to send me a photo of his naked torso.

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Notice how he downplays his actions. It’s nothing, just a picture. NO! It’s NEVER “just a picture” when it’s unsolicited. This is exactly the kind of behavior I am referencing whenever I speak about male privilege. He decided that he had the right to send me this uninvited.

I had clearly stated that I was not interested but again, unsurprisingly, he did not let up.

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I blocked him after this exchange and I set my profile to private because it’s not uncommon for this kind of person to create another profile just to continue where they left off. One of the reasons this exchange disturbed me is because it makes me wonder how he would behave with a woman to whom he had physical access to. No means no wherever we are. Online communication is not exempt from the rules of consent. What I experienced is not an isolated incident. Women experience this and much worse every day. That is why I deem it of extreme importance to get conversations going about this. I refuse to be silent.

Harassment is part of the female experience. When I was in sixth grade a new student joined our class. He pulled my hair, hit me, and stole my pencils. When I finally complained to the teachers she told me that he just liked me. She invalidated my feelings and excused his behavior. I remember feeling confused and let down. I went on to “date” this boy. He forced himself on me and put his tongue in my mouth. When I struggled and pushed him away he was upset. I overheard him and his friends refer to me as a bitch for not reciprocating. I felt sick and not long afterwards I broke up with him.

At a Guy Fawkes bonfire I had a guy walk up behind me and pinch my butt. I didn’t know him and he didn’t know me but he felt confident and comfortable approaching me like that. His friends laughed in the background. They didn’t touch me but are they any better than the guy that did? It’s too often that we sit in silence because we feel that it’s not our problem, it’s not happening to us.

In the backseat of a car while riding with two of my cousins I fell asleep. I woke up to my male cousin with his hand up my shirt groping me. I kept quiet. He realized I had awoken and removed his hand. Until recently I had never told my mom about the incident. A part of me felt I had been responsible. So well does society socialize women to take responsibility for the actions of men.

Dressing modestly never helped me avoid the situations I am sharing here. The fact is that only harassers, attackers, rapists etc. are responsible for their actions. There is always this habit to ask what did you do to invite this? The answer is always nothing. Nothing.

This post was difficult to write. More so than I thought it would be. Not so much because of what I am sharing about myself and my experiences but because a part of me is always worried about what other people will think of me and my opinions. I am working to overcome that. If you’ve read this far thank you.

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Book Fridays: The Thirteenth Tale

Last Saturday’s read-a-thon had me browsing my shelves and my Kindle for books to read. Since I was signed up to cheer I knew I wouldn’t do much reading so I picked this book knowing I likely wouldn’t finish it. I didn’t finish it during the read-a-thon but I am so glad I picked it up! I purchased it years ago (likely with a gift card) and it sat on my shelf mocking me ever since. I remember reading the blurb and thinking that it sounded interesting. I also liked the colors of the cover (likely, the reason I picked up the book in the first place).

The story is a complicated one. Our protagonist receives a letter from a well known and prolific author requesting that she write her autobiography. Vida Winter is a mysterious woman, having fed lies about her life to reporters for years. She’s finally ready to tell the truth and Margaret is the person she chose for the task. The story itself, the plot, was very engaging. I enjoyed the journey to finding out the sordid, yet fascinating life of Vida Winter. She is a mystery being unwound.

There were things I didn’t care for such as the much repeated descriptor of women as plain. There was also a lot of hot, sweet tea and Jane Eyre references. I almost wanted to tell the author, I get it! Regardless, it was a book I very much enjoyed. I won’t go into much more detail about it because I don’t want to give anything away and this is a book that I find difficult to talk about without potentially letting some plot point slip. At 406 pages it’s a pretty long read.

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