Books read in January.

This month was a bit troublesome. I did read six books, but it seemed like I couldn’t settle into a good reading groove. It seems to me that there were a lot more start-and-abandon books than usual. But it also had some highlights, too. It’s early, but I’m guessing Becky will be up for some sort of an award at the end of the year. And Sit, Ubu, sit gave me insight into the workings of one of my favorite growing up shows. So all was not lost. Hopefully next month will be better.

Understanding Skin Problems.
Linda Popadopoulos.
I thought this would be more of a “why you must suffer from the dread psoriasis” kind of book, but really it was a “how you can deal mentally with the dread psoriasis and other skin diseases” sort of book. Which was interesting. I’d not read anything about the psychological effects of skin conditions.

I’m pretty at home with the psoriasis that has been living with me for seven years now. I don’t do a lot of the things the author covered, like skipping social activities. I don’t mind educating people about why my arms are red. Indeed, I work in a school and children are often curious, and sometimes horrified. I’ve learned to live with that. I did note, thanks to the author, that I had fallen into the trap of thinking all the things psoriasis was keeping me from. Just in the past month I caught myself thinking that in my current state I could not be an actress, stripper or prostitute. These also happen to be three jobs that I’ve never wanted.

The discussion about skin conditions being a “visible disease” was interesting also. I’d not thought about it, but people with diabetes, or heart disease don’t have to out themselves, while people’s skin conditions are always on display for comment or suggestion, welcome or not. This is a short book and worth reading.

Teach Like Your Hair’s on Fire.
Rafe Esquith.
Reading this book, I kept thinking, “I wonder what it is like to teach fifth grade at the same school as Rafe Esquith. He is clearly a master teacher and I wonder if he overshadows the other teachers, or if his mastery rubs off on others and they too, are fabulous teachers.

This is a great book covering a complete elementary curriculum. Parents would benefit from reading this too, as Esquith includes many different games to play with children that reinforce learning. It also includes thoughts about what is required from a teacher (replace fear with trust, be dependable, use logical discipline and never forget you are a role model) and outlines what level of moral development to strive for with your class. This book is chock full of information.

Rock on.
Dan Kennedy.
I don’t think people realize the extent of the revolutionary times we are living in. True, there are no skirmishes in the streets (at least not where I live in Portland, Oregon) but before our eyes (and ears) the way people have found and obtained music for more than 50 years is crumbling before our eyes. I’m not sorry. While I mostly reject anarchy and embrace institutions that provide services (roads, education, food etc.) the record company has always been “the man” to me. Sure they find and help bring fabulous songs and artists to the rest of the country. But the amount of money they make off of said artists is obscene. The conversion of music from something to be purchased on a record/tape/CD to a digital file has the companies on their knees and I can’t say I’m sorry to see the greedy bastards in desperate shape.

My ideal music world would have the artists who create music I love fairly compensated for their creations. If, in this ideal music world some other people want to help bring along that creation and take a small part of the profit, I’m fine with that too. Small is the operative word. I think this future is not far off and it does not include the institutions I so despise.

Dan Kennedy worked for one such institution for 18 months. He chronicles his time served in humorous prose and sparkling anecdotes. There are several laugh-out-loud moments as well as more evidence that we all should stick it to the man, while still supporting our musician friends. The chapter containing the Iggy Pop concert was electric. Kennedy is a wordy writer in the vein of Dave Eggers and I found my eyes glazing in some portions, but that shouldn’t detract you from his adventures. Bonus “Reading Group” questions are hilarious.

Garlic and Sapphires.
Ruth Reichl.
A breezy enjoyable book about keeping the Restaurant Critic of the New York Times real. How would you react if everyone in the finest restaurants knew who you were? This includes some good life lessons and delicious sounding recipes.

Becky: The life and loves of Becky Thatcher.
Leonre Hart.
Historical Fiction? Check. Characters based on great literature? Check. Plucky heroine? Check. Feminist leanings? Check. Star crossed lovers? Check. The story told by the “real” Becky Thatcher had pretty much everything I could ask for in a novel.

Sit, Ubu, Sit: How I went from Brooklyn to Hollywood with the same woman, the same dog and a lot less hair.
Gary David Goldberg
I think the Oregonian recommended this to me. It sounded good at the time so into the to-read Goodreads que it went. It didn’t look quite as interesting when it came up in the Goodreads que, however. But I’m mostly committed to at least sampling the books I put in that que so I ordered it from the Library. I’m glad I did.

The title pretty much says it all. Reading this book, you get vignettes from different periods of the author’s life: wandering hippy, young father, daycare owner, TV writer, TV producer. I grew up hearing “Sit Ubu, sit.” at the very end of Family Ties and other shows in the 80s and 90s. I did wonder who Ubu was, off and on, and now I know. In addition, Goldberg has some good stories too.

The back-and-forth vignette can be a bit confusing at times, and I agree with the statement Goldberg makes at the end of the book. Something to the effect of “memoir writers tend to cast themselves as better than they are” he hopes he hasn’t done so, but guesses he has. An interesting companion to this book would be if his daughters wrote a book about their childhoods. One, the flower child and the other a successful producer’s daughter. The contrasts must be amazing.

Started but did not finish.
The Riders.
Tim Winton.
Good premise, but it took about 100 pages to get to the premise. I got bored and lost interest. Even when the interesting premise kicked in.

Mr. Emerson’s Wife.
Amy Belding Brown.
Slow to start. I read the first 50 pages and put it down.

Meritocracy: a love story.
Jeffrey Lewis
I really wanted to like this, because there are four books in the series. But there were too many characters introduced all at once and the plot wasn’t compelling enough for me to sort out who they were. The writing was a bit dry, too.

Extraordinary Teachers: the essence of excellent teaching.
Frederick J. Stephenson, ed.
A bunch of essays about, you guessed it, extraordinary teachers. I read the introduction and the first essay, but I’m looking for more specific teaching information right now.

Did not even start.

A Soldier of the Great War.
Mark Helprin.
Normally I love nice thick historical fiction. But this is a very large book and I was obsessed with Sports Night. Had I brought it home at the beginning of my vacation, I would have devoured it. Near the end, I was afraid to start. Perhaps for Spring Break.

How to be popular.
Meg Cabot.
I brought this home as a “just in case” novel. As in, “just in case I finish everything else, I will have this to read.” But I didn’t finish everything else and so this went back to the library unopened.

Three sentence movie reviews–Doubt

The acting in this was top notch, with three actors who are worth watching no matter what the project is (although I haven’t wanted to see Mama Mia). However, I thought the plot had many rather convenient trajectories which left me feeling a bit grumbly, like I went to see the Mona Lisa at the Louvre and instead they had a postcard posted for me to look at. It may be that when I pay $8.25 for a matinee, very few movies are that valuable and this, alas, wasn’t one of them.

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Where that building used to be.

Remember my capturing the destruction of this block? You can see the posts here, here and here.

This is what it looks like now. This picture is taken from the opposite side of the block, but it affords the best view of the large hole in the ground.

The picture is a bit blurry, because I took it from the Max. I love that they dug such a vertical hole. Did you ever dig holes in your back yard as a kid? Mine were never anywhere near this neat and tidy. I also like looking at temporary infrastructure that has to be built so the building can be built. Like those stairs on the the left. What happens to them after they are no longer needed? Are they disassembled and moved to another job site?

Three sentence movie reviews–The Fist Foot Way

Danny McBride did a good job stealing scenes in All the Real Girls and I was happy to see him in Tropic Thunder and Pineapple Express. Despite his presence here, this movie has some funny parts, but mostly is just so-so. If you are into martial arts of any kind, you may find this movie even funnier.

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Mayor Adams,

I follow city politics fairly closely and I’ve always admired you as a politician. When people ask me what I like about you, my standard answer has been “I think he is a politician for all the right reasons.” Namely, I think you love this city as much as me, and want to work to make it a great city not just for people in power, but all of us in the middle and working classes.

I’m a fan of government. I think it can do wonderful things such as provide roads for us to get from place to place, educate children, encourage development, help us to recycle and so many other important things. I’m not one of those citizens who think that people in government make too much money, or are lazy or greedy, or don’t know what it is like to run a business. I want good people making comparable wages running our city. Until Monday, I thought you were one of those people.

What I require most in my life is for people to tell the truth. I work in a school and say it over and over again, “If you had come to me and told me what happened, we wouldn’t be dealing with this situation right now.” It is fine for me to say this to elementary aged students, it’s even great. Because each time they don’t tell the whole story, or outright lie, that gives me another opportunity to help them understand that coming clean, though it seems to be hard at the time, is the better option. My hope is that as they grow older, they will embrace this fact of life and their adolescent and adult lives will be better for it.

I can’t know the thought process that got you into the mess you are in, but I do know that had you admitted then what you are admitting now, we all would have been much better off. You may have lost the election, or you may have won. But either way, the people of Portland would have the whole story from the beginning. Now you look stupid, the people that defended you look naive and there are calls for your resignation. Speaking for myself, the trust I had in you as a politician and a person is gone and I’m not sure what you are going to do to earn it back.

It hasn’t escaped my notice that this story broke over the two days we celebrate the birth of a civil rights pioneer and the historic day we all watched Barak Obama inaugurated. That historic day which should have been full of joy and jubilation, is a dark one for you. You, too are a pioneer. I’m just sorry that you made the choice you did and I’m sorry you asked another person to lie.

Patricia Collins

An Historic Day!

Where were you when Barak Obama was sworn in as the 44th President of the United States? I was at work, watching the ceremony with 44 forth and fifth graders and 22 kindergarten and first graders, as well as their teachers, and various parents. Both 2/3 classes and the other K/1 class watched the ceremony in another classroom.

It was an exciting ceremony and the students, crowded onto the floor, stood unprompted when Joe Biden was sworn in, and again when Barak Obama was sworn in. They stood one last time for the star spangled banner, which I sung out lustily. In between, they listened closely to the prayer, the inaugural address and the benediction. Well, the 4/5s did. The K/1s saw the swearing in and the speech, but didn’t stay after that.

Aside from the historic nature of the day, I think my favorite part was walking around referring to “an historic day.” Which I now know is actually incorrect, grammatically, because the “an” sound goes with the vowel sounds. So a word like “honor,” which would be phonetically spelled “on-her,” gets an “an” in front of it, while “historic” has the “h” sound and doesn’t. But still, fun to say.

MLK Day Walk.

What better way to celebrate MLK Day than to take a walk? Actually, I can think of a few better ways, like doing service, or going to an MLK celebration, but I did neither of those, so a walk was my better way. Kelly and I cracked open the new City Walks book I got for Christmas and began a walk that took us from the Kenton Neighborhood to the bluffs above Swan Island, to Swan Island itself. It was a pretty long walk (6.2 miles) and so we got a lot of talking done, too. New Mayor Sam Adams came up in conversation as he does from time to time. (This will be important a few blog posts from now.)

This is Kenton School. Or it was. Now it is a branch of the De La Salle North campus. Very near the school is the Lombard Transit Center and it is always fun to contrast the neat appearance of the De La Salle students with many of the other riders waiting for transit. I don’t think the early 21st century will be remembered fondly for its grooming.

Anyway, Eagle Eye Kelly asked, “What’s that, way up there?”
And then, Eagle Eye Kelly, who was been doing a lot of walks and learning about architecture identified it as most likely where the flag pole used to be. I was pretty impressed. Both with the old flag pole and with Eagle Eye Kelly.
Outside the Historic Kenton Hotel, now apartments, is this hitching post-themed bike rack.
It was a beautiful day, with a wind, but the wind brings clear blue skies, giving us this view of the Portland Skyline with Swan Island in the foreground.
A beautiful view of Mt. Hood.
“What the heck is this square thing?” we both wanted to know. The book refers to it as a “maw” and apparently, it is Freightliner’s Wind Tunnel. Although I’m not sure what will become of it once Freightliners closes their plant on Swan Island.
After that there were some lovely walks along the Willamette. It was interesting to contrast the river setting with the heavy industrial that is Swan Island. But then, Swan Island was built when the river was used almost exclusively for industry. Now that the industry is leaving, more and more the percentage of recreation increases. I just hope that we can afford to recreate, that is, that something is replacing those industry jobs.

The last leg of the walk is up Greeley Avenue. That’s a pretty busy road with a lot of truck traffic and it was an uphill walk. Still, Kelly and I planned our inauguration festivities if we were elected president, namely who the poets, ministers and performers would be. Mine were poet: Marge Piercy, minister: Tom Disrud. (although since I get two, I would also have Robert Fulghum). For performers I picked women, The Indigo Girls were mentioned. Then we were brainstorming other women. I wanted a figure of longevity. Kelly was explaining one of her picks I hadn’t heard of and she said, “she’s on that Dolly Parton cover album…” and both at the same time we exclaimed, “Dolly Parton!” So Ms. Parton would definately be at our inauguration.

Three sentence movie reviews–Frost/Nixon.

Though I like Ron Howard as a person (what I know of him) and am happy for his success, I mostly always get a little bored during his movies. This one was no different. Still, quite good, but during my bored period I wondered, “Was this really the best title that the author of the play could come up with?”

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Shampoo free.

December marks a year of alternate hair care. It started, as many good things do, with yoga class. Rachel, who was very far from a greasy-haired patchouli-scented hippy, mentioned that her hairdresser told her to stop washing her hair. Apparently her curly, curly locks would do better if they were washed less frequently say, once a month or so. She couldn’t imagine going that long, but had cut back to only washing every two weeks. Upon hearing this, another woman with wavy hair chimed in that she rarely washed her hair and thought it was better for it. I protested that with my straight hair, I had to wash it every day or it would become too greasy. We left it at that, but it did get me thinking.

One of the benefits of working in a school is the many regular long stretches of vacation. During vacations, projects can be started and finished and different ways of doing things can be tried. With the above conversation in mind, and with the encouragement of the recess helper at school who also had abandoned the daily ritual of shampooing his head, I decided to experiment over winter break, 2007.

Since puberty, I have washed and conditioned my hair every day. Though I fast figured out that the “lather rise repeat” method was invented to sell more shampoo, I could not go a day without washing. The days I did skip my shower and lather routine, my hair felt gross, very thick and oily. To begin this experiment, I decided to only condition my hair, and skip the shampooing. Here’s what happened the first three days of my experiment.
Day one: “My hair feels incredibly gross.
Day two: I can’t believe this, it is incredibly disgusting.
Day three: This is horrible, how will I last the week?
Day four: Fine.
Note that no shampooing happened between days three and four, my head just adjusted.

From then on it was smooth sailing. Six days of the week I would condition my hair, and only on Sunday would I shampoo first. For awhile I studied my hair to see if it was greasy and even asked a few opinions, but everything seemed fine. I was pretty happy. My shower routine was shorter and now I bought much less shampoo.

Fast forward to June. I attended Monique Dupree’s Sustainable Living on a Budget workshop and learned about the “No Poo” method. I hate the name that has attached itself to this phenomenon, but it really changed my hair care world. No Poo is short for “No Shampoo” and it is a movement of women–and men I would imagine too–who have stopped using shampoo and conditioner entirely. Completely. People’s methods differ, but they have given up their former rituals of daily shampoo and conditioner. I did some research online and was amazed at the different methods. I decided to try not washing my hair during my two week trip to Hungary and Romania.

That was an interesting experiment. I came home from the trip with rather thick hair. It sort of became an entity in its own right. I think that the three different swimming venues contributed greatly to its size, but I knew that I couldn’t just quit washing my hair all together.

My next attempt was the baking soda and cider vinegar method and I’m happy to report that it works well for me. Here’s what I do. On Saturdays, I put a tablespoon of baking soda in an empty 8-oz yogurt cup and bring it and a bottle of cider vinegar with me to the shower. After I wet down my hair, I fill the cup with the baking soda part way and swish it around with my finger to mix it, then add a bit more water. This water/baking soda mixture is then poured over my head and I rub it into the scalp. I let this set for a bit (it feels very nice on the psoriasis) and rinse. Then add a bit of cider vinegar (say 1 teaspoon) to the yogurt cup and fill that with water. That gets poured on my hair and worked into my scalp.

The first time I did this, I could tell that the baking soda worked to clean my hair. I was sure nothing happened when I put the cider vinegar on. “This is not working!” I thought and almost grabbed for the conditioner. But I carried through so I could see the results. My hair seemed so tangled and not smooth. But when I combed through it, it was tangle free.

So that is what I have been doing since July. I haven’t touched my shampoo or conditioner. On Saturdays, I wash my hair and, aside from brushing, that is the sum total of my hair care for the week. I love it. My showers are shorter, my hair is thick and shiny (but not greasy), I don’t have to worry about clogged drains, I save money, and I rarely have to go outside with wet hair.

I feel it is also necessary to point out that I jog a few times per week and bike commute to work three days per week. You would think the sweaty head would contribute to disgusting, oily hair, but it doesn’t. Things dry and everything is fine. I also don’t use any “product” in my hair. I’m not sure what effect that would have with this method. But I do know from my research that many people who stop shampooing daily have lovely, non-frizzy waves and curls appear.

Below is a picture of my hair after nine days of not washing. During this winter break I was testing to see if I could go two weeks between washings. I decided to stick with once per week, mostly so I could avoid the whole, “do I wash my hair this week or next?” conundrum.