Friday, April 28, 2023


During my walk, I looked at the sky and saw one small cloud begin to grow

Ideas Floating in the Air:

Catcher in the Rye, Grapes of Wrath, Diary of Anne Frank, 

The Bluest Eye, The Kite Runner, or To Kill a Mockingbird. 

Have you read any of these books? All of these books are often included in high school curriculums and are some of the most challenged and banned books in America.

These books appear on the American Library Association of the previous decade's 100 Most Banned Books. If you think like me that these books ask challenging questions of the reader and are ripe for discussion of ideas, then you have to wonder why these "dangerous" books would be high on that list. In the new documentary about author Judy Blume, one teenager in the 1980s came to a mic during a school forum to say that her parents had the right to censor what she read, but no other parent should be allowed to do so. Sound familiar. We once again live in a heightened time of book banning and even book burning. The Harry Porter series has been burned in several parts of the country.

A minute later, one becomes five

My parents allowed me into the adult book section of the library in fourth grade where I picked out textbook materials about the Native Americans whose lives and history fascinated me. I also chose novels that looked interesting. They censored very few of my chosen books. They surprised me when they removed from my stack An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser, who became a Communist later in life. Their decision wasn't based on how well-written the novel was, instead they succumbed to the fears of Communism that were prevalent at the time. An American Tragedy is still considered one of the great American novels, no matter what political leanings the author had, and a good murder mystery, to this day one of my favorite genres. And, of course, I read the book as soon as I was away from my parents.

Within five minutes the same cloud grew larger in the sky

Honor National Book Week, April 23 to 29, by reading a book, preferably one of the banned books of this year:

The Bluest Eye, Gender Queer, Out of Darkness, or Lawn Boy

If you care about books being banned, and women's equal rights in each state, watch Amazon Prime's new documentary about Judy Blume whose books are often in the top ten of banned books.

An article in the 19th News about the top 13 most banned books in 2022:

Suggestions of good reads:

Price of Eggs, an essay by Crys Wood, :

Check out her blog too:

Chandra Lynn has a new book of poetry, Musings from My Younger Self:

and check out her thoughtful blog:

Friday, April 21, 2023


Mark Making to Create an Alphabet

Numbers and letters are so ordinary, aren't they? We don't think much about their origins. We all accept that "2" means two of something, but the symbol 2 doesn't utilize counting marks to show us the value. Most of the world uses the Hindu-Arabic numerical system even in places such as China, and Japan, where numbers were originally written differently. 

The trading routes through China, India, and the Middle East helped to develop the Hindu-Arabic system and moved away from tally marks to notations that were quicker to write. You can see how the tally could easily be changed to the symbol 2 by someone in a hurry. 

Writing with different instruments, such as a piece of bamboo, which I used to make both "Mark Making to Create an Alphabet" and "Finding Letters," could also change the character and form of letters and numbers. On a busy trading route, someone's version of counting or writing could travel along with the traders. More and more people would see the symbols and accept what they represent.

Finding Letters

I was intrigued by an article in Scientific American that explains how Inuit students and their teacher developed a new written form of the oral Inuit counting system, which was suppressed in North American schools in the 19th and 20th centuries as was much of their culture. Their number system is based on the human body and is grouped into 5, 10, 15, and sets of 20 (think of counting on fingers and toes). The students call their new written system Kaktovik after their village. The result is elegant and easy to use and is now being adapted to computer systems.  The Kaktovik method seems to incorporate both tally marks and quick notation symbols. Maybe we all should give it a try.

Variations of Number Symbol Systems

Looking at the Kaktovik numbers, I was reminded of Douglas McClellan, a college art professor, who studied alphabets in order to design a stained glass window that became part of the Scripps Library. His research included the idea that our alphabets are based on the development of weaving. Without weaving, we wouldn't understand how to cross one line over another. For a class assignment, he proposed that we design an alphabet from another planet without the grains or plant life we have on Earth. What would inspire beings from the other planet to create a written language? Looking at the alphabet I made and the numerical system by the Kaktovik students, I was struck by the similarities in design and how often we human beings think alike even when we are from different cultures.

An alphabet based on a planet of silicone, with faceted, crystalline structures

Read more about the Inuit students who developed a written version of the Inuit counting system: 

Both of these sites give excellent examples of the development of numerals and mathematics: 

Friday, April 14, 2023


Some people collect figurines, others treasure artwork, and some accumulate cookbooks as a friend did all her life. She left her daughter with bookshelves full of 300 cookbooks. My friend loved to cook and enjoyed thumbing through the pages for inspiration even when she stopped cooking later in life.

I have a small bookshelf with a couple dozen cookbooks that I've culled down from a larger collection. They include a copy of my mom's The Culinary Arts Institute Encyclopedia Cookbook, whose name says everything about this large volume. As a kid, I loved to turn the cut-out page inserts to see recipes, black and white photos, explanations of weights and measures, how to organize a kitchen, how to set a table, cooking hints, and menus for each month of the year. After college, I purchased The Joy of Cooking, my early bible for cooking, and I've kept several slim books from the Time/Life series of cooking from around the world. The Italian edition taught me how to make besciamella and pesto sauces.

I rarely go to these recipe books now. Instead, I search the internet for recipes. I subscribe to several food websites, such as the Food Network and Eating Well. One of my favorite food blogs comes from Jane Evans Bonacci who writes The Heritage Cook and whose mac and cheese recipe is delicious.

As the winter weather subsides, I still look for comfort foods and found one at Taste of Home called Spaghetti Squash Meatball Casserole.

I used my own simple recipe for meatballs: 1 pound hamburger, finely chopped onions, one egg, some breadcrumbs, Starlight Herbs & Spices Idaho Mountain Blend mix, and salt and pepper. I made the meatballs a day ahead, covering my hands in olive oil so the meat didn't stick to my hands as I rolled it into balls. I baked them at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes.

Here is the rest of the recipe, which I reduced to serve 2 meals for 2 people:

Set oven to 350 degrees

Grease a small baking dish

You need:

1 small spaghetti squash, cut in half lengthwise

1 medium onion, chopped

2 cups dark salad greens

1 cup ricotta cheese

1 plum tomato, chopped

1 cup tomato sauce (make your own or use most of a 14 oz. can of prepared pasta sauce)

1 cup shredded cheese mix (I had fontina, gruyere, and white cheddar on hand) or mozzarella

 parmesan cheese

Salt and pepper

Microwave cut squash, uncovered, cut side down, for 20 minutes on high

Use a fork to separate spaghetti squash into strands

Saute onion in oil till tender

Stir in dark salad greens, ricotta, and salt and pepper

Stir spaghetti squash strands into greens/ricotta mixture

Transfer to baking dish

Top with meatballs, tomato sauce, and chopped tomatoes

Sprinkle with parmesan

Bake, uncovered, for 30 minutes.

This casserole is just right comfort food before the seasons change. Soon we will be gathering fruits for a refreshing salad for warm weather feasting.

Do you have a favorite comfort food recipe?

Check out Jane Evans Bonacci's blog The Heritage Cook: here 

Find good herbs and spices at Starlight Herbs & Spices:

Check out cooking websites:

Friday, April 7, 2023


Ink drawing by one of my students, Sara Kearns,
which shows some of the principles of design:
positive and negative space, repetition, contrast, shape/line

"I didn't think I was good enough," explained Ginni Rometty, the former CEO of IBM, who spoke in San Francisco recently. She described how every job she was offered seemed beyond her ability, but she took them anyway. Seeing Rometty, a tall, blonde, confident woman, you might expect her to have come from a family of privilege. She commands a room and I was surprised by her childhood story. She and her siblings were raised by their mom alone after their father abandoned them. Her mom worked at low-paying jobs, juggled child care while attending college, and became Rometty's best role model.

Yet even Rometty has the doubts that so many of us develop in early adolescence and beyond. I thought of Rometty's talk as I sat on a small stool in our garage and sifted through nine binders of lesson plans that I developed in my career as a junior high school "utility" teacher. Back then I taught art, PE, English, journalism/yearbook, and a class called Quest, which the Lions Club sponsored to help students to learn to get along better with friends and family and to develop the character needed to overcome life's challenges.

Advance and Do Not Fear the Thorns in the Path by M. Slavin

During Quest class, we sat in a circle and went over the day's lesson. One was particularly effective for the students as well as when we shared the story with their parents who had to commit to attending sessions of the class in the evening. One student in the class held a can and some small stones. Another read the story which begins early in the morning when the character sleeps in. The first stone clinks into the can. Each time something negative happened throughout the day, another stone would drop into the can. By the end of the story, the can was almost full and the looks on the kids' and parents' faces had a new understanding of all the negative actions than can occur during the day.

I remember a student in my English class who I thought had all the promise in the world, but who rarely turned in his work. He had a horde of excuses, including my favorite. He told me, "I was walking to school, my homework flew out of my hand and landed on the grill of a passing car and disappeared forever." Creative, yes. Feeling like he wasn't good enough, yes too.

Playful Butterfly by M. Slavin used as an example for a lesson plan

Most people who asked me what I did for a living, raised their eyebrows and shook their heads as they remember their own tumultuous times in junior high. Teaching that age level filled my day with a series of small defeats and rewards and sometimes a moment of pure joy when I watched a student comprehend something new. As a teacher, I always had doubts about myself. When I left teaching, I thought to myself, "After teaching junior high, I can survive anything!"

Looking at the binders and carefully constructed lessons that I created, I'm glad I looked through them knowing that sometimes something that I kept from my past gives me a new understanding of myself. I could tell my younger self that as a teacher I was good enough. 

A simple lesson in type design by M. Slavin


Check out what Ginni Rometty's about changing the world in her new book,  Good Power: Leading Positive Change in Our Lives, Work, and World

Check out the Quest Program for Social and Emotional Learning here: