Back-To-School Radical Kindness with the Born This Way Foundation’s 21 Days to Be Kind

This September, I am working on practicing radical kindness through the Born This Way Foundation‘s 21 Days to Be Kind initiative. As a parent and educator, at this extremely busy time of year, I believe that deliberate and strategic kindness with support my inner self, my family, my students, my colleagues, and my community through this time of transition.

My hope is to improve my ease with myself and the way I treat others. Because of my misjudgments, impulsivities, and wrongs that make me downright human. Because I can get so caught up in schedules, chores, should-haves, paperwork, social media, gossip, I am committing to 21 Days to Be Kind to focus on what truly matters – the way I treat myself and others.

A lot of my focus this Labor Day weekend is on self-care – this is setting the stage for the upcoming and potentially very stressful week. I am counting down until Thursday – the first day of school – when I need to bring my biggest smile and maximum energy to greet all of our students and get them off to a great start.

September 1 – Run

Running is my ultimate stress release and the one non-work non-family all-by-myself commitment I make three times per week. My husband and I are training for separate half marathons this fall – and I am doing my first full marathon in February.  It has benefitted our relationship so much – we have fewer arguments and a hobby to discuss and geek out on. I love making my playlists. My current one is music from the 60’s that I loved as a child – the Monkees, the Beatles, Jefferson Airplane, The Fifth Dimension. On Saturday, along my 9.5 mile run, I smiled at strangers and greeted them with good morning. It felt good to get so many smiles back. Literally – smiles for miles. I was also treated to Fujiko Nakaya’s Fog X FLO sculpture at Jamaica Pond.

September 2 – Healthy Food 

Today I made a meal plan and got groceries. It makes me feel really good to be organized with a refrigerator full of healthy food and a plan of how to use it.

I became a vegetarian in December after reading Tracy McQuirter’s By Any Greens Necessary. As I ruminated on the practice of non-violence, I decided that being vegetarian was one choice I could make to slow unnecessary cruelty – to animals but also to the people who work in the dangerous meatpacking industry. I ate a lot of vegan junk food in the beginning, but now I am learning how to make better choices. I like to get cookbooks from the library to get inspiration and ideas. My family is currently enjoying recipes from Phaidon’s Vegan cookbook as well as from Eat Greens and Super Easy Vegan Slow Cooker.

This plan is especially important this week – school starts on Thursday, and the next few days will be jam packed with preparations.

A Rule of the Park (Boston Tales)

My daughters wandered off the playground and onto a path at the park. Francine was playing with the water fountain, and Carolina was curious about two dogs running nearby. She toddled over to see the dogs.

The dogs were with a woman – she was wearing a sweatshirt with a large red H – Harvard. I saw another woman walking nearby – she was wearing a Yale sweatshirScreen Shot 2017-06-04 at 7.08.46 AMt. I never know any fashion trends. I had on a plain black top, plain black pants, and flip-flops.

One of the Harvard woman’s dogs went really close to Carolina – the dog’s mouth looked disgusting. Large pointed teeth, drool, and matted fur (from the drool). The dog was grey – it wasn’t that big. I picked up Carolina, and Francine continued playing in the water fountain.


The woman turned to me.

She said,”My dogs are really friendly. My 2 year old niece plays with them all the time.”

I said,”It’s not that – it’s just that it’s a rule of the park to have dogs on a leash.”

Signs are posted all around the park that say: Leash, curb, and clean up after your dog. Each sign has a visual of the silhouette of a man with a do
g on a leash and a bag in his hand.

The woman turned to her dogs,”Come on. Come on.” She leashed her dogs and brought them to her car in the nearby parking lot. My daughters and I stayed at the water fountain. The woman then walked back towards us and approached me. “You know – it’s not a rule of the park, but it’s a complete waste of water to let your daughter play with that fountain.”

I just looked right at her, but I didn’t say anything. I was wearing sunglasses, but I still did my best penetrating stare.She walked back towards her car. As she was opening the door, another car pulled up. The driver was a woman, and she had a dog in the backseat.

The Harvard woman began to talk to the second dog lady who was getting out of her car. She was talking loudly – she was broadcasting from the parking lot, and she wanted me to hear her

“You better leash your dog. This little mom over there is hyper about her kids being by a dog that’s off leash. She’s going around saying it’s a rule of the park. I’m actually leaving. Maybe you want to go to.”

Harvard woman then got in her car and drove off. The second dog lady walked her dog to a field a ways away from the water fountain. She played with her dog, off leash. She was not near us. We went back to playing with the water fountain.

A Bookworm’s Boston: May 2017

Now is the winter of our discontent

And all the clouds that lour’d upon our house

In the deep bosom of the ocean buried.
– Richard III
May has been a wonderful month for this bookworm to come out of hibernation. One habit I begun over the wintertime was solo dates with my daughters while maintaining my husband and I’s catch-as-catch-can solo dates. And the dates have improved along with the weather.
All of the dates involve city walking and public transportation – a writer’s dream and a form of relaxation.  I interact passively or directly with potentional characters in the setting of my Boston community. I capture snippets of dialogue while delighting in the rhythm of the city around me. My professional work as a Boston Public Schools teacher involves thousands of decisions and inserts me centrally in the lives of others, so bopping around town is a relief and a contrast. The decisions I make while out and about- to take Gloucester Street or Hereford, to write in a notebook or just hold hands with my husband or daughter – are inconsequential.
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The other commonality that these dates share is that they are relatively inexpensive. A recent favorite date with my husband was a Pay-What-You-Want afternoon matinee of “peerless” by Jihae Park at the Boston Public Library’s beautifully renovated Rabb Hall. (Note: The Kiersten Business Library is  now located right alongside this hall. It has transformed from a dusty little room with cassettes of foreign language materials into an open study hall with alcoves, white boards, and comfortable couches and chairs). I absolutely loved this rendition of the Scottish play in which a pair of murderous twins plots to kill their classmates who have taken their coveted spots at the college. The sparse sets and the ruthless lack of empathy by the protagonists, paired with rhythmic dialogue, evoked the question: Why is so much value placed on the American Ivy League university? Admission comes at great cost – not only in a fiscal sense, but also in the cost of losing one’s identity in search of admittance to an elitist and exclusive, rather than democratic and inclusive, institution that values lineage and wealth over intellect and creativity? I had the chance to ask Ms. Park in post-show conversation about how to promote a new American ideal away from these preservation institutions, an ideal that values democratic principals and reflects the cultural diversity of young adults across our country. Her work increased my awareness of just how incredibly difficult it is for racial “minority” groups to obtain access to these presupposed American Institutions.  I found Ms. Park’s work to be radical and supportive of true democracy, and the Company One‘s pricing model enables Bostonians across class differences access to a professional (and provocative) theater production. Shows are still available tomorrow and next weekend. 
A second wonderful date was today – I took my middle daughter (almost 3 and younger than her older twin by 14 minutes) to IAM Books, one of my most beloved Boston bookstores and the very first Italian-American bookstore in the country. There was a special I Piccoli Lettori (Little Readers’ Group) from 10:30 – 11:30 am. I am not Italian, but my daughters are the great-granddaughters of an Italian immigrant from Genoa who fled Mussolini at age 5 and came to San Francisco, attended an almost exclusively Chinese school, worked as a garbage collector, and eventually became a wealthy restauranteur. A pre-school teacher from Florence, Ms. Adele, conducted a small group of Italian and Italian-American families with young children in a song and then a reading of Il piccolissimo Bruco Maisazio who eats, among other comestibles, prugnefragoleun lecca-leccagelato, and salsiccia.  And consequently, this piccolissimo becomes very fat. The children passed a piccolisimo to one another during the reading and then used glue and construction paper to create their own piccolisimo. I was touched when another family with a beautiful daughter invited us to Umberto, where we dined cheaply on arancini and pizza. Afterwards, I sat in the grass while Sofia ran back and forth on the Rose F. Kennedy Greenway.
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Ferrante Night Fever at I Am Books

Dear Reader:

Last Thursday, November 3, 2016  was one of the best evenings of my life. I attended the Ferrante Night Fever party at I AM Books, a charming little bookstore in the North End (Boston’s Little Italy) that carries titles written by Italian and Italian American authors. It was a wonderful coincidence that last Thursday was also my 35th birthday, and the occasion was thoroughly enhanced by this particular celebration of my very favorite author – Elena Ferrante.

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All Saints Way in Boston’s Catholic North End

If you are not familiar with Elena Ferrante and her work, here is a quick Ferrante 101:

  • Elena Ferrante is a pen name, a pseudonym. No one knows the true identity of Ms. Ferrante. Through interviews, Ms. Ferrante claims that she does not want celebrity because she wants more time for her writing, rather than traveling and doing readings.
  • Ms. Ferrante is incredibly popular in Italy, but it has only been in the last few years that she has become well-known in the American market.
  • Elena Ferrante’s most popular works are a series of 4 books known as the Neapolitan Novels. These books focus on the lives of two women, Lenú and Lila,  who have grown up together and whose lives are entangled, even during periods when they do not talk or see one another. These novels are narrated by Lenú, and, despite Lenú’s achievements as a scholar, she always feels inferior to the uneducated yet brilliant and aggressive Lila.
  • All of Ferrante’s novels focus on the lives of women, and they are considered by many readers to be extremely dark.
  • Fans of Ms. Ferrante are livid that an Italian journalist has recently tried to expose Ms. Ferrante’s identity. They feel it is an invasion of her privacy, and they want to protect her from unwanted attention.

I have to say that, at the Ferrante Night Fever party (which, by the way, was completely free of charge), everyone was made to feel like a guest of honor. We were treated to a feast of Italian food – arancini,  meatballs, and amushroom stuffing – as well as  cream-filled pastry horns for dessert.

The crowd of mostly women gathered to celebrate the  release of Ferrante’s Frantumaglia: A Writer’s Journey in its English translation. Unlike her other books, which are novels or novellas, Frantumaglia is a treasury of letters, essays, and interviews that reveal Ms. Ferrante’s writing process. As a writer myself, this book particularly interests me, as I feel it will provide insights to inspire my own process.

I am saving my copy for a Thanksgiving Break read-through, and I look forward to finishing it all in one go. I was on maternity leave when I read Ferrante’s other works (and I have read all of them), and it was wonderful to move through them all in one go. Our family has no firm plans for Thanksgiving, which gives me the gift of time to dedicate to this book.

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My copy of Frantumaglia

At the event, a wonderful Italian journalist (whose name I unfortunately did not catch) not only brought us wine, but he also facilitated an engaging discussion of Ferrante’s work. A key wondering that arose was why Ms. Ferrante’s work was so popular with Americans. One women from Naples suggested that Americans have a love affair with Italy, and many at the gathering agreed. I think this is true about Americans, but for myself, I wouldn’t say I have an infatuation with Italy. For me, the novels stand alone because they are revealing of how women interact and how a female writer and scholar perceives herself, her relationships, and the world. I am particularly interested in the way Ms. Ferrante’s characters separate themselves from their families and feel criticized because of it in order to accomplish scholarly work or inventions.

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With my dear friend and fellow educator Ms. Gro

As an educator, I connect very strongly with the theme of education and applied  intelligence as a means of gaining freedom from violence and poverty in Ferrante’s work. The Neapolitan novels begin in the extremely raw Naples of the 1950’s. Men beat their wives in public. Women stay indoors nearly all the time. Babies are thrown out of windows. And yet silence is preserved, especially amongst women. Yet Lenú finds success in school, reads vigorously, and she convinces her family to permit her to continue through high school. In contrast, Lila is forced to leave school after the 5th grade to work in her family’s shoe store. Still, Lenú feels she is the inferior “white swan”, technically perfect but she will never rise to the styling of Lila’s “black swan”. Lila is able to invent a famous style of shoe, create a brilliant work of photography, learn computer engineering, and eventually run a successful business with seemingly little effort. Lenú feels clumsy as she joins in intellectual circles with those who have had a far more privileged upbringing than herself. She devotes herself to her writing, and she becomes a successful scholar and writer. Yet Lenú has to make incredible efforts with all she does, and Lila’s achievements are always in the front of her mind.

The Ferrante Night Fever gathering was the first time I had ever attended an book club-style discussion. My reading and writing life is something very personal. While I feel comfortable writing about it, I am far less confident in discussing my ideas with others. This event made me realize how a thorough discussion can aide my understanding of and deepen my connection to literature. I was shy at first, but then loosened up, especially because my dear friend Ms. Gro was with me, and she is the life of any party. I left feeling that it had been the perfect evening…and a perfect birthday celebration.

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End of the Evening Smiling Selfie with my Ferrante Fever button

I AM Books is the country’s first Italian American Bookstore. It is located at 189 North Street in Boston’s North End. It is open seven days per week. Website: iambooksboston.com

Top Picks for Boston Book Festival 2015

2015 will be my fourth year attending the Boston Book Festival, yet this is my first blog post about this special event that has become a fall tradition for me. After the past three book festivals, I was so overwhelmed that I could not even craft a post that summarized this spectacular experience.

This year, I am older and wiser, and therefore I am posting before I go into a “reader’s coma” on Saturday evening. I just finished handwriting my Boston Book Festival schedule (below) on the back of my copy of fellow Boston teacher Jennifer De Leon‘s “Home Movie”, this year’s  One City, One Story selection, and I am sharing it with you, dear reader, so you can see my “Top Picks” for this year.

See you Saturday in Copley Square!

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Boston Teachers Union Parent 2 Parent: Literacy Materials for Families

I was asked by the Boston Teachers Union to create this list of literacy resources for Boston Public Schools families attending the BTU’s Parent 2 Parent Conference tomorrow at Madison Park High School. Please click here to download a printable PDF of this list.

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1,000 Books Before Kindergarten (Age 0-5)

http://1000booksbeforekindergarten.org

This website helps you to accomplish a goal of reading 1,000 books before your child begins Kindergarten. This is only 1 book per night for a little less than three years! Your child will gain vocabulary and sit and focus ability, not to mention a love of books and a special bond with family members over book sharing.

*Parent 2 Parent Tip: I have three children under age 2, and we share our books when my children are in high chairs for meals or when they are in their cribs before naptime and bedtime.

AdLit.Org:Ready for College Resources – Books for the College Bound (Grades 4-12)

http://www.adlit.org/ready_for_college/

AdLit stands for Adolescent Literacy. This website has a wealth of information about teaching and learning for students in gr. 4-12. The “Books for the College Bound” booklists are wonderful for finding challenging books that will prepare your child for college-level reading in various subject areas.

Boston Public Library

http://www.bpl.org

Visit the local branch of your public library to browse for books with your children (and yourself!). Ask the librarians for recommendations. Each branch has a bulletin board with a list of events for children and families.

*Parent 2 Parent Tip: When it is especially hot weather, I go to my local branch with my children to hang out in the FREE air conditioning.

MobyMax.Com (Grades K-8)

http://www.mobymax.com

This website allows for students to practice skills in many subject areas – including reading! A free trial is available. Please contact me at jdines@bostonpublicschools.org if you need assistance with this site or would like a full membership.

Reading Is Fundamental Monthly Activity Calendars (Age 0-5, Age 6-15)

http://www.rif.org/us/literacy-resources/activities/monthly-activity-calendars.htm

These printable calendars contain suggestions for daily seasonal activities and books. The calendars available in English and Spanish.

*Parent 2 Parent Tip: When I print out the monthly calendar, I visit bpl.org to reserve the picture books for the month and pick them up at my local library branch.

TechGoesHome.org

http://www.techgoeshome.org

Visit the Early Childhood section to find an annotated list of free and inexpensive apps for ages 3-6. Visit the Courses section to find a list of free technology classes (with the option to purchase a netbook computer for $50) available for children and adults at schools and community centers throughout Boston.

Be The Light: My Personal Anti-Racism Action Plan

On the evening of Wednesday, September 16th, I will be walking in Be the Light, a candlelight walk of solidarity and support in response to racism and racial violence in America. I encourage you to walk with me alongside adults, children, families, students, and all Boston-area residents to who choose to act against racism.

I must admit – I feel nervous to participate in this event. I am not one for crowds or demonstrations; I prefer quiet to noise. And who do I think I am anyway? I am a white woman; my face may be considered the profile of an oppressor. Yet, as an educator, parent, and friend who works, raises children, and maintains relationships in a multi-cultural setting, it is my responsibility to take this public stand against racism.

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 While considering my participation in this event, however, I felt the need to clarify my own commitment to racial justice. Yes, I can walk alongside member of my community for two hours; this act is bold and powerful on its own, but I wondered: how can I be deliberate in serving the cause of standing up to racism and racial violence in the long-term?

While large events are far outside of my comfort zone, I feel quite at home in front of a notebook, organizing words into sentences and molding sentences into discourse. Guided by the Action Planning Worksheet in Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice, I decided to craft a personal plan of action that enumerates three specific ways in which I will work to combat racism in my life as an educator, as a parent, and as a friend.

Below, you can find my action plan, and I strongly encourage you to create your own. Your action plan may use words in sentences, like mine, or it may use lists, poetry, images, movement, or music.It can take any form that expresses your personal commitment to racial justice.You may want to keep this action plan to yourself, or you may find it powerful to share this action plan via social media.

If you would like support to craft or to publish your personal action plan, please contact me at jenniferdines@gmail.com. I am happy to publish and publicize your work on http://www.literacychange.org or to help you publish and publicize your anti-racism pledge in another online format. You may wish use the hashtag #BeTheLight in sharing your plan online.

Jennifer Dines: My Anti-Racism Action Plan (PDF Download)

As an educator, I commit to combating racism by keeping children, including children of color, engaged in the classroom because I know that each move to the hallway or to a school disciplinarian is one step that a child moves closer towards the streets. In order to achieve this goal, I must take the time to collaborate with my colleagues in the Boston Public Schools in creating and implementing curriculum that engages the students in our classrooms in meaningful and relevant ways. I must also maintain a healthy body, mind, and spirit in order to have the energy to sustain myself and my colleagues as we must engage in deep and thoughtful problem solving. I will measure my success when I witness children sharing personal pride in scholarly acts – reading, writing, speaking, researching, creating.

As a mother, I commit to teaching my three daughters how to recognize and respond to racism. I will begin conversations with my children that center around issues of race in books, media, and real-life situations. I will continue to seek out children’s books that portray diversity to share with my children, and I will continue to encourage, maintain, and respect the friendships that my daughters have made with children of other races and cultures. I will be deliberate about teaching my children about discrimination. In order to achieve this goal, I will revisit it as my very young children grow and develop. I will discuss this goal with my husband and engage his support in following through on this goal. I will measure my success when I witness my daughters engaging with my husband and I in dialogue about race.

As a friend, I commit to being my true and authentic self when engaging with people of other races. I used to maintain more neutrality in expressing my opinions and beliefs when in discussions with people of other races for fear that disagreement may be considered racist. However, as I have developed long-term professional and personal relationships with people of other races, I have realized that authenticity is not only possible, but preferable in my interactions with other races because it gives them a chance to know me and understand me for who I am, not as simply a guarded version of myself. In sharing my true self with others, I believe I invite them to share their true selves with me. Taking the risk of being real is worthwhile because there is the possibility of developing an authentic and deep connection across racial boundaries. In order to achieve this goal, I will recognize and reflect upon how race impacts my words and actions when engaging in relationships. I will discuss my reflections with my close and most trusted friends. I will measure my success when I witness the engagement of my authentic self, through words and deeds, in cross-racial communication.

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