Thursday, April 29, 2021

On My Bookshelf: April

April has been a month of contrasts. For the first time in 6 months, I feel like myself in a lot of ways. I am walking long distances without feeling the need to sit (though I can’t walk AND talk at the same time…). I don’t need to take a 3-hour nap to get through my day. I am starting to taste and smell just enough to feel a part of the world again, though there is often a disconnect between what I experience and what actually is. My incredibly awesome fiance is helping me work through these things; little by little I’m returning back to myself.

One constant that has kept me balanced is my reading. Never have I had so much inclination to read. When I read in the fall after COVID, I would prop up my book because my arms would get too tired from the weight. Now I’m walking around the house with it in my hand to increase my endurance as well as keep up with my reading goals. The before and after is amazing to me.

As for my reading choices, recent events have kept me centered on social justice topics. My focus feeds that hunger in my soul that wants to be better, craves a better world for my students. It’s often discouraging to see and hear the things you read about coming from your kids. I’m lucky they trust me enough to share their experiences; it has taken well over a decade to become an advocate for my students in this way. Is it enough? Am I enough?

So enjoy my reading picks for this month. If you get a chance, I 100% recommend that you pick one!

1. What the Eyes Don’t See

By Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha

I work within driving distance of the site of a man-made disaster. I used to live a stone’s throw from a poisoned city, thousands of people drinking water every day that slowly chipped away at their health and well-being. It’s an atrocity that happened in Flint, an homage to racism and an inept government that openly allows an entire city to suffer to this day. Flint still needs clean water.

With that said, I’ve always admired Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha. She is the boss lady pediatrician/scientist/residency director who put her career on the line for her kids. They subjected her to a smear campaign, tried to deny the obvious disaster, but she just kept pushing. Every word in this book is a testament to her work and the dedication of many others who stood up. I’m not just recommending this book; I implore you to read it. Your eyes and heart will thank you later.

*I will be talking about her in a future post. Wonderful news! :) 

By Jerry Craft

The second book in the series, Class Act continues the journey with a group of black and brown students in an elite, predominantly white private school. I’m looking back at my earlier comments about how awesome the first book was, and the second did not disappoint. In fact, I’m even more excited to recommend the series!

The part that struck me the most was the section that dived into the school’s inclusivity training. A very nervous white principal tried connecting with his students in ways that just fell flat. As an educator, I’ve seen similar situations with fellow educators who didn’t understand the impact of their words and actions. There were moments of trauma opened raw in the frames, and the author has again made me question and reflect on my own mistakes/experiences. I am going to highly recommend this book to anyone and everyone, especially white educators. The images can sometimes speak louder than words.

By Andrea Gibson and Megan Falley

When I was in junior high, I won a poetry contest at school. They sent in my poem to an anthology, so technically I’m already a published poet? I’ve taught creative writing over the years, and we spend a lot of time unpacking student fears about the written word in general. Poetry is very near and dear to my heart.

But my favorite part about poetry? Deconstructing it, making it a less annoying subject to study. Shakespeare’s sonnets are off the table! This book really embodies that attitude. The authors express disdain for structured poetry and instead point the reader towards poems as an expression of thought, rather than the heavy-handed, over-analyzed drivel that is so common in poetry instruction. I say this AS AN ENGLISH TEACHER. Words can be used in any way imaginable and should be treated like little puzzles of awesome. I may be using some parts of this book with my students, simply because it makes poetry fun!

By Robin DiAngelo

This book has been recommended by so many people. In the past year, I’ve worked hard to better understand my own biases and shortcomings; it’s a reflection-heavy process filled with some not-great realizations. Unfortunately, my upbringing, while filled with some cultural awareness due to my Mexican heritage, did not fully embrace others. This book has really helped me to question every thought I’ve had about race and recenter my focus.

The author does an amazing job of making the reader question. There were so many things I didn’t even factor into the equation of racism, including microaggressions and perceptions in public. How can we claim that racism is “over” if there are still so many examples of black and brown oppression? This book has made me focus on how I can practice allyship in ways I did not even understand. If you are interested in dismantling your biases and making the world a better place, read this White Fragility and work on your process.

By Yuyi Morales

I’ve not included many children’s books in my list, which is a shame because they are so awesome! We don’t have kids in our house now, but I’ve slowly collected a library over the years. These will either be used by my future children or nephew or even both.

Yuyi Morales wove a beautiful story about her immigrant experience, one filled with vivid illustrations. I think of my own family when I read this, my Grandma and Grandpa learning how to navigate a new world. Her words are poignant and powerful, and it makes me want to learn more about my grandparents’ story. If you have children, this is a great book to introduce the idea of immigration and creating community.


Sunday, April 25, 2021

Flora's Interpreter, and Fortuna Flora

This should surprise no one, but I’m not a plant person. When I was a kid my Grandma had her own little garden she kept in the front room of her house, all facing the sun. She loved them with water and good soil until they flourished everywhere. Sometimes when she would make breakfast, she’d send my sister and me outside to take a few stalks from the chive plant not far from her door, a large one that popped up next to a natural spring. We’d take a long drink from the spring then grab a handful of chives. Later they seasoned our eggs and potatoes, a staple breakfast dish for my Polish Grandmother.

As an adult, I’ve grown fond of other people who can figure out the whole plant thing. I’m still pretty hopeless at it, and have even purchased plastic greenery for the house (haven’t killed them...yet). There’s a single aloe plant tucked in the windowsill, one that my friend will check in on soon. It’s next to a shoot of bamboo that refuses to die as well.

So when I came across Flora's Interpreter, and Fortuna Flora, by Sarah Josepha Buell Hale, I was intrigued. The painted image of flowers on the front caught my attention, as did the name of the author; she was the editor for Godey's Lady's Book, a highly influential lady's writer in the 19th century. This is something my Grandma Dolly would have loved!

“We have moreover endeavored to unite real knowledge with this fanciful language the arrangement of each flower with its botanic as well as common name and also its class and order will be found of much utility by familiarizing or fixing these terms in the mind of the reader The locality of the plant too will enable those who desire the information to judge where any particular flower may best be cultivated whether in the garden or greenhouse.” (V)

The book goes on to describe the scientific parts of the plant, as well as their purpose and how they work together. I’m very green when it comes to plants (haha) but even I understood the language. I’m especially fond of the section about poisonous plants. One day this might be VERY useful, like if I get lost in the woods or start my own podcast where I solve cold cases from a hundred years ago...

But much like any 19th-century text geared towards women, I find myself with poetry and flowery language (haha again) all over the place. After all, we can’t just know the science; we should ponder the glory of a bay leaf in all its natural beauty.

And to be honest, that was mostly the rest of the book! I’m actually a fan of poetry, so I can read through it without falling asleep. I had a few favorites, specifically this one about Mount Vernon:

I can’t say I’ve ever thought about what it would mean to be a flower in a cemetery, much less one near a famous person. That’s an interesting perspective, an idea for a short story that is now blooming in my mind (OMG I need to stop). I wonder if a tree’s viewpoint would be different? More rooted in reality? (Alright I'm done...)

Finally, my favorite part of the book had to be the images. I've been playing around with watercolors lately, and while there aren't many pictures, there are still pretty. I highly recommend this book, even just for a short read. I can picture a group of ladies sitting around a garden reading it aloud as an activity, though I haven't done anything like that in a while!

I am now thoroughly in the mood for spring. Perhaps I'll even buy a real plant this year?


Thursday, April 22, 2021

 It’s finally, truly spring! There have been little hints along the way. At first it’s the weather, just a little warmer with a lot of rain. Then the buds pop out from trees and bushes, one by one until the depressing black trees have the tiniest hint of color. It doesn’t really feel like spring in Michigan until April. I can even smell the change!

Spring is so short. It’s almost like a short waiting period just before spring. If it were up to me I would extend the whole season by at least a month. So in the spirit of spring, I searched through my primary documentation for something that would keep that feeling alive. 

I found this poem in The Liberator, an abolitionist newspaper published in the mid 19th century. I’m especially fond of the lack of author, only noted as “a German who died in 1676” With publishing laws a bit more lenient than today, I’m wondering if that is the actual case, or if there was an author who didn’t want their name published. Regardless, it’s an adorable reminder to enjoy the season!

The Liberator, December 18, 1840

In fair Spring' s fresh-budding hours,
What adorns our garden-bowers?
Little flowers.

When departing Spring we mourn,
What is shed from Summer's horn?
Hay and corn.

What is Autumn's bounteous sign—
Mark of Providence divine?
Fruit and wine.

When old Winter, hobbling slow,
Comes, what do we gain— d'ye know?
Ice and snow.

Hay and corn, and little flowers,
Ice, snow, fruit and wine are ours,
Given to us every year,
By Spring , Summer, Autumn, Winter,
As they each in turn appear.

Spring gives treasure, Summer pleasures,
Autumn gladdens, Winter saddens,
Spring revives, Summer thrives,
Autumn pleases, Winter freezes.

Therefore, friends, we all have reason
To extol each coming season ;
Spring and Summer, Autumn, Winter,
Honor counsel, deeds sublime,
Are the precious gifts of Time.

Happy Spring!


Tuesday, April 13, 2021

I’ve always been a fan of odd medical facts. Growing up I’d watch medical shows whenever possible, and I ended up with someone who works in the medical field! I never considered a career in the field, but I’m fascinated by the various illnesses and strange happenings that even modern medicine can’t understand. And eventually, I ended up in a relationship with someone in medicine, and of course, I read a bunch of his books/magazines...

In one of my ELA classes, my students and I discuss sources and claims. I like to take it back a step further, illustrating my point with much older examples of people making outlandish statements, and that is common when it comes to quack medicine. Plus, there are some interesting illustrations to go with the lesson. This is just one more reason I don’t think I’d actually like to live in the time period(s) that I study! Bless our modern medicine...

A particularly interesting source that I’ve recently come across is a citation from Godey’s Lady’s Book, dating from September to November 1888. There’s a beautiful illustration of a woman and the promises of health that only a conman can offer:

Bright's Disease, the Uric Acid Diathesis, Gout, Rheumatic Gout, Rheumatism, Nervous Dyspepsia, &c, &c.

Dr. Wm. A. Hammond, of New York, Surgeon-General of U.U. Army (Retired), Professor of Diseases of the Mind and, Nervous System in the University of New York, &c.

"I have for some time made use of the BUFFALO LITHIA WATER in cases of affections of the NERVOUS SYSTEM complicated with BRIGHT'S DISEASE OF THE KIDNEYS, or with a GOUTY DIATHESIS. The results have been eminently satisfactory. Lithia has for many years been a favorite remedy with me in like cases , but the Buffalo Water certainly acts better than any extemporaneous solution of the Lithia Salts, and is, moreover, better borne by the Stomach. I also often prescribe it in those cases of CEREBRAL HYPEREMIA, resulting from overmental wort —in which the condition called NERVOUS DYSPEPSIA exists— and generally with marked benefit. "

Dr. Tliomas H. Buckler, of Paris, France, Suggester of Lithia as a Solvent for Uric Acid.

"Nothing I could say would add to the well-known reputation of the BUFFALO LITHIA WATER. I have frequently used it with good results in URIC ACID DIATHESIS, RHEUMATISM and GOUT, and with this object I have ordered it to Europe from Coleman & Rogers, of Baltimore. Lithia is in no form so valuable as where it exists in the Carbonate , Nature's mode of solution and division in water which has passed through Lepedolite and Spondumine mineral formations.

Dr. Alfred L. Loomis, Professor of Pathology and Practical Medicine in the Medical Department of the University of the City of New York, &c.

"For the past four years I have used the BUFFALO LITHIA WATER in the treatment of Chronic INTERSTITIAL NEPHRITIS [ third stage of BRIGHT'S DISEASE] occurring in GOUTY and RHEUMATIC subjects, with marked benifit. In all GOUTY and RHEUMATIC AFFECTIONS, I regard it as highly efficacious. "

Water in Cases of One Dozen Half-Gallon Bottles, $5 per Case at the Springs .


Some Observations/History

There’s just so much to unpack here. There’s the retired Surgeon General of the Army whose name is plastered at the top. Or the incredible claims of healing that made me giggle. Or what about those testimonials from doctors and patients alike, who tout it as “highly efficacious”?

Today we would probably laugh at such claims and regard this as a joke. To be honest, after my recent interactions with anti-mask, anti-science people, I might have to rescind that. If you’re an idiot person, please don’t go run out and get lithia water to heal your gout. I know you’re an idiot, but please don’t do the idiot thing. This is the disclaimer that I advised you against your own idiocy. Good luck?

In any case, I started digging into the history of Buffalo Lithia Water, and it’s quite interesting. In 1728, a surveying team that included William Byrd passed through the area. His journal noted the nearby springs, and eventually, a tavern and spa/resort popped up to take advantage of the “healing waters.”

In the latter part of the 19th century, someone had the clever idea to bottle the mineral water from Buffalo Springs, Virginia. By that point, mineral water was a bit of a craze in the United States, and people traveled all over the country to sample it. Of course, they could also purchase it from a very entrepreneurial salesman, thus the business boomed.

Tourism became a major industry in the area, and much like today, businesses sprang up to take advantage of the financial gain. There were all the amenities a 19th-century traveler could hope for, like cabins, a tennis court, games, restaurants, and even a post office. It was touted as a way to get healthy AND have fun.

Eventually, the good times would come to an end. Remember all those claims from the Buffalo Lithia Water company? You know, the ones that basically make lithia water an all-healing medicine? Back in the day, it wasn’t necessary to actually prove that your medicine did what you claimed it could do. People tend to get angry about spending money on a product that doesn’t work. So in 1906, the U.S. government passed the Pure Food and Drug Act, which targeted practices that could endanger people, including “the manufacture, sale, or transportation of adulterated or misbranded or poisonous or deleterious foods, drugs or medicines, and liquors.”

Unfortunately, Buffalo Lithia Water had made some pretty outrageous claims, technically falling under the “misbranded” category. After some legal wrangling, the federal government finally made the company change its name, as well as edit its claims about its medicinal properties. The original creator of the company died in 1905, and the tourism industry slowly died after that. Locals still used the water, but by 1949 the company closed. The U.S. Army Corp of Engineers went on to obtain the property, and it was flooded during the creation of Kerr Lake.

Looking back, it is interesting to note that Buffalo Lithia Water was advertised in Godey’s Lady’s Book. It was at the height of the company’s popularity, and the ad would have been popular with women looking for a vacation. It’s also important to note that the ads only ran for three months. Was it too expensive? Did the company find it didn’t have a financial impact? I’m curious as to the short time frame considering the springs were popular for much longer.

In Conclusion...
If you're especially interested in the mineral water craze, there were other places across the country that shared a similar fate. There's even a spot not far from where I live here in Michigan that boasted about their "healing waters." It's fascinating to realize that history is sometimes just a short car ride away!

There are many examples of Buffalo Lithia Water bottles online, especially eBay, if you'd like to add to your collection. I'm not much of a bottle collector, but they're pretty, and now that I know the history a little better, perhaps I'll snag one just for show. They range from $35-100+, so maybe in the future.

As always, stay safe my fellow history lovers and readers. Maybe a long swig of the mineral water for extra protection? (HAHA!)


On My Bookshelf: December

December has been a really rough month. Between what happened in Oxford (not far from where I live...) and just the general pandemic issues,...