Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Squid Mixes: Cold Whiskey Punch

This is my first drink recipe from Imbibe! by David Wondrich.  I will write a more complete review soon.  Suffice to say for now, it's a history of cocktail evolution in the 19th century and includes lots of old recipes.  One of the first important steps in that journey was punch's conversion from a communal bowl to an individual serving.  This mixture combines rye with bits of rum, sugar and the juice of have a lemon. 

As always, the citrus is the flavor heavyweight.  It's a tasty beverage and strong.  Old punches generally were.  There is a funky aftertaste - kind of like cardboard.  I realize that makes it sounds worse than it actually is.  I think it comes from the rum, which makes me wonder if one could just as easily do without.  Could be a worthy experiment.

Friday, November 9, 2018

A Window Above: Airbag

Song: "Airbag"
Songwriters: Radiohead (Thom Yorke, Jonny Greenwood, Phil Selway, Ed O'Brien and Colin Greenwood)
Original Release: June 16, 1997
Album: OK Computer

Radiohead - Airbag [OK Computer] from faustidioteque on Vimeo.

In the early days of the current century, my wife and I lived in New Jersey.  I was in graduate school and she was commuting into New York everyday.  Since she left earlier than I did, I always had some time in the morning to myself before heading to class.  I began every day essentially the same way, by turning on the computer and checking my email as I ate my breakfast.  For what must have been several months, Radiohead's OK Computer CD was loaded into our iMac and would come on whenever we turned on the computer.  I began every day with "Airbag."  I won't go so far as to say it's even the best song on the album but it's the first song I think of when I think of Radiohead.  Can't deny it also reminds me of a quieter, simpler life.

I never got into the band the way some of my friends did but I admire Radiohead immensely.  Few bands of any era have been so eager to challenge their audience, each new album bucking any sense of established formula.  OK Computer was their third studio album and the most successful of the bunch, both commercially and critically.  The song was inspired by a car crash Yorke and his girlfriend had survived several years earlier.  It is intended as a celebration of a life saved.

Want to hear all of the songs I have featured in a convenient playlist?

Enjoy: A Window Above

What are you listening to these days?

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

On the Coffee Table: David A. Sousa

Title: How the Brain Learns, Fifth Edition
Author: David A. Sousa

Yet another book from my Master's program and the title is self-explanatory.  While the first chapter covers basic form and function for the human noodle, most of the book explores the ins-and-outs of learning.  Obviously, it's a big topic and crucial understanding for a teacher.  I'll spoil the ending: it turns out we don't usually teach in the best way for the brain to learn.  And "we" doesn't mean my Master's cohort.  It means our entire profession - across subjects, age groups, nationalities, etc.  Fortunately, Sousa offers many suggestions for alternative approaches.  The book is highly readable as textbooks go and it's not all theory either.  Each chapter culminates with a "Practitioner's Corner": materials to use in the classroom.

A few sections of personal importance for me:
  • Math - My daughter has started high school this year.  While she's mostly doing well, math is giving her a run for the money.  As mathematics was my best subject in school - better than music, even - it has fallen to me to help.  It can be rough going some nights.  Sousa offers plenty of insight as to why people struggle with math.  I may actually have my daughter read the section on math anxiety to see if any of it rings true for her.
  • The arts - Sousa is a strong advocate for the arts, trumpeting all of the benefits to the brain, especially from music.  While the Mozart Effect is a well-established exaggeration if not outright myth, there are other proven benefits, especially from learning to play an instrument.  Parts of the brain actually grow from the experience and the advantages are long-term, even if you stop playing.  For those of us in music ed, arguing for our right to exist is part of the job.  Sousa provides plenty of fodder.
  • Bloom's Taxonomy - If you've ever taken an ed class in your life, you probably know Bloom's, essentially a hierarchy of intellectual challenge.  Once you can remember new knowledge, you can begin to understand it.  Once you understand it, you can apply it to new thinking.  And so on.  The taxonomy itself has evolved since its initial introduction in the 1950s.  Some of the steps have switched places and the whole structure is more fluid than it was in the beginning.  It is an excellent means for adding ever-increasing challenge for one's students, something I am actually thinking about a lot in my own current practice.  Good timing.
The book is definitely intended for teachers but much of it would still be interesting for the general reader.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Squid Mixes: Palmetto Cocktail

A Palmetto is basically a rum Manhattan and you could probably order it that way, though as Robert Simonson puts it, "that's one extra syllable between you and your cocktail."  My books, however, offer two different recipes.  The New York Bartender's Guide has light rum and dry vermouth, 2:1 ratio with 3 dashes of Angostura bitters.  Simonson's 3-Ingredient Cocktails has Cruzan Single Barrel rum and sweet vermouth, 1:1 with one dash of orange bitters (clearly his favorite).  It was the brand specificity of Simonson's that initially drove me to the other book.  But my wife, genius that she is, suggested trying both.  Bacardi would simply have to do.

No question, Simonson's is better.  The three ingredients play together more nicely.  In the dry vermouth/Angostura option, one tastes all three components distinctly.  In the other, the rum complements the sweet vermouth more naturally and a lighter hint of bitters is still plenty.  My wife suggests that perhaps we shouldn't be so quick to turn up our noses at Simonson's fussiness.  Even the Squirt preferred the second one:

Friday, November 2, 2018

A Window Above: Evangeline

Song: "Evangeline"
Writer: Matthew Sweet
Original Release: October 22, 1991
Album: Girlfriend

Matthew Sweet was another college discovery for me.  He wrote the songs on Girlfriend in the wake of a divorce.  "Evangeline" is based on a comic book of the same name which ran from 1984-89.

Want to hear all of the songs I have featured in a convenient playlist?

Enjoy: A Window Above

What are you listening to these days?

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Squid Eats: Juniper

Juniper Bar and Restaurant is part of the Hotel Vermont in downtown Burlington.  We went this past weekend for a pre-concert dinner before a Vermont Symphony performance.  This was, I believe, my second time at Juniper and my first for dinner.  As a local hangout, I think of it more as a bar than a restaurant.  Not surprisingly, it's a little noisy for a family meal.

The food was good and the service attentive.  I had the buttermilk fried Maple Wind Farm chicken - scrumptious.  I ate the leg before I remembered to take a picture.  I have high standards for fried chicken and they were met: tasty batter, not too salty; dark meat juicy; white meat not too dry.  The breasts were boneless, too, which was nice.  Pyramid cake for dessert, also lovely.  The meal was pricey - not too surprising for a hotel restaurant but still worth noting.

As noted in my most recent State of the Blog post, I am on a quest for the best Manhattan in northwest Vermont.  No real standouts yet but no disappointments either.  Juniper's was perfectly enjoyable, enough so that I had two.  My most interesting discovery in my quest so far is that most people assume I want bourbon whereas I've always made the drink with rye.  "Yeah, bourbon's in," my wife says.  I'm sure she's right but who decides these things?  For the record, Robert Simonson offers the choice in 3-Ingredient Cocktails.  That might well be worth a taste test at some point when I have the time and no need to drive anywhere. 

The concert was nice, too, and it featured a guest conductor: Vinay Parameswaran.  His full-time gig is assistant conductor for the Cleveland Orchestra.  The opening palette cleanser was Rossini's Overture to L'Italiana in Algeri.  The post-intermission warhorse was Beethoven's 6th - not his most famous symphony but probably the most important historically as the beginning of program music.  Lots of wonderful woodwind material which pleased our clarinetist daughter.

The middle piece was the novel treat: Vijay Iyer's Violin Concerto, "Trouble."  The composer himself was on hand (though we didn't know that until it was over) and the soloist Jennifer Koh was the very violinist for whom he had written the piece.  The relationship between violin and orchestra is more symbiotic than in most concertos and Koh's transitions from showcase to ensemble player and back were seamless and artful.  Percussion is featured prominently.

A lovely evening.

Friday, October 26, 2018

A Window Above: Suzy

Title: "Suzy"
Writer: Andrew Ratshin
Original Release: 1984
Band: Uncle Bonsai
Album: Lonely Grain of Corn

Game Designer introduced me to Uncle Bonsai sometime in the early '90s.  I can't say I know much about them: a Seattle-based trio with a snarky, folkish style, one man, two women.  Their songs are often raunchy, irreverent and extremely funny, though this one is rather tame.  Other titles include "Penis Envy" and "Boys Want Sex in the Morning."

Want to hear all of the songs I have featured in a convenient playlist?

Enjoy: A Window Above

What are you listening to these days?

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Squid Mixes: Japanese Cocktail

The Japanese Cocktail was invented by Jerry Thomas, AKA The Professor, a famous nineteenth-century American bartender.  Interestingly and coincidentally, I am reading a book about him right now, though I got the recipe from a different book: Robert Simonson's 3-Ingredient Cocktails.  Simonson employs cognac, orgeat (almond) syrup, Angostura bitters and a lemon twist.  We didn't have much cognac left so I topped off with brandy.  When I've made them before, I used The New York Bartender's Guide's recipe which adds lime juice.  The single greatest flavor discovery I have made in mixing drinks is the dazzling combination of almond and lime - definitely a whole-greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts situation.  Alas, we had none on hand.  Next time.

There is nothing Japanese about the drink whatsoever, always leaving the name a bit of a mystery.  David Wondrich - author of Imbibe, the aforementioned book about Jerry Thomas - suggests that it was perhaps a marketing gimmick for a Japanese delegation that came to New York in 1860.  There is no proof of this theory.

The drink is yummy.  Brandy is dangerous stuff - essentially liquid candy.  Orgeat is pretty amazing, too - the aroma alone is heavenly.  It is a lot of sugar and the lime juice, when available, certainly cuts into it.  Even without, it's a lovely treat.

Monday, October 22, 2018

On the Coffee Table: Russ Kick

Title: The Graphic Canon, Vol. 1: From The Epic of Gilgamesh to Shakespeare to Dangerous Liaisons
Editor: Russ Kick

The Graphic Canon is a wonderful concept beautifully executed.  Russ Kick collected and solicited graphic novel renditions of dozens of world literature classics, ranging from antiquity to the late 20th century.  Volume 1 is the first of three in the original compilation.  Two other editions have been released since the first three: one devoted to children's literature, one to mysteries.  The work of industry legends like Will Eisner and Robert Crumb stands alongside that of younger creators.  Shakespeare, Dante and Cervantes are all in Volume 1, as are several relics of oral traditions from around the world.  Religious works - Jewish, Christian, Taoist, Confucianist - enjoy treatment.  Biographical and philosophical, too.  Particularly meaningful for this blogger is the inclusion of several Asian literature classics: Mahabharata, The Tale of Genji, The Arabian Nights, etc.  Kick wrote thoughtful and informative blurbs to introduce each chapter.

The Most Beautiful Rendering award goes to Michael Green for his interpretation of the Sufi poetry of Rumi.  The Does the Most to Inspire My Curiosity in the Original Work award goes to Choderlos de Lacios for Dangerous Liaisons, with an assist to Kick for the blurb.  A lot of high school lit staples are represented but overall the material is decidedly NC-17.  There's no denying it, the classics are frequently dirty, either explicitly or implicitly.  Makes sense.  Sex has been around for a long time.

Friday, October 19, 2018

A Window Above: Father and Son

Title: "Father and Son"
Writer: Cat Stevens
Original Release: September 1970
B-side to "Moonshadow"

Twice now, Marvel movies have made me tear up.  The "Father and Son" scene in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 was the first.  The second was the "kid from Oakland" line in Black Panther - helps to know this movie to understand why.

I discovered Cat Stevens in high school.  "Father and Son" was one of the songs we covered in our garage band senior year.  For some in the group, it spoke to the very real tensions we were experiencing in our own families at that point in our lives.  In the original, Cat Stevens sings both parts (apart from the backing vocals) but we did it as a duet.  I played the drum machine on this one.

Stevens wrote it originally as part of a musical project with Nigel Hawthorne about the Russian Revolution.  The song was to be sung between a young revolutionary and his conservative farmer father.  The project was abandoned when Stevens contracted tuberculosis in 1969 but the song survived.  Naturally, Stevens has been asked in the years since if the song reflects his own autobiography but he says his own father was always supportive of him.

I found this wonderful reflection from Stevens in a Rolling Stones interview by Paul Gambaccini:

"Some people think that I was taking the son's side," its composer explained. "But how could I have sung the father's side if I couldn't have understood it, too? I was listening to that song recently and I heard one line and realized that that was my father's father's father's father's father's father's father's father speaking."

Want to hear all of the songs I have featured in a convenient playlist?

Enjoy: A Window Above

What are you listening to these days?

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Squid Mixes: Martini

Story time.  The first olive I ever ate was out of my grandmother's martini.  I have no idea how old I was.  9, maybe?  As a kid, I adored fruit of all kinds and her olive looked like a grape so I asked to try.  She agreed to let me, with an impish grin.  Blech!  Ruined me for both olives and gin for years!  Fortunately, I have since come around on both.

When taking on cocktails as a hobby, the martini is, of course, inevitable.  However, neither of us is an especially big fan of the king of cocktails.  I've had it on my list of possibilities for a while and on Sunday, my wife finally said "we might as well get this over with."  The classic recipe is gin and dry vermouth, 6 parts to 1, olive garnish.  You'd better really like gin in order to enjoy it!  I made mine from Robert Simonson's variation in 3-Ingredient Cocktails: 3:1 with a dash of orange bitters and a lemon twist.

The result was, I must say, quite nice.  With the orange bitters (seemingly a favorite of Simonson's), you don't really taste much of the gin.  The lemon's a good choice, too.  The following is a video of me, encouraging the lemon peel to express itself:

Friday, October 12, 2018

A Window Above: Eastside High School Alma Mater

Song: "Eastside High School Alma Mater"
Writer: Catherine Peragallo Miller
Original Release: March 3, 1989
Film: Lean on Me
Original Performers: Michael Best, Kenneth Kelly, Dwayne Jones, Anthony Fuller and Steven Capers, Jr., all credited in the film as "Songbirds", along with Jermaine Hopkins who played the part of Thomas Sams

As magical musical moments in film go, this one ranks high.  Context for anyone who hasn't seen the movie: Lean on Me is based on the true story of Joe Louis Clark, a hard-nosed principal who cleaned up an inner city high school in Paterson, New Jersey.  Among his many commandments, he ordered that every student be taught the school song.  Please watch the scene all the way to the end.  Those of you who know what I do for a living will understand why.

Chorus teacher life win!  Gets me every time.

For Hopkins, the movie was his acting debut.  His mother brought him to the open audition.  The rest of the Songbirds, brought together by the film, formed the vocal group Riff afterwards.  Three of them eventually left to join Men of Vizion.

A couple bonus clips below, the first because it includes a part of the song I'd never heard before and the other because it includes all of the original cast members, 25 years later:

Want to hear all of the songs I have featured in a convenient playlist?

Enjoy: A Window Above

What are you listening to these days?

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Squid Mixes: Spanish Town Cocktail

A Spanish Town Cocktail combines light rum and triple sec.  My recipe from The New York Bartender's Guide has the two in 6:1 ratio.  I joked to my wife that I wasn't sure which Spanish town it's named for and she replied "an awfully clear one."  It seems likely, though, that it is named for Spanish Town, Jamaica given the rum.

It's a flavorful drink.  With the orangey triple sec, a little bit goes a long way and in this case, there's not quite enough to overpower the rum itself. 

Friday, October 5, 2018

A Window Above: Birdhouse in Your Soul

Song: "Birdhouse in Your Soul"
Writers: John Flansburgh and John Linnell
Original Release: 1989
Band: They Might Be Giants
Album: Flood

They Might Be Giants is the dorkiest rock band of all time and I love them for it.  What can I say?  It takes one to know one.  By the time I discovered them at college in the early '90s, they'd already built a significant underground following.  Flood, their third studio album, was certified platinum which undercuts any act's claim to "alternative" status.  So do the two Grammys they've won.  In the years since, they've found new audiences through television theme songs and outstanding children's music, the rare sort that condescends to no one and is equally enjoyable for both tots and their Yanni-suffering parents.  Through it all, they have remained delightfully true to themselves.

"Birdhouse in Your Soul" is still their best-selling single.  The lyrics are written from the perspective of a nightlight, portraying itself as a guardian angel - admittedly one with limits.  The song is sweet and unapologetically quirky, which really describes most of the band's music fairly well.

Filibuster vigilantly, my friends.

Want to hear all of the songs I have featured in a convenient playlist?

Enjoy: A Window Above

What are you listening to these days?

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Squid Mixes: Kangaroo

A kangaroo is another, older name for a vodka martini, which combines vodka and vermouth, dry in this case.  Robert Simonson adds orange bitters for his recipe in 3-Ingredient Cocktails.  In his blurb for the drink, he advocates using the kangaroo name so as not to annoy the martini snobs who would argue it's not the real thing unless it's made with gin.

My wife likes the marsupial name but concedes that James Bond ordering a "kangaroo, shaken, not stirred" would sound kind of dumb.  The famous line first appears in Ian Fleming's fourth Bond novel, Diamonds Are Forever, though 007 is not the one who says it.

The kangaroo is really quite pleasant.  I like Simonson's book but it's quirky.  His measurements are frequently strange.  2.25 ounces of vodka?  It's like he's being deliberately difficult.  Fortunately, I have just the right measuring cups.  There are advantages to working in my wife's kitchen.  The right tool is nearly always on hand.  He also advocates "expressing" the lemon twist before adding it to the drink.  I know that just means to twist it but I can't help adding encouraging words as I do so:

"Express yourself, little lemon peel.  Don't let the other peels tell you who you should be."

And so forth.

Friday, September 28, 2018

A Window Above: Shamus-Ud-Doha Bader-Ud-Doja

Song: "Shamus-Ud-Doha Bader-Ud-Doja"
Traditional Sufi devotional song
Performer: Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan

Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan was already a superstar in his native Pakistan when Peter Gabriel brought him international exposure by featuring him first in the music of The Last Temptation of Christ, then on his Real World record label.  Khan is the most famous of his family's 600-year long line of Qawwali singers.  Qawwali is the devotional music of Sufism, a mystical branch of Islam.

It is one of the many beautiful contradictions of world music history.  Islamic scripture forbids music for worldly pleasure and yet the Islamic Empire was a cultural force rivaled by few others in the spread of musical ideas.  The fact that the words guitar and sitar rhyme is a coincidence but the similar physical construction of the two instruments is not.  Stringed-instruments with box resonators range from Europe to India and they are culturally linked through the Middle East.  All of those western orchestral instruments you think of as European: violins, violas, cellos, oboes, bassoons?  They're all North African in origin.  Jewish musicians, already on the lowest social rung in Arabia, brought the music of their Muslim patrons along with their own when they migrated to Eastern Europe.  Whenever people of one culture encounter those of another, music grows and expands.  It is the history of the world at its best.  We have lost thousands of languages over the millennia but the musical voice survives.

Not everyone sees it that way.  I am likely naive in my White boy romanticism.  Cultural voices do die.  Small nations are absorbed by larger ones.  The oppressed are too easily silenced, their distinctive arts co-opted by the oppressors if they survive at all.  Such is the history of the world at its worst.  Plenty have criticized people like Paul Simon and Peter Gabriel for the diluting impact of world beat and maybe they're right.  But I still contend that there's something cool about the fact that a culture's music is most often defined by the marginalized peoples within that culture.  The dominance of Black music in the United States is no surprise.  It's been happening all over the world for centuries.

Getting back to Qawwali, Sufis, like mystics of any religion, tend to bend the rules.  Qawwali dates back to at least the 13th century.  The poetry is often spiritual though not exclusively so.  Below is a live performance of the same piece with Khan and his full party, the traditional name for a Qawwali band.  The studio version above has a cleaner sound but Khan had such an amazing stage presence that it would be wrong not to share.

Want to hear all of the songs I have featured in a convenient playlist?

Enjoy: A Window Above

What are you listening to these days?

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

On the Coffee Table: The Art of Happiness

Title: The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living
Authors: His Holiness The Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler, M.D.
via Amazon
I've had The Art of Happiness on my shelves for several years.  Though I hadn't planned it that way, I finally got around to reading it at a good time.  Last month, I wrote about my current professional push to develop more student-directed classrooms (read here).  Empathy is essential to doing this work well.  Obviously, a teacher always needs empathy.  Beyond that, my students themselves have identified it as a need in their relationships with each other.  The Dalai Lama's teachings in The Art of Happiness all center around increasing empathy and compassion.

The book is written from the point of view of Dr. Cutler, an American psychiatrist.  The material is gathered mostly from Cutler's extensive interviews with The Dalai Lama, though it also includes excerpts from public presentations by the religious leader as well as reflections from Cutler's psychiatric practice.  Cutler's questions derive from typical Western scientific skepticism.  By the doctor's own admission, Western medicine doesn't usually address the matter of happiness.  The goal is to cure what ails - to combat the negative, rather than nurture the positive.  The Dalai Lama always responds with serene superior wisdom.

The book is quite pleasant, though not the easiest cover-to-cover read.  The actual religious material is minimal.  The Dalai Lama is a devout Buddhist, obviously, but he promotes a more universal spiritual message that extends to all major religions and, indeed, non-believers as well.  I feel I would need to read the book again to gain full benefit, though I doubt I will.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Squid Eats: Al's French Frys

Al's French Frys is a northwest Vermont institution, a roadside diner in ever-sprawling suburbia.  They claim to have stuck to the same french fry recipe since the place opened in the late 1940s.  No table service.  You stand in line fast food style, though the food quality is definitely a step up.  They have creemies (soft serve ice cream) in the warmer months which definitely brings in the crowds.  Not that much help is needed there.  The place is always packed.

And yes, the fries truly are good.

For our most recent trip, it was just my daughter and me.  She's started high school this year.  My baby girl is growing up.  As I have written before, I've never been one to wish she wouldn't.  I think it's exciting to watch the young woman emerge.  Even so, four years until college doesn't seem too long at all.  I worry I'll feel I'm just getting to know her, then off she'll go.  It's life, I know, and it's good.

Even so, high school is exciting.  I loved high school myself and she, at least for the moment, likes it for the same reasons I did.  Much of the middle school social absurdity subsides.  Everyone grows up and in my experience, maturity looks good on most people.  The increased work load is a bit overwhelming but we're all learning to manage, together.

We were on a mission that day: a new electronic keyboard.  Over the past six years of piano lessons, she has made do with the 60-key Casio I bought in New York City twenty years ago, not long before I met her mother.  She's gotten pretty good despite its shortcomings but it was time for a new one.  Change doesn't come easily to her, even when it's an obvious change for the better so she was a little testy over lunch.  Maybe I was, too, I don't know.  I know we both felt better after food.  It certainly helped the keyboard shopping afterwards go more smoothly.

Friday, September 21, 2018

A Window Above: Can I Kick It?

Song: "Can I Kick It?"
Writers: Lou Reed, Ali Shaheed Muhammad, J. Davis
Original Release: April 17, 1990
Group: A Tribe Called Quest
Album: People's Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm

So, we need to talk about hip hop.  I first heard rap on the school bus back in the mid-'80s, long before the music became mainstream.  The first song I remember hearing was "Roxanne, Roxanne" by U.T.F.O., released in 1984.  My experience of the music was also, of course, tied to break dancing. In the beginning, I was more drawn to the dancing than I was the music.  Couldn't do it but I sure loved watching.  When the dancing faded away as fads do, I assumed the music would, too.  Not so.  Run DMC hooked up with Aerosmith and the rest is pop music history. 

That said, I would never have gone so far as to say that I actually liked hip hop.  I didn't actively hate it the way a lot of rock purists did and still do.  Those who argue it's not real music or it's junk are kidding themselves.  Not only is it here to stay but for those who yearn for music that "says something," hip hop has been delivering for a long time.  No genre has had a greater impact on the industry over the past 30 years.  It's not even close.

The blatant misogyny in some of the music is certainly a turn off and I am frequently annoyed by the fact that so many deeply White adolescents only seem to like it for the swear words.  But in the end, I have no one but myself to blame for my ignorance.  I never spent enough time with hip hop to fall in love with any of the songs.  Pandora changed that.

Over time, I did gain appreciation for some of the fusion acts: Us3 and definitely the Fugees.  In fact, I liked them enough to include them as seeds when I started building Pandora stations.  Somehow, "Can I Kick It?" had evaded my notice for 19 years.  Of course, the Lou Reed sample (see last week's post) hooked me instantly.  The beats did the rest.  The song's just fun.  Is it about addiction?  If not, what's he trying to kick?  The line about dropping your pants is a bit off color.  Man, what is this song about exactly?  Does it really matter?  No.  Just get over it and dance, silly White boy!

Sampling has been a part of hip hop from its earliest roots and that, in itself, has been a long-standing objection from the purists.  Mind you, established rockers have not been shy about cashing in on the breaches of intellectual property law.  Thanks to his attorneys, Lou Reed claimed all of the profits from the "Can I Kick It?" single.  Interestingly, the single version of the song features "Walk on the Wild Side" less than the album version featured here does.

There's certainly an interesting discussion to be had over all of this.  After all, haven't White musicians - not to mention recording studio executives - been profiting from the appropriation and even direct theft of Black music for several generations now?  What goes around comes around.  I can't deny that it bothers me sometimes.  I couldn't stand it when Vanilla Ice lifted the bass line from Queen/David Bowie's "Under Pressure."  But that's mostly because the song he made with it sucks.  There is plenty of room in my heart to love both "Walk on the Wild Side" and "Can I Kick It?"

The Icelandic rap duo Bent and 7Berg made a cover called "Má Ég Sparka?"  Need I say more?

Want to hear all of the songs I have featured in a convenient playlist?

Enjoy: A Window Above

What are you listening to these days?

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Squid Mixes: Hanky Panky

A hanky panky combines gin and sweet vermouth with a couple dashes of Frenet Branca, a bitter Italian digestivo, orange peel garnish.  It was invented by Ada Coleman, head bartender at the London Savoy Hotel at the turn of the 20th century.  My recipe came from a new book for me: 3-Ingredient Cocktails by Robert Simonson.

3-Ingredient Cocktails has a beautifully simple premise.  Simonson asserts that the best cocktails are based on an old-fashioned formula: base liquor, sweetener and bitter.  Ice and garnishes don't count against the three ingredients.  It's a stunning book with exquisite photography.  Simonsen also provides lots of cocktail history, unfortunately not always accurate.  He mistakenly listed the inventor of the Hanky Panky as Ada Calhoun.  We certainly enjoyed the drink.

However, I was hoping for a book that emphasized simple ingredients as well as simple recipes.  Frenet Branca is a little on the exotic side.  It was only by luck that we had a bottle in the cabinet.  He even occasionally goes so far as to list specific brands.  I'm not above substituting, of course, and the book might provide inspiration when we are inclined to explore above the lower middle shelves at the liquor store.  I was just expecting something different.

Friday, September 14, 2018

A Window Above: Walk on the Wild Side

Song: "Walk on the Wild Side"
Writer: Lou Reed
Original Release: November 8, 1972
Album: Transformer

Surely, someone out there in academia has written a master's thesis about this song.  To be sure, there's plenty of material.

To say "Walk on the Wild Side" was ahead of its time lyrically is an absurd understatement.  In 2018, references to oral sex and transgender people don't seem like such a big deal but early '70s mainstream radio had never seen anything like it.  All of the characters mentioned in the song are based on real people, all of them regulars at Andy Warhol's New York studio, The Factory.  Though listeners may have blushed, they still bought the record.  "Walk on the Wild Side" peaked at #16 on the Billboard charts.  Today, it resides comfortably among rock's all-time classics.

There are great stories on the musical side, too.  If you've never seen the documentary Classic Albums: Lou Reed: Transformer, it's well worth your time.  In fact, the entire Classic Albums series is pretty amazing.  My favorite story is the creation of the extraordinary bass line.  Herbie Flowers recorded both the acoustic and electric basses on the same track.  Flowers has admitted in interviews that he did it for purely capitalist motivatons: by playing two instruments, he would be paid twice.  No matter.  The final effect is hypnotizing.

Want to hear all of the songs I have featured in a convenient playlist?

Enjoy: A Window Above

What are you listening to these days?

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Wine: Thirst Wine Club

This is our first month as members of the Thirst Wine Club at Daedalus, a restaurant and wine shop in Burlington.  We get two featured wines each month as well as 10% off anything in the shop.  I don't know if it will be one red and one white each month but that's what we got this time.  With each, we get an info sheet including tasting notes and recommended recipes. 
The white is an Alsatian, Edelzwicker 2017 by Meyer Fonné.  Alsace is best known for its Rieslings and Gewurtztraminners, drier and more interesting than the German versions of the same.  An Edelzwicker is a blend of Pinot Blanc, Muscat, Chasselas and Riesling.  This one had a pleasant apple flavor.  My wife and I traveled to Alsace for a wine vacation many years ago - our last big pre-parenting adventure, actually.  Alsatians generally pair well with spicy food, including the paprika chicken my wife made that night.
The red is the Madiran Aydie l'Origine 2015, produced by Famille Laplace in Gascony.  Even while pouring it, my wife could tell from the scent, "This is going to be one of your wines."  I love a spicy red.  Years ago - again, pre-kid - we had an unforgettable Chateau Musar from Lebanon that set my mouth on fire, setting my standard for reds forever.  This Madiran wasn't quite so exciting as that but it was still awfully nice, a good match for the pizza chicken my wife prepared.  L'Origine is also a blend: 70% Tannat, 30% Cabernet Franc.

Friday, September 7, 2018

A Window Above: Diguedin

Song: "Diguedin"
Traditional Quebcois folk song
Perfomers: Les Charbonniers de l'Enfer

The Canadaphilia I have experienced over the past several years most definitely extends to music.  In particular, I have grown quite fond of Quebecois folk music, known as chansons.  The songs date back centuries, some of them probably back to France, though the style is different from that of the Acadians in Nova Scotia and the Cajuns in Louisiana.  Les Charbonniers de l'Enfer is one of many groups to have inspired renewed enthusiasm for Quebecois chansons, Le Vent du Nord probably the most prominent these days.  I prefer the more traditional, a cappella performance style.

Want to hear all of the songs I have featured in a convenient playlist?

Enjoy: A Window Above

What are you listening to these days?

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Squid Mixes: Vodka Cooler

A vodka cooler is exactly like a gin cooler (see this post) apart from the obvious replacement of gin with vodka.  My recipe came from The New York Bartender's Guide

"I feel cooler already," said my wife after the first sip.

Friday, August 31, 2018

A Window Above: Blue Train

Piece: "Blue Train"
Writer: John Coltrane
Original Release: 1958
Album: Blue Train

While my era of choice for rock music hovers around the late 1960s/early '70s, the jazz I favor generally came out of the late 1950s.  Charlie Parker, the Beethoven-esque idol of nearly everyone who came after him, died in 1955.  The trouble with bebop, the style championed by Parker, was that it was so darn fast most people couldn't play it.  It was the jazz equivalent of break dancing: undeniably dazzling but unsustainable as a dominant cultural force due to the high degree of difficulty.  So jazz's evolution after his passing, while maintaining much of bop's harmonic thinking, slowed significantly in tempo.  Miles Davis was the lead voice of the new trend and playing with Miles was a sure path to stardom.  Without a doubt, the most important musician to pass through Miles Davis's band was saxophonist John Coltrane.

There's still a lot of Miles's sound in Blue Train.  Coltrane would develop his own voice more fully with Giant Steps, released in 1960.  Most jazz seems esoteric to 21st century ears but I have found the title track to be relatively accessible for my students.  The opening hook is strong, evoking a spy movie or some such.

Want to hear all of the songs I have featured in a convenient playlist?

Enjoy: A Window Above

What are you listening to these days?

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Squid Mixes: Mimosa

As has been our family custom in late August, our daughter recently went to visit her grandparents in DC on her own, giving us a weekend just the two of us.  We miss her but we also enjoy taking advantage of the opportunity for some quality couple time.  This year, we planned a spa-at-home day: salt scrubs, foot soaks, face masks, hand massages and... mimosas!

There isn't much to a mimosa: orange juice and champagne in equal parts.  I got my recipe from The New York Bartender's Guide.  They were most refreshing.  For me, there is always something a little weird about the initial taste of orange and grape combined, as if one or the other has gone off somehow.  I guess my brain still expects to taste pure orange and it's not quite.  I always get used to it, a most pleasant beverage indeed.

Care to listen to our Spotify playlist for the day?

A Perfect Love

I crowd-sourced this one via Facebook, asking my friends to offer suggestions for the perfect love song.  I've gotta say, the resulting compilation is enjoyable.  Please feel free to suggest additions in the comments below.

Friday, August 24, 2018

State of the Blog 2018

“There is more in you of good than you know, child of the kindly West. Some courage and some wisdom, blended in measure. If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.”
- Thorin's final words to Bilbo, The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien 

It's been a nice year at The Squid.   I don't have much tinkering in mind for Year 10, apart from digging deeper into the topics I'm already exploring.  Perhaps in so doing, I can do my part to help inspire a merrier world.

I'll definitely be continuing with the cocktails, furthering my own education in mixology and sharing what I learn.  I have a couple of non-fiction books about cocktails on my TBR shelves and some interesting looking recipe books on the wish list, including one for mocktails.  Our daughter's delicious non-alcoholic mixed drinks were a central theme of our Europe trip this summer and it would be fun to make more of our own.  I also need to be better at ordering cocktails when we're out.  I tend to be a beer man at restaurants, cold draft brew being so wonderfully refreshing.  But recently we were at Kitchen Table Bistro and I wanted a vodka martini instead with my oysters.  I didn't even understand all of the questions the bartender asked me about my preferences.  Thank goodness, my wife was on hand to translate.  Guess I need to learn the lingo while seeking out the best Manhattan in northwest Vermont.

As A Window Above enters Season 2, I am looking to bring a little more diversity to the mix.  I've gone pretty heavy with the classic rock and soul so far.  I genuinely love both, of course, but there's a lot more interesting music out there and I'm eager to write about it.  

Want to hear all of the songs I've featured in a convenient playlist?  Enjoy:

Finally, a little musical treat to kick off the new year:

Squiddies 2018

The Armchair Squid turns nine years old today.  It's time to hand out some hardware.  And the Squiddy goes to...

Biggest Surprise: A Willing Accomplice
There is always excitement in bringing a new cat into the house.  Every feline brings her own quirks.  One knows to expect the unexpected.  Who would have thought that The Scamp, newly acquired in February, would catch on so quickly to my blogging needs?  Getting a cat to pose for a photo, ever, let alone on command is unusual to say the least.  I make no claim to expert cat training skills.  The kid just gets it.  I set the drink down on the floor, she comes running over.  Hasn't even tried to sneak a sip.

Biggest Disappointment: Losing the Lug

One quiet Saturday, while my wife was out of town, I went down to the basement and heard the sound of suffering coming from the storage room.  Sure enough, there was The Big Lug, our beautiful Russian blue tom, lying on the floor and clearly struggling.  I rushed him over to the vet but he was too far gone.  They put him down upon arrival.  15 years is a long time to share a home with anyone.  He was well loved and sorely missed.

Best Read, First Time Category: The Spy Who Came in from the Cold by John le Carré

It is a classic of the genre for good reason.  There's no glamor at all in the tragic tale of Alex Leamas, a longtime British operative.  In fact, he wants out of the game.  But the Secret Service has one more job for him.  He's just an ordinary guy with an extraordinary job.  His girlfriend?  Just an average woman who fell in love with the wrong guy at the wrong time and so gets caught in his same trap.

Their story could have happened to anyone.  That's exactly why it works.  So good.

Best Read, Re-Read Category: Winning Chess Strategies by Yasser Seirawan
It was nice to end the summer with a chess book and Seirawan is always charming.  Now, if only I had time to play.

Best Comics Find: March by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell

Charlottesville was over a year ago now.  The story of race in America hasn't gotten any easier.  But at least people are talking.  March is the graphic novel, autobiographical account of U.S. Representative John Lewis's personal history in the Civil Rights Movement.  So far, I have only read the first book of three but the others are on the shelf and I'm looking forward to them.

Athlete of the Year: Stan Musial (1920-2013)
By nearly all accounts, Stan the Man was one of the kindest superstars baseball has ever seen.  Numerous players, stars and journeymen alike, tell stories of how Musial went out of his way to welcome them to the Majors by name, even those who played for the other team.  This really says it all: he earned his nickname not in St. Louis where he played for over 20 years but in Brooklyn, home to the Cardinals' most hated rivals.  The Man turned Ebbets Field into his private pinball machine and they loved him anyway.

Best Family Adventure: Europe

We took a two-week to Europe over late June/early July:  Paris, London and Edinburgh.  We have some dear, old friends in London so reconnecting with them was the highlight for me.  As cities go, though, I'll take Edinburgh: small, manageable, easy to get away from the tourists.  Just as important this summer, it wasn't so damn hot.

My wife and I had both been to Europe before but for our 14-year-old daughter, it was the first time.  Every place we went, she was sad to leave.  That was really what I wanted: to give her a taste of the adventure so she would be eager to explore more on her own someday.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

On the Coffee Table: Winning Chess Strategies

Title: Winning Chess Strategies
Author: Yasser Seirawan
A chess game is a story, protagonist and antagonist in a struggle both brutal and elegant.  Over the years, I have learned strong openings, the beginning of the narrative.  I can build a solid pawn structure, get my pieces to effective positions and protect my king.  But in every game, I tend to reach a point where I must ask myself: what do I do now?  I'm good at satisfying conclusions, too.  Give me an endgame puzzle and I can probably solve it.  But how do I get there?  The middle game has always been the source of greatest mystery to me.  I always marvel at superior players who know exactly what to do and how to do it.  Naturally, that's why they beat me.

The answers lie in strategy.  If one can understand the basics of strategy, and when to apply which appropriately, one can win the middle game.  Fortunately, Syrian-born American chess champion Yasser Seirawan is ready to help.  In Winning Chess Strategies, Seirawan builds on the force, time, space and pawn structure concepts he introduced in Play Winning Chess (reflection here).  New and expanded principles include making the most of a material advantage, stopping enemy counterplay and the creation of targets.  In general, positional play requires paying attention, formulating clear objectives and limiting the opportunities available to your opponent.

It struck me that winning a chess game is all about controlling the narrative.  After all, if your opponent is always forced to react to what you're doing, s/he stands no chance at furthering his/her own cause.  We see the same game played politically all the time.  Of course, it's one thing to know this, quite another to understand how to do it.

Seirawan, a positional player himself, includes a lot more of examples from his own games than he did in previous books.  While this could come across as arrogance, he humbly includes a couple of his games where his strategic errors led to his downfall and also admits when he failed to capitalize on early-won advantages.  Once again, I thoroughly enjoy the personality he projects as a writer.

I have to admit that I have not played much chess over the past several months.  With the school year about to begin, it's difficult to imagine that changing but I'd certainly like to get back to playing more.  Reading baseball books makes me want to watch more baseball.  Reading chess books makes me want to play more chess.  In the end, all I really wish for is more time to read.  Alas, summer is nearly over.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Squid Mixes: Gin Cooler

The cat days of summer...
A gin cooler combines gin with sugar and sparkling water, a lemon peel to garnish.  My recipe came from The New York Bartender's Guide.  The preparation was a little unusual in that one combines the gin and the sugar in the bottom of the glass even before adding ice.  Presumably, it's a nice way to keep the sugar from being too grainy and actually gets evenly mixed in with the rest of the drink, a frequent issue.  The end result tastes like a lightly sweet seltzer, certainly not as strong in flavor as the gin and tonic I made for my wife.

Monday, August 20, 2018

On the Coffee Table: George Vecsey

Title: Stan Musial: An American Life
Author: George Vecsey
Stan Musial was, by any reasonable measure, one of the greatest baseball players in Major League history.  Bill James, as close as there is to an objective expert on such matters, ranked Musial #10 all-time in his Historical Abstract.  The resume is breathtaking: 3,630 hits, 475 homers, 24 All-Star Games, 3 World Series titles, 3 MVP awards, first ballot Hall of Famer, All-Century Team.  And yet, he is typically the forgotten member of the War Generation's Big Three, the other two being Ted Williams (#7 per James) and Joe DiMaggio (#13).  In his Musial biography, Vecsey considers why.  Is it a regional bias?  Musial will forever be revered as a god in St. Louis - he has two statues outside of Busch Stadium, the larger a Hachiko-esque meeting place - but it's tough to compete with similar stature in Boston or New York in terms of national exposure.  Or was it Williams's and DiMaggio's larger-than-life and frequently obnoxious personalities while Musial is almost universally remembered as one of baseball's nice guys?  Probably both.

Biographies are a tricky art, particularly athlete biographies.  The book tends a little too much towards the hero-worship side of the spectrum.  But to be fair, Vecsey made an effort to dig up dirt on Musial.  There simply isn't much.  Vecsey never claims his subject was perfect and he doesn't sweep the less flattering stories under the rug.  Nonetheless, the evidence is overwhelming: pretty much everybody who knew Stan Musial loved him.  He was a committed family man, a gregarious restaurant owner, an idol to Polish-Americans, a devoted Catholic.  A towering figure in the sport, Musial made a point of welcoming new rookies, even those on opposing teams, to the big leagues by name.  Many of them never forgot that basic human courtesy in a world of untouchable superstars.  It's worth noting that he earned his nickname Stan the Man from the fans of the Brooklyn Dodgers, the Cardinals' arch-rivals.  Musial, who played his entire career in St. Louis and always made the most of Ebbets Field's hitter friendly dimensions, was elected to the Brooklyn Dodgers Hall of Fame in 1990.  Even the enemy loved him.

The warmth of the book comes from Vecsey's chosen method of research: personal interviews of those who knew the Man, drawing upon the yarn-spinning baseball culture I find so irresistibly charming.  There's a lot of waiting in baseball: waiting in the dugout, the bullpen, the clubhouse, the hotel, the airport, etc.  Plenty of time to chat.  As I watch games at our local minor league park, I want to believe the witty, shoot-the-shit atmosphere portrayed in Bull Durham is still real in 2018.  Have iPhones killed it the way they have undermined the art of conversation in the rest of society?  Now, an awful lot of that shit would be flying around in Spanish.  Is there intercultural exchange or is the typical baseball team lingually segregated?  I fear it is.

Overall, it's a lovely book.  I'll admit to not knowing much about Musial myself in the beginning but by the end, I loved him, too.  I can't say it offers much for the non-baseball fan but for those who love the game and enjoy its history, it's a must-read.

Friday, August 17, 2018

A Window Above: A Natural Woman

Song: "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman"
Writers: Gerry Goffin, Carole King and Jerry Wexler
Original Release: September 1967
Original Performer: Aretha Franklin

Where do you even begin?

I had a completely different post lined up for today but with Aretha Franklin's passing, what else could I do?  I am simply crushed.  76 years is a long life but pancreatic cancer is a terrible way to go.  Queen of Soul.  20 #1 R&B singles.  18 Grammys.  75 million records sold.

Never met a show she couldn't steal.  She stood in for Luciano Pavarotti when the tenor couldn't make the gig.  She sang at the inauguration of the first Black President because of course she did.  Why ask anyone else?  Had the best hat, too.

The best.  What more can you say?  She was the best!

Good luck watching this one without crying...

Aretha Franklin, 1942-2018

The Queen is dead.  Long live the Queen.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

On the Coffee Table: Paul Solarz

Title: Learn Like a Pirate: Empower Your Students to Collaborate, Lead, and Succeed
Author: Paul Solarz
I suppose it's time to let the blogosphere in on the action research project I am planning for my master's program.  Over the past few years, I've gradually tried to incorporate more student voice, student choice and student leadership into my classroom.  It started out of necessity with our middle school musicals.  Neither Drama Guy nor I is much of a dancer whereas many of our students are quite experienced.  So, we've given the choreography of our shows entirely over to them.  Not only are the kids happier with this arrangement but, in fact, we've had stronger productions as a result.  Win-win.  Obviously, we were on to something and expansion of the idea throughout my practice was a logical path to follow.

Unfortunately, teachers of my generation weren't taught to approach education this way and music in general has been a top-down world for centuries.  So, I need to figure out how to do a lot of this on my own.  Fortunately, this is a hopping trend in current education and there's a lot more how-to material than there used to be.  In working out the specifics for my research project, three different people recommended Learn Like a Pirate, so obviously I needed to check it out.

I have found my bible.  Solarz's classroom, as he describes it, is exactly what I envision for my own.  Students, with thoughtful early guidance, run the show.  They guide each other through the daily rituals, choose and design their own projects, they hold each other accountable, they ask each other questions before turning to the teacher, etc.  The book includes testimony from Solarz's own students and their parents so as not to make it seem he is painting a non-existent ideal.  He speaks from successful experience.

Now I need to figure out how to use it all.  Solarz provides a lot and it's overwhelming to take in all at once but I am eager to implement as much as I can.  My job at school is really two jobs with differing demands: chorus director and general music teacher.  There are aspects of the student-led class that will be easier to implement for each.  Probably best to sort out what those are and start there.  As Solarz points out, though, what you believe about your students and their capacities is just as important as the specific activities you plan for them.  It all begins with building the supportive atmosphere.

So, if you are a teacher and looking for some fresh ideas, I think you'd get a lot out of Learn Like a Pirate.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

On the Coffee Table: Ellen Oh

Title: Flying Lessons & Other Stories
Editor: Ellen Oh
This collection of short stories was our students' summer reading book.   As noted in Monday's post (see here), our community is working hard to confront racism and Flying Lessons was no coincidental choice.  Editor Ellen Oh is co-founder of We Need Diverse Books, a non-profit organization with a mission to promote diversity in children's literature.  The story authors are Black, Asian, Latino, Latina, Native American and White.

The selections are all good though, of course, some are better than others.  "Flying Lessons" gets top billing for a reason.  Soman Chainani tells of young Santosh who goes on a big trip to Europe with his larger-than-life grandmother.  The narrative is awkward, touching and humorous, just as early adolescence truly is for many of us.  It provides some poignant insight into love, platonic and otherwise, posing the question: are we drawn to people because we like them or because we want to be them?  I can say for myself that love is often tinged with envy.  Do we not expand our life experience by living vicariously through others?

There is a fable element to many of the stories, as well, mostly along the lines of self-actualization.  I'm not on board with all of the choices made.  Matt de la Peña's offering is written in second-person, future tense.   Odd.  Tim Federle describes scarfing down lunch in 22 minutes as a marathon session which seems the wrong metaphor - more an editing issue?  On the other hand, Tim Tingle's non-linear Choctaw tall tale is delightful as is Kwame Alexander's story-in-verse.

Overall, the book is a lot of fun and certainly a quick read.  I hope our students enjoy it, too.  I look forward to discussing it with them.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Food for the Occasion: Championship Sunday

This year, momentous events in each of my two favorite sports happened on the same day: the Wimbledon men's singles final and the World Cup final.  In fact, they overlapped a bit, the tennis beginning two hours earlier and not quite finishing in time for the soccer to begin.  I planned and prepared our mid-day meal with the two events as theme.  First, strawberries and cream for Wimbledon, then a Continental lunch platter in honor of France and Croatia.

The only part of the meal I technically "made" was the cream for the strawberries.  My wife found a recipe for Mock Devonshire Clotted Cream at RecipeSource.  Thankfully, it's a simple concoction easily thrown together in a few minutes.  The real deal is a multi-step process over multiple days.  It tasted yummy - in fact, too good to remember to take a photo before it was all gone.
I did remember a photo for the lunch platter (above): salami, baguette, sardines, crackers, gherkins (unfortunately sweet rather than dill) and more strawberries.

For the record, my rooting interests lost in both events.  The food was nice, though.

Monday, August 13, 2018

On the Coffee Table: Glenn E. Singleton

Title: Courageous Conversations about Race: A Field Guide for Achieving Equity in Schools
Author: Glenn E. Singleton
Courageous Conversations about Race is our assigned professional summer reading for work.  For unfortunate reasons, our school district has been forced to confront racial issues head on over the past 15 months.  In truth, the conversation is long overdue.  The minority population in our northwest Vermont exurb is small which creates its own problems for our few students of color.  Singleton's book encourages educators to consider race in isolation rather than in combination with economic and linguistic factors.  He argues, convincingly, that schools too easily shy away from blunt conversations of race, preferring to hide behind easier topics.  The fact is, the achievement gap for students of color is dramatic even when controlling for income or parents' education level.

While the topic is undeniably worthwhile, I do have a few issues with the book.  As with Daniel Goleman's Working with Emotional Intelligence (reflection here), there is a slightly uncomfortable commercial element.  What Singleton would truly like is for you to hire him to lead workshops.  However, unlike Goleman, Singleton offers plenty of how-to material to do it on your own.  One of the agreements of his process is to accept non-closure.  He promises no particular outcomes, stressing the importance of the conversation itself in all its uncomfortable glory.

The material is frequently dry but the best parts are the personal reflections at the end of each chapter.  Various contributors, including the author himself, wrote essays on their own racial experience.  As part of the process, Singleton encourages participants to do the same.  And so, my own humble offering:

I am White - deeply White.  My own olive-skinned wife calls me The Alabaster Kid.  All of my ancestry is northern European: Danish, English, German, Scottish, Welsh.  Most of the time, I don't give much thought to my own race which is, of course, the very essence of White Privilege.  Most of the time, I don't think about it whereas people of color rarely if ever have that luxury in American or European society.  I have nearly always been more aware of other people's races than my own.
The one period in my life when I was hyper-aware of my own race was the two years of my young adulthood spent in Japan.  Being a White American in Japan feels a bit like I imagine being a celebrity would.  You can't go anywhere without being noticed.  While certain parts of Tokyo are international enough to provide adequate camouflage, I stood no chance of blending into the crowd in my quiet Yokohama neighborhood.  Reactions from strangers on the street ran the gamut: fascination, curiosity, admiration, astonishment, fear and occasional hostility from those who knew enough to resent the American military presence in the area.  In the beginning of my stay, it was fun, even amusing.  By the end, it was tiresome.  I would long for time in Harajuku or Roppongi where I could enjoy relative anonymity. 
I know better than to believe my experience was remotely equivalent to that of a Black man in the United States - or even a Black man in Japan, for that matter.    Often, foreign men in Japan (gaijin) would compare notes upon meeting each other.  The Black guys would report a lot more fear in people's reactions than I ever saw.  To be sure, prejudice crosses borders and oceans effortlessly.
Here, I just don't think about it most of the time.  But Singleton's book forces me to look back on my life to times when I undoubtedly benefited from White Privilege in ways I wouldn't have considered before.  There were times when I struggled in school growing up, years when the grades weren't so great.  Everyone around me assumed I would bounce back even when I didn't believe it myself.  I realize now that may not have been the case if I had been a person of color.  The struggles might have suited the stereotype and the system might well have handled me differently.
For my students, I need to listen and be more aware of their challenges.  It can't be easy to walk into a school everyday where none of the teachers and few of the students look like you.  It's more than sticking out and people saying mean things, though that really does happen frighteningly often.  People's expectations for you are different.  Do you internalize those expectations?  Rebel against them?  A little of both?  Something else entirely?  I won't know until I listen and, as Singleton stresses in the beginning of his book, believe what they tell me.
I don't believe in "woke."  I fear it implies that awareness of racism is enough.  If I am woke to anything, it is to how much I have to learn.  
I do know I'm ready to listen.