52 Incredible Women: Julia Child, French Chef

The incomparable Julia Child. Photo credit: avidly.lareviewofbooks.org
The incomparable Julia Child. Photo credit: avidly.lareviewofbooks.org

Over February break, my grandfather became very ill and moved into our home for 10 days after his release from the hospital. My aunt, my mother’s sister, is a wonderful cook, so she decided to prepare all the meals for our family (with me being her sous chef) while my grandfather was recuperating. Luckily this story has a happy ending. We ate like kings, and my grandparents are safely nestled back in their Narragansett home. But, I do miss making and eating those meals!

One dish stands out: Julia Child’s Beef Bourguignon. I must admit I knew little to nothing about the renown chef before then. Since that fateful day I have watched dozens of YouTube videos of Julia making everything from chocolate mousse to cheese soufflé. Her recipes are not fussy, just incredibly detailed. The information is presented in a straightforward manner that makes even the most novice chef feel empowered and capable. However, these are not your simple, three ingredient, one-pot recipes. I had never seen a chunk of unsliced bacon before, and I certainly had never heard of lardons!

I truly fell in love with Julia Child by watching her videos. At 6’2” tall, she was a towering figure, but her sense of humor and her ability to not take herself too seriously were so enamoring. There she was dropping utensils, chuckling as chicken parts slipped out of her hands, and arranging omelettes on a plate with her fingers!

Her story is fascinating. She joined the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and was a research assistant in the Secret Intelligence Division in Washington, D.C., before being stationed in Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) where she met her husband (also in the OSS). After their marriage, her husband joined the U.S. Foreign Service and was stationed in France in 1948. Julia rocked the established French culinary scene with her presence at Le Cordon Bleu, the famous French cooking school, and later translated her knowledge to millions of Americans. Everything about her approach to cooking screams, “you can do this!”

Equally important to her was the notion that cooking should be fun, infused with love, and nourishing for the body and soul. Sitting down to a scrumptious beef stew dinner that night was incredible. Knowing that I helped create the amazingly delectable and FRENCH meal made the experience transformative. I realized that preparing food for the ones you love is a valuable life skill and having a great cook in the family is priceless.

Thank you, Julia and Auntie Roxie!

47 Incredible Women to go!

 

Losing Lucy

Grace Miner with Lucy as a puppy.
Grace Miner with Lucy as a puppy.

Our golden retriever, Lucy May, died from complications from cancer on the Friday night before Christmas. It was sudden and a shock. We loved her so much, and the love she gave us changed our family forever.

Lucy came into our home when I was in kindergarten. She was a bundle of energy and a happy puppy. For the most part, she was a very good girl. She did dig up the yard, go to the bathroom indoors during thunderstorms, pick through the garbage looking for bones, chew my favorite pair of pointe shoes, and eat an entire pumpkin pie once. Still, she was always there when you needed her. She’d nudge your arm for a gentle pat and greet you with kisses no matter your mood. At 90 pounds, she still believed she was a lap dog, and when her scratchy pink tongue licked the tears off your face, it was impossible to stay sad. In truth, she helped our parents raise us, and Lucy was all about love.

When she was three, we got her a “brother,” another golden named Linus. He is completely lost without her now. Together they were able to accomplish things one dog could not. They would get up on the counters, pull open cupboards, unroll miles of toilet paper, and chew two pairs of furry slippers and a pair of flip-flops in an afternoon. Shortly after Linus arrived, they demolished an entire box of S.O.S. pads and half a box of dishwasher tabs overnight. They were never that clean again.

Lucy
Lucy May

The thing they truly loved to do was break out of the electric fence and roam the town. They loved the small creek in the backyard and reveled in the freedom of the open road. They’d return home, often accompanied by law enforcement, completely wet and muddy, covered in ticks and burs. Once they were picked up by the owners of a pet boutique on Main Street and spent an afternoon eating treats and greeting customers. Thankfully, neighbors, friends, and even complete strangers brought them safely back to us, as we did our very best to corral these freedom-loving creatures. The smell of the wild always enticed them.

Lucy was even married once to Henry, the handsome chocolate lab next door. It was a wonderful outdoor ceremony with live music and lots of doggie treats. Lucy loved being in a new yard, able to sniff everything and anything she wanted. It was her day.

As Lucy got older, she quieted down. Her face grew grey and her gait slowed. Most days she slept by the fire like the goldens from the L.L.Bean catalogue. But, to me, she was still the puppy I first saw while riding home on the Meadowbrook Farms bus. She was wearing a red ribbon and sitting inside a cardboard box held by my Mom at the end of the driveway. Lucy was beautiful, and she made our family complete. We all miss her terribly.

Today would have been Lucy’s 12th birthday.


Grace Miner is a junior and East Greenwich High School.

 

52 Incredible Women: Dr. Maya Angelou, Poet Laureate

Maya Angelou
Maya Angelou

I remember the moment she came into my life. It was early spring during my freshman year. We were in a poetry unit in English class where students find poems that speak to them and leave a few lines from these poems on sticky notes or small pieces of paper in random places all over the school. I found her in my search of female poets. She was listed alongside Emily Dickinson, Sylvia Plath, and Edna St. Vincent Millay.

Dr. Angelou is widely known for her 1969 book, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, but it was her poem “Phenomenal Woman” that first introduced me to her work.

I was completely hooked by the first two lines.

“Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size.”
And just what is the key to her appeal?
“It’s the fire in my eyes,
And the flash of my teeth,
The swing in my waist,
And the joy in my feet.”

I immediately searched and found images of her, videos of her reciting her poems, and interviews where she recounted her incredible struggles and joyful triumphs. I spent hours completely captivated by her resonant voice and her carefully chosen words. But when I saw her standing, I was truly transformed. Her spine straight as a pin, her head held high, she owned every inch of her 6-foot body. She taught me how to accept and stand tall in my own 6-foot frame, and she made me want to read poetry.

Her life story chronicles a history of struggle, abuse, racism, sexism, and resilience. She was everything from a fry cook to a dancer and a civil rights activist. At different times in her life, she wore the hat of author, playwright, professor, film director, and producer. She read her poem “On the Pulse of Morning” at the inauguration of President Bill Clinton in 1993.

By the time I discovered her writing, she was well into her 80s. Reading her poems and autobiographies filled my days and nights until last spring when I heard of her death. That was perhaps the first time I felt a hole in my heart for the loss of a person I never really knew personally. Yet, somehow I knew Dr. Maya Angelou, the part of her that nourished my love of poetry and helped me understand the complex art of becoming an American woman.

Fittingly, it was one of her own poems that helped me feel positive in the face of her passing. The lines come from “When Great Trees Fall.”

“And when great souls die,
after a period peace blooms,
slowly and always
irregularly.  Spaces fill
with a kind of
soothing electric vibration.
Our senses, restored, never
to be the same, whisper to us.
They existed.  They existed.
We can be.  Be and be
better.  For they existed.”

48 Incredible women to go!


Grace Miner is a junior at East Greenwich High School. 

 

 

 

 

 

Adulthood Already?

Michael Sylvia
Michael Sylvia at 18!

Hey everyone! I hope you all have been trying to enjoy the crazy amounts of snow we have been getting over the past two weeks. It was my 18th birthday a couple of weeks ago and, as a gift, my dad and I took a trip down to Fort Lauderdale for what was originally supposed to run Saturday through Tuesday of last week. However, we ended up getting “stuck” down in Florida for two extra days because our returning flights were canceled as a result of Juno. It was awesome, although, I did feel a little bit of guilt when I was lying on the beach while snow pounded my hometown.

Becoming 18 is a milestone for practically everyone so, as you can imagine, I was pretty thrilled to become a legal adult. Additionally, I felt a sense of accomplishment. My mom typically reflects and tells me the story of my birth every year around the time of my birthday. I have addressed the topic in a previous post. Usually, I don’t really think much of it, but, this year the story seemed to hit home. I realized that, in my 18 years on this earth, I have achieved nearly everything my peers have. That’s huge for me. When I was born, my parents were told I wouldn’t be able to stand on my own; I walked. My parents were told I wouldn’t be able to communicate; I write a blog. My parents were told I wouldn’t be able to learn; I will be attending Providence College in the fall. At this point, I feel like I have accomplished so much that I have to ask myself, “what can’t I do?” I strongly relate to the words of one of the rappers that I listen to, “There’s beauty in the struggle.” He is absolutely right. I feel that every single thing I have ever overcame has given me more strength and eagerness to tackle the next struggle that comes my way.

As a matter of fact, I will share with you one of my current dilemmas that I must conquer. Now, that I am 18, I will have to do tasks such as showing up for doctor’s appointments on my own. I will need to fill out forms that are required at doctor’s offices on a regular basis. This is a challenge because I do not write all that often. My dexterity has never been great due to my cerebral palsy so, writing legibly has always been an issue. Of course, forms ask for important information that needs to be printed in a comprehensible manner. Thus, the predicament. At this time, I am thinking that the best way to defeat this issue is to call offices ahead of time and dictate my information. Moreover, I hope that as technology becomes more and more prevalent in everyday society, forms will eventually be filled out on a tablet or computer rather than old fashioned pen and paper. Considering the amount I have needed to write in school has dramatically decreased as a result of technology, I do not see digitized forms as being too unrealistic.

All in all, I am both anxious and excited to begin this new phase of my life. I know there will be triumphs and happiness but I have learned firsthand that change isn’t anything that is easy. I am going to continue to post here and there but, seeing how tough it is too stay on a typical writing schedule, I can’t promise anything. February break is coming so, for those who are vacationing, I wish you safe and happy travels!

Michael

52 Incredible Women: Ms. Beatrice Minkins, Trailblazer

Ms. Beatrice Minkins was born December 1, 1913. She was the youngest of five daughters born to Mr. John Clayton Minkins and his wife, Rosa. Mr. Minkins, a native of Virginia, came to Rhode Island in the 1890s. The Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame describes him as “the most important African American in local journalism for more than 70 years.” He was owner, publisher, and editor of the Rhode Island Examiner and later became editor-in-chief of the Providence News Democrat. Mr. Minkins was also a renowned public speaker and staunch human rights defender. Together with three of her sisters, Ms. Beatrice Minkins was among the first African American women to graduate from Pembroke College, now part of Brown University.beatrice minkins

Commuting from their small, clapboard house in Pawtucket, the sisters rode the trolley and electric bus to College Hill. Ms. Minkins participated regularly in sports and studied history and English. In college and shortly after graduation, she traveled throughout Europe and Asia on various study abroad programs. Ms. Minkins worked for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers during WW II, then for the R.I. Employment Service for nearly four decades. Her main work was with the WIN Program, providing job training and locating day care for mothers with small children. It could be draining and difficult work, but she found helping people in a moment of great need to be very fulfilling. In 1986, 50 years after her graduation from Pembroke College, she was a marshal at Brown University’s graduation ceremony.

One of Ms. Minkins’ older sisters, a member of Pembroke Class of 1920, had been my grandmother’s librarian at Pawtucket West Senior High School. Several years later, the two women met up again and forged a friendship. My grandmother then got to meet the entire Minkins family. I came to know Ms. Beatrice Minkins, whom I called “Auntie Beattie,” when my family moved to Rhode Island in 2003. She would come to see me dance in the Nutcracker in December around the time of her birthday and then return to our house for a Sunday dinner.

After dinner we would eat cake and play Old Maid, and she would regale us with stories of her time on College Hill. She always spoke about the privilege of education, the necessity of mutual respect among learners, and the need for self-respect.

She was a pioneer for all the African American women, and women in general, who follower her, and she fondly remembered her time in college. There were moments when she felt others judged her by her gender or the by the color of her skin, denying her opportunities afforded to other students. She specifically recalled wanting to write for the newspaper, like her father, and being denied the chance. We were eager to listen as she recounted her joys, trials, and hurdles. They always served to inspire us and to highlight how very special Auntie Beattie was.

One of the last times I saw her before she passed away, I went with my mother to bring her back home after dinner. Once she had gotten settled in a chair with her glasses and a book, she asked me to get her a glass of water from the kitchen. On her refrigerator door was a piece of paper held on by a magnet. The paper had a quote on it that read, “It’s not the load that breaks you down, it’s the way you carry it.”

This intelligent and compassionate American woman was a trailblazer, and her example continually encourage me.

Ms. Beatrice Minkins died on January 7, 2014, at the age of 101.

49 incredible women to go!


 

Grace Miner is a junior at East Greenwich High School. 

52 Incredible Women: Mrs. Leslie Lee, Maestro

Leslie Lee. Photo credit: Maggie Thornton Wallentin

I remember the moment I met her. She had brought a group of “big” kids from Hanaford to play their instruments for us. I was a proud member of Mrs. Bentsen’s second grade class at Meadowbrook Farms, and we were having an assembly in the cafeteria. It was the kind of gathering that second and third graders carried their chairs to while the kindergarteners and first graders sat criss-cross applesauce down in front. Each of those Hanaford musicians talked about their instruments and played a short tune. There was lots of chatter and “oohs” and aahs” from the audience. But, when Mrs. Lee put her “fiddle” under her chin to play a tune, no one could speak. It was incredible. There was complete silence except for the vibrations of her strings until one little boy in my class said, “She’s not playing that, that’s a recording!”

In fact, she was playing that violin, and right there and then, I decided to play the cello. The violin seemed much too difficult, but I wanted to be around this lady when I got to Hanaford.

Mrs. Lee was my music teacher from fourth to sixth grade. Yet, calling her my music teacher does not do justice to what she taught me. Mrs. Lee is truly a math, language, history, and art teacher rolled into one. She teaches fractions and counting beats with humor and patience, and she translates a host of Italian, French, and Germany words. Her favorite word being crescendo! She teaches about historical time periods and the great composers of each. When I was at Hanaford, she even had us convinced she knew Beethoven and Bach personally. Mrs. Lee is also a science teacher of sorts because music has exact, specific volume and time measurements. Yet, at its core, music is an art form designed to stir emotions and create beauty. This is where Mrs. Lee shines.

Infusing everything with humor and a dedication to each student’s different talents and sensibilities, Mrs. Lee tirelessly bred a love of music in us during our time at Hanaford. She cared deeply about the music we made together and the songs we carried in our own hearts. In her classroom, we grew as musicians and people, and Mrs. Lee let us know that passions define life. She always preached that missing a sharp or a flat once in a while doesn’t detract from the beauty of a piece of music. Being a technician does not make you a musician. Music, like any passion, must come from the heart. I’ve carried that powerful message with me ever since and into other disciplines.

The best part of playing in Mrs. Lee’s Hanaford Orchestra was traveling back to Meadowbrook to play my cello for the lower elementary students. I remember thinking how odd it felt. Everything seemed different. The school seemed smaller, the kids seemed so much younger, and I felt so disoriented. One thing had not changed, though. When Mrs. Lee put that violin under her chin, everyone gathered there fell silent. They were amazed.

Grace Miner is a sophomore at East Greenwich High School. You can read about #52 – inventor Mary Anderson – here. 50 Incredible women to go!

 

 

52 Incredible Women: Mary Anderson, Inventor

Mary Anderson and her invention – the windshield wiper. Credit: www.nairaland.com

Driving home from ballet one snowy, sleety night last month, I began to wonder who invented windshield wipers and what had inspired him or her. As the wiper blades slid across the windshield clearing a line of view and creating small slushy drifts on the edges of the glass, I committed myself to finding the answer.

Once home, I discovered that Mary Anderson was the first person to patent windshield wipers (1903). She was an Alabama native who was traveling to New York City in the wintertime for a visit when a snowstorm hit. Filled with frustration at not being able to see the sights during the storm and compassion for the driver of the trolley who frequently had to stop and wipe the windshield by hand, Mary returned home and went to work.

Her invention involved a hand crank inside the car connected to rubber blades on the outside. Most early 20th century cars did not travel at speeds fast enough to make her invention commonly needed, and most people living outside the city did not own cars. Nonetheless, Mary Anderson’s invention was a significant step forward towards the wiper blades that helped get me home safely.

Mary Anderson lived to be 87 years old and was even mentioned on an episode of The Simpsons for her invention (don’t ask!). It is unlikely that she ever imagined that solving a basic problem in the early 1900s would inspire a young woman in Rhode Island in 2014. According to her family and friends, Mary Anderson was intent on using her talents and gifts to improve the quality of her life and the lives of those around her. And she did just that.

Her story is the reason I started this blog. Each week I come across incredible women who encourage me to become the woman I want to be. Some are historical figures, other women are members of my community, school, family, or wider social network. To each and every one of them, this blog is a thank you.

51 incredible women to go!

Grace Miner is a student at East Greenwich High School.

 

Fund a Bike. Fund Her Future

Photo credit: unfoundationblog.org

The STEAM Committee of EGHS Real Girls Matter Club focuses on identifying and alleviating obstacles to the education of girls worldwide. This holiday season we are participating in the National Girl Up/ United Nations Foundation campaign called SchoolCycle.

Only 25 percent of girls from Malawi, a small country in southeast Africa, graduate from elementary school. That rate drops to a staggeringly low 5 percent for high school. Some girls have to walk 10 miles to get to school. After school, many are too tired to return home. They are forced to sleep at school or skip classes to avoid the risk of violence on the way home. Girl Up has created a campaign to raise funds, directly donating them to the United Nations mission in Malawi, which purchases bikes for the girls to ride to and from school each day. We hope that you will be able to help us support this worthy cause. The girls and young women of Malawi, willing to travel great distances to be educated, are surely going places. Our dream is that we can help them get there faster and safer because every girl matters and deserves access to an education.

For more information about Girl Up, click here http://youtu.be/GqoM6ANJYuA

For more information about SchoolCycle, click here http://www.msnbc.com/the-reid-report/watch/-girl-up–helps-girls-in-malawi-get-to-school-366187075582

To donate on our page, click here http://www.globalproblems-globalsolutions.org/site/TR/GirlUp/General?px=3779124&pg=personal&fr_id=1200

Be sure to scroll to the bottom. Thank you!

 

 

Botox In High School? Let Me Explain . . .

Hello everyone! I hope all is well. I am a senior this year and things are a little hectic as college application due dates are right around the corner. Additionally, I recently had my Botox injections so I have been playing a little game of catch up as a result. Unfortunately, my blog is the first item that gets pushed down the to-do list when things pick up.

Speaking of Botox, I wanted to discuss the injections I receive. I believe I briefly mentioned that I receive Botox in previous posts, but I never really explained why I get it. It seems to be a topic I get some questions about so hopefully this clears the air. I find it humorous at times when I explain to people that I receive Botox. I am sure the first thoughts that come to mind when thinking of Botox are of celebrities such as the late Joan Rivers. However, in my case, I don’t receive my injections for the preservation of youthful looks, I get them to relieve my spasms. Basically, Botox is a chemical that “relaxes” or in other words, paralyzes, muscle. This is why Joan Rivers’ face looked as if it was frozen in place. Now, for me, it also has the same effect., except my frozenness is experienced in muscles that spasm the most frequently; like muscles in my neck, finger flexors, legs, etc. as these are where I get my injections. To me, it feels like I have lost the neuromuscular connections with that muscle. It’s really weird, I feel like my brain still sends the signal to the muscle, but the muscle does not respond. At times it can be frustrating, but it is in this paralysis where I gain the benefit of relief. It is truly fantastic. My movements become smooth. I am able to preserve more energy due not spasming as much. Even, my speech drastically improves! I have been receiving these injections for 10 years now and I cannot imagine where I would be without them.

As I write this, I am starting to realize how many instances of “Catch 22” there seem to be associated with Cerebral Palsy. Unfortunately, paralyzation is still paralyzation. Every muscle that receives the injections nearly immediately begins to shut down. This can be tough as I never realize how useful a muscle is until it no longer works. Everyday tasks get pretty difficult. My hand does not want to squeeze the objects that I tell it to. Putting on socks becomes a painstakingly slow process. The act of tying shoes is like a sick torture tactic. I won’t lie – it is extremely maddening, especially when it comes to physical activity. My progress at the gym is greatly inhibited after Botox. I lose, I would say, 80 to 90 percent of my strength due to those paralyzing attributes.

Fortunately, this total paralysis only lasts about two months. After that, my strength magically reappears out of the blue within a period of only a couple weeks. Those couple weeks are the height of the Botox benefits. Don’t get me wrong, Botox lasts about four and half months during the school year and the overall relief is good, but, in those two weeks, my strength begins to return and the neuromuscular connections awaken once again. My spasms are still minimized and my speech is great. I feel like a new man! Those two weeks are the height of the Botox cycle. When those two weeks are up, I get to enjoy pushing forward with my weight lifting. The downside being that my spasms then begin to increase as my muscles are revived and return to normal function and tensions.

I find the use of Botox to be a pretty tough trade off but an interesting aspect of my life. The Botox cycle definitely has a positive impact on my ability to be humble. It is almost like I am a stock, in the sense that, in order to make gains, I have to go through a period of pullback. After giving it some thought, I have come to realize everybody experiences or lives in their own cycle and in that way I am no different from anyone else.

On an ending note, I wanted to add in a quick fact that one of my anesthesiologists told me the last time I received my injections. He said there was some very tiny amount of undiluted Botox that could wipe out every person on the planet. I came home that night and had to conduct my own research and, sure enough, the amount of Botox needed is approximately 1 kilogram. Of course, my botox is diluted with other chemicals so, no huge worries there. Still, pretty crazy though, right?

As always, I will be more than happy to answer any questions, so feel free to contact me. Thank you very much for reading!

Have a Happy Halloween!

All the best,