Friday, December 31, 2010
I agree, to an extent. But I make resolutions on January 1st regardless. Yes, it is difficult to do it this time of year. But as a teacher, I find the end of the first semester to be a 'sweet spot.' I know my students now. I didn't in August. I know, more so, what I'm dealing with at school. I didn't in August. I have an opportunity to redeem myself where I've had shortcomings with the same students, the same material that I've been using the first half of the school year. The new year marks the very end of the first half of the school year, and I have a second semester to make amends with students who I haven't paid enough attention to, with duties I've half-heartedly accomplished - if only because the first half of the year I was trying to 'find my feet.' I know I'm a good teacher, but I always strive to be a better teacher. And I know - I KNOW - I have failings - every year, but especially this year. I feel as out of place this year as I did my first year teaching. A rather disconcerting feeling to say the least.
In addition to this 'sweet spot' in my occupation, there is the sense of calm that comes from spending time away from school. I allowed myself the majority of this winter break to forget about school. I spent one day grading. One day. Believe me, I needed more, but I also needed the break, the time to spend with my son, to go back to being a full-time wife, daughter, sister, friend. I managed to put my hats in order, and I will attempt to keep them in order, and prioritized.
So, this pause in my life marks another opportunity to take stock of where I stand and what changes I should make in the new year. Yet another reason I begin January 1st. I am lucky in that I didn't have to work the past two weeks, unlike my husband and many people I know. I have this period of time to set my goals in order and pursue them.
I find, too, that writing down my goals help me make them more permanent. The years I don't physically see them, they don't usually come to fruition. I try to be reasonable. I'm human. But I try to truly put them into effect, too. As long as I know I've put forth effort, I feel at peace with myself, and that, ultimately, is the most important goal.
Thus, I wish everyone a Happy New Year, and I wish everyone peace in 2011 - peace with yourself, whether you decide to pursue resolutions and changes or not, that you know who you are and are content with that person. Peace with the past - we all have regrets, decisions we'd alter, if given the chance - let them go and live your life. Peace going into the future - that you see your path, regardless of forks in the road, and feel the confidence and grace to follow your bliss. Happy 2011!
Wednesday, December 29, 2010
Playing over winter break!
Syd plays with his reflection in the dish washer.
Tuesday, December 28, 2010
Now that I am a parent, I understand the statement. I want Sydney to be happy. Nothing makes me feel better than to hear him giggle, to see him totter over to me to give me a hug or a kiss, to hear his excited voice as he calls out "Mama!" or "Dah-dee!" But, in a sense, I still hold true to my original statement.
My reasoning for this is simple. Christmas and birthdays are not about presents. One should not send out copious invitations to graduation, just to see how much money or how many gifts one can receive. Life is not about what others can buy you. Humans have allowed greed to take over their lives, and it shows in society, as a whole.
I am pretty proud of myself this holiday season. Steve and I were very responsible and did not allow the season to get out of hand, as so often happens. We restricted ourselves with the gifts we purchased each other. And since Syd is only 15 months old, we were conscientious of how much we spent on him. In essence, we bought him things we knew he needed - a few clothes and only the toys that brought him to his next step of development. It is so easy to walk down the aisles of the stores and think "Oh! He'd love that!" and go wild. But we didn't.
The same friend who looked at me, appalled with my statement, is now beginning to rethink her response. Her child is responding the way someone who has received everything he wants will - "Is this all I get?" I cannot fathom how that parent must feel to hear her child say this. And if this cycle continues, this child will pass this down to his children, as well. I know there will be days when I wonder if I'm going overboard with Sydney. But I desperately want to make sure he grows up without that entitlement, and cherishing family and friends over material objects. I've taught those entitled kids, and they are never satisfied with their grades, and it is never their fault that they didn't do well. I don't want to see Syd act like that. Ever.
So take a moment and reflect on the season, and on life as a whole. Consider what you're teaching your family, and if it is the path you want to continue down. Do not look to today to see if your choice is correct. Look to tomorrow. Consider the etchings in the clay you are molding that will become hardened and permanent over time.
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
Syd is hitting every milestone he should - he's even reaching some that are not expected for a 15 month old. But the point is, he's healthy and happy, and busily eating blueberry waffles as we speak.
I love this little guy so much. I understand, now, when parents of kids told Steve and me how much fun it is to have a little one. But this is simply something one cannot fathom, regardless of nieces, nephews, or siblings, until one experiences it for oneself with one's OWN child. I know I've tried to pass the feeling on to friends who are still childless, but I feel like I talk in circles. Until you experience it, there is no explaining it.
So, we're winding down the clock until the first Christmas he can really interact with. Other than a few attempts to yank the lights off the tree, he's been very good, considering decorations, etc. He has been transfixed with the snow, pointing it out everywhere, even on my clothes and on the ornaments. And his new favorite word is "mau" - long, drawn out, and whenever he sees a cat. So, it's more like "maaaaauuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu."
Happy Holidays, everyone. I'll post pics next week.
Thursday, December 16, 2010
See him peaking around the corner? He loved it!
Syd plays 'peek-a-boo' through the fort!
I really don't know what this was about. I can't remember. But he looks so happy I had to put it in my blog.
Oh, and this is just for Dawn!! You asked about my recipe for the Pumpkin Creme Brulee - the misconception about creme brulee is that it is difficult to make. It's not - it is a custard. The excitement comes from the brulee - if you do not have a torch, I've seen the ramekins put into the oven and broiled so the sugar hardens. Let me know how it turns out!!
Pumpkin Creme Brulee
1/4 cup of pumpkin
1/4 cup of sour cream
3 egg yolks
1/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/8 teaspoon allspice
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
generous pinch of nutmeg (fresh ground, if possible)
pinch of salt
1/2 cup of heavy cream
Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Combine all the ingredients, except the heavy cream, using a whisk. Set aside. Put the heavy cream in a small saucepan and stir while heating - just to the point of boiling. Whisk the cream into the pumpkin mixture in small amounts to temper the egg, until you mix in the entire amount.
Pour the mixture into 4 ramekins, which are placed in a cake pan. Add a hot water bath (approximately 1/2 to 1 inch. Place in oven at or slightly below the middle rack and bake for 35-40 minutes, or until the centers are softly set - not liquid-y. Cool the ramekins in the water bath until they are cool enough to handle. Cover and refrigerate from 1 hr to 2 days before using.
To make the brulee - I spoon a tablespoon of granulated sugar on top and then tap the sugar around, almost as if you are flouring a greased pan, to coat the entire top. Use a torch just until bubbling and browning, or try to oven broiler.
For anyone who tries this, let me know how it turns out!!
Saturday, December 11, 2010
It is a golden lesson that needs to be reinforced daily, whether it be the 1690s, the 1950s, or the early 2000s. We must all love each other. Now. Compassion is, at times, a scarce commodity in our society. It is truly horrifying to contemplate the number of people who decide that their id is more important than their ego or superego. They want to give in to their impulses, to satisfy urges that should not be given in to lightly when the community, as a whole, is taken in to consideration.
We recently had an Amber Alert in our community. The young girl, age 12, was missing for nearly a week after her mother was found murdered. She's been found, but at what cost? She is now orphaned, her world is turned upside down, and communities spend heaven knows how much money searching for her. All because the man who took her gave in to his id.
About a month ago, our school held a presentation for Rachel's Challenge. It was truly a beautiful presentation not only because it helped the memory of this brave young lady carry on, but because it also touched many of the kids in our school. Several students from the class I accompanied to the auditorium broke down in tears. Many in the school did due to circumstances in their own lives, but a few because they saw, in themselves, that which needed to be changed to make the community a better place to live. We can only wait and see how long the change will last, but it was a nice awakening for the students, regardless of how short-lived it may be.
Certainly not lastly, as many changes need to be made in our communities, our nation, our world, but to close this entry out, compassion is needed in my own life. Someone I am very close to is suffering from a terminal illness. This is a huge adjustment for our family as we try to fathom the changes that are taking place within this person's mind. It is difficult to put aside our preconceived idea of what behavior should occur on a daily basis and to accept that certain common sense activities and behaviors are no longer present. It is an exercise in compassion on my part to acquiesce to not having things go the way I want them to, and allowing a little more chaos in to my life. I cannot control everything. I've done a good job allowing the controlling to subside some since having a child - but I need to move aside more.
For the sake of my family and this person, I am striving, every day, to let go, to enjoy the time we have with this person, and to ensure that Sydney is able to make some mem0ries that he will, hopefully, retain into his later childhood. But it is unfortunate that not everyone in the family is responding this way. Compassion is needed for this person, as the disease has taken over the mind. I pity the members who do not realize what gifts this person brought to us over the years, and worry that they may regret not being more compassionate in years to come.
Wednesday, December 8, 2010
Ok, a little overly melodramatic.
Suffice it to say that November came, November saw, November conquered.
I had a laundry list of things I wanted to accomplish during the month of November. If you recall my previous post, I had a list of 5 different things I would be working on / towards during the month, plus a few added points of interest. Here is a summary of the results:
- My classes - still going strong, still plugging along. My seniors say I'm too hard for AP, which I take as a good sign, even though I don't feel I'm pushing them enough. My juniors say I'm too hard for CB. Good. I'm trying to prepare them for their SATs, the SOLs, and college. My freshmen decided that, as a whole, they did not like reading the full The Odyssey. I haven't been told I'm too hard, but I do know I'm pushing them. I've somehow kept up with all the assessments, hoops, and requirements. Let's hope I'm able to continue.
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - um...didn't happen. Besides, I figured that, rather than doing as I did in the past, rereading the book before the movie then being disappointed by the movie, I would, instead, view this movie as a movie. I know it was part I, but Steve and I were still disappointed by it - he thought it moved too slowly. And as cinematic effect, I understand the theory behind the shaky-camera, but that only succeeds in making me nauseated. I hope the last edition of the HP series is more stable. Movie did better in catching up some important points, but I will now have to truly reread the book to determine how good of a job it did...
- CPR certification. I am a card-carrying life saver. Or so, I hope to be if I ever need to use it, and I hope I NEVER need to use it. My training included infant and child. I have to renew in 2 years, but for now, I am, hopefully, capable of successfully assisting anyone who may be in need until professional help can arrive.
- Three Cups of Tea...hmm...well, I had some extenuating circumstances develop. I, unfortunately, had to contact my discussion leader and inform her that it just wasn't going to happen. I knew I was being ambitious, but I had hoped...
- NaNoWriMo - I learned a lot from this venture. I am very proud of what I accomplished, little as it may be, and I am quite excited to try again. I understand now, the writing process when it comes to novels - before, I would read through and edit what I had written. Write. Then edit. It's no wonder I only got 3 chapters done. This time, I didn't worry about chapters. I didn't edit. I didn't even reread what I had already written, save the most recent paragraph so I knew where to pick up from. I would give myself an A for effort. I made it just shy of the word count for my freshmen, which was 17,000. I wrote 26 pages of single-spaced prose. I had so much fun doing it, and the kicker was that a lot of it wrote itself. My fingers were merely the vehicle for discovering my story. I have a LOT to work on - I still don't know the major conflict; I have only 3 characters; I truly don't know where it is going. But I have a fascinating start that, if nothing else, intrigues ME, and I have a desire to finish it. I think, though, that all things considered, November is one of the worst possible months for this program or challenge.
- The month started well - I only got off target by a small margin with my novel. However, it was compounded by my desire to be certified in CPR. I took a weekend break from writing to finish my class, and then had my skills test.
- After my CPR break, I was determined to not fall any further behind and did quite well for a few days. Then, Sydney got the stomach flu. Good golly - the vomitous erruptions were actually quite impressive and did, in fact, strike awe in Steve and myself
- I had family come in for Thanksgiving, which means I was doing more cleaning (especially since I didn't want them to catch the flu), shopping, cooking, etc., which impeded my work on my novel. I knew it was coming, though, so I was trying to keep up and work ahead (hahahah!).
- Family caught the stomach flu. I truly don't think they caught it from Sydney, though I don't know the actual incubation period for this virus. However, there was isolation, cleaning, and entertaining of the healthy ones to work around. Oh, and I had more family come in for the day after Thanksgiving, which meant, too, more cooking.
Ultimately, I gave up. I changed my goal from the 50,000 I was supposed to accomplish, since I'm older than 17, to half of that, to the 17,000 my students had. I didn't make any of those. Sigh.
But, I had a wonderful time visiting with my family, albeit the illness, and Sydney is flourishing again. He also has his 6th tooth. FINALLY! And, last, I will close this with a slew of pictures taken from the month of November so Reed can see how much Syd has changed. Hugs to everyone!
Syd LOVES being tossed in the air.
Syd and his Great-Grandfather, Charles. Handsome pair, here.
How do you entertain 3 tweens? Grab some old eye-liner, draw faces on your chin, hang upside down, and tell jokes! This particular specimen is Megan.
Here we have Morgan. I attempted to do a Cleopatra-ish eye...
Youngest is Maci, who had lovely lashes!
This villainous face would be my sister, Shelly.
The girls had a lot of fun coming up with the facial features on my own chin. I think I'm a mix between a pig, Cindy Crawford, and Betty Boop.
Mommy, Daddy, Sydney getting ready for the Drumstick Dash. I didn't get a group photo on my camera, so you'll have to wait for Shelly to send them to me for me to post.
Here, we're all dressed in aprons and preparing Thanksgiving Dinner! From left to right: Morgan, Maci, Megan, Shelly, Me, and Syd.
Syd was still recovering from his stomach flu. The only thing I could get him to eat that day was my pumpkin creme brule, which I made instead of pumpkin pie. This picture also documents the first time he fed himself with a utensil! I loaded the spoon, layed it down on his tray, and he would feed himself, which is why there is so much custard on his face. Gotta love it!
Last, Sydney is helping Mommy by pushing the laundry basket to the stairs. He's such a big help!
Monday, November 1, 2010
Yesterday was beautiful. Clear, low humidity, and mid-60s. It is exactly the type of weather I yearn for year-round. The only problem is that this time of year is so short-lived. At least, it is in this region. We go directly from the triple-h (hazy, hot, humid) to weather that is brisk, sometimes downright cold. The transition is too short-lived.
So, Steve, Syd and I decided to enjoy the day and went up to the star. Nice breeze, but still sunny, so it didn't get too cold. We played football, walked around, examined the chestnuts that were on the ground, petted some beautiful boxers, and took our first trip on the slide. Altogether, had a wonderful time. Then, we came home and crashed. Recipe for a good nap? Lots of fresh air and sunshine.
While Syd nursed and napped, I managed to finish a book recommended by our birthing class instructor, The Happiest Toddler on the Block. Our instructor recommended Dr. Harvey Karp's first book, The Happiest Baby on the Block, in our class, and then talked about his toddler edition, saying she wished he had published it by the time her son was a toddler. She found them extremely helpful. So, I thought I'd check them out. I found the baby edition helpful - it made a lot of sense. I had high hopes for the toddler edition and so far, it has helped me understand where Syd is coming from when he gets upset. I haven't had need to really bring in the tantrum controlling, yet, but we're also only at 13 months, and I know the best is on its way.
Happiest Toddler explains that young children are so impulse driven (living in the id), that they are more primitive, almost like cave-men. Rather than rationalizing with them when they want something we cannot or will not give them, we are to appeal to their 'cave man'-like impulses to curb their emotional outbreaks. It also provides tactics that, from what I've seen already, truly work in helping them calm down when they get upset.
Best example I can provide?? Sydney was playing with Mommy and Daddy after dinner one day last week. He tripped and fell, hitting his head on the wall. Normal tripping and falling isn't a big deal - he does it all day long. But hitting his head really caught him off guard. He started to cry and I appealed to the cave-man... I told him he was 'mad mad mad at wall - bad wall! Owie wall! Bad wall - but its ok - Sydney hurt head but he'll be ok.' He stopped crying, looked at me in stunned silence, then went over and hit the wall, saying "Bah wah!!". He looked at me, I nodded my head yes, repeated what he said, and he promptly spanked the wall again, calling it a bad wall. Then, I told him the bear was lonely and we needed to play with the bear, and he moved on to play with the bear. Emotional meltdown prevented. Thank you, Dr. Karp!!
I don't pretend to believe that it will work that easily every time; especially since I'm not home with him (sigh...what I would give to be home with him...) but if nothing else, it has helped me to consider his emotional upsets and that I cannot expect him to think like me, that I have to appeal to his impulsive side, and that he still struggles, every day, to tell me what it is he wants, desires, what hurts, etc. It must be so frustrating for him. And to end on a cliche, patience truly is a virtue - especially when toddlers are involved.
Saturday, October 30, 2010
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
Sydney, Steve and I have been taking advantage of the balmy weather to play outside every day after dinner. It really helps him go down and sleep through the night to get some last minute fresh air and exercise. Steve and I pass the football back and forth, including the Snickerdoodle in some throws and "tackles," before spending time looking at the leaves blowing in the breeze and examining the rotting tomato plants in the garden, waving to the 'woo woo' two houses down who barks every time we get within sight, and discovering all the nooks and crannies of the backyard, now that we're fully mobile.
And fully mobile we are. Steve and I were in the midst of throwing when I turned around and saw that Sydney was starting towards the stairs leading up to our upper deck. I went to retrieve him but before I got there, he was climbing. On his own. I ran past him, got the camera, and by the time I got it recording, he was nearly at the top of the stairs. All by himself. I don't know at what age this is 'supposed' to happen, but we were completely caught off guard by it. See for yourself. We thought we had a little more time to fix the rail from where a recent storm blew the lattice off - I guess now we really have to get moving. Shock. Utter awe. The human body grows and adapts so quickly.
Sunday, October 24, 2010
We reached several big milestones this week - Sydney is now in a larger sized diaper. Yeah, I know. Big deal. But it is a big deal. He'd been in size 3 for the longest time and the move up coincides perfectly with his new status as a 'big boy.'
About 2 weeks after his first birthday, we purchased his big boy car seats. The 12 mos check up ensured us he was old enough and heavy enough to face forward. We simply hadn't gotten them installed until this weekend.
So, in the same weekend, we're wearing larger diapers and facing forward. We're signing 'banana' all of a sudden, after only working on it for 2 days. We're walking up the tiny hill in the backyard without falling down. We're (gulp) climbing. It happened so quickly, my mind is reeling. I'm thankful I didn't even try to bring work home this weekend, so I could spend more time not feeling guilty about not touching it and with my baby...I mean, my big boy. Sigh.
On another note, Steve and I also reached another milestone. We've talked about getting a stand-alone freezer for years - either upright or chest freezer. Especially since I prefer to take my summers off, as much as possible; we purchased one this weekend - and now we can plan ahead - freeze extra food (my sister gave me the excellent idea of freezing baked goods so I don't have to turn the oven on during the summer), and even accept the wonderful gifts of venison from friends and family when they have too much for their own freezer. We don't hunt, and we love how healthy venison is - just as easy to cook as other forms of protein, as well. I know it's ridiculous, but I feel like we've taken another step towards providing for our family - especially during the lean months of summer when we technically only have one income.
And so, it has been a productive weekend - I went to school for the entire day on Friday, even though I was allowed to take the day off if I wanted to - I had a babysitter already lined up, so I took advantage of a day with absolutely no interruptions, save pumping, and finished my grades for the first quarter, planned for the next, made copies, and even jumped in over my head. I'll be lucky if I can keep treading water until the 2nd week of December.
If I become scarce over the next 6 weeks, forgive me. I know I KNOW everyone is in the same boat in one shape or another, but allow me to outline what I'm attempting to do until December 2nd...
- I still have my 6 classes at school - no biggie, as most teachers do this year. Just reminding you that with that is planning, grading, chasing down and sitting on the lazy students (figuratively...most of the time...), calling parents, etc.
- I am desperately attempting to at least skim through the last Harry Potter novel before the movie is released - I don't remember the date, but I know it's mid-November.
- I am supposed to be training online for my CPR re-certification - haven't had it since college and I figured...with a toddler... I have the skills test mid-November.
- I purchased the book Three Cups of Tea 2 years ago and only got through the first chapter, right after I purchased it. Meant to read it every summer, meant to read it during maternity leave. Now I have a reason to - for continuing education credits towards my re-certification, someone in the school system is offering a book study in regards to Indian and Pakistani culture by reading the book, writing 3 in depth questions, and responding to said questions all before convening for a group discussion of said questions on December 2nd. I jumped at the chance before I had the opportunity to really think things through...
- And...here's the kicker...I know I've mentioned before my struggle to maintain some semblance of a personal writing life. HA HAH HAHA AHAHAHAHAHAHA!!! Yeah. So, November is National Novel Writing Month. I decided - brilliant me and with Rafe's encouragement (his idea originally, but when he texted me, I couldn't resist), to assign my freshmen the task of writing a novel in a month. His Pre-AP 10 kids are writing a 25,000 word document by November 30th. My Pre-AP 9 kids will be writing a 17,000 word document by November 30th. They find out tomorrow. The kicker is, I cannot ask them to do something I'm not willing to try. So, I'm going to attempt to do the same. We need to write 4250 words a week, and that breaks down to a little over 600 a day. Whew. I think I'll need a glass of wine after its all said and done.
So, that's my outlook for the next few weeks. Oh, and I have ...a husband? Oh, yeah! And...a toddler?? A house?? I think I am certifiable. Let's see how long I can make it before I break down and cry.
But in the meantime, I made a loaf of banana bread this morning - our family's favorite recipe that I've made for years. And a pot of homemade potato soup is bubbling away on the stove as I type. I make a mean pot of soup. I just need to know how to make a double batch now that I can freeze it...
Friday, October 22, 2010
But methinks we will, instead, spend only 10-15 minutes discussing the writing and instead, review the Acts I-V quizzes and discuss the content, the technique, the intrigue. I teach English in English, but the Elizabethan English is still foreign to the kids and I want them to truly obtain an appreciation for Shakespeare's talent and skill rather than just have this be another play they slog through.
The American Shakespeare Center recently posted a blog that reflected on the translation that occurs with any piece not in your native tongue. The entry was very applicable to me, since I am not only trying to ensure my seniors appreciate Shakespeare, but am also rather frustrated with my freshmen's translation of The Odyssey. The 20 minute conversation I had with them regarding the different versions of The Odyssey was difficult to explain - I have one version of prose on our Blackboard site. The library has 2 additional adaptations. The freshmen textbook has an horrific translation and abridgement that isn't even worth opening to - a veritable desecration of the poem. We, as an English department, have 2 versions, one prose, one poem. Unfortunately, the version we have the most copies of, and the most recently purchased (which means it will be a while before we replace them) is translated in an almost sing-song manner - I feel downright Suessian at times when we're reading it out loud.
Even if you don't want to read the entire entry from The American Shakespeare Center, the latter half is where the true meat of the assertion is - I am thankful that I am a native English speaker, though not Elizabethan. That is something I relearn every time I teach Shakespeare and that is merely because I have to attempt to view his plays through the eyes of my students. Every time a work is translated, unless you know the native tongue, you will lose some of the beauty and sometimes, some of the content.
Translating art is difficult - and teaching how to translate it is an even slicker slope. But it is a skill that is necessary, as our society moves towards ever increasing distance between human contact. Shakespeare is the epitome of the human experience - every emotion is written in a way that everyone can understand. Even us pathetic groundlings who merely grasp the most base ideas of his plays. I am not worthy of him but I will do my best to represent him to my students. As for Homer, well... I think he must be groaning in his grave as we read the poem. But then again, I've never read the original in Greek, so I have no way, myself, of knowing how much I lose when I read it, regardless of how talented my professor was in college. I do know I add some life to the translation that is otherwise lost. Let's hope I can act enough as his interpreter to his satisfaction, Sisyphean task as it may be.
Tuesday, October 19, 2010
Sydney in his bibs. Something about a boy in bibs...
Sunday, October 17, 2010
Nigella's Blueberry Muffins
1 1/3 cups flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 cup sugar
pinch of salt
I add cinnamon and freshly grated nutmeg
6 Tbsp melted butter
3/4 cup butter milk OR 1/2 cup each of milk and yogurt
I used vanilla yogurt to add the vanillan flavor, too, otherwise, I would add a tsp of vanilla, as well
1 cup blueberries
Preheat oven to 400 degrees and melt butter - let it cool. Beat the buttermilk, egg, and butter together. Add in the dry ingredients, being careful not to over mix. Fold in the blueberries and dollop in to your muffin tins (cups or greased). Bake for 20 minutes. Makes 10 regular-sized muffins, so plan accordingly.
I don't usually keep buttermilk around, unless I know I'm going to be doing a lot of baking or planning on making homemade biscuits, so I used the yogurt addition. I whisked the wet ingredients together before adding the dry, and already, I could see they would be less dense than the previous recipes. They were light and fluffy with a very nice flavor to both the dough and the blueberries. YUM! I plan on measuring out several baggies worth of the dry ingredients to make it easy to pop them out when we're in the mood for muffins. And Syd is always in the mood for muffins!
And, on a separate note, Syd finally got his 2nd top tooth!! I have never seen a child whose top teeth did not come in one right after the other, but at least we didn't have to wait another 4 months for this one! Obviously, it's too small to include pictures of it, just yet, but it looks like it's going to be as big as his other, so I expect quite a few humorous pictures to be posted soon!
Thursday, October 14, 2010
3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups canned pumpkin (or you could roast and mash up your own)
1 cup vegetable oil
3 cups sugar (no wonder he liked them!)
I added vanilla, too
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup raisins
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine all dry ingredients together and set aside. Using a mixer, combine pumpkin, eggs, oil, and sugar and beat well. In batches, add in the dry ingredients. Fold in the nuts and raisins. Pour in to oiled muffin tins and bake 20-23 minutes. Cool in pan for 15 min.
There is an orange glaze that goes along with this, but I can't help but think that these are sweet enough as they are. If you want a nice touch, dust them with powdered sugar before serving.
And, to tide you over, I finally downloaded the camera last night. Here's the most recent in Syd pics!
Syd enjoying pumpkin muffins!!
Sunday, October 10, 2010
On to pedagogy and my conference. I found the time and the drive worthwhile within the first two hours of the conference. If nothing else, it reaffirmed information I already knew about my 12 AP class that I needed reminding of since the summer conference. For one thing, the entire mindset regarding the class and who could/should take it is different than it was several years ago.
My class was developed entirely by a co-worker. She did an excellent job developing her curriculum, and her students' scores demonstrated that. But her class was designed to ensure that those who succeeded in the class were the ones who would succeed in college without any prompting or assistance - in other words, those who needed help, motivation, or were of a slightly less than stellar caliber were weeded out through the vigorous work load and expectation of prior knowledge.
Prior to taking over the class, I already knew that the the mindset was shifting regarding advanced placement students. In addition to this shift, our school was accepted into the VASS grant, which is specifically geared towards allowing everyone - no... encouraging everyone to take the advanced classes. Now, if I had not known about VASS (Virginia Advanced Studies Strategies) and had been told I needed to encourage everyone to take the advanced classes, I would have been very dubious of the success of the advanced programs. But VASS is not merely asking that we keep everyone in these classes; they are setting us up for success. The training I went to over the summer and this past weekend have taught me quite a few things.
- First - that though I have a cumulative 13 years or so of experience teaching, I know nothing. Who was it...Socrates? who said that only by admitting we know nothing can we truly know everything. I must be a genius, then, because I've realized how much I have to grow as a teacher. I only hope I do not damage my students, or leave them completely unprepared for the world, as I search for my own knowledge.
- The strategies we were taught, as students in high school as well as in our education classes in college are outdated, ineffective, and overwhelmingly work with a select minority of today's students. The days of "read, answer discussion questions, quiz - repeat" are over and if nothing else, regardless of level or caliber of student, today's kids are so much more accustomed to stimuli that we have to find the way to get them, in essence, to teach themselves.
- To explain the tail end of #2 - our students, today, are so brainwashed to answer the correct answer only, or to listen to the teacher who explains the "correct" way of thinking that they no longer think for themselves. I've always striven to teach them NOT what I think (which is why I do not reveal my own thoughts on religion, politics, etc.), but to question and determine what THEY think. And I received confirmation this weekend that we, as a whole, are still failing in this. Increasingly, our youth are going on to life after high school simply regurgitating information they were told in life - about religion, politics, rights, biases, even how to drive their cars. Everything. And it is reflected in their inability to do even the most common free-thinking tasks. Common sense is out the window. Inference is nowhere to be seen. Cause and effect, even, is completely alien.
- So, what should we do? We shut up. My instructor this weekend was so knowledgeable. But the real treat was when he held a discussion that explained his tactics. In retrospect, we realized that he actually taught very little. Instead, he would guide his discussions, but allow us, the student, to actually dictate the discussion. It was a way to teach the skills we needed, not simply pound information in to our heads. He would draw out certain ideas to help when we slowed down, but he did not - I repeat - did not tell us what we needed to know.
- And, to examine #4 further - he was asked what he does when the students do not ask the "right" questions - when they do not cover something he feels is something they need to know. He answered - "I don't tell them. I simply let it go." WOW! What a concept! And what a difficult ingrained response to let go of, if we follow suit. His reasoning? He's teaching skills, not information. As his students learn the skills necessary to extrapolate all that they need from a lesson, his need to guide them diminishes. It makes sense.
- Last, I was reminded of one very important lesson - I, alone, do not have to make sure they are exposed to everything that has ever been on the AP test. I need to keep reminding myself of this. I need to remember that it is about quality, not quantity. Ever since I received the list that states what pieces were on the test, and the years that they appeared, I've been so focused on making sure my students are exposed to the items that appeared most recently and most frequently, that I've lost the main purpose of the list. It is not to make my students drown under the weight of books they should be reading, but to make sure they are exposed to the type of writing so that they can A) be exposed to the type and recognize other pieces within that same era or genre and B) learn the skills that go with the type, not the specific pieces themselves.
Basically, I need to rewrite my curriculum. I knew I needed to do this, but didn't realize, fully, just how badly it needs to be restructured. And to be honest, I'm not sure how to go about doing this so that this year's students will be prepared for their AP test in May. Time goes so quickly when you're swamped. I'll have to keep you updated with my own progress as I strive to "know nothing."
Saturday, October 9, 2010
I didn't mind where we went, and Jody was rather excited about P.F. Chang's, so I started to look forward to dinner. I was really quite taken aback. The atmosphere, for me, has a HUGE impact on the dining experience. It seems to me that restaurants are increasingly moving towards the open ceiling, open dining room, stone or brick presentation with the host/hostess podium smack in the middle. The incessant and increasing echo of conversations around me put me off. I absolutely despise having to yell at dinner to people sitting 2 feet from me. It's ridiculous. One of my favorite restaurants has a gorgeous view from the main dining room, but Steve and I always ask for the back rooms because they are naturally more sound-absorbing and less distracting and headache-inducing. Plus, the cream of brie and artichoke soup is divine.
But, back to P.F. Chang's. The food was good. I asked if any MSG is used, as this additive is guaranteed to give me a migraine within 30 minutes of eating it. They assured me there was none, and frankly, for Chinese food without MSG, it really was good food. But it wasn't the caliber of food I expect when I get an emphatic vote from Jody, and I was still hungry afterwards. Disappointing.
So, I head back to the hotel with grading in mind. I decided to order a hotel pizza - pineapple pizza and a glass of Merlot. The pizza came. The cheese was hot and melty. They used fresh pineapple - nothing canned. But the sauce was very dry and the crust had the pre-packaged aftertaste that accompanies many store-bought pastries and biscuits. I was, again, disappointed.
The hotel provided the food for the conference. That was really quite good, considering the quantity they were preparing and time frame it had to be served. The lemon/raspberry layer cake really made me want to sneak the cake pan back into my hotel room. Besides, free food is always yummy. But, the buffet ended at 2 and I was driving home for several hours. I really wanted to get home in time to give Sydney his bath, so I grabbed Wendy's at about 5:30 and kept driving. Once again - disappointed. I am usually quite satisfied with Wendy's. I like how they use whole pieces of lettuce (albeit, iceberg...) and tomato, and they keep them cold until they make the sandwich so you get this dichotomy of hot and cold in the same bite. Yum. But today's burger didn't have any flavor whatsoever, and the fries were WAY too salty. Holy cow. I felt like they were preparing me for a salt-lick and a hunter was hiding off in the woods. Blech.
So, needless to say, I've lived this entire weekend rather unsatiated. The best thing I've had to eat is the pumpkin spice latte and matching pumpkin nut muffin from Starbucks that I picked up two hours in to my drive on my way to the conference. I've recently discovered the pumpkin spice latte...YUMMERS!
Enough complaining for now. I plan on tweaking my blueberry muffin recipe tomorrow. I found the recipe I used before a little heavy. It called for a stick of butter, which I left out overnight to ensure it would blend well with the other ingredients. But since I used frozen blueberries, my smooth, though thick, dough became rather glued together as I mixed in my tiny little ice cubes. Since the dough was heavy and thick, I'm going to try using the healthier replacement of apple sauce to, not only add in more moisture (I did not crush 1/2 cup of blueberries, so I think the extra moisture is necessary), but also keep the dough from congealing when I add my blueberries. And, yes, I want to use frozen because that is the best way for me to keep them stocked, and I will not always realize I plan on making the muffins, so more than likely, they'll be frozen. Life is too harried to always remember to defrost.
Kathleen, I know this was not your recipe, but I still hope you do not take offense to my tweaking. I'll let you know how this turns out!!
Tune in soon to hear about the conference. I want the information to sink in more before I comment on it, but I've already been formatting thoughts on what I learned and heard. I hope one day I can consider myself "highly trained;" pedagogy shifts on a yearly basis, so we'll see where I end up!
Monday, October 4, 2010
And then life hit. You know - life. Sydney didn't nap today, unbeknownst to me as I lugged my bag stuffed with papers, tests, bell ringers, to my car and in to the house. I even saw Rafe on my way out - he commented on my being loaded down, and I gave a sigh and told him to ask me tomorrow how much of it I actually touched. But I digress - Life.
Sydney didn't nap, so within 2 minutes of sitting down with him to nurse after school, he was out, and out for over an hour. Now, granted, I napped, too...but he doesn't usually go out for that amount of time.
And then he wouldn't settle down after he woke up. He didn't want to go to bed so I finally left him to cry it out - took a tremendous total of 5 minutes before he was snoring along with his crib aquarium that my Dad got him for Christmas last year. We don't use it often anymore, but it worked this evening.
So, I go into the kitchen to pull out my grading, and realize I haven't had a chance to prepare for the next day - dishes, bottles, and heaven forbid I forget to set up the coffee-maker.
Moments of Zen do hit, but these days they are too few, and too far in between. But when they do, the skies open, the sun's rays shine down, and I feel as though I have a boys' choir following me around singing Ode to Joy. I am hoping the coffee I drank at 6 will last a little longer, but I've gotten so accustomed to caffeine that I fear it won't have much of an effect. Perhaps its time to show a movie in class...
Saturday, October 2, 2010
Days like this, Steve and I usually try to determine how long we can hold out before we HAVE to turn on the heat. We both feel October is too early, but the weather ultimately dictates our actions. In the past, we have turned on our gas heater that is in the basement and left the furnace off until nearly Thanksgiving. However, in the past few days when we've gotten down to the 40s at night, I find that merely turning on the oven in the morning helps heat up the primary living quarters comfortably enough.
How sublime, then, and convenient, that we've made it a habit to have muffins for breakfast at least once during the weekend. In the past, I've kept stock of boxed muffin mix. Allow me to side-step long enough to stress that very seldom does any recipe go unaltered. I have a knack for experimenting with spice and I enjoy tweaking even the "best" recipes that I obtain from people to make them even better. Besides, if Giada uses boxed, why can't I? :-)
That being said, allow me to digress for yet another moment and state that I caught myself flipping through the channels last week while I nursed Sydney. I was snared by a show that had a woman crawling on top of her fridge, emptying her cupboards. With every container she removed, a man standing next to the fridge would read the ingredients list and point out how nearly ever box contained either corn syrup or hydrogenated oils. He then went on to explain what hydrogenated oils were and how they came to be not only in existence and accepted, but also discovered to be falsely healthy for humans.
I was dismayed to realize that my beloved muffin mix had hydrogenated oil in it. The key is moderation, but if I have the resources to make muffins from scratch, why not use them? Why risk the possible health of my husband and son, and myself for that matter, if I am fully capable and enjoy baking from scratch? The answer was simple - we used up the last box of muffin mix during the week (merely an excuse to turn on the oven, but also provided us with a yummy breakfast before running helter-skelter off to work) and I decided that I would make my own "mix."
The first step, of course, is to find a recipe that I really like. I've used a few recipes in the past that I haven't enjoyed all that much - the muffins were dry, or had an odd flavor, etc. So, Kathleen is now my guinea pig :-) I am going to try her recipe tomorrow morning. I've already measured out the dry ingredients into a bowl, sifted them all together, then stored them in a quart-sized freezer ziploc bag. I figured that if I measure out 2 at a time, and write a little note to tape onto the bag with the wet ingredients, I'll have just as easy a time getting my muffins together as I did with my beloved mix. Besides, I can easily alter the recipe this way - add or change ingredients, or even plan out a completely different muffin type. I need to get some chocolate chips and pecans before I can measure out my oatmeal muffins. But those can be pre-mixed, too! Regardless, I walked away from the kitchen this evening feeling content with how I am trying to be a conscientious mother and wife to my family.
So, here's to warming the house without turning on the furnace or lighting the pilot! Here's to making preparations to make life easier! Here's to ensuring our health by eliminating needless additives from our diet! And here's to giving me an excuse to buy new Pampered Chef measuring cups from Kristi! Bon appetit!
Monday, September 27, 2010
I was shocked at some things I learned, and hope that I relay my perception of certain points accurately here. Allow me the disclaimer in that I am NOT a doctor, psychologist (though sometimes feel like one with the young'uns I deal with), or any other occupation in which you should take my words as medical truth. A fascinating point of interest was the brain's interaction with drugs, and we reviewed quite a laundry list of them.
Allow me to digress for a moment. I was not raised with soda in the house (or, depending on where you are, lower case 'c' coke, pop, or any other moniker for fizzy drinks). We drank milk, juice, water, and tea. And our tea was not the diabetic-coma inducing sweet tea you find in the south, but it was sweetened. I continued those habits on my own.
Although we drank hot tea, too, my consumption of hot tea increased exponentially my undergrad years. In college, the dorms became arid as the desert in the winter, so I would drink a cup of tea at breakfast to moisten my throat (note to all my former and soon to be former students - seriously...invest in a warm mist humidifier for your dorm room, apartment, etc. The flu virus hates moist air, and I credit my consistent use of a humidifier with preventing us from getting sick as often during the winter months...).
Enter life after college - I began to experiment in the various types of tea - green, black, white. I found it relaxing. Delightful. Delicious. And it is so good for you. I even threw "Ladies Hat Tea Parties" with my friends. All very good stuff. But I did not drink coffee. I pretty much refused. When I had no choice, I had coffee with my milk and sugar, and not the other way around. When I went to Italy, I actually had to take a Dramamine with my espresso or it would give me such a buzz I got ill. Seriously.
Back to my freshman year - I learned that the neurotransmitter that acts as a stimulant is called acetylcholine (ah-SEE-tyl-KOH-leen). It's a fun little chemical that bounces around from synapses to synapses and makes you feel awake. When you consume caffeine, the body recognizes that it is a stimulant, and puts a hold on the amount of acetylcholine that you produce naturally. After following a habit of consumption for so long, the body no longer makes the same amount, resulting in headaches, crankiness, etc. Hence, the coffee-headache you experience when you don't get your coffee soon enough, or enough of it.
I was horrified to think that something I did purposely could cause me to feel that way, and vowed to never become a coffee drinker. I wanted my mind to "be in its right mind" and not expect anything from outside my body to function properly. Sure, I enjoyed times when I consumed caffeine. And goodness, it never took much. If I actually pounded a full 12 ounces of soda, I would get a caffeine buzz. So, I stuck to tea, water, milk, juice. Besides, coffee was absolutely disgusting. It was bitter and made my breath smell bad.
And then Sydney came. I made it 33 years without becoming dependent on coffee. Now, more than a year later, coffee does for me what tea used to do - it relaxes me. I love the smell, but had to get used to the taste. And now, I can actually have 2 cups and still fall asleep while nursing Sydney. It no longer affects me the way it used to, but I can actually understand the commercial where the woman wraps both hands around her mug, curls up in her pajamas and slippers on the living room love seat, and inhales deeply, ecstatically, of her mug of coffee.
I've never NEVER used illicit drugs. But I will say that caffeine is, indeed, a drug. And it is now my drug of choice, administered through coffees and creamers - mix and match to find your bliss.
Thursday, September 23, 2010
Sydney decided that playing with the shiny noisemaker would be more fun than opening presents!
On another note, teaching has taken on a whole new challenge. I made a promise within the first month of starting this blog where I promised to try to remain panglossian. So, I will not vent here. But suffice it to say that my co-workers and I are under increasing pressure. So much so that I wondered how long I would stay in this profession.
Allow me to say that that thought saddened me a great deal. There's a reason why I teach, and rather than repeat a phrase that is becoming cliche, I'll leave it at that. I enjoy passing on my passion for literature, for writing, for learning too much to joke about this. And usually, I start to wonder how much longer I can stand to bring home my job every night...every weekend by about March. Preparing for the first round of SOLs will do it to ya. But the truth is, I DO get 2 months during the summer to recuperate. And who else can say that? I was able to spend that time with my son this summer, and it was glorious.
But then something happened the very next day at school that forced to accept the fact that I will keep pushing myself to accomplish everything the state, the school board, the school administration, and my department chair asks of me...all without sacrificing my instruction to my students. My juniors were giving group presentations on ballads, teaching their classmates in the process. Some students included the actual tunes of their chosen ballads so their classmates could hear them. A few students elected to sing their ballad. One group, in my 5th block, had the ballad 'Clementine,' and they were playing the music and singing. It is a well-known ballad, so I started to sing along. Jokingly, I waved the class on in time for the refrain and wonder of wonders, THE ENTIRE CLASS SANG THE SONG! It was so surprising...I was caught completely off guard. It was fun, refreshing, and I came away from that class knowing I would be a teacher for a long, long time.