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!