Monday, November 29, 2010

How to Fight Jet Lag.

Our flight from Philly to Dublin was one of those lovely overnights that picks you up when you're not so tired at 9 pm and deposits you groggy and confused in another part of the world at 8 in the morning. That's the cool thing about air travel when you are coming home, but it's less cool when you're tired and want to set out exploring.

We talked about it in advance, and we decided to try several strategies to make the most of our first day in Ireland. Take Tylenol pm to sleep on the plane. Drink a nightcap to help sleeping on the plane. Eat good meals. Hot toddies. No naps. Cold weather and lots of walking. Guinness.

We were mostly successful but barely made it till 10 pm. I had been up for about 36 hours with a two hour nap and middle schoolers on Friday. 8th graders do me in on Friday even if I don't travel across the world.

Here are my friends: Kenneth and Melinda who flew from London to Dublin to meet us, plus Jon, Erica and Dereck from Kansas City. These are some of our cold weather clothes. Prepare to see them a lot during this vacation.

Trinity College was beautiful - the book of Kells and the library with books arranged by size. This is almost as awesome as my books that are arranged by color. The tour guide did a great job telling us the history of Trinity. Later, we met someone who went to Trinity, and he implied sometimes the tour guides lie. This makes me like them even more.

Dublin was super rainy while we were there. We carried umbrellas with us pretty much everywhere we went. This was definitely the wettest part of our trip - London was surprisingly dry while we were there.

I love the bikes and lines in this photo. Trinity was a real school, with students scurrying around to study. You can see library written in two languages - the Irish take their language pretty seriously by making everyone learn it in school. But our tour guide told us that it is an illogical language to learn, so we stuck to English.

If we were to do it again, we probably would have benefited from a nap in fighting jet lag. The tough thing was that the six of us haven't all been together very much in the past year and a half. And we had so much to say and see and do...

Photos are posted raw and unedited to facebook. Keep coming back to the blog to see more of the photos with the stories. I'll be writing about this trip for the rest of my life. Or at least intermittently for the next few weeks.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Home Again.

Hi again. It's me, blogging in real time. I'm watching TV, and there's a commercial with Beatles music. This obviously makes me want to cry because I miss London, Europe, and the gang already. I have been awake since 3 am EST - so about 18 hours. I'm headed to sleep right now, and I'll tackle all the things piled around me tomorrow. Mail. Laundry. Photos. Papers to grade.

But here's a preview of all the good things to come. Dublin. And then London.

Thursday, November 25, 2010


Enter his gates with thanksgiving
and his courts with praise;
give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;
his faithfulness continues through all generations.
Psalm 100:4-5

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Dear Baby G.

Dear Kate's baby,

Please don't arrive until I get back from London, okay? I know your due date is November 30th, so if you could make it until then, that would be sweet. Thanks baby.

All my love,

P.S. Keep kicking your mama. She's an attorney and probably deserves it a little bit.
P.S.S. I'll bring you a present at Christmastime.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Jennie in Chicago - Guest Blog!

You've met my best friend Jennie before on my trips to visit her in Chicago and on her lovely visit with boyfriend Joe over Labor Day Weekend. I think her job is fascinating, and I asked her to share a little about what she does while I'm away. I am constantly in awe of her passion, and I know you'll feel it as you read about her cool job. She's full of wonderful, supportive advice.

My daily activities include playing with bubbles, cars, ball poppers and swinging - a lot of swinging. Of course, it also involves studying fMRIs, shaping neurons to fire together, and stimulating swallows. I’m a pediatric speech-language pathologist.

I work with young children helping them to develop receptive and expressive language skills and social skills. I also work on developing reasoning, problem solving, feeding, and swallowing (to hit on just a few of the highlights). My job is fantastic ,and I could go on and on about the wonders of the brain. For now, I’ll just talk about the little ones.

Early intervention is key. There are so many changes in the first 3 years of life and lots for parents and caregivers to be looking for. Sometimes it’s overwhelming. Armed with some facts and a parents keen gut instinct, you can be your child’s best advocate.

The American Academy of Pediatrics “ages and stages” is a great resource to get you started on what to expect. The American Speech-Language Hearing Association is also a great place to check out development and tips to encourage development.

Here are a few things to be aware of and tips along the way:
  • No TV before age 3. The American Academy of Pediatrics actually recommends no TV before the age of 2 because of the detrimental effect TV has on brain development. However, I suggest no TV before age 3 because there are so many basic skills children learn during this year that require interaction with their environment that they can’t get from TV.
  • Talk to your child as you go through your daily routines. It’s simple, and you are probably already talking to yourself in your head (at least I do, and I’ve just admitted it on the internet, so I hope I’m not alone). Pairing your verbalizations with actions and sharing activities with your child is perfect for language/engagement/cognitive/pretty much all development.
  • Kids like routines. They are learning what the world is all about, and its helpful to have some consistency in their life. Meals are a great time for this. Having set meal times is a perfect way to work routines into your day. Have foods from each of the food groups and rotate foods as you go. Check out ages and stages for sample menus.
  • Children learn best by being active participants in their environment. We can help encourage that by modeling play, pointing out interesting things (like how a spoon can fit in a cup or that water is wet), by surrounding them with simple toys on the floor, and letting them sit next to us at the table.
The American Academy of Pediatrics “Ages and Stages” makes note of milestones your child should be meeting from birth through 21 years. However, here are some things a child should be doing by age 2 to get you started: your child should be able to walk while pulling a toy; point to a variety of pictures and objects when named; follow simple directions and understand most of what you say; talk in 2-4 word sentences; and begin to engage in make believe play. Your child should also be eating the same foods as the rest of the family (see ages and stages for foods to stay away from for safety reasons).

Even if your child is meeting all the milestones but your gut tells you something might be askew, ask for help- the earlier the intervention the better. If you’re concerned, check in with your pediatrician. “Wait and see” isn’t an appropriate response from your doctor. You should be provided with specific answers to your questions or things you can be encouraging your child to learn before your next appointment. If you are concerned you should look into making your next appointment sooner than usual. You can always initiate a formal evaluation with a specialist at a private clinic or through your state’s Early Intervention program.

In the end, you are your child’s best teacher. It’s our job, as parents and caregivers, to help our children’s brains develop. So, get out there and stimulate those young brains!

Helpful links for you!
Typical Speech and Language Development
Ages and Stages Development from American Academy of Pediatricians

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Teaching the Founding Documents.

Independence Hall, Philadelphia, October 2010

When my students have settled at the beginning of the class, I tell them, in the saddest voice I can muster, "Sometimes relationships don't work out. You can put everything you've got into them, and they just can't make it."

They are quiet. Looking at me, convinced that I am about to share a personal story about going through a break-up. So I continue. They're vulnerable, and I'm taking advantage of them.

"At the end of the relationship, people say things about why it didn't work. Sometimes...the truth hurts..." I let my voice trail off.

Got 'em. Right where I want them. "But this isn't about me. This is about the United States and Great Britain. The Declaration of Independence was our break-up letter. Things weren't working out in our relationship."

Oh, are they surprised. I love it. Someone told me I should be an actor. (When fake crying, blow your nose. Nice touch.) We talk about the details some more, and then I show them the break-up ballad below. Please, please watch it.

I think it is extremely ironic that I taught about the Declaration of Independence right before my trip to England. Take that! And now let me be a tourist.

Also, I'm not always a good teacher. This blog may be a little skewed. Sometimes my kids are straight up ridiculous, and I yell at them. Like when one kid was break dancing. Or when Joey said "meow" instead of answering my question. And sometimes I just run out of patience and yell at them for being eighth graders. For that, I am sorry.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Where I'll Be...

Did you know I'm going on a trip? Tonight?

Oh yeah. I thought I mentioned it. I know it is getting old, but I don't travel internationally often (okay, not in at least 7 years, and that was the Bahamas). And I've been looking forward to this trip for months!

We'll be in Dublin Saturday morning through Tuesday morning, and then we'll be in London through Saturday morning. My flights both ways are through Philadelphia. I could have booked direct flights from DC, but I would have flown out of Dulles (annoying), it was more expensive, and this way I get to meet up with Erica, Jon and Dereck in Philadelphia.

We're staying at the Best Western Academy Plaza Hotel in Dublin. I think that my Irish boyfriend is waiting for me right inside the door. Do you see him? It was the accent. Love at first word.

K West is our posh hotel for London. More on this sweet set-up later, but I'm thankful that Erica's got a cool family.

My students were concerned about having a substitute while I'm gone, but they were MORE concerned about how I was going to use the restroom. Their travel advice? Pack toilet paper.

And this is why I need a vacation.

But because I can't bring you all a souvenir, I left you some goodies on the blog for while I am gone. Please check back here all next week for some fun posts, included a second guest post!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Please Don't Go.

True to Belle's nature, she suspects something is up. My suitcase is in my room, and its packed. Is it Friday at 6 o'clock yet?

Before I go, here's what I need to do:
  • Teach 110 8th graders for 90 minutes each one more time. Thankfully they come in packs.
  • Work out. Spin class anyone? That seems like a good idea before sitting on a plane overnight.
  • Watch Thursday night TV. I'm all caught up on the DVR otherwise. Yes, this is a priority. Do you know what my DVR will look like if I get too far behind?
  • Write a grad school reflection and post to our discussion board about racism. Twice.
  • Grade papers. (Just kidding. Totally not happening. I'm mentally on vacation already.)
  • Write sub plans.
  • Threaten 8th graders about their behavior with said sub.
  • Get excited. Jump up and down excited about Dublin, London and spending time with good people.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Happy Birthday Spencer!

My brother was a baby. And now he is FIVE today. Five! Where did that time go? Here's how it went. He was born. I met him for the first time at my college graduation. Look at how tiny he was! (It's all relative though - he was a big Luhrs baby, afterall.)

Then he was one with killer curls. We went to Indianapolis for his baptism and birthday in November, and then we saw him again in Nebraska at Christmas. We called him "McDrooly." (It was the height of the Grey's Anatomy craze.)

Just after Spencer turned two, we spent a week in Hawaii. He had lots to say about pancakes, airplanes, and "chop chops" (helicopters). We share a love of pancakes.

Year 3 was the year of the funny smiles. And the introduction of the drama. My stepmom said, "I don't know where he gets the dramatic flair from." I know. Oh do I. It's like my whole life.

Between year three and four, there were plenty of Spencer stories. And I wrote a lot of them down on the blog. If they weren't things I experienced, they were hilarious stories Dad and Tracy told me. Remember the jerseys? That's my favorite Spencer story. These are my favorite Spencer photos, taken just a few days after his fourth birthday.

This video, taken in August, is an interview I did with Spencer about his love of jerseys. He is 4.5 years old. I love it for his enthusiasm and excitement, his dimples, and because Dad is so totally oblivious to the whole thing. (Spence is not wearing a jersey in the video because we are getting ready to take a family photo.)

Happy birthday little brother! Come visit me, okay? I can't wait to see you and give you a hug and a high five for turning five.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Two Truths and a Lie.

Belle, November 2007, about four months old

A few weeks ago I was at a retreat with my civics team. We had to write two truths and a lie. Are you ready for a Tuesday afternoon quiz? Take a shot...
  1. I have two sisters and four brothers.
  2. I met Paul Rudd at a bar in Aggieville in college
  3. My dog is a street dog I found outside my old school.
90% of you can guess this right off, but I totally stumped them! I do have two sisters (one step-sister) and four brothers (three step-brothers, one half-brother), but I proudly count them all as mine. All six of them.

I haven't met Paul Rudd. My sister helped him in a dressing room at Banana Republic. It's a good thing I didn't meet him in Aggieville. I would have embarrassed myself for real.

Belle is a street dog. Here's the story of her arrival in my life, recorded for posterity.

In the spring of 2007, I went through sort of a nasty break-up. It was rough for awhile, and during that time I decided I really wanted a dog. Someone that would always love me best. I spent countless hours on the internet researching doodles - I wanted a huge labradoodle like my dad's Wizard, or even a golden doodle. They are beautiful big dogs. And expensive, so I didn't get one, I just looked and looked. I didn't grow up with a dog, so the whole thing was foreign to me.

Fast forward six months to the end of BOTAR. The Wednesday before I am going to make my debut as a belle of the ball (a whole 'nother story), I was walking around my school, making copies and dropping work off at ISS. I had a sixth grade rascal on "team focus" with me, and as we walked around we looked out to see a young puppy sitting in the rain. Someone had abandoned this little puppy outside of our school.

We walked away. A couple of errands later, we decided to check on the poor pup. She was still there, but she had moved closer to the door. She was the saddest thing I'd ever seen. We found an empty box and a towel, loaded her up and carried her to the fourth floor and put her in the empty classroom next door. My little rascal helped me check on her for the rest of the day, but she was just calmly sleeping in her warm box.

I took her to the vet. I was going to get her checked out and find her a home. I was not going to keep her. When Erica came home to our apartment, I informed her there was a puppy, and we were not going to keep her. I pretended this for a couple of days, thinking maybe someone at school would claim her or another one of my friends would need a puppy.

This of course proved to be very wrong. Belle stayed. She's sleeping at my feet as I write this, and even though she is a little bit crazy, I did very much end up with a dog who loves me best.

Monday, November 15, 2010

BBQ and the Photo Travel Dilemma.

Sorry to tempt you with more salty food. Normally I'm all about the sweets, but somedays you need a little bit of salt. These photos are from my trip home last August. I went to my friend Dereck's church downtown, and then we went to Arthur Bryant's. I'm a terrible Kansas City gal and had never been to the one downtown. It was an enormous amount of food.

Dereck has become a Kansas Citian through and through - he had four different BBQ sauce options. His loft downtown has good natural light for food photography.

Dereck had beef, and I had pork. Can you see him above? That's his blue shirt. He's very patiently waiting while I snap a picture of the food. Doesn't even fight it - looks like he's ready for Dublin and London later this week.

Here's the point of this post (there is one, I promise): I am not taking a computer to Europe, so all blogging and recording of memories will have to be done when I get home. I'm okay with that. I want to be unplugged for eight days, enjoying my friends, Europe, and a good book or two.

But I'm overwhelmed thinking about how much there might be to share when I get home. Dereck, Erica and I were on a conference call Saturday, and Dereck was talking about me taking 1700 pictures of little details. This is impossible. My camera card only holds 1181 photos, and I refuse to buy another one.

I think it will be interesting figuring out how to balance the blogging out. I don't want to write fifty-two posts about Europe. I probably don't need to photograph every meal in a pub. Maybe I'll write a short day-by-day summary, and then throw in anecdotes other times to keep it interesting.

Just like this BBQ post. Bet you didn't see this one coming.

Hoagies at Taylor Gourmet.

This weekend was un-photograph-able. Seriously, nothing that I did was super out of the ordinary. I baked some muffins that were sort of a bust. I went to grad school, finished a paper, cleaned my house and did laundry for London. I get to go abroad on Friday. That is enough excitement to keep me up at night. Except for I'm so stinking tired from productivity.

But these photos are from last weekend and worth sharing. They are also making me hungry for a hoagie, even though it is 10 pm on a Sunday night.

My first taste of a true Philadelphia style hoagie was on my trip to the Jersey Shore last June. When Mom was here in July, we went to the Newseum and stopped at Taylor Gourmet for a hoagie. Just to be clear about hoagies, to be authentic they have to include sharp parmesan, salty salty meat from Italy, and good bread. Taylor brings their bread in from Philadelphia each and every morning. Do not ask for mayonnaise in a hoagie shop. That's just not how this is done. (I'm protecting you, really.)

The location of the first Taylor Gourmet is not in my normal loop through DC. But their new location is much easier to justify stopping by for a hoagie. They both have these cool open garage door fronts and a hipster feel throughout.

I ordered the 9th Street Italian - all the hoagies are named after streets in Philadelphia. It's the same one I had last July, and I'd order it again, maybe with extra tomatoes. This would be a terrible place to go on a date because your mouth is very busy chewing and not talking. I was kind of glad I was there by myself. Then no one would interrupt me while I savored each bite.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Roasted Butternut Squash Risotto.

Hi! What are your plans for the weekend? Do they involve a bottle of chardonnay? Mine did last weekend, and it was a glorious way to savor a nice fall weekend.

I love bottles of chardonnay. They are my most favorite. I love meals that taste like every ingredient was carefully planned and added with love. Save this recipe for when you have time to make it and enjoy it. I followed the recipe from Cooking Light almost exactly, making two small substitutions to avoid buying thirty ingredients. But if you do have to buy some stuff for the dish, it's totally worth it.

Roasted Butternut Squash Risotto with Sugared Walnuts
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (not too small of bits)
1 tablespoon butter, melted
1-2 teaspoons brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 cups (1/2 inch) cubed peeled butternut squash - thank you wegman's for already chunking it for me!
1 tablespoon olive oil (don't use more, really don't, or it might be soggy)
2 teaspoons minced fresh garlic
4 cups low sodium chicken broth
1/2 cup water
1 ounce pancetta, finely chopped (I had them cut it really thick, which made it extra savory)
1 and 1/4 cups uncooked Arborio rice
1/2 cup chardonnay
1 teaspoon herbs de provence (basically you want thyme - I love everything else in this bottle of magic spices too)
about 1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon zest
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground pepper
parmigiano-reggiano cheese for on top

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Arrange nuts in a single layer and bake for five minutes, stirring twice. Put the nuts in a bowl, drizzle with butter, sprinkle with sugar, and black pepper. Toss well to coat. Avoid snacking on these while making risotto.

Combine squash and olive oil, tossing to coat. Arrange squash in a single layer on tray. Bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes or until squash is just tender. Remove from pan; stir in garlic. Set aside.

Bring broth and 1/2 cup water to a simmer in a saucepan. Don't boil it, just keep it warm.

Here's the magic of the risotto...
Heat a large saucepan over medium heat. Add pancetta to pan, cook 5 minutes or until it starts to brown. Add onion and cook it about 3 minutes or until tender, stirring occasionally. Add rice, cook 2 minutes, stirring constantly.

Add wine. Pour yourself a glass now too - there's real work to be done!

Cook the liquid until is is nearly absorbed, stirring constantly. Add broth mixture 1/2 cup at a time, waiting each time until it is absorbed. It took me about an hour total, but I was very cautious with my heat. And I had the chardonnay.

At the end, don't worry if the last drops are absorbed. It will reheat better if the rice mixture can still move a little bit. Stir in squash, thyme/herbs, salt and pepper.

To serve, top it with squash and nuts. It's best the first day when it is the creamiest, but it was good the rest of the weekend too. And so comforting. I think homemade risotto, and I might become friends.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Saturday at the Mosque.

If you have talked to me on any Saturday in the past two months, I've probably told you about how I should be at the mosque. The trip was part of a long term project in grad school. That's the thing about long term projects - you have a longer term to put them off.

But this Saturday, I stopped putting it off and went. Each of us need to do a social action project, tackling some issue that is important to us. A lot of my classmates are doing some sort of community service project, but there was another issue that I really wanted to explore. The media is a buzz about Muslims in America on a regular basis.

So I wondered what it was like for my students - what's it like to fast during Ramadan, to see people angry about their faith, and to be associated with terrorism and extremism. And to just be ordinary 8th graders born in the United States.

I'm still digging in (it's not due until December) but going on Saturday to the Islamic Cultural Center was a major step. The language barrier had made it tricky to get information on the phone before I went, and there was something super intimidating about going by myself.

But after the two men working in the bookstore sort of figured out what I was doing, they were super supportive. They told me that my kids probably go to the other large mosque in the area, near my house, so I know where to go next.

When I finished talking with the men in the bookstore, I asked if I could walk around and take some pictures outside. One of the men said I was welcome to go into the mosque.

"Really?" I asked. I was pretty surprised but excited. (Part of misunderstandings about women and Islam here...)

"Yes," he said, "do you have a scarf?" motioning to my head.

"Can I wear my hood?" I asked, pulling my George Mason sweatshirt up on my head. He motioned yes, and I excitedly moved in the direction of the mosque.

I pulled my shoes off and left them in the cubbies, silenced my phone and quietly entered the mosque. There was one other man, but it was before the noontime prayer and so so quiet.

I stayed for a little bit. Just standing, impressed. I only know a little bit more after going to the mosque - I have a lot more to learn for my project. And not just for grad school but also because I am an American, teacher and Christian.

Even when I fail to act appropriately on it, I believe that stuff about what Jesus said and loving our neighbor. "Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" Jesus replied: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself." (Matthew 22:36-39)

Monday, November 8, 2010

Happy Birthday Cooper!

Today is my stepbrother's birthday. Brother Cooper is rarely smiling when I try to catch him with a camera these days. I was going through old photos of us tonight, and you have to go back a ways before you can find some pictures of him cheesing it up. So I did what all big sisters should do when all else fails - pick the most incriminating photo possible.

Cooper is the one in the orange. Ah 2006.

Yet another reminder that kiddos grow up. They were little and adorable then, and now they're big and fun. Cooper can joke with the best of them, and I think we're in the middle of a game of hand and foot that I'm losing. I'll get you yet, little brother.

Here are some other Cooper related posts. Happy birthday!

Friday Night at Wegman's
Cooper as a Prank Texter
Cooper Starting Middle School
That Famous Smirk

PS. Gabby, Mitch, Blake - sorry you were included in the pic too. That photo is just too funny.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Cranberry Cherry Apple Chutney.

It's early afternoon on a Sunday, and thanks to daylight savings time, I've already been really productive. After the best night of bowling in my life last night (high score at 159), I rose early this morning for church, my favorite weights class, and a little studying. I keep trying to read for grad school at different places by my gym. Would you believe that Noodles & Company at 11:30 am on a Sunday is a terrible idea? Yes. There were approximately twenty-two children under the age of five. That's my own fault really for thinking that it would be better than a coffee shop. In my defense, I just wanted to read and drink fountain diet coke.

When I got home, I decided I really wanted to make cranberry sauce to go with my turkey later tonight. It's pretty predictable really - last year at about this time I put together a basic cranberry sauce just because I love cranberries so much. I didn't want to make the same sauce again, so I searched out some different recipes online and combined them to make a sauce far greater than last year's creation.

I plan to eat it with my turkey, in my oatmeal, on my sandwiches, and over waffles. Probably pancakes too. And NoVA friends, if you'd like some, I have plenty and am willing to share.

(Note: my measuring cup for 1 cup was dirty when I went to make this sauce. Instead I used my 1/2 cup. I do not know if I put 1/2 cup sugar in or 1 cup sugar. It tastes not too tart so I bet I used a cup. Whoops! But you should start at 1/2 cup and sweeten to taste.)

Victoria's Cranberry Cherry Apple Chutney
2 tablespoons butter
3-4 tablespoons finely chopped shallot
1 large Granny Smith apple, cut into 1/2 inch dice (I used 2 medium apples, both tart). Leave the peel on - it's good for ya.
1/2 cup dried cherries
12 ounces fresh cranberries
3/4 cup orange juice
1/2 cup white sugar
2 strips, 2 inches each, lemon zest
1/2 tsp cinnamon

Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add shallot and cook, stirring often, until translucent, 3 to 4 minutes. I have no idea why shallots are in here. But it seemed fine in the end. They cooked up pretty in the butter. Add the apple and stir occasionally for 2 minutes. The shallots, butter and apple sit really nicely together.

Now stir in the cherries, cranberries, orange juice, sugar, lemon zest and cinnamon. Bring to a boil to watch the cranberries get excited. Reduce heat so it simmers, and let it hang out while the cranberries burst and the apples get tender. Stir it occasionally, and it will get thicker on the stove.

When most of the berries have burst, put it in a food processor about 1 cup at a time. Pulse a few times to break the fruit up, then remove to a large bowl for storing/serving. Repeat with the remaining mixture until you're finished. It does not need to be perfectly smooth.

Then lick the bowl and lick the spoon. Grab a spoon and eat some while it's warm. Put it in the fridge and continue to snack on it until you eat it with turkey. In fact, just writing this down made me hungry, and I'm going to go have me some more.

(Note #2: One recipe I used called something similar a chutney, the other called it a compote. I googled and mulled it over, but I left this recipe called chutney. Shrug. I don't really care, I just didn't want it to be called cranberry sauce.)

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Lately in Eighth Grade.

We've been really busy at school lately. So busy I forgot to write down the things we have been teaching and doing around the school. Catching up today.

October was Teen Read Month at our school, and the theme this year was "Books with Beat." It was a fun theme, and I designed some sweet t-shirts that had old school headphones on them for Literacy Night. There were many other activities all month - book trailers during advisory, guess who's reading, and a door decorating contest.

My door looks like what happens when you let sixteen overachieving seventh grade student council kids decorate your door. Seriously. It couldn't just have one border, it had to have two. Not just one big heart but twenty gazillion hand cut out and labeled with "love 7th grade SCA." Everyone made a book cover that they loved, and the heart rate monitor was a labor of love too. We didn't win the Starbucks coffee lounge prize, but we did get honorable mention and some fruit snacks. The door decorations came down pretty soon after the contest was over. Major fire hazard.

I don't miss my door decoration. It looked like Valentine's Day threw up on my door, and it was really noisy.

Student Council and the PTA pulled off Key's first "Red Ribbon Week" this year to promote drug-free lifestyles. I'll admit, I was a TOTAL skeptic, and I wasn't sure that our students would be super interested in a spirit week. Middle school is not the best time for dressing outlandishly - everyone is overly concerned what everyone else thinks.

But we pulled off some killer themes. As Student Council sponsors, Rachel and I rocked it out each day. "Drug free duos" on Monday (Rach and I were matching, obvi). Reach for your dreams not drugs (pajama day) on Tuesday. Wednesday our whole school rocked out the red for a Red Rally and it was impressive.

Far too many kids spray painted their hair for Thursday's "Drugs are ridiculous" theme. It was supposed to be crazy hair and crazy socks, but we did not forsee 8th grade girls wearing really short shorts and crazy socks together in October. This included some of our students on Student Council. Sigh. Friday was "Patriots are drug free" which was a flop. Kids were not so keen on wearing school shirts and colors.

It's hard to gauge how affective celebrating books and saying no to drugs is for middle schoolers. I think it's more about the conversation. It's reminding kids that there are alternatives to drugs (like books!) and that there are adults who care about the decisions they make. I am 100% certain that having reminders at school and a shared love for books made it easier for me as a student. Even if we don't get to everyone, we definitely make a difference for the sweet little nerds like me.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Looking Forward.

It is a rainy day here in northern Virginia. It's the kind of day that makes you think stopping at Dunkin on the way to school and Dairy Queen on the way home is a good idea. (Carpooling with a pregnant woman is always a dietary adventure). I decided to walk Belle in the rain - it wasn't too cold and the rain wasn't too bad - plus, it's good practice for my Europe trip.

While I was walking, I thought about the things I'm looking forward to this month. When I got home, I felt a lot better about life.
  • European Vacation. Two weeks from tomorrow, I pack up my suitcase and head overseas for seven nights. Not only do I get to see some of my best Kansas City friends, I'll get to see Kenneth, Melinda and meet Marie. My friend Ashley told me today I could even meet her friend Colum from her trip to Ireland earlier this year. This trip is really exciting but also slightly overwhelming. Sometimes when I should go to sleep, I think about what I need to pack in my suitcase. Or about finding an adapter for my blow dryer. Sometimes I can't sleep just thinking about hunky Irish men. Just saying...
  • Sweeps TV! I heart Lauren Graham as a TV mom, and I sincerely ask that you start watching Parenthood if you aren't already. Also, please watch the Good Wife. I know they are on at the same time, but that is what DVR is for. They are both entirely worth it. I'm hoping November brings me more classics from Glee, Modern Family, Bones and 30 Rock too. These six are my favorite shows of the season.
  • Belle is going to break my arm trying to catch a squirrel. (Author's note: she never has.) I would like for them to hibernate already so we could walk in peace. Do squirrels hibernate? Or is that just bears?
  • I'm going to miss American Thanksgiving food, but I'm going to make myself a turkey breast and cranberry sauce this weekend. I want to at least get some of the Thanksgiving flavors, though I'll miss my mom's cornbread stuffing the most.
  • Frank is back! K-State basketball is officially in season, and I'm thrilled. Did you hear we are ranked #3 in preseason polls? KSU plays James Madison University next Friday night, and I'm looking forward to a proper thumping. I teach with 9 million (or at least 8) JMU graduates, and it will nice to be on top for a change. I don't suspect they will care when they lose to us though. If they cared about sports, they probably would have gone to a different school.
  • I have new riding boots. I walked over five miles in Philly in them, and I think they are ready for their European debut.
  • The European vacation will be nice because it will be a break from school. I really spend most of my time after school (plus the hours at school) thinking about school, writing papers, designing lessons, and reading. I'm really tired of school, and the break will help. I have no idea how my classmates who are teaching and are also moms and wives are surviving. This is a lot of work. All the time.
Hope you've got plenty to look forward to this November...

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Midterm Elections.

(Photo taken outside the Constitution Center in Philadelphia on my trip with Mom, 2010.)

As I write this, I'm listening to NPR's live coverage of the midterm election results. I'm especially interested this year, not just for how it will affect those working up the street in Washington, but because my 8th graders got me really excited.

Just under a month ago, I assigned a project for my honors students. Carefully aligned with the standards for "political processes," they each chose one "toss up" senate race to follow for several weeks. They had to evaluate campaign sites and the media's coverage, identify candidates' stance on the issues, and make an educated prediction about the race. Their papers, which I read for hours yesterday, were thoughtful and divided among candidates. While they worked in class, they often bickered back and forth about who should win.

Here are some of the states they were following: Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Colorado, Washington, West Virginia, Florida (whoa, THIRD party!), Illinois, Nevada and Wisconsin. The most important issues to my students were the economy, jobs, education, and immigration. One boy wrote about the importance of gun rights to citizens in Colorado. While I'm not sure I agree that it is one of the two most important issues, I did laugh out loud at his justification, "People in Colorado hunt for a lot of their food."

I hope some of them are watching tonight. I think our discussion will be lively in class as we examine why the races turned out the way they did. And even more importantly, I hope it lit that little "political junkie" fire in them.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Pumpkin Doodles and Beer.

Today I went a little overboard and decided to make a double recipe of Pumpkin Doodles. My mom got the recipe out of the Kansas City Star last year, and I've shared it with a lot of friends. As Rachel says, "It's the only cookie without chocolate that she likes." That's saying something, people. I don't know why I waited until November 1st to make them this year.

When I was about two dozen cookies into the baking (it made six dozen), I went upstairs to ask Rachel a question and borrow some butter for a different baking project. In her fridge, I found this beer leftover from my trip to KC in August. I grabbed one, opened it up and returned to scooping pumpkin cookies and rolling them in a mixture of cinnamon, pumpkin pie seasoning and sugar.

Kansas City friends: consider this a public service announcement. Buy some Boulevard Wheat. Bake these cookies. Consume beer while baking and when they come out of the oven. Beer + pumpkin doodles = yum.

Because not everyone loves beer, keeps it on hand, or drinks it at 4 pm on a Monday afternoon, I also sampled a cookie accompanied by apple cider. That was also delicious.

Pumpkin Doodles from the Kansas City Star 2009
makes about 3 dozen cookies

8 ounces unsalted butter at room temperature
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar + 1/3 for rolling later
1/2 cup canned pumpkin (please use Libby's. this is important. my sister will tell you so.)
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 large egg
3 cups + 2 tablespoons all=purpose flour
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Beat butter on medium. Add 1 1/2 cups sugar and the pumpkin. Beat until fluffy. Add cream of tartar, salt, and baking soda. Mix well. Add vanilla and the egg. Beat until well mixed. It will look sugary!

Add the flour in two increments, beating until just incorporated. Cover dough with plastic wrap and chill for 1 hour. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Mix 1/3 cup sugar with pumpkin pie space and cinnamon to create coating. Remove half of dough from the fridge and roll into 1 1/2 inch balls. Roll balls in coating, covering all sides. Place on cookie sheet about two inches apart. Bake 12 - 14 minutes (mine are usually done after twelve). Let cool 5 minutes, then transfer to cooling rack. Repeat process.

And eat. With beer. Or apple cider.