Monday, January 31, 2011

The Seven Books of January.

I can't remember the last time I read seven books in one month. It was probably B.G.M. (before George Mason) and definitely during a vacation. But never while teaching. But sure enough, I brought in the new year with seven books. Several of them are must reads!

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks: My friends in the Kansas City book club read this one, and I happily joined in. It's fantastic nonfiction, and the author weaves together science and medicine with a story of race based in Baltimore and rural Virginia. I'm not a huge science person, but the details are well explained, and I couldn't put it down.

Half Broke Horses and The Glass Castle: These are perennial recommendations from our "book guru" Candi and I finally got some time to read both of them. I liked Half Broke Horses better, mostly because The Glass Castle is heartbreaking. I could also imagine the rough and tumble scenery of Half Broke better because my family loved vacationing into Colorado and the west. I would highly recommend both of these books - and if you haven't read The Glass Castle, start with Half Broke Horses (technically the prequel).

We Can't Teach What We Don't Know: Required reading for grad school but interesting. He explains a lot of higher level theories conversationally, and it's a good read for teachers like me - white teacher working with a super diverse student population.

Poison Ivy: Juvenile lit story of a brave/crazy middle school government teacher who decides to make lessons on the judicial branch come alive in her classroom by staging a trial. She takes a big risk and puts three popular members of her class on trial for bullying a girl named Ivy. It's good - it includes some great lessons about bullying, popularity and civil cases. Our great reading specialists ordered it for my honors classes, and I'm really excited to weave it into our judicial branch unit.

The Imperfectionists: I really like short story books, and this one was no different. It's a collection of stories about the rise and fall of a newspaper in Rome. The main character in each story is different, but there is overlap between the characters so you get to know everyone a little better. At the end of the book, the author and Malcolm Gladwell (who is awesome), interview each other. That was a nice surprise.

Zeitoun: Candi recommended and Tara read it before me. I distinctly remember TP saying how angry it made her - and I felt the same way. It's a post-Katrina New Orleans story, and it is frustrating and frightening at the same time. It is non-fiction, and I read it quickly to find out what happened. At several points in the story, I stopped and said, "I can't believe this happened in the United States."

Up next: The Motivated Student for my job and Let the Great World Spin. I'm excitedly waiting to hear what the book club picks for February too. I'm pretty sure that seven books will be my monthly record for a while until I finish with grad school in May/June. Got more good books for me? Leave them in the comments. I love personal recommendations!

(images via google and all over)

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Happy Birthday KANSAS!

If you check facebook today and you have friends from Kansas, you noticed that today is a big day in our world...Kansas is 150-years-old today!

Tuesday night the Kansas Society had a happy hour in Washington, D.C. I drove in to meet Vicki and Daniel, and there were bunches of Kansans there for the free food and drinks and to celebrate!

The room was full! It was a great excuse to catch up with K-Staters and Kansans I see on a regular basis and only on special occasions. There were some surprises as well including my sister's bestie Jenna.

Don't knock this Kansas birthday celebration. Our love for this state brings us together.

Seriously. People from California and Texas could go to an event like this and see nobody they know. Not Kansans. We love being together and seeing old friends.

It is pretty ironic that K-State plays KU tonight. With all this Kansas love this week, it is funny to take it to the courts and yell at each other. Bring on the Cats!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Sopa de Pollo y Verudas.

Sometimes I think soup is more work than it is worth. It's tough to pull off a good soup after working a long day wrangling eighth graders. Too much chopping, stirring and waiting.

Or so I seem to remember. I think Monday was a really long day this week. I can't be too sure. Snow day haze. I've got plenty of time for making soup now, but I want to share a really quick and lovely soup. It's the kind of soup you can make in less than thirty minutes on the stove, and you will be glad you did.

And it's really healthy. Quick, healthy and filling soup - the trifecta.

Sopa de Pollo y Verudas (that's Spanish for Chicken and Vegetable Soup. I put it in Spanish because it has a Mexican flair!)

1 Tbsp canola oil
1 medium sweet onion, chopped
1 lb ground skinless chicken breast (a nice change to the shredded chicken I've used a lot lately)
1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 (32-oz) carton low-sodium chicken broth
1 (10-oz) can diced tomatoes and green chiles - ROTEL!
1 large sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
2 large parsnips, peeled and sliced
(you could put fresh cilantro on top, but I hate it.)

Heat the oil in large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onion and cook until it gets a little soft, about 2 minutes. Add chicken and CUMIN; cook, breaking up chicken with wooden spoon, until browned, about 3 minutes.

Stir in broth, tomatoes and green chiles, sweet potato and parsnip; bring to boil. Then reduce the heat and simmer until the sweet potato is fork-tender. This takes about 15 minutes. Then eat this quick, hot soup.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Power Outages.

Things didn't go exactly as we planned the last couple of days.

On Wednesday morning, we woke up early to find out school was canceled in the area. The only precipitation at this point was rain, and we started waiting for something to warrant a snow day. We wondered why there wasn't just an early dismissal. We ran errands, hung out around the house and watched the radar.

Then the storm arrived all of a sudden bringing with it THUNDERSNOW. And about two inches of snow an hour. It was totally a disaster for everyone trying to get home from work. We heard horror stories of five or more hour commutes.

Rachel made chicken noodle soup. We watched the snow pile up outside and learned school would be canceled today. Sol, Rach and I planned to play Qwirkle after Finley went to bed and watch two of our favorite shows, Cougar Town and Modern Family.

But outside things weren't going very well. We kept hearing branches crash down in the cul-de-sac, and we were increasingly nervous about the flickering power.

Finally at 8:40 last night, we lost. The power was out.

Thankfully (and strangely) Rachel and Sol have a lot of headlamps. Even the baby wore won - see the photo here. He just kept saying "lights" and point to our heads and the flashlights. It was warm enough at first. We played Qwirkle using the headlamps, and eventually crawled into our beds with extra blankets and no power.

Still no power when we woke up this morning. Sol dug us out, and we made a plan. A quick trip to the gym for a workout and HOT showers, Chick-fil-a for lunch, and a cozy afternoon with our friends Amy and Calvin. The power came back on at 2 o'clock or so, and we're back home tonight.

This was the scene today in our front yard. The quick, heavy snow did some damage as it came through last night.

The big huge branch in the bottom right hand photo is in our cul-de-sac. The large limb stretches across part of the road, so there is only one way out of the circle. Sol had to drag one of these huge branches out of the driveway before we could move this morning.

Sure, it's not Snowmagadeon. But it's been pretty special. Over 300,000 people in the DC metro area lost power, something that didn't happen last year. We don't have to go to work tomorrow either. Our kids essentially are getting an early spring break, because thanks to teacher work days, they don't come back until next Wednesday. We haven't had a five day work week yet in 2011.

And we've used up four snow days. Oh well. Here's to a glorious five day weekend!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Things I've Been Meaning to Tell You.

First, don't buy cheap paper towels. Besides the fact they are just plain terrible, they're also manufactured poorly. Look at the roll I opened last night- it has been severed! The cut doesn't go all the way through, just enough to give the paper towels a top and a bottom.

I don't buy cheap paper towels. My roommate brought home this beaut. Not only are they are dismembered, they also don't absorb anything. I can't wait till they're gone.

Other things I've been meaning to tell you.
  • Florida was cold. Highs in the 50s/low 60s. That was a tad disappointing, even if the people and meetings were not.
  • My grandfather turned 82 yesterday. Happy birthday Grandpa Lauren!
  • Kansas turns 150 on Saturday. This delights me.
  • I'm teaching a small unit on personal finance right now. It's moderately interesting but easy to teach. It's preparation for a FIELD TRIP coming up in February.
  • Friday is the last day of the quarter. Halfway to summer! That milestone also means we don't have students next Monday/Tuesday.
  • Last Thursday I talked to my brother Mitch on the phone for like ten minutes. I can't get the students in my class to talk to me for this long. It was fantastic.
  • Our faculty is playing basketball against a rival middle school's faculty on Friday. The staff puts together a team. No one asked me yet. I wonder if my invitation got lost in email. I should check my spam folder (again).

Sunday, January 23, 2011


I have written several times on this blog about how much I heart Mortar Board. My collegiate experience was wonderful, and it has continued to be a bright spot in my life. I have tremendous friends, and I love my volunteer "job."

Case in point, dinner tonight. We ate at a pretty cheesy Florida restaurant...

where the best fish was fried and the service was slow. Thankfully I was sandwiched in at this wonderful table of interesting women.

I am humbled by their contributions to all of higher education and especially Mortar Board. Three of the women I sat with at dinner are Alpha Chis. There were two more Alpha Chis at other tables. I admire their pride in their work, and the way they keep their commitments.

I really want it to be me in their shoes in forty years. These women are really really impressive. One of the trustees is from Purdue, an Alpha Chi and retired Navy Captain. She was telling the story tonight of being at work in the Pentagon right after MLK Jr. was assassinated, and DC was burning. She talked about the curfew at 7 o'clock and driving through the city with armed guards on every corner. I was in awe.

That's just one of their stories - they ALL have stories. These women were throwing bricks at the glass ceiling long before I was born, and their work still matters today. I'm humbled they take any interest in me. I love that my work with Mortar Board includes working with all of them in addition to the college seniors that also perpetually inspire me.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Tampa, Carl Jr. and Those Funny Trees.

Hello from Tampa. Actually, I'm in St. Petersburg, but I flew into Tampa earlier today.

And when I got off the plane, my hair stopped being frizzy. My skin felt less dry. Ah, humidity. You are a curse in July but a delight in January. I took off my coat and wore a t-shirt on the trip from the airport to the hotel.

I'm here for Mortar Board (more on that later), and after our first round of meetings, a big group of us met up in the lobby to catch up. I've known some of these folks for almost seven or eight years, so we have lots to say when we get together from around the country.

Two of the people I've known the longest - Vishal and Sarra.

Vishal watches Cougar Town (yes!) so when I kept referencing my wine class as Carl Jr., he understood. It was a big glass of red wine, and I am in Florida, so the description a la Cougar Town fit perfectly!

Also, this is the second time in a week I ordered red wine. I don't know what has gotten into me. I liked it both times.

Before we called it a night, Sarra and I checked the temperature outside. Yes, still nice. Then we took pictures in front of our hotel with the palm trees.

When I was almost three, my mother and grandmother took me to San Diego to visit my great-grandmother. My mother distinctly remembers my questions about those "funny trees." Even as a little Kansas girl I knew enough to be suspicious of the palm trees. Now I'm less concerned about why they look so weird and more thankful that they represent an escape from winter.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Supper Club.

My New Year's resolution was to start a supper club with my school friends. Meet monthly at places we love or restaurants that are new to us. So far, I'm one for one. This is a resolution I can keep! I planned our first meeting to be during DC's restaurant week. For $35.11, we could have an appetizer, dinner and dessert. A pretty great deal if you pick the right restaurants.

I think Liberty Tavern fit the bill. I've been before a couple of times, and Rachel says one of her two favorite dishes in all of DC is on their spring menu. They did Restaurant Week right - you could pick ANY appetizer, main course and dessert. Love it.

You don't get to see photos of food because the light was no good. But know that it was GOOD. From start to finish - the octopus and crispy shrimp and pizza and beet salad to the salmon and steak and pasta to the sorbet and chocolate cake and Rachel's lemon dessert that was so good she didn't share - it all rocked.

I'm somewhat surprised to report that we didn't talk about school that much. Just a little because we are teachers, after all. Rachel and I talked about Cougar Town more than school probably. (Please watch it so that it will stay on the air. We heart it.)

I like this resolution. I think I'll keep it.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Ice Day.

Remember what it felt like as a little kid to wait, hoping that the news would announce that you didn't have to go to school? Every big storm brought anticipation and excitement, and sometimes disappointment when you had to go to school but everybody else didn't!

It feels the exact same way as an adult. Totally serious. When I woke up at 4:30 am to check the news, the other big districts around us had already canceled. I got the news a little later, but my county was sure waiting until the last minute to make a call.

Thanks to today's cancellation, I'm enjoying a fourth day to my weekend. Glorious.

I took Belle out this morning to do a brief investigation of the conditions, and it's not pretty.

Well technically, it is very pretty. But the driveway is covered in ice so solid that it didn't crack when I walked on it. The picture above is the bricks in the backyard, totally solid even after Belle scurried back and forth across them. It doesn't appear to be warming up very fast today, so I think side streets will continue to be icy.

I'm not planning on leaving the house today. The most adventurous thing I think I'll do is try to clear ice off my car, and that could be enough of a challenge for me. It's our first "snow" day of the year, so I want to enjoy it with a book.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Jax and Vicki's Birthday.

My friend Vicki arrived back in Northern Virginia on Saturday morning. She and her husband Daniel will be here through the fall, and I'm SO excited to have her here! Today was the first day we could get together, which worked out great because it is her birthday.

We met in Del Ray for lunch, and then we went back to their place so I could meet the family's new addition: Jax.

He's almost three months old and adorable! Jax is a Portuguese Water Dog (yes, that is what the Obamas have) and so smart already. He can practically do more tricks than Belle does now.

She is giving me the cold shoulder because I came home smelling like puppy.

While we played with Jax, Daniel was finishing up some chocolate cupcakes, frosting them, and then we sang to Vicki. It was perfect, and I was glad I could join in the fun. Happy Birthday Vic!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Yeah, It's a Three Day Weekend.

Hi. I love weekends. I love my job too, but the weekends rooooock. You get to sleep in. Read in bed. Cook all day if you want. Spend time with your friends and cute babies named Finley.

Rachel and I went to Georgetown today and did all the things we both love. First, Paper Source. We needed to stock up for etsy projects and all the tricks we have up our sleeves.

Second, we got into some shenanigans with cupcakes. Post pending, but you should know that we took pictures of complete strangers while mocking them from our car.

Third, dinner at the Tackle Box. I've been there several times before because I think it's the best fish in the DC area. Or anywhere, really. I had grilled tilapia, Rachel had a lobster roll. We split some grilled vegetables and popcorn shrimp.

I got a haircut this weekend, and I pretty much love it. Our hairdresser is crazy good.

This is Rachel's lobster roll mustache. I wish you could see her belly. It's awesome too.

Fourth, we stopped at Sweet Green so I could get some frozen yogurt. I was pretty full but I made room for the tart deliciousness of fro-yo.

It was good. We're watching the Golden Globes now and tomorrow we don't have to go to school either. The weekend lives on! I hope you had a ridiculously awesome adventurous weekend too.

Friday, January 14, 2011

I'm Thinking About Leaving Peyton for Carl.

It's been a little sad in my sports world this week. Last weekend was a trifecta of heart breaking losses - the Chiefs, the Colts and my Wildcats. NFL playoff dreams are totally gone. I was hopeful K-State would redeem themselves at home last night against Colorado. Wrong. Good-bye top 25. This basketball season's looking to be a challenge for Wildcat fans.

My students are all in on the longstanding joke that Peyton Manning is my boyfriend. (I know he's married, but he's also not my real boyfriend.) All season long they've pointed out the failings of the Colts. And I've pretty much stood by my man.

(I also agree with this article from the NY Times that Peyton needs a new coach. Just sayin.)

But my fifth period keeps trying to break us up. They want to set me up with Carl Azuz instead.

Who IS Carl Azuz, you ask? He's the dashing host of CNN Student News. Almost every fifth period, my class pauses for ten minutes of news and trivia with Carl. He's a dork. His jokes are punny and not always funny. But we're all captivated when Carl is on the screen. CNN does a great job with their student news, and I'm thankful my students get to see civics in action. The legislative branch DOES exist! I didn't make it up! Bills DO become laws!

So when my fifth period wants something, they try to bribe me with Carl. "Ms. Luhrs, I'm facebook friends with him!" "Yeah, Ms. Luhrs, I can get you his digits!"

They're lying. I ignore their requests.

And until next football season, I might just leave Peyton for Carl. That's sort of how it goes with fake boyfriends. No long term commitments, just fun. I'm still young.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

I'd Like to Learn to Sew.

When I was home in KC, I asked my mom to mend a purple sweater for me. Later, I found this jar full of purple thread in her sewing room. Our family wears a lot of purple, so I assumed this made it easier for her to do mending if all the purple threads were together. Mom says it was because she ran out of room with the other colors. Whatever the reason, I thought it was pretty.

Obviously her cat had to come along and see what I was doing. Here's Roary in the sunlight.

I come from a line of seamstresses on both sides of the family. My mother sewed in 4-H and for me as I grew up, including my prom dresses. I'm writing this post covered up by a t-shirt quilt she made me with sorority tees. My paternal grandmother wins awards for her quilts. They're like art, no exaggeration.

However, I can only sew straight lines. Some of the time. I tried to make a hood for the infamous Red Riding Hood cape, and the sewing was so bad that Rachel took it off and reattached it.

Lately, I've been really wishing I could do more sewing. Things for the home mostly, baby blankets, quilts. I am fortunate that my mother, grandma and sweet Korean tailor by the gym sew things for me, but I think I'd like to do more.

Putting it on the post-grad school to do list: sew something.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Ur Mom.

We gave a big and scary fifty question midterm right before winter break. I had a few students who needed to make up the test, so I listed their names on the board.

And one of my students added to this list. See it above in red?

I left it. I love a well played "your mom" joke. Plus, I know my mom could pass the midterm.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Red Wheelbarrow.

The Red Wheelbarrow
by William Carlos Williams

so much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white

I really love the poem above. I read it the first time in a sweet book, Love That Dog. It will take you 30 minutes to read, and it is a sweet story for dog lovers. (The follow up, Hate That Cat, is also good.)

The little boy's teacher in the story reads the poem, and it inspires the students own writing. I always think of this poem when I see the red barn on my grandparents' farm. It's a part of the rich history that is Mulberry Farms and the one-hundred-year old farmhouse my grandparents live in up the hill. I can't decide what comes next, but I do know that...

so much depends

an old red

Friday, January 7, 2011

I'd Be Your Fanny.

When I was home, I had dinner with my BOTAR friends at La Bodega. YUM. No, seriously. YUM. It's a good group of girls that I've known since August 2007 and stayed friends with through a lot of waltz lessons, so it was really good to see them in KC.

Elizabeth is having a baby next July. This is exciting! All babies are exciting! I like when my friends have babies, and I look forward to months of summer vacation when I can hang out with them and their wee ones.

I can visit my friends and help watch their kids. I can tell entertaining stories, make Sonic runs and occasionally change diapers. Or talk to my friends while they change diapers.

As Elizabeth's husband said, "Victoria can be your FANNY - friend who is also a nanny."

Ok. I'd be your fanny. I wonder what other skills I need to be a good fanny.

from left: Sarah, Elizabeth, Kat, Erin, me and Anne. (Kelsey had to run - but she was there too!)

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Belle After a Walk.

I know some people on the interweb who do this fun thing called "embrace the camera" on Thursdays. Moms and their babies usually do it.

I try not to be one of those dog people who pretends I'm a "mom" to my dog. I do this mostly out of respect for my mother because she doesn't want to be a "grandma" to my dog.

Who am I kidding? Belle thinks I'm the best, and she doesn't like being separated. She did surprisingly well on her airplane trip to Kansas back and forth, but she is SO excited every time I come home.

I tried to make Belle take a picture with me after our walk today. Whatever. She's so totally not interested. But I like the photo because this was our day today. This is what we did. I made a loaf of banana bread and delivered it to the neighbor. I walked Belle wearing my sweet Colts headband. I'm going to eat some leftover pizza and watch some TV, maybe do a little grad school or school work.

I write a lot about the special occasion stuff that I get to do and lovely places I get to travel. But this was today, and I am glad to have everyday memories too.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Well Hell-o 2011!

We got dressed up and gathered downtown for a party on New Year's Eve with 1400 other Kansas City young people.

I think it's always fun to put on a party dress. Always. Shopping for them is a different story.

It was a fun party. We danced most of the night. And it was a great group of friends, some of Lu's too. The music was good and there was plenty of room to dance.

Midnight came and went. I mourned being single for about two seconds and then got over it. There was more dancing to do.

And then the next day, I remembered I'm not as young as I once was. The morning after a big party and a lot of dancing is a little bit rough. Even though January 1st wasn't the best day of my life, ringing in the new year with my friends and family in KC reminded me of how nice it is to be loved.