Thursday, November 26, 2009

Giving Thanks

I went for a short walk this morning, and while it sleeted a little and I caught glimpses of matted piles of wet leaves, I couldn't help but think of Hawaii. Strange, I know, but let me explain. Stein and I have been lucky to have been in Hawaii three times, and two of those three times have been around and on Thanksgiving.

The first time we were there, we were part of a group that had won the trip as part of a sales incentive. The people who organized the event thought that we should have a traditional Thanksgiving dinner on Thanksgiving. The whole event just seemed weird. We walked through the open hallways of the hotel lined with palm trees until we reached a banquet hall.

We could've been at anyone's wedding in this room, it was so generic. We were each served a plate full of turkey, stuffing, and potatoes drizzled with gravy. We didn't have to pass platters around the table, we didn't have to stand in line fighting for one of the two turkey legs available. The conversation was friendly and cordial, but it definitely didn't feel like Thanksgiving.

The next time we were in Hawaii for Thanksgiving, we decided to throw tradition out the window and go to Mama's Fishhouse for dinner. Friends had raved about it. It was perfect. When we got there, we navigated our way through a pathway marked with tiki lights to get to the little tiki-hut restaurant. The inside of the restaurant has a tiki theme, but not cheesy. The best part is the menu. Each fish that is listed has a description of the place and the fisherman/woman who caught the fish. Talk about buying local!

I would love to be in Hawaii right now. I wouldn't be in sweat pants and a sweatshirt sitting under a fleece blanket. But I also wouldn't be surrounded by family like I will be later today. For a brief time this afternoon, Hawaii will come in second. Talk to me tomorrow, though. It will probably be in first again.

Happy Thanksgiving, wherever you are! Enjoy those around you. Cherish the moment. Give thanks for all you have.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Making Treats

My friend Linda have been planning what we're going to make for Christmas gifts this year. I'm not a really crafty person, but I can make food to give away. Just another thing which I blame my mom - she always baked goodies to give to the teachers and helpers at school. Now I'm doing the same, with some of the same recipes.

Mickey and I usually make sugared pecans to give away at Christmas time. Whenever I make this recipe and smell the cinnamon and pecans roasting, it makes me remember going to Georgia Nut Co. with my mom to buy the pecans needed for the recipe. We would be there sometime after school, when we would usually run our errands. The place would be packed and we always had to take a number and wait our turn. My mom would order the pecans and the person would pack our order in a plastic bag with a funky paisley design and a yarn drawstring handle.

In addition to the pecans, Mickey and I also make short bread. It's a really easy recipe, and makes the most delicious short bread. Not to mention the amount of butter that goes into it. Oh mama.

This year Linda and I decided to try some candy. We did a test run of this recipe last weekend. Before we did this, I was really intimidated by the candy thermometer. I thought that if I didn't watch it like a hawk, that I would end up with blobs of candy stuck to my stove and ceiling for years. Maybe it was Willy Wonka who scared me about candy going awry. Who knows. But the result? A success! The recipe calls for this candy to be served with ice cream, and I think that would be really good.

We're going to keep experimenting with recipes. It's kind of fun to step out of my comfort zone. As long as I don't step away from the thermometer.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

A Year Later

A year ago right now, Stein and I were preparing to have my side of the family here for Thanksgiving. We actually had the table set, the turkey was thawing in the fridge, and lists for everything were made.

What a difference a year makes.

This year we won't be hosting anyone. We will be making potatoes and green bean casserole and bringing it over to Stein's sister's house. After all of the traveling back and forth to Chicago and hosting parties and people here, I couldn't be happier. I am so looking forward to having the time off, relaxing and getting some things done around the house.

We're lucky to have Wednesday and Friday off in addition to the holiday, so I'm looking forward to a mini-vacation of sorts. We don't have any set plans other than Thanksgiving, so I'm looking forward to doing whatever, whenever.

I'm hoping that I can keep it simple and enjoy the moment. I always try to go into the rush of the holiday season with a relaxed attitude. I hate getting to the other side of the season feeling overwhelmed, exhausted and disappointed.

I hope you and your family have a wonderful time spent together, wherever you are.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


I had a great day today at school. It was one of those days that as a teacher, you see glimpses of progress or light bulbs going off, or kids thanking you for your help. I had a little bit of all of these things, so it was a great day indeed.

I had been struggling for a while on how to teach writing. Sure, there is a myriad of techniques out there which aim at different aspects of writing. There is no silver bullet, like everything in learning, but it's writing that stumps me the most. It's not cut and dry like a math problem. There aren't any set dates like in history.

As with any subject I teach, I struggle to remember just when and how I learned something. It's nearly impossible. Not because I'm old and don't have a great memory (ahem), but because I don't think that any one instance in time set the knowledge in my brain. I'm positive that most things built on each other and my knowledge of anything is a compilation of experience, practice, and good teaching. And the thing about when I learned to write? It was all grammar. I could diagram the heck out of a sentence. I could tell you all about nouns, verbs, adverbs, and adjectives (thank you, Schoolhouse Rock).

Now writing isn't taught like that. First, the content matters. Writing is more authentic. Prompts are rarely given, and kids are free to choose their topic. They may be working on a certain genre like persuasion or personal narratives, but they may choose what they want to write about. Mechanics become secondary. While I agree that kids need choices in their writing and there's more investment if it's something personal, I think that the mechanics are being neglected. (I think this may be another post. I'll stop about the mechanics now.)

Yet, being the person I am, I want a way that I can reach the students who I work with. I want to give them the tools they need to write well, and enjoy writing like I do. I struggle sometimes when I am listening to them tell me a story and I just want to write it down for them. I want to get it on paper. I want to expand on their ideas. I cringe when I hear, "I don't know what to write about." After giving 50 suggestions of topics, I want them to start writing immediately. Usually I'm lucky if I get their name at the top of their paper.

But today, in two separate classes, I had kids who were writing. And enjoying it. Kids who sat next to me and discussed their writing with me. I heard things like, "Does this sound interesting, or what can I add here?" or "I know I need to write more, so hold on and let me finish this." Kids who normally sat there biting their erasers off of their pencils while staring at the ceiling, actually had their heads bent down over their paper. They were re-reading their work and editing. I suddenly had one of those clouds-parting, sun-shining, angels-singing moments. It was heavenly. I even heard thank yous. My day was complete.

It's days like these that keep teachers going. I have a feeling I will be going for a while. At least until next week.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


Every year about this time I tend to do some reflecting. It starts around my birthday and carries me into the new year. I reflect on the year past, think about the year ahead, and make a mental inventory about people in my life. I get sentimental in these months, and it's not unusual for me to be daydreaming about birthdays back in the day, or that Christmas when I jumped up and down when I got the Adidas sweatsuit I wanted. You know, the one with the logo on the jacket and the pants? Oh yeah, it was a big deal.

This past week as I was celebrating my birthday, I have been thinking about birthdays past. But first I have to give Stein a lot credit for always making my birthday fun. You see, he stretches it into a birthday month for me, with gifts (of all different shapes and sizes) for me throughout that time. I am spoiled, I know. But you know how much of a gift person I am, right? Giving or getting, it doesn't matter. I love it.

So back to birthdays past. One of my favorite memories was when I was probably 5 years old, through the time I was probably 9. I would be woken up by The Beatles Birthday Song, with Mickey dancing in my room and singing along. She would grab my hand, pull me out of bed, and before you knew it, both of us would be dancing and jumping around my room singing to the Beatles. That was how I would start my day, with parts of the song like, "yes we're going to a party, party" going through my head for the rest of the day. I think about that every year on my birthday. What a fun memory.

This year I not only celebrated with friends throughout the week, I actually got to share birthday cake with all of my siblings this past weekend. I can't tell you the last time we were all together on my birthday. Seriously, it may have been my 16th birthday, I don't know. Being the youngest of five kids pretty much guarantees by the time you hit 16, the following years will have people scattered all over the place and unable to get together at the same time. So this year was special. Stein of course was on top of it and brought a cake along with us to Chicago. It was a little surreal to be standing there listening to my siblings and nieces and nephews singing happy birthday to me. I loved it.

It's hard to believe that Thanksgiving is already next week and Christmas is a month after that. This year I will be once again trying to slow down, take in the season in a simple way, and be thankful for the friends and family who will be with me. A time to reflect and a time to make new memories which will someday be reflections.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Before I Forget

There are a few recipes that we've made in the last few weeks that have been good enough to share. I feel like there are others that we've made, but the days have been blending together in a big here-one-day-gone-the-next-house-guest blur.

This recipe has kind of a funny story. I actually read the reviews for it before I started cooking. I read that some people substituted chili sauce for the salsa. One reviewer said that they used Asian chili sauce. So when I ran out of salsa, as I was doubling the recipe, I took out our bottle of Sriacha chili sauce (the one with the rooster on it) and used it. I didn't really think of the heat factor. In my mind, I was equating the chili sauce with the salsa. Hmmm. I should've thought back to all the times we eat our pizza or eggs with chili sauce - you only need a little. And I mean, a little. Like one dip and your mouth is on fire.

So when Stein and I sat down to eat that night, we went through an entire Brita pitcher of water, more rice than we needed, and slathered on some sour cream toward the end. The flavor was fantastic. But just a warning - if you use chili sauce, a little dab'll do ya.

The next recipes we made this past weekend when we had our house guests. It's perfect because you can make them the night before and once they're baked in the morning, you can easily have these out for people to help themselves. It worked out great. People were fed, we didn't have to spend time in the kitchen, and the clean-up was easy. We even had leftovers the next 2 days which came in handy when neither one of us wanted to cook. This first one we made without meat for the non-meat eaters in the group; the second one we left as is.

As our travels die down and we're home more, I'm sure there will be many other recipes. Enjoy!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Friends Meeting Friends

This weekend Sandy and Ryan came in from Wisconsin to visit us. They picked up Chris in Chicago on the way, so our house was full of friends and laughter the whole weekend.

On Saturday, we hosted friends at our house before the U of M game. It was interesting to me while we tailgated at our house, then went to game, came back to our house after, and went out for dinner later, how all of our friends got along so well. Stein and I were the first degree of separation so to speak. Our friends were from different times and places in our lives, yet had no problem making conversation and inevitably laughing. There were friends who Stein grew up with, college friends of mine, some family, friends we've known since moving to Ann Arbor, and friends we've made in the last 2 years (hi, Amy!).

I was never nervous that someone would be left out of the conversation, or that I would have to keep checking in to see if everyone was having fun. I know I've said it before, but what I love about being with any of our friends is the laughter. There are so many memories, old and new, that we just pick up from the last time and continue to laugh about. Mixed in with this laughter is time spent catching up on recent events, struggles, and life stuff. The bonds tighten, and we look forward to the next time we'll be together.

I cherish the friends we have. The friends who knew us then, and know us now, and love to laugh.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Here and There

So I bet you're tired of looking at that picture of the bagel and tea, eh? Yeah, I know I've been neglecting the blog in the past weeks and months. I've been trying to get back to normal, but I'm not so sure I know what normal is anymore.

We've been busy, and have been either out of town or hosting guests for the past, oh, 4 or 5 weekends. Don't get me wrong, it's all been great catching up with people here and there, but then suddenly you get to a point, right about Wednesday night, when you can't figure out where you are, where you need to be, and if you have clean underwear to wear in the morning. You know, all that life stuff catches up and all you can think about is packing or unpacking a bag.

One huge thing that has helped me in the past week is that I finished working the after school program. It was a seven-week program where I worked with fifth graders at the school where I was for the past two years. The concept in itself was not bad, but my new school is clear across town from the other one. So everyday, I would leave the house at 8:00, and get home somewhere around 6:30. It may not sound like a long day to some of you, but believe me, I couldn't do anything at the end of the day except eat dinner and watch TV. Underwear can be turned inside-out, right?! To tell you the relief I feel since the program ended is indescribable. I now go to the gym right after school on my way home, and I am still home an hour or more earlier than before.

Oh, and I don't think I've told you all that my current job has turned into a 5-day-a-week gig. The schedule is such that we need to be there 5 days a week, which is perfectly fine with me. No stalking the sub system, no wondering where I'll be everyday, no dealing with kids who are taking advantage of having a sub.

I hope that with the increased time I can write more here. I do feel a void when I can't write on a regular basis. I'm not going to promise anything, but I'm hoping it will be more often. We'll see.