Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Developing What?

I am in my third consecutive week of what educators like to call “Staff Development”. Well I’m developing all right, but possibly not what they had in mind. I’m developing “flat butt syndrome” from the wooden chairs in our school library. Okay, so I come by some of that odd compaction of my derriere honestly – thanks a lot mom! But the quandary always remains in these eternal meetings, do I get up and roll a comfy padded computer chair to my table or do I just wait it out on my two by four for hours on end?

For most of us the idea of switching chairs is truly a no-brainer, but in staff development this automatically shines light from heaven on you and starts the angel singing soundtrack because then, you are different. Just by the simple act of getting a different chair you are dubbed a “leader” or an “out of the box thinker.” This might be fine in the business world where that kind of thing is rewarded with raises and respect, but education works a little differently. Those who display this kind of ingenuity are asked to do more work. They never call it more work. It comes with glamorous titles like point person or liaison or team leader, but that’s all just code for more work.

Let’s face it, more work makes you tired. I am so excited about this school year that I can hardly contain myself. I even purchased a model of the brain to use for demonstration. I have downloaded countless tunes onto my iPod for lessons. I have written killer lesson plans that will engage and enchant students. But alas, at the end of the day I am tired. Truthfully, at the beginning of the day I am tired. Today, I ate the stem off of a blueberry in my morning yogurt because I was simply too exhausted to pick it off.

So today, when my hiney begins to ache and I develop bedsores, I will not switch out my block of petrified wood for the cushy comfort of a computer chair. I will not need to because I will be sleeping upright with my eyes open.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

MacGyver Cooking

Over the past 18 months I have developed a love of cooking, fueled mostly by countless hours of watching Food Network. When I hear Rachael Ray's monologue about one of her 30 Minute Meals in which she encourages measuring with your hands and "eyeballing" amounts, I have flashes of my mom in the kitchen while we were growing up. The kitchens changed over the years, but the methods remain the same. She never measures, never follows a recipe exactly as it is written, and she substitutes often - a result of never having all the "right" ingredients.

As kids we dubbed this improvisational cooking "MacGyver Meals", referring to the TV series where Richard Dean Anderson uses science and problem solving to get out of even the most impossible scrapes as a secret agent. Nothing MacGyver faced could have prepared him for the task my mom had every night - making dinner for 6.

My mom made barbecue sauce out of ketchup and a cabinet of spices. She fried chicken like no other. Her mashed potatoes were legendary, as were the quantities of food she put on the table. A tendency that led to "Must-go" nights. The night when everything in the refrigerator must go before it spoiled and developed all the necessary toxins to kill us all or at the very least give a fierce case of food poisoning.

I don't think I realized until recently how much of this improvisational cooking had seeped into my being. As I pondered what I needed at the grocery store yesterday, I began to poke around refrigerator, freezer and pantry shelves only to discover that if I did go to the store, I would be hard pressed to find anywhere to put the things I might buy. I resolved then and there to use what I had before I went back to the store.

I found a rice mix in the pantry, a flank steak in the freezer and some veggies and decided to see what I could do with them. I set the rock solid steak out and said a little prayer that it would thaw before dinner and it did (mostly). Steve grilled some corn to mix with the rice, while I made a quick pico de gallo and green chile sauce for the steak, seasoned up the steak and eventually set out the meal for my family.

As we sat down to eat, I was awaiting the usual chatter and food avoidance techniques my boys usually try, but all I heard was chewing and forks hitting plates. Nobody dissected food and speculated on whether dinosaurs would have eaten it. Nobody called it "interesting" or "a change of pace". Nobody assured me that his stuffed puppy said he didn't have to eat it. They loved it! Every once in a while you hit the jackpot with a MacGyver meal. Now, I wonder if they'll be so excited when I try to use up all that broccoli, cauliflower and butternut squash puree I have in the freezer next week?


Spice Rubbed Flank Steak
Sprinkle a flank steak with salt, pepper, garlic powder, coriander, cumin, crushed red pepper flakes and grill seasoning.
Grill 6-8 minutes on each side. Allow to rest 10 minutes and slice thinly against the grain. You can also put this under the broiler for 10 minutes on each side.

Quick Mild Pico de Gallo
Grape tomatoes (quartered)
Handful of cilantro (chopped)
Purple onion (finely diced)
Juice of 2 limes
Mix all ingredients and chill.

Green Chile Sauce
Fresh or canned tomatillos
Canned green chiles
Lime Juice
Buzz together in blender until smooth.

Quick Yellow Rice
Grilled corn on the cob
1 pkg. Saffron Rice
Add grilled corn cut off the cob to prepared rice and stir.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Books, Books, Books...

As a kid, I always had my nose in a book. One of my earliest memories is as a five year old waiting up until my sisters and brother went to sleep so I could sneak out of my room and get the Cinderella book I checked out of the library earlier that day. My mom graciously indulged me a quick reading before sending me off to bed with a loving swat followed by, "...and stay in bed this time."

This slowly melted into my elementary summers with Nancy Drew and the gang in River Heights. I was sucked in by catchy titles like The Spider Sapphire Mystery and The Sign of the Twisted Candles. I struggled my way through unfamiliar vocabulary and along the way developed a knack for decoding word meaning that I still use today.

In Junior High, I begged to be allowed to read Gone with the Wind. Never mind that it weighed more than an anvil, was just about as thick and that I would miss much of the innuendo and implication hidden within. My mom never told me to put it back or that it was too difficult or deep or inappropriate for me. She just shooed my brother and sisters outside and let me read and then got the movie from the library for me when I was done. While I never openly employed the word "damn", after reading this book I had a good understanding of how it should be used to achieve maximum effect if I were ever to be so bold.

I still felt growing up that my desire to read was about on par with being a nose-picker. If you did it, you did it in private and you sure as heck never talked about it. It took awhile before I realized that I didn't care, books were then and always will be my drug of choice.

Now, being a reader is very much en vogue. There are book clubs for stay at home moms, third graders and anyone else who wants to be part of one. My neighbor and I have been known to knock on one another's door in a panic because one of us has nothing to read. A book launch is a celebrated occurrence. Last year at the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (the seventh and final book in the series), people stood in line for hours to get their hands on the book at midnight. Hotels offered special packages that included costume parties, Hogwarts-like buffets and copies of the book. Too much hoopla over a book? Heck no. In my way of thinking, it's about time books were cool.

I am thrilled that my son is growing up in an era where he can drag his very battered copies of Harry Potter to and from school and actually be given time during the school to feast on them. I get a little teary eyed when he slows down while we pass the book section at Wal Mart and he looks at me pleadingly to see if we will stop so he can pick up The Battle of the Labyrinth, Rick Riordan's latest addition to the Percy Jackson series. High school girls at my church have deep conversations on the virtues of Edward Cullen versus those of Jacob Black in Twilight, New Moon and Eclipse - even citing chapter and page and line to back them up. Personally, I'll take the vampire over the werewolf any day - no offense, Jacob. Facebook is littered with bumper stickers, buttons, and quizzes brimming with literary characters and references. I'm crossing my fingers that I'll be Elizabeth Bennett from Pride and Prejudice when I take the "Which Jane Austen heroine are you most like?" quiz. Who doesn't love a girl that can tell a man, "From the first moment I met you, your arrogance and conceit, your selfish disdain for the feelings of others made me realize that you were the last man in the world I could ever be prevailed upon to marry. "

So tonight, it is with great pleasure that I take Brendan along with me to the launch of the fourth installment in Stephenie Meyer's Twilight saga, Breaking Dawn. When I wake him up at 11 p.m. and watch him groggily rub his eyes, I know that we will soon be among people just like us who unashamedly love books. Nurturing a reader is a gift my mother gave me and one I hope to pass on to my son.