Cooking Up Trouble

imageI’m not really a cook.  I eat…I’m good at that.  But as far as putting food things together and making them come out right, well, that doesn’t come easily.

I am bringing things to Thanksgiving this year.  Not fancy things, just filler things.  My mom went easy on me and asked me to bring caramel corn and green grapes that are made to look like little acorns.  I pulled the caramel corn recipe off without too much trouble, but tonight it was time to assemble the grape-acorns.

It isn’t so much a recipe as a set of simple directions.  It seemed straightforward.  Melt caramel with a little cream, crush some peanuts, dip the grape in the caramel and coat that dipped part in the crushed peanuts.  But as always when I try to do such a thing, I had a lot of questions, and more than a little unanticipated difficulty.

What is the best way to melt the caramel?  Will that work in the microwave?

Is the cream supposed to look like that?

How do you get the little toothpick to STAY in the grape?

But the worst trouble came with crushing the peanuts.  I put them in a baggie and gave it a try pushing and then whacking with a big spoon.  Nope.  I looked around my kitchen for heavy things.  A frying pan to smash them?  A heavy glass bottle to roll over them like a rolling pin?  I tried all sorts of things.  But every time I held the baggie up for inspection, there was peanut dust, some fragments, and mainly pieces that looked completely untouched.  I socked the baggie a few times against the counter.  I put it under a big book and sat on it.  I even put the bag on the floor and walked on it a few dozen times–again with little success.

(Full disclosure…I considered backing over it with my car.  Don’t tell my mom.)

Finally I decided that the little grape acorns were going to be coated with peanut chunks instead of crushed peanuts, which immediately cheered me up.  Because I definitely had chunks.  I melted my caramel and started dipping and coating.

After I did all I could stand to do (which took about ten excruciating minutes), I texted my mom and asked how many grape-acorns were enough.  She said 18 would be great, which was fantastic because I had already done 24.  I told her I would do 30, and I made it to 27 before I gave up.

I hope the kiddos at Thanksgiving dinner like the little grape-acorns.  I hope they eat them quickly before anyone looks too closely at them.  I’ll probably leave them in the car and then smuggle them into the house at the last minute.  I do have a nice feeling of accomplishment and pride that I am contributing a little bit to the dinner.  I’m not too worried that this is going to lead to further requests, however.  I’m pretty sure that after this my main Thanksgiving job will go back to keeping the kids busy while the adults do things with the food.  I am MUCH better at that!

Also, I really hope my mom doesn’t read about all of this until AFTER dinner Thursday…

 

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Dollars and Sense

imageThe questions started even before their coats were off this morning.

“When do we go?  When do we shop”

“When can we go to the Book Fair?”

Thankfully, I only needed to survive until 9:30 with my distracted class before I could give them what they craved…shopping time in the hallway at the Book Fair.

Here is a rundown of my shoppers and their style…

The Savvy–kids armed with enough money to buy a couple of good books but had permission to buy a toy.  They were on the lookout for a good deal on a book in order to maximize the amount left over to buy The Toy.

The Literals–kids holding tightly to their four dollars and looking only at books that cost exactly four dollars…because they had four dollars.

The Scrapers–kids with a handful of coins from their piggy banks hoping that they had enough to buy themselves a precious book–any book.

The Dreamers–kids with two dollars who couldn’t tear themselves away from the table with twenty dollar books.

The Helpers–kids who didn’t bring any money (or had shopped earlier with their parents) who secretly picked out titles with me that we can get for our classroom.

The Ditherers–kids who picked out fifteen different books that would be delightful choices but couldn’t make the final decsion and buy The One.

The UnMoved–kids who followed me closely asking for advice and help picking out a good book and then proceeded to refuse every single title I pointed out.

And…The Grateful–kids who carefully looked over each case and picked something just right that will be treasured and read cover to cover.

The Book Fair is a delightful mix of conversations about finding wonderful titles to add to home collections or our classroom, conversations about money management and making change, and conversations about how books are better than posters or toys.  (Even the puppy posters.)  There are always kids who are in tears because they want something expensive and can’t make their money stretch.  There are also always kids who offer to share their money with a classmate who doesn’t quite have enough to get the book they want.

But above all, the Book Fair brings exclamations of delight over BOOKS.  Big conversations and debates around choosing BOOKS.  Favorite authors are discussed, titles are recommended up and down the hallway, and new discoveries are shouted out to classmates.  And at the end of our half hour of shopping, we troop back to our classroom, treasures in hand, and for the next few minutes noses are buried in new books all around the room.

I’m grateful for the chance we have to enjoy the Book Fair at my school.  For about 20 minutes or so, my kids are in seventh heaven in a store just for them, surrounded by books.  I hope it will be a memory they will look on fondly when they are grown…and they will continue to seek out that joy by looking for wonderful bookstores where they can be surrounded by books and choose treasures once again.

Monster Stomp

imageWhen I was a kid, we ate lunch in the dungeon.  Well, it was really the basement of the really old part of my elementary school…but it sure felt like a dungeon.  It was underground, and the walls were painted a light green (or maybe blue) with giant kid murals painted all around the room.  It was creaky, a little stinky, and gruesome.  I must have been in first or second grade when we ate lunch in the dungeon, because by the time I was in third grade they had built a shiny new school building that didn’t set itself on fire every so often from ancient wiring.  (I never suspected that some of those fire drills were NOT exactly drills…)

But for those early grades, we made do with lunchtime in the basement of the oldest part of our very old school.  And although it was already creepy to eat lunch in the basement cafeteria, we did not suspect that our lunchtime on one certain Halloween day would end up scaring the daylights out of us all.

In the midst of trading sandwiches and comparing desserts, as little kids are apt to do, we were startled into silence when the lights suddenly went out.  Did I mention that we were in the basement?  We were immediately in pitch black darkness in a room filled with long tables of schoolchildren.  And then the screaming started…

Through the center of the room ran three monstrous figures.  Were they hairy?  Or scaly?  Aliens?  Hobgoblins?  Who could tell?  They were hollering at the top of their lungs.  They ran through the maze of tables, grabbing at kids and thumping them on their heads.  Their faces were terrible–grotesque in the dim light from the hallway door–and their voices were howling above the shrieking din in the room.

After this point, all I remember are the large monster feet running back and forth, because I grabbed my metal lunchbox and slid off of my bench right to the floor underneath the lunch table.  I watched in delightful terror as the lumbering monsters ran back out the cafeteria door just as quickly as they had come in.  The lights came on, and a hundred breathless children chattered in chaos about what they had just seen.

It was impossible to settle down after that!  I can’t imagine what our poor teachers went through trying to organize us back into our lessons.  I’m sure my teacher was relieved to finally walk us down the hall to Art class.

We had been drawing for about ten minutes when someone first noticed the tiny green smudge on the art teacher’s collar…

“IT WAS YOU!” we exclaimed.

Although they consistently and forevermore denied it, we confronted all three of our main suspects…the art teacher.  The custodian.  The gym teacher.  We were certain that we had solved the Cafeteria Monster Mystery.  But although we knew there was definitely a rational explanation behind the whole horrifying episode, we shivered with delicious fear for quite some time after that day.

It was the most exquisite Halloween scare I’ve ever had and one of my favorite memories from being a kid in school.

Happy Halloween!

 

I Have a Form for That

imageMy lists have lists.

I’m trying to organize myself for a conference I’m attending this week, but it’s an uphill battle.  It’s safe to say that I am an “over planner”, so I have a whole packet of lists by this point that are supposedly guarding me against finding myself at my table without some essential item…like a pen.  Or Tic Tacs, apparently.

Is it worth it to plan everything so diligently?  This week we scheduled Parent-Teacher conferences in a meeting at school.  We get together to choose times from parent input and coordinate between classrooms so siblings are scheduled together. It can be a stressful meeting, with teachers calling out names and trying to quickly settle on times for families with multiple students.  I’m always trying to prepare myself by having my papers organized and my materials ready.  This year it occurred to me to Create a Form (which is one of my very favorite things to do in any arena) and organize the kids in my class alphabetically, with siblings listed according to their teachers’ names, with columns and headings for all sorts of steps in the process.  Making this form made me very, very happy and convinced me I would sail through the meeting with flying colors, not frustrating any of my colleagues by responding to shouts for time slots with a flurry of shifting through paperwork.

It didn’t really work out like I thought it would.  I was still stressed out, I was still confused, and I still probably frustrated my colleagues.  In the end, my beautiful form was just another piece of paper that I had to deal with.  It was a good lesson for me–sometimes I just have to let life happen.  And not every situation needs a form.

But…I am probably going to try it again this spring when we schedule conferences again–after all, I have it already made up and ready to go!!

 

In the Queue

imageWe had a great conversation about books this morning.  My second graders are getting more and more comfortable with talking about their reading choices.  Some are avid readers who don’t need a whole lot of advice on finding the perfect read, while others are really struggling to get away from “fake reading” and find a book that they want to read cover to cover.

One by one, they shared insights about their characters and told their classmates about what was happening in their books.  One of my hopes for my reluctant readers is to get them interested in a book series so they might really get to know some characters and gain some traction with further reading.  I thought I had made progress with one of my girls by giving her a new “Owl Diaries” book to try.  She’s been a tough sell lately, so I was hoping this book series might appeal to her.  She stayed behind as the other kids went to their seats to confide in me that she actually did like the book in her hand more than she thought she would.  In fact, she planned on reading the whole thing.

I asked her if she thought she might like to read other stories with the same characters.

“Yep,” she answered.  “I think I’m going to rent the whole season.”

Ok…well, you’ve got to start somewhere!  I guess maybe a compare/contrast minilesson between Netflix and series books might be in order…

 

Dashing Through the Snow…

imageI always look forward to the first snowfall and hope that those first big snowflakes start falling during a school day.  I love it when the kids look up from their books with a gasp and run to the windows in excitement.  It’s one of those childhood memories that I get to relive with students year after year.

It’s not time for snowflakes to fall in Iowa yet, but a conversation with one of my students made me realize that this year’s first snowfall might turn out to be extra exciting.

J ran into the classroom after lunch today to grab his coat.  He was shaking from head to toe and exclaiming “So cold!  It is so cold!”  He wrapped himself tightly in his jacket and muttered about the temperature all the way down the hall.

I know that when the temperature drops in the fall as it has after so many warm (even hot) days, the kids have a hard time adjusting.  They exclaim that “it’s freezing” and “I have frostbite”, even though at 50 degrees it is hardly that extreme.  (In fact, next spring when we reach 50 degrees after a long, cold winter they will show up in shorts and flip flops, exclaiming that it is “so hot”!)

But it occurred to me that J really was experiencing more unusual of an adjustment to cooler temperatures than the rest of the kids.  He arrived from Puerto Rico just last May.  And then I realized…he’s never seen snow!

When the kids came in after their brisk (but not frigid) recess, we talked about winter.  When J confirmed that he has never experienced any winter weather the class enthusiastically tried to describe what he was in store for…right down to snow angel demonstrations on the carpet.  We pulled up some weather channel clips on YouTube and found a demonstration video on how to build a snowman.  All the while, J’s eyes were wide and he was full of questions.

So my plan is that if we are so fortunate to see those first flakes fall during the school day this year, we are going to sneak outdoors for a joyful snow party…and teach our J how kids in Iowa love to play in the snow.

I love watching kids get excited when the first snowflakes begin to fall…but I have a feeling this year is going to be downright magical.

 

Hmmmmmm…

imageThere’s one in every bunch.  Don’t you know what I mean?  In every class or group of kids, there is always at least one who thinks it’s fun to be a stinker.  It’s the stuff that turns a teacher’s hair grey.  Right?

I heard it start during our math lesson.  It was quiet at first, but then it got just a little louder.  Just loud enough to catch my attention, but quiet enough to escape detection.

I had a hummer.

One of those kids had the audacity to sit there with the group on the floor looking sweetly innocent, all the while humming a long, low note to BOTHER us.

I couldn’t tell who it was.  At first I just looked them over, sure I could find the culprit.  I didn’t want to let on that I could hear it, nor did I want to stop the culprit until I was sure I had them caught.  But this kid was good…oh yes, very good.  The same long note stopped when I looked around, then started again when I went back to my lesson.

Finally I couldn’t take it any more.  “OK!  WHO IS HUMMING???”

The kids looked bewildered.

“Can’t you hear that?  THERE!  That humming!  Someone in here is humming and I want you to stop!”

This was infuriating.  You would think after my little tirade the Mad Hummer would not dare to hum again.  But yes…the hum continued.  Now I was looking each of them in the eye and just daring them to get caught.  I thought I found my answer…until she started talking to me while the humming continued.  RATS!

As most of the class still seemed confused, in exasperation I asked them to sit as quietly as they could on the count of three and then they could then hear it as well, and help me catch the rascal.  I counted…one, two, THREE!  And they sat still and silent as I continued to give them the stink eye.

And we DID hear it.  Clearly.  My eyes slowly rose to the ceiling as the truth of the matter dawned on me.  Band lessons.  In the computer lab right above our heads.  Some little fifth grader had probably just learned to blow his first long, low note on the trombone.  Moaning the same pitch over and over.  Just. Like. Humming.

Oops.  Sorry about that…

Back to math, no stinkers today.

Let’s hope that didn’t give them any ideas…