Month: March 2014 (page 2 of 3)

Thoughts on Close Reading or The Importance of Careful Work or Why Does My Stir fry Taste Like Baked Bread?

I made stir fry tonight, combining fresh vegetables: earthy mushrooms, bright red bell peppers, bok choy, garlic and carrots. To start off, I put rice in the cooker right away and began chopping vegetables. Then I heated up the sesame oil and cooked the onions until opaque. The aroma of steamed rice wafted through the house and out the open windows. I added the vegetables in two stages and then began on the sauce. Since I made stir fry two weeks ago, I remembered my secret ingredient to add a more complex flavor profile to the dish. (Can you tell that I have been watching Top Chef?) Just before pouring the sauce over the vegetables, I remembered the cornstarch. Reaching up into the cabinet without looking, I reached for a round, tin container and added the white substance to the sauce.

As the sauce went into the pot, it began to bubble. I thought that was a bit strange. Two minutes later I checked the stir fry but the sauce hadn’t thickened one bit. Add more cornstarch! The dish once again bubbled up. I looked at the round container and realized….it was baking soda! My food was trying to rise in the pan. How could I have made this mistake? I added cornstarch to the mix, unaware of how to remove the baking soda. Hopefully the taste will disappear. Maybe my roommate will be too hungry to tell. Should I let her know?

Reading counts kids. If you don’t read carefully your food will taste very strange.





Ode To My Hands

I am slowly recovering from a bout of strep throat. I am off medication but still feel weak and dizzy. Hopefully that will subside. Because of this, my weekend plans were scrapped. I did read a lot of Slice of Life blog posts and catch up on my twitter feeds. Through that process I read several posts from Kevin at He wrote about a project called #walkingmyworld and even posted a photo montage of what he sees on the way to work. This got me thinking about what I see on a daily basis. I have also been reading beautiful odes of Pablo Neruda. His ability to take a small item and highlight its importance is perfect as a slice of life entry. Although I didn’t go on my backpacking trip as planned, I did some house cleaning, typed emails, tweeted and made lunch. All of these activities required the use of my hands. I thought I would write an ode to my hands.

Ode to My Hands

When I take a good look at my hands,

they astound me.

With their  lines on the palms and wrinkled knuckles

evidence of where they have been,

what they have seen.

They spell out a  story of hard work

From the bump on the pointer finger,

a bump born out of writing,

from pressing too hard on the pencil

year after year in school,

to the nearly healed scab on the thumb

from a painful encounter with

a grater last week.

They speak to me about the work they have done today.

Of the dishes washed, vegetables chopped and tea poured.

Fingers that clack away at keys, perched lightly and at the ready

for the next thought to form

Thumbs that grip the coffee mug tightly in one’s hands.

Palms that lift dishes onto shelves,

safely tucked away.

Steady hands that work tirelessly to do the everyday tasks,

without fail, without nudging.

Dutiful hands hard at work

day after day.



The Power of a Writing Community

I mentioned to a friend that I was writing a blog and I gave him the blog’s title . Instantly he pulled up the site and began to read MY words TO ME…aloud. In that moment, the voice in my head began to critique my writing. Was it creative enough? Were my topics interesting? Too mundane? I felt insecure and put on the spot, all for giving out the title of my blog . To instantly give out 15 posts about myself to a new friend felt risky. I can’t take the posts back. I can’t hide them. They are there for everyone to see.

After hanging up the phone, I wondered more about my online presence. I will admit that I have googled myself from time to time to see what pops up. Today I searched not for my whole name as I usually do, but rather my first initial and last name.  A wealth of websites popped up that I don’t see when searching my whole name. I went on a virtual trip down memory lane, rediscovering out that I have started three other now forgotten blogs (with less than four posts each);  I signed up for many online programs: diigo, glogster, quizlet; another blogger for slice of life quoted my page;  and that someone working at the Oklahoma State fair also has my first initial and last name.

Until today I thought writing a blog was helping me to get over my fear of making my work public. Now I realize that it all depends on the audience. My class began this writing challenge with me and I read my work aloud to them daily. I am comfortable sharing with the class partly because we have shared our writing all year together. We created a classroom community of writers, bonded through vulnerability, struggles, successes and shared experiences. Throughout this challenge, I have posted to the slice of life page and received wonderful feedback as well.

I write this post with more trepidation and uncertainty than I have all week simply because I am aware that my audience has changed, that I have let someone new into the writing circle, someone who is not also writing and thus not making themselves as vulnerable. As we look to our classes we should always remember that sharing teacher writing with students is so valuable. Everyone is on equal ground, experiencing the struggles together. When we are vulnerable we let others in, connect to one another.


Doctor’s Orders

It was Wednesday at 2:00 p.m. Sitting in a sterile patient room waiting for the doctor, I closed my eyes, wanting only to crawl into bed. The quiet calm of the office, with only one other patient, began to  lull me into sleep. Suddenly, my eyes flew open thinking about all the things I still had to do that day: blog, tweet, write sub plans if I had to stay home the next day. How would I get it all done? How would I fit being sick into my busy schedule?

Minutes later the doctor walked in and asked me how I was feeling. I told her my symptoms, she looked at my throat and then asked, “how do you feel about strep throat?”

“I was told by the nurse that I have it. I feel awful.”

I told her about my upcoming backpacking trip and asked if I should go. “You might be able to go, but you might not want to climb a mountain this weekend.”

She patted my back and took my vitals and then told me to rest. When I said I was a teacher, the nurse practitioner wrote me a note for school along with  some very key patient instructions on my sheet.

Patient Instructions: “Take antibiotic as directed. Recommend home through weekend. Can return Friday if necessary. Recommend postponing backpacking trip.”

There they were, the typed up notes from a doctor telling me to take it easy, to relax. Somehow I felt lighter, excused from some of the responsibilities today. I kept rereading the instructions. I kept telling myself it was okay not to go to work. It was okay not to go backpacking.

I never want to let anyone down or cancel plans but this time I couldn’t do everything. I couldn’t even leave my bed because I was exhausted and in pain. The nurse told me to rest. I had orders and I chose to follow them.

Now I am on day two of bed rest and looking back, I don’t know how I could have made it at work. I finally feel like a human again. The thought of climbing a mountain in 12 hours is unthinkable.

All it takes is someone who is willing to say it’s okay.It’s okay to slow down. It’s okay to take time. As teachers we don’t always take time for ourselves. This was my opportunity. Hopefully I don’t have to get sick to take time for myself again.



Strep Throat

Strep throat is not my idea of a good time. It really changes one’s plans. I do not have time to get sick. I can’t go in to work for two days. As a teacher, being out of the classroom is often harder than going in even when you are sick. Writing sub plans is time consuming but because I was contagious for the first 24 hours going to school wasn’t even a possibility. On top of that all my other plans have been canceled: no backpacking this weekend, no movie about grassroots projects, no dinner after work with friends.

Although being sick isn’t always fun, there are some perks:

1)Pajamas-you have a real reason to wear them ALL DAY!

2)T.V.-Catch up on old episodes of your favorite shows

3)No dish duty-Remember,you’re sick. It would be a bad idea to breathe all over the dirty dishes,right?

4)Comfort food-You get to eat whatever makes you feel better, whether it is soup or popsicles.

What are some other perks to being sick?




Old Globe

Today 6th graders visited the Old Globe in Balboa Park to see a performance of various plays that students produced through the Playwright’s Project. Out of all the plays written in schools throughout San Diego County, Kirra’s play was chosen.

The Old Globe showed various student plays. It was so captivating to see student work come alive on the stage. Students were enthralled, laughing or crying throughout the plays. What a wonderful program!



Health Is a Human Right

I participate in CSA (community supported agriculture), a program that delivers fresh fruits and vegetables to individuals on a biweekly basis. I pay a flat fee and get a box of whatever is in season. This has changed the way I eat. Although I grew up eating a fair amount of fruits and vegetables, once I started with the CSA, I was given foods that I had never seen before: broccoli romanesco, alien-like in color and “mathematically” designed; fennel with it’s licorice smell and long white stalk; varieties of oranges in all shades and sizes.

At first it was a bit trying to figure out what to do with all the vegetables and eat them all in time. While I don’t always eat all the fennel and the mustard greens sometimes go bad, I am eating more vegetables than I did in the past. As a result, the meat has moved from the focus of the meal to a team player who sometimes sits on the bench. I feel as though I don’t need as much meat and the vegetables become the focus.

On my way to pick up my fruits and vegetables today, I was excited at the thought of what I would get this week. I wondered if I would get more baby bok choy or rainbow chard. I hoped for rich, dark kale lacinto or earthy, red beets. And then I began to think about all the people who don’t have the same access to, knowledge about or opportunities to obtain fresh, healthy foods.

As a class, we have been learning about the problem of food insecurity in the United States. Our class has been watching A Place at the Table, a documentary about poverty in the United States. Did you know that 1 in 2 children in the U.S. will be on food assistance at one point or another in their childhood? Some places in the United States are considered food deserts in that the people do not have easy access to fresh produce. I feel blessed to live in my neighborhood where the grocery stores are stocked all year long with produce. Not everyone is that lucky.

I began to think about the problem and about the impact that it has on students who aren’t able to eat enough and do not have healthy choices. What if we could introduce students to healthy foods by trying them at school? What if we could give cooking classes to parents and families? What if we gave more money to the Healthy Families Act so that more than $1.00 (after taking out money for gas and labor) was given to creating school lunches?

The real shame is that the power lies in the hands of big agro business and their huge percentage of dollars spent on lobbying. Health is a human right, or at least it should be. Right now health in America is seen as a burden to large companies who might lose some of their profits. Let’s take back the power and make a health a priority for future generations.


A Short List

One of my favorite books is called A Girl Named Zippy images

The author has one title entitled: “A Short List of Things My Father Lost at Gambling”. A second entry is called “A Short List of Things My Father Won at Gambling”. The lists are so funny and serve to show that her father was a huge gambler. I hope my lists show the kind of day I had and the mood I was in.

A Short List of Things That Made Me Smile Today:

1. A text message at 6:30 a.m. I received a unexpected message from a friend that I have not heard from in such a long time. That is a great way to start the week.

2. Vanilla Mocha. I treated myself on a Monday. One word: delicious.

3. Sushi for dinner. No prep work. Check. No clean up. Check. Loads of ginger. Check.

4. Twitter. Writing a tweet under 150 characters can be a challenge. Challenge accepted and completed.

5. Daylight savings. It was light out for so long today!

An Even Shorter List of Things That Made Me Want To Cry Today:

1. School Lunches. Today we learned that only about $1.00 of school lunch money goes to making school lunches. How can schools serve a healthy meal if they have so little to spend?

2. Spring forward. No thank you time change. I would like to sleep longer, thank you very much. Plus, I didn’t realize how late it was and I worked past 6 p.m.

3. A huge rat. It ran through the parking lot and looked as though it could win in a fight against the neighbor’s cat. It was that big. I hope he stays in the bushes far away from my front door.



Recipe for A Successful Classroom Community

My students are participating in the slice of life challenge as well. It can be difficult to think of what to write about. Today’s post is about taking an idea that has been on my mind and putting it into a recipe format.

Recipe for A Successful Classroom Community


1 Teacher

32 Students

9 cups of enthusiasm

2 cups of flexibility

1 bag of tricks

1 laugh per day

1 pound of understanding

1 teaspoon of humility- a little goes a long way.

Lots of writing



Step 1: Start with one large cup of enthusiasm at the beginning of the year. Get to know your class and find out what interests them.

Step 2: Add lesson plans. Use 1 to 2 items from your bag of tricks when the class needs a change. (I find that introducing challenges, brain teasers and puzzles work well for sixth graders.)

Step 3: Sprinkle in humility when needed. We all need help now and then.

Step 4: Be sure to continue mixing in enthusiasm throughout the year.

Step 5: Knead in between a pinch and a cup full of flexibility when things get tough.

Step 6: Stir in lots of writing to get to know your students, to learn from them, to share.

Step 7: Laugh often. If laughing is difficult add a tablespoon of flexibility.

Step 8: If laughing still does not work, add chocolate. (Chocolate always makes things better.)

Step 9: Write, write and write some more. Write for your class. Ask them to write to show you what they know, what they want to know and who they are. Add understanding for when they need someone to listen to.

Step 10: Make any tweaks or adjustments. It is always a work in progress.




Lazy Saturday

Lazy Saturday, lounging in my jammies.

Head still pounding signaling the need for more sleep.

I open my eyes and see the clock glaring at me. It’s seven a.m. and I am awake.

The house is quiet and I have nowhere to go today.

I thank the gods. It is the first Saturday in a month that I do not have plans.

My internal debate begins.

Should I get out of bed? Should I go back to sleep?

I close my eyes and think about not thinking.

That does not work so well.

Hmmm….what is on my twitter feed, my flipboard, facebook?

Suddenly there is a knock on the door. “Do want breakfast?” my roommate asks as she pokes her head in my room. “I’m making french toast!”

Breakfast made FOR me? “Absolutely!”

The smell of cinnamon fills the house. I shuffle down the hall and into the dining room to sit in front of hot french toast and a plate of fresh fruit and syrup.


I make a mug of hot chai and chat with my friend about nothing in particular.

What a lovely lazy Saturday morning.

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