Author: msikking (page 3 of 4)

2 Accidental Cakes and One on Purpose

Today I made three cakes, but not on purpose. I know what your thinking. How can anyone make a cake accidentally? Let me back up and tell this story from the beginning. My family gets together for birthdays.   Traditionally the person having the birthday is the person who chooses the cake.  Two years ago, when it was my brother-in-law birthday, he requested a guava cake. My brother-in-law is a huge fan of everything Hawaii. I had never heard of a guava cake but decided to give it a try.  It became an instant family hit. Now every birthday, the cake of choice is guava cake. I’ve tried bringing other cakes to the family birthdays but they didn’t pass the taste test. Guava cake is the one and only request.

In honor of the March birthdays (my dad, my sister and me) I made a guava cake. Well, at least I tried. Instead of using water, this recipe uses Kern’s juice. Unfortunately, the first thing I did was to pour in the water and then remembered I had to use the juice instead!

Luckily I had another yellow cake mix. I poured that cake into a pan, set it aside and started again. On the second cake batter recipe, I poured in water instead of juice, again! Where was my head?

I looked in the cupboard and realized I had another yellow cake mix. In order to not make the same mistake three times in a row, I poured the juice into the bowl first so I wouldn’t forget.

One person’s mistake is another’s good luck. Class, today we are eating cake!



Am I Done Yet?

“How do you know when you are finished?”

I listened to an interview today with a famous dubstep artist. The interviewer asked, “how do you know when you are finished?” relating to the musician’s process. How does anyone know when they are done? In writing class students often ask me if they are finished. In reality, writers have to judge for themselves when their work is complete. I have been hearing a lot about the idea of iteration. Webster’s dictionary defines iteration as  “a procedure in which repetition of a sequence of operations yields results successively closer to a desired result.”  Iterations are time consuming, and yet so meaningful. The creative thought process gets at the heart of picking the perfect word or phrase. Many forms of writing rely on specificity: the ability to pick the right word or phrase, the selection of the perfect image in advertising or public service announcements. It is about grabbing your audience and pulling them in.

This month I am participating in the Slice of Life Challenge, an event in which people blog every day for the month of March. Through this process I have learned that my writing is often an ongoing work in progress. I challenged myself to post every day but often I don’t have as much time as I want to blog. As a result, I  put my work out there but then keep rewriting and revising, often in my head or out loud. I don’t revise most pieces more than once, but some posts grab more of my attention. They demand my attention. Asking me to revise, reword.

There are many levels of revision: revising for content, audience, message, tone, focus. Then there is editing, just to make sure it makes sense. All of these processes need time, time to take risks, to make mistakes. Without this time, the writing is not as developed. How do you know when you are finished? It depends. The only way to get there, though, is to practice, to spend time with the writing.


Positive Feedback Please!

This is the sluggish time of year in which teachers and students feel run down and overwhelmed, counting down the days until Spring Break. But before a much needed vacation, there is so much to do: report cards, staff meetings, conferences. I went to my writing meeting last night feeling very stressed out.

I have been participating in an Advanced Writing Institute for the San Diego Area Writing Project. Over the course of three meetings, we learned how to be better presenters and designed a writing presentation.  Last night we were asked to work on a powerpoint to demonstrate something that we hadn’t taught to other teachers before-something we had done in our classroom that we cared about. Writing colleagues were there to help encourage, brainstorm or just listen. At the end of the meeting, all the teachers shared out what they had crafted. Hearing everyone’s ideas validated our work and reaffirmed pride in my job.

It hardly every happens that teachers have time to work on individual projects that they care about and get feedback and support from their peers. This reminded me of the value of feedback. Humans crave feedback. We want to know we are doing the right thing, that we are on the right track. Specific constructive feedback encourages individuals to work harder towards their goal.

This month I began blogging seriously for the first time. I have several blogs out there in cyberspace but never moved past a few posts. This month I started the Slice of Life Challenge and so did my class. At the halfway point I asked students to write down how they were feeling about blogging. I received an almost unanimous support for blogging. For some it acted as a diary to document their day. For others it was a way to learn about their classmates. Some loved to be creative and write about the world in different ways.

I read my work aloud to the class daily. Today we slowed it down and looked for specific golden lines. All the students posted comments on my work. It spurred a conversation about the word skittering. The shared writing is working. They are copying one another’s work and giving great feedback. The feeling in the room is one of a tight-knit community. We are building upon our support network of writers, readers and editors day after day, post after post.


Mentor Sentences

Our class just finished reading Call it Courage. I was intrigued by the beautiful language and complex sentence structure of the book. The author, Armstrong Sperry, often uses opposite phrases.

“There were six black canoes, paddles flashing, now gaining, now losing.”

“Moonlight shone on half a hundred wet paddles as they dipped and rose to the rhythm of the chant.”

He also uses repetition. ex: “homeward, homeward…” “Closer, closer the canoes advanced.”

And sometimes both techniques together: “Only the sea and the sky, the sea and the sky.”

Then I was reminded of the rhythmic language of Hoops by Walter Dean Myers.

I decided to pick some event in my day that had a dualistic  or repetitive aspect. I just went back to playing soccer last night. I play on an indoor team with a great group of women. We have good seasons, so so seasons and awful seasons. This is an awful season. Last night we lost, again.

 The Dance on the Field

The back and forth rhythm

of the ball,





b  O u N c I n G

F  L   Y  I  N   G

through the air- two players attack it,

Looking to posses it,

to own it.

The crash of knees, shinguards, cleats,

Possession by the home team

a chance to score

Feet skittering in a cat-like





quick movements ready to pounce,

Eyes watching, mouths shouting, hands clapping

“I’m open”

“Linea, linea”


A glance, a pass….

too far

A run down field to…

a sea of opposing players

Possession lost

Players retreating towards the goal

hunkering down to defend






rolling, touching cleats

Player and ball dancing down field

towards the goal

defenders standing their ground

focusing not on the feet

focusing only on the ball

the forward winding up and




Players in motion

Blurs of light and sound

Moving to the rhythm of the game.




For My Niece

One day, I hope that you will speak

Find your voice that sounds so much like you

Doctors and scientists dangle a promise

the hope to resynthesize your voice

with computers, artificial technology to make you sound like you

Maybe then we can talk on the phone

In the future we can talk with ease, no longer straining to hear your voice

No sacrifice in the long pauses and strained words

Technology will fix it, this thing that you were born with

Down the road, you will communicate with others in a way that makes it easier, more fluid


We wait for the change that will make life easier

We hope

We pray

But what do you want?

How do you feel about today?

The here and now?

The promise of “fixing” you must sting, those words harsh, cold

You are more than a voice, broken by birth

You are more than a limp and low muscle tone

You are more than a label, a disability

You are my niece and I love you.






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?




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