Friday, April 30, 2010

Food Friday: Grilled Zucchini

I love summer squash.  Once the green season arrives, I'd eat zucchini nearly every day (a good thing, since it grows at that pace).  My plants have yet to bear fruit, but I scored a zucchini in the market last weekend and this week I cooked it on my indoor grill pan.

The recipe is easy-peasy.  Cut the squash into half and then into quarters.  Then rub on a little olive oil and salt and pepper.  In a grill pan heated at medium heat (mine is cast iron and takes about 10 minutes to get up to speed), sear one side of the spears for three minutes.  Then flip and sear the other side for three minutes.  Finally, cook the third side for........three minutes.
Easy. Tasty. Attractive.  Desirable for zucchini and all of your dining companions.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Hive Central

For the past week, JT has had a case of hives every day.  Memorably, if not happily, on one day he got hives twice.  They always respond to Mama's little helper: Benedryl.  Though as a long-term strategy, the sleep-inducing effects of Mama's little helper may be less than helpful.

I've wracked my brain and created a hive journal, tracking their development, in an effort to figure things out.  He's gotten them at home, at school, and out-on-the-town; during the day and at night; around pets and without pets at hand; in times of stress and relaxation.  There is no obvious trigger.  The doctor shrugged and called them "idiopathic" which I gather is Latin for "I have no f*&%ing clue."

For now, he'll take a low-level antihistamine that should help to keep the hives at bay. If the hives turn up uninvited we'll send them packing with Mama's little helper (and a nap).  And I'll continue to rack my brain for clues to this little mystery. 

Friday morning hives update: Thanks for the tips and support; we're still searching for the trigger.  But JT has been on the Zyrtec for 48 hours......and no hives since Wednesday morning. And now that I've put that in print, the hives they will return.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Tulip Tuesday

As of this morning, all of the tulips in the front yard have bloomed.  My fall bulb planting tends to be disorganized ---- I buy a variety of bulbs and then plant them just before the ground freezes.  Bulbs are a forgiving variety of plant and for a few minutes of trouble in the cold fall, I am rewarded by beautiful flowers. 
These tall elegant tulips are a perfect example.  I first planted them in the fall of 2008 and last spring they were a lovely surprise.  This spring, I added some daffodils to the bed and then waited anxiously for the tall, elegant tulips to arrive. It's a most happy way to start my day each morning. 

Monday, April 26, 2010

Peony Dreams

When I lived in Nashville, virtually every house in the neighborhoods I loved best had a few peony bushes in the yard.  In late May when the peonies bloomed they were practically garish in their lush floral displays.  The first spring I was living in Tennessee I vowed that I would some day have a few peony bushes of my own.

This spring, I finally made good on that promise with two peony plants for my yard.   I ordered them from R.H. Shumway's, one of my favorite garden catalogs.  They arrived a few weeks ago and I quickly planted them on either side of the front walk.  I have since watched anxiously for signs that they would be able to work their magic. 

I check on my little plants daily.  The past week, with warmth and rain in equal measure, has seen the plants really taking hold.  Right now, I've recruited two of JT's sticks to mark the plants' spot.  Soon enough I will install a ring to help hold up the branches.  I'm not expecting blooms this spring --- usually it takes a year or two, especially for spring-planted bulbs --- but I can wait.  I like the fact that gardening encourages me to be a more patient person.

Saturday, April 24, 2010


One of the best parts of spring in my neck of the woods is the profusion of lilacs in my neighborhood.  Nearly every house on the block has a lilac; mine is at the northwest corner of the front porch.  The heady smell greets me each morning as I leave the house.  In the evening, the smell wafts in the windows while we eat our supper.  When the wind is blowing just right I can even catch a faint trace of lilac as I lie in upstairs in my bed and fall asleep.
The blooms and their scent will only last for a few weeks.  But what a lovely few weeks it will be.  In this world of instant gratification, I appreciate the old-fashioned lilac and its glorious blooms.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Real Life Conversations at School: Clown College edition

The backstory: I teach at a college prep school and that means that I am in the business of preparing students to succeed at college.  Among other things,  that means teaching students how to do research and write thesis-driven research papers.  However, that it is a useful skill doesn't always mean that the students eagerly embrace a research paper assignment, as the following conversation ably illustrates.

Student X: But why do we have to write a research paper?

Me:  Well, you will certainly be writing research papers in college and when those assignments happen you'll want to be the student in the room who thinks "I know exactly what to do."  In the short term, you might need a graded assignment to submit with your college applications next year.

Unruly Student Y:  I want to go to clown college.

Me:  Then I guess you'll be writing your paper on the history of the Ringling Brothers Circus.

The whole class burst into laughter. 

I win.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Special Needs

I wore a pair of my favorite shoes today and walking past me in the hall a colleague said, "Those look comfortable. Are they special needs shoes?"
Now I know that the Sartorialist is not longing to capture my look for the fashion world to emulate.  I realize that I have a personal style that could most charitably be characterized  as neat and tidy. But special needs shoes? 


Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Cat Action Figures

 Tiger enjoys tucking under the sheets when I am changing the beds.  Sometimes he hides completely, thus rendering me unable to make the bed.  And sometimes he chooses not to hide completely, as he did when I finished making up JT's bed on Sunday night.  When JT came upstairs to actually go to bed, Tiger was already prepared, having tucked in to the center of the bed, just waiting for the story hour to begin.  Lucy is keeping a wary watch, aware that this seemingly innocent game can change on a dime.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Tulip Tuesday

I feel it's promising that I got the tulip photos posted on time this week.  It is most likely merely the illusion of control, but I'll take it. 
Warm spring days are bringing all sorts of garden rewards.  A few more tulips have opened; the Rose of Sharon that grows just behind them is starting to green up and the hostas are filling in so quickly that they seem to grow a little every day. The azaleas are nearly ready to provide their showy display.
Lovely.  Just lovely.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Household Happiness: Tea Tin

In keeping with the theme of the week, I'm behind on this posting, which I usually try to make on the 15th of each month.  On the other hand, grades were turned in on time, quizzes are graded, and the child has been delivered to his many activities on time each day of the past week.  At least the basics have been covered.  And every day this week, when I finally got home, there was tea to welcome me.

I am a woman who enjoys her habits and routines.  Among the most comforting of those routines is that in my home, there is always tea to be had.  When the days are cool, that's a pot of hot tea.  When the weather turns warm, the iced tea pitcher is in use.  To keep my tea habit in style, I keep the tea bags in a little tea tin that I've had for years, so many of them that I don't even recall when I bought it.
I do know that when I make my daily tea, I open the tin.  Piled inside are stacks of tea bags, ready for a warm pot of tea or a cold pitcher.   My daily cuppa is made with Red Rose tea, the same tea my mother used when I was a little girl.
 I especially love habits like this, which I think of as the traditions that keep me fixed and secure in a world that to me feels neither fixed nor secure.  But no matter.......there is always a cup of tea to be had. And that's happy.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Late But Not Forgotten: Tulip Tuesday on Wednesday

Sure, it's Wednesday but I'm hoping that you'll forgive the delay and instead concentrate on the reward: one of the pink tulips has bloomed.  More are certain to come.
That's very happy.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Adventures in Home Improvement: Water Edition

The month of March brought New Jersey colossal rains.  It brought me water in the basement and a leak in the dining room ceiling.  The basement water is under control (which is to say gone, until ten inches of rain fall again).  The dining room ceiling leak ---- seemingly caused by the rain blowing in from the east and a small gap underneath the second floor window sill siding ---- has been repaired.  All that remains is a tiny bit of plaster repair and some repainting, a task I've reserved for June when school ends and I have ample time for that brand of fun.
After all that, I figured that April would feature a whole lot of gardening and smooth-sailing, home improvement wise.  And boy was I wrong.  I learned just how wrong on Easter Sunday, when JT reported that there was a leak in the kitchen ceiling.  A leak he noticed while I was in the shower.  That shower is in the bathroom.  The only full bathroom in the house.  The one with the 1930s-era plumbing and the cast iron bathtub whose plumbing is directly over the kitchen ceiling.

This can't be good.

Plumber number 1 arrived the next day, took a brief look at the situation and it's  80 year old lead pipe plumbing, then threw up his hands and announced, "you're going to need a whole new bathroom."
This was not promising.  And while I didn't doubt that new plumbing and a bath tub would solve the problem, I was hopeful that less costly repair could be effected.  In any case, I wanted a plumber who would actually touch the plumbing before diagnosing a zillion dollar home improvement solution.  A laying-on of plumbing hands, if you will.

Enter plumber number 2, a man with the promising name of JP.  We like letter names around here and he came highly recommended.  JP took a look, ran the water through the offending leaky plumbing, and diagnosed the problem: I  needed new bathtub fixtures.  Replacements aren't available for tubs this old (and they aren't up to New Jersey code anyway).   The back up solution: caulking around the ancient bathtub fixtures.  It was just the laying-on of plumbing hands that I sought.
JP thinks this repair will work just fine, for a while anyway.  He cautions that the long-term solution to the situation is a replacement tub and brand-new, non-lead pipes.  He can do that for me and I may soon be taking him up on the offer.

And the kitchen ceiling?
 This will also be repaired, likely after the replacement tub enters my life.  So we're not yet done with the home improvement drama.....though, God-willing, we are done with water damage.

And just right there, Internet, there I have tempted the Home Improvement Gods to jack with me again.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Real Life Conversations with JT: General Manager edition

Now that the baseball season is underway, all of JT's free time is consumed with the sport.  He tapes endless hours of ESPN programming and every morning he eats his breakfast while reviewing the scores from the previous night.  He's thinking about baseball all the time, thus leading to all sorts of interesting conversations, just like this one, which happened in the car on the way to school this morning.

JT:  Catchers don't need to have baseball hats.  They wear a catcher's mask while they are catching.  And a batting helmet when they're hitting.  So they don't need a baseball cap.  A team could save some money that way.

Mama:  I'm sure that the Yankees are looking for just that sort of way to stay on budget, son. 

The boy has management potential.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

I'll Take a Scone, Please

My work e-mail account is provided via the Google Industrial Complex and when you arrive at the start page, it offers a weather report for Somerset, the town in which my school is located.  But the weather is invariably wrong, a source of continuing amusement to me.  Today, I finally followed the link and now I know why it's never accurate.    It is a forecast for Somerset.  But that would be Somerset, United Kingdom.


Thursday, April 08, 2010

That's Happy

Last night, JT and I sat out on the back deck for over an hour, admiring the new lights and generally daydreaming of summer.  It was a rare opportunity; usually the school week doesn't lend itself to just being.  But the stars aligned and last night we had a nice visit.   We talked about baseball, the coal mine disaster in West Virginia, baseball, our upcoming vacation plans, baseball, plans for the garden, get the idea.  He's grown into quite the companion, my little boy.
 That doesn't preclude silly, you understand.  He may not be little, but he's not quite grown up either.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Tulip Tuesday

We had a glorious weekend filled with sun and warmth.  JT could hardly get enough of it and he played outside for hours, soaking up the warmth.  This morning Spring was in its full glory.  I sat on the front porch with my coffee and my camera as the sun rose over the tulip bed.  Blooms on these tulips are still a few days away but the promise is there and I'm willing to wait.
In the meantime, these daffodils are pretty impressive.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

My Education Philosophy

In the run up to another feature in my Road Ahead series, I've been reading about education reform.  This is more than idle speculation for me because I am a teacher with more than 15 years of experience in various classroom settings (preschool, high school, and college).  I'm not quite ready to write about education reform but all the reading has got me thinking about my own philosophy when it comes to the classroom.  And all that thinking means that there must be some writing.  So this weekend I offer some thoughts about how I teach.

1.  Care About the Subject
I love what I teach and it shows.  My students may or may not walk out of my classroom filled with the fire of inspiration for the study of history and politics.  But they will know that I am inspired; they will know that their time is spent with a teacher who is passionate about the discipline and our mutual knowledge of it.

2.  Care About the Students
For me, teaching is about the relationship I form with the students and with the class.  As a group of students comes together, a class develops a personality and a groove.  The basis of that relationship has to be my investment in the members of the group.  Their learning matters to me, of course.  But I also care about them  as individuals and I signal that fact in every way possible.  In my view, students who know that I am invested in them will take greater risks and learn more.  As much as possible, I want to make that happen.  So I care and they know it.

3.  Meet them where they are; move forward
One of the things I have the least patience for is the teacher who announces that his or her students aren't up to muster.  It's true that some groups of students are more accomplished and more capable than others.  While each group's skill set varies, what they have in common is the ability to move forward.  I start every year by identifying a group's strengths and weaknesses and then I seek to move them forward. 

4.  Content matters

These days, I teach high-school age students at a college prep school; I teach in specific subject areas (History and American Government).  In my experience, there is nothing a teacher needs more than content.  And more is always better.  I refer to this as growing my fact hump and I am passionate about it.  With new facts and ideas comes the room to think and explore new ways of understanding my disciplines.  I teach at a school with an ethos that supports professional development that is content based and I am so grateful for that shared value.  In the last year, I have taken classes or workshops on Mark Twain in the Gilded Age, the state of democracy in the world, and the life and times of Thomas Edison.  History, Economics, Politics, Literature, all has something to offer my classroom and me.  The teachers whom I most admire are folks who are looking for a new ways to inform themselves and their students.  I want to be in that crowd of folks.

5.  Be Human
One day last fall, in a discussion about heathcare reform and end-of-life care (remember Sarah Palin and her death panels?  That's what got us started), I unexpectedly got tearful.  It wasn't caused by anything in particular.  And those of you who know me well know that I am not afraid to cry.  But the students were a bit startled.  I got command of myself in short order and our discussion moved forward as we sorted out truth from fiction in the healthcare debate.  In the next few days, nearly every student in that class came by my classroom to talk some more about healthcare reform.  Countless times I have learned this lesson: share a bit of yourself and your experience and the students will find a connection that adds greater meaning to their understanding.    And so I am not afraid to be myself. 

6.  Make room to fail
One of the things that is least understood about teaching is the ways in which every year is a new year.  This is also true on a daily basis.  I may find that yesterday's seemingly brilliant lesson about political behavior is a flop today.  Last year's inspirational discussion of Jim Crow laws is this year's yawner.  It works in the other direction as well: last week's confusing discussion of Congress is this week's nuanced command of the same.  In short, a successful teacher will succeed and fail all the time and must be willing to roll with the punches.  Perfection can't last because there will be a new crop of students next year.  Failures can be amended and re-tooled into successes.  But the job is more exciting when I am challenged and that means I must make room to try new ideas; new methods, and new tools.  That means taking risks.......failure must be an option.

That's it.  My educational philosophy.  As I've been thinking about my approach to the classroom, I've been considering which of my experiences translate to the larger education world and which ones don't.  Later this month I will offer up my thoughts on education reform. 

You've been warned.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Food Friday: Green

Last weekend, prior to the rain, I was in a cooking mood.  This meal is warm weather food: fresh shelled steamed peas, zucchini pancakes with yogurt sauce, a crusty sourdough roll, and nice Riesling wine.
Spring on a plate.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

April 1st: Apple Dapple

Things are look quite promising out here in apple tree land.  The buds on the trees and the light in back yard is particularly lovely to look at in the morning as the sun comes up.
That would be when the sun comes up......rain and flooding has been the theme around here for the last month and my backyard, which has never before had standing water, had plenty of standing water for nearly the whole of the month. 

I'm ready to put down some extra grass seed and a bit of turf builder for the lawn.  But that requires a 48 hour period with above-freezing temps and no rain.  Insert your own hollow laughter here.  Thankfully, a long weekend beckons and sun is forecast.  I'll be out here every spare moment and though I can't quite eat apples from my trees just yet, the sun and the warmth, the buds and the green.....they will feed my soul.