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Taking Technology for Granted – Louis CK September 29, 2009

Posted by alwaysjan in Food for Thought.
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When I first saw this I cracked up.  It took me a while, but I tracked down this clip. I operate at twitch speed, so I can relate. This is me on an airplane.  Enjoy.

Walking the Line September 21, 2009

Posted by alwaysjan in Teaching.
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The quickest way from Point A to Point B is a straight line. But trying to get students to walk in a straight line is akin to herding cats. If I had a class pet, it would be a Australian Sheep Herding dog that could nip at my students’ heels to keep them in line. Ah, if only.

Two years ago, a veteran teacher announced she was going to retire. A week before the end of the school year, I heard her admonishing her first graders to walk in a straight line. OMG. Forty years in the classroom, and she was still repeating the same mantra about walking in a straight line on the very last week. Is this what the future holds for me? I’m afraid the answer is YES.

Why is it so important to walk in a straight line? First of all, my school is huge. If students walk all willy nilly, it’s a slippery slope. One minute they’re bunched together. Two seconds later, you’ve got a full-on stampede.

When I taught second grade, I used to say, “If you start talking, we stop walking!” And I/we did. One day we stopped 32 times on the way to lunch. Seriously. It took us 35 minutes to walk to the lunchroom which was visible from our classroom. I felt like a meanie, but when you have to do walk your class to lunch 180 times during the school year, you better get it right from the get go.

One day my students were so noisy in line that I pulled out my lunch and sat on a nearby wall. While they argued and pushed and shoved, I leisurely ate my lunch. “Just because you guys aren’t ready, doesn’t mean I have to wait to eat,” I said, licking my lips. Can you say Dramatic Effect?  I only had to do that once.

I also expect the line leader to set an example. No untied shoes in my line. If your shoelaces look like spaghetti, you have to step out of line to tie them, then go to the back of the line. When you’re in a leadership position, you’ve gotta be ready to roll. Some days the line stretches all the way down the hall. That’s when I say, “Hey, this line goes all the way to Las Vegas. What’s the problem?” The laggards speed up. You’ve got to be close enough to touch the person in front of you on the shoulder. My students know that if they have a problem lining up, they have a guaranteed spot – at the back of the line.

I’m also big on having students walk on the right side of the hall and when going up and down the stairs. I tell my students I’m teaching them to drive. They love to hear that. I also teach them how to do illegal U turns. They love it when I tell them we’re going to turn on a dime.

When my class goes to computer lab, we have to wind our way through those noisy smelly middle schoolers who are changing classes and slamming their locker doors. I’ve mistaken several middle schoolers for parents. I don’t know what these kids are eating, but they’re huge. I warn my students to stick close together because middle schoolers like to eat third graders. One day my students were walking in the hall and heard a middle schooler say, “Boy, I sure am hungry.” I’d never seen my students move so fast. But most important, they were walking in a straight line.

Photo taken at Zinnia in South Pasadena.

Making Book on Book Club September 15, 2009

Posted by alwaysjan in Life.
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The three most important things about our book club are booze, food, and what’s that other one? Oh yeah – books. Our book club had a rather inauspicious beginning. Carmella saw the movie The Jane Austen Book Club. Next thing I knew, we had ourselves a book club.

Our first book was A Thousand Splendid Suns (Kelley’s pick) and we got off to a bang up start eating Middle Eastern food at her place. We’d all read the book and talking about women in burkas generated a lively discussion. That was almost two years ago. We’re all teachers, though we let Tina’s sister Angela join because she has a great house a high tolerance for “teacher talk.”

Some books we’ve liked more than others. To be honest, there’s been several times when half of the members downloaded excepts from the book on-line. I think Angela’s last pick How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read was an apt choice. Angela was the only one who’d read it, but we still talked about it. And ate. And drank.

We’re all crazy busy, and it’s become apparent that Book Club is just an excuse to get together with people we really like under the guise of talking about books. I envisioned intellectual introspection, but what I got was a second helping of fettucini. Can’t remember the book, but the fettucini was killer.

When I went to England last spring, I went to my friend Lesley’s book club. We met at The Station, the local pub, where we spent a fun evening discussing the book White Tiger and the dark side of life in Mumbai while enjoying the local Asphal cider.

Last summer I visited my college roommate Cathy. She’s been in a book club for like a bazillion years. Her book club even has its own blog, Blather, which you’ll find on my blogroll. I was led to believe it was a Serious Book Club. But while I was there, Cathy’s husband made the observation that they only spend around 20 minutes actually talking about the book at book club. Hmmm. Come to think of it, the last post on Blather was a recipe!

Last Sunday we met at Kristina’s. In the evite there was mention of discussing a possible change to our “book club format.”  Every other month? Only New York Times bestsellers? No. It was proposed that we have a theme for the food and everyone bring a potluck dish related to the theme. “Will the theme be related to the book?” I asked naively. Kristina took a deep breath. “Well, we were thinking that maybe we could just leave out the book part.” She quickly added, “But we can still call it Book Club!”  Oh dear. Is this The End or To Be Continued…?

When I emailed my friend Bev in England about this “change in format,” she sent me a link to a hilarious episode of The Vicar of Dibley about what happens at a book club when no one’s read the book. Actress Dawn French plays the female vicar, self-described as a “Babe with a bob cut and a magnificent bosom.” The book club scene is a minute into the clip and is a hoot. Cheers!


Being Facebook Friends with Stephan Pastis – Rats! September 8, 2009

Posted by alwaysjan in Blogging.
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Rat is booted off Facebook because he's a fictional character. He, as usual, gets his revenge.

I’m a big fan of the comic Pearls Before Swine. Brain surgeon that I am, one day I mentioned to my trainer Louis that he happened to have the same last name as the comic’s creator Stephan Pastis. “He’s my cousin,” Louis replied.

He then proceeded to dish the dirt, the way only those with a familial connection can. Okay, Louis is too nice to do that, but he did tell me that out of all the characters, his cousin is most like Rat. Then he showed me Stephan Pastis’s blog.

Louis hadn’t read his cousin’s blog in a while. We laughed ourselves silly reading about Louis’s wedding in It Is Dancing That I Fear. I came home and promptly added stephanpastis to my blogroll. When he posted about how he was desperate for Facebook friends, I succumbed and he “friended” me. Cool.

But I made the fatal error of commenting on one of his facebook status updates. How was I to know that so many of his 4,498 “friends” also felt compelled to comment? My computer dinged every time another person added a comment. Ding, ding, ding, ding, ding. Never again.

I recently read Pastis’s post Love Thy Neighbor, or at Least Give Them Nicknames You Can Remember which is laugh out loud funny.  If you’re living in a cave somewhere and haven’t seen Pearls Before Swine, you can learn all about the characters at Pearls Before Swine on Wikipedia. The strip is also on Comics.com. Enjoy.

Teachers Talking Trash September 5, 2009

Posted by alwaysjan in Teaching.
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When you become a teacher, after you’re sworn in and take a vow of poverty, you’re given a list of items to immediately begin hoarding. Paper towel rolls, styrofoam meat trays, yarn, buttons, anything shiny.  These items are no longer trash, but “treasures.”  Yes, the photo is taken from a flyer teachers received.  The trash treasure was coming to us!  Of course by the time I saw this, the “Treasure Truck” had already come and gone.  Not to worry.  We teachers are a resourceful lot.

On the way to see Louis, my trainer, today I saw gold a dumpster.  I casually walked by to check out the merchandise.  Pay dirt! The local furniture store had thrown out piles of upholstery fabric samples.  Each piece was on a miniature hanger, and my first thought was, “What could I use these teeny tiny hangers for?  To hang up little books?”  Fortunately, that thought passed.  I blame it on the heat.  It was over 100 degrees, but there I stood stocking up like a squirrel preparing for winter.  There was just too much to take in.  So now I’m waiting for the sun to set, so I can go back under the cover of darkness for all those vinyl flooring samples.  They’ve got to be good for…something!

Last week after our class for our masters degree, my friend Teresa (who lives and breathes art) and I both spotted three bags of shredded documents sitting out in the hall.  We couldn’t believe someone hadn’t already taken them.  We convinced Erin, who’s in our cohort, to be our cohort in crime. With the bags slung over our backs like Santa, we made our way down the 180 steps to the parking lot below.  More than once, Erin asked, “And why do you guys need these again?”

My bag is currently sitting on my living room couch.  Oh, the possibilities! My husband just shakes his head.  He once watched me climb into a dumpster in New York City to retrieve a cache of heavy duty cardboard rolls. Then there was that dinner we went to where I collected the mussel shells off everyone’s plates.  That was for an art project.  I had to soak those babies for three days in a bucket of vinegar to get rid of the stink.

Hey, it sure would stink if some other enterprising hoarder teacher beat me to those vinyl flooring samples.  The sun has set.  It’s time.

A Not So Proper English Crumble September 1, 2009

Posted by alwaysjan in Food, Recipes.
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My friend Cathy and I made this blackberry/peach crumble with only one emergency email to England for advice.

To my mind, heaven on earth is a piece of pie for breakfast. So when I went to Suffolk, England last May for a week, I was only too happy to find a gooseberry crumble waiting on the counter with my name on it.

Americans are more familiar with fruit cobbler, or a fool, or a grunt, depending on what region of the country you live in.  I’d never even heard of a crumble, but dang it was good!  My friend Lesley showed me how to make one –  a rhubarb crumble, which is the hands down favorite in England. According to her, all school girls in England learn to make a “proper” crumble. So when they talk about passing their “A” levels, they’re talking about being able to make “A” proper crumble.

When I was back visiting my friend Cathy in Kansas City, we decided to see if we make one ourselves with some blackberries from Cathy’s garden and peaches. It was delicious and her family devoured it (with a little help from me).

A Not-So-Proper English Crumble

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

The Filling
4 c. of fruit (pretty much the same as you’d use for a pie) Strawberry/rhubarb is a sure combination
1/4 to 1/2 c. sugar (rhubarb requires more – I tend to go light on the sugar)
If you’re so inclined, you can put a squirt of lemon juice in or a pinch of cinnamon.
Mix and put in an 8 x 8 or 9 x 9 ceramic dish.

For the crumble:
1 cup flour
3 oz. butter straight from the fridge, the colder the better.
3 oz. sugar
pinch of salt
1  handful or  1/4 to 1/3 cup of uncooked oatmeal

To make the crumble:  Cut butter into squares and combine with flour. The key is to work quickly while the butter is cold. Work out the butter lumps using your thumb and index and middle fingers. It’s sort of a “show me the money gesture.” Keep your ring finger and pinky out of the action.

Stir the  sugar into the mix and add a scoop of oatmeal. I used half a packet of instant oatmeal with flax the other day. Lesley used muesli cereal.

Sprinkle the crumble on top of the fruit, but don’t tap it down. Bake uncovered for 45 minutes. It will turn just slightly golden. It’s great served with vanilla ice cream, but I like it best the next day. There’s no day after that cause it’s all gone. Enjoy!