Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Is it okay to not know how to read?

So, back before I retired to become a naptime writer/one-pupil-teacher (who is pretty much still on order and wonder and how to eat), I taught middle school math.

Instilling wonder in my main pupil/Everyone loves baby pics

Yes, just about everyone's worst nightmare.  Least favorite subject, least favorite age.

"Math?" My well-meaning interlocutor says.  "I was never very good at math."

Or, less frequently but still common, "I always did well in math but I never really felt like I 'got' it."

A flurry of recent articles by Elizabeth Green or about her new book address the causes of being bad at math-- and some of the consequences for innumerate grown-ups (that's the numerical equivalent to illiteracy, for all you limited vocab folks)*-- as well as the problems of teacher training, both for math specifically and in general.

 She addresses two things that are supremely important:
1. American teachers are overworked. Teachers in countries that perform well in math spend a lot less time in the classroom- and a lot more time working with other teachers to prepare their lessons.

2. Thorough teacher training and understanding of mathematics is crucial in developing students who think about the world mathematical rather than are just able to "do" math.

So, now, many of the reforms introduce new algorithms for multiplying numbers that just confuse kids. And parents.  By themselves, a textbook cannot teach a kid to think mathematically.  A teacher has to guide them.

This could be you.

Seriously.  Whether you are a parent or a mentor or just know some children, when the opportunity arises, talk to them about numbers: how much things cost, odd and even numbers, what product is cheaper to buy, ratio of girls to boys in class, how much flour to measure when you need two cups but only have a half cup out, whatever.

Baking: perfect situation to talk about numbers- fractions and ratios organically arise!
(This is a variation on Martha Stewart's flag cake that's similar to the buttermilk coffee cake but not quite as good)

You don't have to have this conversation, but you can still talk about numbers!

And as for the difficulty of the the middle school age: well, let's just say that the parents were worse.^

*See what I did there?

^To be truly honest, let's say that the most misbehaved kids were not nearly as hard to deal with as the most misbehaved parents.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014


All I want for my birthday is her two top teeth. 

And chocolate. 

Or just a dragon. 

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Cooking Tips! For Busy People Only.


Things have been busy.

I mean, I wrote two columns that I haven't had time to post.

(One on the uncertainty of young adulthood, the other on almsgiving.)

If I could, some days I would spend hours upon hours in the kitchen, making four-course meal that concluded with a chocolate soufflé, rasberries, and whipped cream.

Strawberry buttermilk muffins.  I complained the entire time that muffins are never worth it... and then, they were so delicious.

Someone else would clean up.

But that hasn't happened in quite a long while.  

Curried Eggplant, in early stages
And we still have to eat, right?

Red Pepper-Shrimp Pasta Sauce
So, today I will tell you a few things I do to get dinner on the table in a flash. 

Tomorrow (okay, not tomorrow, but sometime) I might tell you secrets for getting dinner together (very quickly) in the morning or early afternoon, so you don't have to worry about it any more (preview: dump a bunch of stuff that sounds good together in a crockpot or dutch oven  Leave it alone).

Disclaimer/helpful tip: I could never be a restaurant chef.  I rarely follow recipes exactly.  Instead I add or sub or take out depending on what's in my cupboards, what was on sale, what's in season, etc.  So let's start with that idea for fast dinners.

If you want an exact recipe, check out: sausage-pasta skillet, chickpea indian bowl, or frittata.

1. Frittatas.  Easier, fancier, and more forgiving then other egg dishes.

I start with vegetables I have on hand: maybe a little onion and mushrooms, or potatoes and spinach, or zucchini and yellow squash.  Perhaps, if you're someone other than me who thinks of broccoli or asparagus, I use those. 

Then I sauté them in an oven proof pan, until their soft, stirring occasionally.  Meanwhile, I crack about ten eggs in a large bowl, add a splash of milk, buttermilk, or yogurt and cheese if I have it.  I whisk those with a fork or whisk and add herbs or spices: dill, paprika, or rosemary are good choices.  When the vegetables are ready, I pour the egg mixture in the pan, give it a gentle stir, and stick it all in the oven for about fifteen minutes, until eggs are set.

Sometimes I wish a had a crumble of bacon or ham to add with the eggs, but I never do.

Great with a simple salad of spinach, dried cranberries, and sliced almonds topped with a simple vinaigrette.

2. Pasta sauce

This pretty similar, except I have to come up with a protein source as the base doesn't have built in protein.  I start with vegetables, sautéing onion and garlic first, then adding things like squash or bell peppers.  I add Italian herbs, like basil, rosemary, parsley and whatever protein I'm using (shrimp is nice because the pre-cooked shrimp is usually the same price as raw; ground beef or sausage is great, but you'll have to cook it in a separate pan, then add to the veggies).  Usually I supplement all of this with a can or two of diced tomatoes to make it saucier.  Serve over pasta of your choice.

3. Curry, with brown rice

Start the rice first.  If you are not good at cooking rice, follow package directions exactly and set a timer.  It will work, you just have to be more exact than with pasta.

I use curry paste and coconut milk, which I suppose they sell at somewhere like Sprout's, but generally I get from the asian market.  The sweet potatoes are the heft to this dish, so have quite a few.  All other veggies can be subbed.

Sauté onion, chopped sweet potatoes, and bell pepper in a large sautée pan (one that has depth; I don't know if this is the right term).  Put a lid on it if you're really cooking a lot of sweet potatoes or in a hurry.  When softening, add green beans, okra, tofu, or broccoli, if using. When they get soft, add curry paste, stir to coat.  Add coconut milk and protein source if not tofu (leftover chicken or shrimp are great; ground beef also works; you only need a little).  Voila! You're done.

Sunday, October 12, 2014


So, we went to my husband's college friend's wedding in Nashville back in August.

It was the most effort I have ever expended to get anywhere.

We left by 7 on Friday morning, assuming we'd arrive at Samary Plantation by 7 for dinner.  A 10 hr 45 min drive, and we had just over 12 hours to make it in.


Or, not.

View from the road, while it was still going smoothly
We were happy if a little bored in the car, the baby sleeping in the back, us trying to keep quiet in the front.

Then we'd play with her on the back for awhile, stop, nurse, change diaper, eat food, repeat.

Shout out to my old AR camping days
Until Little Rock.

We got off the highway to stop for lunch.

Idling at a stoplight, our car... stopped working.

Travis took car of the tow truck, etc, while I kept stayed with the baby.

Keeping the baby happy by looking out over Little Rock

The verdict from the car place: the fuel pump was out.  They could fix it in the morning.

Thankfully, Travis's friends from growing up live in Benton, a suburb of Little Rock.  They took fantastic care of us, even providing a crib.

Hangin' at the Car Dealership
And offered a car to borrow!  We were set to go in the car, but had to go by to get our clothes to wear to the wedding first.  While there, they said our car was done.  

Still on track, and in our own car.  Back in our car by 10:30, plenty of time to get to Nashville by 5.

Until: a. construction in the middle of nowhere

and b. a violent storm

Aftermath of the storm
driving into the plantation
We missed the actual ceremony (which apparently included lightening in the background) but were able to make it for a perfect Southern Living reception (and I say that with the upmost respect).

A menu full of fresh summer veggies followed by square dancing.

The next morning
We partied late while the baby slept in a house on the property (yay baby monitors), slept a little, met the happy couple for coffee on the porch in the morning

view from the porch

stopped by Franklin, TN for mass (where there were semi-traffic jams on a Sunday morning), and hit the road.


Congrats, Jess and Gordon!