Archive for May 2011

The Salad Bar Life

May 31, 2011

Several weeks ago, my children informed me that they were quite tired of eating. Not of actually eating….but eating. Dinners. Cooked food. And I think I do a pretty good job of providing a healthy variety of foods as a rule. I enjoy hunting down and trying new recipes and foods. But actually, their announcement couldn’t have come at a better time because, quite frankly, the ‘what’s for dinner?’ query has begun to sound like a thousand fingernails raking across a chalk board to me. REALLY grates on my nerves because I am tired of cooking.

We decided that – for the summer – we are going to live the ‘salad bar life.’

My daughter will have no problem with that. HER favorite snack, after all, is a stalk of celery with a ribbon of Ranch dressing down the center. She has been a fruit and veggie fanatic since we got her at the age of five. We are not really sure what kinds of foods she was exposed to at her Russian orphanage. We saw a lot of potatoes and potato soup and a kind of wheat gruel when we were there during meal times. The first day she spent with us in our hotel she very quickly ate her way through three bananas and an orange….which made her break out around her mouth. Later, in our Moscow hotel, she darn near ate the entire watermelon display at the American style breakfast buffet….every morning. And then there was the day, not long after our arrival at home, when her brother (who was six and a half at the time) came running into the house shrieking, ‘Stop her! Stop her before she eats the stem!’ I hurried outside to find our Russian Princess happily chomping away on the rest of an apple – core, seeds and all…but not the stem.

My son makes me wonder however. He has been suspicious of anything green or crunchy in his food since accidentally finding out around the age of nine that I had been adding shredded zucchini and carrots to my spaghetti sauce – his favorite meal. And since I am not one to cater too much to picky eaters, his plate will generally have a little pile of leftover peas when he is finished with tuna or chicken casseroles or a pile of peppers and mushrooms after pizza. He is big on any kind of potato and abhors onions and tomatoes. He likes his green beans best when they are swimming in cream of mushroom soup and smothered in dried onion rings. He does like corn however. Just like his Dad.

Hubby has been known to get up in the middle of the night and ‘snack’ on a bowl of salad. He is not much of a vegetable connoisseur however….unless its part of a pot roast. Potatoes, corn, the afore mentioned green bean casserole and an occasional carrot dish are about it for him.

I grew up with a grandfather who farmed the back half of my parents’ property in Waterford. Things like corn, potatoes, tomatoes, cucumbers, pumpkins, squash, raspberries, rhubarb and grapes were pretty plentiful in our house. I remember a summer when a strike at my dad’s plant had us eating out of the garden for nearly every meal. I know my parents were glad to have it during that time. And we have managed to garden a little bit now and then. Mostly I tend to frequent local farm stands though. After all, I LOVE a meal of just vegetables….even if I AM eating them alone.

We spent the weekend at an out of town soccer tournament – which generally means restaurant meals where everyone’s tastes are satisfied. And no cooking for me. I was not looking forward to getting back into the kitchen routine. Now was as good of a time as any to begin our ‘new’ life. I asked each of them what they liked best at a salad bar. She just rolled her eyes and said ‘all of it.’ He thought for a moment and then added cheese, ham and bacon to the list. Hubby tossed in crunchy Chinese noodles and green peppers…oh…and beets. Hmm.

I invested in some small glass bowls with tight fitting lids. I intend to fill them with grated carrots, beet slices, garbanzo beans, new peas, bean sprouts, pineapple tidbits, chopped boiled eggs and green onions for tonight. Cheese keeps in its own bag, as do the bacon bits and grape tomatoes. Already have a container of sweet pepper slices. I’ll peel and slice a cucumber as needed. I’ve got raisins, walnuts, sunflower seeds and seasoned croutons. Oh, and his crunchy Chinese noodles. And I have a big bowl of crisp romaine lettuce ready to go.

I am actually kind of looking forward to mixing it up with other vegetables as they become more locally available. I am also planning to figure in other kinds of lettuce and greens. This is going to be fun.

But I am also a realist. My family are too carnivorous to go without meat for long. We would never make it as vegans OR vegetarians. Grilled steak and chicken are the hubby’s specialty. And they do love their Chinese/Thai takeout. Which is fine….as long as I am not cooking it.

So thus begins our summer ‘salad bar life’ experiment. I will let you know how long it lasts.

Heh.

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School Days, School Days….

May 27, 2011

One of my favorite computer lab projects at the end of the school year is having my students write a thank you note to their favorite teacher. I am checking to make sure their formatting and spell checking skills are up to par. They are putting their hearts into what they are saying to someone who has put nine months of skill, knowledge and soul into their lives every single day. I happen to work among the most dedicated and hard working Teachers in the world. If I didn’t already know that from what I see happening in our schools, my thoughts would be validated by what these students write to their Teachers every year. And I am tough. They have to add ‘because’ to their thoughts. I am privy to their thoughts because I am grading them so I have to read them. And it just makes my heart roll over and stand tall for my friends.

Every time.

I started thinking about some of MY Teachers….and what I might say to them….and what they taught me. So forgive me a bit as we take a walk down MY memory lane.

“Dear Miss Challis,

Thank you for teaching me my letters and their sounds because I was able to learn to read. Thank you for the cookies and the naps on plastic mats and for showing us the movie, ‘The Red Balloon.’ Thank you for frowning when I painted my hand while waiting in line to wash my paintbrush…..and for taking me to the coat closet for that stern talk about tattling when S was stuffing doll clothes into her pockets to take home….and for making me do the chalk in buttermilk project when I really wanted to finger paint….because I was able to learn right from wrong and that life isn’t always fair – in Kindergarten.

Dear Mrs. Kidd,

I remember having to watch for my name when you were holding up name cards on the very first day….and the little boy who raised his hand at every name you held up….and how much he cried when we realized that he wasn’t supposed to be in our class. I think I fell in love with you when you squeezed him so tight in a hug and sent him off with his new teacher. Thank you for being so so tough on us to learn those all important reading skills. I will never forget the warm feel of your round wooden table when we would read in 1st grade round robin groups. (Laminate and plastic have NOTHING on worn wood.) And for making sure we could print in the very best form possible. Did you know that when I substituted for you years and years later, I made sure to erase all of my handwriting from the chalkboard?? I wondered if that made you smile.

Dear Mrs. Poffenberger,

You made second and third grade so very special. I still have the scrapbook we made in class when we studied the circus. And I still remember ‘performing’ for other classes in our ‘one ring classroom.’ And I remember learning about cowboys and ironing crayon shapes on bandanas and having you pick ME to show off a project to another classroom. On Cherry Street was probably my favorite reading book ever! You also introduced me to the “Little House” books and set fire to my love of literature and love of history. I am not sure my parents have ever forgiven you for that.

Hey, Mr. Dieck!

Remember me? I got my first pair of hearing aids in between two years under your tutelage. Every fourth and fifth grade girl should have a Teacher to have a crush on and I am glad that you were mine. You made your very first class feel very special. You introduced us to the world of current events and debate and writing. I remember us asking you why YOU hadn’t been drafted to go to Viet Nam and being stunned when you told us that war could go on until WE would be old enough for the draft. Did you know that the draft was stopped when we were 17?? I never forgot that. I have also never forgotten square dances, crab walk races in the old Music room, Chicken Fat, softball games, Encyclopedia Brown, book auctions and SMSG. Did you know that we called it ‘Some Mess Some Garbage?’ Yeah…we were pretty sensitive to the academic ‘progress’ that was Math….not!

Dear Mrs. Schultz,

Oh boy did you ever drag us back to the ‘basics.’ Multiplication Tables. Page after page of lines and loops and scrolls and scrawls to perfect our penmanship. Spelling lists that encompassed the 300 Most Misspelled Words…and your disgust when we spelled ‘grils’ instead of ‘girls.’ And yet I still remember every single book you read aloud to us that year….all of them Newberry winners…except for Boy of the Pyramids, which was the only book you could find in the library at that time that was remotely about Africa. I remember doing a report and presentation about the country of Chad when we did the all school Africa theme. I didn’t want that country but you convinced me it would be interesting….and it was. I remember how in awe we were while you told us with pride how you battled for the ‘right’ to purchase the class set of Greek mythology books so we could use it for our basal reader. We were your very last class and you were determined to do it ‘your’ way….and go out with a bang.

Dear Miss Voelker, Miss Burns, Mr. Davis, Mrs. Cuppy and Mrs. Fisher,

You are the five Teachers I remember most from my junior high years. Seventh grade was not a fun time for me. In ninth grade I hit my stride socially….sort of. I have a tremendous amount of admiration for anyone that teaches in that hormonal swirl that is junior high. I am sorry for being such an obnoxious nerd. Really sorry. Thank you for your efforts to make it easier.

Dear Ms. Shipley,

You told me once that you had told people that you’ve taught at least one student who would be making money as a writer some day. I think I disappointed you. I saw it in your eyes when I ran into you once at the grocery store with my husband and baby boy. You asked what I was doing and I told you I was a Teacher…..not a writer. But you gave me something that no one else had. You validated my love of writing and prodded me to do it more. You were my ‘literary cheerleader’ and while I may not be earning the bucks, writing has been one thing that has given me joy and contentment. Thank you for pushing the novel and the creative writing contests. Thank you for supporting the newspaper columns. It was a high point of high school.

Dear Mr. Robinson,

We had nothing in common because I was not into basketball and you seemed to live and breathe it. But I was in awe of your knowledge of English history when you guest lectured in my 10th grade English class. Then later, I was a student in your year long Government/Econ class. I seem to remember meeting in the Music room?? It was an election year and that young upstart of a first time candidate, Brooks Patterson, came to school to speak to us. I think he was just a tad miffed to find out that we were not old enough to actually VOTE for him. And I will never forget your rage when another candidate’s reps came and went on and on about emotional issues of abortion (?) rather than the party’s platform. I think you scared all of us into being a little more in tune to the issues that day. Or at least you woke us up by slamming your hands on the table and….debating…with them? And I always think of you when that old black and white movie, ‘Seven Days in May’, comes on at 3 a.m. I HAVE to watch it….and still be fascinated by the political process it showcases….because we watched it in class. You know, every government related class that I ever took in college was a cinch because of your teaching that year. I have never forgotten. Thank you. Oh….and PS….my daughter plays basketball so I am finally learning the game. Sort of.”

There are more Teachers in my life. So. Many. More. And students as well. I have been teaching in the classroom in one way or another myself for the past thirty four years. It really doesn’t matter where I grew up or where I have taught. Just look around YOUR schools. Like I said, some of the hardest working, most dedicated, skilled and talented people you will ever have in your life work there.

Thank them sometime. Tell them what you learned. I am sure they will appreciate the memories.

I know I do.

In My Sunday Dress

May 15, 2011

My blog friend, Mary, and I share a couple of things in common. We were both raised in the midwest – me in Michigan, she in Nebraska. We are both adoptive moms. We both like to read, although she is more diligent about keeping up with new titles than I. She has a Kindle and I am still reeling from the sheer number of books I needed to deal with when we moved from our old home to the new one. I cannot bring myself to purchase any new ones….yet. (My goal is to become a familiar face at the Highland Library this summer instead.) And there are also differences. I am tottering into older middle age and she is not. I am the oldest of two children and she is the eleventh of twelve. I am a Teacher and she is in Real Estate. She collects vintage Tupperware and I have an affinity for Pyrex. Our lives revolve around soccer practices and games and theirs does not….yet. I have been watching her efforts to reduce her family’s carbon foot print with high interest. She has taught me alot about being more responsible. About taking recycling one step at a time and then just deciding to go all out with it. About the importance of purchasing my vegetables and fruits from local farmers. About investigating a more vegetarian diet. And about making my own laundry soap.

We have never met….or talked on the telephone. And yet, we are friends.

Good friends.

I know this because Mary recently shared a family recipe for raised rolls with me. And I am only the second person outside of her family that she has done that with. I count myself to be very lucky.

Very.

Actually, I asked for the recipe because I will be hosting 20 junior varsity soccer girls for dinner after practice later this week. I have made homemade rolls before but Mary’s looked so much better than mine in her pictures. Mine tend to be crusty and brown and filled with air. Her’s always looked crusty and brown and filled with….well….bread. I asked her to share….and she did.

Today – Sunday – was rainy and cold. I came home from an early morning church service and cut up potatos and carrots to add to the left over pot roast in our crock pot for stew. Then I thought I would try Mary’s recipe so we could have warm rolls with stew.
I have made bread before and wasn’t a big deal so I thought I would throw it all together and then change out of my Sunday dress while waiting for the dough to rise.

Heh.

One of the things that my friend, Mary, told me in her email not to do was use those foil packets of baker’s yeast. She buys her dry, active yeast in bulk but said if I didn’t do much baking to at least invest in a jar of the stuff.

And I did.

And I followed her recipe.

In my Sunday dress I dutifully mixed the yeast in a tall glass with a bit of sugar and warm tap water. I set about scalding my milk and watching to see the mixture in the tall glass, waiting to see it ‘bubble up like Guiness.’

And ‘bubble up’ it did.

Up the sides of the tall glass, to the top, over the edge and then spilling into the bowl I grabbed to set the glass in.

Just in time.

And so I ended up having to throw ingredients together quickly in order to use the bubbling yeasty mixture. Flour spilled over the counter top. Melted butter dripped down the side of the pan of scalded milk. Sugar and salt scattered on the stove top. I poured the yeast mixture into the pan just before it was about to spill over the top of the small bowl.

Now I really had a mess on my hands.

I still had to pull down my largest bowl and mix more flour in to the warm soft mass, knead it into a smooth ball with sticky, floured hands. I had to wash out my largest bowl and oil it to hold the bread dough as it rose. All things I had planned to do. And did.
But instead of changing out of my Sunday dress, I found myslef cleaning up the hastily made mess. I wiped up flour and swept up sugar and salt. I rinsed out pans and loaded the diswasher….and then punched down the doubled bread dough. Still in my Sunday dress I pinched off golf ball sized balls of dough and filled the parchment lined jelly roll baking sheet. That used up half the dough. Knowing that I would be making more rolls later in the week, I decided to use the other half to make cinnamon rolls for the freezer. Out came the brown sugar and cinnamon and more butter. I rolled and sprinkled and sliced and aligned. I popped everything in the oven to bake and set about cleaning up more flour and brown sugar and cinnamon dust.

And so here I sit, still in my Sunday dress, about to enjoy a steaming bowl of beef stew and warm, raised bread rolls. And that’s okay because the Sunday dress – with it’s flour and cinnamon dust and bread dough spots – can go into the washer later.

With my homemade laundry soap.

Thanks to Mary.

All Creatures Great and Small

May 10, 2011

Okay…I am NOT an animal freak. I grew up with the same dogs and gerbils and hamsters and turtles and fish tanks that most of my friends had. I had mouse in an aquarium in my college dorm room. I had hermit crabs at a daycare that I ran for a while. I kept continually reproducing hamsters in my Kindergarten classroom . (Just could NOT determine which was which in order to separate them!) We eventually had a rabbit and then a guinea pig and then a chinchilla. At home I had a dog and a succession of cats…and then a bird…..and an iguana. Now we share our space with two small dogs and a cat.

I have spent too many years teaching Kindergarteners to keenly observe and explore and respect the world around them to allow myself to knowingly step on a spider….or a beetle….or a dragon fly. I have a special affection for dragon flies. Older students eye me with curiosity when I catch the durn things and set them loose outside. So do my niece and nephew. I am the person who stops on the sidewalk after a rainstorm to toss stranded worms back into the flower beds. Sometimes my heart breaks when I see the various animals – road kill – alongside the stretches of highway and back roads that we frequent. One particularly hot summer – years ago – I was teaching Kindergarten on the Year Round program. Ponds and brooks and lakes were drying up and wetlands were receding. It seemed like there were more than the usual numbers of animals on the roads as they were killed while in search of water….or a safer habitat. I still remember the round eyes of the students in that class as they promised me that they would be verrrry careful of animals when THEY learned to drive cars. Animals were just looking for the things they needed after all….food, shelter and water….right? It was a basic Kindergarten ‘teachable moment.’

An animal freak? Nah…..not me.

This weekend my Princess was closing the door of our car in our garage when a baby squirrel fell from the rafters above her. After the initial shock had subsided, she ran for a soccer glove to hold him and put the stunned little guy in a box of leaves. He was twirling and flopping and finally settled down to sleep – probably from exhaustion. We put him near a tree in our front yard but it didn’t appear able to climb. He just flopped and twirled his way around in the grass. We put it back in the box and put the box near where she had found him, thinking maybe the mother squirrel would come for him and take him back to her nest….in our garage. Several hours had past since finding him and we were at loss with what to do. It was my sister who suggested calling the DNR.

On Mother’s Day.

I didn’t call them but I did the next best thing. I went online and did an internet search. It was actually very easy.

The Department of Natural Resources in our area maintains quite a long list of licensed wildlife rehabilitators. Heh. Imagine that. There are people out there that will take wild animals into their homes to feed them, heal them and protect them till they can take care of themselves. Rehabilitators will take in birds, raptors, reptiles, amphibians, small mammals and deer. The person that we called was only minutes from our house and specialized in small mammals. She said to bring our little guy to her as soon as possible. Upon hearing how long it had been since we’d found him, how big it was and a description of his fur, she had determined that he was probably a nursing nestling and in need of food….immediately. We hopped into the car with our bucket of leaves that held our sleeping baby squirrel and took him to the address we’d been told.

And we took him straight to the home of a true animal freak. Our rehabilitator had 17 baby raccoons of varying ages , a recovering baby black squirrel and a young fox with a broken foot….in her living room. She had just taken an orphaned fawn to another rehabilitator who didn’t have a 13 year old daughter obsessed with petting it. She said that deer need to be kept from bonding with humans in order to survive back in their habitats. She couldn’t guarantee that which is why she couldn‘t keep it. She did determine that what we had was a baby pine squirrel….and said it was indeed a boy. He sucked down a syringe of diluted puppy formula as if there was no tomorrow. Unfortunately our little buddy was exhibiting some signs of a head injury (the flopping and twirling) so she wasn’t sure if he was going to make it. Sadly, we left him behind – with the raccoons and the black squirrel and the young fox and the 13 year old daughter obsessed with petting and comforting wildlife. We are not sure how it is going to do. We are not animal freaks after all.

But I am VERY glad that there are people in the world that are.