My Shining Star

Sunday evening, I had just gotten the kids bathed, jammied, fed, and settled after a super fun and long day driving to Portland and back, when I opened Skyler’s homework folder to fill out her snack milk/ lunch form for the week.

6:15 pm: Inside Skyler’s folder, I find a surprise. Skyler is “Shining Star of the Week” this week! “Please prepare a poster with photos of your child and the answers to the attached questions. Please bring your poster in to share on Monday morning!”

6:16: Skyler gets a look of total panic when I ask her about this. I immediately know that we indeed need to make this poster tonight. I tell the kids to get shoes on because we are going to Target.   I turn the oven off.  The roasted squash and asparagus will have to wait.

6:17: Reed has totally perked up at the mention of Target and says: “The thing is, I don’t really have any good coloring books.”

6:18: While the kids get shoes on, I think, first things first, and hop on facebook to explain my predicament because I know that there are other mommies out there who have lived this very moment, the unplanned night-time trip to the store for a project, and I feel the need to muster up some mommy empathy as I kiss my evening to-do list goodbye.

6:20: I find a random thumb drive in my kitchen drawer and start dragging photos of Skyler off of my hard drive onto it. I haven’t printed a photo of my child in years. I tell the kids to cross their fingers that the Target photo machine is actually working.

6:45: While printing photos at the working (yes!) Target photo machine, Reed wanders off and gets lost. I’m about to call for code yellow, which I’m sad to say I’ve done before, when we spot him heading toward us. He cries because he was scared and there are hugs and tears wiped on the way to the craft aisle.

7:00: We are in the checkout line with a Batman coloring book for Reed and with poster board,  colored paper, glittery letter stickers, and fancy star stickers, because dammit, my child is a shining star, yes she is.

7:15: We are home, and Skyler gets right to work arranging sparkly stickers and trimming photos while Reed spreads out on the floor with his new coloring book. I find a shoe box in my closet of photos of her when Skyler was very, very small. I get nostalgic and distracted by how much my baby girl has grown.

7:30: My friend who lives across the street comes over because I had asked her to help me break the bunk beds into 2 twin beds (the kids decided we should do this). So, while Skyler is gluing and cutting, we also start rearranging their bedroom. Skyler tries to move the poster operation upstairs to help with the room rearranging. We I decide this is a bad idea.

7:50:  I help Skyler put the final touches on the poster, and maybe because I had an afternoon cup of coffee, I find myself very excitable about this awesome poster that we just pulled off.

8:00:  Final touches on rearranging the bedroom

8:15:  Stories in bed followed by back scratching.

8:35:  Kids are asleep.

9:00:  House is clean and lunches are packed and mommy has some VERY well roasted veggies and  a glass of Malbec on the couch.  Phew!

Don’t tell anyone we didn’t work on this baby all weekend.

I am proud of myself for… being able to take care of my own fish.
Something I like about myself is… I am funny.
My favorite thing about school is…  Art class.
My goal for the future is…  to be a Vet.

Kate Crabtree, A Photography Giveaway

I am currently eating my first breakfast for the Clean Food Challenge. I realized last night, after eating a lot of food and sweets after my run, that I am really ready for this.  Bring it, CFC.

Meanwhile, it’s time for a great giveaway, and there is a potential prize for you if you are local OR far away from Maine.   Read on:

Kate Crabtree is a photographer and a friend of mine who has recently started her photography business here in Bangor, Maine.  She photographs people and places, landscapes and details, and she has a good eye both for composition and for color.  Here are three of her photos that capture what I love about Maine.

You can see more of her work over here on her website. She also has some beautiful prints in her Etsy shop over here, and even more choices on her facebook page over here.

Kate and I are teaming up this week to bring you a great giveaway.
 
Here are the details:
The prize is either an 8x 10 print of any one of her photos of your choice.
-OR-
A free portrait session (a $150 value) for local folks.  Kate does not photograph babies, but she does work with older children or families or couples.  Look through the portraits on her website for an idea of what she does so well.  You could meet Kate in Bangor or she would travel further, but charges for more than 25 miles outside of town.  She photographs outside with natural light, but other plans can be arranged.

If you choose the portrait session, you would be able to order prints from a gallery of 20 photos.

In order to enter:

Get ready to LIKE!  To win Kate’s prize, you need to LIKE three facebook pages:
One Mom in Maine
Kate Crabtree photography   and
Sparrow Magazine  (Kate will be doing some photos for Sparrow Mag for us!)

Then just leave a comment here telling us you are all liked up, and whether you would like a print OR a portrait sitting.  We will choose one random winner on Friday at 5:00 pm.  Spread the word!

I’m Giving You The Gift of Giving!

Have you ever heard about Donors Choose?  I’m going to tell you about it, and then give two readers the opportunity to donate (free) money to a Donors Choose project.  This is not a request for a donations; I promise.

Donors Choose is a non-profit organization where teachers can request money or materials for their classrooms, and donors (you) can choose where you want to donate, what project you’d like to help fund.  This is a cause near and dear to me as a teacher, and a teacher who often spends my own money on books and other supplies that I need for my students.  I don’t teach in a poor district, and still there is no school money for a lot of the things I would like to buy for my students.  Imagine the constraints of schools in high poverty areas.  Teachers just want to provide books, art supplies, technology and learning programs for their students, and Donors Choose gives them a place to ask for help.

So, if I really wanted to teach a novel that our school couldn’t afford to buy, I might post a request on Donors Choose and someone who wanted to make a donation towards the needs of a classroom might find my needs interesting or compelling and make a donation.  Right now on Donors Choose there are teachers hoping to buy all sorts of things for their students:  An elementary teacher who needs an area rug for an active-play area.  A third grade teacher in a high poverty school in NYC who would love to have a camera and projector to enhance learning in her classroom.  A Maine elementary school teacher would love to purchase class sets of fairy tales for her students.  The lists go on and on, but the site is really user friendly.  You can search for teachers who need help in your state or your town.  If you are interested in art, you can find the teachers who just need some new art supplies.  If you are a book lover, you can search for teachers who would like some new class sets of books.  You can also search for “urgent need” or “high poverty” projects and schools.  You donate whatever you can toward a teacher’s wish.  For instance, a classroom might need a set of books that costs $250, and you donate $25 toward that goal.

The cool thing about this organization is that when you make a donation, you see exactly where your money goes.  You see pictures of the classroom that needs help, and after you make a donation, you get a thank you note from the students and the teacher that you helped.  It’s a feel good situation all around.

With many thanks to my friend Amy, I have two “Giving Cards” for $25 to give away.  Amy made some donations on Donors Choose and they gave her some “Giving Cards” and she gave them to me to give to you.  That’s a lot of giving!

If you leave a comment on this post, you will be in the running.  I’ll choose 2 commenters at random on Thursday and contact you if you won.  The “Giving Cards” are very easy to use.  You will use them like a gift card to make a donation to any classroom project of your choice, and you will receive a thank you note from the kids that you helped out.  Got it?   You’ll be a hero!

What’s for Dinner?

(Sorry for the funky coloring in the photos.  Now that it’s lighter late, I can photograph our dinners in better light.)  This is a simple supper:  roasted sweet potatoes (chopped and tossed with olive oil and salt and pepper and roasted at 400 degrees for 30 minutes), baked tofu (a block of firm tofu cut into cubes, drizzled with soy sauce, and baked at 400 degrees for 30 minutes) and steamed broccoli, all atop chinese noodles.  The sauce is an un-measured mixture of soy sauce, sesame oil, rice vinegar, garlic, and a pinch of brown sugar.  Toss and eat!

Will your kids eat food like this?  Skyler will eat the broccoli and Reed will eat the sweet potatoes, but neither of them will eat it all mixed together.

I will be posting ideas for simple weeknight dinners once a week.  Here are two to get us started:

Next is a simple, light meal we had last week: Whole wheat wrap with store-bought hummous and taboulli and my new discovery, super-healthy brocolli sprouts.  On the side are roasted potatoes and parsnips that we salted and dipped in ketchup.

I’m always looking for quick meal ideas, so if have any favorites,  send them to me and I’ll try them out.  Happy cooking!

Update on Erin

You may remember that I wrote about my friend and former student Erin when I was raising funds for Leukemia and Lymphoma for the Nike Marathon. Erin’s name was at the bottom of my Team in Training shirt when I ran, as she was in the thick of her battle against Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.

Since that day, Erin has been through a lot. The first chemo had been unsuccessful at shrinking the tumor, so they put her in a new regimen called ICE which is incredibly strong. Erin described it by saying that she couldn’t fathom how any cancer cells could survive what that chemo did to her body. It was very rough, and she was very sick from it. Around Thanksgiving time she got the bad news that the ICE chemo had done nothing for the tumor.

Erin, unbelievably, battled on with a positive attitude that dumbfounded me. She continued on with law school, and claimed: “third time is a charm!” as she headed into the 3rd attempt at chemo.

Lo and behold, the 3rd chemo worked! (tears). Erin made enough progress with the 3rd kind of chemo, that the doctors deemed her ready to undergo a stem-cell transplant at Dartmouth which will give her body the very best chance of beating the cancer for good. The process includes zapping her body with a few more blasts of chemo to kill all the bad cells and then injecting her with new, healthy stem cells that can fight off any remaining cancer cells in her body.

Yesterday, Erin got her new stem-cells. She posted on facebook: “It’s my new birthday!”

I can’t overstate how amazingly Erin has kept her head up and her spirits high through an ordeal that would make me want to crawl under my bed and hide. We’ve kept in close touch through all of the twists and turns of her treatment, and every message I get from her, even the ones with bad news, maintain her brave message: “I’m going to beat this.”

Won’t you please visit Erin’s caringbridge site and give her some well wishes in her guestbook? Her battle is not over, for sure, but she fights on.

GO ERIN, GO!

A Whole New Reason To Run

Raising money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma society and being affiliated with Team in Training has raised my awareness of people fighting these terrible diseases. But this news really threw me for a loop. Check out Erin’s story.

My former student Erin found me on facebook recently, and when I took a quick look at her profile to see what she was up to, her most recent status update said “the chemo is working…”

Erin was both a student in my creative writing class in 2001 and a swimmer on the swim team for the two years I coached. She was our super-star distance swimmer, an absolute work horse, a totally dedicated and strong team member. Team captain. Relay Anchor. Naturally talented. So happy that she bounced when she walked on deck.

And she was such a good writer that I still know by heart a little part of a poem
she wrote in my class about the troubled relationship with her then boyfriend:

He is the ocean, afraid of the water.
I am the lifeguard, drowning.

Erin has Hodgkins Lymphoma. She was diagnosed in March after going to the doctor for a swollen lymph node above her clavicle. She is 25 and in her third year of law school in Vermont. And she has continued to go to law school throughout her treatments.

We’ve been exchanging emails like mad over the past few days, and she’s been filling me in on the whole story. She is unbelievably upbeat and confident about beating this. She is currently on her second type of chemo (the first didn’t work) which is called ICE. I know all about the ICE chemo as it was my dad’s third try. I saw what it did to my dear daddy, and I hate thinking of Erin suffering through those side effects. BUT whatever it takes! And it IS working. She is responding to the treatment and prepping for a stem cell transplant after this round of chemo is over.

Check out this little blurb from her blog, describing how she felt after the diagnosis:

“Hodgkins lymphoma. Every time I say it to someone, or to myself, or to explain why I have not been in class it feels a little more detached from me, Erin, who I actually am. Its like its happening to someone elses body. And here I am, the gawker, the nosey detail lover watching each moment of it. Up until my primary care physician said oncologist my body and I were quite friendly with one another. I knew its curves, its noises, its subtle aches, or the cravings, I listened to it, my body. And I in turn responded to its needs and wants. But now, after the first chemo treatment my body feels like a foreign territory.”

I’ve been teary and thinking about Erin so much over the past few days. It makes no sense. Cancer? Erin? 25-year old law student who was in perfect physical shape?

You better believe I’ll be running for Erin in San Francisco. Her name is definitely going on my shirt. I needed this reminder that the marathon, which will raise millions and millions of dollars for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, is about something much much bigger and more important than my nervous little self.

I definitely have lost my perspective about all of this marathon business; at some point it accidentally became all about me. But I gained it back this week.

Thank you again to everyone who donated to LLS. Erin is who we are fighting for.

I Need To Talk To You About These Two Desserts

I’ve been baking quite a lot lately, and these are two desserts that stand out and must be shared.

First, Lemony Lemon Cake {besides anything chocolaty or custardy, lemony is my favorite kind of dessert}

I find lemons very pretty, don’t you? You’ll need a lot of them for this recipe. And you’ll spend a good bit of time zesting, but it’s worth it for the 2 lemon cakes this recipe yields.

Beautiful, fluffy, lemony dough.

Finished cake:

Next, Individual Croissant Bread Puddings with Dried Cherries, Bittersweet Chocolate and Toasted Pecans.
I made these for Sam for Valentine’s day and they were sooooooooo gooooooooood.
Like, we didn’t speak the whole time we were eating them. We just hummed.
I’m really a fan of bread pudding, but when the “bread” is “croissants” it’s just ridiculous.

The recipes:
LEMONY LEMON CAKE

source: Ina Garten, Barefoot Contessa Parties!

  • 1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 1/2 cups granulated sugar, divided
  • 4 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1/3 cup grated lemon zest (6 to 8 large lemons)
  • 3 cups flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice, divided
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For the glaze:

  • 2 cups confectioners sugar, sifted
  • 3 1/2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour 2 (8 1/2 by 4 1/4 by 2 1/2-inch) loaf pans. You may also line the bottom with parchment paper, if desired.
  2. Cream the butter and 2 cups granulated sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. With the mixer on medium speed, add the eggs, 1 at a time, and the lemon zest.
  3. Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a bowl. In another bowl, combine 1/4 cup lemon juice, the buttermilk, and vanilla. Add the flour and buttermilk mixtures alternately to the batter, beginning and ending with the flour. Divide the batter evenly between the pans, smooth the tops, and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until a cake tester comes out clean.
  4. Combine 1/2 cup granulated sugar with 1/2 cup lemon juice in a small saucepan and cook over low heat until the sugar dissolves. When the cakes are done, allow to cool for 10 minutes. Remove the cakes from the pans and set them on a rack set over a tray or sheet pan; spoon the lemon syrup over them. Allow the cakes to cool completely.
  5. For the glaze, combine the confectioners sugar and the lemon juice in a bowl, mixing with a wire whisk until smooth. Pour over the tops of the cakes and allow the glaze to drizzle down the sides.

Individual Croissant Bread Puddings with Dried Cherries, Bittersweet Chocolate and Toasted Pecans
Source: epicurious.com

INGREDIENTS

  • 1/4 cup dried cherries
  • 1/4 cup pecans
  • Canola oil for greasing
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 vanilla bean* (i just used vanilla extract)
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3 day-old croissants
  • 2 tablespoons coarsely grated bittersweet chocolate (from about 1 ounce)

PREPARATION

Preheat to the oven to broil.

Put the cherries in a small bowl, cover with boiling water, and let sit for 20 minutes, then drain.

Spread the pecans out in a pie tin, place on the middle rack of the oven, and carefully watch for 1 to 2 minutes or until the nuts are golden. Cool, then chop.

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Grease two ovenproof bowls (with 4-inch diameters) with canola oil.

Add the heavy cream to a medium saucepan. Slice the vanilla bean in half lengthwise and scrape the seeds from the pod into the liquid, then add the pod. Simmer over low heat for 8 to 10 minutes, then remove the vanilla bean pod.

Combine egg yolks, sugar, and salt in a medium bowl and whisk together. Slowly pour in the cream mixture while whisking.

Tear the croissants into 6 pieces each and place in a medium bowl, then cover with the remaining cream and egg mixture. Allow the croissants to absorb the liquid for about 10 minutes. Add the cherries.

Transfer the mixture into the prepared bowls and sprinkle the top of each bowl with the chocolate and toasted pecans. Place them in the oven and bake for 25 minutes or until set, then serve.

 

Dear Students, I Love You.

It is snowing today, a lovely light snow that is floating down past my classroom windows.

It gave me an idea, so I told my Outdoor Lit kids to sit and face the windows and write poems in the form of tiny letters addressed to anything they could see out the windows. That was the assignment.

After 20 minutes, we walked out into the woods behind the school, stood in a circle under the pine trees, and one at a time, stood up on a stump and read our poems to the trees. By the end of our time outside, we all had snow in our hair and eyelashes.

Nobody told me that my idea was weird. They all just hopped up on the stump and read. Here are some highlights:

Dear snow,
I demand a white solstice.
Please get to it.

Dear branches,
You look like tiny hands
reaching up into the grey,
into the nothingness.
You are arms holding the sky.

Dear tiny little snowflakes,
Way to be individuals.

Dear winter,
We are standing here,
warmly dressed and ready for you.
Please be dramatic and stormy this year.

Summer Of Love and Books: My Summer Review


I’m officially back to work, folks. Summer was lovely and fleeting and swift and jam-packed. I read some great books, and now that I look at the stack here, I realize it was mostly a non-fiction summer. I’m tending to lean in that direction lately, I guess.

Now that I’m back to teaching, I mostly re-read the books I teach in 3 different classes, so the new ones thin out a bit during the school year. Speaking of reading books for classes!!! I AM teaching the new class I created and proposed called Outdoor Literature. I’m just a little excited. Those poor kids. I’m going to give them piles of books to read and drool all over them and jump for joy everytime we head out to the beautiful pine forest behind my school for class.

Three books from the pile are ones I’ll be teaching, so I’ll start with those. (Bless your heart if you are actually going to read all of this. I’ll try to keep my blurbs short.)

Between a Rock and Hard Place: You remember hearing this story about the guy who had to cut off his arm to free himself from a fallen boulder? It’s a GREAT read. He’s actually a pretty talented writer. It could have been done in about 150 pages less, but that’s okay.

Touching the Void: Very much in the style of Krakauer’s Into Thin Air, a survival story of a climber in Peru. It’s a real page turner.

Last Child in the Woods: A smart and thoughtful look into the gifts our children gain from playing outside and learning the cycles of nature just by being out in it all the time. I didn’t think I needed convincing about this, but some of of his research was really amazing. Not playing outside enough leads to ADHD? I believe it.

In case you’re wondering, the other books I’m teaching in this class are Into the Wild (Krakauer), Last American Man (Gilbert) Walden (Thoreau), and Outermost House (Beston) plus a 2-inch course pack full of essays and poems.

And on to the others:
Kitchen Confidential: You know Anthony Bourdain, the tough guy on the Food Network? His book is sordid and gossipy and full of interesting insights about the restaurant world. Like, never order seafood salad in a restaurant, as this is a thinly veiled attempt for chefs to get rid of their almost-bad fish. Good to know!

Under the Banner of Heaven: Yikes! Enough said.

The Way Life Should Be: A cute novel, a Maine story, and definitely meant for summer (a love story gone awry). What I loved about this main character is she ends up starting up her own little cafe and bakery on a Maine island which is a life I sometimes fantasize about.

Confessions of an Economic Hitman: One of my students from last year made me promise her I’d read this. (She said: Just think of all the books I had to read because you told me to!) Fair enough. So. This book is scary and alarming about our government’s involvement in sabotaging third world countries for the financial benefit of major corporations. It’s important for us to be aware of this stuff.

But I like to read about prettier things. Like babies and butterflies.

Out Stealing Horses: You know how I feel about that.

Here if You Need Me: My favorite of the non-fiction. A story of a woman who went to seminary after her husband was tragically killed and then became the chaplain for the Maine Warden Service. For a spiritually searching girl like me, it was perfect. I am consciously stopping myself here from going on and on and on and on. Her voice is one the bravest, clearest, and (sometimes) funniest I’ve read in a while. I HIGHLY recommend it.

Olive Kitteridge: A novel written about the main character (title) from the perspective of everyone in the town who knew her, a series of vignettes. It’s sort of dark, but many of the imges stayed with me all summer.

That’s all! I’d love to hear about the great books you read this summer too.

Take, eat.

For this week’s bread I looked through all 5 of our wonderful bread books but settled on the standby from my San Francisco days: CHALLAH.

Hello, you.

While it was rising, I was reading my book about a woman who serves as the chaplain for the Maine Warden Service, and she was writing about the difficult task of answering questions about what heaven might be like.

Here was one of her suggestions:
“The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman mixed into a large amount of flour until the yeast worked its way through all the dough.” Matthew 13:33

Well, there.

If heaven is like bread dough, it most certainly would be challah dough. If you’ve never kneaded any of this divine stuff, you must. It is remarkably similar in touch to the belly of a fat baby (Reed).

A double batch. Twice the love.

The results:

Two loaves for us for sandwiches, one for the freezer, and the braided one for our neighbors that bring us flowers and fresh-picked strawberries. Ever had a turkey sandwich with honey mustard on challah? I have.

For all you bread bakers out there, this is the very best recipe.

It comes from the cookbook The Enchanted Broccoli Forest by Mollie Katzen (which I highly recommend) but I found the recipe here.

Be careful not to overcook it or it will dry out. If you have a bread or meat thermometer, aim for between 150 and 160 degrees and then pull it right away.

I often double the batch and freeze 2 loaves.

Happy kneading