Thursday, August 29, 2013

The more things change...

So just three weeks before the beginning of school the principal of my elementary school called and told me I was being reassigned to the high school. I would go from teaching technology to kindergarten through fourth grade to teaching computer applications and personal finance to ninth graders.  OK. The folks in the business department at my high school have been really wonderful, and I teach in a small suburban district, so the kids are pretty harmless as teenagers go. But still, it's a shock.  Or maybe not. I started teaching 7 years ago after a long career in IT. Before IT I did other things, but that's another post. Anyway the ninth graders I'm teaching were at the elementary school when I started.  So when I got to the high school Monday, they were all pretty excited to see me. Especially the bad ones. I am a magnet for bad children. Especially bad little boys. They love me. It's a curse. Here's the thing... They're just the same. The ones who could not sit still in third grade still cannot sit still. The ones who blurted out comments in the middle of class still do that. The class clown is still the class clown. It's really funny. They are just great big old toddlers with hormones. I miss the little ones, but this will be fine for a while. They say it's only for a year since I am there to replace a teacher who is fighting a serious illness. These things have a way of becoming permanent, but we'll see. Meanwhile, I'll try to figure out the high school equivalent of the quiet chair.

Saturday, June 08, 2013

Waffles, recipes and the evil convenience food industry.

So just to prove exactly how hyper feminine I am:

This afternoon I got a Real Simple email (I'm a subscriber, but I get the e version on my iPad so I don't feel guilty about killing trees).  Anyway there was a link to a new recipe for waffles.  I was excited. I got a waffle maker for my last birthday. It has been one of my favorite gifts, right behind the complete set of cookware I got one mother's day.  (I know, it's weird, but what can I say. Ask me about my teapot collection sometime). Anyway, I was excited because this recipe promised to be new and exciting.  I clicked on the link and this is what I found:


WTF??!!!  This is not a recipe. A recipe has real ingredients like flour and eggs. This set my June Cleaver alter ego all atwitter.  It doesn't help that I am currently reading Michael Pollan's latest book, Cooked. Pollan wrote The Omnivore's Dilemma, In Defense of Food, The Botany of Desire and other books about how we eat, our relationship to the natural world, and how we live. In this latest book he talks about how we cook. But really he talks about how we don't cook. Then he explores all the ways that humans extract nourishment from plants and animals. He divides the book into the following sections:  Fire, Water, Air and Earth.  In the fire section he talks about Barbecue and takes you on a tour of southern BBQ joints. He apprentices to a southern pit man and eats more pork than anyone should.  Apparently Michal has come to terms with being an omnivore.  By the end of the chapter I wanted to go out and get a BBQ sandwich with coleslaw and a side of cornbread.  I have been a vegetarian for 25 years.  The man is good.  Now I'm reading the water chapter which has to do with slow cooked casseroles, braising and waiting. While he talks about food, he also talks about how our society has changed. One of the things that has changed radically is our definition of cooking. He takes on the received wisdom that home cooking went out of fashion when the women's movement got women out of the kitchen and into the work force.  He makes a good case for that not being entirely true. Pollan points out that meal replacements were created during World War II to feed the troops. With the war over manufacturers looked for new markets and focused on American housewives.  He talks to an industry insider who points out quite callously that Americans will never start to cook again because we are "cheap and lazy". This same guy acknowledges that home meal replacements are pretty abysmal as far as taste, are not that healthy and help contribute to the obesity issues in this country. Then he basically shrugs and says "oh well".  

But back to the waffles. If you want to make really good waffles, all you need is your favorite waffle recipe (please no Bisquick).  The waffle recipe in The Joy of Cooking is a good starting place. If your recipe doesn't include this technique add it: Separate the eggs and whip the whites to soft peaks. After you combine the wet and dry ingredients, fold in the whipped whites. Your waffles will be light and irresistible.  People will offer to marry you just to get more of them.  Seriously. But whatever you do, step away from the supermarket freezer section.  Waffles are for slow Sundays. Preferably slow Sundays spent with family, friends or a really cute significant other.  I happen to have a really cute significant other and a blessedly empty nest, so I think I'll make waffles tomorrow.  You should join me.

Friday, June 07, 2013

The MMPI Never Lies

Early in our relationship my husband had occasion to ask me to take the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI). He was still in graduate school and taking his assessment course. He needed a practice subject and I said, sure, why not.  Since my undergraduate degree is in Psychology, I knew the scale but had never taken the test.  Let me explain:  The MMPI identifies personality structure. Basically you answer a bunch of questions about your interests and feelings and then get scores on various personality traits. The test has been used by the Department of Defense and the CIA to screen applicants.  One of the many personality traits it identifies is femininity.

In reviewing my results my husband said that I got abnormally high scores on the femininity scale. He kept looking at me askance so I asked him who else would get scores like that and he said, "Well sometimes drag queens score that high."  That will make you take a beat.  So now thirty years later I guess I'm still pretty high on the femininity scale. I say this because of my latest obsession:  hostess aprons.  I saw a pattern for one online and ordered it. Then during a particularly stressful period this past winter I shut myself up in my sewing room and made not one, but two. Then I sent email of one of them  on Zelda the dress form to my friends.  Now every time I am in Williams Sonoma or Sur La Table or any little boutique I am drawn to the aprons.  Apparently I have my finger on the pulse of the female consumer market because there is a whole cottage industry growing up around hostess aprons right now.  There are blogs about them. I'm not making this up. 

So, here is Zelda in my first apron:

It's a sickness I know.  Now I am planning to make a really fancy one like they used to wear in the fifties.  And I almost bought one in Sur La Table last week. I did buy a washed linen chef's apron at William Sonoma because it was on sale and it was so pretty and I don't have a washed linen apron.  I can imagine the 12 step meeting for this:

Hello, my name is Jackie and I am addicted to household linens. Last week I bought six sets of lace doilies and counted them as staples.

Actually I wouldn't be caught dead buying lace doilies. They are way too fussy. I prefer to spend my money on ethnic print place mats.

It's hopeless, I know, but look it's so pretty...

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Graduation Day

So Her Highness graduated this past week.  I know that every parent of a college graduate breathes a sigh of relief, but I think Ed and I deserve a major sigh.  If you know any part of the story of raising our daughter (fondly known as HRH by her uncles) then you understand why. She is a beautiful girl with a sparkling personality.  And a degree of stubbornness unseen in generations.  I won't go into details, but let me just say that as a toddler she brought trained professionals to their knees.

All that aside, let me tell you all about the Howard University graduation. If you don't know Howard is an historically Black University (HBCU) and has a long history of graduating highly successful and service oriented folks.  Thurgood Marshall received his law degree there.  Since it's located in DC its students are in the thick of all things political. It was amazing to me that Chloe got to attend a premier HBCU in DC during the term of the first Black president.  But Howard turned out to be so much more than we hoped for.  For the entire time that she was there, Chloe has been told that her job in life is to be of service. I think that's why she was drawn to the school in the first place. She has always had a strong sense of justice, and her father and I have tried to give her a sense of obligation.  We visited several schools before she made her choice, but from the moment we stepped on the Howard campus, it felt as if she belonged there. Even though she was accepted to 3 other schools, there was never any question of where she wanted to go.  I'm so glad she did.

Even knowing all this did not prepare me for the graduation at Howard. It's a big enough school that the various departments hold separate awards ceremonies before the main commencement. The school of education is one of the smaller ones. This is partly because it is a  very selective program.  In fact, you are not allowed to major in education as an undergraduate.  You must choose another major (secondary teachers major in the area they wish to teach, and elementary level teachers choose from an approved list) then in your Sophomore year (I think)  you apply to the graduate school of education. If you are accepted, you will begin taking graduate courses in your Junior year.  The Education ceremony was on Thursday, so we drove down Wednesday night after work.  We spent Thursday morning listening to a series of remarkable speakers.  The Dean of the education department and various students spoke eloquently of the mission of the University and of the education graduates. They spoke of the need to make a difference and of the tradition in the Black community in general and Howard in particular of reaching back to pull others along. What struck me most was how happy all the faculty looked as they gave out the awards. I attended a large state university as an undergraduate and the professors barely knew our names. Both my husband and I got our graduate degrees from larger mainstream schools. (Northwestern and Loyola).  I don't think any of those professors particularly cared whether most of us finished or not.  My husband had to actually disband his dissertation committee and start over.  At the Howard ceremonies, the faculty hugged the students as they got their degrees. Doctoral candidates were greeted onstage by their dissertation advisors, and you could see and feel the joy and pride the faculty members had in their proteges.

On Saturday at the main commencement we got to see the entire graduating class march in, and we listened to a speech from the class representative that was as moving and eloquent as any of the ones that came after, including the one by Bill Clinton who was the main commencement speaker.  We sat on the "yard" in intermittent rain and watched some of the best and brightest of our children walk into the future.  It was wonderful and scary and thrilling. 

And so she's off.  She has one more year of study to finish her master's and she has to take the Praxis exam, but for the most part she's launched. I joke with Ed that I get a catch in my heart every time I see her walk away from me. But it's no joke. It's been like that since she took her first steps. I have  a really hard time with it. It's silly but there you are. So I thought it would be really hard to see her walk away from me in a cap and gown.  But oddly, it wasn't.  Maybe it's because I know she's ready now. I've seen her overcome a lot of adversity, and her own limitations, to accomplish something remarkable.  She has fought her own tendency toward defiance, she overcame a serious bout of homesickness and inner doubt in her freshman year, stuck it out even when her grades weren't that great, worked hard to bring them up so she could make it into the graduate program, and held down a job to boot.  I'm really proud of her. I think she'll be fine. And so will I.