My students teach me life lessons every day.

That’s something teachers are supposed to say in order to earn their Good Teacher Badge, but for me it’s also true. For example, this past Thursday I found myself in a complicated situation on the internet (oh, the internet), and handling it live with my students’ input proved to be one of the most educational experiences I think we’ve had all year. It all started with a negative book review . . .

At the beginning of 7th grade, my students read a young adult mystery novel set in Japan. It’s not my favorite book in terms of writing or character development, but it serves my purpose each year: to introduce them to Japan in an engaging and accessible way, and to serve as a backdrop and vehicle, respectively, for our more in-depth studies of haiku and essay organization in class. Essentially, I have my reasons for keeping it in the curriculum, but I don’t personally love it.

On my personal account on a popular book review site, I said as much. The site is designed to allow you to share book reviews and ratings with friends, so I felt perfectly comfortable giving my honest and blunt opinion. It was around four years ago when I reviewed the novel, saying, in short, that the simplicity of the book annoyed me.

Imagine my surprise when the author of the book himself — I’ll call him Snarky McSnarkerson — responded to my review. He was defensive and implied that the reason I didn’t like his book was because, basically, I’m a stuffy old teacher who’s not in touch with what kids actually like. This was funny to me, since part of what draws me to middle school language arts is my adoration of young adult literature.

I responded with a touch of sarcasm. It was not the most angelic response, but also not inappropriate. In class, I mentioned the exchange to my students and expressed my surprise over the whole affair. It didn’t occur to me that they might search for the review online, but a few of them found it and also responded to Snarky McSnarkerson. I was proud of how they were supportive of me but also classy and mature in their responses, not resorting to rudeness or immature name-calling. Indeed, they were quite a bit more mature than Snarky McSnarkerson himself! I thanked them but also asked that they no longer fuel the discussion.

A few years passed. Then, this past Thursday, I received another response from McSnarkerson out of the blue.

In his new response, he not only insulted me (saying that maybe someday my students would get a “real teacher”), but also my students (pointing out the grammatical errors in their posts). I was livid. I responded curtly to McSnarkerson himself and posted about the situation on Facebook (where it was promptly shared by a prominent author). In disbelief, I told my current students about the situation, being careful this time to ask them not to contribute to the online exchange. They were all outraged to hear of McSnarkerson’s rudeness and his unfair implications, just like I had been.

I knew this was a ripe teaching moment about how to navigate the internet, and how in the real world, we can vote with our wallets (I’d already told McSnarkerson I wouldn’t be using his book anymore). But I didn’t expect for my students to be quite the wonderful teachers they turned out to be!

We chatted about the inevitable urge to gang up on someone with friends online, and how we must remember that to do so would be cruel. We talked about the difference between responding to be nasty and responding with a thoughtful point. We remembered examples of when people had been unkind to others in groups — like the comments on Rebecca Black’s music video, “Friday,” and how they must have made her feel.

While we were discussing the uncertainty involved in handling an online disagreement effectively, my unfailingly positive and practical student, Lauren, raised her hand. She humbly offered the class, “I learned that if you stop responding to someone and fueling a situation, it usually goes away.” I think her comment literally stopped me in my tracks. What a novel idea. Wasn’t I supposed to be the one saying the wise, mature stuff? I laughed.

“That’s a great point, Lauren. So maybe I shouldn’t have responded to McSnarkerson at all? Or maybe I shouldn’t have responded to his newest comment? And, oh. Maybe I shouldn’t have mentioned it on Facebook?” The whole class paused with me. We all shifted and grinned uneasily. A new discussion had begun: Could Ms. Ruble have navigated the internet in a more effective way?

In true language arts style, we journaled about it. I told them to imagine that they’d left a negative review of Harry Potter and J.K. Rowling had just sent them a nasty comment (we all agreed this scenario was ridiculous — who doesn’t love Harry Potter and Rowling? — but for the sake of journaling, they used their imagination.) They had to first write their initial impulse, and then think of at least two better strategies they could use to handle it productively.

I was so proud of their suggestions. They proposed:

-Write out the response you’d initially want to post, but then ball it up and throw it away instead.
-Write a response, but instead of posting it, send it to someone you trust to edit it.
-Write a response, but instead of immediately posting it, wait 24 hours and then revise it to make sure it’s productive and kind.
-Don’t respond at all.
-No matter what you do, don’t share the situation with others to gang up or gossip, because it creates a bigger problem.

I love when real-life situations come about that they can learn from. I love it even more when they can learn from someone else’s mistakes instead of their own — even if those mistakes are mine! My initial goal in posting my frustrations and a link to the exchange on Facebook was to bring to public light the author’s unkind actions. If I had it to do over again, though, I might handle it in a different way (this is the reason I’m not naming the author or linking to the exchange in this post). Maybe I’d use one of the effective ways my students proposed. And instead of public shaming, I can “voice” my feelings about McSnarkerson by not buying his products.

I appreciate these kids more each and every day.

* * *

After all that tension, I needed to whip up an easy dessert this weekend, and there is nothing easier than an icebox cake. Icebox cakes layer wafer or sandwich cookies with billowy whipped cream and then chill it to form a delicious, velvety, cake-like dessert. I decided to spike my cream with some almond liqueur for a tasty zing, and now I can’t stop eating this thing. I love that something that takes 5 minutes to prepare can end up so pretty and tasty. Enjoy!

How do you effectively handle disagreements online, where it’s so much easier to be unkind or act rashly?

One year ago: Healthy Roasted Tomato and Onion Bread Soup
Two years ago: Willow Bird Baking’s Best of 2010
Three years ago: Pumpkin Cheesecake Bread Pudding

Boozy Icebox Cake

Recipe by: Adapted from Smitten Kitchen, originally adapted from The Magnolia Bakery Cookbook
Yield: 6-8 servings

Icebox Cake is so easy, fast, and delicious. It’s probably the dessert with the biggest bang for your buck. This version is made with oreo cookies and a bunch of whipped cream — and Amaretto for a zing! The cream softens the oreos as they chill overnight into a velvety, cake-like dessert.

3 cups heavy cream
1/4 cup almond liqueur (like Amaretto) (optional)
3 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 packages chocolate sandwich cookies (like Oreos)*
*You might want an extra package on hand in case your trifle dish is larger.

Fit a mixer with a whisk attachment and whisk the heavy cream, almond liqueur (if using), sugar, and vanilla extract together in a large chilled bowl until it forms soft peaks. In a trifle dish, arrange a single layer of oreo cookies (for my dish, I used between 8-11 cookies per layer, since the sides flare outward) in a circle, with a cookie or two in the middle. Carefully spread about a 1/2 cup of whipped cream over this first layer. Repeat layering cookies and whipped cream, ending with a layer of whipped cream on top. Crumble a last cookie over the top. Cover and refrigerate overnight before serving.

37 Comments on Boozy Icebox Cake

  1. Andria
    January 6, 2013 at 3:58 am (12 years ago)

    Hi Julie,
    I’m sorry that happened to you. Twice.

    I’m old school. If I can’t say something nice online, I don’t say anything. That’s really hard for me because underneath this award winning personality is a hot head. I know. It’s hard to believe, but true. I wake up looking for a fight. I think it’s because I was born and raised in South Jersey.

    I just don’t respond to negativity online. People are not real online. They say things they don’t really have the courage to sat in person. I would rather confront someone in person. That’s another reason why I don’t get involved with the online nitwits.

    Your students are lucky to have you. I wish you were my teacher. And I think you’re great. I bet Snarky McSnarkerson never got to strike a pose with Ina. Sorry this comment is so long. I’m a bit wordy.

    I only had amaretto on hand so I made an amaretto sour. But I’ll definitely make your icebox cake because life is too short not to eat oreos with homemade whipped cream and amaretto. Thanks for the recipe. And fight the power.

    • Julie @ Willow Bird Baking
      January 6, 2013 at 4:02 am (12 years ago)

      Love it, Andria!!

      I can be quite the hothead too, and I have to continually restrain myself and remind myself who I want to be. It can be so hard! You’re right, though, that people aren’t their real, whole selves online (or via text, for that matter), and we should be careful with each other in that arena. I feel sometimes like social media has changed the world for the worse.

      Thanks, girl! Hope you love the amaretto sour and, eventually, the icebox cake πŸ™‚

  2. Nathan
    January 6, 2013 at 4:01 am (12 years ago)

    For teetotalers, would you recommend simply omitting the liqueur, or replacing it with some other liquid?

  3. AliciaM
    January 6, 2013 at 4:14 am (12 years ago)

    Julie – There is so much that I love about this post!
    1) the timing… I just read all of the commentary with the author today, so it was fresh on my mind (And I was very unimpressed with him and will not be reading his books).
    2) “Snarnky McSnarckerson” because I use versions of that all the time to Chris and Andi. Especially Grumpy McGrumperson πŸ™‚
    3) OMG that looks good!
    4) OMG that looks easy… and I LOVE easy recipes

    Thanks for posting you are a great teacher and you are as lucky to have those students as they are to have you the fact that you realize that is really special!

  4. Lori @ RecipeGirl
    January 6, 2013 at 5:10 am (12 years ago)

    What a story. Hard to believe that the author is acting like such an idiot, but wonderful that your students gained a valuable lesson from it all! And I love your cake too!

    • Julie @ Willow Bird Baking
      January 6, 2013 at 5:12 am (12 years ago)

      Thanks, Lori! Afterwards we found out that he left responses like that on several negative reviews of his books — sad, really.

  5. Kelly
    January 6, 2013 at 5:14 am (12 years ago)

    Very timely. I saw something similar play out on Friday. Person A wronged Person B. Person B’s social media posse attacked Person A. Person A’s posse then attacked Person B’s posse and Person B. At no point had Person B insulted Person A but Person A felt personally attacked by Person B. And on and on it went for hours. I usually don’t join in these discussions but I did have to ask if all the persons attacking Person B realised that Person B had not in fact insulted Person A. It didn’t matter though. People were in attack mode and no one wanted to be reasonable.

    • Julie @ Willow Bird Baking
      January 6, 2013 at 5:17 am (12 years ago)

      Things like that can get out of hand so quickly, right? I sometimes have to sit on my hands not to get involved. Indeed, in a few food blogger communities there were snarky exchanges. I just had to leave them all. Free myself from the drama πŸ™‚

  6. Jennifer- The Adventuresome Kitchen
    January 6, 2013 at 7:57 am (12 years ago)

    Snarky McSnarkerson..Love that! I’m going to have to start using that when my preteens start turning on the heat. You are an amazing teacher and your students are so lucky to have you. I hope my daughter gets a teacher like you someday! PS great recipe!

  7. The Cupcake Princess
    January 6, 2013 at 8:46 am (12 years ago)

    that looks amazing! i love cookies and cream combinations!

  8. Chung-Ah | Damn Delicious
    January 6, 2013 at 9:04 am (12 years ago)

    Amazing! I’ll have to make this at my next dinner party – everyone will be so impressed πŸ™‚

  9. Lauren at Keep It Sweet
    January 6, 2013 at 12:22 pm (12 years ago)

    You should be so proud of your students, I’m sure it is your influence on them that helped one student come up with such a wise reaction! Oh, and it never hurts to immerse yourself in a boozy dessert:-)

  10. Nicole de B.
    January 6, 2013 at 2:42 pm (12 years ago)

    After years of being involved in fandom (and more than a fair share of fandom wankage) through various forms of social media and online journals, I’ve learned to write out my response, be just as snarky and hateful as I like and then NEVER EVER EVER post it. If I feel I have to respond to show that I read it and disagree, I respond with a very general response, “I respect the right of every individual to have and voice their opinion.” Then I leave it. I’ve tried every other way– arguing back or being respectful, or posing thought provoking (to me anyway) alternate POV and it never ever works. It’s unlikely that even the most valid argument will change the opinion of someone who sees it as an emotional, not rational, discussion. I love the fact that you used this as a way of opening up the discussion with your students. Real life examples drive points home! It’s important for kids to know that adults get into the same situations they do. We may be older but we are still learning as we go!!

    I have to admit, Icebox cakes are among my favorites. I sometimes treat it like tiramisu— I mix coffee and A LOT of kahlua together and dip the cookies in that. OMG so good!!!

  11. Jen @ Savory Simple
    January 6, 2013 at 9:08 pm (12 years ago)

    I’m amazed that someone with so little tolerance for criticism would be in the writing industry! Your students sound lovely and I think you handled it perfectly. He’s a sad person if he’s that wrapped up in what people think.

    The icebox cake is making me drool, btw.

  12. Sarah
    January 6, 2013 at 10:54 pm (12 years ago)

    Learning how best to deal with the immaturity and often, hurt feelings, of other adult humans has been and still is one of my greatest struggles in becoming an adult. Sometimes the best response really is no response. It’s not surprising that one of your students knows that. When it comes to being kind, I really think children have got the edge on pretty much all of us.

  13. Andrea
    January 7, 2013 at 12:05 am (12 years ago)

    I recently had a package of oreos left over from a party, and also a nice carton of organic whipping cream, I too decided to throw them together into an icebox cake. I was terribly disappointed though! I’d only ever done icebox cakes with wafers, or ghramcrackers. The filling of the oreo remained…chunky and unpleasant. My kids ate the dessert and claimed it was the best thing ever, but I have to say that I would never repeat it. Does the alcohol help with this? It seemed like such a brilliant idea at the time and… then I was sorta grossed out by the results. Then again, I’m not a big Oreo filling fan myself, so I’m probably not the target audience for this recipe anyway.

    (please dont perceive any snark in this comment, there wasn’t any intended! )

    • Julie @ Willow Bird Baking
      January 7, 2013 at 12:18 am (12 years ago)

      Aw, I’m sorry you didn’t like the combo! The filling does remain chunkier than the whipped cream, but I’m a HUGE oreo cookies & cream fan, so I love it this way πŸ™‚ For you, though, I’d recommend sticking to something like Nabisco Chocolate Wafers. I’m excited to try another icebox cake sometime with gingersnaps.

  14. BryanJ
    January 7, 2013 at 1:17 am (12 years ago)

    I of course had to go to GoodReads to check out the exchange. You handled it with aplomb :).

  15. Colette
    January 8, 2013 at 11:34 am (12 years ago)

    The only thing I remember fr my grocery is is OREOS!

  16. Sharla
    January 8, 2013 at 2:31 pm (12 years ago)

    My mom makes a version of this recipe with store bought cool whip, pudding and oreos and it is one of her most requested dishes! I can only imagine what real whip cream would taste like…and liqueur? I die!!

    Btw – I really needed this reminder…especially the part “to gang up or gossip always creates bigger problems”. I’m definitely one to argue online, but the gossip thing. ouch.

  17. fallconsmate
    January 9, 2013 at 2:40 am (12 years ago)

    knowing what to say online is hard.

    what i try very hard to remember is that i’m sitting in the other person’s living room (when i respond to a journal, or what-have-you) and need to speak (type) accordingly. polite disagreement is fine, getting ugly is not fine.

    and if i CANNOT manage that, then writing as foul a message as i can possibly write then backspaceing out of the forum and NOT sending it gets a LOT of bile out of my system, and i dont have a headache. πŸ˜‰

    MAN that cake looks wonderful!!!

  18. Amanda
    January 9, 2013 at 2:34 pm (12 years ago)

    This looks so good!!! I am inspired. πŸ™‚

  19. Jane
    January 9, 2013 at 4:19 pm (12 years ago)

    I love the way you write. Very entertaining. I have a conversation with my youngest nearly every morning about manners on the internet. Sheesh, I could have saved my breath and had her look at your yummy recipe and get the lesson in one delicious rush! Keep the faith!

  20. Kelsey
    January 11, 2013 at 8:42 pm (12 years ago)

    Isn’t being a teacher an amazing thing? We all set out, wide-eyed and naive, ready to save the world and impart knowledge on our students. Little do we ever know, at the ripe age of 22, that we will learn far more from our students then they will ever learn from us.

    I love, love, love this story. I’m planning on talking to my students about how to censor what we say to each other, both online and in person. I’ve found a protocol called THINK ( which asks students to ask themselves if something is T-true, H-helpful, I-important, N-necessary, and K-kind. Can I share your exchange with the author and your students as part of my discussion?

    Also, this dessert sounds amazing. Booze and chocolate are very important players in the lives of teachers. Well done!

  21. Maureen
    January 12, 2013 at 7:26 pm (12 years ago)

    I made it with leftover Christmas peppermint Jo-Jos from Trader Joes. didn’t put in any booze but imagine that some peppermint schnapps or creme de menthe would make it even better.

  22. Heide M.
    January 13, 2013 at 8:20 pm (12 years ago)

    Your cake looks yummy.

  23. Erin
    January 15, 2013 at 1:14 pm (12 years ago)

    Wow you have some quite wise students. What a fantastic moment of learning not only how to navigate the internet, but how to navigate the larger world.

  24. christine
    February 13, 2013 at 5:53 pm (11 years ago)

    for whatever it’s worth, i feel students need to learn how to wrestle with the pig without turning into a pig. Students need to learn how to express negativity in a manner that is not purposely incindiary. In the scheme of things, an obscure author disrespecting you and your students is not going to cause the world to implode into a morass of societal decay. However, noble silence is not what gave women the right to vote or ended slavery or brought about civil rights or caused any other wrong to be righted. soapbox now put away :0)

    • Julie @ Willow Bird Baking
      February 13, 2013 at 5:56 pm (11 years ago)

      Hey Christine, I get your point — but we do that in contexts where it’s appropriate. As a language arts teacher, I’m big on them learning to disagree and argue based on evidence. What I’m not big on is them getting trapped by an internet troll, or getting into arguments that are going to go around and around without changing anything. In this scenario, what would actually change things is refusing to buy the author’s books and moving on accordingly — not getting into a meaningless battle with him on a website.

  25. fran
    January 2, 2014 at 11:17 am (11 years ago)

    Congratulations!!! Excellent receipt!

  26. Lee
    August 16, 2014 at 2:26 pm (10 years ago)

    Ok, so I clicked a link for simple icebox cake recipe, and was instead treated to an amazing story of how to comport yourself online by someone who is clearly a great teacher – and her group of students. Just wanted to comment and share my note of thanks for brightening up a lil slice of internet! πŸ™‚

    • Julie Ruble
      August 16, 2014 at 2:33 pm (10 years ago)

      Aw, thank you, Lee!!

  27. Jenny M
    May 20, 2018 at 10:04 am (6 years ago)

    Count me among those who came looking for a dessert, and came away with so much more. Even though this post is 4 years old, it too is a lesson on Internet Immortality πŸ™‚

    I hope you are still teaching, though teaching isn’t nearly strong enough for what *you* are doing; and I hope you still find light and enthusiasm in your wonderful life.

    You rock! <3


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