I haven’t met my future 8th grade students yet, but I’m pretty certain they are wonderful. Just a hunch. To prepare for our time together this fall, I’m reviewing their summer reading book, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, wherein Mark Twain evokes the joy and angst of rural childhood.
One of the scenes in the book finds the spunky young protagonist tragically imprisoned in a church pew as “the minister prayed. A good, generous prayer it was, and went into details: it pleaded for the church, and the little children of the church; for the other churches of the village; for the village itself; for the county; for the state; for the state officers; for the United States; for the churches of the United States; for the President . . . .”
Tom noticed whenever the minister added a new detail to the prayer and “his whole nature resented it; he considered additions unfair, and scoundrelly.”
The prayer sounds mighty familiar to me. During my own childhood, it had not issued forth from a droning minister but from my own hyper-organized and hyper-devout conscience. I had a careful mental list of people and things I needed to pray for, and even sublists of what to pray about each of those people and things. My daily prayers grew to the point of absurdity. I would head into prayer time like a prisoner might trudge into her jail cell, schlepping her heavy chains along behind her. Doesn’t sound quite right, does it?
I didn’t know it, but my prayers were suffering from what I call “keeping the plane up” syndrome. I’m terrified of flying, and on an airplane, I’ll sometimes anxiously concentrate on keeping myself in the air. While I know it’s silly, it feels like my extreme focus gives me some control over the situation, and like breaking it might send the plane spiraling. To snap out of this, I have to very deliberately jar my focus — by reading SkyMall or walking to the restroom, usually — and let myself realize that everything is still okay.
My childhood prayers were the same thing. I was “keeping the plane up” — keeping people alive, keeping the house from burning down, keeping floods and severe weather at bay — all by focusing my tiny 8-year-old attention. While I think the minister in Tom Sawyer probably just enjoyed hearing himself pontificate, my own bloated prayers felt urgent to me. If I left a bit out, perhaps God would leave that bit off of His own list. Maybe that person would go unblessed, unhealed. The situation seemed quite weighty and desperate. When I got older, I realized I had to snap out of this much like I snapped out of keeping the plane up: by purposely upsetting the routine and watching for God’s continued faithfulness.
A few years ago I was reading through Oswald Chambers’ My Utmost for His Highest and for some reason, something I’d heard over and over again, and indeed read over and over again in the Bible itself, finally clicked for me. It was the idea that God already knows what you need before you ask it. For some reason, it hadn’t really sunk in that the reason to pray was not to inform God what you needed, inform Him what you thought about Him, inform him what you were thankful for. He knew these things. So why tell Him? Radically, Chambers noted that like most things we think of as “serving God” (tithing, worshipping), this task was given to us for us — that is, prayer did more for us than it did for God.
What it does for us is connect us to the source of abundant life, allowing us to commune with God. It’s looking to the Father for a “security check,” abiding in Him, and therefore it replenishes and reassures us. It trains us for the life events that will bring us to our knees, when that communion will become a lifeline that we’re clinging to for survival (I believe this is why Christ encouraged the disciples repeatedly to commune in prayer with Him in the garden of Gethsemane — He knew the spirit was willing, but the flesh was weak, and they needed preparation for what was to come). It also allows us to explicitly do what Christ instructed and love our neighbors by lifting them in prayer.
But the key piece of this puzzle was, for me, He already knows. You can’t mess anything up by forgetting a part of the script. Indeed, I’m reminded that sometimes even when you have no words or are so heartbroken that you can’t remember how to pray, “the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.”
Later in Tom Sawyer, a bored Tom rifles through his pocket and finds a box holding his most recent capture, a busy tick, whereupon “his face lit up with a glow of gratitude that was prayer, though he did not know it.”
Thankfully, I’ve experienced that sort of prayer, too. I remember it from the car ride to see my mom after she woke up from a surgery she almost didn’t survive. I remember it from the night Mike proposed to me. I remember it from watching Byrd run to fetch her rubber bone after her double knee surgery and months-long recovery. I remember it from sitting in a church pew with my nephew, Caleb, when he asked what the preacher meant by “committed to God” and after hearing my explanation, declared, “I’m committed to God.” I remember it from the day I received the phone call in my classroom telling me that my dad’s cancer was gone.
* * *
For those of you who pray — and I know there are those of you out there who don’t, and I hope you know you are as welcome here as anyone else — tell me about your prayers. Tell me about how your prayer life has changed over time. And have you felt that glowing moment of gratitude yourself?
In the meantime, let’s share some strawberry lemonade cheesecake. These bars are a version of one of my dad’s favorite desserts, Lemon Blueberry Cheesecake Bars, and they are so creamy and delicious. This summery version includes a little extra lemon tang, big fresh strawberries, and a buttery shortbread crust. They’re also super easy to whip up, making them one of my favorite summertime treats. I hope you enjoy them.
These cheesecake bars are the perfect summer treat: sweet, creamy, tangy, buttery, and easy to prepare!
1 cup (2 sticks) butter
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
Cheesecake Layer Ingredients:
32 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
5-6 tablespoons lemon juice, depending on how tart you usually like your lemonade!
lemon zest from one lemon (reserve a little to sprinkle on top)
1 cup sugar
powdered sugar for topping *Note: I probably bought 2 pints of strawberries but didn’t quite use them all. I didn’t quarter mine because I thought they’d be pretty whole, but they were a bit hard to eat and I’ll quarter them next time I make this recipe!
Preheat your oven to 350°F. Prepare a 9 x 13 in. baking dish with a parchment paper sling. Cut the butter into the flour and confectioners’ sugar and press into the baking dish (I used a food processor to cut the fat into the flour, and then the bottom of a dish to press the mixture into the pan). Bake 20 minutes or until light brown. Let cool on wire rack.
In a bowl with an electric mixer, add the cream cheese, eggs, lemon juice, lemon zest, and sugar. Mix until the ingredients are creamy and the cream cheese is fully incorporated. Pour into the pan with the cooled crust. Then evenly distribute the strawberries.
Bake 30-35 minutes or until filling is set. Remove from the oven and cool completely. Then refrigerate for at least 3 hours. Remove the cheesecake from the pan using the parchment paper. Cut into bars and sprinkle with powdered sugar and/or lemon zest.
Some days you’re a little cranky. It feels like you woke up on the wrong side of the bed. You’re just a little snippier than you’d like. You try to bite your tongue, grab your morning caffeine, and paste on a smile.
Other days, you feel like you woke up in Oscar the Grouch’s trash can and God help whoever has to interact with you before you get it together. You irrationally snap at the dog because she dawdles outside, you grumble about how a huge tractor trailer took up all the good parking by the gym. You stalk into the gym and realize you’re late to Zumba. That was me yesterday.
I usually love Zumba, but yesterday it was like everything came together in a perfect storm of annoyance. First, since I was late, I had to squeeze into a row in the back. I ended up wedged between an industrial-sized fan on my left and a woman on my right who, let us say, was not exactly a Zumba master (not that I’m even close). I was also right behind a woman who completely blocked my view of the instructor. I vaguely realized I should find another space, but the open spots quickly filled as a few more people floated in late. The dancing began and I decided I would have to just make the best of it.
The woman on my right, bless her heart, was always several steps behind, meaning that when it was time to travel to the right, I had nowhere to go. The fan, bless its heart, was on full-blast, freezing me to the bone no matter how frantically I danced to warm myself up. Without being able to see the instructor (or myself in the mirror), I was confused as to the steps half the time and confused about whether or not I was doing them right the other half. I’d say for 95% of the class I was just vaguely wiggling with no rhythm or reason. I usually like to dance my heart out and pretend I’m on America’s Got Talent in Zumba, but yesterday I looked more like a person who has dozed off at a picnic and woken up covered in fire ants: a lot of shivering and thrashing, with some aimless jiggling of arms thrown in for good measure.
It was nobody’s fault. The woman to my right was doing her best and had as much right to muddle through the moves as I did. The woman in front of me had no idea she was blocking my view, nor could she have moved anywhere if she had. I could’ve moved the fan, but I’d just be pointing it at some other poor, unsuspecting soul and freezing them right down to their sneakers. I wasn’t the only one that seemed to have caught the grumpy bug, either; looking around the room, half of the women seemed asleep and the other half seemed like they were dancing through thick maple syrup. My Zumba instructor — who is my favorite instructor, hands down, and who usually has a cheerful, energetic class — seemed to sense the cranky-pants vibe going on in the room, since she encouraged us repeatedly to, “Smile! Have fun with it!” only to be met with more confused, half-hearted sashaying.
It was just an unpleasant situation, we were in unpleasant moods, it was an unpleasant morning. Whiiiine.
When life gives you lemons, you could totally make lemonade. Or even lemon granita? But I’m also betting these tart, sweet, buttery little shortbread cookies will help you change your grouchy tune.
I based this recipe on my Thyme Orange Cranberry Shortbread Cookies, but switched out a few things. These cookies include cherries, rosemary, and lots of lemon juice. The drizzle of white chocolate at the end sweetens them up so they can sweeten your day.
These are tender, buttery shortbread cookies replete with cherries, tangy lemon, and rosemary. Enjoy them hot from the oven and freeze some for baking in a pinch.
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 teaspoons dried rosemary leaves, chopped finely
3/8 cup powdered sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 tablespoons finely grated lemon zest (about the zest from one lemon)
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 cup dried cherries, finely chopped
about 1/2 cup white chocolate chips
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, and dried rosemary. In a separate large bowl, cream together the butter, lemon zest, and powdered sugar 2-3 minutes or until pale, light, and fluffy. Mix in the lemon juice. Beat in the flour mixture and then stir in the cherries by hand to be sure everything is combined.
Use a sheet of wax paper to roll the dough into a 1 1/2-inch wide log (if you’re having trouble, chill the dough for a bit in the fridge before rolling it). Wrap plastic wrap or foil around the logs and freeze them until firm (you can also double-wrap them and leave them frozen for up to 3 weeks at this point. When you’re ready to bake, just use a serrated knife to cut the cookies and bake as usual. It make take a few minutes longer since they’ll be baking from frozen, but just keep an eye on them.) While they cookies are freezing, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and place the rack in the center. Prepare a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.
Use a serrated knife to slice each log into 1/4-inch slices and place these about 1 inch apart on the prepared baking sheet. Bake until golden, about 8-10 minutes, rotating once halfway through baking. Let the cookies cool for a couple of minutes on the pan before transferring them to a cooling rack to cool completely. In the meantime, melt white chocolate according to package instructions (usually half-power, in small increments, stirring often) and spoon it into a plastic zip-top bag with a tiny corner cut off. Set cookies on wax or parchment paper and squeeze the melted chocolate from the zip-top bag over them in a zig zag design. Let them dry. Store them in an airtight container separated by leaves of parchment or wax paper for up to a week.
Full, unvarnished disclosure here (and I think author Lucy Vaserfirer will understand): When I first received a request to review a new cookbook called Flavored Butters, I scoffed a little. I don’t do many book reviews period, and this one in particular seemed unlikely.
Because . . . butters? The entire cookbook is filled with recipes for different flavored butters? Someone call Paula Deen, am I right? Har har.
But then I looked through the cookbook. First, Vaserfirer’s gorgeous photos caught my eye. But secondly, as I browsed, I realized that there are a lot of things you can do with butter. It dawned on me: this is totally my kind of thing. These recipes aren’t for complete meals, but for key components that you could use to customize your food and build your own new recipes. That is so Willow Bird Baking! So, a little humbled, I jumped on board for a Flavored Butters blog tour!
I chose to use a very different kind of butter (cookie “butter,” which is like peanut butter except it’s made from speculoos cookies!) to make a cookie base for trying a couple of Vaserfirer’s flavored butter recipes. My cookie butter cookies came out soft and delicious, ready for a schmear of coffee butter and salted caramel butter.
The coffee butter was rich and indulgent and, to me, tasted like a breakfast treat. The salted caramel butter was butterier (to use a precise term), almost like a sweet butterscotch spread. Both were delicious — especially when schmeared on the still-warm cookie butter cookies! I imagine they’d be great on fresh maple or butterscotch scones. I have tons of ideas for the other butter recipes in the book, too! Flavored Butters retails at $12.95, and for me, it’s worth at least that much for the spark of inspiration alone. The 50 butter recipes are an added bonus.
If a cup of coffee with your breakfast just isn’t enough, then spread this butter on your toast or scone.
2 tablespoons turbinado sugar (I used demerera sugar; more on sugars)
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon instant espresso powder
Grind the turbinado sugar to a fine powder in a mortar and pestle or a spice mill (or the back of a spoon, in a pinch). Blend together the sugar, butter, and espresso powder in a medium-size bowl. Form into a log and refrigerate until firm before slicing and serving, or use another shaping method (see pages 16-17 in the book). Or smear on warm cookies, of course!
This creamy butter is such a treat that it shouldn’t be reserved for the breakfast table. Spread it on vanilla cupcakes or sandwich it between chocolate cookies.
1⁄4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons water
1⁄4 cup heavy cream
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1⁄4 teaspoon fleur de sel or other finishing sea salt, or to taste
1⁄8 teaspoon vanilla extract
Combine the sugar and water in a small, heavy saucepan. Bring to a boil, brush down the sides of the pan with water, and boil until caramelized, 5 to 6 minutes. Once the sugar starts gaining some color, swirl for even cooking. The sugar will be fragrant and have a deep amber color when it is caramelized. Remove the pan from the heat, slowly stir in the cream until smooth (be careful — it will spatter), and let cool to room temperature.
Blend together the caramel, butter, salt, and vanilla in a medium-size bowl.
To use as a butter, form into a log and refrigerate until firm before slicing and serving, or use another shaping method (see pages 16-17 in the book).
To use as a buttercream frosting, let soften if needed and spread onto cooled baked goods, swirling decoratively.Or smear on warm cookies, of course!
The cookie butter cookies I used as a vessel for my flavored butters actually led to yet another review — this time not a cookbook review, but a cookie butter review! There are two major cookie butter camps: those who love Trader Joe’s Speculoos Cookie Butter Spread, and those who love Lotus’s Biscoff Spread.
I’m always looking out for you guys, so I conducted the very scientific experiment pictured below. I’ll spare you the rigorous and detailed methodology in favor of a quick summary: I took lots of bites of each cookie butter. Here are the results.
Trader Joe’s Crunchy Speculoos Cookie Butter: This cookie butter has more of a cinnamon and spice graham crackery flavor and was less crunchy.
Lotus Crunchy Biscoff Spread: This cookie butter has more of a honey graham crackery flavor, tasted more buttery, and was more crunchy.
The final result? Though I love both cookie butters and will demolish both jars with gusto, the Biscoff Spread has my heart.
Want to win a jar of your own? I’m giving a few jars away in order to “spread” the love. Use the form below the recipe to enter to win. (Unfortunately, I can only ship to the continental U.S.)
These warm cookie butter cookies are delicious right out of the oven, or schmeared with coffee butter, salted caramel butter, or even a little extra cookie butter!
1/4 cup shortening
1/4 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar, plus extra for rolling
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup crunchy cookie butter (Trader Joe’s Speculoos Spread or Biscoff Spread)
1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F and cover two baking sheets with parchment paper. In a large bowl, cream together the butter, shortening, and two sugars until light and fluffy (2-3 minutes). Add the cookie butter and egg and combine. Add in the flour, baking sodar, and baking powder, and mix until combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.
Roll the dough into 1-inch balls and roll in sugar. Place about 2 inches apart on a baking sheet and bake for 7 minutes. Remove from the oven and gently remove from the pan to a cooling rack so the bottoms don’t get too brown. Cool completely and spread with coffee butter, salted caramel butter, or more cookie butter!
Um. I may or may not have gone to a Cookie Swap at Ina Garten’s House.
And photos and recipes from this cookie swap may or may not have just been published in Ladies’ Home Journal.
This totally happened.
It may or may not have been one of the coolest things that’s ever happened to me (it was.)
Enough fangirling, though. I know what you really want to know — the nitty gritty details! For the gorgeous photos and recipes, you need the magazine itself (look for Ina on the cover — it’s on newstands now), but I’ll be your go-to source for those gossipy behind-the-scenes details. Such as:
1. No really, Ina Garten is one of the sweetest, most hospitable people on the planet. She wasn’t a diva in any sense; rather, she made us all feel very welcome and appreciated. When she took a bite of my cookie, I admitted that I was totally starstruck, saying, “This is a life moment.” She laughed and told me about one of her life moments: when Meryl Streep tasted one of her dishes. She’s so down-to-earth, y’all.
2. No, we didn’t see Jeffrey — I so wanted him to come in and give Ina a big smooch like he does on Barefoot Contessa.
3. Ina’s breakfast indulgence? Oatmeal. Seriously! She says people are always disappointed to learn that that’s her biggest vice.
4. I found this out while eating breakfast with her before the cookie swap at her favorite restaurant, The 1770 House, which kind of blows my mind. Is this my life? Did that actually happen?!
5. Her yard is just as beautiful as it is on the show — and her garden is a sight to behold! As we were walking through it, the photographer pinched off a plump strawberry and ate it.
6. Speaking of our fancy schmancy photog, Quentin Bacon, we had a great conversation about celebrity chefs and pavlova (he’s an Aussie) on the bus to the Hamptons. He got a text message from Curtis Stone en route inviting him to a party. No biggie. I offered to attend in his stead, which for some reason was only met with laughter.
7. His last name’s BACON. Of course he gets invited to celebrity parties.
8. Joy the Baker and I caught a pedicab in NYC to a restaurant and couldn’t decide if we were having a load of fun or about to die. It was like a roller coaster that twisted in and out of oncoming traffic. Then we were way overcharged. Call it a bonding experience.
9. I took random photos of people kissing in Central Park. I hope they didn’t notice.
10. Ina Garten’s hair stylist has been doing her hair since before she was the Barefoot Contessa. I asked her if she ever felt starstruck and she shrugged and said, “She’s always been Ina to me.” How must that feel?!
11. The folks of Ladies’ Home Journal are a seriously fun bunch to be around. Our conversations ranged from food blogs to sex to religion and everywhere in between on our ride to the Hamptons.
12. The bus driver became my good buddy and NYC tour guide when I got carsick and moved to sit up front with him. Shout out to Alex!
13. Ina is even more beautiful in person — those freckles! She’s also petite — we took off our shoes for pictures with her.
14. Yes, of course I peeked in her pantry. It’s just what you’d expect: nice local products, a few items from her own product line, and tons of gorgeous dishes, all neatly arranged. We may or may not have also peeked in the freezer. Yes, she really does keep chicken stock in there! We lusted a bit after her beautiful kitchen.
As an aside, perhaps I don’t get invited to more celebrity parties because I peek in people’s pantries. Just a thought.
15. Cookie swaps that include Chandon Rosé and festive boxes spread across a gorgeous table dressed for winter are the best sort of cookie swaps.
16. You should buy Ina’s latest cookbook, Foolproof, which I was fortunate enough to receive a copy of. While it’s full of new recipes (including a mustard flank steak I already promised to make for Mike), it’s typical Barefoot Contessa: classic, elegant, and simple. You’ll love it. I read it like a novel before bed!
17. While I’m spendin’ your money, please pick up a copy of Ladies’ Home Journal — I really want them to feel how much we love reading about blogs and bloggers, and companies feel the love through sales! I’ve already bought several copies myself. LHJ is one of the few magazines really embracing food blogs and pioneering how they can work together with print media. Love that!
20. Finally, I want you to get a chance to have the same wonderful experience with Ina that I had. LHJ is currently holding a contest called the World’s Biggest Cookie Swap. You can get details to enter and hopefully win a chance to have lunch with Ina here.
Thank you to Ina for your hospitality, and to Ladies’ Home Journal for the experience!
The teacher across the hall from me is named Julie as well. My last name is Ruble. Hers is Reulbach. We’re both have long, blonde hair and blue eyes. We’re the same height. We both blog and tweet. We’re both energetic (read: spastic) in the classroom. It’s easy to get confused.
When I saw Julie’s post on her amazing math education blog, I Speak Math, yesterday, I knew I had to write a copycat post. Her post was “A Day in the Life” post, written as part of Drawing on Math‘s initiative to show what teaching really entails. I’m not a math teacher, but I loved the idea. So here it goes.
A Day in the Life of a Language Arts Teacher
6:00 am – I wake up, stick some oatmeal in the microwave, and jump in the shower.
6:20 am – I dry my hair, doctor up my oatmeal and finally take the dog out to potty. I rush her and feel bad, but it’s hard to tell if she’s dawdling or really has to go.
6:45 am – I respond to a few emails and check the schedule while eating my oatmeal, taking my medicine, and throwing my dog’s bone a few times, hoping she’ll feel like I’ve spent some quality time with her.
7:05 am – I shuffle through the dryer for some clothes to wear. Byrd is whining because she knows I’m about to leave her — apparently the quality time trick didn’t work. I assure her that I’ll be back after school, stuff my computer and cord in its case, and grab a pack of popcorn for lunch.
7:30 am – I’m sharing “early teacher” responsibilities with Julie, so on Tuesdays and Thursdays, I’m supposed to get to school by 7:45. At this point I’m usually rushing out the door, trying not to forget a stack of papers or my keys.
7:45 am – I arrive at school and pull up my lesson plan. I write the Do Now and homework up on the board while chatting with a few students who like to come in early and spend time with me. I’d love to just have some quiet work time here, but there are always a series of small fires to put out: “The pen on the reading chart broke,” and, “I can’t find the book I’m looking for,” and of course, the dreaded, “I lost my notebook.”
8:00 am – I rush out to make copies and cut apart questions for our discussion groups today.
8:15 am – I find a nice relaxing station on iTunes radio for my first 7th grade class to listen to as they complete their 10 minute Do Now. They’re chatty today and late getting started. They also forget to stand their independent reading books up to display what they’re reading for the class. I warn them that if they can’t handle the freedom of a 7th grade Do Now, they’ll be relegated to the structured 6th grade version (which is silent and strictly enforced). Today the Do Now is a discussion reflection where they’ll think about what went well and what went poorly in their group discussions last week. They have to set 1-2 goals for themselves in today’s discussion, which is the first one they’ll receive a grade for.
8:25 am – We discuss the last few chapters of our novel, Red Scarf Girl: A Memoir of the Cultural Revolution, together. I realize as we’re describing two girls’ changes throughout China’s Cultural Revolution that it would be best represented as a double line graph, so I jump up and have the students help me create one on the board. They copy it down in their novels as a succinct portrayal of character transformation. I’m pleased with myself and have Julie Reulbach run in from her class across the hall and check out our math skillz.
8:55 am – The students share the discussion goals they created during the Do Now and start on their graded small group discussion. I observe and record grades in my grade book based on the dynamics and content of their discussions. The question is a hard one: to develop empathy, I’m having them find evidence from the text to support Communism — something they’ve been trained all their lives not to do. It’s hard to see others’ points-of-view, but even though they’ve discovered so many negatives about the system, they jump right in to figure out why some people in China thought it was a beneficial change.
9:10 am – I’m late dismissing my students because I’m quickly explaining their homework to them. They’re to scan through the chapters so far and draw symbols representing characterization and character transformation in the text. We’ll use these next week. Finally, I tell the students to do their Exit Procedure (where they clean tables, push in chairs, and usually get their agendas checked). Today I skip checking agendas and dismiss them all, wary of keeping them much longer.
9:11 am – My next 7th grade class filters in as my first one leaves, and I turn on the Do Now music. I repeat the lesson, though each class feels remarkably different due to the varying discussions.
10:05 am – I rush to dismiss my second 7th grade. Even though the 6th graders have a 10-minute break before the next class starts, they are already filtering in my room with tons of questions: Can they start their Do Now? (No, it’s not even written up on the board yet!) Is snack in my room today? (Check the schedule!) Have I ever read this awesome book? (No, but it sounds neat!)
I play-gripe at them to go outside and enjoy their break, which is my only break too. Some of them leave, but some of them dawdle, thinking that “having a question for me” is a good excuse to stay. Sigh. Especially when their questions are about books or one of their hobbies — baking, gaming, etc. — I feel bad shutting them down. After all, isn’t one of my primary goals as a teacher to build them up as people? So I listen and try to respond while scanning over my lesson plan, writing the 6th grade Do Now and homework on the board, and running through the hallway to make a few more copies (yes, they follow.)
10:15 am – My first 6th grade class of the day is already seated when I rush back in with copies. They complain that their Do Now isn’t written up (what a change from 7th grade today!) and I explain that their Do Now will be verbal today because it’s complex. I have them line up around the room and grab a Writing Log and a manila folder to staple it into. I’m the staple person, since I’ve long since learned that they will jam the stapler 8 times over before we get through the line. I staple each student’s Writing Log into the folder and they go back to their seats to sort through their portfolios. We’re preparing for Portfolio Review tomorrow, where their parents will come in and see the amazing work they’ve done in all their classes so far this year. They log their first essay — a descriptive essay of their perfect world — into their new Writing Log, place all of their graded work into the portfolios, and put their portfolios back in the crate.
10:45 am – The rest of class is workshop time for them to work on their current project: turning a Greek myth of their choosing into a comic strip. The project refines smaller skills like making a presentation neat and attractive, using appropriate layout and spacing on a poster, and attention to detail. But the main goal is to reinforce their ability to pick out the main points of a plot, something we’ll work on all year long. They’re also careful to use the drawing skills they’ve learned so far in their art class.
Today most students are working on character sketches, 4 panels that will introduce main characters to the viewer. The panels include the character’s name, a drawing of the character, a description of their physicality and personality, and the role they play in the myth. During workshop, I confer with students incessantly for questions ranging from, “Is this good?” to, “I can only find 3 characters in my myth.” We troubleshoot and brainstorm together. At both the beginning and end of workshop, I do a Status of the Class check, where I call out their names and they give me a quick summary of where they are in their process (for instance, “I’m on character sketch 2 of 4.”) This allows me to assess their progress.
11:10 am – Time for 6th grade Service Learning, which I inevitably forgot we had today. No worries; it’s my fifth year teaching Service Learning and I know the fantastic curriculum by heart. 6th grade focuses on Animal Advocacy. Today we’re demonstrating a dog treat recipe for the students. They’ll bake batches of them at home (alone with their parents or in groups) and bring them in to package, price, and sell at our town’s Christmas festival. The money we raise will be donated to the Charlotte Humane Society and Cornelius Animal Shelter, two local animal shelters.
I grab the ingredients for the treats and explain our goals to the students. We head down to the campus kitchen together and crowd around the island. I thank God when I see Julie Reulbach, who’s also my fellow Service Learning teacher, has already laid out bowls and handed out recipes to the arriving students. I prepare the dog treats, tossing in a few cooking pointers here and there while my co-teacher throws herself into the role of fabulous cooking assistant: opening ingredients, shushing students, and washing dishes. We high-five afterwards for pulling everything together.
12:05 pm – My planning period! Another teacher asks for some advice dealing with a behavior issue, so we take care of that together. The student involved is tearful, having made an uncharacteristically poor decision, so I feel my role vacillate between disciplinarian and comforter. Teaching is an emotional experience.
I head back to my room to draft a few emails (a thank you to a parent volunteer, a question to another parent) and find a new message in my inbox about Grandfriend’s Day, when our students will bring their grandparents and friends to school to share their daily experience. It’s coming up quickly and I know I need to look at the guest list and prepare. Like so many emails throughout the week, this message gets filed under “to be dealt with” in my brain, since it requires actions I don’t have time to take at the moment. So often, as my colleague describes, my inbox becomes an “email graveyard.” I periodically clean it out, but currently it has 219 emails in it — some of which I’m sure I was supposed to have already responded to! I try my best.
12:35 pm – This is my only prep period, so I have to eat my lunch quick before it’s over! I pop my popcorn and eat it while vegging out to the tune of Facebook, CNN, and People.com.
12:55 pm – I’m usually still stuffing the last few pieces of popcorn into my mouth (or let’s be realistic, dropping them all over my lap) as my next 6th grade class walks in the door. I welcome this new class and grab my stapler to repeat my lesson plan for them.
1:50 pm – This is project work time. My 7th grade students are working on finishing up the last bits of their Japanese anime project — an interdisciplinary application project that combines social studies, language arts, science, visual arts, and music. I rush down to the art room to help the art teacher facilitate their stop-motion animation, which we’ll show at their “Japanese Film Fest” style Portfolio Review. I feel a little useless since I’m not particularly artistic, but I at least offer a few helpful pointers about the animation process to a couple of groups and retrieve some colored whiteboard markers for another.
2:45 pm – Now it’s time for advisory, where I meet with a small group of 7th grade girls and check up on their academic and social well-being each day. Today we’re continuing a discussion on body image. They’ve brought in magazines and they each choose an advertisement and brainstorm about how it might make “everyday girls” feel inadequate. We have a good time poking fun at the ideals being touted by each magazine.
3:15 pm – I dismiss my students and head to Cookie Capers, a weekly baking camp I hold with several lower school students. This week we’re baking Pumpkin Cake Cookies. It’s a chaotic hour and a half, but somehow everyone emerges unscathed and well-fed.
4:45 pm – I jump in the car and head home to Byrd, who — as one of my fellow teachers like to say — is probably dancing around with her legs crossed.
5:05 pm – Byrd gets some relief when I take her out to potty. I’m exhausted, but I eat a quick snack and check up on emails I missed during camp. I fill my turtle’s feeding tank and feed him.
6:00 pm – Honestly, at the beginning of the year I’d usually lie down for a nap at this point, but then I ended up pushing all of my work later into the evening. Lately I’ve been trying to get it all finished earlier. Now, for instance, I might quickly piece together tomorrow’s lesson plan by adapting plans from previous years to students’ current needs and level of progress. Then I might grade some 6th grade projects. Thankfully, these are quick to grade since they’re not papers, but résumés the students wrote to apply for a job as the next Greek god or goddess.
When I have papers to grade, it feels like my whole schedule grinds to a halt. There’s never enough time in prep periods to get many of them finished — I can finish 5 a schoolday if I’m absolutely in the zone — and my schedule at home is usually jam-packed unless I’m staying up too late (which I always am). I’m so lucky to have a small number of students (60), but still, paper grading is a heavy burden.
7:00 pm – I throw on my workout clothes and drive to the gym for a 7:30 exercise class. Tonight it’s Zumba. I’m not very energetic, but I get through the class and the few individual exercises I do afterward — back raises, stair climbs. My night would be so much easier if I didn’t work out, but after developing health problems this summer, I’m not willing to sacrifice it.
9:00 pm – I head to my local deli to eat dinner and continue working. I usually read the news while I eat (or, let’s be honest, watch this live feed of the kitten room of a no-kill shelter), but then as soon as my food is gone, I’ll work on photo editing, recipe development, blog post writing, Willow Bird Baking social media upkeep, and email responses. I’ll also work on any lesson planning I still have left to do.
10:00 pm – The deli closes and kicks me out, so I head home to continue work. I take mini-breaks to poke around on Facebook, CNN, or my RSS feed. I always plan to get to bed by 11 but usually end up realizing around that time that I still have to take Byrd out, do something about the dishes all over the counter, rewash my laundry which has soured after being forgotten, brush my teeth, take my medicine, and other miscellaneous tasks before being able to go to bed.
12:00 am – I get into bed, kicking myself for not going to sleep earlier. I constantly lambaste myself for not using my time wisely; I feel like I could have peeked at Facebook less, not taken a nap (if I did), been a little more firm when 5 students came up to ask me a question at once during my prep period, or graded a few more papers instead of taking an actual break for lunch. In fact, my defensiveness about my exercise above probably stems from feeling guilty about taking that 1.5 – 2 hours for my health, even though I know it’s something I need and that ultimately will reduce (theoretically) my days out of work due to illness.
Unfortunately, since I have two jobs (you’re looking at the second one!), my weekends are slammed as well. Friday night is spent putting the finishing touches on a recipe, grocery shopping, and baking. Saturday is spent exercising, baking, styling food, and photographing food. Church is a highlight, but it consumes Sunday morning. Sunday evening is when I lesson plan and update my class pages. This means the only time I can spend with Mike is Saturday night and Sunday lunch (which is spent with Mike’s family). That’s on the weekends when he drives to see me in Charlotte. When I pack up, stuff Byrd in the car, and make the three-hour trip to see him in Raleigh, you can imagine the schedule havoc that creates.
So what’s the point? Just a big whine? Actually, no. I know that having a crazy schedule is a minor complaint. I love teaching and I love my students. I feel like I have the most amazing job in the universe. And frankly, I love that I have any job and a roof over my head.
But I would like to have time to prepare meals, exercise without guilt, and get enough sleep. This isn’t unique to me — this is the story of teachers everywhere. It’s just important that we know what we’re asking of teachers when making policies (and heck, pondering the state of their salaries across the country) so we’re treating teachers like the professional management that they are.
. . .
If you have time in your day to squeeze in some baking, these cookies are a comforting choice. They combine the salty, savory pimiento cheese with bright, fresh strawberry jam. I know it sounds like a weird combination, but just imagine the tart jam on, say, a cheese straw, and you’ll have a good idea of the awesome flavor of these babies. They’re easy to whip up and so unique — perfect for a holiday cookie swap or cocktail party (do people actually throw cocktail parties? And a better question: why are they not inviting me? Oh, right, because I don’t have time…)
Recipe by: slightly adapted from Southern Living, originally from Pawley’s Island Specialty Foods
Yield: 2 dozen cookies
These cookies are so easy, creative, and delicious! They taste like a spicy, nutty cheese straw with tart, sweet jam slathered on top. They’re addictive and perfect for Christmas cookie swaps.
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup Southern pimiento cheese, processed fine (don’t skimp on the hot peppers)
1/2 cup pecans, finely chopped
1/4 cup butter, softened
2 tablespoons strawberry jam
2 tablespoons apple jelly
In a large bowl, mix together the flour and pimiento cheese to form a paste. Beat in the finely chopped pecans and butter. Wrap the resulting dough in plastic wrap, forming it into a disc, and chill it in the refrigerator for 2 hours.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F and prepare two baking sheets with parchment paper. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to about 1/8-inch thickness, checking often to be sure it’s not sticking. Use a 2-inch circle cookie cutter, cut out cookies and place them on the prepared baking sheet about 2 inches apart. Place 1 teaspoon full of jam (apple or strawberry) in the center of each cookie before placing another cookie cutout on top and pressing the edges to seal them. You can reroll the scraps once to get more cookie rounds.
Bake for 12 to 15 minutes or until golden brown and crisp. Let them cool on the baking sheets for 10 minutes before transferring them to a wire rack to cool completely. No, really, let them cool, or you will burn your mouth off on flaming jelly. Do not ask how I know this.
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