Thursday, December 31, 2015

"When Death Comes"

When Death Comes
Mary Oliver
When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse
to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;
when death comes
like the measle-pox
when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,
I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?
And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,
and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,
and each name a comfortable music in the mouth,
tending, as all music does, toward silence,
and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.
When it’s over, I want to say all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.
When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.
I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world

Monday, December 28, 2015

Dad's Final Hours from Afar

Yes, okay, it was true, father was 92 and he'd had a roll-over accident during a 4 wheeler ride in the desert with my eldest brother. Anyone else at that age and you'd expect consequences. Long drawn out painful consequences, but Dad was going to live forever. I was confident of this truth.

Hearing details from a distance is much different than being at someone's side. Deep down I knew this, but refused to acknowledge it. My brother sent daily emails--all in the positive, humorous style of the entire family. "Dad has 4 broken ribs and a small puncture in one lung", but here's a photo of him smiling, relaxing on his couch with happy hour lifted to the camera holder.

The undercurrent of the story was that the pain was great and the first hospital doctor insisted on tampering with his meds. Meds that had only recently been brought into a delicate balance to keep the fluid in his lungs at bay. Several days later, brother messaged us that Dad woke up in the morning struggling to breathe. He drove him to a different hospital this time. One that had been either recommended or where Dad had had a previous positive experience.

The first daily message and photo showed Dad hooked up to all possible and necessary machines to keep his oxygen levels up and to drain the fluid from his lungs. Soon the photos showed him walking carefully with assistance down the hallway. My eldest sister had joined brother by this time.

Then December 1 arrived and after work I sat in Karyn's hairstylist chair, keeping up a lively, heartfelt banter about our parents' health. I could feel the constant vibrations of what had to be a text discussion amongst my family members. The knowing/grown-up part of my brain that I'd been trying to tamp down was concerned, but I decided it could wait. Cell phones shouldn't be something we have to always pick-up. Real people should be the priority. Besides, what could I do at that moment that I couldn't do later?

Once I climbed into my car for the drive home, I pulled out my phone before turning the ignition key. My neatly piled heap of denial came tumbling down, as I read my eldest sister's words: Dad was ready and wanted to go. I raged and howled and weeped to no one, as I navigated the car through rush hour traffic. I blamed the desert. I blamed the doctor at the first hospital. I wished I could immediately materialize at his bedside.

Looking back at that moment, what I remember most was how Karyn had delivered a statement that seemingly foreshadowed the whole event, "When our parents are that age, they can handle one or two big medical events, but no more than that. Too much and it's more than their bodies can deal with." And (at that moment) I raged at Karyn the hairstylist.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Nail Wraps/Stickers

Update: Tried another brand-- Incoco. Similar to Sally Hansen, in that they're actual nail polish and must be used once opened, but during application they gave the impression of being more durable and fresh. I'll let you know.

I'm not sure how I stumbled upon the whole nail wrap thing. Most likely due to a search on Amazon or Google (with results that veer the searcher in a completely different direction than intended).

It's what we refer to as "progress" these days. Right?  ;-)

My first purchase was a set of nail wraps from Sally Hansen. They're durable, bright and easy to apply, but be aware--once you open the package the nail wraps must be used. Sally Hansen's product is (they say) nail polish rather than being closer to a sticker.

The second purchase was from Tattify. It's easy to get distracted while searching through Tattify's products. Fantasies of applying a temporary tattoo before attending a holiday gathering to shock family members were short lived (for me). Their nail wraps offer fewer directions, but a quick internet search will give you the confidence you need.

My overall impressions after several days of wearing both brands, is that they're fun, easy to apply and surprisingly--they protect your nails.
If you don't mind paying twice as much, want to attend a Tupperware-like party or want to design your own, you might want to check out what Jamberry has to offer.

Nail wraps:  Highly recommended for a fun diversion, stocking stuffer or an anytime gift.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Goodbye Papa

Raises fist
Rails against the desert

Drinks morning coffee
Plans meal of chicken fried steak
And anticipates happy hour more than she should

Damn it all to hell
You lovable old man

I'll miss your calm relaxed presence
Those smiles and hugs and silly jokes
~12-1-15

You left, yet your absence does not soak my pillow as I seek sleep and wait for your visit.

But your absence is redefining me
and my future
The definition of family

If mother was the home spun glue
That held us tightly together
You were the storyteller
who defined us
12-14-15

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Remembering Papa

It must have been during the "gas shortage" in 1973, when Dad decided to ride his motorcycle to work everyday. I can't remember where the flight suit came from. A relative with connections? It was the flight suit that ensured a warm ride in the cooler months. 

Around the same time, a manual treadmill appeared in Chuck & Jim's old bedroom in the basement. Dad would ride home for lunch and walk on the treadmill until it was time to eat. So true to his personality--setting goals, improving a personal situation. 

Which reminds me of the time he hypnotized a wart off his nose. I'll save that for another time.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Unless . . .

I heard the following quote on NPR, the day after America's latest school shooting. At first the statement pissed me off and then I realized how all of us try and put distance between our families and the last tragedy.

"It’s not if, it’s when."
Where?
Small town,
big city,
east,
west.
America needs to stop wringing its hands and pointing fingers. And stop pontificating:
“society has gone to hell”,
“the good guys need more guns”,
“identify the mentally ill”.
We have all played a part in creating the current atmosphere. And we all have the power to change it. And if lighting a fire under society with the truth of, “it’s not if, it’s when”, doesn’t move us, then I don’t know what will.
Sit down and begin writing to your congressman, form a local group, make your voices heard. And while you’re forming your own speech remember: The deaths occur in seconds, minutes. A hero with a gun is a fantasy.
Write now and write often.

http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-oregon-shooting-20151004-story.html

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Rumors

If my reaction to a Twitter comment today is any indication--rumors make me c-r-a-z-y. And from that lead-in, you might have already guessed that one of my main roles as a teen was being fodder for the rumor mill. In a small town with a small school, that makes you center stage entertainment. I had it on good authority that I was held up as an example of what not to do during many family dinner discussions.

There were the first rumors. They made me sad, angry, indignant, outraged. Then came the helplessness, depression and suicidal thoughts. And finally the "Oh what the hell! I'll give them something to talk about!" Does that make rumors like a self fulfilling prophecy? {laughs to self}

And yet, like so many life experiences, it's part of who I am--> someone who gets crazy over rumors.


The Uncalendar

You never know what you'll stumble across on the web.

In 1978 I purchased one of these "Uncalendars" and have often wished they were still available to buy as gifts. 

I finally remembered to contact the Mental Health Association of Oregon and spotted the link on their sidebar. Woohoo! 

Sadly, it's not in color nor is it 12x12", BUT still happy to have found it.

Thought you might enjoy it:

Got My Blood

"I got life, mother
I got laughs, sister
I got freedom, brother
. . . got my blood" 
~Hair

I'm not sure what age I was in this first memory of my parents donating blood. I remember Dad parked the family car in front of our small hometown's community hall. He and Mother probably gave my brother and I warnings about good behavior in their absence. And in they went--a mysterious event where children weren't allowed. My interest was piqued.

After that, I remember years of eavesdropping on Mom and Dad's post donation conversations: how many gallons they had donated, blood from their ear instead of their finger, who they met. All fascinating to this youngster, as well as believing it was something I would do later in life.

Years passed, I achieved adulthood and eventually I found myself with a husband, two children, living in Roseburg, Oregon, with a sweet neighbor and walking partner. During one of the daily walks with my neighbor, both of us discovered that we'd grown up thinking we'd become regular blood donators like our parents, but had never stumbled across an opportunity. We made a plan and began donating together.

More years passed, and our family landed in Salem, Oregon. One evening, I learned husband Norm had begun to donate blood regularly. I'll admit it, I was a bit giddy over the possibility of donating together. Repeating my parent's co-tradition was something I hadn't even imagined. I have no idea how many years we've been meeting up downtown after work for our "blood dates". I'd like to think we've inspired others to do the same. It's a tradition worth repeating.

P. S. I'd be remiss if I omitted the following, though it veers slightly from my story above: In 2001, I was taken to the hospital with a stomach bleed. I ended up losing a significant amount of blood and found myself on the receiving end of two pints of life. Coincidentally, I had been pondering what my tattoo would look like--something I had decided to do on my 50th birthday. After my event, I was inspired. And with my eldest daughter's help, my tattoo's design was created: "Donate Life", with a heart held in open hands. The most amazing part? The tattoo artist's father had been the recipient of a double organ transplant the year before.

From my Dad, in reply to my question as to how he and mother began donating blood:

That's kind of a tough question.

Kind of a patriotic thing to do,
help somebody and you don't care who.
Not much effort and mostly painless too.
You got cookies and juice when you were through.

It just got to be a habit after a year or two.
Mom was proud of her record and I was too.
I hadn't had a virus that ninety percent  do,,
so my blood was saved for babies that arrived Before they were due.
~KWJ August 2015

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Korean Grilled Shortribs

All summer I have kept my eyes open for flanken cut beef short-ribs at Winco. On Friday, there they were. I scooped them up into my cart for dinner and then Fran found the following marinade online.
This was the best version we've ever eaten--which is why I'm leaving the recipe here. I don't want to forget it. :)

Kai Bi (Galbi) - Korean Grilled Beef Short Ribs

Marinade:

1/2 cup natural brewed soy sauce
1 small onion
1 small Nashi (Asian) pear or semi sweet apple
6 cloves garlic
1 inch fresh ginger
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons brown sugar or 1/2 cup + 3 tablespoons honey
4 spring/green onion
2 teaspoons pure toasted sesame seed oil
1 tablespoon rice wine
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
water as needed

We put the marinade in a plastic bag with the ribs for an hour and then grilled them over charcoal.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Chicken Thighs Baked with Lemon, Sage, Rosemary & Thyme

It's either my cravings or the need to use a certain ingredient that cause me to search and find recipes like the following. But mainly my cravings.

This particular recipe made me realize I need to replace our mortar and pestle. The small bowl on the food processor is usually the tool of choice for this type of task, but it's not efficient when there aren't enough ingredients in the bowl. 

Also, I used boneless, skinless thighs to make this. Next time I'll use thighs with their bone, but remove the skin. I believe thighs have enough flavorful fat on their own.

Enjoy this keeper from Fine Cooking dot com:


In addition to the lemon and fresh herbs, the chicken thighs are flavored with an emulsified mash of garlic, salt, and olive oil, called allioli. I like to garnish each plate of chicken with a spoonful of romesco sauce.

2 large cloves garlic
Coarse salt or sea salt
3 to 4 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
12 chicken thighs, trimmed of fat, rinsed, and patted dry
2 large lemons, each cut into six 1/4-inch rounds
1 bunch fresh rosemary, snipped into twelve 2-inch pieces
1 bunch fresh thyme, snipped into twelve 2-inch pieces
12 sage leaves
Freshly ground black pepper

Using a mortar and pestle, mash the garlic with a large pinch of salt to create a coarse paste (or use a small mixing bowl and the back of a spoon, or mince the garlic very finely on a cutting board). Add the oil very slowly in drops while pounding and grinding the paste, continuing until the allioli is thick, creamy, and emulsified. Put the chicken in a bowl. Rub the allioli all over, including under the skin. Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours or overnight.

Heat the oven to 425°F and set an oven rack in the middle of the oven. Arrange the lemon slices in one layer in a large shallow roasting pan or baking dish (9x13x2 inches is good). Top each slice with a piece of rosemary and thyme and a sage leaf. Set the chicken thighs, skin side up, on top; sprinkle them generously with salt and pepper. Bake until the skin is golden and the juices are clear, 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Sometimes the lemons and chicken produce a lot of juices, in which case you can make a delicious pan sauce. Transfer the chicken (keeping the herbs and lemon slices underneath) to a plate and cover loosely with foil. Tilt the pan to pool the juices in one corner. Spoon off the fat that rises to the top. Set the pan over medium heat (if the pan isn't flameproof, pour the juices into a small skillet) and scrape up any stuck-on juices. Let the juices boil and reduce so they thicken to a saucy consistency. Drizzle the sauce around, not on, the chicken to maintain the crisp skin.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Collection of Tian Recipes

Over the last two summers, when zucchini and tomatoes are abundant, I've added tians to our list of favorite side dishes. This summer I decided to do another search to see what variations there are. What I learned:  Don't make several changes to a favorite recipe all at once--go slow. And, it's okay to be satisfied with a favorite.
A few tips for constructing a tian:
Our favorite at the Barefoot Contessa link below, uses potatoes, tomatoes & summer squash. When slicing those vegetables, it's important to keep 2 things in mind--number of servings and slicing equal numbers of each, since you alternate slices as you go. The fewer the number of servings you want the more you spread out the vegetables as you create the spiral and the opposite when you wish to serve more people.
Here's a link to our favorite: via The Barefoot Contessa.

Zucchini Tian With Curried Bread Crumbs
  MELISSA CLARK

INGREDIENTS
1 tablespoon curry powder
7 ½ tablespoons olive oil
1 ¼ cups whole-wheat or regular panko bread crumbs
2 teaspoons coarse kosher salt
1 large white onion, halved and thinly sliced
2 teaspoons finely chopped rosemary
1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
¼ cup dry white wine
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon orange zest
½ teaspoon black pepper, more to taste
4 medium zucchini (about 1 1/2 pounds), thinly sliced (about 7 cups)
 Nutritional Information
PREPARATION
Heat oven to 400 degrees. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat, then add curry powder and let toast until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil, then stir in panko bread crumbs and 1 teaspoon salt. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Transfer to a bowl and wipe out skillet.
In the same skillet, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over high heat, then add onions, rosemary and 1 teaspoon salt. Cook for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring often, until onions are a deep golden brown. Add tomatoes and cook for another 5 minutes. Pour white wine into pan and bring to a simmer, scraping up any brown bits. Remove from heat and stir in garlic, orange zest and black pepper.
Grease inside of a medium-size gratin dish with 1/2 tablespoon olive oil and spread a third of the onion and tomato mixture on the bottom. Begin layering zucchini in an overlapping pattern, beginning around the outside and working your way in. Sprinkle with a third of the bread crumbs. Repeat layering two more times, ending with bread crumbs. Drizzle 3 tablespoons olive oil over bread crumbs and bake for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, or until vegetables are extremely tender and top has browned.


VEGETABLE TIAN
by Erica
(beautiful photos)

Ingredients:

1 large zucchini
5-6 Roma tomatoes
6 small Yukon gold potatoes
2 cloves of garlic
1 tsp of fresh thyme
olive oil
salt
pepper
Directions:

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Finely slice the vegetables with a mandolin, about 1/16-inch thick.
Layer and alternate the vegetables in an oval or circular gratin dish.
Top with minced garlic and season with salt, pepper and thyme. Drizzle with olive oil.
Cover with foil and bake for 40-45 minutes until potatoes are soft.
Remove foil and bake for another 10-15 minutes.
Serve warm or at room temperature.


TOMATO–ZUCCHINI TIAN

 1 medium eggplant, peeled
 Salt
 2 medium onions, peeled and chopped
 3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1  ⁄2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
 Freshly ground black pepper
 2 medium zucchini, sliced diagonally
 6 ripe medium tomatoes, sliced
 3-4 sprigs fresh herbs, such as thyme, rosemary, basil or oregano
1  ⁄2 cup grated parmigiano-reggiano (optional)
Cut eggplant in 1" cubes, sprinkle with salt, and place in a
colander. Drain for 30 minutes, then pat dry. 1
Cook onions and garlic in 3 tbsp. of the olive oil in a medium
skillet over medium heat until slightly browned, about 10
minutes. Transfer to a medium baking dish. In the same
skillet, cook eggplant in 2–3 tbsp. of the olive oil until tender
and slightly browned, about 10 minutes. Season with salt and
pepper, and stir into onion mixture.
Preheat oven to 400°. Arrange zucchini and tomatoes in
layers over eggplant. Top with herbs, drizzle with remaining
oil, season with salt and pepper, and bake 30–40 minutes.
Sprinkle with cheese, if using, and serve.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Rewarding Dinner

N and I took a weekend off to spend time with my Dad & siblings, plus five additional days at Nehalem Bay State Park. We returned to an Oregon heat wave with (what seemed like) double chores to catch up on. Oi.

My treadmill (I'm happy to share it, but other family members aren't as interested) has been having issues over the past 4 months. First the main board burnt out. Thankfully it was covered by the warranty, even though Livestrong US has been bought out by Horizon. Then it became apparent that the board failure was due to friction issues with the walking belt.

Another walking belt was ordered and arrived during our absence. I was okay with waiting a little longer to get back to my exercise routine, but N dived right into the project. The six hour project. Made more difficult by the limited space to work in, a bolt that needed to be replaced and (of course) the heat. It wasn't as hot as the previous days, but hot enough to require N to pace himself.

I decided he deserved a special meal. One worthy of the effort put into the treadmill. I was so glad (even though I cooked without Fran's help) everything turned out well.

The recipe below came from theperfectpantry.com. One important note: I assumed the author meant 3 heads of garlic--cloves would turn to charcoal.

Mashed garlic sweet potatoes
From the pantry, you'll need: garlic, powdered ginger, ground coriander, butter, olive oil or canola oil.

Serves 4-6; can be doubled.

Ingredients
2 large sweet potatoes
3 heads garlic, skin on
1/4 tsp powdered ginger
1/4 tsp ground coriander
1/8 tsp kosher salt
1/8 tsp fresh black pepper
2-3 Tbsp heavy cream
1 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp olive oil or canola oil
10-12 tiny sage leaves (or 3-4 large ones, cut into pieces)

Directions
Preheat the oven to 425°F.

Prick the sweet potatoes with a fork in a few places, and place on a rimmed baking sheet along with the whole garlic cloves. Bake for 1 hour. Remove from the oven and set aside until the potatoes are just cool enough to handle. Peel the potatoes and garlic, and add them to a mixing bowl.

Mash the potatoes together with the ginger, coriander, salt, pepper, cream and butter, until the potatoes are as smooth as you like them (I like them a little bit chunky).

Transfer the potatoes to a serving bowl; cover the bowl with plastic wrap, pressing the plastic directly on the surface of the potatoes, and set aside.

In a small frying pan, heat the olive (or canola) oil. When the oil is hot, fry the sage leaves until they are crisp but still green, 15-20 seconds. Remove from the pan and garnish the sweet potatoes.

Serve hot.

This next recipe comes from thekitchn.com. I only made a slight change--I didn't flip the cabbage wedges.

Roasted Cabbage with Bacon

Serves 4 to 6
1 head green or Savoy cabbage, outer leaves removed
Olive oil
Coarse kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 slices thick bacon, 6 to 8 ounces

Heat the oven to 450°F. Cut the cabbage into quarters and slice the bottom of each quarter at an angle to partially remove the stem core. Cut each quarter in half again so you have eight wedges. Lay these down on a large roasting pan or baking sheet and drizzle very lightly with olive oil. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper.

Cut each slice of bacon into small strips and lay on top of the cabbage.

Roast for 30 minutes, flipping the cabbage wedges once halfway through. If the edges aren't browned enough for your taste after 30 minutes, put them back in for five-minute increments until they are.

Serve immediately; the wedges cool down fast.

Recipe Notes
Roasting Rack: Some cooks prefer to roast the cabbage on a rack, which helps the edges crisp up and brown more. But when you roast it flat in a pan more of the bacon and its drippings stay with the cabbage, which I prefer.
Types of Cabbage: You can use any sort of cabbage with this recipe. I've never used red cabbage but I am sure it would work beautifully. I also like roasting Savoy cabbage; it tends to give you smaller, more manageable wedges.

*The final item on the menu was less a recipe than something I've learned from Fran:
brined chicken breasts:
I added 1/4 c of kosher salt, approximately 1/4 tsp of each of the following--ground pepper, garlic, cumin seed and ground ginger to warmish water. Stir to dissolve. Add chicken breasts and brine--two hours is the optimal amount of time. Though a quick brine 15 minute brine does improve the flavor of the meat.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Repurposing

Here are a couple of our favorite 2015 re-purposed life helpers:

We heard about the first one via a relative. I have to admit, I don't always drink bottled wine. Sometimes I buy Bota Box. You know that awesome bladder in the box? The one that keeps (most) air from ruining the quality of the wine? If you take the time to thoroughly rinse the bladder, fill it with water and put it in the freezer, you'll always have an ice pack ready for a get away OR ice in the freezer in case the power goes out. An ice pack that won't leak, that can be laid flat, between items or up against the side of a cooler AND you won't feel guilty if you toss it out.


The second one happened after N and I were brainstorming over what to do for a dog tie-out when we're camping. We were frustrated over how the spiral tie-out stakes don't always perform as they should--due to the ground being too hard or too soft. When we tie the dogs up to the picnic table, they usually wind themselves into difficult to unwind situations.
Keep in mind, our two dogs are both under 20 lbs. After just one camping trip, I'm ready to give it a high five. We take an empty Kirkland laundry detergent bottle (170 fluid ounces), fill with water (once we arrive at our camping spot) and use the handle to loop the pup's cables through. The bottle is completely portable, if we discover the current location isn't working well or if we decide to move our lawn chairs.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Coastal Tree Portal

It was tough, but I had to bring the truck and trailer home from the coast by myself. I hoped that the portal Norm and the dogs crossed into transported them safely back to Salem.

I'm still sitting here at home waiting. I just know they'll show up.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

KQED: "Does Common Core Ask Too Much of Kindergarten Readers?"

Looking forward to when the U.S. swings back to developmentally appropriate practices. 
~K

Does Common Core Ask Too Much of Kindergarten Readers?

Katrina Schwartz

Sandwiched between preschool and first grade, kindergartners often start school at very different stages of development depending on their exposure to preschool, home environments and biology. For states adopting Common Core, the standards apply to kindergarten, laying out what students should be able to do by the end of the grade.* Kindergartners are expected to know basic phonics and word recognition as well as read beginner texts, skills some childhood development experts argue are developmentally inappropriate.

“There’s a wide age range for learning to read,” said Nancy Carlsson-Paige on KQED’s Forum program. Carlsson-Paige is professor emerita of education at Lesley University and co-author of the study “Reading Instruction in Kindergarten: Little to Gain and Much to Lose,” which criticizes the Common Core standards for kindergarten.

“If we make students feel pressure so that they shut down, then that light bulb is not going to be as likely to come on and they aren’t going to develop the confidence that they need to become successful readers later.”
“Most five-year-old children are not really ready to learn to read,” Carlsson-Paige said. “There are many experiences in the classroom that are beneficial for building the foundation for learning to read that will come later.” She favors a play-based classroom that gives students hands-on experiences, helping them to develop the symbolic thinking necessary to later recognize letters and numbers.

“Research shows on a national scale there’s less play and experiential based curriculum happening over all, and much more didactic instruction, even though we have research that shows long term there are greater gains from play-based programs than academically focused ones,” Carlsson-Paige said.

While Common Core aligned assessments don’t kick in until third grade, many teachers feel pressure to make sure kids are meeting the specified standards before they move on to first grade. That pressure can mean more focus on academics, at the sacrifice of play time.

Kindergarten teachers try to interpret the standards and translate them into developmentally appropriate activities. But they struggle when kids still don’t meet Developmental Reading Assessment benchmarks. “Teachers start to question themselves and waiver even though they believe in doing what’s developmentally appropriate,” said Colleen Rau, a reading intervention specialist at Aspire Berkley Maynard Academy. “So I think we really need to think about taking the pressure away and looking at student growth.”

Rau says under Common Core she’s seen positive shifts at her school towards more thematic units and more hands-on learning, but she agrees with Carlsson-Paige that pushing young children into skills they aren’t developmentally ready for can have poor results. Students can develop coping mechanisms that don’t serve them well later when they are confronted with more advanced texts.

“The lightbulb goes on for students at different times,” Rau said, “But if we make students feel pressure so that they shut down, then that light bulb is not going to be as likely to come on and they aren’t going to develop the confidence that they need to become successful readers later.”

There are plenty of children who do learn to read in kindergarten or even before, so for many parents the argument that young children aren’t developmentally ready to read rings false. But not all learners are the same, and what’s true for one child won’t necessarily be true for the child sitting next to her. Young children learn differently from older children, adolescents and adults, Carlsson-Paige said. Early childhood educators have documented the progression of increasingly complex symbolic thinking that leads to understanding letters make sounds and sounds make words.

“If you present children with information that’s too disparate from what they know then they give up or feel confused, or cry, or get turned off,” Carlsson-Paige said. “Part of the art of teaching is to understand where a child is in developing concepts and then be able to present information in ways that are new and interesting, but will cause a little bit of struggle on the part of the child to try to understand them.”

AN IMPLEMENTATION PROBLEM

Advocates for the kindergarten Common Core standards agree that kindergarteners should not be sitting still all day doing reading drills. But they are clear that the standards in no way require that sort of teaching and were written with help and input from early childhood educators around the country. They are meant to offer challenging opportunities to advanced learners while supporting learners who may be coming into kindergarten with very little literacy exposure.

“What we set out in the Common Core are those skills and concepts that will help students learn to read in first and second grade,” said Susan Pimentel, lead writer of the English Language Arts Common Core standards. She says early childhood educators were adamant that the language “with prompting and support” be used throughout the kindergarten standards in recognition that young learners will be new to school and won’t be left to answer dozens of questions on their own.

“So much of the concern is about the implementation,” Pimentel said. And while she agrees that educators need to be vigilant about pointing out poor implementation and working to fix it, the problem is not new. Education standards have always been implemented in a variety of ways. “What we’re talking about is teachers who have maybe not been trained and some attention on that would be important,” she said.

Other advocates of the Common Core standards see them as an important step towards education equity. “The strongest argument in favor of reading by the end of kindergarten and Common Core’s vision for early literacy is simply to ensure that children—especially the disadvantaged among them—don’t get sucked into the vortex of academic distress associated with early reading failure,” writes Robert Pondiscio, senior fellow at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

Many children start kindergarten able to identify short words or aware of the difference between lowercase and uppercase letters, two of the kindergarten standards. Pondiscio and others believe it is completely appropriate to begin introducing these ideas in kindergarten, albeit in fun play-based ways.

“If teachers are turning their kindergarten classrooms into joyless grinding mills and claiming they are forced to do so under Common Core (as the report’s authors allege), something has clearly gone wrong,” Pondiscio writes. “Common Core demands no such thing, and research as well as good sense supports exposing children to early reading concepts through games and songs.”

Another literacy researcher says the critique that the standards are developmentally inappropriate may be a misinterpretation of what the standards require. For example, one standard says children should be able to read emergent texts with purpose and understanding.

“The emergent-reader text is first modeled by the teacher for the students, then joyfully read over and over with the students until eventually the easy book is independently read by the students with great joy and confidence,” writes J. Richard Gentry, author of “Raising Confident Readers: How to Teach Your Child to Read and Write — From Baby to Age 7,” and a former professor and elementary school teacher. Gentry says this process emulates “lap reading” which some children get with their parents at home and which helps students gain confidence in their reading.

All of these educators agree that it can be difficult to teach the kindergarten standards in developmentally appropriate ways when teachers are worried about how kids will do on standardized tests. While Carlsson-Paige and others believe the standards are inappropriate and should be thrown out, Pondiscio, Gentry and Pimentel are among those who believe the standards are important to make sure reading gaps don’t start young. They favor the idea that implementation is the real problem and that more energy should be put into helping early childhood educators interpret the standards and integrate them into class in fun, approachable and developmentally appropriate ways.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Teacher Retirements: Good or Bad?

Over 26 years of working as an instructional assistant, I've watched teachers retire in waves. Retirements never cease, but there are particular moments in the U.S.'s education history when retirements peak.

One of my first memories of witnessing a peak was when the school I was in changed to "blended classrooms". Blended classrooms were a big trend at that time. We were told about all of the educational benefits, but (I believe) the real reason was to level out the student numbers. Very helpful, when you have grades with big discrepancies in enrollment. Sadly, not all students are independent learners--an enormous advantage if you're a student in a blended classroom. Plus, it requires most teachers to scrap their foundational curriculum and teaching methods.

Can you imagine? Starting over whenever those in charge want to try something new? Change is good, but excellent support during those changes would leave fewer folks wanting to jump ship. And jump ship is what teachers do, when they feel the extra emotional cost and number of donated evenings and weekends is more than they can handle. So they walk out the door to begin the next stage of their lives, taking all their accumulated experience and knowledge with them.

We tell ourselves these retired teachers will be a community resource: coming back to substitute or volunteering where their experience and desires lead them. But once gone, they're cut off from the flow of new ideas. And the rest of us have lost our resource: an experienced insight into the so called new ideas that come around every few years. The retirees lose their status in the education community, as well.

What spurred me to write this post? One of our school's most charismatic, vibrant, resources is leaving at the end of this school year. My belief is that this teacher is still young (by today's standards) with much left to share.
But that's just my opinion.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Cottage Cheese Pancakes

A popular local eatery, Word of Mouth, is constantly finding new ways to tempt customers in for breakfast. When I read their morning special that featured, cottage cheese pancakes, I was curious enough to look for a recipe to try at home.

Smitten Kitchen, one of the sites I trust as a recipe source, uses an adapted version of the Joy of Cooking recipe. Warning: they're pretty danged tasty. Another reason to keep cottage cheese in the fridge.
The following is Smitten Kitchen's recipe. I didn't make a single change.

Cottage Cheese Pancakes
Adapted from The Joy of Cooking

I am not sure if my last, overly-confident post about how to get pancakes right every single time came back and bit me in the, uh, griddle, but I seemed to have one mishap after another–burning, sticking, dark but raw in the middle–before I begrudgingly switched to a nonstick. Perhaps you’ll have better luck than I did with the pan of your choice, but if you have a nonstick, well, it might be worth it to just use that first.

1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon or pinch of ground nutmeg (optional)
1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup milk
1 cup full-fat or low-fat cottage cheese
3 tablespoons butter, melted
2 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla

1/3 cups finely chopped walnuts (optional)
1/3 cup dried currants, plumped (optional)

2 large egg whites

Pure maple syrup or honey, or plain yogurt (optional, for serving)

Lightly butter, oil, or spray your griddle–nonstick works best with these, if you have them–if needed, and preheat it over medium heat. If you are using an electric griddle, preheat it to 350 degrees F. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees F if you do not plan to serve the pancakes hot off the griddle.

Whisk flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon or nutmeg and salt together in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together the milk, cottage cheese, butter, egg yolks and vanilla.

Pour the wet ingredients over the dry ingredients and gently whisk them together, mixing just until combined. Stir in the walnuts and/or currants, if using them.

Beat the two egg whites until they are stiff but not dry and fold them into the batter.

The batter will be thick and bubbly – similar to cake batter. Spoon 1/3 cup batter onto the griddle for each pancake, nudging the batter into rounds. These are thick and might take a little longer to cook than most other pancakes. Cook until the top of each pancake is starting to dry around the edges – you will get a few bubbles here and there – then turn and cook until the underside is lightly browned. These will keep in a 200 degrees F oven while you finish making the rest, but they are best served immediately, when they are at their lightest and puffiest.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Curried Chicken and Cauliflower Stir-fry

Several months ago, Fran found, the "Curried Chicken and Cauliflower Stir-fry" recipe on The Washington Post website. Ever since then, it's become a regular dinner item at our house. Though, every time we make it, the recipe changes slightly. It's how we roll--adding a few more spices, like coriander, cumin or whatever comes to mind.

Fran has taught me to pre-cook and then slice the chicken breasts, while roasting the cut cauliflower in the oven, prior to adding all the ingredients into the pan. So, I have to admit, our recipe is not a stir-fry.

When I cooked last night's version, I roasted a chopped onion and delicata squash, as well as the cauliflower. In my opinion, roasting the vegetables brings out a sweet, nutty flavor. And, oh boy, was I pleased with the addition of the roasted delicata squash! It added another flavor dimension to an already tasty dish.

Try it our way or try it the original way, but definitely try it . . . over a bed of basmati rice. Enjoy!

************************************
(here's the orignal recipe)
"Curried Chicken and Cauliflower Stir-fry"

SERVINGS: 4

INGREDIENTS

2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, cut into thin strips, about 1 1/2 inches long and 1/4 inch thick
1 bunch scallions, white and light-green parts, cut crosswise into thin slices (1 cup)
3 medium cloves garlic, finely chopped
2-inch piece peeled ginger root, finely minced or grated (1 tablespoon)
1 tablespoon double-concentrated tomato paste or 2 tablespoons regular tomato paste
2 teaspoons mild curry powder, or more to taste
Salt
1 cup low-sodium or homemade chicken broth
1/2 head (1 pound) cauliflower, stemmed and cut into bite-size pieces (no more than 3/4 inch)
Water
Leaves from about 1/3 bunch cilantro, chopped (3 tablespoons)
DIRECTIONS

Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a wok or large, shallow skillet over medium-high heat until the oil shimmers.

Add half of the chicken; stir-fry for 2 to 3 minutes, until the chicken loses its raw look. Transfer to a clean plate; repeat with the remaining chicken and transfer it to the plate.

With the wok or skillet still over medium-high heat, add the scallions; cook for 30 seconds, stirring. If the pan is dry, add oil as needed. Add the garlic and ginger; cook for 30 seconds, stirring. Add the tomato paste, curry powder and salt to taste; cook for 30 seconds, stirring.

Pour in the broth; stir to thoroughly to coat the ingredients, then add the cauliflower pieces and cover, adjusting the heat to medium or medium-low so the liquid maintains a low boil. Cook for 8 to 10 minutes, until the cauliflower pieces are tender.

Return the chicken to the wok or skillet; stir to coat with the sauce. If the sauce seems too thick, add water as needed. Cover and cook for 3 to 4 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through.

Remove from the heat. Stir in the cilantro. Serve immediately.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Focusing on Kindness

http://www.zazzle.com/jarlakansen
Love my new tee!

When I was searching for yet more children's books focused on the topic of kindness, I came across several catchy kindness messages, but the one on my tee was my favorite.

As I read about other folks wearing their tees to "pass it on", I realized that the message isn't for others as much as it is for the person wearing it. A reminder during their day to look up, see that person next to them and try and understand them for a moment.

Opening your heart for even the briefest moment is an opportunity and a chance to think about something else for awhile.

Pass it on.


Saturday, February 28, 2015

My Science Roots and a Freebie

{Update: I've created a simple book complete with "illustrations" and resource list for anyone wanting to start their own primary or kindergarten weekly science program in their classroom. Totally free--unlike so many things on the web for teachers these days. Simply click and print the pages you want.}

I'd have to do more digging, but I believe it was in 1995 when I began to do weekly, science mini-lessons with the kindergartners. It was a challenge presented to me by my principal (Cathy Mink) and teacher (Tracey Martin).
"What's something you could do to enrich the kindergartners' experience and provide personal growth for yourself?" Or something similar to that.

What happened first--the purchase of the pictured children's science books or the idea? Who knows. What I do know for sure, is that I've accumulated and refined my library of science books and supplies in the last 17 years.

A few of the other kindergarten aides (who have come and gone over the years) were interested in hopping on the "science wagon" with their students and others weren't, but those I've collaborated with have helped me with the fine tuning. Particularly the aide, Kim, I partner with now.

Our focus is on activities that can be prepped ahead of time, completed in 30 minutes, and are appropriate for 5-6 year olds. We try to coordinate with what's being taught in the classroom or the seasons. Our teachers appreciate us taking this on, so they don't dictate what we do each week. Though, including science journals at the end of all activities (unless we watch a video) began at the request of a KG teacher 15 or so years back.

My current teacher has been talking about retiring, which has caused me to reflect and remember that the teacher who takes over next may not even be interested. And that's okay. It's been fun and educational. How else would I ever have learned about cow magnets? :>)

Saturday, January 3, 2015

First Hike with Fran of 2015

Fran watched me begin to leisurely fritter away another day and then asked,

"Want to go exploring and seeking adventure with me?"

"What did you have in mind?"

After a few more minutes of back and forth, to determine exactly what she had in mind, I suited up for a cold weather hike up Mary's Peak. We were parked, paid and ready to hit the trail by 12:12 pm. Early starters we are not.

This past summer, Fran and I hiked in the McDonald-Dunn Forest. Near the top we encountered a trail closure due to logging and ended up taking a wrong turn or three. We walked down a steep loose gravel road, through a rural area and then a highway--eleven miles total. That experience has caused me to approach Fran's adventures with a bit more caution. I like the exercise and the outdoors, but I have to be mindful of my hip. I paid for that day.

Friday, my first concern occurred when the road up to the lower level parking lot had snow and ice on the shady curves. Thankfully the lot itself was mostly bare with the area directly surrounding it sporting 3-4 inches of older snow. We set off. The snow and ice was only on half of the 3+ mile trail, but slick enough (and at times treacherous) that our eyes were focused on the path instead of the trees. I only biffed once, when I stepped in powder, on the downhill side of the path, to avoid ice . I quickly landed on the ground, when my foot slid out from under me. Lesson learned: not all snow has earth beneath it.

When we were only a switchback away from the upper parking lot, the sound of children's laughter rang down the hillside to our ears. The trail opened up to lovely low winter sunshine hitting the snowy hillside. College age snowboarders were laughing and unloading their rig, children were sledding down the slope with two young pups romping along side of them. We sat at a picnic table
for a snack and water before heading back down to the car.

The hike down took half the time as the hike up. (There must be a formula, to determine the age of the walker, using that data.) We hit the lower parking lot, where a young mother began to ask us questions about the trail: was it worth it? was it beautiful? would her 10 year old daughter be able to handle it? Fran and I only answered the questions she asked, but I couldn't help wondering if we should counsel them on starting a 3 mile trail at 3pm in the month of January and not taking water with them. Neither of us gave unasked for advice, yet I'm still wondering whether we did the right thing.