Thursday, December 31, 2009

Pumpkin Crumble Cake

Cooking lots and lots of delicious food is a new passion of mine. My best mate is a super complimentary, honest, and always grateful consumer of my cooking efforts, which continues to fuel this new passion like oil on fire.

I considered starting a new blog or wiki with recipes, but this one will do just fine. If you try out a recipe and would like to leave feedback or suggestions, PLEASE comment.

I've been craving a new pumpkin dessert for a couple weeks. The original recipe for this delicious dessert was from my mom's recipe collection and was called Pumpkin Squares. I renamed the yummy dessert, added a little flour to the topping, but kept everything else in the recipe exactly the same.

Pumpkin Crumble Cake

1 pkg. yellow cake mix (less 1 cup to use later)
½ cup butter, melted
1 egg

Mix together and press in a 9 X 13 inch cake pan. It will be like a cake batter.

1 large can pumpkin
2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
¾ cup brown sugar
3 eggs
1 can evaporated milk

Mix with an egg beater and pour over the bottom layer.


1 cup reserved cake mix
½ cup butter, softened
1 cup flour
1 tsp. cinnamon

Blend topping with fork as in a pie crust. Sprinkle on top. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour. Serve with whipped cream.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

late night trains

thunderous screeching
blue sparks
oil and grit
exhaled crushing

weeds blown wide in the dust
blurred landscapes
parallel rails
constantly coupling
never touching
warehouses and dreams slip by

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Communication, Cooperation, and Choices

My good friend Mike Harman has been coming into my class every Wednesday morning for 45 minutes and teaching my students lessons on "Communication, Cooperation, and Choices."

I've always wanted to see the teaching model where students are given rather difficult tasks they can work on together and then led through some guided reflection on what happened. Mike's doing it masterfully and it really does build the community in the class.

I particularly like how he identified those three C's as the main topics that we learn about each week. This past Wednesday the students were divided into groups of five. Each group had to stand on one side of a 3 by 6 foot piece of butcher paper (their magic carpets). The challenge was to get across the gym floor without anyone getting off the paper and without ripping it. Great challenge, great set-up, and great discussion after they all finished.

Even though I have the books that Mike gets these lessons from, and even though I've always thought it would be cool to try out, I'm going to have enough confidence and ideas to really do it with my class next year, if Mike isn't able to come back.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Telling True Stories

When I relinquished custody of my three daughters last May, my mom tried to help ease the pain of that by telling this story: I was a great mom to my three adopted daughters for the four years I was living with them. I helped them learn American culture and loved them well for those four years. But now, because I was giving up physical custody, the story went, I could just be their great friend, like a super supportive aunt. I could be someone off on the side, who still loves them, but can't really be their mom anymore. Well. There was some comfort in that story. And maybe believing that story some is how I managed to not collapse when I actually moved out, it was how I survived the summer.

But it's not true. At all. Being someone's mom doesn't just change into being a nice person on the side. My feelings for them and their feelings for me, at the base of everything, are still all about mother-child love bonds. And telling a more true story, while super painful, is what all four of us need. We love each other fiercely and need those true and loving feelings to be welcomed back into our bruised hearts. There is real, and sometimes overwhelming pain in acknowledging that I'm separated from the beautiful people who are still my children. It aches the most when I come home to my empty apartment after dropping them off at their empty house. But there's also this joyful truth: they are still my children and I am still their mom. A different way of being a mom? Sure. Sure. But people get divorced all the time, and we just figure out how to still be the best parents we can for our children who deserve no less.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Hour I First Believed

Dear Wally,

On April 14 2008, in the afterword of your latest novel you wrote, "Having affixed its last period to its final sentence, I now release it to my readers and invite them to find in it whatever they want or need to find."

Thank you for this story.  I'm glad I found it.  I have always been a very voracious reader, but for the past ten months I haven't been able to sit still enough to read much.  Stress and sadness and fear and adrenaline made my mind too jittery.  But Caelum Quirk, that flawed and fabulous character, reeled me into his life and held me there for 700 pages.  

"Books teach us how to live our lives."  Indeed.  That's a quote from a conference I once attended for teachers who believe in books.  And so what have I learned from this story?  To look for and to honor the dignity in each student, in each human.  To trust that the view from above makes this messy labyrinth less ugly and more holy.   To remember that hope and love are not only stronger and more powerful than hate and fear, they also require far more courage.  

A story this good was exactly the medicine I needed to restore my reading habit.  Thank you.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Bird, Lake, Moon by Kevin Henkes

Twelve-year-old Mitch was recently informed by his parents that they are getting divorced. Spencer is visiting the lake for the first time with his family since his brother drowned there when Spencer was two. Both boys have complicated internal struggles and their friendship develops slowly.

The pace of the book is slow compared to lots of my students' favorite series, but there is lots of mystery and tension and the two main characters work through problems that I'm sure are overwhelming and scary and huge to children.

Of course the timing for me reading this book was rather serendipitous. From my current perspective I appreciated how the story dealt with the very real and legitimate issues that these boys face, and although many of these issues are related to the adults in their lives, the adults' problems are not the focus but are also not over simplified. The parents aren't portrayed as anything but real humans with complicated lives of their own. Yeh, I guess I'm oversensitive to these issues, but still appreciated the care Henkes took with his story and characters. Yes, divorce is really hard on kids, but they can get through those initial weeks and months and be okay.

What I predict kids will like: real kids dealing with very real problems.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Stargirl, by Jerry Spinelli

Lou, the sixteen-year-old narrator of this book is a typical teen boy. He's a bit shy and introverted but gets along okay socially. The entire student body of Mica High School is turned upside down when a new student who has named herself Stargirl shows up on the first day of school. This odd, formerly home-schooled girl plays the ukulele, wears long pioneer dresses, and she seems to not care a single whit what other people think of her or of her whacky style and personality.

Lou is smitten and the two gradually develop a romantic relationship. The rest of the students at Mica start out bewildered of Stargirl, they soon develop a fair weather form of admiration and raise her up to super-star popularity. But quite suddenly the rest of the students turn on her for some of the same qualities they so admired, her non-comformity and passionate compassion.

Lou's dilema in all of this is captured by a single question: "Whose affection do you value more, hers or others?" This isn't an easy struggle for Lou. He isn't as able ignore the cold stares of his classmates and he begs Stargirl to change, to become more normal.

There were several things I liked about this book. High school group dyanamics were represented very realistically and all those new and dizzying feelings of first love were also captured through Lou's descriptions and narration. My only criticism was that Stargirl's character was a bit over-the-top. Overdone. But for middle schoolers working through identity issues, I'm sure she is a perfect hero.