Friday, December 31, 2010

Cheers --to a New Year!

While I often talk about my adventures with food and cooking, and include pictures, I don't often ever include recipes, But I've texted this recipe and recited this recipe, and I have a couple more requests for the recipe, so I thought I'd share it. Jill and Amy have made it now and others have sampled, and thus far it has only gotten rave reviews. If you make it I hope you will like it too.

Cranberry Vodka Liqueur:

Heat one 12 oz. package of fresh cranberries with 1 cup sugar and 2 or 3 tbs water.

Mix sugar and cranberries over medium heat

sugar will start to melt
Eventually a syrup will form and the cranberries will begin to pop. This should take about 10 minutes.

if you look closely, you'll see some cranberries are popping
 3. At this point, remove from heat so that most of the cranberries remain in tact. Cool slightly and pour into large jar. Add 750 ml vodka. If you don't have a large jar, as I didn't, divide the cranberries and syrup among two jars and top each with 375 ml vodka. (The third time I made some, I actually added 400 ml to each jar and it was equally good.)

Let sit for 2 days
4. Let sit for two days. Share in decorative bottles, or keep it to yourself! Drink as a martini--I suggest straining and shaking over ice and then adding a few cranberries for garnish--or on the rocks. Or pick a mixer. (Jill and I came up with a list of mixers that would work for cranberry cocktails; seltzer, a splash of OJ, a splash of grapefruit, a little ginger ale were among them.) Whatever you choose, I hope that you do so and enjoy in good health!

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Meat and Potatoes

This year I’ve faced some culinary fears—carving a whole roasted chicken and making mashed potatoes among my little victories—but I still seem mostly to stay away from mom-type meals. Somewhere along my development as a cook, it appears I decided I wouldn't try to replicate my mom's dishes and instead learned to cook the kind of meals she didn’t serve. I supplemented my mother’s cooking with my own: Polish food there, other ethnic foods here. You won’t find me making homemade sauerkraut, and you won’t find my mom making cold sesame noodles. I’m more apt to make a single piece of fish or a pasta dish or a stir fry, or soups and chili that I can divvy up or freeze easily, leaving meat and potatoes to my mom. Making a roast for myself seems silly. Especially since my mother is a pro at it.

But I like to entertain…and how long, really, can you be a foodie and claim to be a good cook before you pony up and tackle a roast? Without the assistance of a Crockpot.

pork and potatoes
 I took baby steps. Early last month I made a pork tenderloin, which is not a roast, I know, but I served it with mashed potatoes and gravy, which I made starting with mushrooms I sautéed in the pan I had seared the pork. Lo and behold, my plate looked like Meat and Potatoes. And, according to Amy, with whom I shared some for lunch the next day, it was restaurant-worthy. The pork was cooked perfectly, the mashed potatoes were the right texture, and the gravy had good flavor and consistency.

So potatoes and gravy I could do. No fear there. But what about that roast? A real beef roast? ( Roast beef?) My wheels were turning. I saw Giada braise, and Ina braise. I went on and looked up recipes. I knew what I wanted to do. And then the stars aligned.

My sister Mary gave me a porcelain cast iron Dutch oven for Christmas that I had to try, ShopRite had a sale on roasts, and we had a blizzard. So while I was snowed in I made this braised roast. And I was so pleased with the melt-in-your-mouth results, I invited my parents for dinner the next day to share it with them.

I do believe I’ve graduated.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

It's Snowing...Finally!

Well, yes, snowflakes have fallen prior to today's blizzard, but we haven't had any snow cover or appreciable snow fall until today. Finally, a good and proper New England snow fall! And we're pulling out the stops. No run-of-the-mill Nor'easter today; we're having a full blown blizzard. No pun intended.

Even though I'm on vacation—thereby proving it's not always only about having a snow day—I’m happy for this storm, happy to be snowed in with the leeks and potatoes and broth and onions and chuck roast that I picked up on my way home from my parents’ house this afternoon. Christmas shopping and shipping and near-death experiences in parking lots and wrapping and gift-giving and family celebrations are over, and now it’s just me in my clean house with pretty decorations and my new Dutch oven and Netflix and dozens of spa socks and nowhere to go, and no feasible way of getting there if I did.

Isn't that just dreamy?

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Cyber Shopping

One minute I’m delighted that I’ve been able to do so much Christmas shopping on line. For several days, in fact, I was so happy with what I accomplished on line. I could compare prices and items without driving all over the place and waiting in long lines. Most shipping has been free and most items I’ve had coupon codes for. Yay, me! Yay, cyber shopping!

And then along comes my first delivery nightmare: two packages that get delivered to the wrong address, to people who live at number 70, not number 90. That is, my packages got delivered to strangers who live down the street from my parents, and not to my parents’ house, where they should have been delivered.

So out comes the nuclear reactor in me, the alarmist, the woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown [insert F bombs, tears, ineffective deep breaths, more F bombs, and pacing in the kitchen on the corded phone] while on hold with “Big Brown” and my poor mother bears witness to this monster to whom she gave birth ages hence, who can’t imagine that things would work out in the end.


The Doomsday scenario played out in my head—Dad and Amy without their gifts on Christmas: some stranger down the street all cozy in a fleur de lis sweatshirt while filling my father’s leather photo album—when just a couple of hours later, in the same day, the nice ladies would call my parents back and my mom would take a walk down the street to get the packages.

Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Making Snowflakes

Last night I got it in my head to make snowflakes. Paper ones, of course. I wondered, as I folded a piece of paper, how long it had been since I cut out a paper snowflake. Given the results of my first go-around with a piece of white paper and scissors, it had been longer than I thought.

So I tried again.

And again.

And this morning I went on line to look for help. Yeah, I know that’s cheating, but I needed some help. I was anxious to graduate from first grader snowflakes to sixth grade quality in a day or two because I have a present I would like to embellish with them. And at least I didn't download patterns.

I think I’m getting the hang of it now, but I’m certainly not as good at it as I was as a kid, when a pad of paper—with or without scissors—could keep me entertained for hours. Especially if there were crayons around. At Christmas time my favorite things to draw were Christmas trees, snowmen, and holly berry sprigs, so even just a red and a green crayon would do. Put the mother load box of 64 Crayolas in front of me? Well, then. See you tomorrow.

Remember those days? Remember when it didn’t take much to make you happy, when there weren’t so many distractions to take you away from your contented self and concentrated efforts to cut snowflakes and draw holly berry? When you actually believed you could be a rich and famous artist if you could copy the picture in the magazine and mail it in?

As the song goes: those were the days, my friends.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

[Heart] Wedge Heels

For someone overweight and only 5"4" (does that make me underheight?), height comes in handy. Even if heels don't make you look ten pounds lighter, extra height makes you feel ten pounds lighter. But when you're overweight, and only 5'4", stilettos look ridiculous. (Not that my left foot with a fused metatarsophalangeal joint and titanium implant would even attempt to get in high heels.) Or the person wearing them looks precariously unsteady and off-balance. A bit like an apple on toothpicks.

So thank God  for wedge heels, which give a little added height while providing stability and arch support. And style.

You know I love, love, love patent leather. Now you know I love wedge heels.

Imagine my emotion when I found these.

On the third day of Christmas, Zappos sent to me....

Monday, December 13, 2010


I’ve been pretty flexible lately. I don’t mean in a Jane Fonda/contortionist way, but in making due being happy with the less desirable option. I would have loved some of the snow that Chicago got yesterday while I was decorating my tree, but enjoyed trimming my tree while rain pelted the roof nonetheless. It certainly would have been fun to go out last weekend to try a mixologist’s carefully concocted and vigorously shaken holiday treat, but the cranberry infused vodka I made says holiday pretty clearly, and on the cheap. And on that note, I am content to cook these last and next few days—having so thoroughly enjoyed my Boston getaway. This is how my life often goes: Susie Spendthrift one week, Frugal Fanny the next; on top of the world one week, feeling sorry for myself the next.

Not tonight.

Tonight, a few hours after dropping off more than a hundred toys, books, games and puzzles—donated by students and faculty and collected by the student group I advise—for military families for Christmas, I really, really get that I have no right to feel sorry for myself. Shame on me for congratulating myself for being resilient. As if I’m slumin’ it.

Being home with my beautiful tree and homemade pizza and a festive cocktail is nothing less than a blessing.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Hypothetically Speaking...

Say you work for a small company. Every year around the holidays, though it seems to come together a little late, the manager sends out an invite to go to a local restaurant after a staff meeting. He (well, his secretary) arranges to reserve a private room and he covers the appetizers. For drinks you're on your own. Obviously, it's nothing extravagant, but it works. It's a nice gesture.

Then one year, it's a little over a week before the monthly meeting that the holiday get-together would follow. But you've heard nothing about a get-together, and you know that everyone you work with could use a little spirit-lifting, so you email the boss's secretary and ask if there is going to be a get-together this year because  it's getting close to being last-second and not last-minute. (You've sent an email hint in years past, so emailing again is no big deal. You figure it'll all come together.)

Two days later, an email invitation comes out saying there will be a holiday get-together next week. This year it will be two hours long and it will cost 20 dollars, which will cover the hot and cold appetizers. There will also be cash bar at this restaurant, which happens to have a daily three-hour long happy hour with half price appetizers.

Would you go?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Dirty Girl Knives

I love Paula Deen for her unabashed and unapologetic use of butter. And mayonnaise. I love that she has no qualms saying she’s not a chef: she’s a home cook. I love her chutzpah, and that she started what I suppose we can call her empire as “The Bag Lady,” selling sandwiches she made in her kitchen. But frankly I get a little uncomfortable when she does things like lick the frosting off the finger of a male guest barely the age of her sons. Maybe a lot. Yeah. If you ever watched Paula’s Party on Food Network you know what I’m talking about. (I think Tony Danza, although closer to her age than her sons’, is permanently scarred.) For this type of behavior (though I partially blame her producer Gordon Elliot), I call her Dirty Girl. Regardless, Dirty Girl’s proclivity for serving up an occasion scoop of eewwww didn’t stop me from buying her knives.


I know. I’m a little slow on the uptake on some things. I have more glasses, dishes, and vases than I will ever need, and I kept the same hand-crank can opener for twenty years, but I was still using some pretty lame-o knives. Old and lame. One of them I remember I bought at Ames. Really. How long ago did Ames’ go out of business? Not that I wasn’t aware that fancy knives were out there. I’ve known about high end knives since graduate school, when I learned to hide my shock at Crate and Barrel when I assisted customers who would spend 100 dollars on a single knife.

Back then expensive knives weren’t in my budget, but I wasn’t the cook I consider myself to be today either. A few weeks ago I decided it was time to upgrade. I still wasn’t ready to drop a hundred bucks a knife, but I wanted something better than what I have. So I went on line and read comparison reviews and ultimately decided on some Dirty Girl chef’s knives.

Did I already say Wow?

I love them. And now I love Paula Deen for her knives, too. You go, Dirty Girl!

Photo Journal: Boston Getaway for Foodies

fish and chips for brunch
Lineage (Brookline, MA)

beet salad with blue cheese souffle
Eastern Standard

Amy's macaroni and gruyere cheese with guanciale
Eastern Standard

cavatelli with braised lamb, mushrooms and pecorino
Eastern Standard

Amy's daily special: beef brisket with mashed potatoes and haricot verts
Eastern Standard

Saturday, December 4, 2010

[Heart] Merino Wool

Oprah said recently, when she was giving away gifts (copious amounts of extravagant gifts that I sat and drooled over) (Did you SEE the patent leather Coach satchel?!?!?) in her final "Favorite Things” giveaway, that she knows we shouldn’t love things, but..well, we still do. We love pretty things and fancy things and comfy things, because, they make us feel good—and pretty, or fancy, or comfortable. On that note, I must tell you that there’s just something about Merino wool.

I have never bought a merino wool sweater that I haven’t ended up L.O.V.I.N.G. To start with, it’s wool without the itch. It has just the right cling while giving just the right drape. The black is a true, deep black that doesn't fade. It’s warm without being bulky. It keeps it shape and doesn’t pill.

I could go on, but you get the point. I [heart] Merino wool. Sweaters in particular.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Personal Days

Over the last few years my friend Amy and I have developed a new, multilayered tradition. It starts on the first day we are back to school (I’m not exaggerating there) when we request our respective personal days--for the same day in December. We each only get one per year, so we try to make it count, and since they (administration) try to limit how many teachers are out every day, we put in our request early so the chance of being not approved is slim to none. We have tried Friday, and a random day in the middle of the week, but the last two or three years we have taken a Monday off together. We think it works out perfectly.

The second part of the tradition entails my getting on and finding a steal on a Back Bay hotel room for the Sunday night before our personal day. It takes a few looks, but I have hotwire shopping down almost to a science and for the last few years have been able to get us a room at the Sheraton Hotel for around 100 dollars. This year was no different.

Once the room is booked, the next part of our tradition is random, periodic partial planning—usually when one or both of us is having a bad day and needs to look forward to something, or I read a review of a restaurant I want us to try, or we both have a lot of correcting to do so it’s more fun to procrastinate. This year we have Sunday brunch reservations for Lineage, and Monday lunch reservations for Eastern Standard (where Deanna and I had such a great meal this summer).

The last part of the tradition is going to school the Friday before our overnight excursion (today!), writing lessons plans for our substitute teachers and finalizing details—who will bring the Prosecco? The wine? should we bring snacks? what time are we leaving?—knowing that the real tradition is a couple days away: actually going to Boston on Sunday and returning Monday night. We’ll have lots of laughs and good food and fun shopping, but I think the best part always is waking up late on Monday, maybe a little “bleary,” and identifying what period we’d be in the middle of if we were at school with everyone else and not in Boston on our personal day.

And that makes it better than a snow day.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


I am not one of those people who can decorate for Christmas when leftovers from Thanksgiving are still in the fridge (and I still haven't posted about my green bean casserole). I need for there to be some transition between celebrating the fall harvest and setting the scene for a winter wonderland. I at least need for it to be December. You know: the month in which Christmas takes place.

It is raining and in the fifties today, but this weekend it’s going to drop to the thirties, and there are flurries in the forecast for Monday. But at least it’s December. At school I will put away my paper mache pumpkin and take out my lucky snowman. When I come home from school I will take down my fall garland and put away my fall chotchkie, but I won’t decorate for Christmas—yet. I won’t put up my tree yet anyway. I am getting in the spirit but I still need a few more days before the tannebaum takes center stage .

Maybe after those predicted flurries.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

These are Two of My Favorite Things

Every year after the holidays, I make notes and lists about things I might do differently the following year (if I get my sh*t together sooner): ideas for gift giving, things I might try to make. You know, homemade gifts. Last year, I found a recipe for a cranberry liqueur that I thought looked festive, and much less labor intensive than limoncello. I don't think I saved the magazine, but I had the idea tucked away somewhere in my brain and a note in my journal.

As fate would have it, I went out with friends for a drink after school one day last week and the special "vodka-tini" du jour (du week? du season?) was cranberry. A big jar of cranberry red vodka with cranberries afloat reminded me that last year I thought I might make some this year. So I did my taste test (it only seemed right) and fell in love with the perfect balance of tart and sweet. I asked for the recipe and the next day, when I was out buying ingredients for green bean casserole (I know, I promised a post on that, and promise I will deliver), picked up a bag of fresh cranberries and made a batch.

So easy, so delicious (I had to taste test the first batch, no?), and so deserving of a new glass from which to drink it to make it even more festive, which I just happened to pick up from Crate & Barrel this weekend while I was in Boston. (What? I had a coupon!)

[cue The Sound of Music "Favorite Things"] When your job bites, when the wind stings, when I'm feeling sad...I simply remember my favorite things and then I don't feel so bad!....Cheers!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thankful for the Little Things

It's 4:45. I worked today (we had a "half-day" today, which is actually 3/4 of a day), did my last minute grocery shopping so that I can make the green bean casserole I was assigned (yeah, I'll blog about that another time), had my hair done (highlights and low lights and a bang trim), and did some laundry. The most important part of my day was probably doing laundry, because that means I have plenty of leisure wear/pajamas to choose from this weekend. And I am ready for a long weekend--now in more ways than one.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! Count your blessings, big and small.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

New Energy

Sometimes I get sidetracked at school and sucked into a big vat of negativity. It’s not unwarranted: there certainly is a lot going on that’s not right or fair or professional; it’s just when I go swimming, I’d rather it be in my own chlorinated water, not a vat of muck. See, the issue is, even when you can come out of it at 2:30 or 3, it’s still stuck to you a little. Try as you might to shake it off, you can’t clean up very well before it is time to go to bed to do it all over again. I know it’s not unique to my profession, and it’s a shame so many of us spend so much time mired.

One of the reasons I love this time of year so much—Thanksgiving is a couple of days away, the first of four days off from work, and the beginning of a month or so of shopping and celebrations—is that it refocuses my energy. I leave school, and I get festive. I busy myself looking for the perfect gift, treating myself to a bite to eat along the way maybe, or go home and sit among sparkly, glittery, happy things. Maybe I’ll wrap gifts or make lists or watch something on TV that makes me feel good (maybe while sipping a seasonal cocktail)(Brandy Alexander, anyone? Jill?). I’ll write out cards and send everyone warm wishes for Christmas and the best and brightest New Year yet—and I really feel that in my heart. (Stamping the cards and putting them in the mail becomes another issue entirely. Meaning sometimes it doesn’t get done).

Somewhere along the line, during the next couple of weeks, in the busyness of it all, I become impervious to the muck. My energy is refocused and I’m in good spirits all day long.

That is my holiday wish for all of you, too.

Monday, November 22, 2010

[Heart] Shrimp Cocktail

There are times you need crunchy, or creamy. Salty or sweet. Or both. Sometimes the only thing that will satisfy is twirling your fork around in some sauce-covered spaghetti, or biting into a burger that will drip down your chin. Sometimes it is hot and steamy that we crave, liquid penicillin that works as well on sinuses as your stomach. Cheesy ooey-gooey goodness is a category in and of itself.

And sometimes the simple bite, or two, of cold shrimp doused in a little spicy cocktail sauce with a hint of lemon does the trick. The ritual of picking up a piece by the tail and dredging it in sauce creates just the right amount of anticipation before dropping it in your mouth. Plate, sauce, mouth. Plate, sauce, mouth.

I [heart] shrimp cocktail.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

And the Next Iron Chef is...

I couldn't be happier with the final two chefs: Forgione and Canora. I had a feeling these last few weeks that it would come down to them, that despite Ming Tsai's Zen-like confidence, which often came across as arrogance, we would be watching an epic cook-off between Canora and Forgione. Sure, early in the season I was hoping that maybe another woman iron chef would be born to stand in Cat Cora's company, but Cambridge's Dumond didn't cut it, and then both the pig tails and braids got on my nerves a little so when they didn't make it to the end I wasn't really disappointed.

That is to say, I got sucked into yet another Food Network competition series. Most Sundays I stayed up past my bedtime to watch the exciting hour, but on those Sundays when the Sandman was not to be deterred, I'd catch up later in the week.  But tonight I'd have put on a pot of coffee after the Pats game, if it was necessary, to see the final showdown in Kitchen Stadium.

Things are heating up, as Alton Brown says, and in thirty minutes we'll have a new Iron Chef. May the best chef prevail.

Congratulations, Chef Forgione!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Joanne is...CRANKY

Before there was scrapbooking there were college dorm room collages made from magazine clippings, which today would be considered affirmation or vision boards. Before there was texting and tweeting and Facebook, there were fancy message boards. Real message boards that you could touch, and that hung on doors. The best and most creative were on RAs' doors, because in addition to being able to scribble a message somewhere to her, she was important enough to publicize her whereabouts in case anyone on her floor might be looking for her. Maybe there was a pocket in which various cards were stored, with a place to tack the card that applied at the moment--in the library, in class, off campus--or a pie representing all the possibilities with a spinning arrow in the center to let you know if she was sleeping, or in a meeting. The best RAs had a sense of humor and honesty; they weren't afraid to let you know they needed quiet and didn't want to be disturbed or wanted distractions to help them procrastinate.

I wish things could be that simple and straightforward these days. I wish I could say where I am and what I'm feeling, and not necessarily to the whole world through cyberspace, just to those who should know what they're up against.

Joanne is...
  • out
  • shopping
  • watching Food Network
  • cooking
  • reading
  • writing
  • correcting papers
  • balancing her checkbook
  • paying bills
  • broke
  • feeling sorry for herself
  • cleaning
  • procrastinating
  • drinking
  • drinking while cooking
  • drinking while paying bills...(well, I guess I could just pin drinking next to whichever other card applies) (or maybe we could just call it...)
  • multi-tasking
  • hiding from the world
  • on the phone
  • gassy
  • hiding from the world because I'm gassy
  • bored--happily
  • sleeping
Today, I think I'd just be

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Murphy's Law Morning

I started ahead of schedule this morning. I resisted the urge to hit snooze and got right up and into the shower. I decided to cut my morning ritual of enjoying my coffee and watching the news a few minutes short, and got my lunch together before heading back upstairs to dry my hair and get dressed and do all that get-ready-for-work stuff.

I had an idea of what I wanted to wear—my grey pants with either a black blazer or a black v-neck sweater. First I tried on the pants. They looked good. Then I decided to go with a blazer. I reached in my closet and grabbed the wrong one—one that hasn’t fit right in a couple years—but it fit! (Yay, me!)

That’s when naysayer Murphy took control of my morning.

As I gave my outfit the final once-over in my full length mirror, I realized that my pants were ripped between the legs. Sh*t! So back into my bedroom I went and to put on some black pants, now apparently dressed for a funeral, not school, and headed downstairs. I couldn’t find the slide I wanted to wear on my silver collar, so I grabbed another that was on my end table, but I noticed that it needed polishing, so I grabbed my polishing cloth and put it in my purse. I also noticed, as I had then been walking around in my new shoes for a few minutes, that I need inserts for my shoes. I ran back upstairs to grab a set of those out of another pair of shoes and threw them into my purse too. Finally, I could go. I poured my coffee in a commuter mug, grabbed my lunch that I had already prepared, and headed out the door.

Only when I got to my hallway mirror, I noticed that I had some unidentified crud on my v-neck shirt. Good thing I had a camisole/tank on under that (don't ask), which would be fine to wear alone under the blazer—but the partial disrobing would have to wait. My early start was no longer early enough to get me to school on time.

I got into my car and realized I didn’t have my folder full of labs that I took in last night to correct but didn’t even open. I went back into the house to get the damn folder, got back in the car, and finally started my journey to school, knowing I would not be on time. So I broke Oprah’s No Phone Zone rule (sorry!) and called school to say I’d be a few minutes late, but didn’t need coverage since I didn’t have a class first period…

Thank God, because once I finally got there, I still had my necklace to polish, my inserts to put in my shoes, and my shirt to take off in the biology prep room. Then I had to go to the bathroom to make sure there was nothing else I overlooked—toothpaste on my chin or lapel, mascara in my bangs. Which I didn't.

Tomorrow I'm going to hit snooze. Twice.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Two Hour Delay...Tee Hee

Who knew that giving Amy a pair of super soft spa socks with a note “there’s no time like the present to start thinking about snow days” one afternoon last week when we met after school would portend an early November weather event?

Well, wasn’t that the point?

Thursday, November 4, 2010

I Did It

I was in a department store the other day, killing time. As I browsed through the wallets (as if maybe I’d find money in one of them) my ears perked up a little. I was taken by a vague notion to pay attention.

“Is that Bing?!” I asked two women I’d never before seen in my life.
They both took a few seconds to listen in and confirmed that I wasn’t losing my mind.

“It’s Election Day,” I snapped. From political ads to yuletide carols being sung by a choir. Overnight.

The next day—yesterday, in fact—I was in the craft store to see what I might find for fall flourishes for my home. Because it's fall. We haven't even changed the clocks yet. My terra cotta Jack-o-lantern is put away, and the remaining fall-themed pumpkins could use some company.

Suddenly, as if possessed by the subliminal messaging of Bing Crosby, I walked past the fall garlands to the Christmas ornament display. On one hook, all alone, hung the most beautiful ornament. It seemed misplaced, but I couldn’t find the others. I walked all around the display to put it back in its home, picking up a few others to admire their sparkle, but couldn’t find any other jingle bell-adorned stars like it. Huh. “Is this the last one left?” I wondered.

And I bought it.

On November 3.

Monday, November 1, 2010


I’ve had enough of the political ads and the candidate bashing. I know I’m not alone. On and on and back and forth, ads so contradictory one has to be a lie, right? You don’t know which to believe. Or you do. It’s in your gut and has been since the ads began running, and so the ads haven’t influenced your decision one way or the other. They’ve been pointless. A giant waste of money.

The hatefulness bothers me, but spending as much money as the candidates did being as hateful and negative as they have been boggles my mind.

Forty-million dollars to run for senate??? And that’s just one senatorial candidate, whose company parades women as objects (and for whom I will not be voting), in one state. Imagine all the senate and gubernatorial races. All that money.

How many uninsured people could we have covered for a year, two, or ten with that money?

How many more houses in New Orleans could we have rebuilt?

How many schools could we have renovated? How many books could we have purchased?

How many not-for-profit agencies could we have supported without raising taxes?

How many unemployment benefits could we have paid for those who can’t find a job?

How many jobs could we have created?

How much biomedical research could we have supported with that money?

[insert your own ideas here]

You get the point. People are struggling, while others are donating to campaigns that amount to a bunch of reeaalllly expensive trash talking.

Let it be over. I’d much rather watch a commercial that tells me to have a happy period.

Enough said. All around.

Sunday, October 31, 2010


I never follow recipes exactly. I find a couple, sometimes a few, and use them for inspiration to make it my way—modifying a little here and there, to taste, and based on what I have (or don’t have) on hand. Jill cooks the same way. She and I share recipes over the phone without ever giving measurements. Isn’t that the fun of cooking as an art? (I commend Amy and Chris for inventing dishes while keeping track of measurements so they can post the recipes later. Seriously.) Baking is the science. (And, oddly enough, not for me.)

Deanna, on the other hand, follows recipes to the exact letter. When I tell her I tried a new Ina (Barefoot Contessa) recipe, she gets excited…until I say “I modified a bit.” Last night I texted her that I planned on making a butternut squash and apple soup today. Her sour reply? “I’m sure you’ll alter the hell out of it so what’s the point?” She was kidding, of course, and not. I explained to her today during our weekly Sunday chat that I usually make notes of my modifications, and that the issue with the soup is that Ina has two recipes, and I couldn’t decide between them, so maybe I’d combine elements. But after discussion I decided to go with the roasted vegetable version and accept her challenge not to modify. That way she could make it on my recommendation if it was good—sans modifications.

So cooking today was all about multi-tasking: using some of the free apples from the eight or so bushels in my parents’ garage (which incidentally my mom picked for free), ditto a butternut squash from my mom (also free but not one in a lot of bushels, just one from a bag), and following a recipe exactly so that Deanna could use it if I liked it without making note of modifications.

Success, success, success…further substantiating that I’m as frugal as my mom and becoming more and more like her with every dip in my estrogen...and as good a friend as I have been told I am?....

cubed squash and apples

roasted and caramelized squash, apples and onions

roasted butternut squash and apple soup

Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Search for a Slip Ends...

or: "My Mom Rocks"

After a fruitless journey last Saturday to find a full slip, I thought of a couple more places I could look. So I set out again on Sunday, determined still to find one. But I actually forgot to stop at Sears and came home only with the few things on my grocery list. (Does that count as a Freudian slip? Ha!) Clearly my memory—or lack of—was protecting me from another day of frustration. One wasted weekend day was enough.

Monday after work I resumed my quest. First I went to Cohoes (well, Burlington Coat Factory), but that was a bust. From there I remembered to stop at Sears, and they had a few, but again none were the right size and color combination. Finally, I went back to Macy’s and reluctantly bought one for thirty dollars. I suppose I wouldn’t have minded paying that much if it was perfect, but it wasn’t. It could have been a size bigger and an inch longer. Still, at least I actually had a full slip to wear with my new dresses. No cling for me, ladies. I was set. Sort of.

Then the slip sat in the bag, with the tags still on it, for a couple of days.

And then, I called my mom.


I know. That’s where I should have started my search, because that’s where it ended. Well, actually it ended at Macy’s a couple of hours ago when I went to return the slip I bought under duress. But yeah, she had two for me to choose from. (Of course she did. She also just bought an extra coffee urn/”party perk” at a tag sale for 2 dollars. Not that my slip came from a tag sale or anything. Anyway.) The one I picked fits perfectly and was free.

I’ll never get that time back, but I did get my money back. And I was reminded that sometimes, there’s no place like mom’s.

Monday, October 25, 2010


I am a creature of habit. To some extent we all are. Which is a good thing, I guess. Of course some habits are detrimental, but most have their benefits. Setting your alarm before bed gets you up in the morning and showering before work gets you there without odor. Getting there at all pays the mortgage, and....well, you get the point.

But lately I feel like I've been in a rut. Or digging one anyway.  I live my life in two parts. Monday through Friday I feel like all I can manage to do is work. When the weekend comes I run errands, I do laundry, I go grocery shopping and I cook...And when I cook, I've been cooking the same things. Summer ended and I went straight from Greek and Caprese salads to comfort food.

Chili. Tortilla soup. American Chop Suey. French onion soup. Chili. Cream of broccoli soup. Tortilla soup. Chili.

[insert sound of tires screeching to a halt]

[insert conversation with self] My god, Joanne. It's only October. Snap out of it!

I wanted to cook. But I didn't want to make more soup. And I didn't want to thaw soup I've already made and stored in the freezer. (For that cold and snowy day I won't feel like cooking? Oh, okay, that'll happen.) I needed inspiration.

I found it in this package of snow white mushrooms. A quick inventory of my freezer rendered some sirloin cut for stir fry. Every thing else I needed to make this beef and mushroom lo mein I had on hand, including the last minute additions of carrot and broccoli for color.

Tomorrow? I'll let baby spinach be my guide.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

In Search of a Slip

Not of paper. Not a record of a sale. Not for my boat. (I don't have a boat.) I am looking for a full slip, that elusive undergarment worn under dresses, and would prefer that it not cost as much as one of my new bargain dresses. But, apparently, after spending an entire Saturday afternoon looking in vain at at Kohl's, and Macy's (both of which deserve their own "I Love it, I Love it NOT" entries), and Lord & Taylor and JCPenney, that may be my only option. If I can finally get my hands on one.

In every Intimates Department I visited yesterday I walked by thousands of bra styles and racks (no pun intended) in dozens of colors and patterns, but when I got to the little corner where slips were relegated, only a few slips hung. The woefully inadequate selection of camisoles, half slips and full slips, in white, tan and black totaled twenty. I drove to Westfarms for this?...

I may not have had very much growing up, but there were certain things I learned from my mother, certain rules of dressing that were reinforced by example every Sunday before church. A woman wears a slip under skirts and dresses. You should not be able to see through a dress. Moreover, slips prevent cling. Dresses shouldn’t cling to your thighs like pants. They shouldn’t cling to your underwear either. And you have to have a nice coat. If you can’t have one for every season, you have one good “all-weather” overcoat. That is, never throw on a windbreaker (or a fleece jacket) over a dress. Or dress pants. (It seems some of my colleagues never got those lessons growing up.) Which should be hemmed and ironed. (That one either.) And your shoes shouldn’t ruin the effect of the rest of your efforts.

But I digress.

Why can’t I find a slip? Have slips gone the way of modesty? Is it okay to throw on a bra and a thong, slip on your dress, and go? Apparently. I can’t remember where I was recently, but as I write remember seeing a woman, wearing a dress, who clearly had on a thong and no slip. The fabric of her dress was stuck to the tiny triangle of fabric above her ass crack and it looked awful. I don’t even remember if it was a nice dress because it was upstaged by her undergarments—or lack of therein. And that’s not my goal. My goal is to find a slip.

Day Two of my Mission to Find a Slip begins.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Giving New Meaning to Guinea Pig

Caveat: In telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth—in order to poke fun at myself ultimately—I may offend people. So let me say up front that I’m sorry. I just can’t see a way around it.

Once upon a time, I was career driven. I had assistants. I supervised people. I submitted budgets. I was respected. I got big salary increases just by changing jobs. I stayed in nice hotels and expensed room service. I had lots of suits—pant suits, skirt suits—and shoes that cost as much as the suits. (ohmygod I just remembered that right before I resigned as Director of Programs at a non-profit, I bought the cutest Ralph Lauren high polish calf loafers in navy with silver hardware for a ridiculously discounted price of like 120 dollars and Liz said, as I prepared to make $50 a day as a sub, “I hope you can eat those shoes for lunch.” Touché.) And then I became a teacher.

I took a salary cut but I still had nice suits. And I wore them. Then I lost weight, then I gained weight, and then I decided that—regardless of my weight—I didn’t need to wear suits when some of my colleagues wore velour “pant suits” [read: sweat suits] and corduroy jumpers. Meanwhile I had that issue with my foot for which I ultimately had surgery but which temporarily left me without dress and skirt-worthy shoes. So I started wearing pants. Lined pants, mind you, from Lord & Taylor, but pants nonetheless. With nice sweaters and blazers. And even though I rebooted my cute shoes collection (pun intended), I just never went back to skirts and dresses for school. I felt like I still made a good, professional impression, and dress pants were easier. No searching for hose without holes in the black of night (when I wake up). (Did you know you can buy a decent bottle of wine for the price of stockings?)

And then, recently, I was shopping on line and saw a dress, with a sort of Pucci-inspired print. Very geometric. Bold. Very cute, I thought. And when it arrived, very forgiving. Before I even wore it, I thought, okay, I’m going to wear dresses again. To heck with the rest of the faculty that has, collectively, as much fashion sense as prairie skirt. So I ordered a couple more. Even though I have two skirts, hanging upstairs as I write, that I haven’t gotten around to wearing yet.


Well I wore the Pucci-esque shift dress today. With black opaques and black boots. (So groovy.) And I got a lot of compliments. But I also remembered one reason I stopped wearing dresses when I walked around for eight hours as a human experiment in displacement.


That shit stuff matter that gets squeezed on my thighs and my belly has got to go somewhere. And frankly I need no help creating muffin top. The alternative? Hiking the tights up higher, high enough in fact to reach just under my bra? Well that created the effect in my mid-section of hiding an over–inflated effect Mylar balloon under my dress. Put a stick up my butt and fly me around the room.There was no winning.

I probably should have just taken the tights off, but I didn't. But now I know better. And I'll look cute over cocktails or dinner. But not in the classroom.

Congratulations to Amy and Chris

Amy and Chris, A Couple in the Kitchen bloggers--and good friends--just won another recipe contest!

If you have not already linked there from here, check them out. Their list of great--and award-winning--recipes grows.

Go, Couple!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Two Delicious Dollars

Friday afternoon, when the last period bell rang, I was on a mission to get home and get on the couch. I wanted to stop at Big Y for a couple of slices of pizza, which would be dinner later on with a glass of Cabernet (and which cost only $1.28 each with the silver coins Amy spotted me), and find my way home as quickly as possible. I ended up making a couple more stops and buying a couple more things—like this chicken pot pie, which only cost $1.98 with a gold coin I had in my wallet.

Okay. I can’t say it was the best 2 dollars I have ever spent in my life—since I pride myself on being a bargain shopper who has had a fair amount of success finding good deals in my life—but I can say it’s the best two dollars I have spent in recent memory.

I bought it in the prepared food section, but bought it cold. The inside mixture of chicken and vegetable was fully cooked, the nice woman explained, but the crust was uncooked. It was up to me, when I was ready to eat it, to bake it to my desired doneness of the crust.

So today, when my mission was to make meatballs and get a pot of sauce going before the Patriots game, I popped it in the oven. After 30 minutes at 350 degrees, I could tell I was on my way to deliciousness. I turned up the oven to 375 and kept checking every few minutes until the flaky layers of crust separated and rose a bit and it was perfectly brown. I let it sit a few minutes while I finished making the meatballs and eventually dug in to my lunch.




                                          Two dollars never tasted so delicious.

Friday, October 15, 2010

I Love it, I Love it NOT… Trop50…

...and artificial sweetener in general.

There was a time in my life that lunch consisted entirely of a Tab or Pepsi Light—both saccharin brands of soda that no longer exist. On the rare occasion I drink soda these days, I prefer ginger ale or root beer to diet soda, but will drink diet Coke or diet Pepsi on occasion. That’s as far as I go with artificial sweeteners in beverages—or food.

I have never enjoyed artificial sweetener in desserts or yogurt or iced tea. Crystal Light? Yuck. I admit I don’t always get moderation right, but I believe in it as much as I believe in the fact that artificial sweeteners and chemical foods are worse for me than the real deal….which leaves me looking for other ways to cut back calories.

For example, I have given up mimosas as a Sunday ritual, but last weekend was due for a little bubbly, so when I was at the grocery I thought I’d take a look at Trop50. “No artificial sweeteners” it said on the label. “50 percent less sugar and calories.”

They didn’t even get the grammar right.

I knew something was amiss when I tried it and it tasted like Tang. Hm. Well, maybe it’s better mixed, I thought. So I mixed a mini-screwdriver and it just wasn’t right. In fact, it tasted like diet Tang. I looked again at the label. There I saw it: “Reb A, True Via™ brand.”

Interesting. There’s no patent on sugar. I’ve never seen “Sugar ™.” I’ve never heard of the Stevia plant. Even if I had, as far as I’m concerned, if a sweetener has a patent, or a patented name, it’s not natural.

Looks like next time I buy orange juice, it’ll be another brand. Simply Orange orange juice, perhaps. Which really is.

Rise and Shine

I used to be in awe of my college roommate, Ashlyn, who could wake up when she needed to before the alarm went off. Did I mention this was in college? I, on the other hand, could sleep through an alarm, and did--the morning of my Molecular Biology final. Yeah. Not good. Especially since it was my major. When I finally got there, my professor had left a copy of the exam on the table in the front of the room. I found a seat in the back corner and got started. A little later she came in and, not seeing me in the corner, asked, "Did Joanne ever show up?"

Jill still laughs about my response to a doctor who asked me if I was tired. I think I was in my twenties at the time, and though I don't recall why I was there I remember exactly what my answer was. "Tired? What do you mean 'tired'? I've been tired since high school!"

Obviously in the decades that have passed my sleeping habits have changed. I rarely have any occasion to stay up after midnight and in general I try not to push myself beyond my limits. I'm a better and more patient person and teacher when I'm well rested. And despite often waking in the dark for school, about which I have lamented more than once, I--like Ashlyn now-- can often beat my alarm clock in the morning.

But not today.

I woke up to the Nor'easter that had been forecast days ago. When my alarm clock went off, it was pitch black and I could hear the rain ticking away on the sky light over my bed. I got up and hit snooze. Five minutes later it was still black out. And still raining. I hit snooze again. Somehow I eventually made it out of bed, but I'd rather be back there. "Not gonna lie," Jill. I'm tihed.

Some days it's hard to rise without the shine.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

I Love it, I Love it NOT...Frost

Okay, I said I was ready for fall. I celebrated. I’m good with the smells, the colors, the cooler temperatures, the accompanying nesting. But frost? I’m not ready for frost on October 13. In fact, while I’m venting, let me say I’m never ready for frost. There’s nothing worse than getting out to my car—just barely on schedule—and having to wait for the car to defrost. If I try to hurry along the process and squirt windshield wash, I end up with what looks like a blue Slurpee--or like a Smurf spit up--on my window. Frost is nothing but a nuisance.

I do not [heart] frost. I hate it.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Pumpkin Palooza

 It happens every year. After a long and wonderful summer vacation, I go back to school. Wearing Capris and sandals, I watch what remains of summer from my classroom window, wishing the school was air-conditioned. A few weeks later, it becomes imperative to watch the weather, not knowing from day to day how to dress, while New England waffles on whether or not it wants to change seasons.

While the weather undergoes its identity crisis, I start slowly making my transition. One week I might make chili. I buy apples. I buy a pumpkin spice candle. I start wearing fuzzy socks. My favorite fleece blanket comes out of storage. I wear closed-toed shoes. (Reluctantly, I might add.)(Begrudgingly.) I go to Vermont with the girls and get inspired by the foliage. I find myself in a long-sleeved t-shirt and pajama pants and said fuzzy socks while watching the evening news. Fall blooms fill my vase, and pumpkin decorations find their way onto my coffee table. I finally light the pumpkin spice candle. Eventually there is no turning back. Even the warmest of days won’t warrant sandals, despite a new fall pedicure, and I embrace fall.

Yesterday I celebrated. As I watched TV and read in the late afternoon, enjoying the scent of my pumpkin spice candle while I sipped a pumpkin spice martini, I decided to bake some pumpkin bread. From scratch. Garnished with pepitas.

My very own Pumpkin Palooza.

Happy Fall!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

[Heart] Fresh Ground Coffee

My first Krups coffee grinder was a Crate and Barrel employee purchase, back in the late eighties. I LOVED it. The difference was night and day.

Yet somehow I got away from it. Maybe it was when I started teaching and took a 50 percent pay cut and couldn’t justify the splurge, or maybe it was because for a brief time at the beginning of my teaching career I lived with my parents who, although they drink coffee says mine puts hair on their chest. I had found a canned brand that I liked enough, and had a stove top espresso maker for the occasions I wanted something other than mediocre coffee.

And then the price of canned coffee increased while the size of the cans decreased. I’m not sure if there were ever 16 ounces in one, but the average size now is 10.5 ounces. Reading flyers and clipping coupons and stocking up on canned coffee when it was on sale seemed, well, wrong. Ridiculous. Trader Joe’s offered an alternative, their own brand of joe that came whole bean in a 16 ounce container—which they touted in big letters on the poster that caught my attention. I used the grinder in the aisle and was on my way. Take that, [National Brand]! I thought.

And then, the second time I bought my coffee at Trader Joe’s I decided it was time to find my grinder, or buy a new one. The third time I bought my coffee and noticed the container was only 14 ounces, I got good and pissed off and stopped making the trip to TJs for coffee. I’ve been experimenting with different brands of whole bean coffee, grinding it home ever since.

There really is nothing like scooping my medium roast Colombian coffee beans into the grinder, pushing the button, and taking off the lid. I don’t think the coffee ever makes it to my coffee maker (cone drip, of course) without stopping in front of my nose for a nice, long whiff. Ever.

I really love fresh ground coffee. In fact, I [heart] it.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Great Equalizer

Donna has a regular schedule of chemotherapy treatments: Tuesday, Friday, Tuesday, Friday, then an off week, then Tuesday, Friday, Tuesday, Friday, and an off week, etc. On Tuesdays she gets one IV bag of chemotherapy and one IV bag of the clinical trial drug;on Fridays she gets chemotherapy only. In between the two weeks of chemotherapy she gives herself shots to boost her white blood cell production. On the off weeks between chemotherapy cycles, she usually has scans to measure the progress—so far the success!—of the treatments.

Not everyone at Infusion on Tuesdays and Fridays is on the same drug or in the clinical trial as Donna, but we have come to know, or at least recognize, the regulars. There is the African American woman in her late fifties whose Jewish husband accompanies her. Another African American woman, who is an employee of the hospital, has coworkers stopping by all day for a few minutes at a time. There is the woman, Indian I believe, also probably in her fifties, who is accompanied by her sister--who could be her twin, they look so much alike!  And there is the woman Donna’s age, also Caucasian, with whom Donna shared stories and is now friendly, who has a 7 year old and a 10 year old at home, and who drives herself there from New York, on the exact same schedule as Donna. Yesterday I was so glad to see that she had a friend with her. I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone there with her! And I don’t know how she does that drive herself. Sadly, there was a newcomer yesterday, ten years younger than Donna and I, from the Bronx. She was with her mother.

So I stand corrected that potty humor is the great equalizer. Cancer is. There are people out there, although I don't know many (any) of them, who would not get a laugh out of a whoopee cushion, who go through life thinking that one of the things that separates them from people like me is immaturity/being crass/potty humor, Blah Blah. I say, go ahead, then, think we're different. But in the end we're not. Stop by Infusion someday at a cancer hospital, where I hope you never find yourself on the receiving end of an IV line, where despite differences in race or class or age or favorite brand of humor, every one is the same: human beings fighting cancer: the great, but evil, equalizer...where a whoopee cushion--or the laugh that follows--might be the best thing a person hears all day.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. I encourage you to reach out to someone with cancer, to share a laugh. And make an appointment for a mammogram if you’re due.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Scenes from Vermont

I'm back. We had a blast. Literally. Many of them, in fact, as Liz brought a whoopee cushion along. She forgot Scrabble and brought a whoopee cushion instead. You probably think it's childish, right, for four forty-something women in a ski house in Vermont to step on a whoopee cushion when things got too serious or quiet when we didn't want it to be, or sometimes just to laugh some more? In fact it was a riot. Unpretentious fun.

As far as I'm concerned, potty humor is the great equalizer. And bringing a whoopee cushion? Brilliant, Liz.

I'm already looking forward to next year.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

[Heart] Lunch Club with Amy

Cajun Pot Pies with andouille sausage and shrimp
Now that I'm back at school, lunch club is back in session. I am cooking a little more--but not as much as Amy yet. I brought her a quesadilla for lunch one day, and chili another--both basic dishes that are part of my repertoire. In return I've gotten two of her latest, restaurant-worthy culinary experiments.

Last week Amy shared an absolutely luscious corn and crab chowder, and yesterday I was happy to take my care-packaged lunch home where I could properly enjoy these Cajun pot pies (she package the filling separate from the puffed pastry bowls, of course) with an appropriate beverage. They were delicious: spicy, creamy comfort food in a perfect little package.

As teachers with twenty minute lunches, we don't get to go out to eat. Ever. And making your own lunch day after day gets old fast. Changing things up with a foodie friend makes things better. That's why I [heart] lunch club.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

My Challenge

Seems everywhere I turn, someone is criticizing education in America, and what we are doing wrong. Even Oprah, who values education, devoted an episode to the topic in her last season. Though she made it a point to praise the educators and schools where it is working--the implication is that in most places it is not. And in most cases, it is the educators who are being blamed for the failures. As you know, I am a teacher. So I take this personally. And I take considerable offense.

Several months ago a panel of politicians and students railed away on Meet the Press; students told stories that were patently absurd. Can it really be that a teacher regularly naps for entire class periods? And none of these children get the teacher next door? Or walk down to the office so that an administrator can rouse the sleepy teacher? Did anyone check on the veracity of this story? On the off chance they weren’t tall tales told by struggling students then by all means action should be taken. But what gets me is that any time someone tells a story, it is a variation on this theme: schools in America suck, teachers suck more. In fact, it is the fault of teachers that education sucks. Stories are taken as truth; educators aren’t given the benefit of a doubt because, as one of my colleagues likes to say, the concept of a teacher as a professional is gone. We are micromanaged, we are criticized, and we are blamed.

I challenge anyone who thinks teachers have it easy but get it all wrong to be a teacher. Go back to school, get your masters degree, and be a teacher. I dare you.

And I refer you to this opinion piece from the Hartford Courant, by Thomas Cangelosi, a reitred teacher, to read more.

Monday, September 20, 2010

[Heart] New England Lobstah

Summer does not want to quit this year. Even though many of us are back at work (ahem) and no longer able to enjoy these 80-degree days we continue to be blessed with, late September is one of New England's special gifts.

Another is Maine lobster, which I felt compelled to enjoy one last time this summer (despite the temps, fall is still in the air) the other night, and which I only needed to travel down the road to find at a restaurant whose name pays tribute to its source.

And while I would have loved to enjoy the company of Deanna and Jill, who both insist on going there when they are here from out of town, it was enough to have a lobster date without them. (Sorry, girls. I know you were jealous, but I had to text you and let you know! Should I not enjoy lobster because you both live far away?) Just me and this lobster roll, easy on the mayo, generous on the claw and tail. Dream date.

I enjoyed every bite...I [heart] lobster. I mean lobstah.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Weekend Getaway Ahead

Next weekend I am heading to Vermont for the annual family girls’ weekend at my cousin’s ski house. I am making chili, mushrooms for crostini, and maybe tortilla soup. Oh, and I sampled some crab dip at Costco today that I may have to go back and buy. (It was good enough for entertaining.) Anyway, plans are underway and we are all looking forward to the weekend and thinking about what to bring. Text messages are flying around.

Me to Donna and Kristina: I will bring the vodka this time.

D to me: Great. I will bring this lemonade soda thingy Linds bought that mixes well.

Me to D: Sounds delish. I’ll also bring tomato juice, etc. for bloodies.

D to me: I’m trying to think of a good app to bring.

Me to Kristina (ski house owner): Do you have Yahtzee and Scrabble up there?

K to me: No.

Me to K: Okay. I’ll bring Yahtzee. I’ll ask Liz to bring Scrabble. Do you need a good book to read?

Me to Liz: Will you bring Scrabble next weekend?

Liz to me: You wanna get your ass whooped?

Me to Liz: yeah right

I can’t wait!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

"Cuz I’m a wOman…”

My plan yesterday afternoon was to leave school right away—that is, as soon as contractually possible (2:25), rush home, change, go to the gym, stop at Costco and Stop and Shop and get home by 4. In other words, I was going to run around like a maniac, at break neck speed, so I could get home for Oprah. It is her final season, after all.

I have watched Oprah on and off for all of her 24 seasons. Sometimes she got on my nerves, but always I was in awe of her tremendous power and influence, and respected her decision to do good things, talk about difficult topics, and to use her celebrity to affect positive change. Like her book club.

Sure, I often make snarky comments about having read certain titles before Oprah picked them for her book club, but I’m a reader, so I tend to read what’s new and, in my estimation, what’s good. Okay, that makes me a book snob, too. I suppose I read things around the same time she does, and the lag time—for current titles—more than anything probably represents production time. Shows are recorded and edited before they air, and those O logos don’t appear magically on book jackets over night. I know that. And I appreciate that she has inspired people to read, and to read good books. No offense, but I don’t think there’s been a single genre book or any formulaic fiction (read: John Grisham) on her list. (I told you I’m a book snob!) Amen, sister. Anyway…

I didn’t manage to do everything I planned yesterday, and I actually didn’t make it home by 4, but later in the evening Deanna watched the first 15 minutes on TiVo and then called to fill me in on what I missed. During the forty five minutes I did watch, I managed to go through three Kleenex tissues. I imagine this season I’ll go through a lot more of them.

She has been a great companion on my couch and on the treadmill at my gym. She has been conversation fodder for my friends and me—as has her show. And I plan to watch as many episodes as possible, but maybe from the treadmill and not my couch. Or at least not my couch after the treadmill and a thousand errands.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Heat is On

Okay, when I said I was ready for the change of seasons, doing my part to usher in autumn with my own traditions, I in no way expected to come to school today and find the heat on in my classroom. Mainly because IT’S NOT COLD.

My plan is to try really hard not to complain this year, as every year, and attempt to focus on the positive. But it’s difficult when you start the day with the heat on in your room in September. Thank God the head custodian likes me. By second period things were looking up.

Until later in the day, when I had this discourse with a student:

When I called him over and asked him to measure 2 g of salt for me on our electronic balance, he says (with attitude), “What’s the point of this?”

I resist the urge to smack him—verbally, of course, with some barb. Cuz this is school? How does that work for you? I don’t remind him that I am the teacher and he is the student. Instead, I answer calmly, “so that I can be sure you know how to use the balances during lab.” (Which, incidentally, he did not.)

Without acknowledging my response or the sound pedagogy of the exercise, he changes the subject, and challenges me again. “I’m pretty sure it’s a scale,” he says.

Again, I don’t hit him, belittle him, or berate him although clearly he has an attitude problem and an issue with respect. It’s not until he walks away that I wonder if his parents are divorced; I wonder if he treats his mother like sh*t too. While he stands in front of me I show great restraint. “Um, no, it’s an electronic balance.”

He repeats again his assertion that I am wrong, “No, it’s a scale.”

I make him make eye contact with me. “It’s an electronic balance.”

He sees clip art of an old fashioned balance on his worksheet, points and says, “I’m pretty sure that’s a balance.”

“It is,” I say. “That’s why this one is an ELECTRONIC balance.”

At least the heat was off at that point. At least I had that.

Tomorrow I'll try again to stay positive all day.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Change of Seasons

I wasn’t expecting that this week my pool would reopen for the 80 degree days. I knew the season ended last Monday, but I could not do more on Labor Day than come in from the pool and shower and leave things as I had all summer: my towel over a chair, my bathing suit rinsed and drying on hangers in my shower, my pool chair resting in the hall to dry, my beach bag on the floor near my end table. All week long I went about my back-to-school business with summer vacation paraphernalia scattered about in limbo. Today it was time to move on.

So I woke up early this morning to get summer laundry done—bathing suits in one load, beach towels in another. I put my beach chairs in the basement, and went through my beach bag. (I can’t imagine what kind of stink that mozzarella string cheese stick would have created had I not found it among the used sani-wipes and the subscription cards that had fallen out of various magazines. Really, is there anything more annoying?) Everything is put away now. I have my first batch of chili on the stove, a bowl of apples on the table, and a football game on TV.

And so it goes: another change of seasons underway.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Adverb Pollution

I am back at school and back to editing people in my head as they speak. Students, colleagues, administrators. TV anchors, TV reporters. No one is immune—either to making errors, or to my internal correcting.

Two common mistakes I’ve been hearing about which I can no longer shut up are Literally and Hopefully.

Okay, folks. Literally is used when a phrase normally used as a figure of speech is used literally. If you are using a figure of speech but mean it literally, go for it. If not, please don’t.

If you say “literally, I was buried with emails,” I expect to find you in your office under a pile of printed emails.

If you say “my husband literally just made a mountain out of a mole hill!” well then I need to be able to drive by your house and see a big ass hill in your yard.

What you mean to say probably is “seriously,” or “I’m not kidding when I tell you… " Take: "I was literally two feet from the scene of the crime the day before.” As opposed to I was figuratively two feet away? Or is what you meant “believe it or not, I was 2 feet away the day before!”

“I was literally at school until 5 o’clock that night.” As opposed to figuratively at school till 5 o’clock?

Don’t use literally for emphasis. While we’re at it, don’t use seriously, or honestly, either. Using those would imply you typically are joking around or a big fat liar. Jill really hates the “I’m going to be honest with you” preface to a sentence. Seriously. (Ha. I make myself laugh.) I think what people mean there is “I’m going to be painfully honest with you [insert insult meant to sound caring here, like: don’t wear horizontal stripes]” or “I’m going to give you more information than you want or ever need: [insert TMI personal detail here].”

When in doubt, leave it out. Those personal details, and the adverbs, that is.

And Hopefully, my friends, is also an adverb. Meant to modify or describe a verb. Take: "She scratched her lottery ticket slowly and hopefully." It does not mean, "I hope," or "let’s hope." “Hopefully, the weather will improve for the weekend.” NO. “ I hope the weather improves this weekend.” YES. I don’t think I ever hear hopefully used correctly, although I never give up hope that I will.

Please stop Adverb Pollution! It’s killing me!
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