Sunday, April 28, 2013

18th Birthday-Wow! That can't be right...

{3rd birthday with his hand-painted crown}
College Boy @ age 10
{look at that smile}

Happy Birthday little boy!

Eighteen years ago I gave birth to this amazingly beautiful baby.  He was 4 lbs, 3 ozs of joy.  My labor lasted less than 10 minutes.  I know, crazy!  Nursing came easy for both of us.  Jealous yet?  Well, the flip side is I spent almost a month in the hospital before he was born and a few weeks after as well.  The day I was finally released from the hospital with him I ended back up in the hospital hemorrhaging and spent a few days away from him as they couldn't readmit the him back into the maternity ward.  I have high stress pregnancies because I've had 2 open heart surgeries and am on a blood thinner for my St. Jude's plastic valve.  Groovy Girl's birth was just as traumatic with it's own set of medical emergencies.  

So after ALL that College Boy turned 18 today at 7:11 pm.  We had an after church lunch together out on the patio in gorgeous weather!  My husband grilled two good steaks that we shared with mashed potatoes, mac and cheese, and broccoli.  The highlight though was this amazing chocolate cake from Averie Cooks.  It was moist and super chocolatey!  I believe it will be my go-to cake for all future celebrations as it was easy to put together.  I didn't admit how easy it was to the family though, making them believe it was an intense labor of love I was only willing to go through for special occasions!  

{Best chocolate cake with ganache}

The cake is so incredible both my husband and I have been "evening it" out every time we pass it on the kitchen counter.  I've had to cover it to save both of us and the cake.  I followed all the directions to a T except I doubled the recipe.  College Boy will want to snack on it all week long and the original was only a 9 x 9 size.  I poured the doubled recipe into a 9 x 13 and it is perfect to the top with the frosting.  The recipe called for yogurt and that makes the cake super moist.  Oh no

In other news I finished reading Jodi Picoult's Lone Wolf which was wonderful.  I like wolves and feel like they get a nasty press.  This book did a great job of explaining to me what I already felt; that wolves have an interesting social structure and instincts.    

The weekend is almost over but I'm still linking this post to Beth Fish Reads Weekend Cooking meme because I love being part of that community.  Click the links to get to the chocolate cake recipe-you WILL want to make it.  

Friday, April 26, 2013

The wonder of Wonder by R.J. Palacio

"You can't blend in when you were born to stand out."

August (Auggie) Pullman was born with a facial deformity that prevented him from going to a mainstream school-until now.  He's about to enter fifth grade at Beecher Prep, and if you've ever been the new kid, then you know how hard that can be.  The thing is Auggie's just an ordinary  kid, with an extraordinary face.  But can he convince his new classmates that he's just like them, despite appearances? ~inside book flap
This book is the new poster child for anti-bullying, be nice rhetoric we teachers are constantly spewing at the kids that we teach, hoping it will make a difference.  This book though has the potential of actually starting a movement.  Auggie and his family work hard to maintain normal and even through the very rocky times stay true to what their family means which leads to the extraordinary way that Auggie sees himself. Even though he gets depressed and would love to have an ordinary face he also feels comfortable with how he is.
I loved this book and plan to push several teachers to use it as a read aloud starting in August.  Right now all my teachers are just limping toward the end of May, ready to be done.  But Auggie will help them start the school year off right as they help their students build community; one that doesn't  judge.

Now that I've read and reviewed it I'm putting it back out for students and I have quite a few who are waiting to get their hands on it!  Thank you to my friend Verda and Groovy Girl for constantly telling me how great the book was so I had nothing left to do but pick it up and read it.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Ingrid Law's in town!

Ingrid Law with Peaceful Reader

Not only is she in town talking about Savvy and Scumble but I was lucky enough to have dinner with her and not only was I lucky enough to have dinner with her...I sat right next to her!  She is a lovely human being with funny and insightful stories.  I loved that she is an introvert yet she easily shared stories with us about writing, her life, what it was like to transition from quiet homebody to famous author!

She reads.  She is a single mother with a daughter that is about to graduate from high school.  She wrote Savvy in the evenings while she worked in a government office.  Her father is a vegan.  She lives in Lafayette, Colorado.  She wrote Savvy in about 4 1/2 months, which is amazing!  She wrote a first book that is now sitting in a drawer somewhere but that inspired her publisher to ask for something else because they liked her writing.

So many wonderful facts that you pick up over interesting dinner conversation.  Oh, and she likes cupcakes!

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Weekend Cooking; Fat chocolate chip cups

This has been quite a year for my school book clubs.  They're organic matter constantly changing and shifting.  Generally I've had two book clubs and they start out large and then dwindle to a small handful of die-hard book fans that didn't know they were fans when they started.  The whole process is amazing to me.

This year has brought new challenges as I started off bold with three groups; two girl groups and one boy group.  Luckily another 5th grade teacher has been willing to help me all year with the second girl's group.  She took the stronger reading group and they've read a wide variety of challenging fifth grade material.  They just finished The Lightning Thief.  Now the gaggle of girls I lead is another story.  I like have to lead them like little baby lambs to the book. They are much more concerned about drama and excuses.  I'm trying to raise them up and they are all like "this is so hard" but yet they keep coming back.  I've had a few drop out and I've asked a few not to come back and yet we've had others join up mid-year and this is why is has been a very natural and organic book club year.

This has also been the first year we've served snacks consistently for every meeting.  Amanda, the 5th grade teacher, and I alternate bringing treats for the Wednesdays that the girls meet and I solely bring treats for the boys.  It is MUCH easier to bring treats for the boys!!  They about die for anything I bring for them which in turn make me excited to bring them treats.  It is a dynamite cycle.  The girls tend to be a bit more picky.  I made them little cookie cups near Christmas that had a chocolate mint kiss in the middle and several girls threw them away after just one bite because of the mint.  Geez!

This week I made these top notch treats from a recipe I found on Pinterest.  I love when  a pin takes you to to a blog worth reading and Averie Cooks is just such a blog.  The Browned Butter Chocolate Chip Cookie Cups were a huge hit at book club and the children I live with were a little upset that the whole pan wasn't staying home with them.  The cool thing was it was such an easy recipe I'm going to surprise them this weekend with more.  This board of Averie Cooks is dedicated to recipes she's made and I'm  especially intrigued by this post about her Top Ten Favorite Chocolate Cake recipes.  I'm searching this week for an extreme chocolate dessert for College Boy as he turns 18 next Sunday, the 28th.  His only requirement is that it be like chocolate heaven.
Any suggestions?

If you need a special treat this week try those chocolate cups!
This post is linked to Beth Fish Reads Weekend Cooking post-click there for more food-related links.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

My own Cinnamon Scones


I made these for breakfast this morning and they were delicious and flaky.  It was my turn to make something for Sunday school treats and our church has been on a Blue Zone kick, trying to bring in healthier options instead of donuts.  Even though these had minimum sweetness  kids and adults ate them up!  I know the title of the post says cinnamon scones which is confusing since the recipe says different but trust me and keep reading...

New Hampshire Maple-Walnut Scones
KAF Baking Companion

3 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2/3 cup butter or shortening (or a combo)
1 cup finely chopped and toasted walnuts
1 cup milk
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/2 tsp maple flavoring

Preheat the oven to 425*F.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt.  Cut in the butter or shortening until the mixture resembles course crumbs.  Stir in the walnuts.

In a separate bowl, combine the milk, 1/3 cup of the maple syrup, and the maple flavoring.  Add the wet ingredients to the dry and mix until you've formed a very soft dough.

Flour your work surface generously and scrape the dough out of the mixing bowl onto the floured surface.  Divide the dough in half.

Working with one half at a time, gently pat the dough into a 7-in circle about 7/8 inch thick.  Transfer the circle to a parchment-lined or lightly greased cookie sheet or other flat pan; it will be very soft, and if you have a giant spatula, it's the tool of choice here.  Repeat with the remaining dough, placing it in a separate pan.

Using a sharp knife or rolling pizza wheel, dived each dough circle into eight wedges.  Gently separate the wedges so that they're almost touching in the center, but are spaced about an inch apart at the edges.  Pierce the tops of the scones with fork tines and brush them with remaining maple syrup.

Bake the scones for 15 to 18 minutes, or until golden brown.  Remove from oven and brush with any remaining maple syrup. Wait a few minutes and then gently separate scones and transfer to a wire rack. Serve warm or at room temperature, with jam or maple syrup butter.


This was the recipe I really wanted to make except I didn't have walnuts and our maple syrup jug was 'bout empty plus it was 10:30 pm.  At that point you have to improvise.  Last week I'd made this scrumptious  cinnamon sugar syrup (The Sisters Cafe) for fun.  I still had some left and I used that instead of the maple syrup in the recipe and in the poked holes.  I replaced the walnuts with golden raisins which provided a little natural sweetness.  My flour was also a mixture of KAF unbleached and whole wheat.

I made only one batch of these but cut those nice wedges into half again and it made plenty for about 30 people.  I easily made them in about an hour's time including baking.  Even though it kept me up late it was worth the compliments from both young and old.

Yes, you may ask why I was concocting this so late...and the answer would be busy, busy day.  We worked a charity event at a local restaurant from 12:30-4:30 came home and ate dinner quickly with kids, kissed them again and then headed to our local university's theatre to usher for The Merchant of Venice (Beach) a revised Shakespearean drama.  Today we saw another play, Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse, at the children's theatre my husband used to run.  I'd not seen this, one of my favorite children's books, brought to life and it was excellent.  We had several young friends starring and it lit a fire in Groovy Girl's belly to try out for next year's season.

While I've been typing this post out my sweet son downloaded a Grateful Dead album onto my computer and I've been grooving to Sugar Magnolia-he just made my day as I discovered I can sing the lyrics out with his awesome headphones on which make me feel like I'm in the band.  Of course I cleared the room also!  

This post is linked to Beth Fish Reads Weekend Cooking post.  Click her link to find many other food-related posts from all over the globe.  The scones in the photo above look delicious also and closely resemble mine.  I found the photo at Jenny Steffens Hobick's website Everyday Occasions and will have to make them the next time I need a perfect breakfast treat.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Top Notch Elementary Fiction; The Humming Room by Ellen Potter

I've had so many new books arriving over the last few weeks and I'm trying to read some of them as fast as I can. 

The Humming Room (2012) was in paperback at our book fair a few weeks ago and had me intrigued.  I've read the first Olivia Kidney book and liked it well enough but last summer I read The Kneebone Boy and was blown away by its quirky characters.  Potter's wonderful writing style carries over to The Humming Room which is loosely based on the classic The Secret Garden by Frances  Hodgson Burnett. 

Roo Fanshaw, the young main character, is orphaned when her father and his girlfriend are both killed in a drug-related shooting.  Roo is very adept at hiding in small places and going unnoticed.  Lucky for her her rich uncle's assistant comes for her and they make the journey to his island house.  On the island Roo is out of place at first but easily slips around to discover mysteries and she begins to enjoy her surroundings.  The house was once a tuberculosis sanitarium and Roo explores where the children lived and died.  This book has a cast of interesting characters and just enough creepiness to keep 4th-6th graders interested. 

Ransom quote:

Pressing her ear to the ground, she closed her eyes and listened to the hushed singing in the soil.  It was such a tiny, complicated sound that it required the steadiest concentration.  The stirring of worm's eggs in their cocoons, the pulse of roots, the minute shifting of bugs. Immediately Roo felt herself relax.  Her world collapsed down into a tiny little bundle, just the way she liked it. (65)

You Tube book trailer

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Two book that have nothing in common

Truthfully you can always make a connection between books though. They can be lumped together as good books, new books, books with strong main characters, books about death, and you get the idea.

Catherine by April Lindner (January, 2013)is an alternate point-of-view story, switching between Chelsea and her mother Catherine. Chelsea's always thought her mother died of a brief illness until she finds some hidden papers in her father's closet. Turns out that Catherine left when Chelsea was young to take care of some old business in NYC. All she has is an address, The Underground, a gritty gem of a bar where new and old talent share the stage.

As Chelsea uncovers more about her mother's story we read in opposite chapters about her mother's life at about the same age. Each of them meet a mysterious boy through the club and begin that transition of breaking away, transforming into young adult women. Love is tough with rock and roll boys though and it never turns out how they expect. Naturally.

The cover on this ARC was smoky and screamed "dime store romance novel" to me. We play a little game at my house in that if I'm torn between several titles to read my family will help me choose. This title was deemed way too hokey for me by my ever-lovin'husband so I set it aside for a few weeks. Luckily I picked it back up though as I very much enjoyed both Chelsea and Catherine as characters. Catherine's brother annoyed me so much I started talking back to him...out loud. Hate mean boys. Such terrible crap we, as women, often are forced to endure as Catherine demonstrates. I especially loved the whole Underground bar idea, making the reader feel a part of the hip music crowd. April Lindner has another book Jane and I'm interested in reading it. I liked Lindner's style.


 Strange ideas pinged around in my mind like pinballs. I didn't want to think about my mother with Hence, but I couldn't help it. Had she really been in love with him? And had he loved her back? I though of what he'd said-if she were still alive, I'd know. I, of all people, would know-and it seemed possible, even likely. Had she run away from me and my dad to go back to him? (59)

Also read this excellent review of Catherine in this Boston Globe article.

The second major book I read in March was 19 Minutes by Jodi Picoult. I've had this book on my shelf for oh, 6 years, no lie. A bookie friend passed it on to me while I was teaching in Little Rock but said to me "probably shouldn't read it until you are done with teaching..." and handed it over.  I knew the topic (school shooting) and actually thought waiting to read it was not the worst idea ever.

So I waited thinking I would just know when the time was right... The book is excellent but really there is no right time because while it is about a school shooting the main issue is bullying, which is such a hot topic now. I've heard many say things like kids just need to buck up, bullies have always existed, we had bullies-it's just part of growing up. I agree with some of those statements as I remember vividly being teased and harassed by students and even by my own brother as Peter is in the story. The difference today is how utterly harsh kids can be. Through reality television, brutal video games, facebook, and any number of other venues kids feel free to share their most vitriolic thoughts.   You can hear how horrible you are via text, skype, or facebook post.

Maybe many of you have read this one already and if you haven't you should. Told through a variety of viewpoints and time frames we get a truly well-rounded look at Peter, his friend Josie and their families.     I look forward to reading Picoult's latest book,  The Storyteller.  I don't have it yet but if I did I wouldn't let it sit on my shelf for 6 years!

As an advocate of peace and justice I firmly believe we need strict gun control laws. I have family members that hunt but I feel like handguns and automatic weapons are far too prevalent in our society. It can be a mental health issue as well, I understand that but if we made it difficult to get guns in the first place it wouldn't be an issue. The Columbine shooting occurred in 1999, this book was written in 2007, and we have yet to solve this crisis. And in fact the violence has increased ten-fold. Passionate topic for me, yes.


 On the ride home, Alex stole glances at her daughter in the rearview mirror. Josie had gone to school this morning in a white cardigan and khaki pants; now that cardigan was streaked with dirt. There were twigs in her hair, which had fallen from its ponytail. The elbow of her sweater had a hole in it; her lip was still bleeding. And-here was the amazing thing-apparently, she'd fared better than the little boy she'd gone after. (70) 

 Read, read, read! What have you been reading recently?
Snow in the forecast. Crazy, yes.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

The Pursuit of happiness through cookies.

I recently finished listening to Bruce Feiler's audio book, The Secrets of Happy Families and thoroughly enjoyed most of it.

Several points that stood out to me was the chore board, the family mission statement, the deep family conversations, and the variety of new ways to connect with your kids and parents.  We've always held firm to family dinners around our kitchen table and have fascinating conversations about our days which I always believed gave my kids the idea of empathy towards each other and the world as we discuss politics and events.  The family dinner is discussed in the book and Bruce agreed that it is important to gather at the table it is even more important what you talk about the table so I've worked harder at discussing family history.  With two kids at the table I asked if the kids could think of where their grandparents had gone to school; both high school and college.  I was happy that every one enjoyed the conversation which was meant to talk about how each family has had good and bad experiences and all survived better for both experiences.

One of the latter chapters talks about bonding through challenges.  The example Bruce uses is through an ex-Navy person who now leads people on grueling challenges which creates a bond between participants.  I, myself, am NOT up for that challenge but I came up with a small mini-challenge for my own two-Make cookies together!  Didn't you wonder how I was ever going to pull this around to real food?  

Our two younger kids are 7 years apart and have very little in common, their words not mine.  Groovy Girl is all dance, glitter, AG dolls, Barbies, and drama while College Boy is all slightly sullen, bossy, king-of-his world attitude and they clash like Kronos' kids.  It was just me and the kids looking for something to do together while Dad was off practicing with his bluegrass band.  I casually offered the challenge to them as I handed them the recipe which came attached to a recent purchase of canola oil.  While I don't usually use recipes attached to packages this one appeared easy and kid-friendly.

I got the big mixer out for them and walked away.  Groovy Girl, bless her heart, knew to get all the ingredients out first.  College Boy took control of the mixer after his sister turned it to supersonic speed on her first go.  They worked together quiet easily.  She measured, cracked, and stirred, then handed each ingredient to him to add to the dough.  

As they worked I shot a few photos on my phone and listened to them chatter about other baking experiences with me.  Groovy Girl felt bad about  a recent baking experience with her and I where she blasted the mixer, letting flour fly all over the kitchen and College Boy recounted a similar experience when he was younger, which made her feel better.  They even smiled at each other a few times.  Food is a great bridge for people of all kinds,  We join with our families, sharing recipes, sharing traditions, exchanging recipes, and loving each moment.  I know my children will bring cooking into their own homes, remembering the times they spent with me in the kitchen and at the table.  

The cookie recipe they created together:

Brown Sugar Cookies

1/2 cup Crisco Shortening (I know-blech)
1/2 cup (unsalted) butter
1 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 large (farm fresh) egg
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups (unbleached) flour (maybe even a mix of wheat and white)
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt

Heat oven to 350 degrees.  
Beat shortening, butter, brown sugar, egg, and vanilla in medium bowl of with electric mixer on medium speed until creamy.  Stir together flour, baking soda, and salt in medium bowl.  Add gradually to creamed mixture, beating on low speed until blended.

Shape dough into 1-inch balls.  Place two inches apart on un-greased baking sheet.
Bake 12-14 minutes or until golden brown.
Cool on baking sheet for 2 minutes.  Remove to wire rack to cool completely.
Makes about 4 dozen.

*I wouldn't cook them until they get golden brown unless you like your cookies crispy.  I took several pans out at about 10 minutes because we prefer a softer cookie.  Also to the second half of the batch we added chocolate chips as College Boy feels strongly that there is no true purpose for a cookie to exist with out chips in it.  I probably won't make it again, opting to make our regular chocolate chip recipe instead but the experience was worth it.

Enjoy Weekend Cooking at Beth Fish Reads where you will find many food-related posts.