Tag Archives: Food

When Good Intentions Go Wrong

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Photo by Lynn Kelley. Click HERE to check out her blog!

While standing in the checkout line at the grocery store with a full cart, a woman showed up carrying a carton of milk, a tube of toothpaste, and a screaming infant.

I remembered what it was like when my son used to freak out like that. His shrieking used to make me feel jittery and self-conscious. I wasn’t in any hurry that day, and I wanted to help. “Would you like to go ahead of me?” I asked.

“Why?” the young mother accused. “Is his crying bothering you?”

“No, I just figured you have two dinky items and I have a whole cart,” I said. “You can jump ahead of me…”

“Screw you!” She frowned. “I’ll find another line.”

As she stormed off, I was bewildered. I had just wanted to help. And yet there I was, feeling strangely guilty.

Sitting in my car with the food meant to nourish my family, to fill them up, I felt completely emptied out and kind of nauseous.

I turned on the radio in my car to find NPR was running some kind of old interview with Maya Angelou. She spoke for a few minutes before she said:

Screen shot 2013-04-20 at 12.30.47 AM

And that was all I needed.

I would not let what had happened in the grocery store ruin my day.

My intention had been to be helpful.

I had no hidden agenda.

I don’t know what was going on with that poor young mother, I only wanted her to let me help her in some small way. But maybe she felt she needed to do it all. Maybe she’d heard the same messages that I’d heard during my life. Pull yourself up by the bootstraps. Be strong. Figure it out. Maybe admitting she was struggling that day felt like failure. Maybe she felt like she sucked eggs as a mother because she didn’t know how to soothe her infant.

All I know is that one woman’s rejection is not going to stop me from trying to connect with other people.

I’m a connector: reaching out is what I do.

{For the record, you totally want to get in line behind me at the grocery store.  And if I offer you “headsies,” there are no strings attached.}

Do you have a quote that has inspires you? Please share it here!

tweet me @rasjacobson

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Snacks For Summer Camp: A #Giveaway via @GoGoSqueez

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TechSupport poses with one of his favorite snacks.

When I went to overnight camp, we weren’t supposed to bring any food from home. Instead, we got to visit “canteen” once a week, where we could select two treats. I always selected one half-melted chocolate thing and a purple ICEE.

Of course, that single weekly visit was never enough, and we wrote whiny letters home begging our parents to send us food.

Once, my mother sent me a package filled with all kinds of goodies. Sadly, none of that delicious contraband made it beyond the office, as someone in there figured out that the lumpy Cookie Monster stuffed animal had been unstuffed and filled with all kinds of junk food.

That sucked.

In less than 3 weeks, my 13-year-old son will head off to overnight camp.

For seven weeks.

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So long as it has one of these on it, we’re good.

TechSupport’s camp allows him to bring in food — so long as it’s kosher. This is always a bit of a conundrum as it’s difficult to find kosher snacks that are healthy, tasty, reasonably priced, and don’t require refrigeration.

But this year, I’ve got it figured out.

*insert happy dance*

The good folks at GoGoSqueeZ have nine flavors of applesauce that can be easily put into kids’ overnight trunks —  and they don’t even have to be refrigerated.

Not only is GoGoSqueez kosher, but it’s also all-natural, gluten-free, wheat-free, and vegan-friendly. It doesn’t contain any yucky stuff like high fructose corn syrup or added colors or flavors.

Listen, I know my kid is going to eat his fill of s’mores at camp.

Like every night, probably.

But I also know he loves GoGoSqueez cinnamon-applesauce.

So I’m stoked about sending him off with something homegrown that comes from a company that uses the best ecological practices to grow and harvest their fruit.

Good snacks are like currency at camp, so the kids in my son’s bunk are in for a treat if they want to trade.

Screen Shot 2013-05-15 at 10.18.21 PMAnd guess what?

Y’all are in for a treat too because the folks at GoGoSqueeZ are offering one lucky winner* a chance to try their 9-flavor sampler.

Your kids don’t have to settle for plain ole apple.

Oh no.

You can see which flavor your children like best: appleapple, applegrape, applecherry, apple-banana, applepeach, applemango, applecinnamon, applestrawberry and appleberry!

If you sign up for the GoGoSqueeZ newsletter and place your order online, you’ll receive 10% off your entire order.

I bought the 20-pouch sampler.

I figure that should hold my kid.

For about 3 weeks.

Oy.

What do you have to do to win?

1. Leave me a comment telling me the kind of snacks you remember eating during the summer. 

If you went to overnight camp, which one did you attend? Did you have a canteen to raid? If you didn’t go to overnight camp, why the heck not do you ever wish you did? What other kosher snacks can I send to camp with my kid? Oh, and no, they can’t use hot pots.

2. For an extra chance to win, tweet MY POST:

Need help regarding what to say? Copy & paste this and make sure your handle is on the tweet!

Enter to win a 9-pouch sampler from @GoGoSqueeZ via @rasjacobson! http://wp.me/pViQq-3ZH #giveaway

tweet me @rasjacobson

*LEGAL STUFF: I received a 9-pouch sampler from GoGoSqueez for TechSupport to try. He still loves apple-cinnamon the best. Big surprise. As you know, I only do reviews when I really LOVE the products. Y’all, you can make appletinis with this stuff. And cook with it. What’s not to love?

*NOTE: Comments will be closed on 6/13 and one winner will be announced on this page on 6/14, so be sure to check back. If I don’t hear back from the winner within 24 hours, Random Number Generator will select a new winner. My apologies, but you have to have a US shipping address to be eligible to win.

Yummy!

Yummy!

NOTE: The winner of the GoGoSqueeZ giveaway is Brown Road Chronicles! Congratulations Steve! Send me your mailing address within the next 48 hours!

Gratitude: It Is Decided

I am beyond grateful today.

When I asked people to help me to design a new header for this blog, I didn’t think anyone would do it.

As usual, I have been surprised by this wonderful writing community.

I communicated with all of the people who submitted entries to my contest, each of whom insisted that if I wanted to use the header that he or she designed that I could simply use it.

Steve from Brown Road Chronicles told me he didn’t even know there was a prize involved when he made the header in the first place and suggested that I make a donation to our local food pantry. Val Erde from Arty Old Bird thought that making a donation sounded like a great idea, as did Jules, who told me to hold onto her header and use it whenever I want. The two other bloggers insisted they remain anonymous, but agreed with everyone else.

So I made my decision.

If you look up, you will see my new header.

I love it.

And, shockingly, I love that I am not wearing my hat.

Who’da thunk it?

After Thanksgiving, I will make a donation at my local food pantry in recognition of all the participating bloggers’ names.

Even the anonymous ones.

In a few hours, my house will be filled with family. My parents are traveling to be with us. They will find a cozy place on the couch and plant themselves there. My nephews will talk about medical school and college, and I will cling to my eldest niece, knowing she will be heading somewhere fabulous in the Fall.

I will look at my son and his younger cousin, my niece, and feel a sense of awe. Too soon, they — like their older cousins — will leave home. My hope is that everyone comes back once in a while to share in this family tradition. In a few hours, while the men shout about how the damn TV remote isn’t working (because our TV remote totally sucks), I will be drowning in love and potato peels.

I am thrilled to host this year’s feast, which means Hubby and I are offering our house, preparing the table, making fifteen pounds of mashed potatoes, a bunch of side dishes, and a dessert or two.

Because like Jenny Hansen and Susie Lindau, I have major turkey anxiety.

I would rather set the table and wash all the dishes than be responsible for the bird.

There are the tables, ready to go.

May we all eat well and remember the many blessings that have been bestowed upon us.

I feel so fortunate right now. Truly, I wish I had long enough arms to give everyone in real life and this blogosphere a big hug.

With much gratitude,

xoxoRASJ

Gazpacho for Muchacho

Gazpacho (Spanish liquid tomato salad).

Gazpacho (Spanish liquid tomato salad). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Yesterday, it was a warm, breezy summer night and our family was having  supper outside at our heavy black wrought-iron table, under our umbrella in the backyard. It was a light meal: a little bread, some cheese and fresh fruit. And gazpacho.

When we finished, Monkey pushed his chair back from the table and patted his tummy.

“Mom,” he said, “I’ll bet no matter how old I am, whenever I think of summer, I’ll always think of your gazpacho.”

And before I could smile and say how good that made me feel, to think that I could feed him something healthy that he would forever associate with a specific time of year and –perhaps, maybe — a place and a feeling of family, he added: “And now that I’m thinking about it, can you give me a recipe? Because one day you’ll be dead, and I want to be sure I know how to make it!”

Ahhh boys.

So sensitive.

I know Monkey meant his words as a compliment. And I know he loves my gazpacho — which is really a recipe from my old friend Allison. When we lived in New Orleans, she made her recipe one summer and I remember reacting just like Monkey. It is divine. For me, Allison’s gazpacho is all about hanging out with teacher friends during the off-season.

Here’s the Allison’s Gazpacho Recipe for those of you who love easy meals:

  • 2 cucumbers, reserve about 4 tablespoons
  • 1 bell pepper
  • 1 large red onion
  • 1 small can black pitted olives (drain the juice)
  • 2-3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2-3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • dash of Lea & Perrins
  • 1 bottle of V-8 (I use regular; some people like it hot)
  • dash of Tabasco sauce

Put all ingredients into a food processor in order listed, pulsing gently — until you get to V-8. Pour V-8 and Tabasco into a gorgeous tureen, then add all the ingredients from the food processor. Garnish each bowl with a few cucumber chunks. Let sit 1 hour in fridge to chill. Serve cold. Easily serves 8-10 people.

What food(s) do you associate with summer? What do you see? Feel?

Lessons From The Sludge

Note: This piece was inspired by yesterday’s outrageous downpour and my husband’s subsequent muddy bike ride. Upon his return, he found me eating potato chips that I had dropped on the floor. It was our anniversary this weekend. Sixteen years. I guess this is a tribute. Kind of.

When I lived in New Orleans, there was one particularly soggy Jazz Fest where just as Robert Cray finished belting out the last stanza to “Forecast,” — I can feel the thunder
/ I can see the lightning
 / I can feel the pain
 / Oh, it’s gonna rain,” — the already ominous looking grey skies opened up, and torrents of water-soaked this curly-girly’s hair in less than 30 seconds.

My soon-to-be fiancé and I huddled under an enormous piece of plastic that some smart person had thought to bring, and when the downpour turned into a light sprinkle, we slogged over to the food vendors.

Hubby immediately headed for the shortest line and opted for something cheap — a piece of pizza. I, on the other hand, went full throttle N’awlins and went to stand in a line advertising étouffée and crocodile and turtle soup and crawfish pies.

The line was ridiculously long; it wrapped and weaved around which, to me, indicated I’d found the Disneyland of food vendors. For 30 minutes, I sloshed around in a combination of mud and muck and hay and urine, my feet and ankles covered in a chocolaty-goo.

Eventually, I made it to the front of the line where I asked as politely as a ravenous, sleep-deprived, ridiculously sweaty, mud-covered dancing fool could muster: “One soft-shell crab Po’ Boy, please.”

Finally, a woman with honey colored skin and a long, kinky ponytail placed the sandwich of my dreams in my hands. My Po ‘Boy was thick and ungainly. Holding it, made it near impossible to retrieve my wet wad of dollar bills out of my pocket to pay. The woman behind the counter offered, “Sugar, let me hold dat for you.”

I reached in my pocket for $15.00.

Expensive? Absolutely. But I was beyond ravenous, and I just felt certain my “sammy” would be worth the wait.

Ms. Honeysweet Food Vendor traded cash-for-sandwich and, napkins in hand, I stepped away from the smell of fried food and the stink of people whose deodorant had washed off hours earlier. Or had never been applied at all.

I scanned the crowd for my fiancé, knowing he wouldn’t be far and, spotting him, I triumphantly raised my sandwich in the air.

Photo by rpongsaj @ flickr.com

And then it happened.

The innards of my sandwich — all that crabmeat, the special sauce and lettuce and tomato and onion — slipped, slow-motion style from the wax paper into which it had been carefully swaddled and splashed into the filthy sludge pile beneath my feet.

“Noooooo!” I howled, scrambling to my knees to retrieve what I could salvage.

Future Hubby was mortified.

“You. Are. So. Not. Eating. That.”

Future Hubby probably meant this as a gentle suggestion, but I have always heard sentences like that as a kind of dare.

And I always take the dare.

I picked up my broken sandwich parts and picked out the largest, most offensive pieces of hay and grit.

Did I mention the dirt? And the sludge?

I looked at Future Hubby, just so he understood the girl he had chosen and what he was getting.

And I took a bite.

My sandwich was not delicious. It definitely had bits-o-mulch in it, but I made a point of chewing and swallowing.

Future Hubby made gagging noises. He told me I would, undoubtedly, become sick. He told me all about germ theory and all the kinds of parasites that live in urine and dirt. He told me I was going to get tapeworm. And toxoplasmosis. Don’t ask. (I know I didn’t.)

I was unimpressed. If it was going to be my time, I figured it was as good as any to go. I would have lived fully. I would have been warmed by the sun and then survived an amazing lightning storm. I would have heard Herbie Hancock and Pearl Jam and Wynton Marsalis and Superfly and Chilliwack Dixieland.

As it turns out, that Po’ Boy was not worth a 30-minute wait. Neither was it worth that $15 price-tag. Even if my ridiculously expensive sandwich hadn’t fallen in the flarg, it is unlikely that I would have finished it. It just wasn’t very good.

Later, the sun came out again in full force. Exhausted, Future Hubby and I went to the Gospel Tent, where a person can usually find a chair away from the heat. I felt transported back in time, to some kind of revival meeting straight out of Huckleberry Finn. With so many people raising their hands in the air and saying “amen,” I knew I would not get sick. That afternoon, I put my faith in Rance Allen and Albert S. Hadley and Soul Children — in their voices, and in my immune system.

And guess what? I’m still here.

What’s the most disgusting thing you’ve ever tried to eat?

Lessons From A Meat Truck

Basashi (raw horsemeat) from Towada.

Image via Wikipedia

One year ago I bought truck meat.

You heard me.

Not one but two cute dudes drove into my driveway offering me steaks, chicken breasts and shellfish. Initially, I was skeptical. But then I saw the meat had come from a reputable company, a name I recognized. I considered 36 pieces of filet mignon and 12 marinated chicken breasts. The guys wanted $400.

I looked at the guys again.

I wanted that meat.

“It’s guaranteed for freshness for 24 months,” they insisted all cute and muscle-y.

I hesitated.

They offered to drop the price by $50.

I hesitated some more and batted my eyelashes a little.

They added an extra carton of filet thus confirming I still had my magical powers at 40-something.

The meat dudes did not accept credit cards, so I gladly wrote one guy a check as the other more muscle-y guy concentrated on stacking the bags of meat into our garage freezer.

I was elated.

The two men screeched backed carefully out of my driveway and zoomed off down the street.

Eventually Hubby saw the charge in our checkbook and asked about it.

“I got 48 pieces of fillet and 24 chicken breasts for $318!” I exclaimed.

“Have we had any yet?” he asked.

“No!” I said, “I’m saving it for something special. Maybe New Year’s Eve or something.”

“Open it up!” Hubby practically shouted.

I didn’t know what he was so worked up about. I mean the guys were so honest and I had a 24-month guarantee for freshness. Sheesh.

The meat defrosted on our kitchen countertop and, eventually, we cut open its clear plastic wrapper.

I’m not sure if it was the color or the smell that tipped us off first.

“I don’t think that’s from a cow,” Hubby declared as he plugged his nose and plopped the meat into a trash-bag.

I pictured cats, dogs, gerbils, nutria — and I knew I had done a bad thing.

An organized person, I quickly found the 24-month freshness warranty and dialed the 1-800 number.

Doo doo doo. We’re sorry, the number you have reached is no longer in service.

I called the local distributor.

Doo doo doo. We’re sorry the number you have reached is no longer in service.

I knew I had been scammed.

Few things set me off more than being lied to.

Furious, I called the Better Business Bureau where I learned the company I had done business with had over 300 complaints filed against it. I didn’t care. I would not be a number.

Long story short: It took a few months, but I got our money back.

All of it.

Why?

Because I am relentless.

Were you not paying attention the first time around?

Cross me and this twit will make you wish you had Harry Potter on speed dial so you could ask to borrow his invisibility cloak.

If this were a fable by Aesop, the lesson might be something like this: If your stuff is good, you don’t have to brag about it. Or sell it door to door. So if some guys come around bragging about their meat, just say no because — chances are — their junk is already spoiled.

 Have you ever been scammed? What happened? What weird lessons has life been teaching you lately?

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Does Size Matter?

image from steve garfield @ flickr.com

When I taught at the Upper School at Metairie Park Country Day School in Louisiana in the 1990’s, I had it so good, I didn’t even know how good I had it. Anything I ever asked for, I received. If I needed a stapler, I got one. Tape dispenser? Of course. I had pencils and pens and a clock for my room. Hell, I even wrastled up a rug!

The largest class I ever taught at MPCDS had 18 students in it. Eighteen! I was able to individualize assignments for accelerated students and there was time during free periods and after school to help students who needed help. I also really got to know my students on a personal level. In fact, I am still in touch with many of them twenty years later.

The low student/teacher ratio allowed us not only to move through the material quickly, it allowed us to go deep. We had time to do creative projects: enhance the curriculum with art and music. Students had time to work on their writing and compose multiple drafts of a single essay. They worked very hard, and – with 18 students – it was obvious when they hadn’t read or prepared as discussion would simply stop. With 18 students in a classroom, by and large, everyone participated.

When I moved to New York State and started teaching at a local community college, the maximum class size for an English Composition 101 class was set at 24. Last semester, I was surprised to see 27 student names on my roster.

Now that may not seem like a big deal.

You might wonder, “What impact could an extra 3 students possibly have in the classroom climate and culture?”

Let’s just say for each student a teacher gains, that’s another paper to grade, another student who needs makeup work if he or she is absent, another e-mail to answer. If a teacher has 5 sections, adding 3 extra students per section is 15 additional students, which – in my old private school – was an actual class section! And those numbers can get overwhelming very quickly.

I find having more students makes it harder just to remember people’s names. There are more opportunities for students to “hide” in the back row and zone out. In a typical class period, not everyone speaks. I have had to change my methods to make sure that everyone is focused on my material, that they are even awake! Because my sections meet every other day, there are fewer opportunities for discussion. I don’t always have as great a grasp on who has written which paper. As students withdraw from my courses, I feel an embarrassing sense of relief. And let me be clear, this relief is not because I don’t like the students. That is not it at all. The reality is that it leaves me more space in my brain to focus on the students who remain, to help the people who get their work done and who want to be there to succeed.

In a recent article published in Education News, Sam Dillon wrote:

Over the past two years, California, Georgia, Nevada, Ohio, Utah and Wisconsin have loosened legal restrictions on class size. And Idaho and Texas are debating whether to fit more students in classrooms.

Los Angeles has increased the average size of its ninth-grade English and math classes to 34 from 20. Eleventh and 12th-grade classes in those two subjects have risen, on average, to 43 students.

“Because many states are facing serious budget gaps, we’ll see more increases this fall,” said Marguerite Roza, a University of Washington professor who has studied the recession’s impact on schools.

The increases are reversing a trend toward smaller classes that stretches back decades. Since the 1980s, teachers and many other educators have embraced research finding that smaller classes foster higher achievement.

image from photosteve @ flickr.com

Recently, Andrew Cuomo  made some drastic cuts to New York States Education Budget that has administrators quietly wringing their hands.

And for the first time in my life, I plan to attend a Budget meeting for my local school district, set for March 14, 2011. Why? It is my understanding that in my district no one attends these meetings, and I’d like to understand the process by which these cuts will be made. What exactly will be cut?

Music and art are generally considered extras. I will try to make sure that doesn’t happen. But if saving those courses means my son’s core class sizes will need to balloon to 34 students… well, that’s a tough choice.

There are about to be drastic cuts in every public school across the country, and if you care about the future of your children’s education, I implore you to make the time to attend these Board meetings about the budget. Everyone always complains after the cuts have been made. Be part of the process and try to help the Board with their decision-making. Or at least bear witness to the process.

It really is our civic duty.

Think of it like voting. You know how people always say if you don’t vote in the Presidential elections, you have absolutely no right to complain because you opted out of the process. Well, I agree. And as the band Rush so aptly sang back in the 1980’s: “If you choose not to choose, you still have made a choice.”

I am planning to go to this budget meeting to find out what we, the general public, might be able to do to prevent these cuts. I want to ask the Board how much money we might need to raise to save certain programs. Because maybe as a community, we can raise some money.

Maybe I am optimistic.

Maybe I am delusional.

Hell, I’ve been called worse.

But I do believe that I live in the kind of school district where parents are willing to help.

And I can be the girl who asks.

In the past, I’ve found chocolate and wine can get people to do almost anything.

(But seriously, anyone wanna come with? I’m a little nervous… more about getting lost on the way to the meeting than anything else.)

Do you think class size matters when it comes to education?

How I Tricked My Book Club Into Writing

Cover of "Bitter is the New Black : Confe...

Cover via Amazon

My neighborhood book club has been going strong for nearly three years. A bunch of women who range in age, profession, religious background, and plenty of other things, we agree that we enjoy the following items (not necessarily in the order they are listed):

1. Periodically getting together at someone’s house (preferably not our own);

2. Eating chocolates;

3. Drinking wine;

4. Chatting it up a bit;

5. Discussing books we might not have otherwise ever picked up.

The last meeting was at my house. This time eleven people showed up for an hour of “eat, booze and schmooze” in the kitchen, and eight stayed to gather on the family room couches to “talk book.” Since the host selects the book, my selection was Jen Lancaster’s Bitter is the New Black : Confessions of a Condescending, Egomaniacal, Self-Centered Smartass (Or, Why You Should Never Carry A Prada Bag to the Unemployment Office).

Quick summary: Before September 11th, Lancaster worked as an associate vice president for a technology company prior to being laid off. In this capacity she made loads of many and acquired many pairs of shoes. After 9/11, the author whines – incessantly – about being unemployed, her boyfriend/fiancé/husband, Fletch, their neighbors, their pets, and how she can no longer afford the shoes she once used to buy so readily. I liked Lancaster’s wit and rampant narcissism.

And while Lancaster was not for everyone, we agreed the book was snarky and fast-paced: a good choice for February, when knee-deep snow and the winter white skies of Western New York provide enough gloom to make everyone question just how severe our vitamin D deficiencies might be. It’s hard to stay connected to neighbors in the winter; it’s just so friggin’ cold. People walk around with their shoulders up and their heads down. We rush from warm house to warming car. There is little time to casually chat at the mailbox when the wind is stinging your ears and making your eyes tear up. Our little club keeps us connected year round so that we remain in touch with our neighbors, something equally rare these days.

It is up to the host to facilitate discussion, and – big surprise – I have long wanted to infuse a writing exercise into a meeting, so I figured – since this book was devoid of any real literary depth – this was my chance.

“Okay,” I said brightly ,”Remember when Lancaster lists her ‘Jen Commandments’? The little quirks she possesses that people who know her and love her just have to accept?”

A few people nodded. (I had my suspicions that most people didn’t get that far.)

I referred to the text. I didn’t have to; almost no one brings the book to book club.  I could have said anything, but I quoted Lancaster:

I hate holding anything heavier than my purse. If I have something in my hands, I will attempt to trick you into carrying it for me?

A few people snickered then looked semi-spooked as I handed everyone one salmon-colored index card and plopped a pen onto each lap. As I stuck a small, non-threatening bowl in the middle of my tufted ottoman, I said, “I thought it would be kind of fun if each of us wrote one of our own ‘Commandments’ and put it into the bowl. Anonymously, of course. It could be fun to see if we can figure out who goes with what.”

Initially, some people looked panicky and began to protest, but thank goodness the majority was with me. A few women asked for extra index cards. At first, I thought it was because they goofed up, but for some people once the creative juices started flowing, the flood gates could not hold all our estrogen and soon the orange-bowl, index card confessional runneth over. I read the first one aloud:

I always sleep with 3 pillows. This is a need not a want. And, I will always travel with a pillow, even if it necessitates bringing another suitcase.

We laughed, especially because we were so dead wrong with regard to whom was attached to this statement. Surely our quiet, unassuming neighbor could never be so demanding. But there she was, shamelessly nodding her head.

I passed the bowl to my right so someone else could read another book clubber’s words:

If you say you’re going to do something, then just do it. If you talk about something but never get to it, then I start wondering about you.

Hilarious. And so true.

One woman wrote on the front of her card:

I’m in charge of almost everything… (and then on the back) … and I like it that way!

Another neighbor penned:

I obsess about making decisions and my good friends have to listen to me!

Everyone easily guessed mine.

I absolutely hate repetitive noises. If you tap something more than five times, I might have to kill you.

One that stood out was short and direct.

Do not screw up my coffee order.

This, of course, led to a hilarious story about how this neighbor had recently visited a local Starbucks where the barista dared to give her three squirts of vanilla in her mocha latte instead of one. There was hell to pay that morning. 😉 There were other “isms” that were equally excellent. And it was a hoot to hear each woman’s words read aloud. Everyone was honest and enjoyed poking fun at herself, sharing her quirks, her personal truths. As usual, book club was less about the book than it was about people gathering together to get to know each other a little better.

What my book club mates don’t realize is that they are totally screwed. Now that I have seen that they can write (even under pressure), the next time it is my turn to select a book and host, we are sooooooo writing.

Lessons on Slowing Down

Nearly every parent I know has wrestled with deciding how important it is to have their children take Advanced Placement (AP) courses. Parents want their children to have all the opportunities they can get so that they can succeed and be happy in life. (If only happiness could be achieved that easily!) Meanwhile, kids feel the pressure and report feeling exhausted, unhappy and anxious.

People often ask me, as a person who has spent nearly twenty years in the classroom, what I think about AP classes. Should their child take this AP or that AP. And they are often surprised when I respond with a question: “Does your child love French? Because if he doesn’t love it, why would you want him to take the AP which is going to require so much of his time and energy?”

What people (and by people, I mean parents) do not seem to understand is that the demand of an AP class is designed to be similar to a 100-level college class. The difference is that, in high school, that class will likely meet every day – while in college, there is usually an “off-day” where students have time to read and generally better manage coursework.

In RACE TO NOWHERE, filmmakers Vicki Abeles and Jessica Congdon speak to educators, parents, tweens, and teens about the pressures they face academically and emotionally, and the physical toll these expectations exact. What results is a picture of a fractured educational system that pushes kids to become successful — but at a cost.

During the Post World War II Advanced Placement pilot program, AP courses were designed to draw the top students into a small class of other students who LOVED the material. In 1952, AP classes were designed to be small so teachers could move at an accelerated pace because of the students’ voracious love of the subject matter. The idea was excellent.

Of course, what has happened over time, is that parents have demanded that their children be allowed entry into AP classes because, these days, there is a warped race to create the best college application. (Believe me, parents want those AP’s on their college applications.) So AP class sizes have ballooned, and there is less one-on-one with teachers. And kids who had no business being in an AP in the first place struggle. Because AP classes are hard. Really hard. When the idea was created, I don’t think anyone from the Ford Foundation would have recommended that any one student take five AP courses.

I always tell parents that AP courses are not the be all/end all. When I say this, they look at me like I have five heads. Then they ignore me completely. (I’m telling you, parents don’t like to hear this.)

I truly believe that the point of education is for children to love to learn. When students are getting sick, when they arrive at college unprepared and unmotivated, there is a problem. Students who feel too much pressure to perform, burn out. Feeling the pressure to achieve, students self-medicate, turn to drugs and alcohol as an escape, and sometimes cheat to complete the ever mounting pile of assignments which need to finished – now! From my vantage point, I see kids who are over-scheduled and overtired.

School should be the place where our teens learn about balance. Schools that allow students to skip lunch periods so they can take five Advanced Placement courses have bought into the hype (or caved into parental pressure). And that is sad. Lunch should not be optional. Humans need to stop and eat healthy food (not a bag of chips) to provide their bodies with energy. I don’t care how many times a parent calls and says, “I want my son to take 5 APs.” Administrators need to grow a set and say, “I’m sorry, but we just don’t think that is beneficial to your child.” Students need help learning how to make healthy choices. Sometimes that means they need the school to shield them from demanding parents. And anyway, kids don’t have to be enrolled in a course to take AP tests: a really self-motivated kid who loves to learn should be able to access all the material he needs to prepare him/herself for any AP test.

For the love of Pete, I’m a Tiger Momma. I believe our children need to pick the things they do and do them well. But we need to help guide them to understand they cannot do everything. Our kids need to study hard – absolutely – but they also need to eat. They need to be able to go to the bathroom without worrying they are missing crucial information. And they need to be allowed to tune school out for a while so they can exercise and nurture friendships. They should not be running from this practice to that recital just be sitting on their asses in front of their computers every night.

When I was in high school, I had the opportunity to take regular English, AP English, or  Syracuse University Project Advance (SUPA English). At the time, SUPA was a college curriculum class taught by our own high school instructors who had been trained to teach the course. I worked my butt off in that class, and I did not always excel. I remember getting one paper back with a big fat “D” on it. (Maybe it was a “C,” but in my mind, I remember it as a “D.”) I also remember taking that paper to the library and weeping next to a huge potted plant. I had worked so hard on that paper. And English was the subject in which I was supposed to excel. I did not understand how I could have failed. My ego was battered, but my love for the subject matter made me want to figure things out. I busted my hump in that class. It was truly an amazing experience, and I believe it was the course that best prepared me for college.

When I think back on it, I cannot imagine how grueling it must put in that kind of work into every subject, every day. To me, taking all those APs seems utterly unnecessary. No one has ever asked me: “How many AP courses did you take in high school?” (Well, one pretentious fuck did, but it was after he had polished off an entire bottle of red wine himself.) In fact, many colleges don’t even accept AP credit anymore. It’s true.

So, my recommendation is this: If you’ve got a kid who is interested in some accelerated academic experience, have him/her enroll in a summer course at a real college. That looks good on college applications, too. And the credit might actually transfer somewhere, and it might help transition him or her to the realities of actual college life. Help your child live a balanced life. Have your kid go to summer camp, get a job, plant a garden, try something he/she has never done before. Not for the college application, just because.

In the United States, success has long meant making a lot of money. And the way to do this has traditionally meant attending a great college. But we need to redefine success for children. We have gotten caught up in this “race to nowhere,” as described by Abeles and Congdon. We need to teach our kids to do what they love – not pressure them into taking five AP classes because it will make them look good on paper.

In 2010, over 1.8 million students took over 3.2 million AP tests at about $87 bucks a pop. I’m no mathematician, but even I can tell that some people are taking more than one test. And I’d like to know five years down the line, where those kids are, and if they feel all that pain was worth it.

Check out this clip from the film below. Tell me you don’t want to see it!

Dinner Anyone?

This flyer arrived in the mail today advertising a new, cool place to eat dinner. Yummy.

And then I saw it.

Oopsie! Do you see it?

It takes a moment…

Who can spot the error first?

Who can leave me the funniest response? Ready? Go!