Thursday, February 28, 2008


So I've mostly stopped paying attention to election news. Neither Obama or Clinton does much for me. And Ralph, couldn't you just sit this one out?

I have lots of people trying to assure me that I can vote for Obama and feel good about it but I'm not convinced. The video that was supposed to make me all teary with inspiration actually ticked me off in a big way. I get the Spanish--Hispanics are a huge voting bloc. Si, se puede--OK. But why not, I don't know, use Vietnamese, Russian, Korean or Chinese too ? Why the Hebrew (which I imagine the majority of American Jews wouldn't even catch) ? What was up with that? The whole thing was way too cheesy for me and caused my opinion of him to drop even further.

But I guess it worked for some Jews.

These were not an option when I was ordering yarmulkes for MonkeyBoy's bar mitzvah.
Thanks to DailyKos for the photo.

And yes, I realize neither of these come from the official Obama campaign. But still.

I'm Back

My computer was out of commission for a few days while a very nice man took it apart and cleaned it, eliminating the overheated shut-downs which were happening more and more frequently. Apparently the problem could be traced to a rather large clump of cat hair which had accumulated inside. Luckily the cats aren't completely useless.

Meanwhile, the sun has been out all week and it feels an awful lot like spring. I'm starting to get that itch to trim and plant. I know how it works in Portland--there's always a late winter "spring" followed by weeks of dreary, cold rain so I won't run off to the nursery for seeds and starts just yet. But it sure is heavenly for now.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Best Food Book Ever

I know, that's a pretty subjective statement so let's just say that Eating India: An Odyssey into the Food and Culture of the Land of Spices is easily the best food writing I've read in a very, very long time. I thought I was going to read this one cover to cover in no time, but I forced myself to savor it like good chocolate. I rationed it out, a chapter at a time, going back for seconds and thirds as often as I pleased.

My knowledge of Indian cooking is so much greater after reading Eating India. Sure, we all know about the Mughal influenced North Indian specialties, but this book takes the reader on a comprehensive tour of numerous Indian communities starting in the author's own Calcutta and wandering all over the subcontinent. No recipes, but lots of interesting tidbits to chew on.

You Haven't Lived...

...until you've spent five very long minutes in almost total darkness, on the floor, locked down with a bunch of jacked-up adolescent ESL students.

After a lengthy first language warning, we had our active shooter drill last night. The kids were totally nuts with anticipation beforehand so the first hour of class was a near-total bust. When the drill began, we turned off lights, shut the blinds, and both locked and barricaded the doors as directed. In the event of a real emergency, however, I would likely be a sitting duck given that our classroom doors only lock with a key and from the outside.

We'd be dead anyway given that my students could not shut up. They were giggling madly and taking full advantage of the darkness during the drill. Needless to say, the remaining class time before break was also a bit of a bust since getting them to settle down and focus on descriptive adjectives was nearly impossible.

I just hope we never have to run through this scenario in real life.....

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Valentine's Day

Last year I wrote a lengthy Valentine's Day post. This year I'm keeping it short and sweet. I thought I'd toss up a shot of The Spouse and me. There aren't a lot of pictures of the two of together since I usually have the camera. I think The Dark Lord took this last August at the beach which is as good as it gets for us. We've been together for 20 years now--it looks like it might work out, don't you think? I'm about the luckiest person in the world to have this man at my side.

Chocolate Truffles

It's an annual thing around here: chocolate truffles for Valentine's Day. It wasn't quite as fun to make them on our own (we usually have the company of good friends) but The Princess and I had quite a lovely time making them on our own and tucking them into shiny paper wrappers.

Truffles don't take long to make. You still have time to make a lovely Valentine's Day gift if you hurry. The recipe is here. Make sure to use a chocolate that you really love. The coatings are up to you. I used ground toasted hazlenuts, finely ground coffee mixed with cocoa and sugar, and toasted coconut shreds. Give them a try and bring a smile to your valentine's face.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

I Could Not Make This Up

In the wake of the horrors last year at Virginia Tech, my college has responded (10 months later) with an "active shooter" protocol. We have our first drill next week and you can imagine how fun that's going to be to explain to beginning level ESL students. The memo that came in today's email was titled

Active Shooter Alert Drill

A Learning Experience

Monday, February 11, 2008

Mosaic Monday

Do you think I might be itching for spring just a little bit?


While I really wasn't excited about The Dark Lord heading off to school it's finally starting to look like a positive thing. The new semester just started and he's able to take a couple of new electives (advanced animation and piano) and has joined a new after school club focusing on drawing comics. He's getting to spend some more time with kids who share his interests and beginning to have some fun. He's learned to get up at an ungodly hour, and manage his homework schedule. He's had to struggle with keeping track of things and getting enough sleep. And despite a rather stressful end of the term, my boy has managed a 3.5 GPA in his first ever semester of school which I think is pretty wonderful and I am very proud of my boy!

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Chocolate Orange Cake

Don't you just have to love a cookbook with an entire chapter dedicated to chocolate cakes? Nigella Lawson's Feast has just such a chapter and it's filed with all kinds of delightful looking possibilities. Since my Fridays have just gotten considerably less complicated, I was able to sit a and plan and then cook a proper Shabbat dinner for the first time in a very long time. We even invited guests, which hasn't happened in I can't tell you how long. Clearly a cake was in order.

I'd long wanted to try the chocolate orange cake in Feast. I can't think of a better combination of flavors and I loved that this recipe included and entire orange, skin and all. The orange is boiled first to soften it then mixed with ground almonds, eggs, cocoa powder, and sugar. I topped it with some strips of candied orange peel and it was quite lovely. Not being super sweet or dripping with icing, the cake wasn't a huge hit with the kids but that's why I was able to enjoy the final piece as my breakfast.

It has a wonderful, slightly nubbly texture and a bright orange flavor above the chocolate. I hope you'll give it a try. Folks from my tribe might even want to keep it in mind for Passover as the recipe can be made kosher-for-Pesach. In that case I would omit the baking powder and soda, separate the eggs, and beat the egg whites until stiff before adding to the batter. That should work in terms of leavening. The recipe is here--Enjoy!

Thursday, February 07, 2008

In Which my Day is Made

I've never been clear on the finer points of blog etiquette so when Leslie left a kind note in the comments for this post I was flattered but, well, I just didn't get it. Tammy mentioned me today as well and now I realize that I'm supposed to do something in response, something other than just sit here being flattered. Like make a short list of my favorite blogs. Right. I'm up to 98 subscriptions in Google Reader so a short list isn't an easy task for me.

There are so many great blogs out there run by fine writers, talented photographers, brilliant crafters, excellent cooks, and astute observers of everything from politics to Hindi movies and I try to visit as many as I can whenever I log on. Many of these folks are super-prolific and I can't always keep up. But it's true that I there are a few blogs whose new posts I always read, even when pressed for time as I so often am. I've left out any number of superstar megablogs but you probably knew about them anyway. And my personal friends should know that of course I read everything you post right away. While I can't possibly include all the blogs I love, I hope my too-short short list will send new readers to some of the blogs that regularly make my day. My thanks to all of those in the blog world who take the time to write and share.

In no particular order:

BikeLoveJones--I love Beth's way of looking at the world.
Filmi Geek--You mean I'm not the only non-Indian crazy about these movies?
Tikkun Knits-- the intersection craft and Judaism
MOMcrats--These folks give me hope that I'm not alone and I'm not a freak.
Posie Gets Cozy--Great crafts--and no one else could make me look at dog pictures.
The Red Molly Picayune-Democrat-- honest and funny--what else do you need?
Is That My Bureka? -- interesting, unusual recipes...and 100% kosher, even
Ragamuffin Studies--thoughtful observations on homeschooling, Judaism, and life in general
Poppalina-- beautiful, mindful, and sharp in all good ways

My First Lockdown

Actually I wasn't even involved, except to notice a rather startling number of police cars in our neighborhood this morning. I didn't really give it another thought until I received the email message from The Dark Lord's high school in which I learned that the school had been under lockdown today while the Portland's Finest chased a criminal suspect through our neighborhood. The principal was pleased that all teachers and students followed the emergency plan as directed. I was pleased that no one was hurt.

When I informed MonkeyBoy of the drama he began laughing about the possibility of his brother going into "Ninja Superhero Mode" which would not have been part of the emergency plan at all.

When I questioned The Dark Lord about the incident this afternoon his response was "ummm...what?" which really is a pretty detailed answer given his adolescent tendency toward grunting in response to my questions. There will be sentences again someday, won't there?

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Update from Room 207

For those of you following the saga, New Man is officially out as of today. His teacher put up with him for 4 weeks. She talked to him about his behavior as did I and our department head to no avail. It stinks because he's a bright boy and he wants to learn English. I think if he could behave appropriately in a classroom, he would. But it just doesn't seem possible and I don't know how to help him with that.

On a lighter note, on e of my Chinese students walked in with a great T-shirt tonight which said "Pank Rock Lundon in the UK". I want that shirt.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Mamanxiety, Part Two

Once again, wondering if I'm ruining my kids for life......

You know how each child has an area in which they shine? The Dark Lord is a fantastic writer and MonkeyBoy is a spectacular artist. With The Princess it's always been music. She's always reacted differently to music than her brothers did and I was delighted that when she was under 2 years old she was able to start music classes. It was a schlep to get to the school but it seemed worth it as the teacher was a friend of ours and The Princess so clearly loved her class.

She ended up taking quite a few classes there on Friday mornings over the years with a small, consistent group of kids. Music class was the highlight of her week until this fall when her beloved Miss Liz was mysteriously replaced. The new class had a completely different tone and the teacher, while clearly very talented, maybe was better with older kids. Too much talking and not enough music in my opinion. Plus things just got harder and began moving faster and The Princess began to struggle. She started to complain that she "couldn't do it" any more--everything was confusing and too hard. There was pretty rigid program without a lot of review and I feared my darling poppet was getting lost.

I've never really studied music but I began to wonder if a group setting was the best environment for a young learner when things are beginning to get complex: reading music, using two hands, figuring out the rhythm--there's an awful lot going on now. I talked with The Princess about the idea of maybe trying out private lessons where she could have her own teacher. She thought that sounded great--along with her group class, but two different simultaneous music programs just isn't feasible for many reasons. I really began to feel that going with private lessons was the way to go and began to get her used to the idea.

Last Friday was her last class at the old school. The recital was bittersweet and we were both sad to be leaving friends. But I was convinced she'd be happy and learn more in her new situation. Her first lesson was today and she prepared by dressing carefully, with numerous special accessories, stick-on earrings, and a name tag made just for the occasion to help the teacher learn her name. She bounced out of the car and ran up the steps eager to get started. She was happy to show the new teacher what she'd been playing and was delighted to play on a lovely Yamaha grand piano.

I sat with her for this first lesson and something clearly wasn't right. She became nervous and unsure of herself while trying to equate new terminology with concepts she already knew. Again, there was too much talking from the teacher, so much focus on the notes for a kid who can't even read yet! I could tell she was hugely disappointed even though she put on a brave face as we were leaving and told me she "kind of liked it" but I knew she was telling me what she thought I wanted to hear. While practicing tonight she was full of resentment with me for taking her away from her old class. I know that most of this is about the change and not the teacher, but I am feeling like such an ogre even though I was really trying to find the best place for her music to grow. It's like the struggle with her brother--I just wish I could have a few moments where I felt certain I knew what was right.

Mamanxiety, Part One

Sometimes all I wish for is a day or two, even an hour, of knowing I'm making the right choices for my kids. My mamanxiety is pretty high these days and I keep having that nagging feeling that I'm messing up my kids for life. When you homeschool your kids, there's no one else to blame, right?

MonkeyBoy is a pretty intense and challenging kid. This is hard to accept for those who see him under ideal circumstances because most people only see his charm, his quick wit, his thoughtfulness, and his brilliant smile. All of these are completely genuine, but when it's time to buckle down and work, most of these attributes disappear and he becomes easily frustrated, ill-tempered, and not my favorite companion.

I think at some level I understand his frustration. Academic work doesn't come easily to him. He's an incredibly talented artist but words and numbers won't behave for him and even at 12 it's torture for him to sit still for long. For years I've tried to adopt the relatively easygoing attitude that so many homeschooling parents seem to have mastered: there's no rush, he'll get it when he's ready and so on. And then I realize that he's more than a little bit behind--he's still struggling with concepts that much younger kids have mastered. But it isn't just that I realize it, he's more and more aware of it himself. Our semester in the awful virtual charter school had him convinced that he was just plain stupid compared to other kids his age. That realization was what prompted me to pull him out and give the kid a break. A really long break.

I don't believe this kid would thrive in public school especially in our small district which lacks all the groovy special interest programs found in the large neighboring school district. I think he'd be so overstimulated in the average classroom that he wouldn't learn much at all. I felt this when he was 5 and my opinion really hasn't changed much. But you'd think that after all these years I'd be a confident homeschooling pro and I am as full of worry as ever.

sounds so wonderful and I wish I could be that kind of homeschooling parent, but I'm not. I love the idea of child-led learning and I have met a few self-identified unschooled kids that seem to have blossomed with such an approach (and I've met a few that scare the pants off me, to be fair). But left to their own devices my boys would do nothing but play computer games, read crappy fantasy books and squabble with each other and I just can't feel OK with that.

On the other hand we are way too disorganized and spontaneous for a rigorous scheduled curriculum. Because MonkeyBoy takes hours to do a few minutes' work, the idea of 8-10 hours a day at the kitchen table (because he still can't get much done without my constant supervision) to cover the state standards fills me with no end of horror. That was the nightmare that was the virtual charter school and I can't see doing that again.

On the other hand (how many hands do I have now?) my mercurial little sprite needs to learn some buckling down skills as well as how to write a decent one-page essay without excessive drama. So we're at it again, nose to the grindstone. Am I teaching him much needed discipline or am I crushing his spirit? I still don't know but I can't help but feel that I really ought to have this all figured out by now.

Mazel Tov... all the gay and lesbian couples who will benefit from Oregon's new domestic partnership law. I know it's not perfect (and who am I to comment anyway?) but it sure seems like a step in the right direction. It's about time!