I Love My Students!

I am convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that my students are the best students in the world…

I am currently amassing YEARS worth of anecdotal proof to back up my claims, HOWEVER, I would like to share a few of the more wonderfully funny/sweet/amazing pieces that have happened thus far this year!

Exhibit A:

 My already-random background became that much more random after the artistic stylings of one fantastic student!

Translation: I am a squirrel, you?”

Exhibit B:

A doodle removed from one student’s paper. . . A full scale stereotype-off: England V. France

Exhibit C:

When completing a simple warm-down, I get the BEST sentences.

Translation? Every day, I feed my brother to my lion.

Exhibit D:

I have candy in my classroom, but candy is not just a sweet treat. OH no. Candy (Abby-style) is a way of life. THUS, we take the lessons we get from Dove chocolate very seriously. Truly ingenious statements are often kept and posted in a visible place (my mini bulletin board) in the classroom. This is the 2nd consecutive year that we have featured the best “Tough Love Dove” saying of all time:

Exhibit E:

Telling stories is a skill. Apparently, one that my students have mastered.

Exhibit E:

Okay, this one is NOT actually mine. But I thought it was still amazing. This is one of those student misspells that is WONDROUS. My English-Teacher-Friend was kind enough to explain the difference in meaning between missionary and mercenary to my lovely student! Needless to say, we got it all squared away and there are no more Mormon mercenaries to be found in anyone’s papers. 

Exhibit F (for FRENCH!):

Puns in a foreign language are not easily made, my friends. This is an ingenious translation of “Napoleon Toadapart” in keeping with the humorous class-joke-gone-viral that began with my showing of a youtube learning video that caught  and subsequently spiraled wildly out of control with shocking speed!

Exhibit G:

Sometimes my lovely students leave me notes and reminders that make me smile on a bad day!

Exhibit H:

I don’t know how to explain this. There’s really nothing I can say. . . except that somehow it was said in my classroom.

Exhibit I:

Facebook Conversations about French are taking place and being shared with me via screencap. . . and not just any old Facebook conversations. FUNNY ones.

Exhibit J:

They are funny and clever when it comes to remembering French Grammar!

Exhibit K:

They write me fun notes on quizzes!

Exhibit L:

They know I am not-so-secretly in love with Damon Salvatore from The Vampire Diaries!

So, there you have it, and this is only SOME of my evidence. Don’t you think they’re undeniably wonderful?

Special Education: Not Just For Muggles

I am almost finished with my masters degree in Special Education. By almost, I mean, I have an interminably long 4 classes left to go. Just in case you’re unfamiliar with the magical experience of special education classes (for educators), you should know that it is definitely a mixed bag. Like Bertie Bott’s every flavored beans, one class might be a delicious toffee, but another one could very well end up being ear-wax. . . and there’s not always fair warning! You never know what you are going to get, really.

That said, in one of my more toffee-ish graduate classes, we had to learn how to write a full-scale testing report. If you’ve never had the opportunity, it’s distinctly dull (Is that an oxymoron?). SO, in an effort to transfigure a miserably boring assignment into a more palatable process, I decided to put a magical spin on academic testing. I am pretty proud of the result, and will go so far as to claim that what you will read below is almost legitimate enough to be sent to the Special Ed department at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry!

I hope you enjoyed that. As a post-script, I would also like to share with you a few additional extra suggestions in case you are actually finding this interesting/nerdy/humorous enough to keep reading. First, I think Harry could just be afflicted with an overabundance of wrackspurts, and should consider investing in some spectrespecs. HOWEVER, if the math-based concerns are founded on reality,  I found a few worksheets on someone else’s blog which Harry might find helpful in remedial arithmancy class:

Now, maybe some of you are thinking, “Hey, what was it that Albus Dumbledore once said?

Well, I hate to be a practical person, but abilities are important, too, my friends. Even for wizards. Without some ability (ahem: HERMIONE) Harry wouldn’t have made it past year one! Saving the school from You-Know-Who and being the chosen one will only get you so far in life. . .

SO, in order to avoid these Gandalf-moments (I know, my nerd is showing). . . Harry should focus at least somewhat on his abilities and, particularly in challenging academic situations, he might just heed some other wise words Dumbledore gave him:

Shirley… you JEST?

I have come to realize over the past 24 hours that I honestly can trace many important lessons from my childhood back to Shirley Temple films. I was OBSESSED wit them and, growing up, would usually get a new one from our local public library every week to watch. Those dusty old VHS tapes were one of my favorite and taught me some SERIOUSLY valuable lessons about positivity, which (as I learned in a three-hour professional development) is CRUCIAL to being a good teacher. SO, while the overal SHIRLEY message I got was,

I decided to figure out what specific lessons or tenets of living I could trace back to the dimpled little darling of the 30’s.

1.) S-M-I-L-E to be H-A-Double-P-Y!

I don’t think I have to spell the significance out for you anymore than Shirley already does! You get the idea!

2.) Come and Get your Happiness!

It is on you to initiate happiness in your life. Lord knows, Shirley usual plays either an orphan, an abandoned child or the offspring of a single parent. . . . she doesn’t have it easy, but her characters always stay cheery!

3.) Express your feelings OUTLANDISHLY whenever possible / Tell the people you love how much they mean to you!

The song “If All The World Were Paper!” is stinking ADORABLE and makes me want to do a Valentine’s day Shirley Temple marathon!

4.) Take compliments when they’re given!

Nothing is worse than being a bad compliment taker, especially when a compliment is offered with sincerity! Respect the compliment giver and just take it, even if it’s not your favorite moment in life.

5.) Imagination is key. Oh, and fake accents.

This might be one of my favorite movie song seqences of all time, which is REALLY saying something.

6.) Perform well.

(note: this includes incorporation of costumes)

7.) Lullabies are IMPORTANT. Also, don’t take any nonsense, particularly from pets!

I love how cute and little-girl-ish responsible Shirley is in this clip. I used to tuck my dolls in for bed too!

8.) The early bird gets the worm!

9.) Life’s a Ball, even if you’re a codfish.

10.) Be Optimistic.

Stop mourning everything and brighten the space around you by being intentionally optimistic!

11.) Curly hair = Joy

12) Candy is a wonderful treat!

13.) Play with your food.

14.) Love The Rain!

15.) Pink Tulle = Celebrity Status

16.) Dance, even if you’re an orphan.

17.) Find the humor. LAUGH. You son of a gun.

18.) Keep with Traditions!

19.) Foster a deep and abiding love of Old-fashioned SWING!

There is just too much amazing music in this world to only  enjoy the top 10 charts!

20.) Sometimes you should worry more about content than quality!

21.) Occasionally, even prickly butlers will dance!

Also, faking an accent can be highly fun.

22.) Simplicity is key. Promote relaxation.

23.) Wash.

24.) It is not unusual to dress as a young Marie Antoinette and vehemently, repetitively sing the word “la” with a Portly man in suspenders.

25.) Advocate for your rights.

26.) Singing is a good way to memorize difficult material. Especially Math.

27.) There’s nothing wrong with Twilight. Oh, and don’t be superficial.

28.) Sing. All Day.

29.) The first most wonderful man in your life should be your dad!

30.) When something is good, feel free to use it again in the future!

Also: help cupid whenever possible!

How to Make A Millionaire!

Dorothy Parker, a female writer before female writers were “de jour”, once said,

Well, I completely empathize with Dorothy, but sadly I can’t give you the secret to making millions. HOWEVER, I can give you my new favorite recipe for Millionaire Bars that will make you swoon like preteens at a Twilight Premiere.

Ingredients to Gather:

milk chocolate (I used chips, one big bag or two small ones)

2 cans sweetened condensed milk

2 sticks plus 2 Tbsp butter

2/3 c. sugar

2 c. flour

1/2 tsp. salt

Sea Salt ( for sprinkling on top of chocolate if you want it!)

Just so you know, this whole recipe should probably be prepared a little in advance of when you’d like to serve them. Millionaire Bars are not highly hands-on or time consuming to make, but there are definite steps to this process which involve cooling time, so if you’re looking for a last-minute wonder-dessert, I’d try something else!

First, make the shortbread. Wash your hands, because you’re gonna get up close and personal with these guys. Put the 2 sticks of softened butter, the flour, and the sugar into a bowl and then mush it all together with your fingers until it looks like a coarse sand. Then, spray down a pan and press the crumbles down so that they mush into a dough. Bake these for 20 minutes at 350 F (or until the edges start to look golden!)

Set these out to cool, because you’ll want them pretty chilled for the next step. When they’re room temp OR (if you’re like me and highly impatient) in the fridge, pull out a heavy-bottomed saucepan (I used a wok, because that’s what was handy) and throw in the 2 cans of sweetened condensed milk and the 2 Tbsp of butter. Stir these slowly over medium heat until the sugary goodness starts to turn more caramelly colored. The longer you stir, the more of a caramel-like consistency you will get. I’ve heard about 15-20 minutes recommended, if you’re going to shoot for a ball-park time, but it really does depend on your oven-heat and what consistency you’re going for. I recommend less time for people of the fragile tooth persuasion! 20 minutes was chewy. Like, hang-with-Han-Solo-speak-in-strangely-llama-like-sounds Chewy.

When this ambrosia is finally to your desired consistency, spread it over your (relatively)chilled shortbread to set a bit. It will still look gooey when you pour the chocolate on, so don’t stress! Get ready to melt down your chocolate with your favorite chocolate-melting process. I know double boilers are highly recommended, but seeing as I don’t have a real one (substitutes aren’t my favorite since I always end up grabbing the scalding-hot bowl when using the improvised version), and impatience is my vice, I usually go for the microwave-40-seconds-at-a-time-stir-repeat-til-melty method.  Highly effective.

When your chocolate is melted and spread over your gooey caramelly, shortbready goodness, sprinkle a little sea salt on top before sticking the whole lot into the fridge until the chocolate has set. Slice into bars (or little candy bite-sizes if you want a fabulous finger food!) and serve with enthusiasm. Your audience will LOVE them. Or you can just hoard them.

They’re fairly simple to make, right? And highly tasty. You can store them at room temp (so no worries, making these is not renouncing your fridge space for a week!) if there are any leftover!

Anybody know why these are called “millionaire” bars?

Finding King Tut’s Awkward Family Photos

When I was six, I wanted to be a paleontologist.

That’s right. Dinosaur bones, civilizations past and Pharaoh’s tombs. . . I was a weird kid, what can I say?

I have a very vivid memory of my sister Sarah reading me a book about the man who discovered King Tut’s tomb. After I stopped having nightmares about the vivid descriptions of mummification (can we say hot pokers up the nose to scramble the brains? I WAS A LITTLE KID, for crying out loud!), I remained fascinated with all the trinkets and treasures such a break-through might unearth.

My exciting career path was, tragically, hijacked by the realization that excavating tombs made for less-than-glamorous work conditions. Since my experiences with camping were rife with leaky tents, crabby siblings, and overcooked food; the glorious mental picture I had painted of a career in paleontology took on a dusty hue. Before long, I was done with dreams of digging and had made the small leap from pursuing the sciences to . . .  becoming a movie star from the 1950s (à la Hepburn).

Long after my love of national geographic topics has worn thin, my passion for unearthing treasures from the past endures. . . WHICH, (I think) is why I love exploring antique stores. My disenchantement with bones  and tombs never tarnished my excitement for sifting through piles of discarded belongings, and nothing soothes a mountain of stress better than losing yourself in perspectives from the past. . . Antique stores are like a dusty old book of fairy tales. The exterior might be tattered, worn, and tired, but as soon as we go beyond the introduction, magic spills out – uninhibited; twinkling as brightly as the viewers imagination will allow.

Case In Point:

Imagining the lives of this highly awkward family, which I stumbled upon while visiting Found in Ithaca, NY

Or what about this man?

I mean, aren’t YOU just the least bit curious about that stache-tastic gent? Or, if not, what about the next little girl whose name is AUGUSTA, a fact that even she seems a little shocked about!

Or maybe grouchy-pants here:

I’ll bet she did great things.

If you’re not the least bit intrigued by these curiously (and permanently mysterious!) characters, there are other incentives to frequent your local flea markets.

Sometimes it’s a good idea to see what was trendy long before Gaga. . .

Occasionally you can find unlikely and innovative decorative ideas:

There are even times when the old ties in magically with the new and I find engraved initials that are incredibly familiar . . . horcrux box, anyone?

Who knows? Maybe I’m just looking for the perfect Salt and Pepper shakers one day when . . . SHAZAM, voilà!

From time to time, I’ll buy the odd postcard (more particularly, AN odd postcard) to send a unique note to a friend

(nothing says “I-really-care-about-you” like a postcard that stopped being printed in the late 1800s).

Actually, (true confessions) I have spent hours reading yellowed postcards from the turn of the century, or paging through a disintegrated cook-book to discover which recipes were best-loved by anonymous housewives cooking from their victory gardens. I like to cook, so that might explain the intrigue. But even if you’re not a culinary nerd, you might find yourself ensnared by some beautiful poetry  or a novel that the modern American classroom has long since replaced with something “edgy”.

So, to a casual observer, my hobby might seem dull, but only because they are missing the essential. History Textbooks are well-stocked with accomplished characters who wrote laws, established governments and invented gadgets, but antique stores, rummage shops, yard sales and flea markets tell the stories of the everyman; people like me throughout history. Maybe they didn’t write the Great American Novel. Perhaps they were never implicated in a government scandal. But everything I uncover in my treasure hunting was once part of a full life. With every hurriedly-scrawled note, another facet of a person is uncovered. Each stack of papers is a silhouette, just waiting for me to delve in and flesh out the nuance of features and the beauty of personality.

In 100 years, when I’m gone, I hope someone reads through my old books or appreciates my taste in decor. I hope some future curious stranger wonders what my life once held and reads my private papers on a chilly day when there will likely be better things to do! I hope someone laughs at my letters and repurposes my decor. At the very least, though, I hope someone gets a chuckle from my awkward childhood photos.

Fairy Tales

Everyone has their favorite kinds of literature. I think we all develop an affinity for some sort of genre as we begin to explore literature. As we grow up, we are trained to diversify. English teachers assign us novels, biographies, fiction, non-fiction, more novels, dramas, plays, novellas, historical fiction, autobiographies, poetry, historical non-fiction, etc. Before you know it, you barely have time for your literature-first-love anymore!

If you are like myself and YOUR first love was of the Fairy Tale ilk, take some time to be reminded: fairy tales ARE relevant!

For those who immerse themselves in what the fairy tale has to communicate, it becomes a deep, quiet pool which at first seems to reflect only our own image; but behind it we soon discover the inner turmoils of our soul – its depth, and ways to gain peace within ourselves and with the world, which is the reward of our struggles.

Bruno Bettelheim The Uses of Enchantment

According to Bruno, fairy tales provide insight into the soul and its relation to the world . . . what could be more profound? But that’s not where it stops! Pardon me for sounding like a salesman, but everyone should remember the inherent view of good and evil that fairy tales provide. They depict the beauty of good and the lurid details of evil and they show the need for good to overcome. They’re sheer word illustration. Everyone should grow up with an awareness of the rightness and beauty of good as it overcomes evil.

Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.

G. K. Chesterton

When reading fairy tales, good fairy tales, something magical always happens. The events of the plot are so intense, the values so extreme and the stakes so high that we cannot help but tumble deep into the clutches of the plot. We feel cutting betrayal when Snape utters “Avada Kedavra”. We can’t stand how spoiled and selfish Edmond is to be blinded by a pittance of Turkish Delight (even if it was pretty stellar). We fall desperately in love with Peeta. We cry when Hedwig dies. We want to cheer when the wicked witch’s evil plans are thwarted. We sigh in relief when the prince wakes snow white with a kiss. Our hearts swell with each triumph of our protagonist, but break with the obstacles they meet.

Fairy tales are not a passive read. A real fairy tale does not allow you to be a detached participant. Instead, you are  passionately involved and you find yourself on one distinct side in a very high-stakes story. In the best of fairy-tales, we cannot see the ending, we cannot imagine how Frodo will possibly make it to Mordor. We cannot foresee the masterful ending that the author has in mind, but we cling to the characters that we have come to love. And we hope, as Harry walks into the Forbidden Forest, as Lucy and Susan accompany Aslan to the Stone Table, as Sam desperately carries Frodo when he can go no further; we hope against hope that some magic will intervene; that good will triumph. We wait with baited breath for the defeat of a seemingly overwhelming evil, trusting in the good we see in all that opposes. We wrap our emotions into those of our protagonist and we trust that they might, by some miracle, overcome the odds.

I think something deep inside cries out to the concepts upon which our fairy tales are based. I like how Hans Christian Andersen put it:

fairy tale

Now, as I am sure you have already discovered/deduced, I am an unabashed lover of The Harry Potter Books.

BUT, before there was Harry Potter, I had an abiding love of all-things-fantasy, and you can absolutely bet that there are some books I will be giving to my children (if I ever have any) to get them ready for the journey that waits for them. SO, without further ado, I want to share with you 10 books/series that I plan to share with any children I can  get my influence on (or Adults, for that matter). These are the books that you may not see made into major motion pictures after The Hobbit comes out, nor will they be topping the new release charts (unless you time travel), but they are books of quality, and I hope you read them all!

#1: The Fairy Books by Andrew Lang

I used to be obsessed with the Fairy Books.There are twelve, you know. Red, Green, Pink, Olive, Green, Blue, Yellow, Purple, Violet, Crimson, Grey. . . and. . . oh shoot. I alway forget if there is an orange. Anyhow, I think they went out of print before I was born. But who needs contemporary fiction? The best fairy tales have been around for centuries, right? These books are incredible compilations of fairy tales from around the world . . . and I used to read them over and over and over again. Growing up, I would haunt the library book sale every spring to see if anyone had tossed another battered old copy. These books are a treasure.

#2: The Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia C. Wrede

If there was ever a series which I could have everyone read, it would be this one. Four books of pure magic. From the moment Princess Cimorene volunteers to be a dragon’s princess, the adventures just don’t stop! With buckets of cherries jubilee, intelligent magic and magically messy devious wizards, this book is just sheer original. My sister Sarah read me this book when I was little and I loved them so much that I read them to my little brother a few years later. He loved them so much that he has re-read them a gazillion times since… in fact, for his 20th birthday, the only thing he asked me for was a copy of each book.

#3: Everything by Edward Eager

These books are absolutely classic.


Find a castle in the attic? Enter a magical world.

Have a garden where thyme grows? Use it to travel through time.

Find a random talisman? Have HALF your wishes come true.

Vacation by a magical lake? Meet the talking turtle and chill with Ali Baba.

Read one of these books? ADVENTURE.


#4: The Fairy Rebel by Lynne Reid Banks

What happens when there is a tiny little fairy with hott pink hair who bumps into a sad childless woman in her flower garden? I used to listen to this book on cassette tape (man, that makes me feel/sound ANCIENT) while I played in my room and I was spellbound the entire time as Lynne Reid Banks described the incredible world of the little rebellious fairy!

#5: The Wonder Clock is another compilation of beauty…

It is laid out as a story (a fairy tale)  for each hour…

#6:The Seer and the Sword

This story was badass fantasy before The Hunger Games was even a twinkle in Suzanne Collins’ eye. With enough cunning and heroism to last a lifetime, I have probably read this about a million times (as you can see by the crease in its cover!) and I still don’t get bored with it. Sometime soon, I plan to find myself a snazzy hardcover copy, but until then, I plan on wearing this one out completely!

#7: Melisande

This is like a picture book for grownups. . . at least nowadays. It’s probably at an 8th grade reading level or something, but what a stunning story! Ask yourself, what happens when a little girl is born with the curse . . . of being bald, but then is cursed too much hair? So much that she can’t even fit into a house anymore?   Melisande learns the dangers of what happens when you get what you wish for. . .

#8: Court Duel and Crown Duel by Sheerwood Smith

These stories might’ve been my first favorite somewhat-romantic fantasy series. They are stunning in every way. Seriously, I judged them by their cover and never looked back.

The second book was even better than the first!

#9:  The Chewing Gum Rescue & Other Stories, by Margaret Mahy

My favorite story from this book is all about a family that moves into a house that once belonged to a Giant. Everything in the home has been remodeled except for the bathroom, which is in possession of a gigantic bathtub. The quirky family takes an adventurous dip down the drain one day and, without spoiling anything, I’ll just mention that I still remember it years and years later, after reading it as a little girl! I am happy to say that I own my very own copy (thank you thriftbooks.com) but it is on loan to some friends, so I am sadly sans photo. But trust me, it’s fantastic!

#10: The Search For Delicious by Natalie Babbitt

What IS delicious?

What really IS delicious???

As in, if you looked in a dictionary, what would there be a picture of next to the word “DELICIOUS”?

I could go on, but this seems like a lovely list to start. Do you have any favorite stories that you plan on having your children read? Any suggestions for me?