Monday, December 31, 2012

Blueberry Coffee Cake

Recipe a Day(ish), Winter Break 2012-13

So, you know I can't just follow a recipe.

For Christmas breakfast, I made this coffee cake, except that I made a few alterations.  This time, my experimentation worked out great.  The cake was moist and flavorful.  The almonds went fantastically with the blueberries. It did have the undesirable side effect of making the recipe more complicated, however.  Ah, well.  I'm off of work.

Here is my embellished recipe:

Crumb Topping

  • 1/2 c. granulated sugar
  • 1/3 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 c. butter
  • 1/2 c. slivered almonds, toasted
  • 2 c. all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 c. granulated sugar
  • 1/4 c. butter
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 c. milk
  • 1/3 c. sour cream
  • 1/2 tsp. almond extract
  • 1 egg
  • 2.5 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda (I figured the extra lightness couldn't hurt and it would work w/ the acid of the sour cream)
  • 3/4 tsp. salt
  • 2 c. frozen blueberries (I used wild blueberries and forgot to drain them... definitely don't forget!)

I left off the glaze on the original recipe, but it would have been good.
  1. Heat oven to 375°F. Grease bottom and side of 9x3-inch springform pan or 9-inch square pan with shortening or cooking spray. In small bowl, mix 1/2 cup sugar, 1/3 cup flour and the cinnamon. Cut in butter with fork until crumbly. Set aside.
  2. In large bowl, stir together all coffee cake ingredients except blueberries; beat with spoon 30 seconds. Fold in blueberries. Spread batter in pan. Sprinkle with topping.
  3. Bake 45 to 50 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center of cake comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes; remove side of pan.
  4. In small bowl, mix all glaze ingredients until smooth and thin enough to drizzle. Drizzle over warm coffee cake.
Makes 9 servings

Friday, December 28, 2012

Winter Break

Scooters and stars. Doggie time and daddy time. Puzzles and cocktails. Board games and cooked breakfasts. Books and tweets. Closets organized. Children cuddled. Bedtime annihilated. Flannel pants. Mickey and Oswald take on the Wasteland. Kites and walks. Gnawing on professional chewtoys and mourning dead children and lost friends and teachers taking shooting lessons. Indulging in chocolates and naps. Winter break.

She pushes him around like she's a playground bully, but they love each other.

Rare Marky visit while I read in bed. Usually Roxy comes and noses in.

Apparently, prosthetics are "in" for the holidays this year.

These kids have the hairiest Sasquatch arms I have ever seen.  Where did THAT come from?
Nice we have the time to ponder such mysteries.

Ah, puzzles.  The most underrated and budget-friendly gift ever. Hours of quiet, engaged fun.

The cover of Life Magazine feels incredibly irrelevant this year.

Sibling cooperation. Rare and lovely.

Dinner at Rocco's with Daddy.  Love having him around more these long holiday weekends. 

This Razor Powerwing scooter is so cool.  Santa made a good choice.  I want the grown-up version.  Seriously.

Cleaning out the barbecue for our Christmas steaks.  It's awesome to have an enterprising kid who likes fire.
Or frightening.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Alas, Poor Yorick!

I had no idea Lego mini figures were so dang cool. Hamlet! Skull and all. I wish it was mine, but Santa brought it for my son.

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 21, 2012

What my Students Learned from NaNoWriMo

Summary of what I'm seeing in their reflections...
  • Dedication to a long-term goal and the realities of time.
  • How difficult it is to create a well-crafted story.
  • Daily discipline and how it can add up to amazing things.
  • Giving oneself permission to explore... giving oneself the freedom to not finish the story, to drop characters, to add in surprising ideas and elements into their writing.
  • Becoming involved in their novels made them realize how much fun it can be to lose oneself in one's story... they liked that feeling of immersion in the characters, plot and setting.
  • Genre-bending.  Fictionalization of reality; begging, borrowing and stealing ideas and making them their own; "lectures" on relationships, etc. 
  • Google Drive.  
  • How conversations with friends and supporters can move us forward. 
  • Things don't have to be perfect for there to be a nugget of awesomeness in there somewhere.
  • Even something unfinished can have value.
  • Accomplishing a long-term goal that has been hard-won feels fantastic.
  • Sometimes planning leads to awesomeness.  Sometimes planning leads to frustration and stiltedness.  
  • Our minds are surprisingly fertile.
  • For some people, noveling is not their optimum medium of creativity.
  • It is surprising what we can accomplish when we invest time and energy in our own minds.
  • It feels good to tell a story that NEEDS to be told.
When I look at this list, I realize that I didn't teach most of this in the traditional sense.  We discussed some of these ideas during the process; I had lots of conversations with students.  But mostly, I feel like I offered them the space and opportunity to experience this learning for themselves.  That's the beauty of NaNoWriMo:  when we trust our students' minds, we see that indeed they can discover their own paths.  I provide time, structure ,goal-setting, strategies... they provide the rest.  They are not empty vessels.  I wish there was time in all my classes to take them through NaNoWriMo.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Art and Relationship

"An artist is a nourisher and a creator who knows that during the act of creation there is collaboration. We do not create alone."  -- Madeleine L'Engle

A moment's reflection in the midst of grading book reviews. The following thoughts are inspired, I suppose, by a former student's apparent philosophy that any kind of human relationships are basically illusions, and that they aren't really necessary or desirable-- maybe only tolerable at times.  The thing that has always made no sense to me about this person is that he/she is a gifted poet and drawer/painter. And so...

A writer, an artist, a creative person must both discipline and indulge oneself in order to create.  Discipline: of technique, of time, of practice, perhaps even of research, of precision.  Indulgence: of time, of imagination, of personal resources invested in oneself, one's mind.  Right?  My mom and dad can probably speak to this.

However, I have a hard time swallowing the idea of an artist as a complete nihilist, a complete misanthrope, someone who has absolutely lost faith in humanity.  I just don't think it is ontologically possible.  I haven't fleshed all of this out, but here's my basic line of reasoning (and I'm sure there are other philosophers and artists who have said the same thing...):

1. Being creative implies creating something.  This seems self-evident, but sometimes I think people start to think of "creativity" as this abstract faerie-like quality that artsy people have.  All creativity is is coming up with an idea that you make real-- you create something.

2.  In bringing something into the world, in creating it, I believe there is inherently an intended or implied potential transaction.  Plenty of writers write about writing for oneself, to see the thoughts of one's own mind.  However, although our concepts of reality are deeply rooted in language, really, why would thoughts need to be made into language unless there was the possibility of someone somehow reading them one day?  

3. Even if you can argue that language might be used for the artist's own reflection and metacognition without an outside audience, what is the point of refining that writing and fine-tuning language, if not for a potential reader?  Even if a writer is attempting to create new language to describe new concepts, I suspect every writer, if she were honest with herself, would be gratified if someone at some point read the writing and thought that the new concept and new language were works of genius, and not some impregnable code or gibberish. 

4. If life has absolutely no meaning, then why create art?  Art creates meaning.  Even in absurdity, meaning is created.  Even with lack of intention, art creates meaning when it is viewed, when writing is read, even if the reading or viewing is done by the creator.  And if there is no intention for a work of art to come out a certain way, or no intention for any ideas or inner feelings or thoughts of the artist to manifest themselves in any way in a work of art, then I would argue that it is not art, but coincidence.  Still, art can be made out of coincidence by a viewer with intention or imagination (hence, Dada or found sculpture). I wouldn't argue that anything has to be eternal to be meaningful.  Meaning can shift, sometimes abruptly. However, art is inconsistent with nihilism, because it inherently creates meaning.

Existentialism, sure.  Nihilism, no.  Art cannot be nothing.

“The poet, however, uses these two crude, primitive, archaic forms of thought (simile and metaphor) in the most uninhibited way, because his job is not to describe nature, but to show you a world completely absorbed and possessed by the human mind.” 

-- Northrup Frye

5. Art can be dark, can question our concept of reality, can condemn human folly and idiocy, and explore thoughts of destruction and violence and suicide. But a real artist can never be a complete misanthrope, because an artist has to respect at least her own mind.  And she is a human being, after all.  And she must extrapolate from there.  So, although I believe that art, if it is going to be honest, can definitely explore hatred, and an artist might feel hateful about certain topics, an artist must have some kind of small flickering of faith in the mind to create a better world.  Otherwise why communicate all of those emotions or ideas?  Why not just implode?  I suppose a person could be a self-loathing artist, but somewhere in the mix would have to be a desire to not loathe oneself, and even that is a glimmer. 

6. Nihilism is an absolutist, materialistic and reductionist philosophy. Art, by its nature, is not based in the material, but in the imagination.  Art that is materialistic and/or reductionist and/or absolutist is propaganda.  Living one's life by propaganda is as bad (if you're a nihilist) as living one's life according to faith in God, right?  Propaganda requires a certain type of secular religious attachment...  which I would imagine any self-respecting nihilist would reject.  So, a person who sets out to create art to promote nihilism is, in effect, producing propaganda.  Which is not art.  So, therefore, art and nihilism are inherently in conflict with one another.

Sometimes, I'm really good at breaking down arguments, but not so good at constructing them.  So I appreciate any comments that would help me clarify or challenge these ideas.  

Perhaps it is too late.  I've been grading too many teenage book reviews. And none of this will make any sense in the morning.  It's certainly possible.

“The most important things are the hardest to say. They are the things you get ashamed of, because words diminish them -- words shrink things that seemed limitless when they were in your head to no more than living size when they're brought out. But it's more than that, isn't it? The most important things lie too close to wherever your secret heart is buried, like landmarks to a treasure your enemies would love to steal away. And you may make revelations that cost you dearly only to have people look at you in a funny way, not understanding what you've said at all, or why you thought it was so important that you almost cried while you were saying it. That's the worst, I think. When the secret stays locked within not for want of a tellar but for want of an understanding ear.”  -- Stephen King

Monday, December 17, 2012

Little Tree

Several years back I found the board book Little Tree based on a poem by e.e. cummings, written and illustrated by Chris Raschka.  I have never found that book again, but I wish I could because I'd like to give it away each year.  It is remarkably sad, I think, yet sweet at the same time.  Kind of like a cuter, more festive Giving Tree.  Read it.  Or, if you can't, at least read e.e. cummings' poem below.  I think the Gothic undertones come through in the poem as well.  Still, the illustrations in the book are so wonderful, and to me they and the expanded story fit the (faux?) quaint style and geometric repetition of the poem.

"every finger shall have its ring/ and there won't be a single place dark or unhappy "
little tree
little silent Christmas tree
you are so little
you are more like a flower

who found you in the green forest
and were you very sorry to come away?
see          i will comfort you
because you smell so sweetly

i will kiss your cool bark
and hug you safe and tight
just as your mother would,
only don't be afraid

look          the spangles
that sleep all the year in a dark box
dreaming of being taken out and allowed to shine,
the balls the chains red and gold the fluffy threads,

put up your little arms
and i'll give them all to you to hold
every finger shall have its ring
and there won't be a single place dark or unhappy

then when you're quite dressed
you'll stand in the window for everyone to see
and how they'll stare!
oh but you'll be very proud

and my little sister and i will take hands
and looking up at our beautiful tree
we'll dance and sing
"Noel Noel"

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Notes to Self

Notes to Self

Note to self: Don’t be an idiot.
Note to self: Don’t be late.
Note to self: Put on some deodorant.
Note to self: Brush your hair.

Note to self: Keep foot out of mouth.
Note to self: Don’t be too honest.
Noted: Be honest in your own mind.
Note: Stop speaking your mind!

Jesus, do you never listen?
Will you never get it?

Note to self: Go for a walk.
Note to self: You’ve gained weight.
Note to self: You’ll feel better if you lose it.
Note to self: Stop buying junk food.

Note: Stop hurting yourself.
Note: You are not happy.
Note: Remember what that feels like.
Note: Be good to yourself.

I keep telling you these things
but you never listen.

Note: Really listen to people.
Note: Stop “listening” with your worries.
Note: The mountains are beautiful.
Note: You should learn to meditate.

Note to Self: Hug your kids more.
Note to Self: Be generous.
Note to Self: Don’t be selfish.
Note: Be more selfish.

Note to Self: Less interior monologue, more action.

Note to Self: Take a nap.
Note: Write every day.
Note: Make homemade food.
Note: Read a book.  
Note: But it has to be good. And it has to be fun.

You never listen to me.
You do what you want.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

What I Learned This Week(ish) #5

1. Seneca, The Epistles  Good stuff.  It just keeps going and going...  I think if I was Lucilius I would have stopped reading a long time ago, but...

It is clear to you, I am sure, Lucilius, that no man can live a happy life, or even a supportable life, without the study of wisdom; you know also that a happy life is reached when our wisdom is brought to completion, but that life is at least endurable even when our wisdom is only begun.  This idea, however, clear though it is, must be strengthened and implanted more deeply by daily reflection; it is more important for you to keep the resolutions you have already made than to go on and make noble ones.  You must persevere, must develop new strength by continuous study, until that which is only a good inclination becomes a good settled purpose.  Hence you no longer need to come to me with much talk and protestations; I know that you

have made great progress.  I understand the feelings which prompt your words; they are not feigned or specious words.  Nevertheless I shall tell you what I think, - that at present I have hopes for you, but not yet perfect trust.  And I wish that you would adopt the same attitude towards yourself; there is no reason why you should put confidence in yourself too quickly and readily.  Examine yourself; scrutinize and observe yourself in divers ways; but mark, before all else, whether it is in philosophy or merely in life itself/a that you have made progress.  Philosophy is no trick to catch the public; it is not devised for show.  It is a matter, not of words, but of facts.  It is not pursued in order that the day may yield some amusement before it is spent, or that our leisure may be relieved of a tedium that irks us.  It moulds and constructs the soul; it orders our life, guides our conduct, shows us what we should do and what we should leave undone; it sits at the helm and directs our course as we waver+amid uncertainties+.

    I grow in spirit and leap for joy and shake off my years and my blood runs warm again, whenever I understand, from your actions and your letters, how far you have outdone yourself; for as to the ordinary man, you left him in the rear long ago.  If the farmer is pleased when his tree develops so that it bears fruit, if the shepherd takes pleasure in the increase of his flocks, if every man regards his pupil as though he discerned in him his own early manhood, - what, then, do you think are the feelings of those who have trained a mind and moulded a young idea, when they see it suddenly grown to maturity?
     I claim you for myself; you are my handiwork. When I saw your abilities, I laid my hand upon you,/a I exhorted you, I applied the goad and did not permit you to march lazily, but roused you continually.  And now I do the same; but by this time I am cheering on one who is in the race and so in turn cheers me on.

The last part is quite a heavy claim... quite a heavy burden, ownership. Isn't it?

2. Open Culture has a blog entry with a list of animated literature and books online, including Shakespeare, Dickinson... Neil Gaiman's weird Christmas poem.  Lots and lots of wild, amazing stuff.  I bookmarked it.

3.  The word "shambolic", an informal, mostly British term originating in the 1970's, means "chaotic, mismanaged or disorganized."  I'm thinking... I need to apply this word as often as possible from now on.

4. The United States Department of Education RESPECT project.  I was invited to participate in a roundtable discussion about this vision statement (in draft form-- a very live document).  Although I am a little hesitant to hope that policymakers in Arizona would sincerely and creatively find ways to implement this ambitious vision, I really feel like the changes it would make to schools would be good for teachers, parents, students and administrators, and would make school a more satisfying experience for all. Download and read the document-- it doesn't take long to understand the general changes being proposed in the way that the teaching profession is envisioned.

Damn, I am ready for winter break.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Why Teacher Salary Schedules are Fictional

Here is my newest Stories from School AZ blog entry (

I focus on inequities in teacher pay that make the publicly published salary schedules into works of fiction.

We were asked to try to find juicy topics.  I think this one is juicy.  My worry is that it will appear to target my current district for criticism.  I use my district as an example, but honestly, this happens all over the place, at least in Arizona.