Creating Readers

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As a school teacher-librarian (media specialist), I often find myself trying to find just the right book for a student. Many times I have seen a student that did not like to read suddenly get turned onto reading when they connected with the “right” book. My first two children loved to read for as long as I can remember,  but my third one was a hard sell. It took several years to get him to  actually read a book for pleasure. Hatchet, by Gary Paulsen, was the book that did it. Fortunately, his 6th grade teacher was willing to let him read everything Paulsen ever wrote. Unfortunately, his love of reading does not continue today.

What can we do to influence children to become life-long readers? I do not ever remember not reading. Reading is so much a part of my life that not a day goes by that I do not read for pleasure as well as to learn. I have 2-3 books going at any given time. I actually panicked last summer when I was invited to enjoy a beach house for the week and I did not have a stack of books on hand! It was Sunday and the library was closed. When I was growing up, there was no library nearby, but I dearly loved the bookmobile. The screeching of the tires was music to my ears. I remember loving Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, The Tales of Uncle Remus,  Pollyanna, The Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew and many others. I combined my love of music with the book Oliver and the soundtrack  from the movie. I cried my way through My Friend Flicka and literally devoured my mother’s monthly selection of Reader’s Digest Condensed Books. I always loved when a Mrs. Pollifax mystery was included. There were times when I would search the house for something new to read. One day, in the far reaches of a cabinet, I ran across The Sensuous  Couple. I read it cover to cover in one day and put it right back where I found it! I couldn’t believe my parents did any of that!

So why am I still a reader and my son is not? What can I do to help my students become readers? Is there some gene that some of us have that makes us readers? I’m going to keep working to connect my students with the right books in any way that I can. Currently, I have begun using Edmodo, an educational social media platform, to have students write book reviews and encourage each other through comments. Tomorrow, I am starting a group that will create video book trailers to share with others. We’ll see what else the future holds!

Hatchet My Friend Flicka Mrs. Pollifax

Many of these books have undergone a facelift since my childhood!

Bobbsey TwinsUncle RemusMike Mulligan

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Character vs IQ

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“There is no asucceednti-poverty tool that we can provide for disadvantaged young people that will be more valuable than the character strengths that…(the students that are followed in this book)possess in such impressive quantities: conscientiousness, grit, resilience, perseverance, and optimism.” This book made me feel like there is hope for our youth. Paul Tough has done extensive research on both children of poverty and affluent children. He has found that those that are nurtured in early childhood and those that experience and overcome failure are more likely to succeed regardless of IQ. He shows how it is never too late for a child to change. I find myself wanting to learn more about instilling these character traits in our children. After reading this book, I am convinced that it is more important to encourage good character than to drill students. Yes, education is important, but strength of character will determine success.

I don’t believe that anything can replace early reading, talking, singing, playing, and being verbal with your child. We do need to nurture children and help them to cope with their emotions, but it is refreshing to know that, as an educator, I can still have a profound effect on my students. Schools seem to be constantly trying to “fix” teachers. I agree that there are teachers that are not effective, but I strongly feel that the emphasis on testing has diminished the well-rounded education that our students deserve. What can we do to change this trend?

Baking Inspirations

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wrappersIt really doesn’t take much to get me motivated to bake, but when these adorable cupcake/muffin cups arrived in the mail yesterday from Pick Your Plum  – my mind started working. It is, after all, spring break, and I did want to take some goodies around to some neighbors and friends. I had thought of making Snickerdoodle muffins, but these wrappers called for something with a bit more pizazz!

Since I still had the Snickerdoodle idea in my head (you do know that cinnamon has now been determined a health food), I looked around for a Snickerdoodle cupcake. I found a recipe (thank you Pinterest) at Skip to my Lou. The cupcake itself was delicious, but I made a bit of a change to the icing. You can bake right in these precious cups, so I popped one into each hole in my muffin tin and preheated the oven to 350 degrees.

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For the cupcakes:

  • 1 package yellow cake mix
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup melted butter (mine was  just softened)
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

Combine all of the ingredients for about 3 minutes. Do not over mix. I use an ice cream scoop to dip the batter into the cupcake  wrappers. Bake for 15 – 20 minutes or until the cake springs back when touched. Cool completely.

For the icing:

  • 1 cup softened butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 6 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • add 2 tablespoons of half and half and keep adding until you reach desired consistency

Cream the butter and slowly add in the sugars. (Drape a damp dishcloth over your mixer to avoid a cloud of powdered sugar.) Add the cinnamon, vanilla, and salt. Slowly add the milk, scraping the sides of your bowl regularly (and tasting often) until you get the right consistency. Pipe the icing on the top using a star tip. I sprinkled mine with a bit of tourmaline sugar and cinnamon.

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Since my cupcake wrappers were a little on the large side, the recipe made 16 cupcakes. You could probably squeeze 24 out of it in regular sized wrappers.

I’m off to share these with the neighbors, but I think I’ll leave a few to enjoy here at home. What a special treat on a beautiful spring day!

Why do I teach?

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This is a question that I ask myself every day. I love teaching and I love learning.  Over the years, I have both loved and hated my job. I teach at a Title 1 school that is currently listed as a failing school. My excitement for teaching is high and I have very high expectations of my students. Behavior is the toughest issue because we have many children with mental and learning disabilities. If a child does not read on grade level by the end of third grade, they are 4 times less likely as their peers to graduate from high school by the age of 19. When poverty is figured into the equation, they are 13 times less likely to graduate.This information was posted in a study by the Anne E. Casey Foundation titled Double Jeopardy: How Third-Grade Reading Skills and Poverty Influence High School Graduation.

What I find is that many of our students do not really care about doing well in school. This often stems from home, where students are not read to by their parents. They do not have the positive, scholarly role models that they need in order to elevate school to the level of importance that it needs to have. Many days, I find my self becoming frustrated because of the disruptions that cause all students in my classes to be distracted and unwilling to participate. Usually, when I am at the end of my rope, something happens to excite me about teaching. Each day, I try to think through the day and remember those times when the bulb came on for a child. Last week, one of my poorer readers got truly excited about the infographics lesson that I was teaching. He immediately related to and understood the concept. I also had a couple of really sweet letters and cards from students for no apparent reason. These will always make my day!

studentletter    studentcard

St. Patrick’s Day Meal

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corned beefCorned beef, cabbage, new potatoes, carrots, and Irish soda bread make a most filling and traditional St. Paddy’s Day dinner. As I prepared this traditional fair, I was reminded of my childhood and the many parties that were held in the neighborhood. My mom always hosted a wonderful New Year’s Eve party. I remember the food -ham biscuits and Meeting Street crab were staples. I also remember that mom would serve Irish coffee after midnight to sober up the guests! Flaming alcohol in sugar rimmed cups with coffee somehow doesn’t seem like the best way to sober up your guests.  So what does New Year’s Eve have to do with St. Patrick’s day? I have very fond memories of one neighbor, “Miss Sally,” who played the piano every New Year’s Eve. Miss Sally was Irish Catholic and so was her husband, Martin. Once Auld Lang Syne had been sung at midnight, they would head on into the Irish Ballads. My favorite was When Irish Eyes Were Smiling. Miss Sally hosted the annual St. Patrick’s Day party. This was in the days before raucous green beer parties were the vogue and she always served a traditional Irish meal. Mom learned to cook this meal from her and I learned by watching my mom. This year I made the whole meal and we devoured it! Now, if I only liked coffee…I wouldn’t mind flaming some Irish Whiskey!

Grandparents

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Grandma "Mom" at her 100th birthday.

Grandma “Mom” at her 100th birthday.

I recently lost the last of my beloved grandparents. “Mom” was 100 years old and she liked for everyone to know it! While I mourn her passing, I can also say that she lived a rewarding life. She often told me stories of hanging out with her father at the train depot in Cope, SC. One of seven children, she cherished this time alone with her father. She had only one child, my father, Lewis. I remember her telling me that her tailbone was broken during childbirth and it was so painful, I don’t think she wanted that experience again. She truly doted on my father though. I remember being amazed at all of the report cards, toys, and photo albums that she had of him through the years. I have some of those things now and truly cherish them.

Each of my grandparents were special in different ways. “Mom” came to Charleston several times each summer to ferry one grandchild at a time (she was no fool) back to Orangeburg where we would spend 2 weeks visiting cousins, friends, and just spending quality time with our grandparents. I remember learning to play many card games with her, playing dress up with all of the clothes she had saved over the years, reading books, painting fingernails, and making banana pudding! I think that’s where my sweet tooth came from. Having my back scratched every night was a real treat too!

Her husband, Dan Dan, was a bit of a workaholic, but he had time for a game of checkers each night. He generally came home in the middle of the day for dinner, but rarely made it home in time for supper. We would fix him a plate and keep it warm. When he came in at night, he always had a treat in one of  his coat pockets (always a moon pie) that I would sit and eat with him while he ate his supper. He was a quiet, dignified man with a strong work ethic that he passed on to my father. (I think I got a bit of that too.)

On my mother’s side, I had “Gran” and “Grandaddy.” For most of my life they lived right here in Charleston. They were an integral part of my life spending time with us on the weekends, holidays, and, best of all, staying with us when mom and dad were out of town. Gran passed away my senior year of high school. She was a no-nonsense person that ran my father’s office with precise attention to detail. I worked for my dad for several years after she died and would often run across her neat handwriting on the folders of various clients. She kept Grandaddy in line as best she could as well. One strong memory that I have of her was when we were all camping together one weekend. It had begun to rain heavily and we were all packed into a small camping trailer, so we sat down to play a board game. Gran had on shorts and I remember looking down and saying, with astonishment, “You have beautiful legs!” Everyone got a good laugh out of that, but Grandaddy strongly agreed with me. I only wish I had inherited them!

Grandaddy was the storyteller in the family. He could really spin a good tale and parts of it were even true. Tales of his childhood would hold my attention for hours. I marveled at his ability to remember so many details. My  one regret is that I did not record these stories in any way and, while he enjoyed writing, he never wrote those childhood stories down. I have a picture in my mind of him sitting in my backyard telling a story to my two oldest sons. Their attention was focused on him and nothing else. I am not the storyteller that he was, but I do think I inherited a bit of his ability to make a story exciting. Grandaddy always made me feel beautiful, cherished, and appreciated. I spent many hours with him each week during the final year of his life and I wouldn’t trade that time for anything!

All of my life I took grandparents for granted. They were always there when I needed them and loving to a fault. As I look back, I realize just how fortunate I have been. Not many people even get to know all of their grandparents. I even had 2 great grandparents that were a part of my life. I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to learn from each of my grandparents and to really know them. I believe that they helped shape my life in many ways making me a better parent and a good teacher (librarian).  Quality family time, and lots of it, influenced my values and morals. I wish that I could thank each of them for being there for me!

On Growing Old…

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About a year ago, I felt compelled to purchase a pill case. You know, the kind with a compartment for each day of the week. At the time I joked around with friends that this was a milestone in my life and that I was now officially old! I really hadn’t thought much about it again until about a month ago when I realized that I needed a larger one! My eye doctor had recommended an additional supplement – flaxseed oil – and they are HUGE! I found a new pill case (one that even a blind person could read) and, once again, thought about the fact that I was getting old! Well, today I embarked on a new venture with a friend. We joined the Senior Citizens Center. I have been tossing out the AARP requests, but the Senior Citizen Center seems to be the perfect place to exercise and take a few classes. I signed up for Art Journaling and Zumba. I sure hope I can keep up with the other “old folks” in Zumba. That would be truly embarrassing if I am not able! I guess the next thing will be the pill case that has a compartment for each time of the day. As my grandaddy used to say, “the alternative (to growing old) is not good.” So I guess I will continue to celebrate each day that my name is not in the newspaper’s obituaries. Here’s to growing old!

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Unique Family Idiosyncrasies

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Every family has them – the black sheep, odd holiday tradition(my family always drank pink pineapple-grapefruit juice on Christmas morning), or even the really strange recipe. Tonight, I am preparing the really strange recipe – Ham Pie. I’m not sure exactly where this recipe originated. I just know that my mother’s side of the family has always made it. My own children love it. I recently taught my middle son how to make it. (Isn’t it nice when they call mom for a recipe?) Many folks outside of our family think this is a weird recipe, but it you love ham and eggs (not to mention pie), you might want to give it a try.

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Ham Pie

  • ready made pie crust (OK, you can make it from scratch)
  • all of the chunks of leftover ham that won’t just slice off the bone (in times of desperation, I use the cubed ham that is pre-packaged, but it is not the same)
  • 6-8 eggs
  • salt and pepper

First, decide if you want a top and bottom crust or just a top crust. Tonight I just went with a top crust because I am “trying” to watch the calorie intake. If you want both, roll out one crust and place it into a pie plate overlapping the sides a bit. Boil the ham chunks in water(just enough to cover them).  Use a slotted spoon to dip out the ham into the pie crust. Pour in just enough of the water from the pan to almost cover the ham. Crack 6-8 eggs into the mixture. Salt and pepper the eggs.

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Roll out and place the top crust over the mixture and “flute” the edges. After all, you want to make it fancy!

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Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes. At this point, I take it out and add a “foil ring” over the edges to keep them from burning and bake another 10-15 minutes.

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Let it rest for about 5 minutes. Cook and serve.

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Chocolate Martini Cupcakes

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Three of my favorite words! How could I go wrong? I love a good Chocolate Martini, but sometimes (birthdays mostly), the occasion just calls for cake. So, I decided to combine my favorite chocolate pound cake with the flavors of a chocolate martini. I’ve made these twice now and they are absolutely delicious.

Chocolate Martini Cupcakes

Chocolate Martini Cupcakes

Cake

  • 1 1/2 cups softened butter (use the real thing)
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 5 eggs
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup cocoa (I use dark cocoa)
  • 1 tsp Baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1 cup chocolate vodka (this is a substitute for 2 tsp of vanilla flavoring and 1 cup boiling water)

Cream butter, gradually add sugar, beating well. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.

Combine flour cocoa, soda, and salt. Add to creamed mixture alternately with sour cream, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Mix well after each addition. Add vodka and mix well.

Tip: use an ice cream scoop to fill cupcake liners (the kind with a lever).

Depending on the size of the cupcakes, you will bake at 325 degrees for 30-40 minutes. (Check cupcakes with a toothpick.)

Cupcakes should be allowed to cool completely. You will then scoop out the center of the cupcakes. (Rather than eat all of the extra cake, set it aside to layer with any leftover filling. My husband likes it that way!)

Filling

  • 16 oz whipping creme
  • 1 mini-bottle Godiva Chocolate Liqueur
  • 1 mini- bottle Creme de Cacao
  • 1/2 mini- bottle of vodka (you can just drink the rest:)
  • Whip the creme and gradually add the alcohol. Put the mixture into a pastry bag and fill the cupcakes.102_0052

Icing

  • 1 cup solid vegetable shortening
  • 1 cup butter, softened (not melted)
  • 2 lbs confectioners sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 mini-bottle of Whipped creme vodka
  • 4-6 ounces Whipping Cream

Creme shortening and butter until fluffy. Add sugar and continue creaming until well-blended. Add salt and vodka and blend well. Gradually add whipping creme until you get a firm icing consistency.

Ice the cupcakes using a large star tip and swirling up to a peak. I inserted some chocolate straws as a garnish. You could also use chocolate sprinkles around the edges.

Enjoy! Remember to eat responsibly.

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Art Journaling

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I decided to start art journaling this year and found a really awesome blog to follow. A Year in the Life of an Art Journal – http://oneyearartjournal.blogspot.com/2013/01/monday-mugshot-collaboration-jan-15th.html

The site is collaborating with Monday Mugshots. You take a photo of your “mug” to go with your art page or you can do just the mugshots or just the page. To begin with, the prompt was to choose a word for the year. I chose CREATE because I really want to foster my creative side this year. Work has become very stressful and I see creativity as a positive way to relax and enjoy life more. My final product is a page in the art journal highlighting the word create. I used scrapbook papers, colored pencils, and words cut from magazines. I am hoping to get a bit braver each time I make a page!