The Recipe

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Good things come to those who bake.  ~ Anonymous

I spent Thanksgiving with my siblings at my brother and sister-in-law’s house. I was charged with bringing an appetizer and my applesauce “muffins” and corn muffins.  Now I admit that the corn muffins come straight from the Jiffy mix box. I don’t try to hide that fact. The applesauce “muffins” are a different story. They are made from scratch with a recipe from my 1979 spiral bound (cover notwithstanding) Betty Crocker Cookbook. The recipe is actually for an applesauce cake, but I took liberty years ago of making the batter into cupcake tins.  Since we eat them with our meal and not for dessert, we call them “muffins.”

On Tuesday night I went to double check the recipe and make sure I had everything I needed.  Panic set in. The cookbook was not in its place on the bookshelf. I scoured my office to no avail.  I did however find my mom’s copy of her 1950 Betty Crocker Cookbook. It was missing its spine and had envelopes from 1966 with recipes written on the back tucked into various pages. Thankfully, there in the section on fruited cakes was the recipe for the applesauce cake.  I wasn’t sure if it was exactly the same, but it was close to do my ingredient check.

After many prayers to St. Anthony, my copy of the cookbook appeared, but that’s a whole other story!  I opened the books up to compare recipes, and they were almost exactly alike. The “newer” 1979 version had baking powder, while the 1950 version did not. But what really had me chuckling were the specific directions in the 1950 version.  First, make thick unsweetened Applesauce. What, no dumping in a jar of Musselman’s?!? Bake at 350 (mod. oven). What exactly is a mod oven? I am guessing they didn’t mean convection bake! While I think that my baking is an act of love, the women of the 50’s and 60’s really had to love their families to go through all the preparation it took back then.

I had fun sifting through the pages of my mom’s cookbook, seeing her handwriting, and wondering if she ever really tried those recipes out on us. It made me feel connected to her even though she is no longer with me to celebrate Thanksgiving.

Giving Thanks

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In everything give thanks. ~ 1 Thessalonians

The week of Thanksgiving finds me very reflective.  Sure I have my share of challenges, aches and pains, and crosses to bear, but they pale in comparison to all the blessings I have in my life.  Today I take the time to start a list of some of the many people for whom I am thankful.

My mom – Mom passed away in September just short of her 91st birthday.  She taught me patience and perseverance, kindness and compassion. She had a zest for life that she never forgot even after dementia took its toll on her memory. She certainly did celebrate life every day.

My husband – Chuck and I have been together for almost 45 years (married 38).  We were high school sweethearts. Our life together has been a roller coaster, but I would not want to be on this wild ride with anyone else.  He is my rock. He makes me laugh and dries my tears.

My children and their spouses – Angela and Charlie continue to make me proud every day.  I have loved every minute watching them grow into the incredible adults they are today.  The passion and drive they have for their chosen professions is extraordinary. They both have wonderful partners in life.  Ryan and Krysten complement Angela and Charlie, and each couple makes a fabulous team. I am so lucky to have gained another “son” and “daughter.”

My grandchildren – Just when I thought life couldn’t get any better along came Parker and Emma just six weeks apart. I felt like the Grinch on Christmas morning.  My heart grew at least three sizes that year. Then along came Isabella (Izzy) and a year later Nolan. Life as a grandparent is so much better than life as a parent.  They are a healing elixir for whatever ails you.

My siblings, their spouses and significant others – I am the second of four (boy-girl-boy-girl).  We are all very different, but what binds us is a strong loyalty to family. We may tease each other more than necessary sometimes, but don’t let anyone outside our little circle mess with one of us…there will be trouble!  My siblings have been so supportive to me over the years in ways I can never repay.

My family-in law – They have been there for us over the years in many, many ways, and I am grateful for their love and concern.

My Book Club (The Chapter Chicks) – We are ten women strong who have been meeting almost monthly since February of 2004.  We sometimes get off track and don’t always discuss the book, but oh well.  It is like group therapy.  We have been through parent deaths, a spouse’s death, graduations, weddings, grandchildren, serious sickness, aging, and just life.  They are amazing!

My colleagues at OLM – I couldn’t ask to work on a better team.  While we may not always agree, we always come to some sort of compromise.  We complain together, laugh together, and support one another. They certainly make my day more enjoyable.

My Writing Project (PAWLP) colleagues – Becoming a writing fellow in 2000 was a life-changing experience.  All of the women and men I have met and worked with along the way have helped me to grow as a teacher, a presenter, and as a writer.  They helped me spread my wings and pushed me out of the nest.

I am sure that I could go on, but there is always tomorrow to continue my list.  Wishing you a Happy Thanksgiving and the time to give thanks.

Election Day

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Our days begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. ~Martin Luther King Jr.

Today is election day – a day of duty and privilege. I have to admit that over the past 42 years, I haven’t voted in every election to come my way.  I always voted in the major presidential races and usually in the November general elections. It is the primary elections I sometimes abandoned.

I often become weary with all the phone calls,  television commercials, and advertisements that arrive at my door during the campaigning season. I don’t have a “winning” track record when it comes to my election day choices, so why bother?  How can my one vote make a difference anyway?

Well, recently I was listening to KYW News Radio in Philadelphia.  Larry Kane, a beloved news anchor, ran a three-part series entitled, “Skipping Election Day?  Your 1 Vote Counts.” In it, he outlined some major elections/decisions which were determined by just one vote.

  • Congress elected President Rutherford B. Hayes in 1876 by one vote
  • One vote made Texas a part of the US
  • Thomas Jefferson became president by just one vote in the electoral college
  • One vote in Congress authorized  the draft – the selective service

Although I had already planned to vote today, that really struck me.  Maybe my one vote will matter. Maybe I can make a difference, a change.  If not, then the will of the people will override me, but at least I can rest my head on my pillow knowing that I live in a country where I am afforded the duty and privilege of voting.  It isn’t about the “winning” it is about letting my voice be heard. If the change I want doesn’t happen at this election then I need to be part of the change I want to see for the next one.  

Off to the polls!

What I Did on My Summer Vacation

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The secret of success is making your vocation your vacation.  ~ Mark Twain

By the time the dismissal bell rang on June 15th, I was definitely ready for summer vacation.  I was tired, and I need a break. So, what did I do with my 11 weeks “off” this summer?

  • Joined LA Fitness and began going to Aqua Fit classes two or three times a week with my sister to hopefully relieve some of the pain of osteoarthritis in my knees and my all over body aches from fibromyalgia.
  • Tutored one day a week at the local library.
  • Joined the Summer Reading Program at my local library
  • Read four adult books for pleasure (reading one more now)
  • Read two YA books for my middle school students (still have one to go)
  • Took a mini-class on podcasting at my local library
  • Sent out a couple of things for publication (no luck just yet)
  • Co-taught a PAWLP graduate class – Strategies for Teaching Writing at West Chester University.
  • Attended two book club meetings.
  • Had breakfast with friends and lunch with other friends
  • Intermittently babysat by grandchildren (always a joy)
  • Visited the Bucks County Children’s Museum with three of my four grandchildren
  • Had one grandson sleep over which included him being my sous chef. He was the “whisker” at breakfast as we made French toast, and the “dumper and pusher” as we made chocolate chip cookies in the afternoon.  He dumped all the ingredients into the bowl and pushed the batter off my spoon onto the baking sheet.
  • Read professional books
    • 180 Days by Kelly Gallagher and Penny Kittles
    • The Unstoppable Writing Teacher by M Colleen Cruz
    • Writing Strategies by Jennifer Serravallo (not the entire book- but participated in the Summer writing camp.  (LOVED IT!)
  • Beginning to read Teaching the Core Skills of Listening and Speaking by Erik Palmer
  • Saw two movies and loved them both
    • Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
    • Crazy Rich Asians
  • Bought three new picture books, 30 notebooks, and some dollar store finds for my classroom (so far)
  • Got a couple of massages.
  • Caught up on a couple of doctors’ appointments.
  • Spent a long weekend at my brother and sister-in-law’s home (check out last week’s post) which we affectionately have dubbed “the spa”.  It is a place where you can enjoy a beautiful view from any room in the house and almost guaranteed to see a fawn in the backyard.
    • Viewed fireworks on the veranda with a glass of wine
    • Shopped for new sneakers with an incredibly patient sister-in-law
    • Ate delicious food, drank lots of wine, watched Phillies games, another movie (Ladybird) once we got the Netflix working, and just savored the time to talk and catch up with each other’s lives.
  • Spent three nights in Atlantic City.  
    • Played the slot machines – win some/lose some.
    • Met my husband’s brother’s family for lunch and a rendezvous at Historic Smithtown, NJ.  
    • Enjoyed a wonderful seafood buffet.
    • Relaxed by the pool and hot tub.
  • Did A LOT of thinking about how my classroom will be different in September. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two weeks from today I start back to school. I am ready (well almost).

As you can see by the bold items on my list, school was never far from my mind this summer.  I am sure that there a few things that I have forgotten to put on the list – both personally and professionally.  But, when I begin to think about all the things that were on my summer “to do” list that didn’t get done – most of them things around the house, I wouldn’t beat myself up or look back with regret on how I spent my time. There is not one thing on the above list that I would have been willing to cross off.

Happy start of school!

An Unexpected Extravaganza

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  Cheese improves the flavor of life. ~ Unknown

This past Saturday evening I had a dining experience, not just dinner at a restaurant.  I had the good fortune of enjoying an evening with Rynn and Dave Caputo of Caputo Brothers Creamery in Spring Grove, PA. (Menu pictured below)

The evening began with an “Antipasti Misti Della Casa” served on beautiful artisan plates. My favorites on the plate were Brenda’s sweet green tomato pickles and the red pepper jelly, both made by Rynn’s mother.  

After our first course there was a rousing welcome from Rynn Caputo and a short video of the creamery’s  history. It gave a glimpse into the lives of our host and hostess from the time they decided to quit their corporate jobs and travel to Italy as a couple to attend culinary school to the namesakes of Caputo Brothers – their boys Giovanni and Matteo.

After the second course, Rynn demonstrated the cheese making process and explained how their cheese was different from any other cheese you can buy in the grocery store. Caputo Brothers’ claim to fame is having the ONLY fresh mozzarella curds in the United States that do not contain citric acid. If you are like me, you a probably wondering what’s the big deal.  Well, after Rynn’s very engaging explanation of the cheese making process, I am now a convert. There are no words to describe the rich buttery flavor of the mozzarella she made for us.

All the food was delicious, but one of the highlights of the evening was the “Spaghetti Alla Pesca” made with ripe peaches from the Caputo’s own garden.  (Rynn’s mom is the gardener/farmer who attends to the acre and a half garden.) It puts a whole new spin on “mac and cheese.”

Every morsel of food was better than the one before it.  My only regret is that I forgot to take pictures of each course as it came out because not only was each one delicious, it was also a work of art.

Thanks to my brother and sister-in-law who treated us to this delectable dinner and a “show.”

You can learn more about Caputo Brothers Creamery below.

Caputos

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#CapoMozz

https://caputobrotherscreamery.com/

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

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Spontaneity, the hallmark of childhood, is well worth cultivating to counteract the rigidity that may otherwise set in as we grow older. ~Gail Sheehy

A couple of weeks ago, I was having breakfast with my dear friend, Diane.  Diane comes to my classroom once a week during the school year from her “real job” at Penn Mutual Insurance to “tutor” my ELA students.  She has done a variety of things over the years – revising, editing, helping with oral presentations and such, but the most important thing she does for/with my students is to listen to them.  The few minutes they get to spend with her are a treasured time. The kids always ask me, “Is Mrs. Check coming this week?” It is definitely the highlight of their week.

As we chatted over our breakfast skillets, Diane told me she was planning to see Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, the Mr. Rogers documentary, with her sister at 1:30.  I was so bummed. I had been wanting to see the documentary for a while, but didn’t know who would be a good person to ask to go with me.  Unfortunately, I had an appointment to get my haircut at 2:00.

Long story short, after a few texts to her sister, Diane had rearranged her day so that she could go to the 11:15 show with me instead.  I felt a little guilty that she ditched her sister, but I was so happy to going to the movie! Diane, thank you for your spontaneity!

As we got ourselves settled in our seats, I noticed that there were about eight other people in the theater – not bad for a morning show.  Being the nerd that I am, I promptly got out my little notebook that is always in my purse and patiently waited for the previews to be over.  For the next 90 minutes, I was in childlike wonder of this awesome man of faith and love. I tried to write down as many bits of wisdom as I could. Every once in awhile, Diane would hit my arm and say, “Write this down!”  It isn’t easy in a darkened room to figure out exactly where I was writing, but I did OK. I only wrote over something once.

What follows are my favorites of the notes I took that morning.  I would love to see it again to catch all the things I missed.

  • Love or the lack of it is at the root of everything.
  • There was a lot of slow space in his show but no wasted space.  Silence is one of the greatest gifts we have.
  • The outside world of children’s lives have changed, but their insides haven’t changed.
  • Love is what keeps us together and afloat.
  • Those who try to make you feel less than you are are the greatest evil.
  • Best learning – accept and expect mistakes and deal with them.
  • It’s not so easy to quiet a doubt.
  • You don’t have to special or sensational things to have people love you.
  • No matter our job – we are all called to be repairers of creation
  • Be true to the best you within.
  • Let’s make goodness attractive

Fred Rogers was a man who always saw the best in people.  He was making social statements without hitting people over the head with them.  He loved children, and they loved him back.

I highly recommend that anyone who has children, teaches children, or loves children see this documentary for yourself.  It has made me think about how I want to be when I go back to school. Not only do I want to teach my students, but I want to see the world through their eyes and remember that all that any of us want is to love and be loved in return.

Feeling Inspired

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We all need someone who inspires us to do better than we know how. ~ Anonymous

Last week I had the immense pleasure of co-facilitating a graduate class at West Chester University entitled “Strategies for Teaching Writing.” It never ceases to amaze me the quality of discussion, and writing that pours forth from this class each year. I left on Friday afternoon feeling quite inspired!

My first inspiration was my fabulous co-facilitator and partner in crime, Gregory Maigur. Greg is a Social Studies teacher and storyteller extraordinaire. The way he brought history to life made me want to go back to Middle School (a fate worse than death) to experience American History through his eyes. I learned a great deal from him, and he gave me a lot of food for thought. I hope we get the opportunity to teach together again.

Next were the sixteen dedicated participants (mostly, but not all, teachers) who spent the week working alone and together creating a personal or fictional narrative, meeting in response groups, taking part in writing strategies, thinking about how they could use each strategy in their particular situation, and designing an implementation plan for use in September. The quality of their ideas and the enthusiasm with which they presented them made me want to up my game for September as well.

Inspiration also came in the form of two wonderful presenters. Jolene Borgese helped us navigate the world of revision, and Brian Kelley challenged us to a new way of thinking when it comes to responding to student writing. My notebook is filled with priceless gems that I will be doing my best to implement in the fall.

On our last day together, we shared our narratives. There were tears and laughter, admiration and pride. Again, I was blown away by the depth of the writing and the willingness to be vulnerable exhibited by the class. Some of them have been writers all along. Some of them did not consider themselves writers when they walked in on Monday morning. All I can say is each of them were inspired by their response groups to do better than they thought they possibly could and the results were breathtaking.

I am inspired to spend the rest of the summer learning and growing, planning and revising and coming up with the best plans/activities possible to inspire my students in September.

Thank you teachers for a terrific week!