Tuesday, September 29, 2015

apple chips

We're all a bit sad when the pool closes for the summer and the flip flops get thrown to the back of the closet, but come mid-September, I think we can all agree, it is a happy day when fall officially takes over.

But you've got to grab it up because that pumpkin, apple, boots-and-scarves glory is always gone too quickly.  I for one am wasting no time jumping into the season.  The kitchen has been calling out for fall food, and I am happily obliging to its request.

Let's start simply.  This is one I can easily manage every weekend, maybe even a weeknight if I'm feeling really crazy. 

Apple chips. 

3 ingredients. 

Minimal hands on time. 

Cinnamon-apple smell filling the house.

Toddler approved. 

Total win. 

Warning: there is one minor downside to these beauties.  (Aw, rats.) You will have the greatest success if you slice the apples with a mandoline.  (Seriously?)  It's true.  This doesn't mean you cannot use a knife, but the thinner the slice, the better the crisp and crunch of the chip.

I have seen mandolines run upward of $200. Yikes.  We bought ours from HSN for $20 (and Amazon has many options for all sorts of kitchen tool budgets), and it has been totally worth it, if for nothing else than these apple chips.  We also use it for onions, potatoes, cucumbers, etc. because there is something oh-so-satisfying about perfectly uniformed slices of fruits and vegetables.  It's something to consider.

  • 2 apples (I've used all kinds and have never been disappointed.  I lean toward tart, such as Granny Smith or Braeburn)
  • 2 TB brown sugar
  • 1 TB cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 225 degrees.

Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.  And yes, you really do need the parchment paper.  Learn from my mistakes.

Slice the apples as thinly and uniformly as possible.

Mix the cinnamon and brown sugar together, and dip each apple slice into the cinnamon/sugar mixture.

Spread the apples on the parchment paper, and cook for 1 hour.

Flip the chips and cook for another hour.

Let them cool for about 15 minutes.  They will crisp up even more as they cool.

You are welcome.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

saturday morning

Uptown Oxford on a Saturday morning is my favorite time of the week.  Oxford is a small town in the middle of nowhere, but it oozes with small town charm and has created a perfect uptown for bringing the community together. 
I love the bumpin’ farmers’ market that sells everything from local fruits, vegetables, and meats to breakfast sandwiches, smoothies, fresh cut flowers and our personal favorite, goat cheese lemon puffs. 

I love the certainty of seeing someone I know and the freedom to chat for as long as I’d like because even the little darlings can stay happily occupied when we’re uptown. 

I love the surprise of what festival or special event we just might find on any given weekend - yoga in the park, car shows, local bands, Taste of Oxford, you just never know. 

I love all the children running through the fountains.  Prepared parents come with bathing suits, but most of the time you’ll see fully clothed toddlers screaming with glee as they're splashed in the face.

I love piling the kids into the stroller and just walking around town. Although truth be told, Charlotte is feeling a little too grown up for the stroller these days, so we are usually just pushing Andrew and the Raggedy Ann doll. 
I love that we can wander uptown with no certain plans for the day and somehow plans will just evolve as we bump into friends or see yummy looking food that is begging to be grilled or mixed with sugar and baked in a pie. 

When the day comes that we no longer live in Oxford, my heart will deeply miss uptown Saturday mornings with my family.  

I will also miss those goat cheese lemon puffs, so I should probably eat two today. 

Monday, September 14, 2015

landominium life

Six years ago, Stephen and I bought out first house.  Correction: our first (and oh Lord, let it be our only) landominium.  Yes, that is a real thing…supposedly.  It differs from the more well-known condominium in that we actually own both the home and the land on which the home is built.  Think single-story retirement community, not modern high-rise looking over the city.  We don’t own the land around it – that belongs to the homeowners’ association – just the land on which our home is built.  The only benefit we’ve concluded is that we have the freedom to install a basement should we so choose.  Start digging, Stephen.
After living the apartment life for a number of years, Stephen and I were thrilled with our new, spacious abode.  I remember sitting in our living room soon after we’d moved in listing all the “amenities” I loved about this new home.  Vaulted ceilings.  Walk-in closets.  A washer and dryer!  2 bathrooms.  White kitchen. Fireplace.  Walk-in pantry.  Beautifully painted walls.  Cars right outside our front door rather than 3 flights down and across the parking lot.  Kitchen big enough for a full out Zumba class (and there have been many of those!).
At the end of my list, I foolishly declared, 
“This house is perfect.  I could raise four kids here!” 
(And no, this is not a baby announcement.)
I still adore this home and all those items on my original list.  It really is a lovely little place, and at this very moment, the laminate kitchen flooring is being replaced with gorgeous tile, making me love it even more.  We have hosted countless parties in this tiny place, joyfully cramming 15 people around card tables.  We have moved the couches into the kitchen to make room for a dozen grad students to spread out sleeping bags for a Saved By the Bell marathon sleepover.  Our second bedroom housed an international student for a semester and has also welcomed many Air BnB guests for overnight stays.  Three years ago that same room was turned into a nursery, preparing this home for our growing family.  We are not short on precious memories in this home.
However, since baby #2 arrived last year, we have reached exceeded maximum capacity, and I fear we could burst out of this place at any moment. All too often I feel the walls of this tiny home falling in on me, and I imagine myself buried under a pile of blocks, random puzzle pieces, boxes of baby clothes, cookbooks and shoes.  Why do we have so many shoes?  Every so often, this claustrophobic feeling will display itself in the form of an outburst. Stephen is wise enough to sense the tone of my tirade, and if I’m on the verge of hysteria, he’ll just listen, hug me, and retreat back to our bedroom to start cleaning up his piles of clothes, most likely just looking for any excuse to get away from the crazy lady on a warpath regarding where to fit all the Christmas wrapping paper. If he senses even the slightest bit of humor in my meltdown, he’ll remind me of that fateful statement.  “You still think we can raise four kids in this house?  The second bedroom can definitely fit double bunk beds.”   
Oh, how I rue the day.
But even in the midst of my ranting and raving, God is gently reminding me of His truth.  Lord willing, there will come a day when we don’t live in this landominium.  We will have a garage for storing Christmas decorations, a yard for enjoying summer nights, and perhaps even a basement for stashing baby items so my parents can stop driving Jump-a-roos and baby swings baby and forth from Chicago.   
But I have a feeling that when that day comes, I will look around that house, exhausted by all the rooms to clean and longing for the simple days of landominum life.  I will miss the extra sleep I got on snowy mornings because someone shoveled my walkway, and I’ll wish I could still plug my vacuum cleaner into one outlet and clean the entire house.
Reality check.
As I type this, my children are still sleeping, the house is quiet, and a beautiful sunrise is creeping up out my window while I drink hot coffee from a cute green mug.
In this moment, it is easy to laugh about the fact that my son’s pack ‘n play was set up in the bathroom for the first 9 months of his life or that visting family has to stay in a hotel because we have no room to host them. 
In this moment, I am amused by the fact that we have boxes of babies clothes stored in a friend’s basement while bikes and a baby pool are in another friend’s garage.
In this moment, I can make jokes about how Stephen is addicted to Amazon Subscribe and Save which has resulted in no less than 28 rolls of paper towels stashed in every nook of the house.
In this moment, I can easily be thankful God has given me a good sense of humor about it all. 
But there are many days I am a hot mess.  I see no humor in the situation, only chaos. My frustration is real, my complaining is ugly, and I am in desperate need of a good dose of God’s truth. 
The truth is that none of this is mine anyways.  My inner toddler wants to scream mine, mine, mine, and cry out for more, more, more.  God is so patient with me.  Gently reminding me that I cannot insist on ownership when it comes to stuff, but I can freely claim mine, all mine, when it comes to my Jesus. 
He is all mine, and he loves me enough to discourage a death grip on what can never satisfy.  
I know this, but many days I forget and let the scrunched up chaos get the best of me.  It might just be one of those lessons I have to keep learning over and over.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

figs for dinner

Stephen has been yapping about figs for weeks.
As much as we love where we live, sometimes there are limitations regarding certain foods being readily accessible.  Over the last week, he has been calling stores to see if they have fresh figs. Eight stores to be precise. Responses included:
“No, but we have Fig Newtons.”
“No, but we have dates.”
“No, but we have smoothies. “
Smoothies?!?!  WHAT?!
He called our local grocery store 2 days later to see if any figs had arrived.  The man hung up on him.
Apparently, figs are hard to come by in Ohio.
But as luck should have it, the ninth store was a success, and Stephen only had to leave work 2 hours early to beat traffic and plow over all the other crazy fig lovers who had traveled from far and wide. In true Stephen fashion, he thought it necessary to buy 3 ½ pounds of figs.  He’s notorious for overestimating the amount of food we’ll eat, often leaving us with an absurd amount of leftovers; but in his defense, he ate at least one pound of figs on the drive home.
We then proceeded to feed the darlings mac-and-cheese and shuffle them to bed by 7, so we could feast. 
The Menu:
Crostini with goat cheese, prosciutto, grilled figs, and topped with a drizzle of honey.  And because we’re just wild like that – champagne. 
What?  Bubbly on a weeknight? Oh yes.
You won’t be surprised to know that Stephen doesn’t really let me near the figs, particularly if they are going on the grill.  But he was kind enough to let me watch, and here is what I learned. 

Trim the stems off the figs.  The rest is edible, skin and all.  Cut them in half, brush with olive oil and grill flesh side down for about 3 minutes – but watch carefully.
We layered each crostini with goat cheese and a small slice of prosciutto. After the figs cooled, we cut each piece in half again and added the quarter fig on top.  A drizzle of honey and black pepper completed these little beauties.
I am a devout goat cheese lover, so to me, it was the obvious choice.  Stephen remains loyal to bleu cheese (although he’s never met a cheese he didn’t like).  When he came in from grilling and saw I had smothered goat cheese on every crostini, he was a bit disappointed and decided to make his own – apparently a double.

Both options were delicious. 

His persistence paid off. 

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

teach it

After eight years in a classroom full of first grade darlings, an opportunity presented itself that I simply couldn’t pass up.   I said good-bye to my classroom to move around the corner and became a “literacy coach/interventionist”.  I loved the idea of working with small groups of students and was eager to be a supportive resource for teachers when needed. 
Two weeks into the school year, the minutes from an administrators’ meeting landed on my desk.  To my surprise, the “/interventionist” title of my job was dropped, and I was now a full time literacy coach.  Huh. Full time coach.  What in the world does a full time literacy coach do?  Guess I’d find out.
As with most new jobs, I spent the first year fumbling around and learning furiously  from other coaches, books, blogs, and of course a large handful of my own mistakes.  Three years later, I absolutely adore the job.  I’m still devouring books and blogs and making mistakes on a daily basis, but this job has pushed me to define my teaching beliefs and fight for them.   I work with amazing teachers who eagerly engage in professional discussions and work tirelessly to make school a safe place where students will love to learn.   
This past month  (yes, month – we’ve been in school since August 3) I’ve had the totally awesome privilege of being in Mrs. Ary’s 6th grade class.  I intentionally say “totally awesome” because it pretty much sums up Mrs. Ary’s attitude toward life, teaching, and her 6th graders.   She (who, from now on I’ll just refer to as Christina) has been teaching at our school for 2 years, and I clearly remember my first visit into her room.  I wanted to plop myself down in a chair and be a 6th grader all over again.  Christina has willingly opened her chevron-covered classroom to me as I’ve transitioned out of first grade and explored literacy through the eyes of a twelve year old.  
We have been launching writing workshop by introducing each of the six traits of writing, beginning with the trait ideas.  By sixth grade, these writers have heard about each trait ad nauseum, and they have most certainly brainstormed a list of writing topics every year of their little schooling lives.  We wanted to do something different.  We wanted to start pushing them to find a story that really mattered.  

I gathered them on the carpet and posed the following question:
If you could tell your life in only seven stories, what would they be?

These could be life-altering days or seemingly insignificant moments that have somehow been permanently planted in your memory. What seven stories best reflect who you are today?
Twenty-eight sixth graders were dismissed back to their seats to brainstorm seven titles – titles only, no actual stories allowed (yet….). And just because she’s kinda awesome like that, Christina played One Direction’s Story of My Life in the background as the kids got started.  (Slightly embarrassing fact: I was singing along to all the words, arms fist pumping in the air.) Even though Christina and I knew this lesson was coming, we had resisted the urge to come up with our own seven titles ahead of time.
Instead, we sat down with our students and began our own lists. 

We wanted to think on the spot with our students.
We wanted to get stuck and struggle through it with our students.
We wanted our students to see us write, and not just some neat, tidy examples that make writing look easy.
We wanted them to see that real brainstorming is messy and often takes longer than twenty minutes of allotted independent writing time.

Christina wrote eight titles because she couldn’t narrow it down yet. I wrote five titles because I just got stuck. We both scratched a few options to attempt something better and even brainstormed more possibilities during our lunch break. 
I have not made any final decisions about my seven stories.  In fact, I imagine the thinking and revising will continue for days and weeks to come.  I find myself thinking about these seven stories as I lay in bed at night, walking through my life and pinpointing the moments and memories that can be pieced together to tell my story. 
And I’d like to think that maybe, just maybe, at this very moment, there is a sixth grader at home doing the same.

I want to give full credit where credit is due.  The seven stories of my life prompt is not my original idea. Jennifer Allen described it in her book Becoming A Literacy Leader.  I took an online coarse with Jennifer this summer through Choice Literacy called Literacy Coach Jumpstart.  It is an excellent, thought-provoking book for literacy coaches – one I’ve highlighted, underlined, and dog-eared, and one I continue to open long after the course has ended.