Box 1

Box 1
STEAM

Box 2

Box 2
Character Education

Box 3

Box 3
Digital Learning

Reducing Holiday Stress


Here I am - last one to this party! I missed our podcast session about celebrating the holidays with food, drink, friends, and books. I knew this wasn't going to be easy.  I'm the one who always asks at the beginning, "You know what's really hard?" and I missed one. What's really hard is missing that special time with three treasured friends when we talk about stuff and invite all of you in!

Pick one book, they said, to share with our podcast listeners. Connect it to a cocktail and a main course to enjoy during the holiday season. One book? I am constantly reading. Moving on to the next book, and the next, and the one after that like a fickle false friend. Most of them don't even stay with me for very long because I've moved on to six or twelve books after that one. Cocktail? I don't drink. A little wine maybe once every month or two, but haven't had a cocktail since college when I used to order frozen daiquiris without the rum (or whatever the liquor was in that one). I've always thought that the addition of liquor spoils my drink. I'm a Shirley Temple kind of girl. Sugar is my opiate, not alcohol. And cooking? As our family has grown, making everyone happy with a home-cooked meal seems more and more unlikely. Sigh. This feels like an assignment.

Getting ready to write this post despite all of the above, I took a look at some books in my iBooks and Kindle libraries. It was like a reunion with long lost friends! Gabrielle Zevin - how could I ever forget her? One of my favorite authors ever! (She should not start celebrating right away, though. Remember that I am fickle. I will read almost anything!) I did love her long-ago young adult book Elsewhere, an imagining of Heaven as a wonderful place where we meet up with family, friends, and even famous people who have passed on previously, and we all age backwards. Lovely, thought-provoking, dream inducing quick read. The older I get, the more appealing I find that aging backwards thing. Ha! Reminds me of  when I saw the movie "Benjamin Button" with a large group of friends at this time of year. I LOVED IT!!! The entire group, except for me, hated it. They still won't ever let me pick the movie just because of my undying love for Benjamin Button.

A Book For You
Anyway, as usual, I digress. A few years ago, I picked up a lovely little book by Gabriele Zevin once more. The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry. This is my recommendation for you this winter season. Make a cup of hot chocolate (sugar, not alcohol - see?), cuddle up under a comforter, and dig in. If you're reading this, you might be a teacher, and what teacher doesn't love books, and maybe even long to wander through a small and quirky bookstore while on vacation?

A.J. Vikry, the main character of this story, is a curmudgeonly small bookshop owner on a small island called Alice Island. He is 36 years old, recently widowed, and his most prized possession, a collection by Poe, has been stolen. Amelia, a sales rep from a publishing company, and an abandoned child named Maya help him to turn his life and his bad attitude around. As you read this, you will see books and family in a whole new light, even if you have always loved both.

Another divergent note, while browsing through a favorite tiny still standing bookstore in Stratford, Ontario last year, I found another of Gabrielle Zevin's novels. This one is Young Jane Young, also highly recommended.

Connecting Book and Menu
As I think back on The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, I can't help but think about all the configurations and twists and turns that can make up a family or a circle of friends. Families and friendship groups morph and change, sometimes are taken apart, and then put back together in a new way. The menu I will be sharing here does just that with food. It takes apart a recipe, displays it in a deconstructed form, and then allows each person to reconstruct it in a way that is pleasing to that one person.

Entertaining these two groups, family and friends, so important in our lives, can be a horror story or a fairy tale. I choose to make it easy and enjoy a happy ending. While visiting four of our beautiful grandchildren overseas a few years ago, Papa and Grandma were responsible for dinner every night. Every suggestion we offered turned up someone who didn't like/couldn't eat/was allergic to something. And so, the "deconstructed dinner" was born! (It might have already been invented by someone else, but I have always thought of it as my own creation. If you are the actual creator, I apologize. My grandchildren sure think it's me!)

On to the Deconstructed Dinner!
Menu:
Deconstructed Cocktails
Deconstructed appetizer skewers
Deconstructed Mongolian Barbecue
Deconstructed Truffles

Cocktail Time!
As your guests arrive, have pitchers ready of sweet tea, herbal tea, lemonade, pink lemonade, wine, and beer. Have sliced limes, lemons, oranges, and maraschino cherries available in small dishes. Children will of course need help with assembly. Their "mocktails" will be herbal tea and lemonade. My daughter likes to cut that further with a little water to make it not quite as sugary and strong. Adults can mix any combo they like to their heart's content, allowing teetotalers and cocktail lovers alike to enjoy their perfect brew.

Rev Up Their Appetites!
Small wooden or metal skewers or even toothpicks next to a tray or two of these lovelies: sliced meats, cubed cheeses, melons, herbs like fresh basil leaves. Mix it up! Guests skewer and munch any combination of the above while waiting for their turn at the main event.

Main course: Deconstructed Mongolian Barbecue
Neither Mongolian nor a Barbecue, this cooking method was developed in Taiwan in 1951. It is a combination of Chinese Stir Fry and Japanese Tepanyaki Grill cooking. I dreamed this one up at my grandson's favorite restaurant, bd's Mongolian Grill. (Later found out, of course, that I was not the first to take this one and run, but don't tell my grandkids. Please. They call it "Grandma's bd's". My moment of fame.)
I change  this up in one way to make it even more easy. I spread slices of chicken breast, flank steak, and small shrimp on a sheet pan and precook it all. I use foil sprayed with cooking spray for easy cleanup. I also use two or three additional sheet pans to precook tons of veggies. Your choice, of course, but we (some of us anyway) love: bell pepper in all the colors, onion,  broccoli, cauliflower, mushrooms, asparagus, and carrots. Oh, and those cute little baby corn cobs. I sometimes have to get them in cans. No one knows.
The grilling station consists of an electric wok, bowls of precooked noodles (we use linguine!) and precooked rice. If you are brave and watch carefully, a child can cook his/her own meal. We do it this way: Our three year old granddaughter takes orders and her seven year old brother is the chef at the wok under Papa's watchful eye. We make giant tin foil hats to wear (like they do at bd's) and pour our everything into this. Feel free to dabble or dive!
Each order gets a splash of light olive oil, then whatever mix of protein and veggies is requested. Noodles or rice are added next, and a stir fry sauce goes in at the end. It's really a warming process, not a cooking one with everything being precooked, so all can be served pretty quickly. Stir fry sauces are the final touch for making this easy: PF Chang makes four or five kinds, available in supermarkets everywhere around here. The kids and sweet-loving Grandma here prefer the Sesame one.

Don't Skip Dessert:
This one started as a science lesson for my fourth graders a long time ago to explain cratering. It is yummy with or without the lesson!

And there it is! Break it up, and put it all back together again! I love books that do that for me. Break up old ideas about almost anything, and piece it all back together again in a new and thought-provoking way! I can see you now, raising a glass of holiday cheer to your family and friends, feasting on a healthy reconstructed meal, and hopefully discussing some books you've all read lately.

For a fun bookmark, from my Unicorn collection, along with the Truffles Recipe, just click here!

Wishing you a relaxing holiday break, filled with friends, family, food, and some alone time to curl up with a new book!









For the recipes, bookmarks, and posts from my podcasting friends, click below!
To hear our podcasts, click here!


For this month's awesome posts from Teacher Talk,  click here!

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Honesty


"Honesty is such a lonely word...Honesty is hardly ever heard."(Billy Joel circa 1978) It's hard to be honest. You know the situation. Two kids are having a disagreement. One hurts the other, either emotionally or physically. You ask one or both to say that they're sorry. What do you get? A totally devoid of emotion, eyes cast down, "Sorry." uttered in the smallest, most insincere voice possible. You will also get two versions of the same story, so different that it would take King Solomon to solve the mystery.

I enjoyed a down to earth discussion recently of  how this elusive character trait affects our teaching, along with some great literature suggestions where the theme of honesty is addressed. You can hear the podcast here: We Teach So Hard, Episode 62

My contribution to our discussion was a favorite of my fourth graders, both as a read-aloud and as a book club discussion choice, The Tiger Rising by Kate DiCamillo. The book tackles the most difficult component of honesty, the ability to be honest with yourself.

In The Tiger Rising, Rob and his father have moved to Lister, Florida from their home in Jacksonville. In the wake of his wife's death, Rob's dad lost his job and had to move with Rob to the Kentucky Star Motel in Lister in hopes of finding new employment and a chance to get back on their feet. This fresh start was a fresh open wound for Rob. He had to start at a new school (of course replete with bullies) for the sixth grade. The angry red rash on his legs was a symptom of his massive stress, but he used the possibility of being contagious to get out of school. Willie May, the housekeeper at the motel, Rob's new home, told him that the rash was his sadness that he was holding way down low, and that he should let it rise to his heart. Along with the sadness rash, Rob pushed every other feeling he had into an imaginary suitcase in the pit of his stomach.

Rob's situation begins to change when he finds a caged tiger living mysteriously in a cage in the woods behind the motel. The tiger becomes another secret for him to hold close. Rob also meets Sistine, another new sixth grader from Philadelphia. Sistine is brutally honest. Introducing herself to her new southern classmates, she says, "I hate the South because the people in it are ignorant." Not quite the way to make new friends!

Rob and Sistine bond while riding the school bus and battling bullies, and Rob shares the secret of the tiger. You truly need to experience this wonderful book! Of course you will want to find out if the tiger is freed, and whether Rob is ever able to unpack his emotional suitcase and to cure his sadness rash.

A great followup activity for The Tiger Rising is my splatter paint flowers. Find the activity here for poetry (just click on the photos below) and add words about honesty or character traits of Rob and Sistine in the center of the flowers.

For another way to create the flowers indoors, visit this blog post: Make a Splash in April 

One more idea inspired by this amazing book: Try creating an honesty rock garden. Paint rocks with messages about honesty and decorate your school walkways or classroom window box with them. To create rock gardens with paper, try these!


For many more ideas about using books to teach kids about honesty, be sure to read the blogs below, and to visit our podcast. Wishing you truth and happiness in the days ahead with your class because YOU teach so hard!




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