Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Well, at least I'm not bored?

My work week started off with a bang: someone (a student, I'm betting) stuck gum to the output feeder on the copier in the library.

I can honestly say I never expected to solve THAT technical difficulty in my life. Not to worry, I've pried off the gum and scrubbed my hands thoroughly.

Also, on Monday, I solved the sound problem we'd been having with two Promethean boards in the building....I pushed one button. It's nice to have it fixed, but a little ridiculous that it took half a second to solve, yet this solution has evaded me for weeks.

Today I chaperoned for the third grade field trip to Confluence Park to learn about Colorado history. We were outside in 30-40 degree weather, floating pool noodles/"logs" down the South Platte River, playing games that simulated panning for gold, learning some wilderness skills we'd need to survive in the 1860s, learning about the flood in Denver in the 1960s and the hill of trash (covered with dirt and grass) that was created because of it.

I spent the day asking students to stay with the group, to face forward, to walk in line with their partner, to listen to directions, to please stop rolling down the hill...things that I say (almost) every day. But today I got to do it outside, and I also got to ask students questions about Colorado history and what they'd learned.

All in all a good day. I can only imagine what the rest of the week will include.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Why I love my food co-op

For lunch yesterday, I ate delicious beef borscht with local beef and beer bread with cheese and Italian spices. The best part of this lunch, other than the taste? I didn't make any of it.

Back in September, Erin shared an idea she'd been working on that summer--the idea of a food co-op. She wanted to can, freeze, make jam, dehydrate fruit, make her own tofu, peanut butter, yogurt, bread...and was exhausted by the prospect of doing it all herself. So, she asked a group of us like-minded folk if we wanted to join her in creating "shares" of homemade food items and sharing them with a group of people. James and I were totally in--we are just two people with one tiny freezer and no canning skills. We'd chosen to freeze one thing each year, be it strawberry jam or applesauce, and just buying the other things we wanted.

There are 9 "shares" in the group (we are 14 people, but many of us live in pairs) and we meet twice a month. On the first Sunday of the month, 5 groups bring their shares--9 total, for the full group. On the third Sunday, the other 4 groups bring their shares. This way, each group is only making one item per month, but we all receive items twice a month.

Items have varied, from jam to pasta to homebrew, pesto, yogurt, soup, bread, granola, cheese, beef jerky, all homemade. The only rule is that you must bring 9 shares and that each month, there should be some kind of bread item. Determining how much of each item counts as a share is tricky, and we base that off of the materials, time, and energy that goes into a well-made loaf of bread. This means that pesto shares are significantly smaller than soup shares.

So far it's working out great. It helps me look forward to Sunday evenings again, and gives James and I a chance to make a lot of the things we've always wanted to, but have never gotten to. Next week, I'm tackling homemade peanut butter--I hope my food processor stands up to the challenge. :)

I am happy to see how well our co-op seems to be going, and love talking about it. If you want to start your own group, let me know--I'd be happy to share more details. I also hope to take this idea with me wherever we may go next, and start a new group in a new place. And really, the main reason I love our food co-op? I get to EAT tons of delicious things I would have never attempted to make myself. Yum.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

What I Ate, Tuesday edition

I'm going to be volunteering at Ten Thousand Villages tomorrow evening, so dinner will most likely be random leftovers from the fridge. That means What I Ate night comes early this week!

No pictures of dinner because it was SO delicious there was no time. :)

Tonight's menu was rotisserie chicken from Whole Foods, with side dishes by me: roasted purple potatoes from our CSA share and green beans (frozen from you guessed it, our CSA share) cooked with a little butter, salt, pepper, and granulated garlic.

And, since dinner didn't take much work, I made dessert: homemade apple crisp with ice cream. Yum.

The perfect meal for a day that was supposed to be warm and sunny, but it turned out to be cold and snowy, just in time for our students to leave school today (funny how that works!).

Monday, November 15, 2010

Monday Musings

To put it mildly, I am not a fan of the person who invented Silly Bandz and the like. Just what elementary school students need: one more thing they can fiddle and play with during class. They come to school with a 2-4 inch wide layer of Silly Bandz on each arm! It would drive me crazy, but they love to play with them. This also drives me crazy. Just thought you should know. :)

I spent my evening eating, singing, and talking with a lovely group of folks from church. Good food, good wine, and beautiful singing. I love how singing makes me feel awake and inspired--I drove home feeling pretty good about life.

I LOVE puffy vests. I just bought a second one (from the boys section of Old Navy) and have worn it pretty much every chance I've had. I just wish puffy down vests were acceptable work attire. I should've been a lumberjack, after all!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Your 17-year old self

Today's sermon at church was about dreams. Vern posed the question--what did your 17-year-old self dream of becoming or doing? Are you fulfilling those dreams and living them now?

This got me thinking--I was 17 from 2002-2003, spanning my junior to senior year. I can't really recall what my dreams were. I think mostly I wanted to leave northwest Ohio and go to college. I wasn't sure where yet, and I didn't know what I wanted to be, but that I would probably major in biology. My other dreams weren't really about the future. They were about wishing for a boyfriend and wishing for my friend problems to end and wishing for my 100 meter dash time to improve in track.

I was an avid blogger in high school. I started my first blog on Teen Open Diary at the end of 2001 as a junior in high school. So tonight I looked at some blog entries from age 17, and decided to share a few excerpts. Enjoy!

(names are all changed to first initial to protect the innocent/guilty)

January 2002:
"you know, i've actually begun to tolerate all the seniors i used to "hate". i can deal w/ M now, and i've actually been having fun with T and E lately. i guess i've just come to be able to accept everyone for who they are...and at least try to deal w/them. i guess i'm just one of those ppl that can have fun w/ whoever they're w/, which is a definite good thing!"

February 2002:
"homecoming was on friday, and i GUESS it was ok...no guys ever dance w/ me...i HATE that!!!"

February 2002:
"first of all, i have the lead in the musical. all the seniors are made at me. i hate ppl. everyone is annoying. i failed my chemistry test today. i have a huge crush on M that i thought i was over, but i'm not. i'm never going to get him. school sucks. i don't want to go back. i hate my life. i want to go crawl in a hold and just not talk to ppl anymore, except M of course :)"

Yes I was real band nerd--August 2002:
"marching band is important to me, it's something i can take pride in. i LOVE the feeling of being cheered for EVERY SINGLE TIME we go on the football field. we're instant celebrities...ppl go crazy when it's our turn at the fair show...we're the best band in the county! i can't even describe the adrenaline rush i feel during and after a band show. i can't understand not caring about this at all."

Saturday, November 13, 2010

How to stay warm at a soccer game when it is 32 degrees outside

1 pair knee-high Smartwool socks
1 pair of regular smartwool socks
1 pair of running tights
1 pair of jeans
1 black tank top
1 long sleeve shirt
1 Techwick shirt
1 lightweight fleece
1 puffy down vest
1 giant red puffy down coat
1 Mongolian hat with fleece lining
1 pair of gloves
1 pair of mittens
1 pair of boots with the fur
1 Rapids scarf
1 Thermos of warm hot chocolate

Put this all together and what do you get?

One mostly warm and incredibly happy Colorado Rapids fan! We are now the MLS Eastern Conference champions!!

Looking at Leaves

Have you ever truly looked at a leaf? Analyzed if its edges have teeth or are smooth, categorized it as compound or single, noticed its variations in color? Grouped leaves that you collected by their color, edge shape, or other features?

I did that today.

I attended a Project Learning Tree workshop. We trudged through the park to examine damaged trees and collect leaves. After categorizing our leaves and discussing their features, we made figures or sculptures out of them. There were turkeys, people, moose, and other creative leafy designs.

One of the reasons I chose biology as my college degree was that biology forces you to stop and pay attention. To learn about leaves, trees, ecosystems, habitats, cells, etc you have to notice and observe. You cannot successfully study biology with a textbook alone. You have to go outside and get dirty. You have to manipulate cells and experiment. I navigate life as a biologist--I ask questions, I explore, I stop suddenly and look down at the ground to identify the insect walking in front of me. I choose to be an environmental educator (yes, I count myself as one, even though my current environment is a library) because environmental education happens outside, where you have to be quiet and look closely to see the bird nest in the tree or the pattern the branches of a tree have or the ant carrying a piece of leaf across the forest floor. I choose to be an environmental educator because environmental education is holistic. Is it not just science. It is social studies, current events, language arts, math, visual arts, and skills-based.

I challenge you to pick up a leaf today and really look at it. Then pick up another one, and compare the two. Stop and focus on something natural outside yourself. I am always amazed at what I learn.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Cincinnati Chili recipe

Somehow, I forgot to blog yesterday! I wish I could tell you it was becuase my life is incredibly stressful and my crazy brain forgot. But that's not even true--I had the day off yesterday and I was sitting and watching Community, 30 Rock, and The Office while eating homemade vegetable soup and garlic bread. So I have no excuse for forgetting. Perhaps (hopefully?) today will be a double post day.

This post will be an easy one--my mom's recipe for Cincinnati Chili, which I believe came from Sesame Street magazine. I've chosen to scale down the amount of meat and increase the beans in the recipe, but have also included the original. Enjoy!

Cincinnati Chili Emily-Way

1/2 lb ground beef or buffalo (original recipe calls for 1 lb)
1 medium onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 T chili powder
1 t cinnamon
1/4-1/2 t cayenne
1/4 t allspice
1 t cumin
1 (14.5 oz) can diced tomatoes
3 oz tomato paste
1/3 c water
1 can red beans (the original recipe calls for using the beans as a topping, rather than part of the chili)
spaghetti noodles
grated cheddar cheese
diced raw onion
oyster crackers

1. Put the beef, onion, and garlic in a skillet with tall sides (or a medium saucepan) and cook on medium heat until browned and cooked through.
2. Add all of the spices and continue to cook for one minute to lightly toast the spices.
3. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, and water and stir to combine.
4. Add the can of beans and stir again.
5. Cover and simmer on medium/low for 30 minutes-1 hour, stirring occasionally. (The time is not important..the longer it simmers, the deeper the flavor will be. I generally start to boil the water for the pasta once it begins to simmer and then wait until the pasta is done to turn off the chili).
6. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cook spaghetti according to package directions. Drain.
7. When chili is done, serve it on top of spaghetti and top it with onions, cheddar cheese, and oyster crackers, (and red beans if you made it the traditional way, not the Emily way).


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

What I Ate Wednesday

Winter came to Denver this week. We don't mess around in these parts--transition between fall and winter? That stuff is for sissies. No, we prefer to go from 70 degree weather to snowy and 30-40 degrees in a matter of 24 hours. Yesterday snow flurries fell for much of the afternoon, and even turned to hail for a few minutes on my drive home from work. Today it is cold in the way that gloves and a light down jacket did not keep me from shivering on my drive into work. Thank goodness for warm coffee, an efficient car defroster, and the knowledge that if there's one thing I know about Colorado winters, it is that anything can and will happen. It will be 70 again this winter. And 10. We just have to wait for it.

And now, on to What I Ate Wednesday! Wednesday is reason for celebration, as tomorrow DPS is celebrating Veteran's Day with a day off from school, and it's finally cold enough for soups, stews, and chili, my favorite things to cook. Tonight's meal, in all its iPhone 4 glory, is below:

A definite favorite, this is my mom's recipe for Cincinnati Chili, which came from Sesame Street magazine. I am from Ohio, where this chili over spaghetti is taken very seriously in some parts. But, as I hail from rural northwest Ohio where my beloved CC is taken less seriously, I have taken a few liberties in preparation at which purists will cringe. My chili layer uses just a 1/2 pound of ground beef and a full can of red beans. (The "real" Cincinnati chili is meat-only. Red beans are meant to be a topping.) The traditional spices of chili powder, cumin, cinnamon, allspice, and cayenne are added and then we simmer until it smells irresistible in the kitchen.

Then it's served over a bed of spaghetti noodles and topped with onions and cheddar cheese. We had no oyster crackers, or we would've added those, too. We served it with a side of (unpictured) steamed broccoli and last night's Glee episode. Looks like Puck's reappearance brought back the Glee I dearly loved from last season--Mr. Schue as a non-terrible person, awesome music (how great was Teenage Dream?), and thought-provoking themes.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

A List

Update on Monday: while packing my lunch I managed to slice right through my thumbnail instead of slicing through the homemade bread I was attempting to pack. Now I am wearing a giant bandaid on my thumb. It was a true Monday after all. :)

For today's entertainment, it is late and I need to go to bed, so you get a list:

Actual topics our 4th grade students are researching for a non-fiction feature article (some humorous, some quite thoughtful):
  • Did dinosaurs that looked like dragons exist?
  • Elephant killing
  • How fast can the Denver Nuggets run?
  • Gang violence in Mexico
  • The history of Halloween
  • BMX biking
  • Famous pranksters and hoaxes
  • How to discover a new planet
Things I do that impress my students that I don't find impressive:
  • Attached hooks to the computer monitors so I could hang headphones from them. I literally made several 3rd grade girls' days with this simple feat.
  • Rattled off a 3rd grader's full name, hyphenated last name and all.
  • Type very fast without looking at the keys

Monday, November 8, 2010

Today I...

  • woke up and it was light outside!
  • accidentally made coffee-flavored hot water instead of coffee, because the filter got folded over in the drip coffee maker
  • shelved fiction books
  • planned my lesson for the 3rd grade about using our online catalog
  • read books about friendship to two second grade classes
  • printed overdue notices for multiple students
  • hung hooks on all the computers to hook the headphones on to
  • had story time with two of the ECE/Kindergarten classes
  • came home and took a walk through crunchy fall leaves while talking to my mom on the phone
  • made gingery butternut squash soup for dinner
  • ate the soup, Bosnian bread (from our food co-op--post about this coming soon!), and spinach salad for dinner while watching Friends re-runs
Not bad for a Monday...we'll see what tomorrow brings.

Sunday, November 7, 2010


My first experience with choir came when I was quite young, just a 3rd grader. Our region of Ohio had an audition-only choir for youth grades 3-9 called Junior Choral Society. I so wish I had pictures, because we wore dark plaid skirts (the boys wore navy pants) with white shirts. There were matching plaid ties for the boys and these little snap on cross-over ties for the girls. We were dorky, but we sang great music and it was a lot of fun.

Fast forward to high school, where my tone-deaf music teacher sucked all the fun out of choir, so I only joined for two years, and then it was only because that way I wouldn't have a study hall 3 days per week. She was, however, oblivious and we got away with all kinds of things, like making Pop Tarts in a toaster in the bass section during rehearsal.

In college, things got more serious. I joined the Chorale and enjoyed singing Verdi's Requiem with a huge choir and the Toledo Symphony Orchestra. I continued to sing all through college, and got into the upper level choir, Chamber Choir, my junior year. That year I went from singing Soprano (generally 2nd Soprano) to singing 2nd Alto, the lowest female part. It was a tough transition, and I was fully convinced I was truly a Soprano. I have since embraced my alto-ness. Those were some really great years. The picture at the top of this post is from our choir tour over spring break (yes, our dresses were unflattering). The joy of singing together and working on really challenging music and really GETTING it was amazing. It is so good for my brain to do things like that.

Also in college, I sang with the Women's World Music choir. We wore ethnic cloth with our choir dresses and sang amazing, loud, energetic, exciting music. One of the best feelings is when a song sort of takes over inside you, and your whole body just beams with excitement and joy. This happened most often with the loud, joyful music we sang in the women's choir. The energy of a song where you can let go and have fun is amazing.

After college, I realized how much singing in a choir meant to me. So I joined an area community choir. This was a much different experience than college choir, where many of the members had been vocal performance majors. This was a group of people who liked to sing. It didn't necessarily mean they were good at it, and many of them were older and found the semi-challenging music our director chose too difficult. It was still wonderful to sing with a group of people.

In recent years, choir hasn't been a part of my life. I've been busy, and the experiences I'd had were not that meaningful. But at church last Sunday, we sang a song I'd never heard before. I had to focus on the notes and use my sight reading skills. And my brain just came alive. It was that old feeling, a taste of what I felt in rehearsals in college, when we'd spent hours singing the same passage of Bach and my whole brain was dedicated to getting the notes and the rhythm and dynamics exactly right. I remembered again how important singing with a group of people is to me.

So I am dedicating myself to church choir. It's the level of commitment I can handle at the moment, and while the music is less challenging, it's a great way for me to ease back into singing in choir. Maybe someday I'll audition for a more elite choir, but for now, this is enough. I had my first rehearsal with them this morning, and it was so good to focus on something outside of me. I'll keep you updated with how it's going!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Pumpkin Fest

5 years ago, 5 girls had a vision.

A vision to celebrate the delicious-ness of pumpkin foods. A vision to celebrate the glory of fall. A vision to gather together to feast and celebrate sunshine and good weather before the drudgery of winter in Northern Indiana.

The first Pumpkin Fest, in 2006, was a success:

At the bottom of the invitation it reads, "Get ready to be pumpkin-afied!"

Then I hosted another one (my housemates from the previous year had all moved away), so I continued the tradition with a new group of people. We called this one the 2nd Annual Fest, Fall Edition, as one of my housemates was not terribly enamored with pumpkin foods. It was still delicious, as Sarah exhibits below.

Then we hosted another one--this time in Denver. Pumpkin Fest 2008:

2008's offerings included homemade pumpkin donuts, pumpkin whoopie pies, savory pumpkin cumin/chile-spiced dip, and pumpkin soup served in a pumpkin.

I seem to have no pictures of Pumpkin Fest 2009, so we'll skip ahead to 2010, the fifth annual Pumpkin Fest, which did not disappoint. There were TWO types of pumpkin cheesecake, roasted pumpkin seeds, pumpkin ganoush (like baba ganoush, but with pumpkin, not eggplant), pumpkin dip with apple slices, pumpkin lentil sausage soup, pumpkin ice cream, and more. My contribution was Mama Pea's pumpkin scones, which were a HUGE hit. Mine weren't vegan (I used butter and cow's milk) and I used 1/2 white flour and 1/2 whole wheat flour (b/c I didn't have whole wheat pastry flour), but they were egg-free and delicious.

I count myself lucky that I have had the privilege to participate in all five Pumpkin Fests and that 5 years later, I am still friends with all the girls from the original celebration. All but one of us live here in Denver. It is such fun to celebrate this holiday we made up, and it helps me remember to celebrate these friendships, too. I am so lucky have these amazing women in my life.

Here's to many more Pumpkin Fests!

Friday, November 5, 2010


is happy hour on a roof-top patio with my favorite, passionate, hilarious, awesome coworkers overlooking Denver's beautiful skyline.

Happiness is calling your husband to say, "Please preheat the oven to 450 and slice up some peppers and onions! I'm bring home pizza sauce, cheese, and garlic bread."

It is sitting on your couch in your PJs, eating pita pizza and that amazing, terrible-for-you garlic bread from the freezer section while watching Get Him to the Greek.

Happiness is chocolate cake (made in minutes in a mug in the microwave) topped with mint chocolate chip ice cream.

All in all, it was a good Friday night.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Small Group

Tonight James and I broke from our regular evening routine of dinner, TV watching, and blog reading/computer time, all done from the comfort of our loveseat. Tonight we had our second meeting with our small group from church. The idea behind small groups is to forge connections with other members of the congregation, and to get to know some new faces at church. Our congregation is pretty big, and after two years of regular attendance, I still know just a handful of people's names. We've enjoyed our previous small group opportunities that have given us a chance to get to know a few people a little better.

Our current group is a nice mix of folk, some single, some married, some older, some younger. Our ages range from 22-70 (or 80?) and we come from various professions and walks of life. Tonight we played Catch Phrase, which I think is a really good leveling game. There are words that the younger generations know and words that the older generations know, and sometimes you just get stuck with a tough phrase like slap shot. It was fun to see how different members of our group approached the game--some with lots of hand motions and few words, some with lots of animation, some with a cool, calm, collected attitude. It was fun to laugh and play together, to discuss opinions and ideas, to tell stories.

I have to tell on myself, as I embarrassed myself a little in front of the group tonight. On one of my turns at Catch Phrase, I gave the following clues to my team: "Oh, Hugh Hefner lives in one of these." "Mansion!" my team guessed confidently. "No," I said, "it's a place where you might entertain women." Time ran out and my team was stumped. The other team tried to guess the word, debating bachelor pad as a possibility. At this point I realized I had gotten the meaning of the word all wrong, and would have been much better off with a clue such as, "a room at the top of a hotel or condo/apartment building," and start to giggle.

The word? Penthouse.


The thing is, though I don't know these people well, I did not feel mortified or even embarrassed for long. I didn't for an instant consider that these folks might think less of me. I giggled (until I cried, as I often do when I laugh a lot) and made fun of myself. We all had a good laugh and moved on. It's so great to feel that safe and comfortable in a group of former strangers, now friends. Intentional gatherings to get to know people in your community really work. I am glad to be a part of such a group.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

What I Ate: Wednesday edition

It may not yet be apparent, but I am challenging myself to write a blog post every day in November. (It has not escaped my attention that I missed Nov. 1, so maybe I'll double-post one day to make up for it.) I used to really enjoy blogging, journaling, and other forms of writing, but I've really lost interest recently. I'd like to get back in touch with the creative writing part of my brain, so I'm hoping that posting more will get me excited.

Because I am going to need something to talk about, I'm copying Abby and toying with the idea of daily themes. One I'd definitely like to do is What I Ate, where I write (and hopefully photograph) my Wednesday night dinner. I am the kind of person who reads cookbooks for fun and thinks about food constantly. Cooking and baking are some of the things I enjoy the most, so food posts are quite common on this blog.

Tonight I made an old stand-by that we probably eat at least once a month in Casa SW: frittata. Tonight's plate included:
  • Sweet Pepper Frittata: potato, onion, and tiny sweet peppers from our CSA share sauteed with garlic, basil, thyme, and red pepper flake. Tossed with a little feta cheese, topped with beaten egg & milk, sprinkled with cheddar cheese and baked until bubbly and edges are browned.
  • Toast with butter
  • Green beans (frozen from the peak of CSA season this summer when we got a 5 pound bag of green beans per week) steamed and tossed with black pepper, granulated garlic, and while wine vinegar.
No pictures this week because dinner was devoured before I thought of it!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

School-related Musings

It seems that computer problems happen only on busy days when computer functionality is most required.

Nothing beats a fourth grader telling me to "have a good day." (totally unprompted!)

Some days you will spend 45 minutes untangling pairs of headphones.

Other days you will be surrounded by the laughter of students who are actually enjoying learning about the Dewey Decimal system.

Coffee is the best antidote to starting work at 7:30 am.

It is truly amazing to have students waving, smiling, and saying hi to you each and every day. (even if you did just lecture them for forgetting their library books. Again.)

Everyone should be able to count (at least some of ) their coworkers as friends.

I really did learn most of the things I needed to know in kindergarten: share your resources. respect others. tie your shoes or you'll trip.

I smile at least once a day, thanks to the creativity and hilarity of my students.