Thursday, August 21, 2014

Excellent classroom posters

Teaching is more fun when everybody is enjoying themselves.  I've been searching for a motto for the next school year, and I've arrived at one: ruthless positivity.  Nobody and nothing can take my joy if I don't let them.  Broken hardware, bad software, last minute meetings, angry parents, seemingly insurmountable learning disabilities, contradictory directions from higher ups, aggressive students -- these are all depressing realities of the teaching profession.  But last year, I got lost in all the complaints, and I was miserable. Worse, I was ineffective.  Maybe the district didn't notice; maybe I was better than a long term sub, maybe I did make some progress, but not enough.  Why?

I was wrapped up in what wasn't working, so I didn't see what was, and I couldn't make it better.  This year, I am going to dig deep and find what's good.  When there isn't an upside, I'm going to make one, because my happiness belongs to me.  This job should add to it.  Instead of expecting it to do that, I am going to make it do that.  RAH RAH RAH.

Optimism is a choice.  A difficult one.  It's easy to be disappointed, even easier to be angry.  We have to fight to be excited in a world that tells us, always, that it's cool to check out.  Turns out, it's more fun to do what's hard; sometimes, it's so fun it's easy.  The fun - therefore - easy - but - actually - labor intensive way I decided to start this year is with excellent posters of hilarious animal pictures with classroom-related phrases.

Students spend lots of time gazing off into the distance, so I'm hoping they internalize some of these messages in my relentless crash towards happiness.  They're formatted to be printed on 11x17 paper, which can be ordered through Staples.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

I've always wanted a long dress with a lace up back!

Hey look!  It has a pocket and everything, and I made it myself.
 This summer has been all about trying to just be exactly where I am.  No plans made more than a week or two in advance, all just doing whatever I want right before I do it.  I thought I'd write.  I didn't, much.  In the summer, late, cool, evenings, it's too hard to sleep.  In the mornings, lengthy breakfasts and long hikes are a treat.  I've knit booties, I've watched seasons of television, I've tried and tried again to container garden.

One of those things which used to fascinate me but that I'd never gotten up the nerve to make -- much less wear -- was a long dress with laces in the back.  Every time I see a dress that even begins to fit this description, it's super racy with a neckline that's too deep for me or made of a material too shiny, foofy, or cheap for my taste.  Turned out, this pattern was a bit too busy and I'm not sure I love the way it turned out; I might split it in half to make a skirt with the piece, and I might leave it as it is.  I'm not sure, but I love the freedom of sitting down to my machine and making something happen.

There's a freedom to having a job: it means that the things I do for me get to be for me.

My plans change all the time.  One week I'll be a writer.  One week I'll make fabric flowers for a living.  Etsy doesn't take off, so I'll make custom skirts, dresses, shirts; sell them online, have my own site.  Then maybe I'll make custom costumes.  The freedom of having a job is that I get to choose what I get to do with my time.  I love sewing these things and thinking about them; it's great, too, not to have to pressure it.

So, here's my strange little creation.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Conditioning a Cast Iron Pan

Since an old college roommate angrily threw away a cast iron pan one of us had ruined, I've been fascinated with how to fix them up. I spent most of that summer between my sophomore and junior years caking oil onto the bottom of that pan, wishing I had air conditioning, and procrastinating French homework I now wish I had done. I learned a lot, though, and through my own series of roomies, mishaps, and debacles with taco seasoning, I've had to learn a lot more from that very same pan.

Reconditioning a Cast Iron Pan

  • Ruined pan
  • Canola Oil (NOT OLIVE OIL. Olive oil can’t handle the heat of the oven or the sustained flame on a stove and will smoke too much. It also won’t cure. If you hate canola oil, use grapeseed oil or another high heat oil. Peanut oil leaves too much flavor in the pan.)
  • A utility scraper or spackle knife
  • A brillo pad (or steel wool and barkeeper’s friend)
  • Time, a stove, an oven, and water
  • Bacon (you will not be eating this bacon).

Step 1: Obtain a ruined pan.

This might happen because you go to thrift stores for everything, because you left the heat on for too long when you were trying to dry your pan without using a paper towel, or you might have a roommate who insists on using soap and water to clean the cast iron.

The necessary supplies are shown here.

Step 2: Boil water in the pan to loosen the grit.


Step 3: Scrub and scrape.

You may find that you want to scrape around the edges first so you have a foothold of sorts as you head for the middle. This is a really great way to take out your pent-up rage over the poorly attached gutter outside your bedroom window which clatters and rattles all night when it rains.

Step 4: No Really, Keep Scraping. 

Get all the black and rusty bits out. You really should not leave any – when you start adding oil, the little back bits will be where the new conditioning starts to peel. The iron beneath should be silver and textured. As best I can tell, this is what makes the new oil stick so well.
Use that elbow grease!

Step 5: Almost There. 
Clean the edges. Scraping out the side walls of the pan might be more than you feel up to – that’s fine. You have to get the edges, though. If you don’t, your new conditioning will just peel off from the sides. At this point, your pan probably looks like this. The wavy lines across the middle are from the boiling water. That’s normal.

Step 6: Add the oil and choose your conditioning method. 
This pan has marks from the water used earlier, but it's totally ready for conditioning. 

Method 1: Oven. This is for people with less patience but a fair amount of time (or a stay at home job).
  • Your pan is PERFECT. 
  • You have time to take the pan in & out of the oven every 2 hours over 6-8 hours.


1. Rub the pan with a VERY THIN layer of oil. The amount below would be significantly reduced after being rubbed in with a paper towel.

2. Place in a 350 degree oven for two hours. Remove. Let cool. If the surface is sticky and holds a fingerprint, you out too much oil in – put the pan back in and hope it cures.

3. When you remove the pan and the oil is a little sticky but does not hold a fingerprint, heat the pan on the stove, add oil, rub it in, and return to the oven.

4. Do this 3-4 times. The oil will be thick and will be a caramel color. Skip to Step 7.
It should be glassy looking.

This is what a pan looks like when it’s removed from the oven after the first time, perfect but for one blemish where there was a bit of junk on the pan. You have two choices if you have a blemish: start over or switch to method 2, where you can guide the oil into the blemished spot.

Method 2: Stovetop. This is good for people with a gas stove, a couple of hours, less perfectionism than your at-home-pan-conditioner, and a lot of patience.

  • Gas stove
  • 2-3 hours
  • Canola oil
  • Wooden spatula
  • Paper towels
  • Thick oven mitt


1. Rub the pan with canola oil, a very thin layer.

2. Heat on low-medium heat for 5-10 minutes, wiping out the oil if it pools. Heat until it looks like the pan above. The oil should be thin, and you’ll probably see the silver beneath the oil for a few rounds of this. If it’s smoking very gently, it’s working. If it’s smoking a lot, there is a problem.
This is what a pan looks like after you've done the first layer of oil.  The little blemish isn't a huge deal but you should try to avoid them if you want a better outcome.

3. Add a VERY SMALL amount of oil, about a teaspoon.

4. Rotate the pan around, spreading the oil all over. Heat until it looks like the pan above.

5. Repeat for 3-4 layers, until you have a smooth, glassy surface.

This is the glassiness you should expect.

Step 7: Cook some bacon.

In the oven method, chances are you will have a caramel layer which looks SUPER smooth and cracks off a bit with the bacon – that’s the cured oil. In the stove top method, you might have the same effect – I’ve found that if that happens it’s less traumatic in the stove-conditioned pan.

This is what it looks like if your oil wasn't cured and you start to add medium to high heat.  If this happens, shock the pan with oil and go back to the beginning.  If something somewhat less than this happens, continue to cook the bacon.

Cook the bacon all the way. Little flakes of oil and some burnt oil will come off of the pan. Rub the pan down when you’re done.
This is what your pan will look like when it's pretty much done and you're just adding some more oil to condition it for real cooking.

Step 8: Cook high-fat foods or foods with oil for the next couple of days. Yum. Seriously, I’m talking skin-side-down chicken under a brick, sausage, asparagus coated in olive oil.

Step 9: The Long-Term Care and Cleaning of Your Pan

1. As soon as you’re finished cooking, remove the food from the pan and run water in the pan. The water will bubble and pop a bit, but all the food will be removed. Scrape it, if necessary, with a wooden spatula or a natural fiber bristle brush. If you need more abrasion, canola oil and salt on a rag works great.

2. Dry immediately, either on the stove or with a towel. I use an old t-shirt (two sides sewn together) to do this. Some people prefer paper towels.

3. Heat a little bit of canola oil in the pan and rub it around with the wooden spatula.

4. Watch the conditioning improve with time!


Wednesday, February 26, 2014

How to Take Care of Old People

Maybe this will explain why I haven't posted in months.

Years of caring for my grandmother turned out to be surprisingly helpful when it came time to lend a hand with my ailing Popop.  While I’d characterize these two caricatures similarly in some respects – set in their ways, unwilling to ask for help, fascinated by food that isn’t good for them – they are very different in others: tidiness, unwillingness to fight age and disease, willingness to see doctors, hopefulness, depression, anxiety, finances, conflict management, television preferences, and nicotine habits.  

The following ten pieces of advice apply to both, so I am presumptuous enough to think they apply to the older person in your life, too.  They are the things nobody tells you but that are very important, albeit possibly obvious to minds better than mine. 
  1. Put a paper towel in the bottom of the phlegm bucket.  On a related note, once a hacking cough has been established for any reason (smoking, cancer, pneumonia, allergies to the ten thousand cats) keep this clean large yogurt container with the folded paper towel in the bottom near the favorite chair, bed, or couch for easy access.  Cleaning it is way easier when there is a paper towel on the bottom (and layers of tissue, if your aging relative is super awesome) because the grossest part just dumps into the trash can.
  2. Getting out of bed (or into it), eating, and YOU are the biggest events in their day.  Respect that.  If they like their sheets folded over one half of the bed and a big pile of blankets on the bottom with lots of handkerchiefs and mail all around them, then that’s ok as long as the crumbs aren’t touching raw skin and you shake out the sheet (see ninja clean below) when they are in the bathroom.  If they like hospital folds and taut  mattress pads with exactly seven inches of sheet above the comforter, then give it to them.  This is as important to them as your conversation with your boss, your awesome date night, or the blog post you are looking forward to reading later.  Don’t come in rushing a mile a minute, do the dishes, and whirl off again.  You are the biggest event in their day.  Even if you are only there for thirty minutes, let there be a ceremony, a pattern, a ritual; it matters.  Talk before you work.  Don’t treat them like work.
  3. Don’t treat them like work. They are people who know way more than you about everything and could surely grasp the concept of an iphone if it mattered, but it doesn’t.  Slow down long enough to listen and stop treating them like a chore, unless you are far better than I and therefore never lapsed into treating your grandmother’s dishes or your grandfather’s water bottle like an item on our to do list.  It’s actually an act of love, which is very different.
  4. Remember that they are more surprised than you are that they are old.  They might have always had silver hair to you, but maybe you are struggling because it feels like yesterday that they were taking you out to Boston Market or letting you play jungle gym on their shoulders.  Well, it feels like yesterday that they were 25 and going on dates with hot chicks named Mary Jo or Ruthie.  They are more surprised than you that they look like pieces of paper on fragmented popsicle sticks.
  5. Febreeze and Lysol Towelettes are your best friend.  Old person smell is really just dust, mouse poop, dander, mold, and stale bowels (with a possible side of unclean trash cans and cigarettes).  Get the microbial kind.  Read the note below on ninja cleaning.  I hate both of these products in my daily life, in my house.  However, something that kills odor and germs in the room recently vacated by your family member and which can be hidden if they forgot their dentures on the way out (it happens) is very, very  useful.  See the note on ninja cleaning.
  6. Ninja clean.  Don’t throw it in their face that they can’t dust anymore, just straighten up ONLY THE THINGS YOU ARE ALLOWED TO TOUCH while they aren’t in the room.  Sweep the hall and shake out the rugs when they are sleeping.  Use cleaning products that can be put away quickly.  Use a dustbuster – quieter, disturbs less.
  7. If they give directions, follow them.
  8. Keep their medicine routine unless their doctor tells you to change it.  If medicine means tea, then keep that routine.  If medicine is a series of pills, and all the empty bottles are in boxes upon boxes of empty pill bottles, well, don’t be so sure you can organize it better than they do.  This is not your life.  You are not responsible for them, they are.  You actually can’t fix them.  Do what they tell you.
  9. Let yourself be young.  If you’re reading this, you aren’t as old as the person you’re thinking about.  But whoever it is – your great grandmother, your aunt, your grandfather – was your age once, too.  If they’re churlish because you aren’t there, well, tell them about what you did.  If they don’t care about your discovery of gin and ginger beers, they’re scrooges.  That’s ok.  They’re entitled.  You’re entitled to your youth, too.  Your life matters.  The things that make you real matter.  You can’t take care of whever it is that needs your energy if you resent them – so stop.  It’s harder than this, but…
  10. 10.   Be where you are.  Find a way to remind yourself that you are only in the space that you are.  Be with them, and then be somewhere else.  Just be there.  Start by noticing what’s happening around you.  Then keep going.  You can do it.  Notice the sound of the floorboards, the blankets, the gin fizz.  Notice the way their hair smells or their dust resettles.  Notice that they wear the same socks every day.  Then notice that your apartment has gleaming floors.  Notice.  Then notice the next thing.  There will always be something else – but what’s here now is more important.