Sunday, June 30, 2013

A Naturally Wonderful Birthday

We spent the afternoon at Niagara Falls. After three days of rain, the weather cleared into a birthday-miracle, 75 degrees and sunny, blue skies and puffy white clouds kind of a day. We got a great parking space less than a block from a really cool street festival that we had no idea was going on. After grabbing lunch at the food trucks, where there were several vegan options, we crossed the street and walked the shady paths to the twin bridges that span the raging Niagara river on its inevitable course to the American Falls ans Bridal Veil Falls. Despite being crowded (it was after all a Sunday), the international crowd was quite companionable and courteous in our polyglot fashion, wordlessly stepping in and away from the railing in an improvised choreography to allow for any desired photo op. An Indian family handed me their iPad for a group shot, and of course I was happy to oblige. Every now and then, the wind would shift and we would all be refreshed by the errant mist. Below us we saw those who had paid for extra access; prowling the redwood boardwalks in their complimentary sandals and thin yellow plastic ponchos, they embraced the spray, many allowing themselves to be drenched by the falls. Next we climbed the steps and passed the visitor center to get our best view of Horseshoe Falls. The stench of a thousand seagull nests, inaccessible and invisible, but just a hundred feet below us, detracted slightly from the view, but rounding a gentle curve, we saw a real cloud rising, made of the vapor from the falls and pure white against cerulean; everything I learned in fourth grade science about weather was captured in that image, and once again, at Niagara Falls, I understood the meaning of "natural wonder."

Saturday, June 29, 2013


As my birthday approaches, it is sobering to see Diane Lane, that cute little girl from A Little Romance, who happens to be 2 1/2 years younger than I, playing Superman's mom!

Friday, June 28, 2013

Accentuate the Positive

Sometimes it can be a challenge to put together a vegan meal for Heidi when dining out. Going out for a Friday night fish fry is a tradition here in Buffalo (and they make the best fried fish I have ever tasted anywhere in my life!), but it is not a very friendly meal for those who are on a plant-based diet, so before we went left for the restaurant tonight, we looked at the menu online to try to figure out what Heidi might order. 

It is a pretty traditional place with many classic dishes, but aside from the salad and French fries, not a single one was vegan. "Look! They have chicken in a basket," Heidi said. "Who even calls it that anymore?"

I remembered back when I was very young, my family used to occasionally go to this restaurant that was down a long wooded lane and right next to the water. It was there that I first had not chicken, but shrimp in a basket. At the time, it was one of the most delicious things I had ever eaten, and I would have ordered it anytime we went out, but for the fact that I knew it was too expensive. Somehow I understood that I shouldn't ask for it too often, but I also knew that whenever I did, my dad would say yes.

"That's a nice story about your dad," Heidi said. "I haven't heard many of those."

She's right. I'm going to try to tell more.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Dig Dig Dig

Perhaps one of the qualities that has helped me to be a good teacher is that throughout my life I have maintained an appreciation for things that kids like. At 9' I was a little older than the target audience for Sesame Street, but I was charmed by it never the less, and I never considered it too babyish when the younger kids wanted to watch. Likewise, I have always found a way to enjoy drawing or building or reading or playing with kids, and not just because they were having fun. You can't fake engagement, and that's really what kids, what people, respond to.

Lately there has been a lot of Minecraft in my life. Students and nephews are wild about the game, but so far I have  resisted its charms. It hasn't engaged me. "Please play with me," Kyle pleaded tonight. "I don't want to have to play with myself!"

I laughed at his choice of words but promised him that I would give it a try tomorrow. "OK, show me how to start," I added because he looked so disappointed. 

I knew from my students that there was some kind of wood chopping to do at the beginning and then later on, mining and crafting. (Yeah, the significance of the name was not lost on me, the English teacher.) Tonight I peppered Kyle with questions as he punched the screen with his thumb. Why are those rocks different color? What's the difference between cobble stone and common stone? Why do you want to craft a better pick axe?

At the last inquiry, he sighed, and answered me with slight exasperation. "Because it makes it way easier to mine."

"Oh yeah," I responded, pretending to get it, "you wouldn't want to sprain your thumb."

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Do You Know Why I Pulled You Over?

I remember the first time I ever got pulled over by a cop. It was like 30 years ago; I was in college and some friends and I were on our way from Hamilton, NY to Virginia Beach for the weekend. This was a spur of the moment trip-- we piled into my yellow VW Rabbit at 7 PM on Friday, and six hours later picked up another friend of mine in DC. The sun was rising over Hampton Roads and I could literally smell the salt water as I sped across the causeway leading from the tunnel. It was then I spied the flashing red lights in my rear view. My hands were trembling as I guided the car to the narrow shoulder. The other three people woke up when we stopped. My heart was pounding and there was a giant lump in my throat as I struggled to roll down the window to speak to the stern-faced trooper on the other side; I was in big trouble, and I knew it. 

Despite being 14 miles over the speed limit, I did not get a ticket that day. Perhaps there was something about a carful of kids who had driven all night to see the ocean that moved the officer to give me a warning instead. I thanked him and drove away.

Over the next few years, I wasn't quite as lucky, and I confess to receiving several speeding tickets. Lately, though, my streak has been pretty good. I've gone 25 years with just a single citation, and that one was six years ago, but when I blew past that cop in Pennsylvania doing 73 in a 55 zone this afternoon, I knew I was busted even before he turned on to the road. I moved to the right lane and waited for him to get behind me and turn on his lights. I glided to a stop on the side of the road, considerately rolling a little ways past the dead deer carcass. If he wanted to chide me, he was out of luck; there was no pounding heart, no sweaty palms, and certainly no tears. I gave the young man my documents, secure in the strength of my driving record. 

We listened to the radio and chatted while he sat in his cruiser and did his duty, and when he returned, it was not with a speeding ticket, but rather a lesser citation. I thanked him and drove away.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Things I've Learned this Week

There is a live Supreme Court of the United States blog.

The justices read their decisions in order of the majority opinion author's seniority, but the chief justice is always most senior.

Tomorrow might be a very big day.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Windows Down

Since we were on vacation, we decided to take the long road home yesterday (after the turtle incident). We avoided the traffic on I-81, opting instead for 50 miles on Skyline Drive. The temperature was 10 degrees cooler up there at the top of those blue ridges, and so we put our windows down and enjoyed the views. On a Sunday at 5 PM we practically had the parkway to ourselves. We knew the day would be long, and the golden light of the nearly midsummer's evening made everything glow as we rolled along with the wind in our hair.

Later, when we got down from the mountains, we kept the windows open, barreling along country roads, bracing for a bump. The warm air smelled like so many summer evenings spent at my Aunt Harriet's house when we were kids, and at last I felt like school was really out.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

A Simple Thank-you Would Do

We kicked off our summer vacation today with a great road trip. My mom is in town and so the three of us headed 2 1/2 hours southwest to Staunton, VA, home of the famous "farm museum."

I had a hard time believing that it's been 15 years since my last visit, but finding that they had moved a whole farm house about a quarter mile away convinced me that all that time had indeed passed. Still, the place is fun and engaging, and visiting actual reconstructed houses from 17th century England and 18th century Germany, Ireland, and the Virginia frontier is still really cool, and so is the fact that they try to make them working farms-- raising crops and livestock, preparing food, and fashioning tools and clothing in the manner they would have been back then.

As memorable as the day was, it was on our way home, literally on the road out of the place that probably my most indelible memory was formed. A turtle was in the middle of the driveway as we headed out. "We should stop and move it," Heidi suggested, and I agreed. I pulled over and jogged back to the big painted slider. Sensing me, he pulled his head in and snapped the carapace closed. Undeterred, I grabbed him and stepped toward the grass. With that, he let out a huge stream of pee that ran down my leg and on to my shoe.

To my credit, I did not drop him. I deposited him gently on the bank of the pond he was probably heading toward before running back to the car hollering in total disgust.

Ummm? You're welcome, turtle.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

The Twist

Morgan Freeman the villain? I did not see that coming.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Summer Brakes

And perhaps the weirdest thing about being a teacher is going from 60 to 0 in no time flat. The school year doesn't wind down; it screeches to a halt, leaving us leaning forward, seat belts locked and unable to breathe. What consumed us has vanished like a deer from our headlights.

It's going to take a minute to get our bearings and move on.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

I'm a Believer

Back in April, when we were doing the poetry challenge, one of my students wrote a poem about summer vacation that kind of sums up what we were all looking forward to today, the last day of school for middle school kids:

I believe in the summer days and the joy that comes with them,
the feeling of happiness that spreads when the warm weather has finally come,
the sensation that you feel when the sun shines on your neck,
the freedom you get to do what you want when the summer comes,
and the laughs and smiles when people are having fun,
Sportsmanshp, Responsibility, Privilege.

But I don't believe in staring out the window while doing homework
and wishing that you could be playing outside.

I believe in having a good time with friends.
I believe in staying up late and sleeping in the next morning.
I believe in having no worries and no stresses in life.
Relaxation, Sleepover, Takeout.
And I believe in counting down the days until summer, 
when you can finally take a down day, 
when you are tired at the end even after a good long day of rest, 
when the days go by without notice, 
when you wake up and forget if it is Monday or Tuesday or Wednesday, 
and when your tongue is purple when you finish a grape popsicle.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Biggest Room in the House

A couple days ago, my students calculated their independent reading for the year. Based on the weekly reading log they keep, the numbers this year were quite an improvement over last year.

They read an average of 47 books per person for an average of 9,835 pages each since September. That adds up to over 800,000 pages and 3,856 books-- pretty impressive figures.

The point of this activity is to encourage students by showing them how much they have accomplished over time. It can be a powerful lesson, and I ask them to write a brief reflection after looking at their totals and those of the group.

This year, though, the overall sentiment was different than in the past. Several students said something similar to this one, "I'm proud of myself, but I think I could've read more."

I hope they make good on that next year.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Impulsive Much?

I was at an IEP meeting yesterday for one of our students. In discussing her educational needs with the dad, her teacher mentioned that sometimes this particular student is unaware that she is talking out loud. The teacher gave an example of a time when she had redirected this student by specifically referencing what the girl had said and the student looked at the teacher in awe.

"How do you know that?" she asked her teacher. "Can you read my mind?"

Today at my team meeting, I had a similar experience. This was our last meeting of the year, and I was glad that the counselor could join us. Still, every person there had a million things on their to-do list, and one of us had to be downstairs in the gym in five minutes to play in the student-teacher basketball game.

I did my best to expedite the meeting, but when it came time for the counselor to talk, she offered a great activity to any teacher who had some time in these next two days. "I can't come to every class," she said, "But I'll come to the first one and do my spiel, and then you can take it from there."

Conversation followed, and the word "spiel" (pronounced "shpeel") was repeated over and over again like proverbial fingernails on the chalkboard as the science teacher and the counselor negotiated the implementation of this (very worthy) activity.

"Please don't say "spiel" anymore!" a voice interrupted, and in the surprised silence that followed, I realized it was mine. I had actually said it out loud.

"Spiel," said the counselor, "spiel, spiel, spiel!"

"So," added the science teacher, "when you come tomorrow to give your spiel..." she looked at me, "I'll listen carefully, so I can give the same spiel."

"If you don't like my spiel," the counselor answered, "then feel free to come up with your own spiel."

They continued unmercifully, and by the end of the meeting, we were all laughing hysterically.

Monday, June 17, 2013


At our school, each of the grade-level teams has an animal name. Until last year, there were two teams for each grade-- the Dolphins and the Tigers, the Penguins and the Otters, and the Eagles and the Gators. Because our enrollment is growing, we knew last June that there would be three sixth grade teams. Of course, the teachers on the new team got to choose the name, but I was full of ideas, too. Well, mostly I wanted them to be called the Rays, because the team leader's last name was Ray, and in the end, they did choose the Stingrays as their name.

This year, the opportunity bumps up to seventh grade, where I have little to no influence. As such, I haven't given it much thought. Then, at lunch today, a few sixth graders were waiting for sign language club to begin in my room and I engaged them in conversation as we waited for the sponsors.

"So, what team do you guys want for next year?" I asked.

"Penguins!" several called.

"Otters!" many of the others shouted.

"Wait! Isn't there going to be a new team?" someone asked, but that's not what I heard.

I heard, "Isn't there going to be a Gnu team?" and all of a sudden, I had an opinion.

One of the teachers I regularly eat lunch with is going to teach science on that team next year. "Hey!" I barreled into the lunch room. I know just what your team should be called. "The Gnus!" I took a piece of chalk and wrote G-N-U on the board. "Get it?"

"I do now," she said, unimpressed.

Still, I persisted. "C'mon!" I said. "You'll always have good Gnus!"

"We'll always have bad Gnus, too," she laughed.

"What? Are you saying that no Gnus are good Gnus?" I asked.

And so we continued, amusing ourselves until the bell rang. Truthfully? I am not hopeful, but there's always next year, when the eighth grade will get a gnu team, too.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Get Out the White Shoes

As big movie fans, we have really been looking forward to this year's crop of summer films. We are partial to the Marvel Universe, so Iron Man 3 was definitely at the top of our list as the season approached, but May 3 just seemed tooooooo early for a classic summer blockbuster, so we skipped the crowds and decided to wait.

Since then, things have been pretty busy, and the movies have been a luxury we haven't had much time to afford. This afternoon, though, seemed like a perfect opportunity to head to the theater. The weather was warm and there is only one week to go before vacation,  so Iron Man 3 it was.

We were not disappointed. Welcome, Summer.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Population 1

As a blog writer I get a particular little thrill whenever I'm on this or that site or page and I see that they have a link to their blog. Just this morning I enviously read a few posts on Living the Dream @ Deer Run authored by the proprietors of a vegan, oceanfront bed and breakfast on Big Pine Key in Florida. It does seem aptly titled.

Also this morning I ran across a link to a blog by a former student of mine. Ben was in sixth grade in 1999 and I was eager to read his writing again. I was a little disappointed to find that the latest entry was dated 2009. There were some beautiful pictures of New Mexico, though.

Ben's blog made me wonder what will happen to all the millions of sites that people have started with the desire to express themselves to a wider, many times unknown, audience. Over the last couple of years, I've come to think of them as ghost blogs and sometimes, rather than be disappointed, I explore them for clues about what may have happened to their authors.

Some writers formally end their blogs; Vegan Dad eloquently called it quits on January 3, as did Patrick, on Duck Fat and Politics, after he was elected to local office. (Patrick is back now and blogging from Vermont, something I wouldn't have known if I weren't researching this post. Yay, Patrick!)

I couldn't say for sure, but it seems like most bloggers just stop. Maybe the itch has been scratched, maybe the scratch has taken a different form, or maybe the itch has been re-prioritized, but in my imagination? They all think that they will get back to it soon, perhaps tomorrow or maybe next week, but then time passes, and weeks turn into months, months to years, and they just haven't posted. Soon there are tumbleweeds blowing down main street, right past that saloon door squeaking mournfully in the wind.

See ya tomorrow!

Friday, June 14, 2013

Last Friday Night...

...before summer break officially begins!

(Sorry if you were expecting something more racy to go along with the Katy Perry reference.)

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Throttle Up

Before we left for our trip this morning there was an announcement reminding all teachers to have their emergency procedures folder updated and handy. It was code for There's a possibility of a tornado. 

"Wouldn't that be ironic if a tornado hit the school and we were all okay because we went on the field trip?" I laughed as we pulled out of the parking lot.

Gallows humor prevailed as our brand-new charter coaches glided into the gathering storm. Five minutes from our destination, the sky became literally as dark as dusk, and thunder rumbled in the not very distant distance. Another teacher turned to me as lightening flashed. "I'm guessing no zip line?" he asked.

"No, but there might be a zap line," I answered.

Torrential rain followed, but it was mercifully brief and only a drizzle by the time we disembarked. The kids dashed to the cover of a white-tented deck that was quite obviously used for weddings. Our guides were prepared, though, and led the group through a couple of fun games. Still, as our 100 students roamed the area, challenging each other and pounding their fists to their palms, another of my colleagues came up to me. "They paid forty-five dollars to play rock-paper-scissors in a tent in Maryland?" she asked.

I laughed and shrugged. "Well, if you put it that way..." I raised my eyebrows, but just then one of the camp leaders announced that the storm had passed, the thunder was through, and adventures awaited.

And he was telling the truth. Despite the fact that our school system back home was pondering whether or not to close early, for the next 2 1/2 hours the kids had a blast, and they even got to ride the zap line.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Over the Rainbow

As if the end of the year is not stressful enough, tomorrow, the day of our team's big outdoor field trip, they are predicting EXTREME weather. Allow me to quote from the forecast:

Ingredients are coming together for a possible large outbreak of severe thunderstorms in the area Thursday, capable of producing damaging winds, multiple tornadoes, and flash flooding.

A complex of violent thunderstorms, some tornadic, may or may not coalesce into a derecho sometime this afternoon or evening. Late this afternoon and overnight some severe storms are possible as well, but Thursday’s severe weather risk is particularly serious.

To which the school system put out the following alert:

The National Weather Service has forecast severe weather in our area through Thursday. The forecast includes the possibility of thunderstorms and high winds. We are actively watching weather reports to stay up-to-date.

If an alert is given at any time during the day, schools and transportation will respond accordingly to ensure student safety. Schools may hold walkers if warranted until conditions improve.

If there is any change in operations or transportation due to the weather, families will be notified through School Talk.

As a result of all of these predictions, I spent the afternoon talking to stakeholders-- administration, adventure park, charter bus company, teachers, and parents, trying to figure out the best course of action. Around 5:30 I got a call from the AP telling me the ed center left it up to us to decide in the morning. "We'll put out a message to families advising them to have the students dress appropriately," she said.

"Good idea," I answered. "How about, 'Pack your ruby slippers kids! The field trip is a go!'?"

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Benefits of Age

"How do you do that?" A young colleague pointed at the interactive white board in my room. It was displaying the TV signal of our morning announcements.

I was only too eager to explain. "You need a VCR," I started. "You know, the old kind with a TV tuner in it."

She looked at me quizzically, and then waved a hand like such a thing as that was an impossibility.

Still I pressed on helpfully. "Remember when we all used to program our VCRs to tape our favorite shows? I had that one left over from then."

I laughed and she laughed politely, too.

"Well," she shrugged, "I do remember hearing about that, but I certainly never did it myself. Thank you anyway!"

Monday, June 10, 2013

Cue Gene Kelly

Once your garden's in, you have a whole different perspective on the weather.

Sunday, June 9, 2013


We finally got our vegetable garden in this weekend. What with the weird cold weather, then the weird warm weather, and other personal and professional commitments and demands, we're a bit late this year. Still, I'm hopeful that those little tomato, pepper, and squash plants that were just a few months ago only tiny seeds in the palm of my hand will thrive, despite how fragile they looked all spread out, mulched, and caged.

Before we left tonight, I was weeding out the perennial garden. We put our annual herbs in there, too, and as I pulled to clear a space for them, a little plant with fringed leaves caught my eye. It was cilantro that had reseeded itself from last year. Choked by this weed and that, it was four inches tall and looking good.

I'll take that as a positive sign.

Saturday, June 8, 2013


Today is the 100th day of the writing challenge I posed to my students on March 1. There are 8 kids left standing, and without exception, their final posts have been tributes to the experience. They have made me proud.

Here are a few of their unprompted reflections on completing the challenge:

I am a Centurion. With a capital C! I am disappointed that I have to end this challenge; it has taught me so much and I will never forget it. I doubted it at first, but I have no doubt in my mind now. I feel like a better writer; but there is something else I learned about myself too. I might take longer, but I can write just as well as anyone. If I try I can.


Today I have written for 100 days straight without missing a single day. I remember in the beginning I thought I was going to fail, but I never gave up, I at least tried. Well at the end, to my surprise I did it, I just needed some courage and confidence. This taught me a really good lesson, to give it a try instead of deciding from the beginning if I could do it or couldn't do it. This challenge was really helpful for me, because now I am a better writer which is the number one prize I wanted to earn this year. It was the first goal I wrote in TA in September. THANK YOU MS. S. FOR MAKING THESE CHALLENGES. This has really inspired me, to keep writing every day and thank god there are 2 more bonus days. This isn't the end I will keep writing until Ms. S. stops posting. THANK YOU AGAIN!!!!!!!! IT HAS BEEN A GREAT EXPERIENCE WITH YOU THIS YEAR, WE WILL TRULY MISS YOU. I WISH YOU COULD MOVE WITH US TO 7TH GRADE!


Today, as we know is the last day of the challenge. Many have failed, but others (like me) have triumphed and become centurion. This end is supposed to be happy, but it is not.I am glad that it is over, but am also so so sad to see the challenge go because you can write about whatever you want (within reason). Take the words from Robert Frost:

"I shall be telling this with a sigh, somewhere, ages hence. Two roads diverged in a yellow wood and I - I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all of the difference."

And now, I want everyone to have a beautiful flash back of the times of the challenge as we say farewell to it.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Puddle Jumping

It was a stormy day here today. The remnants of Tropical Storm Andrea pushed up the eastern seaboard spreading gray skies and warm wind and rain. In between classes and meetings I watched the weather through my window: birds beat through sheets of rain to land on swaying targets of bent branches. By the time I left the building, the worst of it was over-- the unrelenting flat iron sky had given way to huge leaden clouds and there was little more than a spatter falling. On my way home, though, I witnessed the aftermath of two head-on collisions, and the streets were still treacherous, rainbow-slick in the center and deep puddles in the gutters. Stopped at a light, a bright movement caught my eye and I turned to see red boots, bare legs, and a silver splash as a little boy of perhaps six made the best of this dreary day.

Thursday, June 6, 2013


A parent scheduled a meeting with me today to discuss her daughter's reading progress. Before we sat down, I reviewed all the test scores we had and considered them in terms of Piaget's stages of development and the Institute of Reading Development's stages, too. I compared that information to my own observations of this student since September, both academic and social.

All the data fit together to create a profile of that particular student which answered her mom's questions, and after the meeting I actually felt like the professional I am-- someone with expertise in her field called upon to provide insight and guidance.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Opposite Extremes

Our students took one of their state standardized tests today. In a group of 21, one kid finished all 60 questions in 20 minutes without using his scrap paper once, submitted his online work without permission, and then laid his head on the desk and went to sleep, and one kid took an hour on question number one.

Can we agree that neither of these strategies represents a healthy approach to demonstrating learning?

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Certificates of Achievement

The counselors at our school cycle through with the kids, so we sixth grade teachers only get to work with each counselor every three years. This year we've had the most experienced of the three, and also someone who happens to be a personal friend. I always like working with her, because I know she does a great job.

This is the fourth time around for the two of us, and today we did an activity that we came up with six years ago. Because students are forever getting (or not getting) certificates of achievement in this or that area that they may or may not appreciate, today we let the kids give out the awards. Students can have as many blank certificates as they'd like to fill out in recognition of some accomplishment of one of their peers.

We met with 100 kids today, but guess how many certificates we gave out in the awards ceremonies at the end of each class?

Over 500.

Usually whenever papers are distributed in school there are a few left behind in the classroom or the hallways. Today?

Not one.

Monday, June 3, 2013

How Sweet the Sound

Today was prize day in my class. As a small token and incentive, I provide little gadgets, school supplies, or candy, and then any student who successfully completes the monthly writing challenge gets to sign up for a prize. It's fun, but I always make them repeat our mantra: "The real prize is having written so much."

Today one of the rewards was a little compass carabiner, and Grace seemed delighted when she won it. "Did you know I'm always getting lost?" she asked. "This is really going to help."

I couldn't resist. "That's amazing, Grace. You once were lost, but now you're found!"

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Post PostHunt Post

My nephew and I tackled a yearly challenge today. We went downtown for the sixth annual Washington Post PostHunt. Treat was 12 when we did the very first hunt together, and over time he's gotten even smarter, even if he is a little ironic at times. Since he's going to college this fall, I was glad to have the chance to continue our tradition.

When I picked him up, I asked Treat what his goal for the day was. "I want to win, of course," he laughed.

"Me, too," I answered, "but I'll be happy if we correctly solve all five of the puzzles."

"I guess we've never actually done that, have we?" he replied. "Okay. Let's do that."

It was a really good day-- We stopped at my favorite sandwich place to grab lunch on the way, and the hot humid weather we have had this week gave way to a warm, breezy overcast day, and although there were a few sprinkles, the violent storms that are predicted for our area held off.

This year the hunt turned out to be pretty easy-- we met my goal and solved all five of the first round puzzles with an hour to go, and so we relaxed on a bench in the courtyard of the Reagan building trying to decipher what the clues we had found might mean in the second stage of the game.

When we returned to the main stage to hear the final hint, we were actually in it for a minute; we knew what the next step was supposed to be and completed it before being totally lost. Even so, when we admitted defeat and called it for the year, neither of us cared. We left for home satisfied after a fun day.

"Let's do this again next year," Treat said as he climbed out of the car, with only a trace of irony in his voice.

"Oh, we will," I told him. "We will."

Saturday, June 1, 2013

First Responders

Since Heidi has been vegan, I've tried a few, shall we say, questionable, recipes. Well, I guess they are only really questionable in the sense that I would never have considered them before there was a vegan to feed around here.

Oh, sure, a few have been BINGO!s, and those have become some of our staple meals, but that mushroom paprikash was not one of them, neither was the mac and "cheez" (okay, the quotation marks should have been a clue), and those baked donuts were a definite never again.

Some cooks have a rule to strictly adhere to the recipe when at first they try it, and having worked in a commercial kitchen, I know where they're coming from. Most professionals test and tweak a dish as many times as they need to before it makes their menu, but where does that leave the home cook?

When Heidi was a little girl, her grandmother always had the same advice for anyone who didn't like their food: Put a little butter and salt on it and it'll be fine. These days we have a twist on her wisdom. We add tomato sauce and toss a salad if we're unsure.

Tonight I'm cooking a version of Cajun dirty rice that includes eggplant. The recipe seemed pretty good, but when I tasted it as I went along, I became a bit concerned. It's in the oven as I type, and we'll see how it turns out, but you can bet the sauce and salad are standing by.