Saturday, June 26, 2010

a successful experiment in mexican cuisine

Tonight, since my husband was gone, I decided to start my journey to learn the art of Mexican cuisine with my wonderful guide, Rick Bayless. This was one of the things I decided to do over the summer while I have more time and energy to experiment in the kitchen. And since they say you love cook what you love to eat, I figured I had better start cooking what I like to eat, which is Mexican of course, in the hopes that maybe this would help me like cooking more. Last night I chose the cookbook, Mexican Everyday, and today I began the journey. The inaugural voyage was fresh tomatillo salsa with spinach and goat cheese soft tacos (double wrapped, of course, in corn tortillas purchased hot and fresh from my Mexican market). I have to say, it was truly amazing. I was disappointed that Barrett couldn't be there to eat it with me, but this way I could cook it just the way I like it without worrying about screwing it up. The recipes were super simple and easy to follow. Good, clear writing is so necessary in a cookbook so I really appreciate it when recipes are well written and easy to follow with just enough information and in the perfect order. In fact, I have gotten a little snobby about the quality of writing in my cookbooks, but as an English teacher, I think I am entitled to that. (Jamie Oliver also writes excellent recipes. His Food Revolution cookbook is amazingly well put together. It rocked my world.)

For the salsa, all you have to do is throw some tomatillos (quartered) in a blender with a jalapeno, lots of cilantro (because it makes the world a better place), some garlic, salt, and a little water. The result is citrus-y and summery and wonderful. (And yes, the spoon is there in the photo because I was eating it by the spoonful. oops. )

The tacos were really simple too. Cook some sliced onion is a little olive oil. Add garlic and red pepper flakes. Then cook the spinach (or swiss chard) in the same pan with some chicken broth. Serve in tortillas with goat cheese sprinkled on top.

I am so glad to know that I do not have to go out and pay someone else to have a really amazing Mexican meal. Thank you, Rick!

Friday, June 25, 2010

suitability of mind and purpose

So here it comes. . . more thoughts on David Copperfield. I said I didn't want to leave it behind yet so consider yourself warned.

One of the things that surprised me about this book is that David originally marries the wrong girl. He did not make this mistake in the movie. As a young lad, David falls desperately in love with Dora, the daughter of Mr. Spenlow, David's boss. Dora is beautiful and empty-headed complete with a yippy little lap dog. She is sweet but spoiled, stupid, and naive, and totally ignorant of all things practical. In short, any reader could see from a mile away that this was simply a junior-high crush and that she was not David's equal. But following his "undisciplined heart," he marries Dora. But upon entering marital bliss, he quickly realizes that Dora is but a child and does not have the strength of character to face adult life. In spite of these feelings, David remains devoted to Dora. It is not until he witnesses the make-up of Dr. and Mrs. Strong, David's former teacher and his wife who have been married for many years, after a horrible misunderstanding that his feelings are put to words. Mrs. Strong in speaking about a past love and her gratitude for marrying Mr. Strong instead says, "There can be no disparity in marriage like the unsuitability of mind and purpose."

This beautiful statement struck me in a few ways. First, that David was able to stay loyal to and even love Dora in spite of the great disparity in their minds and purpose. That kind of sacrifice and integrity is something we just don't see often in modern times and it is beautiful. (Spoiler Alert: Dora's weakness is also physical; she dies, and David is able to marry his one, true love and equal in mind, heart, and purpose: Agnes--which any reader could have seen from a mile away, but that's what makes it good.) Secondly, this picture of marriage is a very biblical one. It reflects the command to be equally yoked and also that husband and wife are partners in the gospel--suitable in mind and purpose. Also, for all the single ladies, do not fall prey to "the mistaken impulse of [your] undisciplined heart" as Mrs. Strong would say. Choose a husband who is suitable in mind and purpose rather than being carried away with youthful emotions. Lastly, I am very thankful to have found the one that for me is suitable in mind and purpose.


Noun- alcohol that is illegally sold, manufactured, or transported.

Verb- to illegally sell, manufacture, or transport alcohol.

The history: When the 19th Amendment was passed, it became illegal to purchase, manufacture, or transport alcoholic beverages in the United States, but that did not stop people. Bootleggers became famous for their illegal dealings with alcohol on the black market. They got their name from concealing the contraband beverage in their boots either in a flask or poured right in.

(A bootleg photo of the culprits who loved to say bootleg)

My first year of teaching at West Dallas, I was in over my head in more ways than I could count. (But I think that is how most teachers feel about their first year.) One of the issues that I had to deal with that I never expected was the flagrant use of slang in my classroom. While the slang was varied, diverse, and often very creative, the most popular word with my first class of kids was bootleg. Now, it started with using bootleg as an adjective describing anything that was copied or made illegally like dvd's or songs: i.e. "I got a bootleg copy of Saw IV." Then bootleg became an adjective describing anything cheap or uncool: i.e. "These shoes are bootleg. I want me some Jordans." Then the meaning of the word morphed into a general exclamation of disgust: i.e. in response to being corrected or getting a bad grade, "Man, that's bootleg!" All of my conversations with students about how there is a time and place for everything and that in the classroom we need to practice more formalized language were to no avail. The slang still abounded so I had to get a little more creative. Students would have to copy large portions out of a grammar text for illegal use of slang, and flagarant uses of bootleg earned copying the real definition of bootleg out of the dictionary 30+ times. Needless to say, when we got to the 1920's and studied Prohibition, speakeasies, and real bootleggers, the kids loved it.

Since then, my students have learned quicker the consequences of using slang and they are practicing more formalized language in the classroom. Although, every year I see a new form of slang emerge from the kids' daily register of words. But no other class has used bootleg with as much panache. And I must say, I kind of miss it.

a parisian change of pace

One of the best things about summer is getting to watch lots and lots of movies, especially on week nights. Last night, Barrett and I watched a really interesting movie called Paris, Je Te'Aime. This is actually not a movie in the traditional sense but a series of short films. Each mini-movie is directed by a different famous director, and they all have very distinct styles. This movie is also full of amazing actors from Juliette Binoche and Willem Dafoe to Nick Nolte and Natalie Portman; we were surprised to see so many different famous faces in each film.

The common thread linking all of these shorts is love and Paris. Each short is named after and showcases a different neighborhood in Paris and is about love is some form or fashion. While there were a few shorts that I didn't get and a few others I didn't like, the nice thing was that they were over in about 3 minutes and you were on to something totally different making this movie a really fun change of pace from the typical narrative or even artsy film. A few of the shorts were absolutely fabulous. The one by the Coen brothers starring Steve Buscemi was typical of their style and great--awkward, brusque, but funny at the same time. There was also a really sweet short about a hispanic nanny who leaves her baby each day to care for a wealthy woman's baby--much sweeter than I can give justice to. But I think my favorite was the short directed by Alexander Payne, Nebraskan director famous for Sideways and About Schmidt. He is excellent at depicting middle America with a loving but tongue-in-cheek way. His short is narrated by a postal worker from Denver. She has worked for years to learn French so that she could visit Paris and falls in love with the city. The combination of her very American accent and her fannypack are nothing short of lovably hilarious.

The other thing that was great about this movie is all the different sides of Paris it shows. It beautifully captures the vivacity, character, and charm of the City of Lights.

This movie was a really enjoyable. I would recommend it if you love, have travelled to, or want to travel to Paris or if you just want a little change of pace.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

advice from aunt betsey

I just finished reading David Copperfield, and I must say, I am a little disappointed to be leaving it behind. So, I'm not going to leave it behind. I am going to linger with the characters I have grown to love over the past month. Here is a little piece of advice for life from Betsey Trotwood that I think applies to all. She delivers this little nugget of wisdom before dropping David, whom she has renamed Trotwood after herself, off at school.

"Never," said my aunt, "be mean in anything; never be false; never be cruel. Avoid those three vices, Trot, and I can always be hopeful of you."

Well said, Miss Trotwood.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

funny quotes from years gone by (part 1)

While I am enjoying this summer more than I ever have (if that is possible), I am beginning to miss my precious kids. This group, in particular, was very engaging and hilarious. As I was up at school today, I began looking through my infamous funny quote file. (A couple of years ago I began writing down all of the pricelessly funny things my students say usually just on a scrap of paper or post-it. Well, mounds of paper scraps of hilarity soon began to form so I started a file. The kids love it when they make it to the file and sometimes ask me to go through it with them for a good laugh--but I rarely indulge them in order to keep my mean facade.)

Here are just a few selections from last year.

Brian about a history quiz: "It's about black people so I'll do fine."

Kid A: "How did you know that?"
Me, teeming with sarcasm: "I know all things."
Daniel, in all sincerity: " Me too!"

Fifth grader about Washington DC: "I've been though DC! We saw that big stick."
Me: "That big stick is called the Washington Monument."

Daniel complaining about algebra in study hall: "I'm stuck; what should I do?"
Cesar, always with a clever remark: "Put it in 4-wheel drive!"

About a much anticipated new seating arrangement, Daniel: "After you do that new seating arrangement, can I proof it?"
Me: (laughter)

Shenanigans with tape before.

Shenanigans with tape after--realizing that these shenanigans can cause pain and the loss of eyebrows.

Monday, June 21, 2010

my happy place

On Saturday night, I went to my happy place--the Mecca of Tex-Mex--Joe T. Garcia's in Fort Worth. Like many others in the Lone Star state, Mexican food holds a very special place in my heart, but without being facetious, chips and salsa really do speak to my soul. As for Joe T.'s, it not only has an amazing atmosphere, outstanding food, but I also associate with very happy memories.

In high school, my best friend and I took special trips to Fort Worth for this special treat, and in college, we always made a special trip to Fort Worth on the way home from the airport whenever she came home from school. Now when I am least expecting it, Barrett will say, "You know what sounds good for dinner? Joe T's." And we will make a date night out of our trek to Fort Worth. So Fun.

The best time of year to enjoy Joe T.'s is in the early summer. Their extensive and beautiful grounds complete with pools, fountains, and all things magical make the atmosphere one of a kind. With a margarita and a fan, even the 100 degree temperature feels good.

The magic of Joe T's even extends to waiting in line. There is almost always a line, and it is usually really long--I am talking Space Mountain in the summer long. But I don't think I have ever waited more than 20 or 30 minutes. In fact. most of the time, we are seated in 10-15 minutes. The past 2 times we have gone, we have arrived and joined the back of a really long line. When that is the case, Barrett drops me off to get a place and he parks the car. But on these occasions before Barrett has joined me in line, one of the hostesses will come up to me, ask how many are in my party, and seat me within 5 minutes. It feels a little wrong to pass all of those people still waiting when I just arrived at the back of the line, but I never ask questions.

But the real reason we go to Joe T. Garcia's is the food. There is no dinner menu because they only offer 2 items: fajitas and enchiladas. (And if you have been to Joe T.'s and had the fajitas, you have never really been to Joe T.'s.) The enchiladas are where it is at! The enchilada dinner is served in courses: nachos first (simple cheese and jalapeno), then beef tacos (fried to a greasy perfection), and last but not least, enchiladas, rice, beans, and guacamole. I always tell people that the sauce at Joe T.'s is magical, but this time we found out that this is kind of true. Our waiter told us that every night, Joe T himself goes into that back and mixes up the batch of sauce for the next night. The recipe for this amazing sauce is so secret that no one is allowed in or out while he is making it. And did I mention the margaritas? They are the best in the metroplex, for sure.

It is just nice to have a place that retains some of the magic of childhood and where everything seems good and right with the world--and where the enchiladas are a spiritual experience.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010


Today I got a much needed haircut and feel totally refreshed. This reminded me of a hysterical scene in David Copperfield that I would love to share. Background: David and his friend Traddles are going to see his beloved Dora in an effort to convince Dora's aunts, her guardians, that David should be able to court her.

"Excellent fellow as I knew Traddles to be, and warmly attached to him as I was, I could not help wishing, on that delicate occasion, that he had never contracted the habit of brushing his hair so very upright. It gave him a surprised look--not to say a hearth-broomy kind of expression--which, my apprehensions whispered, might be fatal to us.

"I took the liberty of mentioning it to Traddles, as we were walking to Putney; and saying that if he would smooth it down a little--

"'My dear Copperfield,' said Traddles, lifting off his hat, and rubbing his hair in all kinds of ways, 'nothing would give me greater pleasure. But it won't.'

"'Won't be smoothed down?' said I.

"'No,' said Traddles. 'Nothing will induce it. If I was to carry a half-hundred-weight upon it, all the way to Putney, it would be up again the moment the weight the moment the weight was taken off. You have no idea what obstinate hair mine is, Copperfield. I am a fretful porcupine.'

"I was a little disappointed, I must confess, but thoroughly charmed by his good-nature too. I told him how I esteemed his good-nature; and said that his hair must have taken all the obstinacy out of his character, for he had none."


Many people expectantly ask me, "So what are you doing on your summer off?" And I reply honestly, "Not a lot." The real answer is recuperating from the school year and getting caught up on many neglected tasks around the house--and a neglected reading list.

But my favorite summer time activity by far is paying homage to the sun god and taking in some vitamin D (aka laying out) and spending time with my new found literary best friends while reading David Copperfield--yes, a Dickens! I love the penetrating/scorching heat of the Texas sun, and it has been so fun to get sucked into the world of London in the 19th century with Davy and all of his friends. Dickens is truly transporting. In the original preface to the book, Dickens talks about his mixed feeling upon finishing the book: "the pleasure in the achievement of a long design [and] regret in the separation from many companions." He actually says that he lays his pen down sorrowfully, but looks forward to sharing these characters with the world. Anyway, I quickly fell in love with David, his loyal servant Pegotty, his Aunt Betsey Trotwood, his crazy friend Mr. Dick, and his loving friend Agnes. (I also easily grew to hate the manipulative and creepy Uriah Heep, the sour Mr. Murdstone, and the slick Steerforth.)

Me, enjoying summer as only a teacher can.

Monday, June 14, 2010


One of my tasks over the summer has been to brush up on my Charlotte Mason. For those of you that are not acquainted with Miss Mason, she was an educational philosopher in England in the early 20th century. Her philosophy embraces the amazing potential of children as persons made in the image of God, and she proposes a steady diet of living ideas through rich books as well as training in habits in order to educate and raise children into godly and effectual adults.

For Charlotte Mason, a good book is one that is beautifully written and full of rich, living ideas upon which our minds can feed. (Have you ever read a really good book and had one little scene or phrase resonate in your head over the course of the next few days--that is a living idea and exactly what Charlotte Mason was talking about.) The opposite of a good book is what Charlotte Mason calls twaddle. Twaddle is empty and foolish. Miss Mason would say it is like feeding your mind sawdust--tasteless and totally lacking in nutrition, impossible to live on. Recently I was at the public library looking for some research material for my students. As I perused the teen non-fiction section, my twaddle meter almost exploded. The shelves were full of biographies of teen stars, rappers, and other celebrities that will be forgotten in a matter of months. While I am sure there is a place in the world for biographies of the stars of the Twilight films and the Olsen twins, does this type of literary trash really need to occupy the entire section of non-fiction for young people? Then I thought of all my students who say they don't like to read. No wonder, I thought, if this is what you have to read, I wouldn't like it either. Twaddle. Pure twaddle. (To be fair, there were 3-5 books about World War II and the Holocaust. Those were not twaddle.)
Above is a snapshot of the bookshelves in the teen non-fiction section of the public library. Seriously?

(P.S. I must admit that I just finished filling my head with televised twaddle in the form of the Bachelorette. Ironic, I know; I willingly to admit it. But I think Charlotte Mason would be ok with a little twaddle, right?)

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Vintage finds

Having decided that vacation is a state of mind more than it is a destination, my mother-in-law, sister-in-law, and I decided to make a little vacation out of our trip to Paris, Texas, for the wedding. We stayed an extra day, laid out, ate Mexican food, slept, did a little shopping, and generally did whatever we felt like--all of the essential elements of a vacation. Here are the finds I picked up at a little antique store in Paris' downtown square.
These darling mixing bowls with geese--I love how the goose is in a different pose on each one. And these great vintage pennants will find their new home in my classroom since Sam Houston's home and the Battleship Texas are both stops on our Texas History trip.

Monday, June 7, 2010

It's all in the details. . .

I am not a detail person, but the older that I get, the more I realize that life is all about the details--well, not all of life but at least a chunk of it. This weekend Barrett and I had the pleasure of attending a beautiful wedding of a dear family friend of the Freemans. Knowing this family and especially the sweet bride, I knew this wedding was going to be one for the history books, and needless to say, I had been looking forward to it for quite some time. And, yes, it lived up to and surpassed all my wildest expectations. Everything that made this wedding so spectacular was in the subtlety and detail. While the beauty of this event in many ways defies the powers of language, I will highlight a few of my favorite details.

First, everyone in the wedding party wore white including white dinner jackets for the guys--so classy. Even the bride's incredibly cute nieces and nephews ran down the aisle in all white.
The getaway car was a vintage white convertible, and all of the cans (tied with white satin ribbon) were monogrammed the couple's initials. As a big fan of monograms, I have to say I was delighted with this little touch.

The reception was in this beautiful, old, historic hotel in downtown Paris, Texas. The family has been working on the renovations, and the space is simply amazing. There was marble, mosaic tiles, old plaster, antique silver, and a crystal chandelier. It was Ralph Lauren meets the Great Gatsby.

There were tons of beautiful white flowers, and all of them were different and unique containers adding so much charm to the evening. Many of them were old pieces of silver belonging to the family.

For most people, being relegated to the kids' table is a bad thing, but here, the bride set apart a miniature table with mix-matched chairs for all of her little nieces and nephews. Can you say darling?

Another really fun part of this wedding for me was that I got to break out my own wedding dress. Since I wore my grandmother's wedding dress for the ceremony, I got a little party dress for my reception. With a little change of jewelry and a wrap, it was perfect for the event too. Who says you only wear your wedding dress once?

My favorite detail of the night was the keys. . . Each guest was given his table number on card tied with a satin ribbon on an old key. The keys were kept in the old hotel cupboard for room keys.

There were so many other precious details like the white umbrellas passed to the ladies as a sun shade as they walked from the church to the reception and the photo-booth in the old hotel elevator. But what really made this wedding (and any wedding) special is celebrating the marriage of a couple that loves one another and the obvious joy that their families share with them.

Congratulations Alix and Walker! Beautiful wedding! I hope your marriage continues to be filled with beautiful, little details.