Sunday, November 9, 2014

Scrumptious Sunday*: A Recipe of One's Own

For the last few weeks, I've been trying weekly meal planning. It's a topic for another post, but it's been going a long way in saving both grocery shopping money and sanity.

This week, I thumbed through a cookbook I got from the library, trying to find a good cold-weather recipe...and found a whole damn bunch of them! The Food52 Cookbook is organized seasonally, and so I had no shortage of options**. But since I'm super-into squash right now, I went for their "best couscous dish," Fregola Sarda with Caramelized Squash and Charmoula.

Before a couple of weeks ago, I had never cut a squash open before. I had, you know, carved Jack o' Lanterns, but an actual squash intimidated the hell out of me. I didn't know how to peel one, how to cut one, how to make sure all of the seeds were done away with, without getting my hands all goopy. But I loved the warm taste, the smell in the kitchen while one was cooking...a squash is late autumn and winter to me. And if all one has to do is cut one up, throw it in the oven with some oil and salt, and let it be for a while to make a super-tasty meal? OK, I decided, if I'm working on getting comfortable in the kitchen, this was something I needed to learn how to do. (Thanks to The Kitchn for a great squash tutorial!)

And so after my first try with butternut squash two weeks ago, and making Pumpkin Butter with The Kid last week (also Food52), this recipe sounded like an absolute winner. It's getting cold and dreary here in MI, and some squash was just what my kitchen needed.

But I also had a couple of changes I needed to make for various reasons: grocery availability, family dietary needs, and so on. And so, since I'm trying to work on being zen in the kitchen, I did what I needed to do and came out with a damn good dinner that made everyone around the table happy. Seriously, The Kid gobbled it down, even though the one part of the dish he helped me make was the one thing that didn't wind up on his plate.

It's no Fregola Sarda, but it was awesome. Recipe after the jump. (Don't be intimidated by the list of ingredients. There's a lot of stuff, but not a whole lot of work involved at all.)

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Making Passes at Girls Who Wear Glasses

The girl I meant to be: 1994
Okay, you guys, I'm still thinking about this "Sexy PhD" costume that popped up in my newsfeed via HuffPo the other day. It was the day after Halloween, so what's a few more days of reflection, eh?

The Amazon comments are fantastic. I suppose this is the natural progression from both the ubiquitous Sexy Teacher costumes, and the ever-increasingly-ridiculous Sexy Any-Profession costumes that have been popping up more and more every year. There is a Sexy Pizza costume, y'all. This needs to stop.

But there was an unforeseen (possibly terrible-feminist) part of me that thought, Hooray, smart girls are sexy now! Yes, I know that's not the actual message. 15-year-old me doesn't recognize that.

I first got glasses when I was five years old. 1980s-style bug-eye glasses, because that's all there was in 1985. And I was also a Very Smart Kid who related to adults much better than I ever related to kids my own age. And that made me socially awkward inwardly, and a certified nerd outwardly.
My mom tells a story about a woman at a restaurant who leaned down to five-year-old me and cooed, "You'll be so cute once you get contact lenses!" My mom, ever the champion of her children, politely snapped back, "She's cute now." That was the narrative I grew up with: I was cute with my glasses and, by extension, with my nerdliness. Sure, I wore contact lenses for a good six months, but I quickly went back to my glasses. They were a part of me.
Rocking my '80s glasses, with my still-adorable brother.
And then.

There was this guy I had a crush on in high school. A big crush. He and I were friends outside of school--we had an awesome phone relationship going--but he very rarely talked to me in school. It started out with him calling me for help on homework, and evolved into us talking for two hours at a time, several times a week. And yet, though we shared several classes and similar friends, we never talked in school.

One night over the phone, he told me he thought my best friend was cute. And I, in all of my fifteen-year-old-Jewish glory, asked, "So what am I, chopped liver?"

His answer? "We talk about you. We think you're okay. But...some guys just don't like smart girls."

There it was.

Some guys just don't like smart girls.

I could have focused on the "some guys" part, and realized--as I do now--that those aren't exactly the guys I want to hang out with. And who cares what they think anyway? But the reality was:

I cared. I cared a lot. Some guys in my head extrapolated to, the reason I don't get asked out, ever, is that I'm smart. And it's one of those things that sticks to your subconscious. Enough so that you blog about it almost twenty years later.

But though the facts of that conversation haven't changed in the last almost-twenty years, something has: my confidence in my nerdliness. I like to read. I like to talk about the things I read. I like to write things and talk about them, too. I like to teach other people about the things I like. And all of those things? Are awesome.

I am confident that I'm smart. And being smart is part of what makes me attractive. Maybe not to 15-year-old stoner boys (which now: ick), but to smart and funny people. Which, coincidentally, are also the people who I find attractive and want to hang out with. So, win-win.

OK, so I don't have a PhD, and so I wouldn't merit wearing this super-low-cut, super-short regalia, though admittedly I don't know what a "sexy MA" would wear, since I didn't walk when I got my grad degree. But I'm confident in the fact that attractiveness doesn't (have to) come from the length of your skirt, the size of your cleavage, or the accessories you happen to wear on your face. (And, I should note, If you choose to wear something short and/or cleavage-bearing, it doesn't affect your intellect one bit.)

Smart is sexy.
For the record, I was Hipster Wonder Woman for Halloween.
Here I am with Handy Manny, in my bespectacled glory.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

An Ode to the Observer-Learner

"Believe me," I'd tell a parent at the beginning of a class session, "He's watching now, but once he sees how his classmates participate, he'll jump in later, I'm sure of it."


"Watch how active her eyes are right now. See how closely she's paying attention? I can tell she's learning, even if she's not playing with us."


"You know, I've been Ayden's teacher for a while now, and I've noticed that there are certain activities he prefers to watch rather than do. That's totally cool--he always has the opportunity to join us, but I really love how much he's supporting his classmates."


"I have to tell you what Sophie did in class! We've been doing this warm-up game for the last three weeks, and she actually did it with us today! It was awesome!"

These are things I've said time and time again to parents who poked their heads in the window of class, and saw what looked like their children not participating in activities. Or parents who saw them doing their own thing during observation days in the middle of the semester. Thing is, everyone's got their own learning style, and sometimes it takes a child a little longer to feel comfortable with an activity. They might have to see other kids do it before feeling like they can jump in themselves.

So, as a teacher, I'm completely cool with observer-learners: the kids who have to hang back for a while to watch instead of participating, so they can become comfortable with what's going on in class. As long as a student is active in their own way, and absorbing what we're doing, its totally fine.

As a parent, though, it's really flippin' hard! The Kid does a great job participating in school and group activities. He's super-social and crazy-verbal. Until it comes to participation in a story or song. Then, he just shuts down. He sits and sucks his thumb...

...and then comes home and sings me every word of every song, or tells me every word of the story, acting it out with the motions that his teacher taught the class in school that day.

So, I know he's learning. He's watching, actively engaged, absorbing everything, and reviewing it for himself at home. Just like I've told so many parents of my own students. And so I have to let go of the idea that he would just have so much fun if he would just participate. During library story time today, he almost cried when I suggested he get up for the stretching song. Oy.

I feel a little bit stuck in a place where I'm forcing The Kid to do something he doesn't feel comfortable doing, but I know he'll have fun doing. I want him to spread his wings and try new things...but on his own terms. It's hard!

I think back on my own school experience, where I looked around the room to see what other kids were doing before I jumped in. I waited to see if anyone else would raise their hands before I did, partially because I was afraid of being labeled "the smart girl" (which is a topic for another post), and partially because I just wanted to see what everyone else is doing. It's one reason that of all forms of theatre, improv scares me the most: you have to jump in without observing, or else nothing will get done. (Once I'm in an improv game, I love it. The very thought of it gives me the willies, though.)

So, I'm going to nurture my observer-absorber-learner, continue to ask him to sing us the songs Mrs. A teaches in school, and to show us the games the class played. And hope that someday, he feels comfortable enough to jump in and play--without pushing him!

Saturday, November 1, 2014

A Very Handy Halloween

The Kid and his Halloween inspiration.
We talk about costumes a lot around here. The Kid has recycled all of his past Halloween costumes into dress-up clothes, which he wears pretty darned frequently, along with the ones he's picked up as gifts along the way. (In fact, as we speak, he's wearing his pirate costume from two years ago, which fits him much better now. He's not being a pirate, he's just wearing the costume.)

A while ago, he told Jake and I that he wanted to be a construction worker for Halloween this year, which came as no surprise. But he already has a construction worker costume, and we wanted to get him something new. You know, ignoring our budget, for special-ness.

And so when he told me that what he really, really wanted to be was Handy Manny--a character he loves so much that he started calling my parents Abuela and Abuelito for no other reason--I jumped on it. "OK," I told him, "If that's what you want, we're Doing This Thing."

Handy Manny plays "pin the eye on the spider" at his nursery school Halloween party.
I set up a secret board on Pinterest (Did you know you could do that?? It's amazing for remembering things you don't want anyone to know your kid's Halloween costume...) and got to finding costume pieces. There are actual Handy Manny costumes for sale out there, but I'm a dramaturg, and my kid was only going to wear pieces the character would actually wear, god damn it. No one wears a shirt with their own face on it. The great thing about Handy Manny is that he's just a guy who wears regular clothes, which meant not only that we could source pieces from The Kid's actual wardrobe, but that most of what we bought could be worn again and again in non-costume ways.

The downside to dressing like a regular-cartoon-person is that when you add a puffy coat for a Michigan Halloween, your kid kind of looks like...a kid in a down jacket going door-to-door begging for candy. But there were definitely a few people who approached him and asked if her was Handy Manny, so that was really cool.

So, if you ever find yourself in possession of a three-and-a-half-year-old who wants to be Handy Manny more than anything else in the world, here is how you do it:

The foundation of the costume was jeans and a couple of shirts we already owned. No earth-shaking purchase there, but it gave us the darker-green sleeves and collar Manny had. And, really, I wasn't going out to buy a new pair of jeans.

Then, we had to add Manny's unique elements.
We bought these shoes from Target, which have paid for themselves several times over. The Kid calls them his "Manny shoes," and he's worn them so many times. They're already a little worn on the toe, but they're super-comfy and utilitarian.

I got Manny's hat on Amazon, being sure to follow the customer comments and buy the child-sized one, even though my kid has a huge head. :) Since Manny keeps a pencil behind his ear, I sewed a plastic one to the hat with embroidery floss, making sure my stitches were tight enough that the pencil wouldn't fall out, but loose enough that we could remove it in case a kid running around with a pencil behind his ear proved dangerous. I also made the artistic (read: safer) decision to point the eraser forward, even though Manny wears his the other way 'round.

(One person did think he was Ash from Pokemon because of the hat. Generational differences, I guess!)
Manny's tool belt came in the form of a $0.77 apron from Home Depot. (Seriously. $0.77. Also, I miss the "cents" key.)
Because Manny doesn't shill for Home Depot, I embroidered up a patch with our favorite tool and the slogan of Handy Manny's Repair Shop. I made it an iron-on, so no actual sewing was necessary.
And--of course--we stuck google eyes on all of his tools. :)

It was an incredibly successful day of trick-or-treating in downtown Ann Arbor, and evening spent with friends outside of Detroit. More importantly than the candy haul, The Kid loved his costume!