Saturday, December 14, 2013


Taxonomy Tags by Lyons Creek Middle School 7th graders

One of the perks of being a substitute teacher is that I get to re-learn cool stuff and then use this resuscitated knowledge to fascinate my friends during parties and such.  One of the perks of being booked ahead for a substitute teaching job (most sub jobs are assigned the morning of) is that I can find out what I will be teaching, refresh my brain accordingly, and arrive to the classroom well-prepared. 

Some teachers believe (like my older daughter does) "you're only a sub" but Ms. Scanga, a 7th grade science teacher at Lyons Creek Middle, appreciates my dedication to life-long learning and sincere interest in actually teaching. I subbed for her recently and did a Friday/Monday combo. I booked the job weeks in advance and studied-up the night before on The Classification of Living Things. I was inspired to propose an extra credit project.

I love the fact that all the random books I collect for my collages are also filled with useful information.

On Friday, I came to class with a bunch of plain manila tags. Five minutes before the end of each class, I pitched the idea of making Taxonomy Tags - featuring a species from the animal or plant kingdoms, the common name for that species, fancy genus species name, a drawing or photo, and a couple of characteristics. I told them I would use them to make something for their teacher. The kids' first thought wasn't "Oh isn't that sweet!" or "Wow, we love extra credit projects!"  but rather "What do we get if we do it?" Candy...duh. 

i collected about 40 tags on Monday and strung the garland with ribbon on Wednesday night while watching Nashville.

I collected some excellent drawings.

Clown Fish (Amphiprion percale) were extremely popular.
different color ribbon made it festive and quirky.
Ms. Scanga loved her present and hung it proudly in her room. It looks really good!

NOTE: (if Taxonomy or evolution interests you personally or if you have a child who is presently studying it in school, I recommend checking out the Linnaen Society - a fascinating, hip website devoted to a classification system that started in the early 1700's and continues to evolve today.)

Saturday, November 16, 2013


When I sub, I give my all. And I usually like to get a little something back.

This past Friday I reserved the last 5 minutes of each class for my own education. And the 11th graders in English Honors and AP were happy to teach me some relevant vocabulary. I asked the students to imagine that I was 17 and had just awoke after being frozen for 20 years, that I was headed to a party, and needed some relevant words so that i could communicate with my peers and not be totally uncool. "Without using curse words or words related to sex and drugs, what are important words for me to know?" I asked.

A sample of what I collected.
They fed me about 20 words many of which require, or are best understood, with hand gestures and a certain tone of voice. I asked them for spelling and context. But as we all know, you don't ever get everything you ask for. Below is a partial list of what I got.

BRUH - the newest incarnation of "brother" and "bro",  not to be confused with actual sibling.

EXTRA - annoying, over the top. "Look at her yelling. She is so extra!"

FLAW- not good;  "That's so flaw!"

FOH - stop right there; get out of my face (put hand up to emphasize)

GUCCI - something that is really cool and stylish; "That's so Gucci."

JIT - an insult to call someone when they are being immature, whiny, like a little kid

RACHET - bad, yucky, ugly; "You're so ratchet!"

SALTY - angry, bitter; "Why do you have to be so salty?"

THIRSTY - hungry, greedy

TURN UP - Let's party; "Let's turn up."

YOLO - you only live once

For your entertainment (definitely) and comprehension (perhaps), my daughter Sammi has acted out some of these words. 

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

THE PRICE OF LICE: A Few Dollars Poorer but a Little Bit Wiser

I would not consider myself a scholar of lice but I am on my way. Since moving to Florida in 2002, my family has survived a handful of lice breakouts. I have had it 4 times, Dylan 3, and Sam says she’s had it “like 1,000 times.”  Each time, I have momentary panic followed by a call to action.

Today’s initial plan was to remove the lice at home by ourselves. I was going to try the olive oil suffocation method and Sam was going to be doused with RID. Dylan rejected the idea that she even had lice, but we learned otherwise later on.  Between CVS and Publix, I spent $50 on RID remedies, a pair of metal combs, extra lice shampoo, and a bottle of olive oil.

I started first, looking really cool, slick dripping hair covered up in a clear shower cap that sagged beneath the weight of the olive oil. The fact that I can work in this fashion (or un-fashion) is one of the benefits of working from home. Sam was gooped up with RID, and her dad was armed with lice combs, paper towels and a magnifier. He began to comb.
There was a bug here but hard to tell.
Babies and eggs outta there!
Twenty minutes into it, I heard, “I quit. She’s infested. We need to get someone in here.” That’s when I called Lousecalls. Within an hour, Debbie came to our rescue and spent much of the early evening with us. She was friendly, professional, and a totally empathetic mom. We even liked the scent of the Lousecalls potions. Sam kept saying, “Man, I want a perfume like that.” Five hundred smackers later, the Dagmi girls felt relief and Debbie was our new friend.
Not a good comb. No grooves.
This is a great comb. Traps those suckers.
Though not a lice expert, from our extensive experience, I do feel that I have lice-ense to pass on a little wisdom in the hope that you don't freak out when or if you go through it. Here you go:

1.       Two or 200? You’ve got a lice problem.
2.  Peppermint oil is a natural lice repellent. We now have a large bottle of peppermint hair spray ($25) that Sam will spray on before school.
3.  The best lice combs are the ones with grooved tines. That’s what snares the buggers and their eggs. 
4.     If you like it when people play with your hair, then you may find the hour removal fairly relaxing, almost spa-like.
5.  If you have thick long hair like us, expect to pay about $130-$150 per head. At least that’s the going rate in Florida. I’ve paid more before and I’ve also paid less.
6.       People who live in mansions get lice too.
7.    Re-treats are essential.  We are going to tackle this ourselves with our oil and foam products.
8.       Lice can survive 24-48 hours off the scalp but they are most effective during the first 8 hours off-scalp. If they miss a feeding or two, they get weak and tired.
9.    There are lice parties! Yes…when one or two girls get lice, some parents organize a lice party. (I want to go to one and write about it! That's how comfortable I am around lice!)
10.   It is hard to be the girl with lice. Sam did not want to tell her friends about it...again. But of course we did and when she was on the phone, I heard her say how sorry she was to one of her friend's moms, and that is the best one can do. We do not ask for lice nor do we want to pass it on. Not sure who started "it". Not good to blame, but really good to take responsibility when you do know and inform others.

Lice truly is not the worst thing in the world if you have time and/or money to deal with it.

Monday, September 23, 2013

The Biscotti I Always Make

I just baked 3 batches of biscotti. Two are chocolate chip almond and one, of my own invention, is dark chocolate orange pecan. Whether I tweak (wouldn't it be funny if I made a typo and wrote "twerk"?) it or not, I have been using the same basic biscotti recipe since 2008.

The paper itself is stained and stiffened by flour and egg. Decorated with math computations and the phone number of someone who called on Baking Day, I look at this piece of time-worn paper and think, "I can't believe I printed this in color?"
I have probably baked about 120 batches. I bring them to dinner parties and reading groups. I pack them in suitcases and send them by mail. I bring them to Starbucks to accompany my grande non-fat latte because mine are better than theirs. If you and I are friends, there is a good chance that you will taste my home-baked biscotti. In the event, however, that we do not cross paths in that way, you now have the recipe. :)

For those of you who can't read through crumpled print:
3/4 cup blanched whole almonds, toasted and chopped coarsely (I use slivered almonds usually)
2/3 cup granulated white sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cup all purpose flour
4 ozs semisweet or other chocolate (yeah, whatever! I just dump a bunch it till it looks like enough)
Preheat oven to 350. Toast almonds if not already lightly browned.
Line baking sheet with parchment

Using electric mixer or hand mixer:
Beat sugar and eggs on high about 5 minutes (wow, I never do it for that long!) so that when you raise beaters the batter falls like slow ribbons.
Beat in vanilla.

In separate bowl, whisk together flour, bp, and salt. Add to egg mixture and beat until combined.
Fold in chips and nuts.

Transfer dough to parchment lined sheet. Form into a log about 12"L x 3-4" W. Dampen hands if dough is too sticky. Bake for 25 minutes or until firm to the touch. Remove from oven and let cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes.

Put log on cutting board and get our serrated knife. Cut log into slices. Cut on diagonal making slices 1/2 - 3/4" thick. (I like them on thin side). Put back into oven for 6-10 minutes on one side. Then take out and flip over. Bake another 6 minutes or so. Better to bake on the side of caution. You want both sides toasty not burnt! The thicker your cut, the more time each side gets. Let cool on rack.
Eat, dunk, give away.

NOTE: If you google Joy of Baking and get to this Chocolate Almond recipe, the measurements have changed. I like the old recipe much better.

Saturday, September 7, 2013


Dry weather conditions at approximately 1:30 p.m.
Today my daughter and I took the time to check out UCF, Florida's largest state university.The tour was scheduled for 2 p.m. It rains a lot during the summer, and afternoons are prime time for thunderstorms. Note to self: Do not plan a Florida college walking tour on a summer afternoon.

The rain started at about 2:20. An admissions counselor finished his general welcome and in walked five tour-leading students -- Edmund, Nick, and three girls. The students told us that we were unable to go on the actual tour because of the storm and would instead go on a virtual tour. The lights were dimmed  and the power point began. The students, thankfully, had a lot of personality which they integrated into the uninspired presentation, which included slide after slide of lackluster photos dotted with bullet points. They did a great job considering what they had to work with.

I understand that the frequent lightning strikes and hard rain made it impossible to go out. And I realize the weather is beyond anyone's control. But the substitute tour was an embarrassment! For such a well-respected institution that offers among its many majors, digital media, journalism, advertising, marketing, and hospitality management, and is located in Orlando, a city famous for its animated imagination... come on...step up Plan B! 

To the people that run the admissions and marketing departments of UCF, I recommend re-imagining the power point, updating your photography (I know some excellent photographers if you need names), adding some spirit with lively video and spiffy graphics. And then souvenir logo ponchos (like at FAU) would be awesome, just in case of a light drizzle.

(P.S. Because we arrived over an hour early, we did walk a bit of the campus, eat at the Student Union, and sit by the Reflecting Pool. Thank goodness we saw some of it in the flesh, otherwise I would have felt like the trip was a complete waste.)

Sunday, July 14, 2013

It Takes a Village to Get a Date

Some of the group and I in panorama
This past weekend I met a guy on the Jersey shore. He did not rescue me from the undertow, nor did I meet him in line at the grocery store or at a club. Rather, this sandy union was a fix-up, initiated by my best friend ("Do you know anyone good for my friend Jane?") and then played out in front of a spirited group of highly curious, mostly married friends and neighbors who took an immediate interest in my social life.

Though the group says New Guy's celeb lookalike is a combo of  Dermot Mulroney, Pierce Brosnan and Matthew Modine, I'm using Clooney as his stand-in.

New Guy is good looking. New Guy seems to have his shit together and seems to be unattached at the moment. New Guy and I logged a total of about 3 weekend hours together, and yet members of the group were already referring to him (jokingly but incessantly) as "my boyfriend" and "future husband." There was an active discussion about "us" and the late afternoon flow of fruity cocktails only exacerbated the discussion in which I barely participated, but followed amusingly like a tennis match.

Over the course of a long weekend, this group cheered the relationship on and created opportunities for us to meet. We were a pet project of sorts. At times it felt awkward, but it was generally kind. In the company of the group, we met at a bar. We tossed a football on the beach while the group looked on. Someone sent him my number. "Do you want to take a walk on the beach tomorrow?" he later texted. The next day we took a long walk away from the group.

After the beach stroll, I wave to my favorite spies.

I am back in Florida now; New Guy is up north. The group is no longer in sight, but has done its part, and made the introduction. New Guy and I can handle it from here.


Sunday, January 6, 2013

Mommy, Will You Tickle Me?

I am on deadline. The kids go back to school tomorrow after a two week break. It has been hard to find uninterrupted focus during this school vacation. But I have just tucked them in, and I am determined to refocus. It is 10:30 PM and I am looking forward to a few more hours of solid writing time. I begin to work and then sense footsteps. 

"Mommy, will you tickle  me?" 

I am slightly irked by the fact that I will have to postpone my work. I am also irked that somewhere in the last few years, in a house with two parents, I have been deigned the tuck-in parent night after night and the only one who can apparently quell her restlessness.

"Go back to bed. I'll be in soon." 

I tidy up a paragraph and make up my mind to change my attitude. I choose to be a loving, rather than annoyed parent. I know that the loving energy I provide will be so much better for both of us.

I go to her bedroom. She is so beautiful there in the dark, cocooned in her blanket, the light from outside accenting her cheeks and delicate nose. She offers me her back. Then, she turns over. She likes her stomach tickled. She also likes it when I put my hand over her heart and just rest it there. The weight of my palm seems to ease her.

Every now and again she opens her eyes and just looks up at me quietly. Lovingly. The sassy daytime back-talker who thinks she knows everything is under my evening spell and I can feel her disarmed devotion. She seems so young and innocent to me right now.

My hand wanders up to her hair. She covers my hand with hers and pulls it to her cheek for a moment. She lets it go and I continue. All of a sudden she shudders out of her initial sleep. She opens her eyes wide, looks at me, then closes them. I continue to smooth back her hair slowly, methodically until I hear breathing that tells me she is fully relaxed and that my job is done.

I don't want to leave her now. I don't want to go back to work. I just want to curl up beside her. That would be the ultimate bliss. But I can't go there. Not tonight.