Monday, September 28, 2015

As the Baltimoreans Do

I spent this past weekend on a (super quick) trip to Baltimore and coastal Maryland to celebrate a friend's wedding. I was also able to spend some time with friends in Baltimore itself, eating crab at every meal and learning as much about the city's history and culture as I could in several hours.

For example, did you know that the Baltimore Ravens are named after the Edgar Allen Poe poem of the same name? How literary! I'm almost convinced I should become a fan (at least for October, you know, spooky month). There was a Book Festival in Baltimore this weekend, which only served to solidify my high opinion of the city (which is also sometimes known as The City That Reads).

Weekend Recommendations:

Miss Shirley's (Annapolis) - the perfect boozy brunch to start the weekend off. Get the grits!

Blue Moon Cafe (Baltimore) - serves breakfast 24 hours a day! This cute little cafe in the Fells Point neighborhood was a hit all around. Sweet or savory, they know breakfast.

A few pics from the weekend:
The view from our hotel!
Baltimore: the City that Reads
That funky building is Baltimore's Aquarium.
Words with Strangers!
Al Bumbry and Baltimore Bill, the weather-predicting crab
U.S.S. Constellation - the last ship built with only sails (no mechanical engine)
Fells Point

Thursday, September 24, 2015

An Abundance of Victories

If the beginning of this week was about searching for little victories to keep my spirits up, the end is about storing up multiple victories to recount later when I need a boost.

Waking up at 6:30 this morning so that I could be at school for homeroom this morning (knowing that I would be staying until about 6 tonight) wasn't awesome, but coffee from my Campus Director helped my mood a lot.

Hearing my students cheer and pump their fists after they got their Thursday Apprenticeship assignments basically made my morning, but having several students remember how to pronounce my name and ask thoughtful questions during class sealed the deal.

In the afternoon, I taught several kids how percentages work and had them teach back to me. Then I supported my own Thursday Apprenticeship, the Teen Dream Zine. Our kids are writing articles and stories and drawing pictures for a self-published zine that they'll share with their families and friends (and their school library) at the end of the semester.

Maybe it's the subject matter, or because I had five volunteer teachers co-leading the class, or maybe it's this certain group of kids, but I can say that today is officially the day I enjoyed teaching, felt comfortable doing it, and understood why people make this their full-time career.

It's amazing what a difference a few days can make.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Little Victories

This week is already challenging me. Lesson plans, short attention spans, and a flu bug (which I refuse to catch) are giving me a run for my money. What's a teaching fellow to do but be grateful for something she's doing right (ie keeping her plant alive)?

Saturday, September 19, 2015


Spin (Spin, #1)Spin by Robert Charles Wilson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sum it up in a sentence (or two): Spin narrates the aftermath of the "Big Blackout" - the night the stars disappeared - following the lives of three friends, Tyler Dupree and siblings Jason and Diane Lawton.

First Thoughts: Spin gripped me right away, then loosened its hold just over halfway thought, but it grabbed me again at the end. I liked being sucked into a book and its world, and having it be a treat instead of a chore. This was also a rare treat in that I don't read many sci-fi thrillers (but I always seem to enjoy them on some level).

Favorite quotes:

"Everybody falls, and we all land somewhere." -p1

"The world is full of surprises. We're all born strangers to ourselves and each other, and we're seldom formally introduced." -Carol Lawton, p438

Favorite characters: the great mother team of Carol Lawton and Belinda Dupree - I love them separately and together. Jason Lawton was an interestingly flawed character, and I think anyone who reads Spin would love Ina Ibu.

Where it lost me: the discussion of the replicators. By that time I just wanted to see the two timelines of the book meet, so that middle part with the technical language stretched a little long.

Final Thoughts: Once the action picked back up, I was right back into the story. The ending was solid and worth sticking it out.

View all my reviews

Thursday, September 17, 2015

What I Learned About Launch Week

In Citizen Schools (and probably a lot of other classes and after school programs), we sometimes use a graphic organizer called a KWL chart. It looks something like this:
These are useful for getting kids to recall information they already know, brainstorm questions about a new topic, and reflect on what they learn in a class. They are also useful for us adults (and without knowing about these charts, I've already started a collection of posts about What I Know).

Before Launch Week (the official start of Citizen Schools programming), I knew that a) program would start, b) I'd have wayyy more interaction with the students, and c) the months of training I received would finally be put to use. I wanted to know a) What was actually going to happen once I was standing at the front of a classroom, b) How I would remember all the parts of each day's lesson, and c) Was I really qualified to be doing this? Here's What I Learned:

  1. Holding the attention of 20 students for 90 minutes is not easy, but it's not complicated either. The tricky part is getting them all to pay attention at the same time.
  2. Economy of Language has multiple benefits. Using as few words as possible to get your point across is not only an effective way to keep things straightforward for your students, it also ensures that you won't lose your voice on the first day of program.
  3. Kids love rewards. You guys: I raffled off leftover oranges and carrots in my class this week and the kids went bonkers.
  4. The show must go on. Much like any "performance," class has to keep rolling even when you forget your agenda and materials in your office, which is three stories down.
  5. Keep an air of mystery. Related to # 4, when you forget materials, your train of thought, or a crucial handout from the day before, no one has to know but you - pretend like everything's cool, and kids will go with it.
  6. Teaching begets learning. I'm not talking about students learning here - I mean me, the teacher. I've learned something new (or relearned something again) every. single. day. And I can only guess and hope that that trend continues.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Sunday Night Survey: Launch Week Edition

We're one week into the school year, football season has kicked off, and tomorrow marks the official start of Citizen Schools programming at my school. I'm excited and nervous, mostly because this whole teacher thing is feeling more real than ever tonight.

Getting: used to being called Miss K.
Feeling: a little slaphappy at the end of the day Friday.
Sweeping: our floors again and again...what we get for living in the shadow of the Kennedy Expressway.
Hanging: out with Quinn!
Laughing: out loud at The Shicago Show.
Visiting: Jesus's parents/family.
Eating: beefs!
Making: "stuffed" grilled cheese.
Watching: the Packers beat the Bears in the latest installment of the NFL's Oldest Rivalry.
Finding: another local bar with some great specials.
Decorating: my "office" space.
Closing: our windows at night; reopening them during the day (welcome to fall!).
Sleeping: in, which probably won't help me wake up tomorrow. Oops!

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Strolling the Mag Mile

When you live in a huge/beautiful/accessible city, sometimes all you need for an adventure is a train card. Last weekend, Jesus and I used ours to people watch along the river and Michigan Ave. It's fun pretending to be a tourist among other tourists (or other pretenders) - you get to see your home from an outsider's eyes while also not worrying about getting lost/knowing where the nearest food joint or bathroom is.

Our route took us near shops and art galleries, through empty terraces, and across crowded bridges. My favorite stop? Dylan's Candy Bar.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

La Escuela

I survived the first day of school! I can't remember any students' names or what I "taught" them, but my coworkers said they would see me tomorrow, so I can only assume that means I'm still a Teaching Fellow. Once I have a chance to process these first few days I'm sure I'll have plenty to share, but for now I'm eating leftovers, picking out my outfit for tomorrow, and getting my beauty rest.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Loving Day

Loving DayLoving Day by Mat Johnson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sum it up in a sentence (or two or five): Warren Duffy is black. And white. And, after the passing of his father, the owner of a decrepit mansion. When he comes back to Philadelphia to claim it, he also learns he can also call himself a father. Loving Day is Warren Duffy's exploration of the self, and extended metaphor for racial identity in America, in the 21st century.

First Thoughts: Absolutely loved this story. I loved the pacing, the dialogue, the characters. I'm slowly getting on board with the ghosts and what they are and/or represent in Loving Day.

Favorite Quotes:
"I see Caucasians in the room, looking over our way, puzzled and annoyed by the segregation. They stand in a pack of their own race, but their own race is invisible to them." -p24

"...she loves it and she loves everyone else here enough that she is willing to let them see all of who she is in this moment." -p95

Future Plans: I would love to see this in graphic novel form. There are plenty of visuals, heroes and villains, and a lot to play with in that medium. A movie would be welcome too. (Apparently Showtime is adapting it into a comedy series.)

Other Future Plans: As someone who plans on having biracial children someday (because my boyfriend is Hispanic and I am White), Loving Day felt real. My kids could very well look like their father but identify with their mother, or vice versa, or some combination of the two - something I never had to deal with growing up. Loving Day continues and furthers the conversation of identity, a conversation I personally never tire of having or learning about.

Final Thoughts: I highly recommend this book to readers, thinkers, people with families, people living in the present, and fans of comic books, Philadelphia, or racial discourse.

View all my reviews

Friday, September 4, 2015

Friday Night Links 24

Remember when it was still the middle of summer? With only three warm holiday weekend days left of mine, I'm getting in the right frame of mind for school. It'll be my first First Day in six years, and my first First Day at my new school. Here's what's rattling around my brain:

Something that fits in everyday life, but seems totally accurate for my next two years in the Fellowship. (Yep, I know I linked this in my last FNL post, but it's so perfect.)

I'm jealous of this classroom.

The first day school is important - for overall attendance, for a student's mindset of learning, and for a school's budget ("school funding follows the child"). To that end, CPS is using/taking advantage of a number of strategies to get kids to school on Tuesday. (Chicago parents: make sure your kids get to school on Day One!)

You know, because we don't have any other issues to handle or deal with in this country...

And finally, a shameless plug for Citizen Schools...we're #crushingit on social media.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

As the Teaching Fellows Do

School hasn't officially started yet, but I think I can share a little more about what a Teaching Fellow does.


After almost two months on the job, I've realized that my "job description" is ever evolving and changes with the week/day. Much like House Management, a Teaching Fellowship is all about flexibility and adaptability. A few more (specific) similarities? In these seven weeks I've already painted, gardened, gotten price quotes, organized, and baked at or for work. Luckily, I've also gotten to speak to a few parents (in English and Spanglish and, let's be honest, very broken Spanish), meet a few students, joke and bond with my team, and reflect in a one-on-one meeting with my Campus Director, so I'm feeling appropriately challenged, celebrated, and invested in.

Next week I'll meet my students, attend meetings with teachers, and get my Apprenticeship assignments (part of the after school portion of Citizen Schools, which pairs volunteer experts and professionals - Citizen Teachers - with middle schoolers for a 10-week course culminating in an exhibition we call a Wow!), but for now I'm preparing agendas, planning lessons, and lending a hand where it's needed. Basically, I'm getting things done for America.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Beer Bread Muffins

I made these muffins a little prematurely (it's nearly 80 degrees outside, which is not a temperature at which I want to turn my oven on), but we have more beer in our fridge than either Jesus or I care to drink and I really wanted to try them out. Despite sweating long into the evening, I'm glad I did. They're super easy and tasty.

Beer Bread Muffins (adapted from this recipe by My Wild Kitchen)

3 c flour (she uses self-rising; I made my own by adding baking powder and salt, below)
1 1/2 tbsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp salt
3 tbsp sugar
1 12-oz bottle of beer (I used Corona)
2 tbsp butter (I used coconut/palm oil spread)

Preheat oven to 375.
Grease muffin tin.
In a large bowl, mix dry ingredients.
Pour beer over and stir until combined.
Spoon mixture evenly into muffin cups.
Bake for 25-30 minutes.
While the muffins are baking, melt butter in a dish.
When muffins just start to turn golden brown, brush butter on top of them.
Bake for another 5-7 minutes.
Enjoy warm!

According to this recipe, the muffins aren't as good the next day, but I'll be putting that to the test tomorrow.