Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Something I'd try to make if I had the time...


This I Believe

If you don't know me personally, you might not understand why I might disappear here for a week or two. You see, I'm a teacher, and it is the first week back to school. On top of that, I'm taking a graduate class every Tuesday.

The point being, I might not be able to offer anything too scintillating for the next little while as I get into the groove of things. In the meantime, please enjoy this short little introduction essay that I wrote tonight for class. It is a direct nod to the NPR series, This I Believe, of which I am a major fan.

This I Believe

This I believe: Gifted people exist. Many teachers that I meet are dismissive of the concept of gifted and talented programs. They assume that these students just work really hard, or that they are going to succeed anyway. These teachers ask, “why bother to give gifted students special treatment?” I respond with “why wouldn’t you want to provide every student the educational experiences that they need?”

The challenge in combating these notions about giftedness lies in defining giftedness. The most accepted definitions of giftedness are generally difficult to measure in a quantitative manner. Furthermore, the Federal Government allows each state to adopt their programs for gifted students, and the State of Texas allows each school district to decide ultimately how to identify and serve their students. Depending on where a student lives, he or she may or may not be considered gifted by the school system.

I do believe that, with careful consideration, we can identify gifted individuals for service. I believe that a combination of objective and subjective measures ought to be employed. Although tests like the CogAT and ITBS can be used to measure cognitive abilities and academic achievement, these tests do not tell the whole story for students who have different cultural backgrounds, first languages other than English, or learning challenges. By utilizing work samples, teacher and parent inventories, and observation, a gifted and talented screening committee can begin to piece together a whole picture of a child’s cognitive life.

In order to make decisions about service, I believe that educators of the gifted need to closely examine each student’s strengths. If a gifted student exhibits strengths in non-verbal reasoning, then he or she ought to be provided an opportunity to build on that strength through curriculum enrichment. If a gifted student exhibits strengths in quantitative reasoning, then a curriculum that enriches verbal skills may not best serve his or her academic best interest.

Finally, I believe that educators of the gifted should reevaluate their students’ placement and service plan on a regular basis. Like in special education, if a student no longer requires special educational and social interventions, then he or she should be placed back into the least restrictive environment possible. There is not point in isolating a student when he or she does not need special intervention, so it is essential to consider the use of reevaluations throughout the course of a student’s school career.

All students have a right to an academic environment that best meets their learning needs, even gifted students. This I believe.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Deep-dish Mexican Meatloaf Pie

Every once in a while, my husband will read one of my many home and garden magazines (sent to me in a conspiracy hatched by my mom and mother-in-law to make me settle down). Usually, this results in a clipped recipe stuck to the vent hood with a magnet. It's a habit that just started, and I generally enjoy the challenges left by my honey.

Deep-dish Mexican Meatloaf Pie found its way onto my vent hood a few weeks ago. I bought all of the ingredients for it the next week, but I realized that we didn't get ground beef! Why? We had recently bought 6 pounds of beef from Costco, and I figured we were golden. The problem? We had browned all 6 pounds of beef because it freezes better cooked. In the wise words of my sister, "that would make one DRY pie!" My husband finally broke down and acquired raw beef a few days ago.

Tonight, a weird thing happened. I had a late meeting at school, and called home to check on things. I suggested that my dearest start putting together the ingredients for the pie. When I got home, I expected a work in progress. Instead, I found him sitting at the kitchen table working while the pie cooked in the oven.

For those of you who know me personally, you probably know that this is epic! It isn't because my husband doesn't love me, or that he won't cook. Really, he'd be happy to help out all of the time. No, the problem is that he can take hours to cook a fairly simple recipe because he's such a stickler for detail.

The final verdict? This is an easy recipe that tastes fantastic, if you like spicy, beefy goodness.

1 1/4 lb. raw ground beef (90% lean)
1 cup finely crushed tortilla chips
1 envelope onion soup mix (1/2 2-oz. pkg.)
3/4 bottled taco sauce
2 eggs lightly beaten and divided
1 8.8-oz. pouch cooked Spanish-style rice (Uncle Ben's Ready Rice)
1 15.5-oz. can golden hominy, rinsed and drained
1 14.5-oz. can diced tomatoes with green chilies, drained
1 cup shredded pepper Jack cheese (4 oz)
1/2+ cup chopped jalapeno
1/4 fresh cilantro
black pepper

  1. Preheat oven to 350.
  2. Combine beef, chips, soup mix, 1/2 cup of taco sauce, 1 beaten egg, and 1/2 tsp. black pepper.
  3. Press meat concoction into the bottom and sides of a 10 inch pie plate or comparably-sized casserole dish.
  4. Heat rice according to package directions.
  5. Combine rice, hominy, tomatoes, cheese, jalapeno, cilantro, 1/4 cup taco sauce, and 1 egg.
  6. Spoon rice concoction into the "meat shell."
  7. Cover with foil and bake 40 minutes.
  8. Uncover, and bake 20 minutes.
  9. Let cool.
  10. Serve topped with chips and jalapenos.
  11. Eat and enjoy!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Netflix Review: A State of Mind

I've recently become addicted to Netflix. I am very partial to the streaming feature. I find that the lack of commitment required when streaming a movie makes me a lot more adventurous than I would be if I were renting or getting a DVD shipped to me. In fact, we've turned off quite a few movies including Revolution OS and Glass: A Portrait of Philip in Twelve Parts.

One movie that Jeff and I would not turn off was A State of Mind. It is a documentary filmed in isolated North Korea. It was one of the only Western film crews to be allowed access north of the 39th parallel since the end of the Korean War.

The movie follows two middle school aged gymnasts preparing for the astonishingly lavish Mass Games, the communist party's celebration of the collective self. Following the girls through their astonishing daily lives would have been entertaining enough. However, the film crew happened to have access to the girls and their families during the 2003 US invasion of Iraq. So, they unexpectedly caught some very candid reactions of the North Koreans to the aggressive acts of the United States.

The video quality is poor, probably because of the access to technology that the film makers had and the effects of streaming the converted movie. The film does have some stunning visual moments where the tragic reality of everyday life for the North Koreans is juxtaposed with the audio overlay of someone lauding their way of life. These girls really believe that they live in the best place on earth.

One interesting element of the movie is that one can assume the North Korean government made sure to select two girls who came from families and backgrounds that they wanted to show off in the West. They even went so far as to send the girls on a special "field trip" pilgrimage to a site that is practically holy in North Korea. I assume school girls do not ordinarily get free train trips for their educations. It was very telling.

Ultimately, this documentary exposes just a little bit about a country that George W. Bush feared enough to label as a part of the Axis of Evil. You can see that the people there are human and fragile, just like us. Most of all, their lives have been molded by the information they have been fed through their educations. You cannot blame them for hating the West, when our government has done enough wrong for their revolutionary history classes to paint the US as their axis of evil. I felt a sense of pity that they are not allowed to learn all sides of a story the way we may in the US.

I encourage you to watch A State of Mind in order to help open yours further to the realities of the world in which we live.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Sophia Kinsella: REMIX!

I totally forgot to include my most recent read by Sophia Kinsella in my guide to her chick lit. Eep! I'm letting you all down. Without further ado, here's a review:

Twenties Girl

Basic premise: Lara Lington has always lived in the shadow of her wildly successful uncle--think a British version of Starbucks. Now, she is being shadowed by the very bossy ghost of her great aunt, Sadie. Lara is forced to search for Sadie's favorite necklace, and in the process she learns a lot about love, life, and lies.

Unique plot element: An irritating ghost

Read it if: You generally like Sophia Kinsella, or you like the 20's.

Don’t read it if: You find the notion of being haunted by a ghost too absurd.

What I think: Twenties Girl could have been much shorter. If it had been, then maybe Lara and Sadie wouldn't have been so grating of a duo. They are both awfully self-absorbed and nonsensical. However, once the book nears the climax, you are taken on a wild ride of discoveries about Sadie's past. I rather enjoyed the last 100 pages.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 shopping bags

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Strange motivator

When I am really struggling with my work for graduate school, I mentally imagine how bad ass I will look in my cap, gown, and (most importantly) hood.

Do you have any strange motivations that help you power through?

Thursday, August 5, 2010

A shopaholic's guide to Sophia Kinsella

British author, Sophia Kinsella of Confessions of a Shopaholic fame, writes fairly prolifically in the chick-lit genre. Her witty voice can leave you rolling on the floor. Although the Shopaholic series struggles with being formulaic--really, can Becky Bloomwood really grow so much throughout one novel only to regress so badly for the next?--the rest of her novels each have a slightly different plot twist that leave you wanting to know what she will do to resolve the conflicts.

Personally, if the only exposure you've had to Sophia Kinsella is Confessions of a Shopaholic, then you're missing out on her best work. If you saw the atrocious excuse for a movie, then you really ought to give her a second chance.

"Where to start?" you ask. Never fear, this Wise Lady is here for you!

Confessions of a Shopaholic is Sophia Kinsella’s most famous work, I'll use a rating system of shopping bags. One shopping bag indicates a poor showing; five shopping bags indicate a glorious gluttony of pleasure.

Remember Me?

Basic premise: Lexi wakes up in a hospital room in a body that does not exactly appear to be her own with a life that surprises her. She was in a car accident, and cannot remember the last three years of her life. With a new husband, career, style and house, she must discover who she really is.

Unique plot element: Partial memory loss and the feeling that you’re living someone else’s life

Read it if: You think that a career can’t buy you happiness.

Don’t read it if: You’re offended by cheating.

What I think: Remember Me? was mostly entertaining because I really wanted to know what had happened to her in the time she had lost. I did enjoy the twisting turning tale that Kinsella sent her on. I didn’t really connect to the main characters, but that might be because she had a hard time connecting them to herself.

Rating: 3 out of 5 shopping bags

Can You Keep a Secret?

Basic premise: Because Emma Corrigan fears that she is about to die, she confesses some of her most embarrassing secrets to a stranger on a flight. The next day, she turns up at the office to learn that the man was no stranger; he was her new boss! Like a mirror to her face, she must confront her lifestyle of lying and learn from the hilarious experience.

Unique plot element: A world where your boss really knows who you are

Read it if: You do not mind laughing aloud! Seriously, I got stopped by a woman at the hair salon because I was laughing so hard. She wanted to know what I was reading so that she could buy it because I was clearly enjoying it so much.

Don’t read it if: You’re a joy kill? You only like serious books? I am honestly at a loss.

What I think: If you couldn’t tell, I loved this book! When friends ask for recommendations, I almost always suggest Can You Keep a Secret?. I honestly can’t think of a reason a man or woman wouldn’t enjoy this lark of a novel. It is Kinsella’s best comedic work.

Rating: 5 out of 5 shopping bags

Shopaholic Takes Manhattan

Basic premise: Reformed shopaholic Becky Bloomwood moves to Manhattan with her boyfriend Luke. Giving up her profitable career, Becky reverts to her old ways. She must find the perfect career for herself in order to set her life back in order, both personally and financially.

Unique plot element: Shopping in a fashion mecca

Read it if: You like fashion and designers. You yourself love to shop.

Don’t read it if: You do not like to see your favorite heroines revert. You do not care for frivolous spending.

What I think: This book was my favorite of the Shopaholic series. Becky’s struggles seem honest, if silly. More importantly, the way in which she sets her world aright seem completely attainable, unlike the original Shopaholic book. You will enjoy this bok!

Rating: 5 out of 5 shopping bags

Shopaholic Ties the Knot

Basic premise: Twice reformed shopaholic Becky Bloomwood gets engaged to her handsome boyfriend Luke. She finds herself in a pickle trying to plan her wedding in two places.

Unique plot element: Wedding drama and an evil MOG

Read it if: You like all things wedding.

Don’t read it if: You don’t think that weddings should be extravagant.

What I think: I thoroughly enjoyed this book because I love weddings. However, it lacked a bit of believability because the major drama should have been solved by a stronger more even handed Becky. She keeps reverting to her old ways!

Rating: 4 out of 5 shopping bags

Shopaholic and Sister

Basic premise: Becky Brandon (now married to Luke) returns from their extravagant ten month long honeymoon where money was no object, and she participated in a bit of secret spending. She has to come to terms with her new life with Luke. On top of it all, she finds out that she has a long-lost sister.

Unique plot element: Long-lost sister who is nothing like her

Read it if: You love decorating. You really like Becky Bloomwood Brandon and don’t mind seeing her regress.

Don’t read it if: You’re getting tired of Mrs. Brandon’s antics. They will wear thin by this point in the series if you’re not careful.

What I think: I wish I had stopped with Shopaholic Ties the Knot, but I really was enjoying Luke Brandon’s yummy nature. Unfortunately, he isn’t the focal point of the novel, and he has every right to be pissed that Becky wastes her money. Skip this book unless you just really have to know how it all turns out for the Brandons.

Rating: 2 out of 5 shopping bags

Shopaholic and Baby

I haven’t read this one because I was too tired of Becky Bloomwood, and my Shopaholic source—my mom—lost it. I didn’t feel like it was worth my effort after Shopaholic and Sister to go to the library to acquire the final book.