All Things Potter

You might be a Harry Potter fanatic if:

  1. You mutter Alohamora as you turn a key.
  2. You think Lumos as you flick a light switch.
  3. Your Harry Potter collection will never get swapped or donated to a Little Free Library.
  4. You get irritated when the family wants supper because you don’t want to stop reading.
  5. You’re nervous leaving the house without a wand. After all, there’s a war on!
  6. You find yourself quoting Albus Dumbledore at the strangest times. “Nitwit. Oddment. Blubber. Tweak.”
  7. You watch the movie The Patriot and wonder when Lucius Malfoy dyed his hair black.
  8. You go to cash a check and wonder why no one else notices that the goblins have the day off at the bank.
  9. You try to find 4 Privet Drive and 12 Grimmauld Place on Mapquest.
  10. The waiter looks at you strangely when you order “elf-made wine”.

It’s bitter cold outside – below zero wind chills, day after day. I might as well stay indoors, curl up in a blanket, and watch the Harry Potter marathon on FreeForm. It’s fascinating to look over  the details – the foreshadowing, the creation of this amazing parallel world, J.K. Rowling’s craft as a writer. So despite the cold, I’ll stay warm and cozy. As my idol Albus Dumbledore once said, “…now, let us step out into the night and pursue that flighty temptress, adventure.”

This is an encore from a summer day several years ago as Amigo and I read the final book in the series: The Deathly Hallows. It is truly fascinating to reread and rewatch the Harry Potter series. I still wonder if I’m more like Professor MacGonagall or Professor Sprout. 

Remedies for the Holiday Doldrums

Sights seen on a short shopping trip:

  • A Toys for Tots box filled to overflowing
  • A Brownie Girl Scout troop manning the Salvation Army bells and bucket
  • Happy cashiers – well, at least one was smiling and pleasant.

It wasn’t much, but these short encounters made slogging through the difficult shopping day a bit more tolerable, if not quite pleasant. Now that the gift exchanges are over and the packages (wrapped or not) have been opened, life can settle a little. While the build-up to Christmas itself has its stresses, a few pleasant sights can help keep the season in perspective.

 

 

Feeling Fortunate

Chuck likes to say, “Good intentions ain’t worth squat.” I have to agree, even when my good intentions are the ones fading off into the distance.

I intended to get out of the house and walk every day during winter break. Mother Nature had other ideas. We are in the midst of below zero temperatures plus wind chill, making outdoor activity unlikely to say the least. Brrrr.

I also intended to spend some quality time with La Petite shopping in the post-Christmas sales. Instead, we’re huddling under new blankets (gifts) and sipping coffee and leftover mulled apple cider.

Instead of grumbling over lost goals (the afore-mentioned intentions), I’m feeling lucky. I have a home, blankets, coffee, and more. I’m warm and cozy. Missing the chances to go outside and spend money? No problem. Staying home in this case is a good thing, intentional or not.

Teaching Today and Me

Once in a while, the PR arm of our charter school calls on me to help publicize the school by writing a little something. This time around, it was all about keeping the learning going over winter break.

I feel strongly that breaks serve a purpose in schooling. Students, parent-learning coaches, teachers – all of us need a mental and physical break now and then. However, curious minds can keep on searching for new information and fascinating ideas.

So anyway, readers, family, friends, and internet acquaintances, here you have it: Daisy’s take on learning in winter. It starts, of course, with a literature reference. Enjoy!

Copy and Paste is all too easy.

Plagiarism. Copying. Stealing someone else’s words. Plagiarism is getting worse and worse. Last year felt like the worst year ever for honor code violations. Now, it’s starting up again.

One reason plagiarism drives me buggy is the pure dishonesty of the students passing off someone else’s work as their own.

Another reason plagiarism drives me into a minor tantrum is the sheer amount of my time that gets wasted every time I see it happen.

First, I check the report from the plagiarism checker (Think Turn It In dot com). For students who followed directions and submitted their papers before turning them in to me, it’s easy. I click on the report link and check to see that their work is reasonably original. Those who don’t follow directions lose a point in their grade, and I still check their work.

But back to the wasted time. I spent an hour and a half yesterday afternoon dealing with one case of copy/paste plagiarism. The student had copied verbatim answers to two test questions. The answers had words like “pathos” and phrases that no ordinary or even extraordinary sixth grader would use. I submitted the work to the plagiarism checker. I verified that the answers were stolen from an Internet source. I called the parent. I talked to the parent. I emailed the parent and student a copy of the checker’s report – 97.35% copied. Ugly. Pure ugly.

Then I logged in to teach a class. During that class, the parent called me and left a voice mail. After I’d finished class, logged attendance, and finished the rest of the tasks involved in a virtual class, I called her back. No answer. No voice mail. That meant more time wasted logging the attempt to call, emailing the parent and asking “Is this phone number current?”

I found out she’d called the principal. Principal was out at the time, so parent didn’t make contact. However, just knowing she’d thrown a fit (according to secretary) meant I had to spend MORE TIME doing unnecessary CYA research. I found the original source web site for each of the student’s copied answers, documented both with screen shots and URLs, and sent my evidence to both the principal and the dean of students.

And then the virtual bell “rang” and I headed home, knowing that I would have to catch up on 90 minutes of other responsibilities the next day in addition to tying up the loose ends of this young person’s attempt to better a test grade through cheating.

And that’s the main roadblock. It’s too easy, so easy to copy and paste and call it “done” that too many students don’t realize it’s wrong. I can teach the honor code and review how the importance of the plagiarism and some kids won’t get it until they have to redo and assignment and face the warning that the next time, the consequence will be more serious.

To make a long story short, the family had calmed down by the time we talked the next morning. The whole thing left me drained and frustrated and behind on my work, something that’s happening all too often.

Frankly, plagiarism stinks.

Sounds of Christmas

Actual workplace conversations:

I was playing Philly Brass Christmas between 8:00 and 8:30.

Email from a teacher across the room: “Turn up the music!”

My reply: “But they’re playing Silent Night!”

I did adjust the volume. She was laughing out loud.

Later, during a department meeting:

Me to new teacher: “If the music is too loud for you, let me know. I’ll turn it down.”

Him: “I want you to turn it up!”

So anyway, no complaints here. Falalalala.

 

And So It Goes.

It’s one of those days – one of those days when I wonder why I keep saying yes instead of no, one of those days when I’m really not sure if I am caught up or can get caught up at home or at work, just one of those days.

Meanwhile, I plug away.

Laundry. Why does Mount Washmore look taller than usual? Oh, yeah, I dug out another pair of jeans for myself and picked up three or four items at a thrift store. It’s Sunday, too. I normally get the clothes washed on Saturday. One day, amazingly enough, makes a difference.

Linens and things. I finally folded the tablecloths and napkins from Thanksgiving and stored them with the big roasting pan and the gravy boat. I use these once a year. If they took up more space, I’d toss them on the rummage sale pile and sell them. As it is, the gravy boat, tablecloths, and the matching napkins all fit inside the roasting pan. Perfect.

Rummage sale! I have all the curtains we took down before putting new windows in the great room. I washed them, but they still need to be measured. These are worth buying, if the right buyer comes along, and the right buyer will want to know the sizes. I have all the curtain rods, too. More to measure, more to sell.

I was asked to write an article for Teaching Today, a state publication. I said yes. I could have said no, sorry, please ask me again when my workload is lighter. I could have even asked for pay – but asking is harder than it seems. I have a skill: writing coherently. When I use this skill, I make my employer look good. I enjoy the process and the results; but working for free feels, well, cheap. Readers, I’ll link to the article when it’s up and running. I’ll consider the feedback to be my reward.

The last time-taker lies on my own shoulders. Once again I’m applying to be a teacher curriculum reviewer for the national level of my school organization. I’m investing in this time because 1, I believe I can do the job well; 2, it looks good in my files when I’m up for observation; 3, this position actually pays.

In conclusion, I can get caught up on the laundry and set aside the rummage sale items for spring. I wrote a draft of the article on Friday between classes. It needs revisions and tweaks; it’s kind of boring in it’s first incarnation. Maybe I can make reference to a children’s book or a seasonal song in each paragraph to keep the readers’ attention. Yes, that could work.

Oh, no, I forgot something: holiday shopping! Aaargh! I might never get caught up!

Readers, what’s on your minds? How are you keeping up?

 

Cider Press is a Hit

We’ve learned quite a bit about making our own apple cider in the past few months.

No matter how much we make, it won’t last long.

I looked into recipes and processes for making hard cider. I considered other “flavors” such as cherry and rhubarb infused cider. Hahaha! Fresh apple cider is incredibly delicious. Chuck and Amigo drink it in place of orange juice at breakfast. I heat some up after school instead of an instant cappuccino. We froze a few containers, only to thaw them a few days later.

Nothing is better than fresh apple cider.

See above.

Pasteurizing apple cider on a plain old fashioned kitchen stove is easier than you might think.

Details: I did a lot of surfing on sites like the USDA and the CDC to find information about home pasteurizing for cider. The results were consistent: heat to 160 degrees Fahrenheit, and maintain that temperature for 6 seconds. 6 seconds? Is that all? I maintained it for a full minute, just because.

There are more people making their own cider than I thought!

Amigo offered up some of our homemade apple cider for a barbershop chorus celebration, and several of the guys in the chorus let me know that they, too, press their own cider. One or two talked about antique cider presses. Another talked apple varieties; we like ours a little more tart, so Macs are the main apple. That, and the tree outside my office that I pick for free, keep the recipe pretty straightforward. A few buckets of Macintosh apples and a few pounds of something else will make a tasty mix.

Sweetener? Unnecessary.

I found this out by accident when I bottled a batch of cider and then realized I hadn’t added any sugar. Any. Sugar. At. All. And – it was delicious. Maybe it was the Honey Crisps, or maybe I’m just getting used to having my apple flavor straight, no chaser.

Next year, I’ll be more aggressive in foraging for apples earlier and oftener. Er, more often. I learned that orchards keep boxes or buckets of “seconds” or “imperfect” fruit, and that fruit is still delicious. If I can make friends with a few people who have apple trees and don’t pick them – don’t laugh, it could happen, just like the tree outside my office building – I can procure enough for a large batch of cider.

And then there are pears. I know at least three people with pear trees, all of whom seem to have excess pears come September. Pear cider – why not?

Post- Thanksgiving News and Views

Ah, Thanksgiving. In the absence of the fairies, we split the responsibilities and managed to put on a good spread ourselves. We learned a few things in the process, too.

Our kitchen needs more counter space. It’s a little like the commercial with the guy realizing he has enough food for his guests, but doesn’t have enough room in his refrigerator. I thought I was brilliant in the way I plugged in an outlet strip and connected the crock pots to it. There they were, spread out on the kitchen counter, heating the mashed potatoes, curried squash soup, two kinds of stuffing, and mulled apple cider. Then we took the turkey out of the oven and realized there was no room to carve it. Chuck ended up setting a large cutting board across two burners (turned off, of course) on the stove and carefully carving the bird there.

La Petite’s stuffing and mashed potato recipes were delicious. She even made small quantities of plain potatoes and stuffing for those family members known for their preferences toward the traditional versions.

When you’re seven years old, drinking mulled cider from a wine glass is really cool.

A traditional holiday is often a good time to create new traditions. We served the holiday dinner on Friday for suppertime instead of on the calendar’s Thursday. It meant more relaxing travel for those on the road, more sleep time for the late-shift person in the family, and all in all simply worked better. We’ll be open to moving Thanksgiving off the Thursday in the future if needed.

On the same note, my birthday and my sister-in-law’s birthday land near Thanksgiving every year. Chuck’s birthday and La Petite’s are in mid-December, just a few days after our niece’s (she of the apple cider wine glass). We were universally not ready with gifts wrapped, but we exchanged presents anyway. After we were all done, the laughter had died, but the smiles remained, we decided that maybe this No Wrapping was a good idea.

There’s a lot for which to be thankful this time around.  Chuck no longer has to fear getting sent off with the satellite truck. When our Packers played on Thanksgiving, that was a very real possibility. Chuck left the television industry about a year ago, and it was a good move. We were all (relatively) healthy. Everyone traveled safely. Most of all, we enjoyed spending time together.

And that, my friends, is the best tradition of all.