Posted in London Life, Teaching, Uncategorized

Shoes on the Danube

It’s hard to know how to act in the aftermath of Charlottesville, but I’ve done a few things, including writing to the city council in my hometown to ask them to rename one of our elementary schools (it’s named after O. M. Roberts, a former Texas governor who led the state’s secession movement and supported slavery).

Today I’m in Budapest and I visited Shoes on the Danube. We remember: I remember the history of the Holocaust, I remember the history of slavery, I remember the history of racial injustice in America as well as our current racist system(s). I will teach this history as accurately as I can to my students and my own children. I can do that much at least.

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Posted in Cooking, Family Life, London Life, Uncategorized

Rhubarb, Blue-barb

It turns out gardening in England is much easier than gardening in Texas. In Austin, I planted a small rhubarb plant and promptly watched it shrivel up and die, despite watering it daily. Here in London, it’s about to sprout legs and walk around! My eldest little calls it “blue-barb” and we were planning to combine the lovely stalks with homegrown strawberries, but the boys keep eating those straight off of the vine:

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Anyway, I’m planning to harvest the first batch of blue-barb tomorrow, so naturally I spent a good chunk of today looking for tasty new recipes on Pinterest. Here’s what I unearthed (check out that pun):

  1. First up will be these rhubarb bars. I love lemon bars and rhubarb’s tartness should make a great change–in fact, I wonder if I could whip up a tart au rhubarbe…check out the finished product and review here.

2. Then I might make this old-fashioned rhubarb pudding cake, just to see if it actually works (magic pudding cakes are so much fun, although I find they don’t keep well).

3. Finally, to stick with the theme from my last post, here’s a vegan raspberry rhubarb crisp that uses nuts for extra flavour and crunch. (I haven’t made it yet but based on experience of cooking rhubarb, I’d double the sugar.)

And while I didn’t grow much in Texas, I did grow these carrots–I think it’s time to update the phrase “two peas in a pod”:

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Posted in Austin, Texas, Cooking, Family Life, Uncategorized

(Wo)man in the Mirror

After Trump’s decision to leave the Paris accord, chatter has increased about what individuals, cities, states, and companies can do to abide by our pledges. This article from Forbes has a clear list of ways all of us can help. I already do a bunch of these things: the majority of my wardrobe is secondhand from charity shops (I love Savers in Austin, TX–can’t wait to go there whenever we visit next!), we have a car but only use it a few times a week as we prefer walking and public transportation, and we buy as much organic, local food as we can afford (hello, weekly farm box delivery).

But I still think there’s more we can do. In particular, I’m going to renew my focus on eating vegetarian and vegan meals at least 2 days/week (or six meals in total). My husband and I were both vegetarians for a long time before we met, and while we do eat meat now, we work hard to minimize the amount of animal products we eat while also paying attention to what we replace them with (e.g. more fruits and veg, rather than highly processed substitutes).

Cooking from scratch takes time and energy (and usually adds to the workload of women/moms), so when I find pretty easy recipes that are also vegan/vegetarian and yummy, I hang on to them for dear life. While I like cookbooks, I actually prefer recipes from bloggers because I find them easier to replicate in my own kitchen. Here are three of our favorite vegan (or easily made vegan) recipes from other bloggers:

Sweet Potato Taquitos: This recipe is our newest addition and my current favorite! I use a blend of sweet potato and butternut squash, but you don’t have to. I find them easy to make AND super easy to freeze, so I always double or triple this recipe and save the extra. We eat them with guacamole, black beans, and rice.

Slow Cooker Morrocan Eggplant: Super easy to make, and while you do have to hunt down the spice blend depending on where you live (in the US, I’ve found it at HEB, Central Market, and Whole Foods; in the UK, our local Sainsbury’s and Ocado both carry it), it lasts for ages. We like it with couscous.

White Girl Dahl: Easy and so, so delicious. This one is my husband’s fave out of the three. Pick any butter substitute (we just used veg oil) for the start of the recipe and skip the added butter at the end to make it vegan. We had smoked paprika roasted cauliflower on the side (chop up a head of cauliflower, toss in a couple tablespoons of oil with plenty of smoked paprika, salt and pepper to taste, roast for about 20-25 min) and naan.

So there you have it: three ways to be a climate activist. New recipes welcome in the comments section!

Posted in London Life, Uncategorized

Translating Brit Speak: A Rough Guide for Americans

Confession: Despite the title of this blog, I never say “cheerio” – and neither does anyone else. It’s an outdated expression, but there are plenty of other British words and phrases I had to master when I first arrived in the UK. Here are a few, in case you find yourself struggling to grasp the locals when conversing:

To wind someone up – tease, annoy, or play a prank on; “Are you winding me up?” or “Your dad really winds you up, doesn’t he?”

To go pear-shaped – when something goes wrong; “It all went pear-shaped after I burnt the roast.”

To have the hump – be annoyed or irritated with someone: “Have you got the hump with me?” translates to “Are you angry/annoyed with me?”

Can’t be arsed – can’t be bothered, not worth the effort: “I’d like a cup of tea, but I can’t be arsed to make it myself.” Funny story with this one: when I first heard it, I was told the phrase was “I can’t be asked” (which some people do say). For months I used it in lessons with students until someone told me it was actually “can’t be arsed (or, in American, assed as in get off your ass). Apparently with my accent and speedy speech, students thought I’d been swearing in class on a regular basis. Whoops!

Bog standard – normal, unremarkable: “Yeah, the food there is bog standard.” or “I just need a bog standard car, nothing flashy.”

Take the piss – another way of saying make fun of, often by being facetious or appearing to be serious when you’re joking: “Don’t get upset, I’m only taking the piss.” Note: some people say “taking the mick/mickey” but this has anti-Irish connotations, so as a foreigner (am I still a foreigner if I’m married to/the mother of citizens? Hmm…) I avoid it. Also, don’t confuse this phrase with…

To get pissed – to get drunk. “You’re completely pissed” means “You’re very drunk”, not “You’re very angry.”

Come a cropper – fail badly: “The government’s policy on school funding is going to come a cropper in the next election.” One can only hope…

Throw a wobbly – have a fit or tantrum: “Mum’s going to throw a wobbly when she sees this mess!”

Pop to the shops (or anywhere else) – quickly go somewhere: “I’m just going to pop to the shops for some milk. Do you need anything?”

Curry – a general word used to mean all Indian food, NOT just dishes that actually involve the spice we call curry!! “Let’s get a curry tonight” means “Let’s order an Indian takeaway/eat at an Indian restaurant.” Top tip: don’t order anything on the menu that actually involves the spice we call curry. It’s not nice. Chicken tikka masala is a safe bet, or some kind of dahl (lentils) or jalfrezi (spicy but so yummy). I also highly recommend poppadoms and dips.

Dinner/supper/tea: Some folks call lunch, or the midday meal, “dinner”; these same folks probably call their evening meal “tea” or say “it’s teatime soon.” I’m told this is generally a working class phrase. Other (posher) folks call lunch “lunch” and “tea” means tea like with the queen, served in the late afternoon/early evening. These same folks call their evening meal “supper”, and dinner is nowhere to be heard.

The school run: dropping your kids off at school and picking them up again: “I’ve got to do the school run at 3, but I’ll be home after that.”

Holidays – any time off, not just Christmas/Hanukkah, usually involving travel: “Have fun on your holidays! Where are you going again?” or “It’s school holidays soon. Shall we meet up then?”

Bank holidays – public holidays that many/most people have off; some shops etc. are likely to be open but with more limited hours: “It’s a bank holiday this Monday. Should we have a barbeque [aka cookout] if the weather’s nice?”

Term time – when school is in session; most schools have three terms called autumn, spring and summer (they like to pretend winter doesn’t exist): “It’s hard for me to meet up during term time since I have to manage the school run on top of everything else, but I’m free over the holidays.”

Half-term – a break in the middle of a term, usually one week in state schools but sometimes longer in private schools: “I can’t wait for half-term – it feels like ages since the winter holidays!”

And that’s all I’ve got for now. Please feel free to correct me in the comments, since I’m definitely not a native speaker!

Posted in Book Reviews, Picture Books, Uncategorized

Talking to Children About Race

Reposted from http://www.atxenglish.com

Last week when we were driving home from preschool, my not-quite-four-year-old son started talking about skin color. We’d been here before – he sometimes described people and mentioned the color of their skin along with the color of their hair or their shoes – but this time it was different. He referred to himself as light-skinned, and to other children as dark-skinned; when I asked him what color his skin was, instead of answering “pink”, he said he was white. What’s more, he seemed set on the idea that being white or “light-skinned” (his words) was preferable to being “dark-skinned”. He even seemed to think that the color of your skin revealed your inner goodness.

I’d known this day would come at some point, but it still surprised me. My pulse quickened as I listened to him talk, and it wasn’t just the triple digit temperature outside that made me sweat. Deep in my bones, I felt the significance of this moment; I felt the need to “get it right” as a mom and help my son, a white male who will carry with him almost every privilege in life, understand both that people are just people and also that race is a source of discrimination in our city/state/country/world. In the back of my mind, I wondered if he was even ready to grasp these concepts – but since he’d started the conversation, I figured it was time to address the topic. If I accomplished nothing else, I at least needed to create a comfortable space for him to talk about and explore racial identity.

So I kept my voice even and my eyes on the road. I told him that there are many different skin colors, but underneath, people all had the same bones, muscles, and blood. (He’s very interested in bones right now, so that helped!) I reminded him that we have lots of friends who are good people, regardless of whether they’re white or black or brown. I told him that it was important not to judge people based on the color of their skin. I prayed that what I was saying would sink in, and that I would figure out a way to explain to him the nature of racism and some of the awful consequences of discrimination.

That evening, as the news filled with horrific examples of violence fueled by racism, I thought back to a book I’d read in college for a children’s literature class. The next morning, I stopped by our local library to pick up a copy. When my son came home from preschool later that day, I pulled him onto my lap and we read the story together.

We read all about Grace, a black girl who loves stories and acting. She wants to be Peter Pan in the school play, but one friend tells her she can’t play that part because she’s a girl. Another says she can’t play that part because she’s black. When Grace gets home, she is sad and hurt by her classmates’ comments. Her grandmother has a solution, though: they go to see a ballet, and the lead ballerina is black – just like Grace. Grace returns to school full of pride: she masters the audition and brings down the house with her performance. Her classmates realize they were wrong. We read it twice that night, and he requests it at bedtime regularly.

I know not all stories about race and discrimination end so well; in fact, I know perfectly well that they quite often end in the worst possible way. One day when he’s older, he’ll learn about Emmett Till and the Children’s Crusade in 1963 and the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing (unless that’s all been erased from the textbooks by then). One day he’ll learn about the stories playing out in the news right now. But for the time being, we’re making space: space for discussing race, space for the language of race and discrimination, space for our thoughts and feelings, space for stories.

I’m proud that the books lining his shelves reflect many facets of our society, and I took the time to check his baby brother’s board books to make sure people of color are represented in his little library, too. I figure it’s never too early to be inclusive; the sooner “otherness” becomes normal, the easier it will be for my sons to value all people and recognize their own privileges as they grow. Reading stories together will help them develop a vocabulary for a highly sensitive and tense topic; the characters will offer us a way to look at lives that differ from our own and ask big questions. I’m not going to have all the answers, but maybe – just maybe – by working to raise thoughtful, engaged citizens, I’ll contribute in some small way to the long-term solution to our country’s deep racial divide.

Book recommendations: Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman and The Swing by Robert Louis Stevenson (illustrated by Julie Morstad)

Posted in Literacy Support, Teaching, Uncategorized

Encouraging Summer Writing: 6 Tips for Parents

Reposted from http://www.atxenglish.com

Why is it that we hear so much about summer reading, but next to nothing about summer writing? Research consistently shows that the act of writing is a complex and critical process, and just like reading, children need to practice this process regularly even when school isn’t in session. Don’t panic, though – no one needs to write a five-paragraph essay before heading to the pool! Check out my six tips for helping your kids engage with writing this summer.

#1: Let the criticism flow. Going on vacation this summer? Planning to see a box office hit? Take advantage of your teen’s naturally critical perspective and encourage him/her to write a review on TripAdvisor, Yelp, Amazon, or Rotten Tomatoes. This type of writing feels particularly distant from homework because of its authenticity – people actually read reviews on these sights (and often comment on or rank them), so it feels less like busy work and more like real life.

#2: Old-fashioned pen pals. If your kids are separated from their friends this summer (or maybe if they made a new friend while at camp), encourage them to send their pals more than text messages. Let them pick out some interesting paper or buy a handful of tacky postcards and scribble a few thoughts to send via snail mail. Most people love the surprise of getting a personal and tactile note, and you might even be lucky enough to get a response. Alternative ideas: while you’re traveling, everyone can capture a memory (good or bad!) on a postcard and send it to your home address to read and remember once you return, or show kindness to an elderly relative by writing short, regular letters over the course of the summer.

#3: Journals. I’ve kept a journal sporadically since I was about 8 years old – it’s great way to encourage self-reflection, manage emotions, and (of course) practice writing. By all means, buy a blank book and have at it! (Pinterest is full of creative journal prompts if the blank page feels intimidating.) If you think your child needs more structure, though, there are all kinds of exciting journals out there for every age. Here are a few titles to explore:

  • Finish This Book (Keri Smith): This journal is perfect for your spy-in-training. It creates a mysterious scenario in which children have to complete an abandoned manuscript and go on local mini-adventures to gather the details they need. Keri Smith’s journals are popular with kids from upper elementary school through adulthood.
  • Sark’s Journal and Play Book: Sark is known for her creative way with words and images, and this journal will encourage others to blend writing and drawing (painting, coloring, etc.) as they engage in personal reflection. Better for teens and up, I’d say.
  • Q&A a Day for Kids: This journal offers short, daily prompts for kids. Each day has three small blank spaces so children can revisit the prompt annually and add to it (while also reflecting on past responses). Examples: “I wish I had more _____.” and “How do you feel about babysitters?”. Great for ages 8-12/13. (There are a bunch of versions of this journal, including one for mothers that’s a super-sweet alternative to a traditional memory book.)
  • 642 Things to Write About, Young Writer’s Edition: From the wacky to the mundane, this journal has it all. This is a versatile choice, with topics ranging from “Write about a human who has turned into a dolphin” to “Invent a new handshake and write instructions for how to do it, who can use it, and when it is used.”

#4: Get political. Even if your children are too young to vote, they can still share their opinions! If there’s a topic that’s near and dear to your child’s heart, he can compose an email to the appropriate official (city councilor, state representative, president). Letters to the editor (even via email) are also a great way to encourage your children to be active citizens. And how cool will it be if she gets a response or sees her words in print?

#5: Write your own (picture) book. This task is great for older siblings or children who might spend time with younger cousins on family vacations this summer. Encourage your child to read a few picture books (or check out a few at the library) and notice common features, such as rhyme or alliteration. Then let them create and illustrate their own story to share with little ones at a special storytime. If it’s a real hit, you can even scan the artwork and make a bound copy using Shutterfly or another photo book service.

#6: Writing to win. Bigger allowance, later curfew, fewer chores: turn your teen’s nagging into a writing opportunity by asking him to write a persuasive letter outlining his reasons. If it’s compelling enough, they might actually get what they want! As an added bonus, this tactic can reduce some of the emotional drama that often accompanies negotiating with older children.

Posted in Uncategorized

Finally, a busy day!

Work started at 7:45 this morning and now at 9pm it’s still going. The electricians, plumbers, landscapers and carpenters have all been on site today and it’s looking good! More work tomorrow and then floors on Mon/Tues – possibly moving into the new space on Wed??!

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