Sunday, May 31, 2009

Education


I've been thinking a lot about education lately.  I mean A LOT.  After a recent seminar, Betty's Brain Blender has been on High Speed Frappe thinking of ideas I can use in my classroom next semester.  

I am one lucky gal. I love what I do and I get to be creative in my classroom while teaching people real, valuable skills they will use throughout their lives. 

This past semester one of my students told me I was the "real deal" when it came to being a teacher and one student wrote on my evaluation that I was "Bad-Ass."  (I consider this the highest compliment.)  My goal is to get better and better as a teacher every semester, so I am constantly thinking about what I can do to improve.

Naturally, I've been influenced by past teachers I've had.  Oh there were a few who merely went through the motion of teaching; I could tell they were just marking time.  However, those others, the ones who convinced me that I could do whatever I put my mind to, who provided opportunities for me to gain confidence, these were the people made an incredible impression on me.  

Can you name your first six teachers?  Chances are you can.  

I've been thinking about mine lately and reflecting on the time I spent in their classrooms.  I realize now I learned a lot about teaching from these people, both good and bad.  Over the next few days I'll be revisiting those small classrooms and those teachers.  

The school bus will come bright and early in the morning, so get a good night's rest and lay out your clothes.  

See you then!

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Right on Schedule

Hyperactive parents that we were, we were more than ready for Evan to take to the wilds of academics and be the little Super Star in school we knew he could be. After all, hadn't we filled his crib with educational toys? Didn't we have hundreds of books scattered around the house like wild flower seeds? The boy couldn't even go to the bathroom without encountering some author or another staring at him from the rack of books beside the toilet. Meal times were not just times to eat. They were times to learn! learn! learn! with place mats featuring State Flags and a Map of the World Flags. The lettering at the top of these place mats commanded our children to "Eat and Learn!"

Sonny Boy, who had always had a healthy fear of authority figures, jumped into school, did the work, no questions asked. Evan, however, viewed his teachers as impediments to recess. When his soft-spoken second grade teacher said softly and mournfully, "Evan, it makes me sad when you don't do your work," he viewed her as having some sort of mental problem that made her even more unsuitable for the classroom. "Why should that make her sad, Mom? Don't you think that's really weird?"

So in third grade we were more than ready for the ignition switch to be flipped on. Regular readers of Bossy Betty will recall that at a parent-teacher conference a year earlier, the teacher had been excited to tell us of Evan's progress in the class in the form of this high praise: "He doesn't fall out of his chair as much any more."

So third grade started off with more frenzied excitement (by HOB and I) at any progress being made. He was doing fine in his class, but I hung out with high-performance mothers whose high-performance children were building models of the Eiffel Tower out of toothpicks in their spare time and preparing to be "Gated." GATE (Gifted and Talented) was the program in our school to which selected children were admitted and so all of these mothers liked to use "Gated" as a verb in their conversations as much as possible. "When Eric gets Gated this year...." "You know, we've promised her a new computer when she gets Gated. Of course, she'll probably build her own before she gets Gated." (Readers: Stop here to make retching sound of vomiting.) Obnoxious? Oh yes. Bossy Betty jealous? Oh no. Not at all.

One fine afternoon it happened: Evan came home and immediately opened his backpack. He withdrew a brightly colored xeroxed paper and began working intensively. Now, I had read the "Parenting a Brilliant Child" books and one thing the books recommended was to not to interfere in moments like this. When the child takes ownership of the work, the child is encouraged to do more of the same, leading to a Nobel Prize in Science in the future.

I watched from afar as he worked with different colored markers. His concentration level on this project was intense. He worked on this opus, this masterpiece for ten or so minutes. I stood back, knowing this was the pivotal shift we had been waiting for but still curious. Was it math that had sparked this new found fervor? Was it a love of science? Was it (ohpleaseohpleaseohpleaseohpleasepleaseplease) a love of reading?

Finally, he stood back, finished, drained, but very, very pleased. I stepped forward as he unveiled his work to me.

He had annotated, decorated, and edited

the lunch schedule for the next month.

There were clouds over Fish Sticks day. Sloppy Joe day had been crossed out and the words "Boo! Boo!" written above it. Pizza Day glowed with yellow sunshine and happy faces.

I looked at this boy of mine at the table--a happy, proud and exuberant little soul--and knew I would not change one single thing about him. He was (and remains) a singularly unique and wonderful person. Gifted and Talented? You bet. In so many ways.

"Well, I said, hugging him, "I am so proud of you! Let's just put this right on the refrigerator where we can look at it every day."

And we did.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Home, Home on the Range/Oven


AH, the Sunflower--the state flower of Kansas.  It's a happy, cheery flower and what other state flower has actually nuts growing out of the center.  Huh?  Huh?  

I found this recipe in my collection recently.  I cut it out of the newspaper over twenty years ago, but had never made these cookies until recently.  This is my cousin's recipe.  

Just like good Kansas folk, the personality of these cookies doesn't reach out and grab you with sweet, showy pizazz, but, once you try them, you'll be back for more of their unusual texture and solid goodness.  You'll want to sit down on your front porch and and just chew on these sweet things, letting your mind drift off as you stare at the clouds, thinking about what route you'll take to the lake to see the sunset this evening.



Kansas Sunflower Seed Cookies
                            from Jo Turner

1 cup butter (I use Earth Balance)
1 1/4 brown sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons almond extract
1 1/3 cups unbleached white flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
3 cups oats
3/4 cup sunflower seed
1/2 wheat germ

Cream butter and sugar.  Beat in eggs and almond extract.  Sift together flour, salt and soda, stir into creamed mixture.  Fold in oats, sunflower seeds and wheat germ.

Place teaspoon of butter 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheet.  Bake at 375 degrees for 10-12 minutes.

Enjoy!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Poetry Tuesday (on Wednesday): "Hope"



Hope
         -- Lisel Mueller

It hovers in dark corners
before the lights are turned on,
it shakes sleep from its eyes
and drops from mushroom gills,
it explodes in the starry heads
of dandelions turned sages,
it sticks to the wings of green angels
that sail from the tops of maples.

It sprouts in each occluded eye
of the many-eyed potato,
it lives in each earthworm segment
surviving cruelty,
it is the motion that runs the tail of a dog,
it is the mouth that inflates the lungs
of the child that has just been born.

It is the singular gift
we cannot destroy in ourselves,
the argument that refutes death,
the genius that invents the future,
all we know of God.

It is the serum which makes us swear
not to betray one another;
it is in this poem, trying to speak.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

For Ice Cream


My apologies to all those Poetry Tuesday fans, but I think you can see we've got a theme going on here and for peace of mind we really need to finish up here.

All this talk about ice cream made me hungry for some, so I found this quick and easy recipe, whipped it up and made it in my automatic ice cream maker.  (This thing sounds a little like a rock tumbler, so I put it in another room and shut the door,  just so it doesn't set my nerves on edge, though the ice cream afterwards does soothe them.)

2 quarts half and half
1/2 pint heavy cream
1 1/2 C white sugar
4 teaspoon vanilla extract 
1 pinch salt

(This made twice what I needed for one batch.)

Go crazy adding your own flavorings!

I know this is not the traditional, cooking-method kind of ice cream, but it's really easy and really fast.  (It's also REALLY unhealthy, so make sure you follow up with your choice of Grain of the Month to clear out the fat and cholesterol.)

Hope you have Happy Tuesdays!

-Betty

Monday, May 25, 2009

We All Scream



The best part about being in band in high school (besides the flash and panache of the uniforms) was the one day we all got out of all classes and got to make ice cream out back of the school's kitchen.  The end product would be for our ice cream social that we held on the blacktop of the school. 

The original ingredients for the ice cream came from sources that would make the health department turn red. We all brought the cream in from our farms, neighbors, etc.  Everyone contributed sugar and fruit, bringing in various quantities in assorted containers.  We brought in ice cream freezers of every shape, size and condition.  There were massive sacks of rock salt and ice.  

A few parents helped out, but for the most part it was just the band kids mixing, dumping and churning.  Once in awhile one of the gargantuan lunch ladies who packed themselves into white uniforms would come out to scowl at us.  A few band members got to enter the normally-forbidden territory of the kitchen where overgrown silver mixers and stacks of obscenely large bowls were stacked up.  We stored the ice and finished ice cream in the gigantic freezer, always lingering there to stare at the rows of large, mysterious brown boxes from which our lunches were concocted.

I have such good memories of these days when we tore off the shackles of the regular schedule of classes and hung out together, a G-rated gang, in the back of the school, occasionally throwing ice at each other and imitating the lunch ladies when their backs were turned.  There was always the excitement of the rumor that someone had added liquor to at least one batch of ice cream.

In the afternoon we went home, cleaned up and then arrived back in the early evening to set up our chairs and music stands.  We got out the ice cream, arranged the tables and chairs and then gathered to play for the people of the town who came to the social.  We played hip tunes like the "Next to You" and "Cherish."  People clapped at the end of every song as though we were a polished concert orchestra instead of 23 high school kids struggling through these arrangements with too many woodwinds and not enough brass. 

I've frozen this moment in time, and like the ice cream we made, probably sweetened it just a bit too much, but this is the scene I keep in my mind:  The line of happy, talking moms dipping the ice cream, the fathers standing and talking, their hands in their pockets.  There are the old matrons of the town seated at the tables, clapping along with the songs.  Little kids run and chase each other, play on the swings and hit the tether ball while the music of the band rises up and catches a breeze that swirls to encircle everyone there. 

It was a time I was a part of it all, a place where, for the moment, I totally belonged.  




Sunday, May 24, 2009

You Scream

When you have young children, sometimes just going to a mall 20 or 30 miles away and hanging out for the day can be a thrill.  It's a short trip, and yet it's a change of scenery and mildly entertaining.  It just breaks the tedium of day-to-day living and, it doesn't hurt that it's cheap too.

We had all this on our minds when we made our way to the Pretty People's Mall over the hill to enjoy the day.  Evan was three and Sonny Boy was eight.  It was crowded at this outdoor mall, so we parked our unwashed Pathfinder way out on the edge of the parking lot and made our way to the stores.  

We call this the Pretty People's Mall because it is right in the middle of one of the most affluent areas in our county.  The parking lot was full of BMWs and Mercedes.  The people strolling about were all thin, athletic, had good hair and tight, pretty faces.  We tried to blend in as we went from store to store.  Our plan to wear out the children and enjoy ourselves at the same time was working.  We went to the giant bookstore, World Market, Bristol Farms, and Sur La Table, just to look around, not to do any serious shopping.  Finally, we settled in at an outdoor table to enjoy some ice cream.  

Evan was thrilled to have an entire smoothie to himself and placed it on the table between sips.  Hey, when you are three years old and you get a smoothie on a hot summer day, life is good.  HOB and Sonny Boy finished their cones fairly quickly. At one point, HOB absentmindedly picked up Evan's smoothie from the table and took a sip.  

OH. OH.

Remember the incident with the chocolate-dipped cone?  Well, that was nothing compared to what happened next.

Now, HOB and I had always told our children "Use your words!" to express how they felt when they were angry or upset.  Evan did just that, except it was a singular word in a volume that shattered the air waves around us.

"Robber!"  
"Robber!"
The incensed three-year old points his finger at HOB.

We laugh nervously, "OK, Buddy.  It's OK, Daddy's sorry."

"Robber!"
"Robber!"

Three year-old growing more incensed, voice rising, taking on more frenzied tone, crying hysterically though still able to enunciate very clearly.

"Robber!"
"Robber!"

People staring, turning to our table.  The boy continues, voice getting more hysterical.  

"ROBBER!"
"ROBBER!"

HOB apologizes profusely to three year-old.  We offer new smoothie.  Sonny Boy tries to soothe brother.  

Nope.

"Robber!"

Finally, we can't take it any more.  We scurry to gather our things up and Hob hoists the screaming child who is board stiff and still enraged over his shoulder.

"Robber!"

I grab Sonny Boy's hand and we scurry across parking lot, after HOB and the screaming child.  People turn and stare at rag-tag family, these refugees from the low lands, nearly running to the dingy Pathfinder.  I feel people staring at us as Evan continues to scream.

"Robber!"
"Robber!" 

We reached the car, but there is no way the screaming child is going to bend enough to be placed in his car seat.  HOB does something he has never done before.  The robber takes two fingers and pokes the boy in the side.  The boy reacts, and HOB is able to insert child in seat. Meanwhile, Evan continues,

"Robber!"
"Robber!"

It was a hot day but HOB rolled up all windows and turned on the heat.  Above the noise in the back seat, I yelled, "What are you doing?"

"Maybe if he gets hot, he'll stop and go to sleep!"

The rest of us couldn't take the heat treatment, so we turned it off, rolled down the window and hoped for the best.  

The best finally came twenty minutes later when we pulled into our driveway and Evan stopped screaming.


These days, HOB nearly always asks when he wants to share, and if he ever forgets to ask, all I have to do is say one word and he remembers.

I'll bet you can guess the one word.  Can't you?

Saturday, May 23, 2009

I Scream

It had been along Sunday at the Zoo. We were nearly home from the hour's drive when HOB decided a trip to Dairy Queen was in order. Evan, age two was zonked out in his car seat, completely exhausted from our day of fun. Sonny Boy, age seven, was more than willing to stop for an ice cream treat.

The Dairy Queen was in a shopping area that was not exactly where you want to spend a lot of time. Various vagrants walked around the parking lot and the whole place had the feel of a CSI Crime Scene getting ready for its debut. I agreed to stay in the car with the sleeping boy while HOB and Sonny Boy went to get the ice cream. I ordered my all-time favorite: a chocolate-dipped cone.

It was hot and stuffy in the car, but I didn't want to risk waking Evan up for several reasons. 1) he needed his sleep (2) everyone knows you never wake up a two-year old and 3) there was no treat coming for him so if he did wake up, we'd all be in trouble.

Still it was sticky and stuffy and generally uncomfortable in the car. Evan was on the shaded side of the car while I was on the side the sun was beating down on. I tried cracking the window a bit, but Evan stirred, so I quickly rolled it back up. Besides, there were smokers nearby, enjoying their cancer sticks and blowing smoke in our general direction. There were also shady looking characters coming and out of the nearby stores. I kept the doors locked and the windows up, focused on not sweating too much and waited, and waited, and waited for my chocolate-dipped cone.

I kept waiting. I could not see the Dairy Queen from the car window, so I just thought about what would eventually would arrive. Whoever invented the chocolate-dipped cone was a genius, all that cold creamy goodness surrounded by the crispness of the chocolate shell molded perfectly in one undulating frozen flame of sweet goodness. Perfect.

And there at the top of that cone would be the best part: the curled tip, the perfect swirl captured; a moment in time seized; a wave, stilled; a blossom, preserved. Ahhhhhhhh.... That first bite was was going to be wonderful and well worth the hellish wait for it. Finally, I looked ahead to see HOB and Sonny Boy on their way, my chocolate cone, looking perfect, in HOB's right hand.

I unlocked the car door when they neared, but HOB did not immediately get in. Instead I watched through the glass of the car window as he leaned down ever so slightly, and opened his mouth...

It was headed for my cone.

My heart raced.

His open mouth got bigger.

No, he wouldn't.

It was aimed right at my cone.

He couldn't.

His wet, ample lips seemed to cover half of the cone as the teeth bit

off

my

chocolate-dipped

swirl.

I couldn't believe it.

He didn't just do that. Did he?

He did. HE DID.

My mouth was open in disbelief. I was ready to scream, but quickly remembered the sleeping boy in the back. I sat, stunned, shocked, incredulous.

HOB leisurely got in the car and nonchalantly handed me my decimated, defiled, and desecrated cone. "Somethin' wrong, babe?" he asked, traces of chocolate and ice cream on those lips.

"You. Ate. My. Tip," I said in a hissed whisper.

"Oh yeah, I was pretty sure it was going to start dripping," he said. "What's the big deal?"



Oh, later at home, we had a very LONG talk about what the "big deal" was.

We discussed the principles of physics and gravity. (Would the dripping really show outside the the tip of a chocolate-dipped cone? And if so, in the case of cones, the dripping becomes pertinent ONLY when it hits the cone itself, not before.)

We instituted some strict rules and regulations concerning biting the tip of a cone that does not belong to you.

We had long seminars concerning the sanctity of the tip and all represents.

We discussed the issue of trust in marriage and demonstrating intense love and devotion by using the correct technique of delivering frozen treats, whole and intact, to your beloved.


Believe me, my husband has been re-educated and will never repeat this heinous act.

In fact, I believe if he were oxygen-derived and gasping for breath, and the only way he could get a tank of oxygen was to bite the tip off my chocolate-dipped cone, he would wait until the edges of his vision blurred to a dark black before committing the forbidden act.

(By the way, HOB, if you're reading this, you know I love you and you would never have to go to these lengths. If this scenario ever plays itself out, you have my permission to bite the tip even before the edges of your vision go dark black. You can just wait until they turn, say a really deep shade of purplish/gray-black.)

"What's the big deal?"

Please.


Friday, May 22, 2009

Quinoa! May's Grain of the Month!


While Betty is a purist when it comes to quinoa, and prefers to eat it plain as a side dish, I do recognize there are people out there who need that extra zing when it comes to their grains.  I'll include a couple of recipes here just for you adventure-seekers.

Hope you have a good time!

Mexican Quinoa with Pepitas and Cilantro

1 1/2 c. water
1 c. quinoa
1/2 c. raw pumpkin seeds
1 c. washed cilantro leaves
2 cloves garlic
1 jalapeno chile
1/2 t. salt
1 t. ground cumin
2 T. olive oil
1 t. lime juice
1 small red bell pepper, chopped
2 scallions, chopped

Bring water to a boil in 2-qt saucepan with tight fitting lid. In medium bowl, wash quinoa well, rinsing with warm water. Pour off most of the water and drain in a fine-mesh strainer. When the water boils, add the quinoa, bring to a boil and the reduce heat to simmer, cover and cook for 15 minutes. The water should be absorbed and small holes will have formed on the top. Let stand, covered for 5 minutes.

In a large skillet, dry-toast pumpkin seeds, shaking pan until they begin to pop. Remove from heat and place in food processor or blender. Add cilantro, garlic, jalapeno, salt, and cumin and process, scraping sides occasionally, until all ingredients are well minced. Gradually add in oil and lime juice and process until smooth. Stir into cilantro, mixing well. Can be served warm, or chilled.


from The New Whole Grains Cookbook by Robin Asbell

Quinoa Salad

INGREDIENTS
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup quinoa, rinsed and drained
2 teaspoons pine nuts
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons pitted green olives
Salt
DIRECTIONS
In a saucepan, boil the water. Add the quinoa, cover and cook over low heat for 12 minutes, until al dente. Transfer to a bowl.
In a skillet, toast the pine nuts over moderate heat until golden. Add them to the quinoa along with the cilantro, lemon juice and olives. Season with salt and serve.

from Food and Wine

There are lots of other recipes on the web, including some wonderful ones for Quinoa Pilafs.

Hope you become a nut-job about quinoa and include it in your meals every week!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Grain of the Month: Quinoa!

Is your love life sluggish?

Do you need some lovin' that's not wrapped in cellophane and highly caloric?

Does it seem like everyone else is with attractive people in sporty, cool convertibles in the carpool lane while you're puttering along, in the slow lane in your battered Ford Festiva, your matted long-haired cat, your only companion, beside you in its carrier?

Do you find yourself dawdling at the check stand at the grocery store because you are desperate for attention and the bag person has actually made eye contact with you, leading you to consider a relationship with him/her despite the difference in age/intellect? 

Well, our Grain of the Month has come just at the right time then! 

Quinoa is guaranteed to pick you up, inspire you to dress better, and get out there and say, "Here I am World! Come and enjoy my nutrient-rich germ!"

You see, Quinoa was once like you.  

Naturally coated with a layer of bitter saponins to deter foraging animals, it was misunderstood.  It was stuck back on the shelf, shunned by modern society, pushed aside by all the exotic and attractive rices and the bulgurs of the world who were "good to go" nearly all the time.  

Then folks discovered that the bitterness quinoa exhibited was simply a gray-looking coat that could be removed by washing or gently heating the grain.  Sure, it took a little extra time to get to know this grain, but WOW, when they did, they discovered all it had to offer.  Now it's wildly popular and invited into the finest of homes.

Inspirational? 
You bet.
Motivational? 
Oh, yes.
Interesting Party Conversation-Starter?
Now, you're talking! (And to the best looking person in the room!)


Tomorrow we learn more about our Grain of the Month, but today let us turn inward and BE the Quinoa.   

Shed your bitter coats and unfurl your beauty out into the world.  

The irony of it all?  

You've been searching so hard for that missing piece, that lasting relationship to make you whole and guess what?  

All this time, you've been a complete protein after all. 

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Coconut: It's What's For Dinner


I do not admire, nor do I fully trust those miscreants in our society who do not like shredded coconut.  While I am not without pity for these poor, misled creatures, there comes a time when my munificence in this matter comes to an end.

Seriously, how could someone with a reasonable number of taste buds not fall for sweetened, shredded coconut?  Whether in cookies, cakes or pies, or encased in chocolate, it never fails to delight the tongue and send the mind into a kind of reverie normally reserved for meditating monks.

So we come to what I consider the perfect candy bar: 


Woe be it to the person who, when specifically directed to bring Betty a Mounds Bar, brings Betty an Almond Joy claiming "It's the same thing."  

It is not.  

Ah, the Mounds Bar.  Dark Chocolate enrobes just the right amount of sweetened coconut with no interference from some pesky nut sitting atop it like an embarrassing out-of-town cousin. 

Each little package of two of these little beauties has 160 calories and 56 percent of your daily allotment of saturated fat.  Therefore, eating the King Size package has the advantage of giving the assurance that, yep, you certainly have exceeded your saturated fat for the day.  No more of the hassle of adding up small numbers from various foods throughout the day!
 
Betty wishes you and yours a Coconut Kind of Day:  Sweet and Satisfying, with just enough Flakiness to keep it interesting. 

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Poetry Tuesday: "Chocolates"



                                 

Chocolates
     
                    --Louis Simpson

Once some people were visiting Chekhov.
While they made remarks about his genius
the Master fidgeted. Finally
he said, "Do you like chocolates?"

They were astonished, and silent.
He repeated the question,
whereupon one lady plucked up her courage
and murmured shyly, "Yes."

"Tell me," he said, leaning forward,
light glinting from his spectacles,
"what kind? The light, sweet chocolate
or the dark, bitter kind?"

The conversation became general
They spoke of cherry centers,
of almonds and Brazil nuts.
Losing their inhibitions
they interrupted one another.
For people may not know what they think
about politics in the Balkans,
or the vexed question of men and women,

but everyone has a definite opinion
about the flavor of shredded coconut.
Finally someone spoke of chocolates filled with liqueur,
and everyone, even the author of Uncle Vanya,
was at a loss for words.

As they were leaving he stood by the door
and took their hands.

In the coach returning to Petersburg
they agreed that it had been a most
unusual conversation.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Your Monday Morning Flower and Thought for the Week


"What do we live for, if it is not to make life less difficult for each other?"
                                                                                    
                                                                                               --George Eliot

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Photo Essay Saturday

I am rather brain dead after an intensive week at work.  

No.  Words.  Coming.  Out.  Right.

So, I thought I'd share some pictures from our recent Santa Cruz/Big Sur trip:


Big Time Excitement on the way up.  Those big RV's can really roll.  Evan even looked up from his I-Touch to view this.



We ate at a restaurant in Santa Cruz that was in this old bank building.  It was cool and groovy.



There are surprises like this all over Santa Cruz.  It makes for a very interesting place to visit.

This Steller's Jay and his friends came to see us while we were at the cabin in Big Sur.  We didn't lure him in with peanuts or anything.  That would have been wrong.


The wild turkeys would have nothing to do with the non-existent peanuts.  I had to use my telephoto powers to get this shot.


 If you look closely, you can see the purple sand on the beach.  We were lured down the winding road to pay $5.00 to go to the beach by promises of this purple sand.  We decided they might just do this with food coloring to lure people such as ourselves.  Their evil plan worked! 

The new picture at the top of the blog is from this same location.  People were evidently rendered speechless by the picture of my feet previously in this position of honor.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Bossy Betty Has All Your Answers

Poor Mongolia--So Big, But All Locked Up


Popularity and Brains. 
With Betty's help you've got it all now.  
So what will you do with your new, shiny powers?  

Here are the answers to yesterday's questions.  I know some Smarty-Pants out there are ready to debate.  That's good.  Debating is good.  Use that vocabulary.  Make Betty proud.  

(Overachievers: Please use your own Pyrex container if trying to make it into the Above Average category for question #8.) 


1.) What is the largest land-locked country in the world?

Mongolia

2.) At what age does the human brain stop growing?

18

3.) What is the longest known record for constipation?

102 Days

4.) How many hairs are there in the average eyebrow?

450

5.) How many questions does the average four year-old ask per day?

437

6.) What is the infinity sign called?

A lemniscate

7.) What is a group of 12 or more cows called? (Not a herd.)

A flink

8.) How many ounces of liquid can the average human bladder hold?

13 ounces.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Bossy Betty's Guide To Brain Power!

Short, Tall, Grande or Venti?  Just make mine To Go!!!


Yesterday, Betty encouraged her readers to increase their popularity by spicing up their conversations with more-than-interesting facts.  

While we all know that being popular is important, so is our academic growth and development.  With that knowledge, Betty is providing some questions for you to ponder today. 

These mini Bow-Flexes are designed to make your grey matter shed that flab built up from years of watching "Entertainment Tonight."   Therefore, instead of clicking up Google and letting the folks there do the work, pull out those dusty, but trustworthy long thin drawers of the library card catalogs still residing in your minds, and do some real brain work.  

Think, My People!  Think!

Your Questions:

1.) What is the largest land-locked country in the world?

2.) At what age does the human brain stop growing?

3.) What is the longest known record for constipation?

4.) How many hairs are there in the average eyebrow?

5.) How many questions does the average four year-old ask per day?

6.) What is the infinity sign called?

7.) What is a group of 12 or more cows called?   (Not a herd.)

8.) How many ounces of liquid can the average human bladder hold?

Tomorrow:  The answers!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Bossy Betty's Guide To Being Incredibly Popular.

A Giraffe Has No Vocal Chords



Want to be the most popular person in your work place?

Want to dazzle people at dinner parties?

Do you want people to say "WoW!!   Do you believe that guy/gal?" when you leave the room?

Do you want to have some obscure, yet fascinating facts stored in your brain so if you are ever wrongly incarcerated and put in solitary confinement for days on end you have some scraps of information to tenaciously cling to as you rock back and forth in that small, dark cubicle of hell and recite so that you don't go completely out of your mind and start eating your own skin?

Ah, yes. I knew you were that kind of upscale, discriminating reader.

So, today I went through The Ultimate Book of Useless Information by Neil Botham and have gleaned some facts for you to squirrel away in your brain and bring out at those opportune moments. Just imagine yourself at your next business meeting/ luncheon/ conference when that next awkward silence falls. You'll be the one to fill it in with statements such as:

One year contains 31,557,600 seconds.

The surface area of an average-sized brick is seventy-nine square centimeters.

Women blink twice as often as men do.

A dragonfly has a lifespan of just twenty-four hours.

Honeybees have hair on their eyes.

A pig always sleeps on its right side.

The highest-scoring three letter word in Scrabble is zax, which is a tool for cutting and trimming roof slates.

Almonds are members of the peach family.

Pecans are the only food that astronauts do not have to treat and dehydrate when flying in space.

In 1977, a thirteen-year old child found a tooth growing out of his left foot.

Well, I think that's enough info to keep your brain busy for the day.

Remember, memorize these facts and blurt them out on dates and in meetings. Use them for elevator talk with complete strangers. Start conversations off with these attention-getters.

Do this for a solid week and you'll notice people start looking at you differently, giving you just a bit more space in the room, walking just a little more rapidly by when they see you approach.

That's admiration you see in their eyes!
That's respect in their observation of your personal space bubble!
That's their sincere desire to be as swift as you are in their thinking manifested in their rapid walking!

You can thank Betty later for this great gift.

Tomorrow: Questions for you to ponder!


Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Poetry Tuesday: "The Fish"


The Fish

    --Elizabeth Bishop

I caught a tremendous fish
and held him beside the boat
half out of water, with my hook
fast in a corner of his mouth.
He didn't fight.
He hadn't fought at all.
He hung a grunting weight,
battered and venerable
and homely. Here and there
his brown skin hung in strips
like ancient wallpaper,
and its pattern of darker brown
was like wallpaper:
shapes like full-blown roses
stained and lost through age.
He was speckled and barnacles,
fine rosettes of lime,
and infested
with tiny white sea-lice,
and underneath two or three
rags of green weed hung down.
While his gills were breathing in
the terrible oxygen
--the frightening gills,
fresh and crisp with blood,
that can cut so badly--
I thought of the coarse white flesh
packed in like feathers,
the big bones and the little bones,
the dramatic reds and blacks
of his shiny entrails,
and the pink swim-bladder
like a big peony.
I looked into his eyes
which were far larger than mine
but shallower, and yellowed,
the irises backed and packed
with tarnished tinfoil
seen through the lenses
of old scratched isinglass.
They shifted a little, but not
to return my stare.
--It was more like the tipping
of an object toward the light.
I admired his sullen face,
the mechanism of his jaw,
and then I saw
that from his lower lip
--if you could call it a lip
grim, wet, and weaponlike,
hung five old pieces of fish-line,
or four and a wire leader
with the swivel still attached,
with all their five big hooks
grown firmly in his mouth.
A green line, frayed at the end
where he broke it, two heavier lines,
and a fine black thread
still crimped from the strain and snap
when it broke and he got away.
Like medals with their ribbons
frayed and wavering,
a five-haired beard of wisdom
trailing from his aching jaw.
I stared and stared
and victory filled up
the little rented boat,
from the pool of bilge
where oil had spread a rainbow
around the rusted engine
to the bailer rusted orange,
the sun-cracked thwarts,
the oarlocks on their strings,
the gunnels--until everything
was rainbow, rainbow, rainbow!
And I let the fish go. 

Monday, May 11, 2009

My Happy Mother's Day


Road Trip Report:  

We had a good one!  We met up with Sonny Boy and Girlfriend and we were off to see the sea and check in at the cabin the woods.   It was quite lovely and without a TV, phone reception, and no Internet connection, we unplugged and reconnected and had some killer Spades games too.

Most of all, I got away and got some perspective on life.  Before I left, life, and work in particular,  was starting to feel like sleeping in a bed on which all four corners of the fitted sheet had popped off.  Nothing felt smooth, peaceful or connected.  There was a distinct possibility of getting snagged and caught up in the folds and corners of stuff that, in the long run, doesn't really matter.  Just getting away, giving my eyes new, open, beautiful landscapes to gaze upon helped.  Most of all, being with my favorite people in the whole wide world reminded me of what's important in life.

It's the day after Mother's Day, but it's not too late for me to thank those males of mine for making my Mother's Day a good one!  

Now, I am happy to say, all four corners of the bed sheet are tucked in again and I am ready to start the week.

How about you?

Bonus:

Interesting Scientific Experiment You May Want To Try: Evan took only one pair of socks for the trip. On Saturday night after getting them sweaty in the car, wet at the beach, and dirty on the hike, he reported that they were starting to smell just like the pancakes at McDonalds. 

Friday, May 8, 2009

Road Trip!!

We are headed out on a road trip today. You know Betty loves a road trip and plans for them like the mini-vacations that they are.

This time I have company in the car: HOB and Evan. Evan is 16 now and being trapped in a car with the parents is pretty much his idea of a nightmare. I don't have any idea why. HOB and I know how to have some big-time fun on road trip

Who doesn't love a "Rocky Mountain High" sing-along?

Who doesn't love a long discussion about whether or not to trust the lady on the GPS system?

And how about this kind of exciting conversation:

"I think I may have to go to the bathroom"

"Do you want me to get off here?"

"No, let's wait, I guess."

"We could always use some gas anyway. We should just pull off here"

"No, let's keep going. The next exit will probably be better."

"Maybe we should get off here."

"I think I'd like a Subway sandwich too and I don't see a sign for a Subway."

"So, I'm pulling off, or I'm not pulling off?"

"No let's wait. Maybe we can find a Taco Bell at the next exit."

"I thought you wanted Subway."

"I do, but you said you could use some gas."

(Loud laughter from adults in car.)

Evan complains, but I know he'll appreciate the deep meaningful talks we can have with him within the confines of the car. You know, like about the merits of pebbled ice versus chunky ice in drinks from AM/PM or about what those Starbursts he is popping in his mouth are really made of.

We are heading up to see Sonny Boy and his lovely girlfriend in Santa Cruz. It's about a six hour drive. The first night we are staying at a hotel that offers this description of the surrounding area:

Providing a dramatic backdrop to Marina State Beach are some of the central coast’s tallest dunes, handsomely shaped sand mounds that are habitat for a number of plants and animals. Rare native flowers such as Monterey paintbrush and the coast wallflower brighten the dunes, where the black legless lizard and the ornate shrew skitter about.

Hey, I always say, if you are going to be a shrew, be an ornate one.

The description for our place on the second night:

Nestled amongst the aged oak trees and tall ancient redwoods, this lodge has provided inspiration to writers, artists and the weary traveler in search of majestic splendor that would soothe and restore both heart and soul.

Notice the description doesn't say whether the weary traveler finds the majestic splendor nor whether his heart and soul are truly soothed and restored. That's why I'm taking plenty of Diet Pepsi, potato chips, and the mini DVD player just in case.

We are taking HOB's fine Motor Car for the trip. Oh that reminds me: I need to pack one more thing:

/div>

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Hello, Sugar!


Sugar Cookies are like those good friends who show up at your door with flowers and smiles and maybe even a funky lamp they picked up from the Goodwill which they know you will love.

These friends are sweet, but not too sweet.  The best ones balance out their sugar with just enough lemony tartness to keep your attention, but not enough to overwhelm their goodness.

Sugar Cookies know who they are and they don't need a bunch of flashy, attention-grabbing add-ins to call attention to themselves.  They don't come to you to be adored.  They sit at your table, reliable and solid, there to delight, console and nourish you when you need it the most.

This recipe is dedicated to all my Sugar Cookie friends.  

You know who you are, you Sweet Things, you.

Old-Fashioned Sugar Cookies

From Martha Stewart's Cookies

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 t baking soda
1/2 t coarse salt
1  3/4 cups granulated sugar
1 tb finely grated lemon zest
1 cup (two sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 large eggs
1 TB fresh lemon juice
sanding sugar for sprinkling.

1.  Preheat over to 350 degrees.  Sift together flour, baking soda and salt.

2.  Put sugars and zest into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.  Mix on medium speed 30 seconds.  Add butter, mix until pale and fluffy, about one minute.  Mix in eggs one at a time, and then the lemon juice.  reduce speed to low; gradually mix in flour mixture.

3.  Using a 2-inch ice cream scoop, drop dough onto parchment paper-lined baking sheets, spacing three inches apart.  Flatten cookies slightly, sprinkle with sanding sugar.  Lightly brush with a wet pastry brush, sprinkle with more sanding sugar.

4.  Bake cookies until golden, about 15 minutes, rotating sheets halfway through.  Transfer cookies to wire racks using a spatula, let cool completely.  Cookies can be stored in airtight containers at room temperature for up to three days. 

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Poetry Tuesday: "Ordinary Life"


Ordinary Life
              
               --Barbara Crooker

This was a day when nothing happened,
the children went off to school
without a murmur, remembering
their books, lunches, gloves.
All morning, the baby and I built block stacks
in the squares of light on the floor.
And lunch blended into naptime,
I cleaned out kitchen cupboards,
one of those jobs that never gets done,
then sat in a circle of sunlight
and drank ginger tea,
watched the birds at the feeder
jostle over lunch's little scraps.
A pheasant strutted from the hedgerow,
preened and flashed his jeweled head.
Now a chicken roasts in the pan,
and the children return,
the murmur of their stories dappling the air.
I peel carrots and potatoes without paring my thumb.
We listen together for your wheels on the drive.
Grace before bread.
And at the table, actual conversation,
no bickering or pokes.
And then, the drift into homework.
The baby goes to his cars, drives them
along the sofa's ridges and hills.
Leaning by the counter, we steal a long slow kiss,
tasting of coffee and cream.
The chicken's diminished to skin & skeleton,
the moon to a comma, a sliver of white,
but this has been a day of grace
in the dead of winter,
the hard cold knuckle of the year,
a day that unwrapped itself
like an unexpected gift,
and the stars turn on,
order themselves
into the winter night.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Your Monday Morning Flower Is Here!

"People from a planet without flowers would think we must be mad with joy the whole time to have such things about us."
                                   
                                                                                               -Iris Murdoch

                                   

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Prom 1977: The Legend Lives On From The Chippewa On Down.


(Our story concludes today!  If you're just joining us, please go back and read the previous three entries.  Come on.  You can do it!  By the way, where have you been?)


I slid into the back seat, willing myself to vanish into the turquoise vinyl seats.  Joanie, who had used an entire can of Aqua-Net on her hair, stared straight ahead and said nothing as her date started up the car. The speakers for the 8-Track Player were directly behind my head, so I got the full benefit of Mike's excellent choice of sound technology as this song, blasting out, filled up the car:




That's right.  It's Gordon Lightfoot's cheery tribute to the tragic wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald which plunged into the icy waters of Lake Superior, killing 29.  Oh yeah.  You remember it.  Listen if you dare.  

Scientific facts: 
1) Every five seconds of listening embeds one hour of the song in your head. 
2) CD's of this song were found at Guantanamo.
3) Organizers of Death Marches study the syncopation of this song and marvel at how it increases the effectiveness of said marches.



Back to Our Story:

There was silence in the car except for this song blaring out of the speakers (did I mention they were directly behind my head?)  When the song (all 6 minutes and 20 seconds of it) was done, Joanie leaned forward and with her bony finger, topped with a long, sharp fingernail painted blood red, hit the repeat button.  

Ah, mood music.

 She continued to hit the repeat button each time the song came to an end, so many times, in fact, that this song remained in my head, not only for the duration of the prom, but for a solid seven months afterwards as well.  

Finally, as the line "Does anyone knows where the love of God goes when the waves turn the minutes to hours?" pounded at the back of my head for the last time, we arrived at the building where the prom was going to be held.  

We entered the dining room and since we were late, everyone was already seated, eating.  Joanie and Mike found seats fast since Joanie's sycophants had saved one for their Queen.  The only other seats were at the front at a table of oddball couples.  Well, that seemed custom-made for us.

FF took off to get his seat, apparently forgetting about me.  I walked quickly after him, feeling incredibly embarrassed as all eyes in the place followed me as I made that long, solo to my seat.  I sat across from Fly Face and a server quickly brought us our plates of food which featured some sort of pork patty with congealed gravy over it.  

I looked down.  I felt sick, close to tears.  I just wanted to sink into the floor and disappear.  Fly Face was looking over at me quite often while wolfing down his food.  I felt his looks and nearly looked up, but I was afraid I might burst into tears, so I just sat there looking down at my plate, my stomach in knots, my pulse racing.  

I looked up to see him glance at me again and then down at my plate.  Could it be that he was concerned about me?  Was he upset about the way the date was going and wanted to reassure me that it was all going to get better?  Had we made some connection in the car?  Was he about to touch my hand gently and ask if I was OK?  I breathed deep as I saw his hand approach mine. 

That's when I noticed that the hand coming towards me had a fork in it.  I looked up and watched him balance a mouth full of meat between his teeth, as he jerked his head toward my pork and motioned with his fork.  "You want that?" he asked.  When I shook my head, he stabbed, and procured the object of his ardent concern and desire.

After dinner, we walked over to the room where the dance was.  My Dream Boat had gone stag and so had my best friend, so guess who ended up sitting together and dancing together?  Fly Face spent a few minutes with me, but then ended up with his assorted weird friends who had also gone stag and who did a lot of snorting/laughing/and moving around in strange jerky ways in their tuxes.  I could only stand it for a bit and so I sheepishly looked for some of my friends.  

About a half an hour later, I looked around for FF, but couldn't find him.  None of his jerky friends knew where he was.  More time passed.  Just as I was figuring out how I was going to get home, he arrived back at my side, panting and smiling like a dog who had just returned from an unauthorized run around the park.  He explained that the father of the Devil Children had managed to get Fly Face's car fixed and had brought it down.  Fly Face had been helping him back it into the parking space and get it headed in the right direction.  "This way you don't have to push it," he explained, beaming with pride.

Needless to say, I was glad to be back in Fly Face's (quiet) car for the ride home. Fly Face once again made the amazing transformation to human being and we had a nice conversation on the way home.  He gave me a kiss at the door and as he walked back out to the road to get in his car, I smiled with relief.  It was over.  

The next Monday I went to school.  Fly Face was in the corner with his strange friends, his purple aviator sunglasses back on, obscuring any eye contact.   Joanie moved with her group through the halls, her eyes slitted and searching for underlings she could destroy with just a look.  Kirk screamed, "UG-LY!" when he saw me.  My Dream Boat said Hi to me in an noncommittal way and I dropped my books on the way to English class.  Life had indeed returned to normal at MHS.   

Time marches on.
The years go by.
Memories of high school, and especially of Prom, begin to fade--well, for most people.  

Ah, but luckily for me, all it takes is ONE SONG to bring that night back in vivid and stunning detail:  

"The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald"
                                          --Gordon Lightfoot

The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
of the big lake they called "Gitche Gumee."
The lake, it is said, never gives up her dead
when the skies of November turn gloomy.
With a load of iron ore twenty-six thousand tons more
than the Edmund Fitzgerald weighed empty,
that good ship and true was a bone to be chewed
when the "Gales of November" came early.

The ship was the pride of the American side
coming back from some mill in Wisconsin.
As the big freighters go, it was bigger than most
with a crew and good captain well seasoned,
concluding some terms with a couple of steel firms
when they left fully loaded for Cleveland.
And later that night when the ship's bell rang,
could it be the north wind they'd been feelin'?

The wind in the wires made a tattle-tale sound
and a wave broke over the railing.
And ev'ry man knew, as the captain did too
'twas the witch of November come stealin'.
The dawn came late and the breakfast had to wait
when the Gales of November came slashin'.
When afternoon came it was freezin' rain
in the face of a hurricane west wind.

When suppertime came the old cook came on deck sayin'.
"Fellas, it's too rough t'feed ya."
At seven P.M. a main hatchway caved in; he said,
"Fellas, it's been good t'know ya!"
The captain wired in he had water comin' in
and the good ship and crew was in peril.
And later that night when its lights went outta sight
came the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.

Does any one know where the love of God goes
when the waves turn the minutes to hours?
The searchers all say they'd have made Whitefish Bay
if they'd put fifteen more miles behind 'er.
They might have split up or they might have capsized;
they may have broke deep and took water.
And all that remains is the faces and the names
of the wives and the sons and the daughters.

Lake Huron rolls, Superior sings
in the rooms of her ice-water mansion.
Old Michigan steams like a young man's dreams;
the islands and bays are for sportsmen.
And farther below Lake Ontario
takes in what Lake Erie can send her,
And the iron boats go as the mariners all know
with the Gales of November remembered.

In a musty old hall in Detroit they prayed,
in the "Maritime Sailors' Cathedral."
The church bell chimed 'til it rang twenty-nine times
for each man on the Edmund Fitzgerald.
The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
of the big lake they call "Gitche Gumee."
"Superior," they said, "never gives up her dead
when the gales of November come early!"

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Prom 1977: The Story (and Date) Goes On For An Excruciatingly Long Time.



Our harrowing story continues.  (If you're just joining us, please read the previous two posts.)


It was the night of the prom.

I stood in my upstairs room and waited for Fly Face to drive up the gravel road to our farm.  Looking in the mirror, I noticed how the brown and white dress I had loved in the store, now just seemed to hang on me. I looked in the mirror at the brown and white dress that seemed to hang on me.  There in the trash can beside the dresser was the wrapper from my Jaclyn Smith pantyhose.  I looked at Jaclyn's face, beautiful and smooth, smiling and confident, her hair sweeping back from her face. Then I looked at at my own gaunt, apprehensive face, my thin straight hair hanging down.   I shook my head, then nervously turned toward the window again.

In the still evening air, I heard the big Ford before I saw it, kicking up dust as it came up the road.  It turned in our driveway and I watched as FF got out and my dad greeted him, keeping Rufus back at a safe distance.  I was about to go downstairs when I saw Daddy and FF in conversation and then my dad, nodding his head and going to the front of the car.  I watched in bewilderment as my dad pushed the car as FF also pushed a steered it from the driver's side until the car was back out in the road and headed in the right direction.  Apparently, this car had no reverse.  I looked at Jacklyn again, and perhaps it was just my vision, straining through gathering tears, but she seemed to shake her head and roll her eyes.

I met FF downstairs, he presented me with a corsage and my mother took pictures.  Soon we were in the car, headed for the prom which was being held 20 miles away. I discovered that FF wasn't so bad when he was by himself.  He was actually a pretty nice guy and I found myself relaxing a bit as we drove and talked about school and friends. 

Then we heard it: the sound of something going hideously, terribly wrong with the car.  It was the sound of metal against pavement, some screeching noise, some thumping.  FF pulled over on the side of the road and got out to inspect the car.  He got back in, tried to start it up again, but it was obviously not going to start.  We sat there and waited.

Finally we saw a car coming down the road.  FF got out to flag it down and then ducked his head in the window and said, "We're in luck."  I breathed a sigh of relief and then looked back at the slowing car.  

There in the passenger's side she sat, puffed up more than usual in her prom dress, her hair teased into a cobra hood that had worked its way up to the back of her head, her eyes blazing at this imposition:  She looked at me and I felt the heat.  Indeed I wanted to melt right there in the front seat.  Joanie's boyfriend, who was actually a very nice guy named Mike,  got out, talked with FF and looked under the hood.  I sat, praying, willing the car to start.  Finally, FF came to my side, opened the door and said the words I had been dreading:  "Looks like we'll have to get a ride with Joanie and Mike."

Tomorrow: The ride.  The music.  The pork.  The end.