Sunday, November 12, 2017

Veggie Cooking: Baked Buffalo Cauliflower Wings

Don't let Bertie's expression fool you, he was also impressed by the final product! (11/11/17)
Attempting to maintain a less cruel diet, I haven't eaten meat, fish or chicken since July 1. While I have also tried to reduce/eliminate products harvested from animals, by replacing animal milk with Almond for example, a satisfactory replacement for some favorites has thus far eluded me. By far the two animal-product-based meals I most miss eating are ice cream and chicken wings. With the ice cream absence addressed by a delicious banana-almond milk-peanut butter smoothie, the chicken wing "loss" is one that often aches at my gut, especially on Sundays.

After recently enjoying some baked cauliflower buffalo wings at a local vegetarian eatery, I sought to duplicate the epicurean experience at home. Fortunately an easy to prepare recipe for Baked Buffalo Cauliflower Wings online at was quickly found, and after carrying it around on my cell phone for a month, my tummy prompted me to action. On this wintry November afternoon, Bertie, our English Springer Spaniel puppy, and I set about making our first batch.

I am an unremarkable cook, choosing rather a clich├ęd path of learned helplessness when it comes to the kitchen. Even with this culinary handicap, I found this recipe remarkably easy to prepare, in addition to being incredibly rewarding. That the sauce consisted of two favorite ingredients (butter and Red Hot) was a bonus.

A key ingredient: classic Frank's Red Hot! (11/11/17)

Baked once in batter for 20 minutes. (11/11/17)

At this point Bertie had other plans. (11/11/17)

Twenty more minutes after being drizzled with buttery Frank's. (11/11/17)

Plated and ready to SLAY! (11/11/17)
The final product proved an excellent gustatory eexperience. Though too spicy for milady, my stepson and I quickly gobbled down the order of "wings" with a side of dressing. The crispiness of the twice-baked flowerets was solid and the overall flavor VERY reminiscent of the far less fowl-friendly original on which it is based. I am excited to have discovered, and actually tried, a recipe from GimmeeDelicious and look forward to attempting another cauliflower recipe, the Sticky Honey Sriracha Cauliflower “Wings” in the very near future!

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Summer Reading: Assessment 3.0

Each summer I intentionally mix a little professional reading into my bedside book pile. In many instances, the titles I choose for this purpose are read with the thought of using them to enhance the  range of content for the courses I teach. More and more frequently, however, books are chosen in an effort to improve my teaching craft. Late this spring, a coaching/teaching peer of mine from a neighboring district began chronicling his move toward a "grade-less classroom" on his personal blog.

In an effort to reach out to like-minded educators, he also invited others to dialogue about their own efforts on Twitter. Though I have often thought (and read a little about) the use of anecdotal evidence and conferencing in place of traditional numbers as a means of assessing and motivating student learning, the excuses I could (and continue to) tell myself far superseded my will. I also was unclear as to what primary text could best articulate a practical approach.

Assessment 3.0 by Mark Barnes was the book he suggested I start with.

As the subtitle Throw Out Your Grade Book and Inspire Learning suggests, this is a book of interest primarily to educators. I read this as a means of personal professional development over the summer at the suggestion of a colleague. Short (124 pages including appendices), Barnes’ book is written in very accessible language for teachers of all experience levels. The author uses examples from a variety of educational levels as a means of validating his assertion that using his model of assessment (SE2R) will lead to more independently motivated learners.

The approach employed by Barnes in delivering instruction and feedback can be distilled down to "four simple words," which when combined result in the aforementioned acronym SE2R: Summarize, Explain, Redirect, Resubmit. Assessment 3.0 guides the reader though numerous situations across multiple disciplines and grade levels using this technique to promote the creation of an ongoing, objective conversation about learning. The final result, if properly facilitated, is mastery learning on the part of the student.

As a widely read piece of educational literature, there are quite a few excellent summaries and thoughtful analysis on the validity of Assessment 3.0, much of it written by teachers implementing it. Though I am currently just researching and evaluating the potential, I did have two thoughts:

  • The greatest challenge to change is time, and Barnes addresses that concern head on, by acknowledging and asserting that "Yes, You Have Time For Feedback" (64), and furthermore, offering some suggestions as to how to meed the added expectation of responding in "more than simply written descriptors of work." (61) The central point of his concept is that the work, whether by student or teacher, should be meaningful and that this targeted conversation is a way to make it so.
  • While a well-intentioned (if traditional) educator, I continue to operate under a number of the misconceptions (preconceptions?) regarding effective student assessment and learning that Barnes' work seek to counteract. This doesn't make me "bad," or even ineffective, but it does shed light on the truth that there are areas for improvement. Throughout Assessment 3.0, Barnes cautions against an all-or-nothing mindset, suggesting the practical, intellectual and cultural transition necessary for the shift to an SE2R-centric approach. I am excited to follow the implementation of my colleague at another school district, but the extensive leg work and culture building with administration and colleagues he has taken on prior to doing so reminds me that I am still only cherry-picking.

Ultimately, good books, like good teaching, provoke more questions (the result being the dialogue key) than answers. As an introduction to grade-less (number-less) teaching Assessment 3.0 makes a compelling argument for more research on the subject by interested educators such as your's truly.

Friday, July 07, 2017

Summer Reading: Lovecraft's Monsters

Recently I shared with an old friend my struggle finding Lovecraft-inspired material not written by the author himself. For every "Worms of the Earth" by Robert E. Howard there are a myriad of lesser attempts at aping H.P. Lovecraft's unique vision.

Given the wealth of Cthulhu mythos "fan-fic" available, the challenge is not in finding content, but rather in discovering stories that entertain without proving too derivative. A few days after this conversation, I returned to a Lovecraft anthology I had purchased many months earlier that had been repeatedly relegated to my "to be read" pile after only two of the stories had been read. Fortunately, this proved to be a mistake on my part. With a long car/train ride ahead of me, I once again picked up Lovecraft's Monsters and after enjoying the next two stories I turned to and was heartened by what I read.

The secret of quality Lovecraft inspired stories, to my personal tastes at any rate, is demonstrated by the majority of stories in this collection, edited by Hugo and Bram Stoker Award-winning editor Ellen Datlow. The challenge met by many of the pieces selected by Datlow is transferring elements of Lovecraft's work, such as mood and subtle characterization, into a setting or circumstance that, while clearly influenced by the source, extends those ideas into a new direction including culture, setting and time period. The organization of the text as a whole, including the front (Foreword by Stefan Dziemianowicz) and  back matter ("Monster Index"), contributes to a high quality presentation of the stories, even if a few fall flat for this reader.  

Each story is preceded by a single panel image that foreshadows a key event in the story to follow. While not always the case, many of the images are of the monsters encountered in the story to follow. When this is not the case,  the aforementioned "Monster Index" by Rachel Fagundes fills in the gaps by including both narrative and visual sketches of key Lovecraftian monsters that appear throughout. A  handy cross-referencing of
John Coulthart provides evocative
and creepy illustrations such
as this one that precedes "Red 
Goat Black Goat.
monsters with the stories in the anthology allows for the reader to choose those stories that feature favorites first. As an effective collection probably should, Lovecraft's Monsters is both a fine collection of ancillary stories by writers others than Lovecraft as well as a good introduction to the world of the author. When a recognizable monster, such as The King in Yellow or Azathoth, included in the back of the collections

Some stories such as "Only the End of the World Again" by Neil Gaiman and "Black As the Pit, From Pole to Pole" by the duo of Howard Waldrop and Steve Utley take a monster mash-up approach by pairing Lovecraftian creatures with more familiar ones (the Wolf Man and Frankenstein's Monster respectively). While entertaining and clever to this fan of Lawrence Talbot and the traditional horror icons, it is the more straightforward "new" tales that kept me reading. In each case, the author chooses to mix another literary genre with a dash of Lovecraft to effectively deliver compelling new takes on familiar creature. Standouts include:
  • "Bulldozer" by Laird Barron, pages 33-62. Set in the Old West, this is the story of a "Pinkerton man" on a "hunting expedition to the West." (48) As a bulldozer, a colloquialism for an investigator/security, our protagonist Jonah Koenig is on the trail of a criminal. This is not just any ordinary bad guy, however, but an individual who very clearly has taken part in rituals and dark magic related to Belphagor, one of the seven princes of Hell. Employing a contemporary narrative structure to the story (translation: unusual chronology of plot points), Barron ratchets up the tension and drama. As a fan of the neo-Western, I found this one very engaging. 
  • "That of Which We Speak When We Speak of the Unspeakable" by Nick Mamatas, pages 303-312. Mamatas' vignette is a snapshot of a trio of revelers awaiting the end of the world, beginning of a return of the old Gods, depending on how you look at it. The characters reflect this dual anticipation in that one welcomes them, acting as a self-appointed prophet, while others fear for what is to come. The contemporary setting and familiar perspectives on the nature love in modern society help to make this a particular relatable story. While some of the stories in the anthology only suggest Lovecraft's creatures (for example "Bulldozer"),"That of Which" explicitly namedrops the shoggoths who arrive to welcome the new day (night). 
Other standouts include "Red Goat Black Goat" by Nadia Bulkin (65-76) and "The Same Deep Waters As You" by Brian Hodge (79-115). Whether a Lovecraft enthusiast or seeking an introduction to his rich world of dark magic and monsters, Lovecraft's Monsters, edited by Ellen Datlow and published Tachyon is an beach read... especially at dusk.

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Summer Reading: Walkabout

They came to the humble bushes first, the twitching, quivering leaves
tumbling to the sand as they approached. Then came the straw-like mellowbane,
and growing amongst them grass of a very different kind--sturdy reed-thick
grass, each blade tipped with a black, bean-shaped nodule: rustling death rattle, astir
in the sunset wind. (Walkabout, page 56.)

Nearly eleven years ago now, I made the move from teaching eighth grade in the middle school down (physically to a lower floor) to the high school. Currently, I teach five sections of eleventh grade English, and having concluded all of my assigned summer reading books, am on to other reading. Last week I once again came across a title I'd salvaged from the school's discard pile many moons ago, Walkabout (1959) by James Vance Marshall. My recovered copy is in near pristine condition, having not (if ever) been read by students, it's internal coding (86-1) revealing that the school acquired the book in 1986.

My familiarity with the novel comes from prior numerous viewings of the 1971 film adaptation by the same name directed by Nicolas Roeg that it eventually spawned. The movie version of Walkabout has since become a personal favorite that I enjoy watching annually. Given the film's mature subtext, subtle nudity, and themes, I was very surprised to find it in a middle school book room. With the political climate in some schools, I would be surprised to find it in the stacks of more conservative high school libraries, let alone on some approved reading list

Marshall's Walkabout is much more of a traditional young adult survival novel than the film, though a number of the coming-of-age themes explored with greater depth in the film are present. The basic plot elements are the same: two children get lost in the Australian Outback and are helped by an Aborigine on his walkabout. The specifics, such as how the two find themselves in that predicament, as well as their nationalities, among other things, however, result in two very different narrative experiences. Just a few are considered in the quick table below:

The brief excerpt at the top of this post is illustrative of Marshall's vivid and poetic descriptions of the Australian outback; a necessity when the setting is itself a significant character. Though a survival story, the environment is presented less as overtly hostile and more as an aggressively nurturing co-facilitator of experience. Even once they are joined by the "bush boy," Peter and Mary embrace the beauty of their prison even as they search for a way home. The direction Walkabout's plot takes also marks it as an unusual reading choice for middle-schoolers. Unlike other adventure survival reads, The Cay by Theodore Taylor comes to mind, Marshall offers little clear resolution to the subtle internal turmoil between Mary and the boy; no satisfying bridge is built across the cultural divide. As an adult reader, however, one is likely more well-equipped by experience to see some connections being drawn.

The novel Walkabout by James Vance Marshall is a breezy read at a tightly written 158 pages. A descriptive writing style and carefully researched cultural information about the fascinating Aboriginal people make this an easy novel to recommend. I also highly recommend Nicolas Roeg's 1971 film of the same name for a very different, and decidedly more mature, exploration of some themes only touched upon in the book.

Monday, July 03, 2017

Favorite Summer Things

Backyard bunny stops by for a nibble. (7/3/17)
Very few of my neighbors cut their own lawn anymore. Seeing folks outside laying their own mulch in the spring/early summer is a rare occurrence. These were chores forced upon me as a child that I have come to take great comfort doing myself in adulthood. There is something very rewarding and therapeutic about throwing down mulch, pulling weeds and just plain ol' digging in the dirt. I am rarely alone in working in doing yard work in the early morning hours. Fortunately, my wife, the bunny that lives under our shed, neighborhood birds and all types of worms and insects keep me company. These are among my favorite moments in summer time.

Front yard with Japanese Maple. (7/3/17)
Hens and chicks from the backyard. Reminders of my
late grandmother's yard. (7/3/17)
Our original large compost pit made with stakes and chicken wire to far left,
next to shed and vegetable garden with a smaller composter within. (7/3/17)
Had a thing for ornamental grasses a few years ago
and ferns are beyond plentiful. (7/3/17)
Baby bell pepper in the vegetable garden. (7/3/17)
A number of our plants are inspect magnets... everything has its purpose. (7/3/17)
"Stones" made by my children almost 15 years ago and originally planted
at my parents home. After my father's death and mother's move to smaller
living arrangement, they have found their way to our yard. (7/3/17)

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Summer Reading: Hillbilly Elegy

After sitting on my bookshelf for almost six months, I finally dove into Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J. D. Vance. Much like another book I recently read, How Dare the Sun Rise: Memoirs of a War Child by Sandra Uwiringiyimana with Abigail Pesta, this novel is a by-the-numbers memoir. In both instances, it is the content that distinguishes each. Both Vance and Uwiringiyimana come from very different perspectives. Both novels concern their respective protagonists real struggle with adversities, and while How Dare is the story of an immigrant to the U.S., Hillbilly Elegy tells the author's story of growing up in Appalachia, an American local that often feels alien.

Despite being smack-dab in the center of the United States, J.D. Vance and his family struggle with achieving an American Dream recognizable to most. As described by Vance, much of what is "normal" within the context of his community is very different than the America with which the general reader might be familiar outside of exploitive reality television. Alcoholism, abuse and poverty all contribute to the family's problems, and each issue seems ingrained in the way of life depicted. Ultimately, Vance uses his personal hardships, as well as those of his close-knit hillbilly family, as a vehicle for bringing to light the social problems of his hometown. The thing that the author points to as having eventually saved him are the values of his Hillbilly community as embodied by his cantankerous, angry and loving grandmother, referred to throughout by the sobriquet Mamaw.

In many ways there are two books under a single cover: one is the story of Vance's relationship with this key figure in his personal development and the other a social commentary. For my money, the latter which is far more compelling. If much of the text is somewhat detached in its voice despite employing very conversational language, when illustrating his relationship with Mamaw that Hillbilly Elegy comes to life. Mamaw is a beautifully developed "character." Presented as an imperfect maternal figure that continues to push Vance toward some semblance of success, it is clear that both Mamaw and Vance sense that the price for any upward mobility would be their relationship.

Widely available on the shelves of your local public library, I recommend Hillbilly Elegy as an interesting summer read. Vance's story is compelling, especially as part of wider consideration of the kaleidoscopic American experience.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Spring Veggie Garden Set-up... in Summer

Chilling near an entrance to his underground lair, the backyard bunny surveys
that area prior to my preparation of the vegetable garden bed. (6/10/17)
Getting the garden started this Spring took a little longer than expected, so long in fact that our backyard bunny had grown fairly comfortable lounging around his newly appointed snacking field. Summer's arrived and I have a number of other projects lining up for completion during the two week break from teaching. With time to get started past due, I finally turned over the garden patch and prepped it for planting last weekend. Two days later, my wife and I drove out to the gardening store, purchased plantings and plopped them into the ground. The next day, she and her son installed our anti-rabbit fence, and now the tending begins...

Clearly it's time to get down to the business of turning over,
weeding and mulching the garden bed. (6/10/17)
At one point many years ago I stopped using roto-tiller in favor of
a pitchfork and rake--a much more satisfying method! (6/14/17)
Pitchfork'd. (6/14/17)
Weeds be-gone, compost applied, garden ready. (6/14/17)
A line of bean seeds planted and marked with stick. (6/17/17)
Each year the content of our vegetable garden shifts and changes. (6/17/17)
Ready, set... GROW! (6/17/17)
Last summer kale, this summer string beans. (6/23/17)
After Anne sets up bunny fencing and bean poles,
things are ready to rock... aided by a welcome summer

Monday, June 19, 2017

"Official" Summer Reading: How Dare the Sun Rise

Synopsis from Greece Athena Library school handout for one
summer reading option.
Our school's summer reading program (as part of a district wide expectation) is mixing things up with this year's assignment. Last summer we offered ice cream treats as the carrot for reading a single text during the summer months (a half-sheet with basic information needed to be submitted as evidence), and this year's final product will be participating in a book talk regarding the text read using notes kept on a more extensive work sheet depending on whether the text is fiction or non-fiction. Numerous staff members have also elected to read the same title will also be completing the task and participating in the conversation.

I signed up to read the recently published How Dare the Sun Rise by Sandra Uwiringiyimana with Abigail Pesta. The synopsis shared with students (above) prompted quite a bit of interest on the part of my current eleventh graders as well as my teaching colleagues. With my task clear, I picked up a copy (available only in hard cover so not inexpensive) from the local Barnes and Noble and very quickly made my way through it. (A quick check of the local library online card catalog informs that there are 22 copies within their system, too.)

How Dare the Sun Rise is an incredibly engaging and honest autobiography of Congolese refugee Sandra Uwiringiyimana and her family finding their way from a satisfying existence in Africa though a series of hellish events (thus the subtitle Memoirs of a War Child) until finding a purpose and sense of acceptance in the United States. A traditionally structured autobiography, it is the conversational tone and the manner in which Uwiringiyimana uses the differences between the two cultures to shed light on the strengths and weakness of our American culture that elevates the text. The journey Uwiringiyimana and her family take is powerful. Despite having read and taught numerous immigrant experience works ranging from Upton Sinclair's muckraking classic The Jungle to Francisco Jimenez's short story "The Circuit," How Dare the Sun Rise presents a compelling voice that is underrepresented among the genre. The first person perspective of the Congolese refugee experience is fresh and informative. While I have taught students in my classes who have themselves shared a similar set of circumstances, the trauma likely experienced precluded too much sharing. As many good reads do, however, it raises more questions as it answers others...

As interesting as Uwiringiyimana's odyssey to (and through) the United States is, I really found myself drawn into the unique perspective of the author's veiled social commentary on facets of American culture that most are frequently not meaningfully discussed in many classrooms.  Issues such as obesity, modern segregation in the American public education system, as well as subtle racism within the larger American black community are woven into her story. A clear emphasis on the significant power of education is key to the author's story. That this belief is ingrained in her by a feminist father (the author's words), who himself was a product of patriarchy, is in stark contrast to the apathy illustrated by some American students observed by Uwiringiyimana as a public school student here in America. Consistent with her articulated goal in sharing her story, the author clearly hopes to spark conversation among young people regarding these issues and others.

I look forward to discussing How Dare the Sun Rise by Sandra Uwiringiyimana with Abigail Pesta upon returning to class in September. My hope is that even those students and staff who had not previously signed up to read this title will do so in addition to the others: Highly recommended.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Scoutin' Routes: Flower City Half

Over the past few weekends, Fleet Feet Rochester has offered course previews for the fast approaching Rochester Regional Health Flower City Half Marathon. While this is a run I have participated in two years ago, I would have liked to have attended these tours, not because I am likely to get lost (there will be plenty ahead of me) but because I like having a familiarity with the course prior to "racing" it. Unfortunately, I could not make it, though if Twitter pictures are accurate, a good time was had by those who did.

USATF Course #NY13101KL:
Certified Course Map.
With Spring Break this past week, I decided to preview the course myself, doing so in parts rather than in a single long run. Rather than running it, which would give me a stronger sense of the layout, I have opted to bike and walk it. A stretch of the course runs directly through my neighborhood (and as I sit here typing, flashes of my experience last year return).

Despite a great affection for USATF's certified course maps, they feel like a sort of runner's folk art, I used the 13.3 mile run map created by YellowJacket Racing. This course offers quite a bit for both participants and spectators to take in visually as the course flows through a variety of Rochester neighborhoods. As I biked the course over two days (in 6+ miles increments, Parts 1 and 2 on Monday, April 17, and Parts 3, 4, and 5 on Friday, April 21), these section breakdowns began to take shape in my mind. For myself, it will help me to get a sense of pace and distance to consider the half marathon as a 5-part run.

Part 1: Westside Start (Approximately 2.4 miles)
The race start is located at the western end of the Broad Street Bridge directly next to the Rochester Blue Cross Arena at the War Memorial. From here, the course heads immediately west. Rochester can be thought of as having two sides: East and West, the line of demarcation being the Genesee River. This first section covers quite a few visual treats in a fairly short distance.

Part 2: Eastside, Represent! (Approximately 3.5 miles)
The course then heads back east passing once again over the Genesee River on Main Street. This part of the course takes one through downtown, along East Avenue, into the heart of the Park Avenue neighborhood before heading South along the edge of the South Wedge.

Part 3: Highland Park (Approximately 1.5 miles)
This third section is the important as it begins the second half of the run and, for my money, is the most challenging. The first half of the race is fairly favorable relative to any changes in topography. I can recall in years past feeling really confident passing over the expressway on Goodman. This, of course, can be dangerous. I often fall victim to getting too far ahead of myself and this part of the course will punish you (as it has me) if you lose focus...

Part 4: Mt. Hope Cemetery (Approximately 2.5 miles)
For some reason I always envision this part of the race as being toward the finish, but it's really not. This is among the most beautiful areas the course runs through and it is rife with deceptive challenges not the least of which is the mistaken impression I have that once your through the run is nearly done... it's not. Friends of mine who have also run this race point to the Mt. Hope Cemetery as being their least favorite (or most difficult) aspect of the overall course. I can see why as the initial beauty of the area quickly seems repetitive as the course gives way to follow a serpentine trail of paved, empty roadway.

Part 5: Genesee Riverway Trail to Finish! (Approx. 3.2 miles)
"Only" 5k to go. The water station immediately inside the gate of the cemetery you've just left is a good time to re-hydrate (again) and prepare for the last leg of the half marathon which takes you through another picturesque part of our city (yes, there really are many of those) along the Genesee River and past the University of Rochester. This last 5k provides lots to fuel positive thoughts...

As I bicycled the course over two days, many of the turns and views came back to me from my last go at the course in 2015. Out of proximity, I also run many sections of the course forwards, backwards and sideways during the course of any training cycle, so for me, like many other local yokels I suspect, there is a familiarity with the land. Fortunately for someone like myself, who gets lost on most trails (and in my head), given the layout and excellent job YellowJacket Racing does with the courses, getting off-course is not even a likelihood, should one even try (often at mile 10 I briefly wonder how I might successfully drop out and hide my shame until my wife can secretly picks me up in a car).

An added benefit offered by our friends at YellowJacket will be pace runners in short increments from projected finish times of 1:40 and up. Having fallen in with one of their pacers in the past, if you have a target finish and need some support, I would definitely look for them at the start and join their respective entourages. With those involved in the race, the course and your fellow participants, whether racing, running or spectating, Sunday (and Saturday for that matter--there are other events on that day as well) should be an excellent time!