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Monthly Archives: March 2017

Recommendations for Sanibel Island…and Beach-Side Musings

The salty, gritty scent of the gulf rolling onto crushed shell-bone and white sand… Clear, cerulean skies and hot sun… And, predictably, my favorite part: late, sun-kissed dinners teeming with fresh seafood, warm bread, and goldfish garnered salads. 

I grew up coming to Sanibel as a child, and this week my husband Padraic and I spent a week there with my parents and one of my brothers. I’m not the best at relaxing on vacations — trust me, I spent much of the week in the condo in front of my computer, planning lessons, grading papers, and researching summer professional development opportunities. Any “color” I got is the product of Jergens Natural Glow. (Minus my two lobster red feet.) But as I get ready to board the plane back to my real life, I find myself eager to reminisce.

I talk about writing quite a bit on this site, and so it bears mentioning that I always associate my childhood Sanibel trips with writing and journaling and reflecting. And the book, Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh, given to me by my mother. There’s something about the pull and tug of the ocean that as a child/adolescent, called out my inner longings, surfaced my frustrations and fears, and got me in my feelings, in a broody, contemplative state that couldn’t have less to do with building an ambitious sand castle or getting a killer tan.

I also associate Sanibel with my mom, Jeanie. This is the only annual vacation she and my dad really allow themselves, and she always seems to take a bit of the island with her, sharing its breezy, pastel, wholesome elegance. Large bleached shells fill glass vases in their home, shell Christmas ornaments adorn their Christmas tree, and there’s even a Sanibel perfume that instantly makes me picture my mom’s master bath in her home in Saint Louis. 

But enough nostalgia…

This week Padraic and I indulged in daily yoga classes at Sanibel Pilates and Yoga including Vinyasa, Hatha, Aerial, and a Pilates class for good measure. If you have a fairly advanced practice, the classes feel pretty light, but it’s a beautiful studio with warm and inviting instructors. Other than yoga, we did a lot of walking on the beach… eyeing a few brazen dolphins swimming close to shore.

My parents have it down when it comes to the Sanibel restaurant scene, so allow me to tell you what I ate all week. Interested? Good. 

So night one was The Timbers: a bustling, family-friendly joint with a great seafood market to boot. They serve goldfish instead of croutons in their simple house salad, which is the kind of thing that wins me over to a place. I had a hankering for crunchy fried shrimp that night, which was a treat, but I have to say, what impressed me most was the roasted vegetable medley of zucchini, carrot, and broccoli — buttery and super satisfying. 

Night two was The Green Flash, located on Captiva Island. This place is a local favorite, and they don’t take reservations. I opted for turf — a steak with grilled polenta and sautéed spinach. The meal was solid, but the best part of the experience was the sunset ocean view and the service — our waiter was a robust Russian dude with a “professional waiter” aura. (I think in my next life I want to come back as tattooed waitress who provides kickass service and never needs to write anything down). 

More yoga… More walking… More furious typing on a computer… 

Our third night in Sanibel was very special. Padraic’s cousin and his family live in Naples, so we made a trip to their house, after perusing a few art galleries and walking through Naples’s historic downtown (mighty hoity toity for my taste…) Steven and Laura are both architects (in business together), and Laura is a phenomenal cook. She served us a spinach salad with jicama, diced apples, orange slices, and a cilantro/lime/olive oil dressing, followed by cheesy chicken enchiladas and refried beans… then homemade flan for dessert. 

More yoga… More walking… 

Sweet Melissa’s was night four. Easily the best meal I’ve had all year, and possibly one of the best meals of my life. This place does take reservations — if you’re ever in Sanibel, make a reservation! 

The family split salads:

Here’s my personal favorite: big chunks of tomato and watermelon drizzled with basil infused olive oil and garnished with a generous square of feta, a large cornmeal crouton, and a few olives:

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Here’s a head of grilled romaine lettuce sprinkled with Parmesan cheese and Caesar dressing:

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And here’s a goat cheese and beet get-up:

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Three of us got the same entree: sautéed scallops and chunks of pork belly served over a buttery sweet potato sauce. Holy crap. Who would have thought that pig and shellfish got along so nicely on top of a yam? 

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Finally, last night, I rolled up my sleeves and did a little cooking to thank my parents for all the indulgent meals… with another indulgent meal…   Brown butter scallops, Parmesan risotto, and sautéed kale.

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A few notes on this recipe: 

  • The recipe title is a little misleading — the scallops aren’t actually cooked in brown butter; they’re sautéed in olive oil and then drizzled with some butter that’s been browned in a saucepan. 
  • You probably know this, but to get a nice sear on the scallops, pat them DRY. 
  • The risotto doesn’t call for any salt — the many ladles of chicken broth and pile of Parmesan cheese does the trick. That’s one reason I think this particular recipe for risotto is a good basic, bottom line risotto recipe to have in your repertoire, whenever you’re serving risotto as a side starch and not a main course. The instructions are simple and the result is scrumptious.
  • You probably know this, too, but when you’re sautéing kale or spinach in olive oil and you want it to cook down faster, add a splash of water… Helps soften and moisten the greens without making them oily. If I were at home, I would have added some red pepper flakes.
  • The whole plate is just crying out for a squeeze of lemon — I don’t know why the original recipe doesn’t mention lemons, for the love of God! 
  • Oh — one more thing — I seared all the scallops — large and small — for four minutes on each side. This worked out pretty well for me.

Okay… Home we go… Back to dead carrot fingers :/ I feel blessed, bloated, quite a bit spoiled, and totally overwhelmed by everything I have to do before Monday. Namaste. 

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High School Musical Theatre History Lesson Plan 

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Next week, we are starting our unit on musical theatre in the 1950s. Here is the first 90 minute lesson plan to start an 8 day unit. (Yikes! Short!) If this is of use to another teacher, GREAT. I’m posting it for a more selfish reason… I’m on spring break and things start to get really busy for me this weekend so I need to plan out the entire week of 3/27-4/3. And I don’t feel like lesson planning… so I’m “blogging” right now… but really I’m lesson planning. These are really instructions to myself. Enjoy, I guess?

As students are walking in, instruct them to get a chromebook and a packet.

Project the following words on the board. As students are getting pencil and paper out, read the instructions verbally and allow students to write (7 minutes)

  • Today we begin our unit on the 1950s!
  • You will have the opportunity to preview 5 1950s scripts and choose the one you want to read.
  • To decide which script you want to read, you will research 10 images associated with each musical.
  • To start, please think of a favorite movie, novel, musical, or play. Write down 10 images or objects that you associate with it.

Call on 2-3 students to share out what they wrote (I use Popsicle sticks) and project the following instructions, reviewing them verbally (8 min — 15 total)

  • You will read one 1950s script in a small group (literature circle). Your choice of script is:
  • Guys and Dolls (1950)
  • The King and I (1951) 
  • My Fair Lady (1956)
  • West Side Story (1957)
  • Gypsy (1959) 
  • Today you will have 12 minutes to spend with a folder of 10 images from each script. For as many images as possible, you will research the connection between the image and the musical and write your findings down in your packet.
  • Then, at the end of class, you will rank your preference of script from 1-5 and decide what role you would prefer to have in your group.
  • Assign groups of four and a starting script for each group
  • You will know it is time to move to a different script/folder when the musical theatre show tunes stop.
  • Divide up the images between the four members of your group so as a group, you can cover them all.
  • Questions?

Students rotate through the different folders and images and complete their packet. (60 minutes — 75 minutes total)

Bring students to attention. Guide students through the packet and have them rank their script and lit circle role (12 minutes — 87 total)

Put chromebooks back and return folders with images (3 min — 90 total)

Packet Page 1:

Guys and Dolls (1950)

On the back of this page, please write the meaning of each of the following objects/images. In other words, how does the object/image connect to Guys and Dolls? You will need to research this on your chromebook. As stated previously, divide the images up between the members of your group.

  1. Dice
  2. Sneeze
  3. Bible
  4. Boa
  5. New York
  6. Map of Cuba
  7. Engagement ring
  8. Frank Sinatra
  9. Mission Band
  10. Boat

Packet Page 2:

The King and I (1951)

On the back of this page, please write the meaning of each of the following objects/images. In other words, how does the object/image connect to The King and I? You will need to research this on your chromebook. As stated previously, divide the images up between the members of your group.

  1. Whistle
  2. Chalkboard
  3. Buddha
  4. Uncle Tom’s Cabin
  5. Anna
  6. King of Siam
  7. King’s Wives
  8. March of the Siamese Children
  9. Rogers and Hammerstein
  10. Cupid

Packet Page 3:

My Fair Lady (1956)

On the back of this page, please write the meaning of each of the following objects/images. In other words, how does the object/image connect to My Fair Lady? You will need to research this on your chromebook. As stated previously, divide the images up between the members of your group.

  1. Pygmalion
  2. Chocolates
  3. Gramophone
  4. Flask
  5. Flowers
  6. Ascot Gavotte
  7. Rain in Barcelona
  8. London early 1900s
  9. Embassy Ball Scene
  10. Freddy

Packet Page 4:

West Side Story (1957)

On the back of this page, please write the meaning of each of the following objects/images. In other words, how does the object/image connect to West Side Story? You will need to research this on your chromebook. As stated previously, divide the images up between the members of your group.

  1. Puerto Rican flag
  2. New York City late 1950s
  3. Knife
  4. Gun
  5. Romeo and Juliet
  6. The Jets
  7. The Sharks
  8. Jerome Robbins
  9. Leonard Bernstein
  10. “There’s a Place for Us”

Packet Page 5:

Gypsy (1959)

On the back of this page, please write the meaning of each of the following objects/images. In other words, how does the object/image connect to Gypsy? You will need to research this on your chromebook. As stated previously, divide the images up between the members of your group.

  1. Ethel Merman
  2. a rose
  3. boa
  4. Stage Mom
  5. Rose and Herbie
  6. vaudeville
  7. Louise and June
  8. a star
  9. Bernadette Peters
  10. Stephen Sondheim

Packet Page 6:

Based on your brief research today, please rank the script that you are most interested in reading for the 1950s unit. To do this, write the names of the shows in order of “most want to read” to “least want to read” on the back of this page.

Once again, the shows are:

  • Guys and Dolls (1950)
  • The King and I (1951) 
  • My Fair Lady (1956)
  • West Side Story (1957)
  • Gypsy (1959) 

You will play a specific role in your reading group. You may be a:

  • Researcher (of production team, source material, production processes…)
  • Summarizer (of plot, themes, characters…)
  • Illustrator (of scenes, choreography, sets…)

Please write the names of the roles in order of “most want to do” to “least want to do” on the back of this page underneath your script ranking.

 

 

Easy Cooked Carrot Recipes

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When a student told me that my tupperware container of balsamic roasted baby carrots looked like dead fingers, it was exactly what I needed to stop forcing forkfuls of the overwhelmingly sour, otherwise flavorless “fingers” down my gob.

We wasted a few more minutes of my plan time and his brief break from in-school-suspension talking about why he didn’t eat cooked vegetables, and then I made a trip to the vending machine. I think I ended up with a Kit Kat. 

I’m a big fan of Cristina Ferrare’s cookbook, Big Bowl of Love, but I’m not crazy about her penchant for drizzling roasted vegetables with reduced balsamic vinegar. Maybe I’m doing it wrong? You tell me. Not reducing the vinegar enough to sweeten it? Dumping instead of drizzling? Seriously, I want to be classy and drizzle a balsamic vinegar reduction over my vegetables… But the dead carrot finger experiment was off putting. 

Anyway, I can go through cooked vegetables like candy because they taste so sweet and buttery after cooking. Here is Ferrare’s cooking method, minus the balsamic glaze: 

Blistered Baby Carrots

  • Heat a LARGE frying pan over medium high heat. 
  • Scoop out a sizable chunk of ghee (clarified butter — it doesn’t burn at higher temperatures) and swirl to coat the pan. 
  • Shake in the whole bag of baby carrots and season generously with salt and pepper. Make sure all the carrots are lightly coated in butter. Add more butter if necessary 🙂 
  • Cook until the carrots get a little char on them, and feel crisp-tender. 
  • Chop some fresh dill and sprinkle on top. 

Bonus: this recipe is Whole30 compliant! 

Speaking of kid-friendlier toppings for roasted vegetables that I can fully endorse, my new “jam” (a parent kept using that word during conferences about her daughter’s interests, it’s on my mind :)) is a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese.

These Parmesan roasted carrots are as lip-smacking to me as French fries. (I recommend halving the bigger carrots.) Roasting a large bag of large carrots whole feels refreshingly resourceful to me — bags of large carrots often linger in my vegetable drawer, and the good thing about roasting vegetables, ahem, is that you can work with the slightly shriveled, spotted stuff. The Parmesan precludes these from Whole30 compliance, but it’s a wholesome cheat… Just a sprinkle 🙂 

Next I want to try Parmesan on zucchini wedges. 

Meanwhile, I’m on the hunt for a low calorie veggie dip that isn’t mustard and isn’t guacamole… Any tips??

New Dance Horizons

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I snagged a ticket to “New Dance Horizons” at The Touhill a few weeks ago through my friend, Saundra. (Thanks, Saundra!) 

It was a pleasant surprise that several of my students were dancing before the show and during intermission, performing a piece called “The Bus” (or “On The Bus?”) which commented on racism and resilience. I have an image in my mind of the end of the piece, in which my student, Chastity leaned into the standing audience, doing repetitive hip rolls (?) in a clump of young dancers, with a determined, calm gaze in her eyes that made her stand out to me. Or when Tobias jumped confidently and eloquently in bare feet, coaxing a younger, little girl member of the dance troupe to perform for him. Or when Eleanor, a compassionate and sophisticated young white teen, vigorously danced the part of the driver of the segregated bus… They were all costumed in white collared button down t-shirts and navy skirts and pants, (excepting Eleanor’s driver’s cap) which to me, conjured the daily grind, the working class, the to and fro jostle of showing up ready and on-time in a world that wears a harsh and hostile face. 

This intimate, full-force performance was an inspiring prelude to three world premiere dances organized around the theme, “Women Who Inspire.” 

The first piece, by Saint Louis Ballet, was a painterly, spiritual, at once visually calming and stunning tribute to the music of Hildegard of Bingen, a “12th-Century German Benedictine abbess and mystic… who composed an entire corpus of sacred music…” The dancers wore variously saturated flesh tones that felt like the gradations of light in a Renaissance painting.

The image that sticks with me is a line of three (?) male/female partners, with the delicate and emotive ballerina balanced by her male partner as she pirouetted, developéd, and contracted in a syncopated rhythm that felt reverent and prayerful. (Hmm… I wonder how a non-religious person would interpret this piece…)

The second piece by Madco, “Art Is a Guarantee of Sanity,” was inspired by Susannah Cahalan, the author of “Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness,” who suffered psychotic episodes, among other things, as a result of the disease, Anti-NMDA-Receptor Autoimmune Encephalitis. 

The piece was incredible, and very painful for me to watch. It was so riveting, though, I couldn’t look away — in large part, out of plain admiration for the dancers’ athleticism and emotional commitment in the midst of something so physically demanding.

As a drone-like, bluish light buzzed over a dancer hinging, un-hinged-like, to the rhythm of her own loud, anguished exhales, I was struck by a dancer’s ability to express the inner turmoil of a brain so eloquently through the body, through the timing of a breath, the tilt of a walk, and most hauntingly, through intervals of graceful, almost balletic, zombie-esque seated arm movements that convey the numbing effect of high-wattage medication. 

The last piece, by The Big Muddy Dance Company, was called Destino, Roto. Choreographer Stephanie Martinez writes that she was inspired by “many people,” including “the Latino cultural influence my family brings to my life” and texts by poet Gabriela Mistral. It seemed to be the most narrative of the three pieces, and it leaned on a lot of theatrical elements: fire engine red high heels, the Mistral recordings, costume changes… I honestly found it a little confusing, but I’m eager to see more of The Big Muddy.

Just yesterday, one of my creative writing students, Ana, who is also taking dance composition, was exploding with enthusiasm over her ability to create precise formations using Google Slide. Cracks me up — the day before spring break. She’s a kick-ass dancer with blue hair and curves who happens to be a an awesome writer as well.

I was showing my class the movie Dancemaker, about Paul Taylor (she had already seen it) with a list of reflection questions about the creative process for dance/the performing arts versus the creative process for writing. I noticed she was engrossed in her chromebook during the final scene, when Taylor’s company performs a world premiere of a new piece about the transient, exploitative nature of many adult romantic relationships. “Ana!” I called out. “I never get sick of watching this… Can you?” “Eh,” she replied, “It’s kind of formulaic. You know, Mrs. O’Donnell, every dance has a formula.”

I nodded and smiled… What should I have said?? 

38 Minute Sestina

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Every semester, I have my creative writing students experiment with a sestina. I love this form, because it is about playing with language: essentially, you pick six words and weave a poem around them.

Because it’s a challenging assignment requiring a lot of precise rule-following, I challenged myself to write one in a relatively short amount of time.

Here is the product of 38 minutes of wordplay sitting at my kitchen island:

38 Minute Sestina

land (a)
stone (b)
crack (c)
marry/merry/Mary (d)
foreign (e)
walls (f)

Last summer, Padraic and I visited his family’s land (a)
in Connemara, Ireland. Specifically his father’s one-room stone (b)
house, now a stable for a horse, cracked (c)
all over, like dry dirt soil in a Midwestern backyard. Mary, (d)
Cole, Padraic, and I drunk in the foreign (e)
beauty of low rock walls (f)

separating lamb-dotted green turf. Walls (f)
are much discussed today, in my homeland (a)
of the “free,” of the “brave.” Foreigners (c)
being stacked outside our borders like stones. (b)
Love Trumps Hate, some say, to marry (d)
their idea of America with the hate that is seeping through the cracks (c).

On the one hand, it cracks (c)
us up, Alec Baldwin and and Kate McKinnon on SNL, comic walls (f)
to shield us from our fear. Mary, (d)
Cole, Padraic and I also visited Iceland, (a)
a stone’s (b)
throw away from the “emerald isle.” Foreign (e)

is how it felt, to touch ice dusted in volcanic ash, Foreign (e)
is how it now feels, to have a President riddled with cracks (c)
like my father-in-law’s old, stone (b)
house. A byzantine labyrinth of nonsensical walls (f)
is the brain of the surrogate father of my native land. (a)
When Padraic and I got married, (d)

Obama was the president. And the woman he was married (d)
to, was foreign (e)
to some Americans, as they watched the land (a)
of the free granting privilege to one whose descendants were not free. (Cracks (c)
in our country’s constitution, walls (f)
still erected by everyday Americans, offspring of our nation’s shameful cornerstone) (b)

When they go low, we go high, she preaches, stone- (b)
deaf to the marriage (d)
of America with whiteness. I wish Trump could see the walls (f)
in Connemara, how low and cobbled they are, foreign (e)
to sleek city towers and skyscrapers, full of cracks. (c)
Walls meant for walking, and grazing, and relishing the green land (a).

Padraic’s cousin Mattie lived for his land. (a)
For the wet turf, the ripe berries, the limestone (b).
He cracked (c)
up, at me, Cole, Padraic and Mary (d)
trying to cut turf with a sloane. America — its flatness, its size — is foreign (e),
to Mattie. How I long, in this America, to walk among those low, cobbled walls (f).

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