Sunday, November 20, 2011

Cake Pops, Anyone?

Raise your hand if you've ever heard of cake pops.

I first saw a cake pop at Starbucks just a few short months ago. I thought it was a super cute idea, so I kept it in my memory bank tucked really, really, really deep inside. In fact, I forgot all about them. At work one day, my co-teacher mentioned that she was going to try her hand at making the miniature treats. Oh, yeah! Cake pops! "I'm going to do that, too!" I thought.

Since my mom's birthday was coming up, I thought there was no better time than the present (pun totally intended) to try.

You'll need the following ingredients:
  • A regular cake mix (any brand)
  • Canned frosting (any brand)
  • Candy chocolate for melting & dipping
  • Sucker sticks

Here's how it works:
First, you bake a cake. I went with chocolate since it's Mom's favorite.
Let the cake cool completely. I baked the cake a day ahead of time, but covered it so it would stay moist.

Next, crumble the cake into tiny pieces. One website suggested you put the pieces into a food processor, but I just used my hands.

For the next step, I used my Kitchenaid stand mixer, but a hand mixer would work.
Add about 1/2 of a can of store bought frosting to the crumbled cake pieces. It's important not to use too much frosting, or your pops might fall off the stick! For this project, I used chocolate frosting. You can use any combination of cake and frosting.
Mix well until you get the consistency of play dough (another good tip I found in my online research).

Next, cover the cake dough with plastic wrap and chill. I left it in the refrigerator for about an hour.
Prepare a cookie sheet by placing a sheet of wax paper on top.
Once your dough is sufficiently chilled, bring it out of the refrigerator and remove the plastic wrap.
Melt a small amount of chocolate for use in helping the sticks stay put in the pop.
Next, mold the cake pops.
Some websites suggest using a spring releasing ice cream scoop to measure the dough, but since I don't have one, I just used a tablespoon and the palms of my hands.
Place each molded pop onto the prepared cookie sheet.
If you look closely, you'll notice that I pierced each pop before adding the sticks. It seemed to me that the sticks might go in easier that way.

Dip the end of the sticks into the melted chocolate you prepared and stick about half way into the pop.
You'll need to chill the pops before dipping the entire thing into melted chocolate. Since I was in a time crunch, I opted for putting them into the freezer for about 45 minutes. The refrigerator would work fine, too.
After chilling the pops, melt the candy chocolate of your choice. This chocolate will be used for dipping the entire pop, so color matters. I used regular brown milk chocolate, white chocolate, and white chocolate colored with pink food coloring. Cake decorating shops, and places like JoAnn Fabrics, Michaels, and Hobby Lobby carry pre-colored chocolate pieces. It's up to you.

When covering the pops, I used the microwaveable candy tubs I bought at JoAnn Fabrics (see photo above). Sources I found suggest using either the microwave method or the double boiler method. I followed the microwave directions on the tub and began dipping. To assist in the dipping process, I used a spoon to help coat the pop and smooth the chocolate.

Chilling the pops makes for easy pop coverage because the chocolate hardens quickly (but not too quickly). It did, however, cause a decorating issue. Since the chocolate solidifies so quickly, sprinkles don't stick too well. Depending on what you want to do with your pops, you'll have to think that through.

I've seen many different displays, from very simple to uber elaborate. I picked up a piece of rectangular styrofoam from the dollar store, wrapped it in decorative paper, and stuck the pops in. Maybe I'll get fancier for my next go 'round.
Happy birthday, Mom!

I was so excited about this experience that I purchsed this book by Bakerella, who is apparently the cake pops creator and guru.

My next project will be to create cupcake pops. I can't wait!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Document Cameras and iPhones and SmartBoards: OH MY!

Having recently tiptoed quietly into the 21st century, I am now the proud (I think) owner of an iPhone. Another of my many claims to fame is that I have a SmartBoard in my classroom! I don't know many teachers who can brag about the amount of technology available to them. I do, however, know at least a couple who have the technology at their disposal but don't know how to use it. Oh, the shame!

I attended a good, great, grand, wonderful SmartBoard training session today. I learned many things. Least forgotten of them all: There's so much I never knew I never knew.

I think I'm being a little harsh. I'm not tech-dumb. I keep up with some of the latest and greatest. My husband and I have two HD DVRs hooked up to enormous HD LED (or is it LCD?) TVs. We both have smart phones. We have iPods and mp3 players, two fully-functioning computers, I blog (how laughable) and have a Facebook. I'm fearful, though, that one day I will turn into the teacher who is behind the times and who can't keep up with the technology her students (and colleagues) use to speed by.

The problem: To me, technology is trendy, and oftentimes unnecessary. As a student, I learn best listening to a lecture, studying my notes, and conducting my own research. With the push to incorporate more and more technology into our classrooms, I find it hard to believe that there aren't at least some students who still learn best in a more traditional way.

The moral: I'll do my best to maintain a fresh perspective and positive attitude toward integrating more technology into my lessons. Truthfully, I think it's amazing what these crazy machines can do. I'm more than willing to jump on board. In fact, after my training session today, I went straight to my classroom to change my lesson plans for...TOMORROW! I adapted what I was doing to incorporate the SmartBoard. Someone super smart once told me: "If you don't use what you learn within 3 days, you'll lose it."

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Happy New Year!

I survived the first day of my fourth year of teaching. While it's too early to really know many of my students, I remain positive about the impending school year. There are a couple students I know from school years past, but a vast majority of my students are new (to me) minds. I look forward potential readers of literature new and old, expert photojournalists (I'm teaching Yearbook this year), and eager writers of the persuasive persuasion.

A mentor of mine calls me an idealist. I like to call it...alright, idealism, so what? So I arrive at school with a pit in my stomach because my nerves are so bad; so I cross my T's twice and dot my I's thrice; so I come back for more torture year after year. SO, my students are better off for it; SO, I take pride in the work that I do; SO I get results.

A deluge of change has flooded our education system, and educators are keeping their heads just above water. Governor Rick Snyder has divulged his plan to reinvent Michigan's education system. This reinvention has veteran educators admitting that these are changes bigger than they ever thought they'd see. Whether I agree or disagree with this reform, I wont get into. The truth is, I don't know whether I agree or disagree. My hope remains: maybe evaluating teachers based on student growth and awarding merit pay to teachers who are highly proficient are the right things to do. I'm an idealist, remember?

It's a tough job, being a teacher. Tougher still is watching groups of people fold just because they're unwilling to change. I chose my blog name, Walks Like Rain, because it's part of a song lyric to one of my favorite tunes: Drops of Jupiter by Train. To me, the phrase signifies change and growth, renewal and rejuvination. In order to get better, I believe, we have to be willing to make changes, and possibly sacrifice things that are comfortable to us. Possibly, if we all entertain a paradigm shift, we can be the change we want to see in the world. Change is never easy, is it?

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Florida Fun

My cousin, Kim, and I trekked to Destin, Florida to visit another of my cousins, and Kim's sister, Michelle. Michelle has been in Florida since May completing an internship with Resort Quest, a resort management company, as a requirement for her degree. I have to say, Michelle is an incredibly strong individual. For the last several months, she has survived living in Florida away from her closest friends and family, the death of a member of her sorority, and having many of her most expensive possessions stolen from her home. After all she's been through, she's come out alive and confident in her career choice. I'm very proud of her.

We flew in to Pensacola Regional Airport on Wednesday. Since Michelle had to work that day, it didn't make sense to arrive super early, so we chose a flight that landed in Florida around 6 p.m. After a long drive (about an hour and a half), we arrived at Sterling Shores, the condo complex that would be our home for the next 3 nights. What a beautiful place! Resort Quest manages many properties, including hotels, condominiums, and townhomes. Each residence is owned by individuals who hire RQ to manage their property. Therefore, each property is unique. Here's what ours looked like:

Since we didn't have much time to play on Wednesday night, we chose to have a simple pizza dinner at Mellow Mushroom. The pizza was delicious! Michelle and I ordered a traditional pizza with mushrooms and green pepper slices. Yum-O. Most importantly, the restaurant features a gluten-free menu that accomodated Kim's allergy. She ordered a garlic and olive oil based pizza with sun dried tomatoes and bananna peppers. I didn't try it, but she thoroughly enjoyed it. After dinner, we visited the beach, which was just a minute's walk from our condo. By that time, it was very dark. We couldn't see a thing, and when Michelle informed me that the hermit crabs come out at night, I was all but done with the beach. We went home, watched a few shows on HGTV, and went to sleep!

The next morning, we woke up to gray skies. We enjoyed our leftover pizza for breakfast, and by the time we were finished, we were in the midst of a full-fleged deluge. In order to take full advantage of the time we had in Florida, we decided to go shopping instead of just sitting around. We went to an outlet mall that had some nice stores, but I wasn't ultra inspired by anything there. Kim bought a dress, Michelle and I bought nil. After several hours there, the rain had let up some, but not completely. Since our hair hair was already wrecked, and our bodies were damp, we figured might as well just head to the beach. We were hungry again (aren't you always when you're on vacation?), so we made a pit stop at Zoe's Kitchen. The restaurant offers fresh and healthy options. Michelle had chicken orzo soup (looked and sounded delicious, and she confirmed that) and a greek salad, Kim had chicken kabobs over rice, and I had steak rollups with a side of fresh fruit. Full and satisfied, we headed to the beach.

At the beach, the warning flags were RED! A red flag signifies huge waves. I've been in the ocean, but I've never swam in the ocean, so I was thrilled! Truthfully, this was the Gulf of Mexico, but it's all the same to me. We couldn't resist diving right into the waves. Wow, was it fun. We did a little body surfing, but for the most part, the waves ruled us. We spent a couple hours there, and headed back to the condo. I took a little siesta, and then we headed to the pool. For dinner that night, we chose Poppy's Crazy Lobster on Harbor Walk. I thoroughly enjoyed Caribbean Shrimp over rice and summer vegetables:

 This was the most delicious meal I've had in a long time. Here's a picture of Kim and Michelle at Poppy's:

Friday, we went back to the beach and laid by the pool almost all day. Michelle made us dinner that night. It included Tilapia, red skin potatoes, and asparagus. It was a wonderful dinner, and a great alternative to an expensive meal out. Thanks, Michelle!

All in all, the trip was a wonderful time. I was so happy to be able to connect with family members that I see a ton, but don't often get to let loose with. Thanks for the memories, girls! I love you!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Do Tell

This week, I went on a journey with three women, two black, one white, from Jackson, Mississippi. Aibileen, Minny, and Skeeter are the main characters in The Help by Kathryn stockett. I hate to be a bandwagon reader (The Help is a New York Times #1 Bestseller), but sometimes, like this time, it's well worth it. I've been hearing about the book and its movie (due out August 12) for a while now, but when my mom suggested I read it, I figured I'd jump right in. At 522 pages, it's quite lengthy, and I'm usually not the type who can read an entire book in one sitting. I've been going to bed for the last few nights lamenting the fact that we humans have to sleep to feel good and have to work to make the dough.

The novel's backdrop is 1960's deep South. With allusions to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and President John F. Kennedy, it's hard not to believe that the story is a fairly accurate depiction of the relationships between white and black people, but more specifically, white homeowners and black maids (or help or domestics) when "Separate but Equal" still meant that it was okay to ship almost spoiled milk from white grocery stores to sell it in black grocery stores.

Aibileen and Minny are two very smart, very bitter, black maids for two very ignorant, very naive women. Having worked since they were teenagers, and having almost no other choice, they've half-raised at least 10 kids a piece. Over the years, Aibileen and Minny have learned the golden rule of working as a maid: White people are not your friends. These women avoid talking to or even looking at their employers. Skeeter (Miss Skeeter to Aibileen and Minny) is the young daughter of wealthy parents who own and run a cotton farm. The family employs a maid with whom Skeeter grows close to and respects very much. Her friends are Hilly and Elizabeth, two women who have been taught the golden rule of employing a maid: Black people are not your friends. These women have made a career out of barking orders at their help, playing bridge on Wednesday afternoons, and making babies who will be raised by others. Skeeter knows that her friends, and most of the country's population, are wrong about black people. They aren't dirty, and they don't have diseases that you can catch by sharing a bathroom with them. However, she finds it hard to escape the expectations of a young, wealthy, southern woman: find a boyfriend, get engaged, get married, hire a maid, have children. She wants to break the mold, though. She wants to become a writer. She also deeply believes in Civil Rights. Fate, and a little finesse, brings Aibileen, Minny, and Skeeter together to document the stories of black people working for white families in Mississippi.

The Help is heart-warming and heart-breaking. It's uplifting and upsetting. At times it's hillarious. Most of all, it's eye-opening. Not having lived through the 1960's, I've never known what it's like to be emersed in a culture so deeply racist that black and white people can't share the same drinking fountains. I didn't participate in The March on Washington, and I've never witnessed a race riot. Having read The Help, though, has helped me to understand a little bit better what life was like during such transitional times. As Charles Dickens so aptly put it, it was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Many people escaped at the other end of such a challenging era enlightened.

Having finished such a poignant novel just days after President Obama certified the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," I realized how easy it is to compare the original DADT legislation to "Seperate but Equal." The original DADT policy "prohibits military personnel from discriminating against or harassing closeted homosexual or bisexual service members or applicants, while barring openly gay, lesbian, or bisexual persons from military service." Isn't asking these people to "not tell" discriminating against and harassing them? Likewise, the original SBE doctrine certified that "services, facilities and public accommodations were allowed to be separated by race, on the condition that the quality of each group's public facilities was to remain equal." We've all heard the old saying: "Separate is inherently not equal." It's really easy to get sucked into old cliches: "History repeats itself," and "The more things change, the more they stay the same;" but I suppose it's appropriate to remain optomists, reassuring ourselves that our country, our world, is forever changing and learning from its mistakes.

Its unfortunate that we haven't already made all of these essential changes; but learning is growth, and growth can only mean good things for everyone.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Christmas in July

Instead of just scrapbooking individual escapades, like vacations, birthdays, and concerts, I decided I needed to chronicle more every day antics as well. Before, I'd go on creative binges after week long summer vacations. These binges were always fun, albeit exhausting, but they weren't very efficient. I'd end up with a supercalafragalisticexpialadoshus album of . . . one week of my life. Now, I try to have my camera with me at all times, ready for any photo op that sashays my way. This way, I'll have custom made albums to enjoy in the future.

A couple weeks ago, I visited Natalie in Columbus and we scrapbooked our stinkin' hearts out. Because I want to get entirely caught up on everything pre-wedding before I start my wedding album(s), I was very focused on churning out the pages as fast as I possibly could. Unfortunately, I didn't get entirely caught up, but I did get a big chunk out of the way. For some reason, I had a ton of Christmas and Winter pages to complete.

Here's a Christmas layout documenting the great times we have at the Pruner household on Christmas Eve. These particular pictures are from Christmas Eve 2010. We do a gift exchange and chant (loudly) the name of the receiver while clapping on beat.

This layout also features pictures from Christmas 2010. The pictures are hard to see, but the 3 across the top right side are Lewis, Durocher, and Michel family pictures. A typical family photo session during the holidays takes at least 20 minutes to complete. The Michels are pretty easy, but with two crazy boys in the Durocher family, and two ornery siblings in the Lewis family who shall remain nameless, it takes a lot of finesse to get the perfect set of photos.

As a yearly tradition, the girls on my mom's side of the family spend a day cooking sweets and hors' dourves that we split between the families and enjoy during the holidays. For years we've been making some of the same things: "Little Pizzas," cocktail reubens, and chex mix (we add Cheez-Its), but we've attempted some new things in recent years.

The cousins on the same side of my family have made it a monthly priority to get together for a "girls' day." Last December, we went to Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor to participate in a "White Christmas" sing-a-long.

If I tried, I don't think I could successfully calculate the number of hours I spend crafting these pages, and I will forever keep my distance from calculating the number of dollars I spend crafting them. I suppose it's all worth it, though, isn't it?

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Because You Loved Me...

At my wedding, I danced with my father to "Because You Loved Me" by Celine Dion. Here's why:

For all the times you stood by me...
Physically, you stood by me at least 10 times for Parents' Night at basketball, volleyball and softball games. Emotionally, you stood by me many more times.

For all the truth that you made me see...
You are such a constant force in my life. I can't even begin to list the number of times you have guided me in the right direction.

For all the joy you brought to my life...
One of my favorite memories with you happened many times: sitting in the passenger seat of your big red GMC Sierra listening to "Colors of the Wind" by Vanessa Williams. You fostered my love for Disney movies, and this is just one example of that.

For all the wrong that you made right...
When I decided to stop playing volleyball at UMD, a decision I agonized and sobbed over for hours, you surprised me by telling me that I should follow my heart. I thought you would tell me that I should finish what I started, but you could see the struggle I was going through. You knew it was the right thing for me to do.

For every dream you made come true...
Speaking of UMD volleyball, I would never have done it if it weren't for you. I wanted to continue playing volleyball into college, but you gave me the strength to try out. You always see the worth in Sarah, Mom, and I that we don't ourselves see. Remember driving home from tryouts? You were so happy for me. When we got home, Mom made a congratulatory steak dinner.

For all the love I found in you...
When I was little, we used to hold hands whenever we went anywhere. One specific time I'm thinking of, we're walking across the parking lot to Border's in Dearborn. As young as I was, I honestly remember cherishing that day. I realized, even then, that we had a special relationship, one like no other father and daughter in the world. We went in to the store and you made a beeline for the music section and I found a home in the children's nook and read on the stairs. Maybe you're one of the reasons I love reading so much today.

I'll be forever thankful.

You're the one who held me up,
never let me fall.
You're the one who saw me through,
through it all.

You were my strength when I was weak.
You were my voice when I couldn't speak.
You were my eyes when I couldn't see.
You saw the best there was in me.

Lifted me up when I couldn't reach,
you gave me faith 'cause you believed.
I'm everything I am
because you loved me.

You gave me wings and made me fly.
You touched my hand, I could touch the sky...
I wish I had the picture to post. The best I can do is try to recreate the image with words. You're not in the picture, but I know you're down there. I'm about 5 years old, wearing a blue and pink striped bathing suit. Smiling from ear to ear, my arms and legs are spread wide in relaxed happiness. Standing in Lake George, you threw me into the air, and for a moment, I was flying. Back on Earth, I landed into your arms, just where I belonged.

I lost my faith, you gave it back to me.
You said no star was out of reach.

You stood by me, and I stood tall.
I had your love, I had it all.
I'm grateful for each day you gave me.

Maybe I don't know that much,
but I know this much is true:
I was blessed because I was loved by you.

You were always there for me, the tender wind that carried me,
the light in the dark, shining your love into my life.
You've been my inspiration. Through the lies, you were the truth.
My world is a better place because of you.

In hindsight, I think that picture at Lake George is symbolic of our relationship. You raised me with confidence. You tossed me into the sky to fly on my own, but you controlled the wind. You were always standing under me, ready to catch me when I fell.


Now I have another father, Rich Lewis, Sr. He is certainly in deservance of an honorable mention. Thanks for keeping our car running, for turning our soil, and for being our friend. I'm happy to say that Rich has, in many ways, turned into you. Thank you.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

I love a good coming of age story.

I have a good number of Latino students, so this school year, I charged myself with the task of collecting enough books featuring Latino protagonists to go around. My goal was to give those students a story they could relate to in hopes that the reading flood gates would open for them. You see, many of my students (Latino or otherwise) have a reading level that dips far below their grade level. What's worse, many of them don't own any books or subscribe to any magazines! Together, the combination is lethal. Most of them claim that "reading is boring" or "there are no good books," but the real problem is that they feel like they can't read and they're embarrassed. If they're 13 and aware that they're reading at a fourth grade level, they are much more likely to proclaim, "Reading sucks!" than to pick up a book actually designed for fourth graders. These books look and feel childish, and that's the last thing a 13-year-old wants to be.

As a teacher, the benefits of having an extensive classroom library are two fold. As a favor to myself, I collect books so I can point students who are whining about a book in a new direction, so I am not constantlly sending students to the library (many times just so they can get out of class), and so I can offer struggling readers books that look and feel age-appropriate, but are easy enough and fun enough to read that they feel successful. While this task is expensive (I shop on the bargain shelves at Borders and Barnes & Noble, at community book sales, and at garage sales, but boy does it add up), laborous and time consuming, it's well worth it. More importantly, students see my large library as a clue that reading is important, an essential component to a student's growth. Okay, so those aren't the words they choose (more often it's, "Why do we have to read so much?"), but when I look around my classroom during independent reading time and see 30 students genuinely reading, it warms my heart.

Let's get back on track. While I certainly didn't collect "enough" books featuring Latino protagonists, I collected a fair amount. As best laid plans often do, my plan to read all of the books I collected went awry. Given the nature of Young Adult Literature, it's often hard to stomach some of the "youngest" of plots. I did, nevertheless, read a few. One of the best was Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan.

Living in Mexico during the 1930's, Esperanza's family is wealthy and well-to-do. Esperanza wants for nothing and has servants who cook her meals, clean her room, and do her hair. She isn't a spoiled brat, but she knows no different, so she takes advantage of the luxuries that her life provides for her. The night before her birthday, her father, a land owner and well-known businessman, is killed. This, of course, shakes Esperanza, Mama (her mother), and Abuelita (her grandmother). Shortly after, Mama is approached by Tio Luis, who asks her to marry him. A faithful wife, Mama declines. Tio Luis isn't happy and makes the family's life so difficult that they decide to migrate to the United States. This journey is a hard one. They must sneak across the border and must do so in the worst of conditions. Esperanza finds that life in California is nothing like the life she lead in Mexico. In order to survive, Esperanza learns that she must work. At first, she spends nights crying herself to sleep because she misses Papa and her old life. Proving that the will to survive is one of human-kind's greatest strengths, Esperanza comes out of the tunnel a winner.

Esperanza Rising is a coming-of-age tale that I'll never forget. While Young-Adult in nature, the issues surrounding the story are meaningful and indicitive of many generations of immigrants who decide America is a place they can call home.

I have a student who started out the year reading at a fourth grade level. She read Esperanza Rising and she was hooked. Her reading level has since Risen. I hope she continues to read over the summer and for the rest of her life.