Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Storyville

Baltimore County has some terrific library features for children. We visited a library with an entire back wing dedicated to children.

It's called Storyville!


And it is all based on books!

A tree house with all the most delightful features!

A place just for infants

A grocery store where anyone

 can pretend to be grown up

gather his groceries

ring them up and pay with laminated money... what fun!

I love the posters taken straight from books

well, it is a library!

There's a mail room for kids

where Clare showed her independence.

Joey was a super hero

Then he found a puppet theatre...

where Andrea and Joey made a new friend and told Goldilocks' story

behind that they found a theatre with changeable backdrops...

where Jack was a wise pig and

Joey a reluctant wolf.  He did not want to blow his brother's house down.  Clare watched from under the table...

Kids can make the flowers grow, cook or feed strawberries to babies...

and learn so many wonderful things.

And finally, a kiddie library, where little ones can check out their own books.


I love libraries;

I wish every county in every state had one like this!




Monday, August 30, 2010

I Like Your Bracelet


During my first year teaching at AACS, I found that the coach’s office attached to the women’s locker room was unused. So, I begged for a key and during my planning periods, I hid there to grade all the many papers students had written for me. The locker rooms were on either side of a little hallway that led to the gym, boys on one side, girls on the other with the coaches’ offices also opposite. 

Sometimes my planning period coincided with lunch and a group of students ate lunch sitting on the floor of this hallway (at the time, the school had no cafeteria) and though my door was closed, it was easy to hear students talking and playing and having fun.

One of the endearing features of AACS is that the students create cross-grade friendships so it was not uncommon to see kids from all four classes eating together. Maybe they got to know each other through marching band or soccer, but together they were, boys and girls from various grades.

The group who ate there that year was particularly spirited, physical and loud. I taught eleventh and twelfth graders and a few of my students were present so that day when I opened my door, stacks of papers in my arms, those who knew me sung out, “Hi, Mrs. Nebbia!”

I stopped in my tracks. On the floor lay a gorgeous girl. She had cascades of warm brown hair, perfect skin, lively brown eyes and a bright laughing spirit. Her name is Erin. I noticed Lizi, the girl who was always with Erin—a beautiful blond athlete with a sparkle in her wide blue eyes. Gathered around these friends were several other girls and they seemed to be expecting something to happened. And it did. A boy (an upper classman and one of my students) stepped up onto Erin’s stomach.

I screamed.
I didn’t realize she was trying to show how strong her stomach muscles were or something like that, so I screamed, “Get off her!” etc. etc. (I can go on when I think someone’s being hurt).

The girls argued with me! (I guess I was spoiling the fun). And when I tried to explain that she might have been injured, they looked at me as if I were daft. As I walked off (in a huff) to my other responsibilities, I knew in my heart that I would NEVER be able to teach either one of those girls.

Next August, I walked to the front of my classroom and there she was, the girl with the perfect hair and the iron stomach muscles. Next to her sat her spunky friend. Their books were on their desks, neat and ready to be opened (it was the first day), they tipped their faces up and their eyes were hopeful and nervous.

The oddest thing happened to me. I understood that their happiness and success that year in English depended on my winning their confidence.  I had sworn I’d never be able to connect with these two—these two pranksters—these two lively, hopeful girls. But as I stood before them, I honestly could not figure out why I had ever objected to them. So what if they were wild and careless and said what came into their heads? Right then a big, honest love for them dropped in my heart and as sometimes happens to me—a few words came to me and I knew what to say. I smiled at them both and said to the girl with the spectacular hair,
“I like your bracelet.”
Erin looked back at me with the warmest smile—a relieved, grateful smile. Her friend—loyal, loving soul that I’ve come to know her to be, beamed with happiness at me.

That’s the magic of teaching. There’s a creative tension between teacher and student that makes the teacher able to understand the student and gives the teacher a inspired ability to see the student’s value and potential. And suddenly we got along. I loved seeing them and they were as friendly and enthusiastic as students can be.

Later Erin told me that when I noticed her bracelet, I won her heart.

And she mine. Because of this, I learned so much from Erin and Lizi. I learned to hope and to reach out and to look for all riches that the imperfect student stores within his or her hopeful heart.

Not to say that there weren’t conflicts that year. There were conflicts because with “honest, genuine love” comes the occasional need to speak the truth. But both girls’ inner beauty and life-giving potential seemed so real and valuable to me, there were times when I just had to speak to them about this or that. I'm sure I did not always handle things perfectly. I'm sure that I could/should have done more, said less... but we worked together imperfect people though we were.

When either girl was not working up to her considerable potential, we had some discussion back and forth about this. And so when Lizi submitted her paper on The Crucible and I saw how her love for others and her sense of loyalty gave her a compassionate insight into these fictional characters, my heart leapt.  No, her paper wasn’t perfect and it may have been a wee bit late, but it showed her unique intellect and I thought it was beautiful. I thought it was wonderful! I still have a copy.

Recently I saw these two friends at a good-bye dinner for other people we all know and love. Now they’ve graduated from college, have pursued careers that use those amazing God-given gifts. They are both married and have beautiful, sparkling young children. They are still the dearest of friends, are vibrant members of their communities, strong in their thoughtful convictions. We were standing together in a little huddle during the ceremony whispering together. Lizi reminded me of the way I was honest with her in high school. There was a great deal at stake, I thought, looking at her now in the strength of her beautiful young adulthood. I was right about both of them having so much to give to the world.

That’s when Erin said,

“Mrs.Nebbia, I like your bracelet.”

I don’t know if she remembered that these words had been said before, that they were the incantation that sparked these friendships. But it didn’t matter; it was too late. These two friends had won my heart years ago and I plan to be devoted to them as time goes on.


Friday, August 27, 2010

My Best Cookies


I'm a cookie baker. Love to bake cookies, love to serve cookies, love to eat cookies.
I have a few recipes that are considered "specialties of the house." And since I've had a few requests for these lately, I thought I'd share them. Here's the first in a series:
_____________ Cookies
It's funny that I don't really have a name for these.  I'd love to hear some suggestions.  People usually call them "you know those really good cookies with the filling in them and the sort of slight, sweet crunch on top? In shapes? Two layers?"

I start with my basic sugar cookie recipe.  If you like to bake with butter and want a "buttery" flavor, use half butter for the shortening. I wouldn't recommend using all butter. You can argue with me if you want, but it is my recipe.


¾ cup shortening
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 ½ cup all- purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
mix shortening, sugar, eggs and beat until lemony colored
mix dry ingredients and stir to egg mixture until smooth
chill for 3 hours or up to 3 days (chilling helps blend the flavors)
Using a dusting of flour, roll out the dough until it is ¼ inch thick or maybe a bit less
Cut into shapes
Transfer to an ungreased cookie sheet
Bake at 400 degrees for 6 to 8 minutes. Don’t let them get brown!
Cool on a wire rack

Double:
1 ½ cup shortening
2 cups sugar
4 eggs
2 tsp vanilla
5 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp salt

Triple:
2 ¼ cups shortening
3 cups sugar
6 eggs
1 Tablespoon vanilla
7 ½ cups flour
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1 Tablespoon salt
Triple batch is hard to mix in the electric stand mixer.  Most often I make two double batches for a big event.

Mix the cookies by 
1. beating the shortening, sugar until fluffy, then add the eggs one at a time. Beat until lemon-y colored. Add the vanilla
Sift together the remaining dry ingredients.
Add the dry to the egg mixture; mix well but do not over mix.

Chill for 3 hours or for up to 3 days. Letting the dough chill not only mixes the flavor, but it makes it easier to handle.

To roll out the dough, lightly dust your workspace with flour.  (You can also use a mixture of flour, cornstarch and confectioner's sugar if you want a more delicate cookie or you want to work harder). 
Smooth flour also on your rolling pin. Roll out the dough until it is about 1/4 of an inch thick. Choose a shape to go with your event. Hearts for bridal showers or Valentine's day, wreaths for Christmas. A friend recently gave a baby shower with "cute as a button" for the theme. She made these cookies to look like buttons!  
Karlene's artistic version! Aren't they gorgeous?

Bake the same number of tops and bottoms. This part is hard for me because it means that I have to count. 

When the cookies are cooled:

Ice the tops with a confectioner’s sugar glaze (1 cup conf. sugar, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla and drops of rice milk or regular milk if you can tolerate dairy) Let dry. 

While the tops are drying, spread seedless jam (your choice but I like either raspberry or currant) leaving a clear edge around the cookie about 1/16th  inch.
Assemble cookies (one bottom to one top) and let stand overnight or for a few hours.

These freeze well!  Just place them in a plastic container, with a layer of wax or freezer paper dividing the stacks. Close tightly and if you want, wrap the container in plastic wrap also. To defrost, remove from the freezer, but bring the cookies to room temperature before you take them out of their containers. Enjoy!

Variation:
Lime Sandies:
This is the only time I use butter in the recipe. 
Substitute unsalted butter for half of the shortening. Soften before using
Add 1 teaspoon grated lime peel to the egg/butter mixture
Reduce vanilla to 1/2 teaspoon and add 1/2 teaspoon lime juice
Use  Lime curd (recipe below) for the filling, but when I do this, 
When I make these, I use a small leaf cookie cutter for the top layer. The green lime curd shows through and looks pretty!

Variation Apple Cinnamon
2. If you plan to use apple jelly or apple butter for your filling, substitute ½ teaspoon Calvados (apple) brandy) for half the vanilla.

Lime Curd:
You can purchase lime curd, but it is easy to make:
1 cup sugar
6 T butter*
3 to 4 tsp lime zest
6 T lime juice (freshly squeezed
3 eggs beaten:
In the top of a bain marie (double boiler) combine sugar, butter, zest and juice. over simmering, not boiling water, stir mixture until butter has melted and sugar has dissolved. Stirring constantly, spoon a little of the hot butter mixture into the eggs. Pour egg mixture into hot butter mixture stirring constantly with a wire whisk to blend.  Cook over simmering water until thickened -- about 20 minutes.
Remove from heat, cool and refrigerate.  Keeps 1 to 2 weeks in the refrigerator. 

*I have made this recipe without butter, using shortening/ coconut oil.  It tastes less buttery and it does not thicken as well, but it is still yummy and dairy free. 

For shower or wedding favors pretty packaging makes it even better!



Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Light in August

It seems to me that the light changes in August.
It looks more mellow as it creeps into my neighbor's beautiful garden.

Not so brash and insistent

My garden waits in shadow til mid-morning for the sun, but I see it coming, golden now touching the highest leaves, slanting in over the roof.

In August there are hints that the extreme heat might not last for ever and the yellow school buses changes the landscape with their own sort of light to show that life is changing.

Summer is going, but I love the fall.

By the way, can anyone guess where this old tree can be found? Hint: They paved paradise and put put up a parking lot.

Monday, August 23, 2010

What Else Is Happening

We tried again to take a family picture.


It's difficult to find a time that's good for everyone.
With so many people, someone might have a red, runny nose, or a cut on the chin or a bad haircut.


But we did gather again.
It was boiling hot outside
the humidity so thick you could see water in the air
bugs so hungry they were making lace of the leaves and chewing on our legs.
And as you know, I like to look at what else is happening.

like making funny faces...

and romping all over the quilts...

Some people like to crawl away

regardless of the dry, rough grass

Dinner had to wait, but we got a picture!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Art Walk With Tots...

One of the things I love about Annapolis are the businesses that have lasted for more than thirty years.
I love driving to the small shopping areas, the old streets where houses were made many years ago into shops and are still thriving.
Among these shops is Art Things, an artists' supply shop in West Annapolis. When I was in college, I lived in West Annapolis and so the streets there are familiar and dear to me. Art Things was there then, where it is now and I visited it and plunked down my change once in a great while for a fountain pen or peacock blue ink.
Over the years, I've relied on the store when I've needed any quality art supply. When I was making Danish stars and hearts for the Christmas tree, I found the lovely red paper there. Linoleum blocks for the graphic design that will decorate the pages of my novel, pencils for my son, water color pencils to give to an artist friend.

Art Things participated in sort of street fair called an Art Walk. All over town artists paint in the open air  and Art Things had lots of art supplies that visitors were welcome to try.

We saw a potter making a bowl.
Joey had a million questions and thought it was the greatest bowl he'd ever seen.
Jack said, over and over again, "Can I try?"
He was invited to touch the clay and promptly got it all over his face.

The porch of the store was set up with water color crayons...


 and sparkle paint which looked amazing on both white and black paper.


Children were encouraged to try each new thing. No one could resist!


I would not have known there was such a thing as water color crayons or sparkle paint!


The fair was a great idea, so warm, encouraging the arts, friendly, so Annapolis.

Art Things' wall of Mona Lisa paintings... check it out some time soon!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

First Year Quilt

Here's something you might like to try to sew!
My friend Jo-Ann brought a quilt to my house because she thought it was such a clever idea.
This cheerful quilt is made from old clothes, but not in the way quilts used to be made. The purpose of this quilt is to preserve the look of the clothes and thereby capture memories of the child.


Favorite clothes
from the child's first year
are gathered
and sewn together in this artistic way.

showing those overalls you loved seeing your child wear

hats with brims and skirts with ruffles

and bits of embroidery and collars to cunning to forget.

The old pockets are used


Bits of receiving blankets fill up the corners between the clothes.

Love that logo, that favorite brand? Stitch it in between two little shirts.

Everything your child wore and wore out, everything you washed and folded, everything is used!

I don't know the wonderful quilter who made this, but my guess is that a piece of backing fabric, such as muslin, is cut to the desired size.
The clothes  are trimmed and placed and pinned, working toward a pleasing arrangement.

And the child's name and birthday are simply embroidered.

The blanket stitch is a lovely touch, used to sew the binding, but the clothes are sewn with a zig zag stitch, but really, you could use your favorite applique stitch, or vary your stitches all through.

The quilt is backed, but because the clothes are heavier than quilting cotton, no batting is used.
Both layers are tacked together with small, neat ties.

My friend said she'd keep the blanket as a treasure to remember the baby's first year.

I think it would be a wonderful "busy" or tummy time blanket for the next child... or folded away for your child's child to use.

I love the scattering of colors and textures and the lovely balance it makes.