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Archive for August, 2010

High Stakes Tests

August 30th, 2010 at 11:59 pm

I live in Illinois and for grade school and middle school we have the ISAT which is Illinois State Achievement Test.

It's a component of the NCLB -- No Child Left Behind. It's a way we are to be held accountable for how we educate students.

On the surface that sounds so good. I mean, no one wants a teacher doing nothing and a kid not being educated. We all know there are great teachers out there who do their best and then are the duds.

However, we've come to the point where a school has to make 85% to pass. On the surface that doesn't sound totally unreasonable. But it's not a straight 85%. Each year it goes up and each year it gets more and more difficult. This percentage not only means the total folks taking the test, but the subgroups. Subgroups contain 45 students and can be gender, race, special education status, and economic status. All subgroups have to make 85%. Confusing? You bet.

My school district is a poor district so we have a lot of folks on free and reduced lunch so just about every school has that subgroup. Of course we have boys and girls subgroups. We have some race subgroups. Some schools have the special education subgroup.

On top of all of that, the school has to maintain a 91% attendance rate. Even if they pass all the academics, they have to have that magic attendance number or they don't make AYP or adequate yearly progress.

This is just a simplified version. I cannot really figure the scores the way they do because there's a lot of this and that ... it's not just 85%.

If a school doesn't make AYP they are labeled failing. I understand the reasoning behind it, but some of the questions on the test I'm not sure are things children will use. We spend so much time teaching to test -- we have to because we don't want to fail -- that so much other stuff is left out.

We look at kids as test scores -- remember when people complained that they were more than a number? Well, it's getting that way in education. A kid is a test score. One school that isn't a true district school, but sort of has district privileges didn't make AYP when the scores were lower. They do now. How, you ask? Well, from what I can tell they don't keep kids who don't pass the ISAT. They send them back to their home schools. Truly survival of the fittest!

I truly believe there should be accountability in education. But I don't think a test given in the spring should be the only way to hold schools and districts accountable.

One of my former schools didn't make AYP. It's not a bad school. It's in a high poverty neighborhood. The teachers work very hard instructing kids. I've seen teachers bringing in things from home to help the kids like clothes, snacks, shoes, etc. One teacher's church has volunteers who come every week to work with the kids on materials she puts together. When a family had a fire, the staff collected money and items to gift to the family. Kids brought in what they could for donations. I think educating people for life is far more important that teaching them to take a test.

I bet you won't see a question on how you can best serve your neighbor on a high stakes test.

Another tomato recipe

August 29th, 2010 at 09:23 pm

Since we have a decent crop of tomatoes, I'm delighted when I find a recipe that is quick and easy and looks good.

I was reading Guideposts and found this recipe that is tagged as being healthy. I think you can make and little or as much as you like.

Burnt Tomatoe Halves

4 firm, ripe tomatoes
Extra virgin olive oil
Coarse salt
black peppercorns
2 T fresh oregano leaves

Heat a large cast iron skillet over high heat until a drop of water sizzles on the surface. Meanwhile, cut tomatoes in half. Brush cut side of tomato with olive oil and sprinkle with salt to taste. Place tomatoes cut side down on hot surface. Don't move them for 8 - 10 minutes or they'll burst. The bottoms will show a black line of char all around when they're done. Using a spatula, life tomatoes off hot surface and invert onto a plate, burnt side up. Cut crosshatches into the surface of the tomatoes. Sprinkle with peppercorns and oregano, drizzle with olive oil and serve.

Note: if whole peppercorns are a problem, they can be ground or coarsely cracked. Serves 4.

Looks easy enough, doesn't it? And it sounds like a cheap side while tomatoes are in season.


August 28th, 2010 at 12:09 am

A year or so ago an insurance company ran an advertisement showing people looking out for each other because they witnessed kindness. I felt inspired when I saw these ads. I know that the insurance company really wanted to use it to sell their insurance, but it just gave me a good, warm feeling.

We've all heard the random acts of kindness and how they often mean so much.

Well, what I'm thinking about today isn't a random act.

Last year a band teacher in our school district who had been in the district over 35 years retired. He had won many awards, but more importantly he had touched many lives. He had a very successful music program in the high school. He and another very successful music teacher had built the program from middle school to high school and they decided to retire at the same time. It was a loss to our district for so much talent to retire.

However, there seemed to be a problem this year when school started. Through a clerical error, the position was posted as a part-time position, not a full time one. Very few folks want to work .3 of a school day.

School started and no band teacher. The band students were upset. Yet, they were so dedicated to their program they started holding their own practices so they'd at least be in the program and get to continue what they started. It shows the level of dedication and professionalism these children must have witnessed from their band instructors.

The school district realized there was a problem and asked the retired man to come back. In the state of Illinois a retired person cannot teach the whole year and still receive one's pension, so this means he will probably have to work only certain days so he doesn't jeopardize his retirement.

He did return and as I drove by the school today, the kids were outside marching with their instruments.

It was out of kindness he decided to come back. He didn't want the students to be without music.

I know this isn't a huge thing, but for those kids, having a band teacher who really cares is a big show of kindness.

I've seen many acts of kindness with people I've worked with. They aren't the kind of things that get written up in the newspaper. But for the person on the receiving end, I'm sure it means a lot. For the child who doesn't have any shoes and socks, someone bringing some in and giving to them to the child on the sly so that child's dignity is intact means a lot. The child who doesn't have food at home getting a couple bags of groceries to take home for the weekend so the family has some food probably means a brighter weekend. The people who donate money to groups so other folks can have things they wouldn't normally receive makes life a little better.

All acts of kindness and just another way we help one another.

Copying a Role Model

August 25th, 2010 at 12:19 am

Do you often copy someone's style or dress or way to talking?

We've been watching a lot of Agatha Christie murder mysteries -- Poirot and Miss Marple -- and I have found I have a desire for a cuppa since they tend to drink a lot of tea.

The other day we were in a store and my husband noticed that there are few dresses with polka dot patterns like those in the 30s. He is enjoying the suits the gentlemen wear.

I guess we like to copy our role models.

As a Christian I often wondered what things people in the Bible ate. I know the manna and the loaves and fishes. And although we know Adam and Eve ate fruit, we only speculate it was an apple.

I found a cookbook a few years ago entitled "What Would Jesus Eat?" I assume the title was taken from the slogan, "What Would Jesus Do" that was very popular a few years ago.

The cookbook author couldn't say exactly what Jesus' diet consisted of, but gave examples from a Mediterrean diet and items that would have been available in the Holy Land during the first century.

I guess the bleached, processed all purpose flour is something of modern times. I remember growing up loving the soft white bread of my childhood, not realizing how unnutritious it was.

Here's a recipe for thyme biscuits using items mostly available during Jesus's time. The author mentioned that there was a type of leavening besides yeast so the baking powder isn't totally modern. And although they might not have had Parmesan cheese, they did have a variety of cheeses. I can tell you both my husband and I enjoyed these biscuits.

Thyme Biscuits
2 cups whole wheat flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme
1/2 teaspoon fruit parsley
1/2 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup skim milk

Preheat oven to 400. Place the flour, baking powder, thyme, parsley, rosemary, and Parmesan cheese in a large mixing bowl and use a fork to stir and combine. Slowly stir in the olive oil; mixture will be crumbly. Add the milk and stir until dough holds together. You may add more milk of necessary. Drop by large spoonfuls 1 inch apart onto a greased baking sheet. Bake 10 to 12 minutes.

Yields 10 to 12 biscuits.

Don't you think a cup of tea would go with one of these biscuits?

No corn for cornbread

August 23rd, 2010 at 11:52 pm

I hate to admit this little tidbit, but we were out of corn.

I had planned on making cornbread yesterday and use creamed corn in the recipe. When I went to my stash of what I thought were 6 cans of creamed corn, I found instead 6 cans of peas if you please.

Goodness. How in the world did I get 6 cans of peas? My husband won't eat peas. I think what happened was when the vegetables were on sale, I thought the case was actually creamed corn and it had 6 peas instead.

I kept one can for me when I'm especially hungry for peas and we donated the rest to the food pantry. I'm sure they will be happy to give them out.

So instead of cornbread, I made Irish soda bread.

Terrific Tomato Tart

August 22nd, 2010 at 06:40 pm

My tomato recipe quest continues! As long as we have fresh ones, I want to use them. I think I found a great recipe that was really easy.

A dear friend gave me a subscription to Simple and Delicious and the new issue just arrived. In the back was a recipe for a tomato tart.

Tomato Tart with Three Cheeses

1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed
3/4 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
3/4 cup shredded provolone cheese
1/4 cup minced fresh basil
4 thinly sliced plum tomatoes
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup shreeded Parmesan cheese
Additional minced fresh basil

Unfold pastry sheet on a lightly floured surface. Roll into a 12-inch square; transfer to a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Prick with a fork.

Combine the mozzarella, provolone, and basil. Sprinkl over the pastry to within 1 inch of edges. Arrange the tomato slices over the cheese. Season with salt and pepper; sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

Bake at 400 for 15-20 minutes or until pastry is golden brown. Remove tart from baking sheet to a wire rack to cool for 5 minutes. Sprinkle with additional basil. Cut into slices. Serve hot or at room temperature.

I can honestly say it is good. I was thinking if you change the types of cheese, you can make this a variety of different ways. I used the tomatoes we have which weren't plum, but beefsteak so I didn't use as many. I was thinking if I added small thinly sliced green bell pepper, it would be even better.

My only warning is if you serve it hot, beware of biting into a hot tomato!

Patriotic video

August 21st, 2010 at 08:02 pm

I admit it. I'm a big softie. Especially when it comes to soldiers and patriotism. Last year I wrote a a soldier weekly when he was in Afghanistan. A few years ago I wrote another soldier while he was in Iraq. It was nice to hear from them, but I didn't feel like they had to write a lot...I felt like the soldier was already doing enough by serving our country. Right now a friend's son in in Iraq and I try to write or send a card now and then so he gets something at mail call.

On Facebook a friend posted this YouTube video called "I fought for you" and it is very powerful.

Hopefully the url will come through and you can watch it if you wish. Whether you agree or disagree with the war, I hope you will remember these men and woman represent us and are doing a brave job. Without the freedoms we enjoy, we wouldn't have the pleasure of saving money or spending it or blogging about it. I hope you find the video as inspiring as I did.


August 20th, 2010 at 11:47 pm

My husband loves to walk.

He especially likes walking in the neighborhood and seeing the homes and nature and being outside.

Unfortunately the heat and humidity have made it very uncomfortable for him to walk because he goes at a pretty crisp clip. He says he doesn't like to melt down into his shoes in this weather and I can't blame him.

His solution has been to walk at the mall. He claims it is boring just going around in circles. But he has made a game of it. He tries to find people who are also walking for exercise and see if he can out pace them. I tease him about his competitive spirit and he just laughs.

But there's a lot of truth in it. He talks about this one young gal (20-30s) who has longer legs than he does and really flies -- he says he turns on the after burners and catches up and passes her.

There's another guy who he says hides from him when he sees him out walking because he can outdistance him.

Hubby says this spirit of competition keeps it interesting.

I say watch out Roadrunner! Beep! Beep!

Ina's Greek Lasagna

August 19th, 2010 at 12:15 am

I was pretty pumped last night to watch Ina Garten's program about surprising her husband with Greek lasagna. She often has Jewish recipes so I guess she thought she'd make a change.

I looked for the recipe last night, but couldn't find it on the Food Network site. I decided to try again and found it. It looks a lot harder written down than when she made it, but she is often very good about giving lots of details.


For the Tomato Meat Sauce:
• 3 tablespoons good olive oil
• 1 1/2 cups chopped yellow onion (1 large)
• 1 pound lean ground beef
• 1 pound lean ground lamb
• 1/2 cup dry red wine
• 1 tablespoon minced garlic (3 large cloves)
• 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
• 1 teaspoon dried oregano
• 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
• Pinch of cayenne pepper
• 1 can (28 ounces) crushed tomatoes in puree
• Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the Bechamel:

• 1 1/2 cups whole milk
• 1 cup heavy cream
• 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
• 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
• 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
• Salt and freshly ground black pepper
• 1 1/2 cups freshly grated Parmesan or Kasseri cheese
• 2 extra-large eggs, beaten
• 2/3 cup Greek-style yogurt, such as Fage Total
• 3/4 pound small shells
For the sauce, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat in a large pot. Add the onion and saute for 5 minutes. Add the beef and lamb, and saute over medium heat for 8 to 10 minutes, until it's no longer pink, crumbling it with the back of wooden spoon. Drain off any excess liquid, add the wine, and cook for 2 more minutes. Add the garlic, cinnamon, oregano, thyme, and cayenne, and continue cooking over medium heat for 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 40 to 45 minutes. Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
For the bechamel, heat the milk and cream together in a small saucepan over medium-low heat until simmering. In a medium saucepan, melt the butter. Add the flour and cook over medium heat, whisking constantly for 2 minutes. Pour the warm milk and cream mixture into the butter and flour mixture, whisking constantly. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, over medium heat for 5 to 7 minutes, until smooth and thick. Add the nutmeg, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1 teaspoon of pepper. Stir in 3/4 cup of Parmesan cheese, 1/2 cup of the tomato and meat sauce, and allow to cool for 10 minutes. Stir in the eggs and yogurt and set aside.
Meanwhile, cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling water until al dente. Don't over-cook because the pasta will later be baked. Drain and set aside.
Add the pasta to the meat and tomato sauce, and pour the mixture into a baking dish. Spread the bechamel evenly to cover the pasta and sprinkle with the remaining 3/4 cup Parmesan cheese. Bake for 1 hour, until golden brown and bubbly. Set aside for 10 minutes and serve hot.

I am excited about trying it! How about you? Opa!

3 Ingredient Dessert

August 17th, 2010 at 11:18 pm

As I continue my quest for easy stuff to make, I remembered a friend sent me this recipe for 3 ingredient cherry dessert.

3 ingredient cherry dessert

2 cups cubed angel food cake
1 can cherry pie filling
1 12 oz thawed whipped topping

Mix the 3 ingredients together and refrigerate for at least 2 hours. I use sugar free cherry pie filling as my husband is diabetic and it is a dessert that he can have.

Looks easy and sounds tasty? Do you have any 3 ingredient recipes you'd like to share?

Monday Mumblings

August 16th, 2010 at 11:29 pm

It's Monday and back to school. Actually, since one of my schools is a balanced calendar school, I have already started back to work. But today was the official first day for many of the buildings in my district.

This means I'm on the look out for recipes for quick and easy things for dinner. Actually, I call it supper, but most call it dinner. You know, the whole tomato, tohmato thing.

Speaking (writing?) of tomatoes, I was looking at my file of recipes and discovered this one that I thought I could change using fresh tomatoes sliced thinly:

Broiled Parmesan Tomatoes

Three 14 ½ ounce cans whole tomatoes, drained, any variety
½ cup (1 stick) butter
1 ½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Place the tomatoes in a 13x9 inch casserole dish. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and top each with a pat of butter. Generously sprinkle the cheese over the tomatoes and broil for 10 to 15 minutes until the tomatoes are heated through and the cheese is bubbly.

Since it has finally cooled down to the low to mid 80s, I can embrace my oven once again. And if something has cheese, it HAS to be good, right?

Marinara Magic

August 15th, 2010 at 05:49 pm

Last week I blogged that I had the "problem" of too many tomatoes. One kind person suggested I make a marinara sauce.

I hate to admit it, but I had never made a marinara sauce. I'ved used tomato sauce out of the can and added stuff, but never made anything like this from scratch.

I'm happy to report that I have since been searching for a recipe that I could employ.

I was kind of worried because I don't have hours to let it simmer. Unfortunately my employer wouldn't think it was right if I came home during the day to make a sauce.

So, I wanted to find one I thought I could use. And I did. I had to adjust the measurements because I didn't have quite that many tomatoes available, but I did try it. I ran it through the food processor after it was cooked and added the fresh basil.

Marinara Sauce

• Ten pounds of VERY ripe tomatoes
• Garlic
• Olive Oil
• Salt
• Sugar
• Black Pepper
• Fresh Basil
• Pecorino Romano Cheese, grated
Whole Tomato Version:

The ingredients listed above.
• Chop the washed tomatoes into small cubes (to reduce the area and cooking time).
• Sautee ten or fifteen large garlic cloves in olive oil until they are dark golden.
• Add chopped tomatoes and bring to a boil, stirring constantly to avoid burning or sticking.
• Pour in an additional quarter cup of oil (or more according to taste).
• Add salt, a heavy dusting of black pepper and about three tablespoons of sugar (depending on the acidity of the tomato you can use less or no sugar).
• Lower heat to medium and cook uncovered, stirring regularly, until all fluid is thickened. THIS SHOULD NOT TAKE FOUR HOURS BUT MORE LIKE A HALF HOUR. Why people insist on torturing tomato sauce on a stove for half a day is beyond me --- we call it the "Nonna syndrome."
• Remove from heat and immediately add a large quantity of fresh chopped basil.
• Cook pasta extra al dente and drain.
• Add pasta back to pan and add five or six ladles of tomato sauce to the pasta and stir over a medium heat until sauce and pasta are thickened.
Serve each plate with an additional ladle full of sauce on top and a drizzling of fresh cold olive oil and a heaping of Pecorino Romano.

Although the measurements are exact, I kept trying it until I got it the way I wanted. I tasted it and then finally had hubby try it. He's the resident critic. He gave it a thumbs up!

Now that I've accomplished this, I have one further query: can I freeze it?

Chicken Hash With Rice

August 14th, 2010 at 08:28 pm

OK, it doesn't have the ring to the title as the children's book, "Chicken Soup with Rice", but I have to work with what I have!

It's the weekend and I was looking for recipes that I could fix ahead and then come home after work and heat up later in the week.

Last year when I did an Internet search, I found a variety of chicken recipes. I was looking through them today and found one that included many of the ingredients I had on hubby just picked a red bell pepper and green bell pepper. I had fixed a chicken in the Crockpot overnight to use for different dishes and had the broth from it so I felt like I was pretty well set.

Chicken Hash Casserole Recipe

3 cups chicken breast shredded or chopped
1 green bell pepper, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1 red bell pepper diced
1 medium onion, diced
3 cups chicken stock
3 tablespoons paprika
1/2 teaspoon sweet basil
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 cup roux ( make by stirring 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour in 2 tablespoons of corn oil in frying pan until golden brown)


Sauté celery, peppers, and onions until tender.
Place chicken stock in medium saucepan and heat to boiling. Make the roux then mix chicken, chicken stock, vegetables, and seasoning with roux.

Serve over hot rice.

I am delighted I can heat this up on the stove instead of the oven (it's still very hot here) and I can store the ingredients in a bowl in the fridge until I need it. With the hot rice made right before I need it, it should be a tasty meal.

We watch "Til Debt Due Us Part" on CNBC on Saturday nights and one of the things the host keeps telling people is they need to cook at home to save money and buy things on a budget. We do eat out some, but I feel those nights when I'm tired and really don't want to start something from scratch, having something like this sitting in the fridge waiting sure makes it easier to put a hot, nutritious meal on the table without resorting to going out and spending extra money.

Mentally Exhausted

August 12th, 2010 at 11:47 pm

School hasn't officially started for most of the buildings in our district, but we do have one that is "year round."

My position is a new one and to put it simply, I work with data. Which is good. I like data and I like thinking and talking about educational data. I enjoy charts, graphs, and spreadsheets.

But, I can honestly say I'm just mentally exhausted. Between the extreme heat taking it's toll, and the fact I've been in 2 1/2 days of training, plus working on data for my schools, I'm spent.

I look forward to getting some rest tonight in my air conditioned home.