Four Ingredient Red Velvet Cookies

28 Nov

They whispered from the Panera display case, showing just a flash of their red-velvety interior from under crinkled powdered-sugar crinolines.

“We are delicious. Buy us now.”

I waved to them wistfully.

“I can’t,” I sighed, hot tears springing to my eyes. “I am only here for breakfast. It wouldn’t be right.”

The girl at the register rolled her eyes.

“Are you going to order?”

I stammered out my request for a sensible bagel, still eyeing the red velvet temptresses.

Then decided, I would show them. I would make my own.  And because I am super nice, I will tell you how to do it, too.

Red Velvet Cookies

Avert your eyes if you bake everything from scratch and eschew processed ingredients.

Four Ingredient Red Velvet Cookies

  • 1 box red velvet cake mix
  • 8-ounce tub of Cool Whip
  • 1 egg
  • about 1/2 cup powdered sugar (for rolling cookies)

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Mix the dry cake mix, Cool Whip and egg until well-blended. It will be sticky and your kitchen will look a little like a crime scene. Chill it for an hour if you want the dough to be easier to handle, or just dive right in. Drop rounded tablespoonfuls of the dough into the powdered sugar and roll them around. Put them on a greased cookie sheet (or one lined with parchment if you’re fancy). Bake 10-12 minutes. Let them cool. Eat them.

You could sass them up with some mini-chocolate chips in the batter if you wanted. But then they would be 5-ingredient Red Velvet Cookies and that is too complicated for Pinterest users. So make life easier on yourself and just pin mine.


A Lesson in Gratitude

11 Nov

Like a laser, all her concentration was focused on a  pale yellow piece of paper 2-inches square.

Long after her classmates had come to the board to stick up their Post-it notes, she kept working, forming letters so different from those in her native language. Finally, she finished. But she didn’t stick her note up with the others. Instead, she offered it to me first, her eyes solemn and a little unsure.

I read it. “I am thankful for school. I learn many things from my teacher.”

I smiled, handing it back. “Perfect,” I told her.

Her eyes sparkled then, and she put it on the board with the other notes.

We end class this way every day in November,  sticking our post-it notes telling what we are thankful for on the “Grateful Board.”

This year, because I have our English language learners, I am blessed to be getting to know with students from all over the world. The students in my classroom claim seven different home countries, representing every continent but Australia (I am still hoping).

As I watched this girl, I was struck by how hard she was willing to work to make sure I knew, that her class knew, what she was thankful for. She labored over perfect, precise letters long after the rest of the class had scribbled off a sentence and slapped it on the board. Being able to communicate and connect was that important.

Words come easily to me. Watching the clock my computer, I realize I have spent less time pounding out 300 words on my keyboard than she did crafting that Post-it note. I can make connections effortlessly. And sometimes? I don’t bother.

My friend Pamela Price asked today “what inspires you?” and I thought of that little girl, determined to let me know I mattered to her. She inspires me today. Inspires me to make a little more effort, reach a little further, take a little less for granted.

Tomorrow, my Post-it note will say this.

“I am thankful for school. I learn many things from my students.”




Taming the Five Monsters of the Homework Wars

16 Oct

If you have school-age children, you know it’s not just Halloween goblins that go haunting this time of year. At kitchen tables and bedroom desks across the country, the Homework Apocalypse is going on like a B-grade horror movie. The bargaining, the crying, the never-ending whining.

And that’s just the parents.

homework wars

Otherwise lovable children can morph into monsters at homework time. Perhaps you’ve met some of them – the Time-Wasting Tornado, the Seat Shifter, The Perfection Piranha. Maybe you’re more familiar with the Defeated Dragon or the Great Pretender. All five homework monsters have appeared in our kitchen, gobbling up free time and turning evenings into a battleground.

But they’re not invincible. A few battle tactics can have you banishing the monsters and winning the homework wars.

The Time-Eating Tornado

The Time-Eating Tornado never met an excuse he couldn’t use to postpone the start of actually working on those assignments. Dull pencil, uncomfortable chair, hunger pains, unquenchable thirst… you name it, it can be used to stretch a 15-minute assignment into an hour.

But you can cut this homework monster off at the knees with a well-equipped homework bunker. Before school even gets started, set up a homework zone stocked with any supplies your child might need: pencils, sharpener, paper, pens. Sunday afternoons, take a few minutes to restock and make sure you are ready for the week ahead.

If you have a master procrastinator, you’ll need to move beyond the basics. At our house, it never fails that as soon as my son sits down, he will suddenly be hungry. It does not matter if he has just polished off a large pizza, a foot-long sandwich, and a side of beef! Homework elicits new pangs of starvation. So at our house, the homework zone is stocked with a healthy snack basket and has bottled water on hand.

The Seat Shifter

The Seat Shifter is a close cousin of the Time-Eating Tornado. She can’t get started because she can’t sit still long enough to pick up a pencil, and she’s got more wiggles than Shakira in the dance club remix of “Hips Don’t Lie.”

But you don’t need a seat belt or duct tape to get the wiggler under control and on task. Instead, think about ditching the chair altogether and have them do their homework sitting on a balance ball. A Mayo Clinic study in 2007 showed kids with attention-span challenges who used the balance balls had better focus and more productivity.

You can also create a “brain break” jar  for the homework zone. On popsicle sticks, write activities like “do 10 jumping jacks” or “dance party,” and when the Seat Shifter starts wiggling, have them draw a stick and get moving for a minute. It can also help to make sure homework time doesn’t start until after your child has had some time for active play.

The Perfection Piranha

High standards are important, but some children are so worried about getting their homework exactly right that they just don’t get going for fear of getting something wrong. Or, they constantly re-start projects that don’t meet their standards.

As a kindergartener, my daughter worked for hours one evening decorating a letter “M” that represented her first name. But after we’d glue-gunned, glittered and bedazzled every inch of the letter, she suddenly decided something was not quite right. Before I could grab it, the “M” was crumpled into a ball of defeat and tossed into the trash.

You can quiet the Perfection Piranha by setting limits on homework time when done means done. Make sure you are praising the work your child puts in, not just the grade he or she gets, and model gracious mistake-making so your child learns to deal with defeat.

The Defeated Dragon

For children who struggle in school, homework time can feel like an extended jail sentence. Before they ever pick up a pencil, they feel defeated. The homework looks too hard, too long, and too overwhelming.

To give the Defeated Dragon back his fire, divide and conquer. If your child is overwhelmed at the idea of a 30-question practice worksheet, don’t be afraid to get out your scissors and actually cut the worksheet into smaller sections, and give them to your child a few questions at a time. You can tape it back together before it’s turned in.

Celebrate these “mini-victories” with homework breaks, and applaud effort, not just right answers.

The Great Pretender

The Great Pretender can appear to be the model student. As soon as he or she gets home from school, they head right to their room and sit down at their desk with books and notebooks out, laptop fired up to tackle their latest assignment.

Three hours later, they have nothing to show for their hard work – unless you count five Facebook updates, three selfies posted to Instagram, 12 text messages to friends and a notebook full of anime sketches as academic progress.

To unmask the pretender, let them choose between two strategies. Either set up a homework zone where you can monitor their progress. Or, if you want to respect their choice to work alone in their room, set a kitchen timer with check-ins every 15-20 minutes so you can know they are mixing in a fair amount of work with the play.

Plan for Success

No matter which monster shows up at your house during homework time, a little preplanning, consistency with expectations, and a positive outlook can help you send them packing for good, and bring back a peaceful co-existence to homework time.

How We Survive

13 Oct
butterfly face painting

Note: Illustration only. This cheek belongs to my lovely daughter.

She just turned six, and she wanted her face painted.

She couldn’t tell me, but her mother said she loved butterflies, and purple and pink were her favorites. So I loaded up my brush, drawing it gently across her cheeks.

A flicker danced across her lips, too small for me to see it.

But her mother noticed. “Oh, you like it! Does it feel good on your face?”

I brushed her dark hair off her face.

“I’m just making sure I don’t get paint in your beautiful hair, mija,” I told her. “You are going to look so pretty.”

The butterfly took shape, iridescent pinks and purples blending. I began the details, outlining it in black, adding swirls of white to the wings. When I leaned over her wheelchair to paint its body down the middle of her nose, she smiled again. This time, I saw it.

“You look like the butterfly queen, lovely girl,” I told her. Her eyes flickered open, not seeing, but still seeking the new voice. “So beautiful.”

Her smiling hospice nurse came over and laughed, “oh girl, your bath tonight is going to turn pink and purple!”

Her mom hugged me, and they were off — heading for family pictures in the pumpkin patch as my heart broke in a thousand pieces for the butterfly queen who will never see 7.

And then, I turned to a little boy with bright eyes, and loaded my brush to turn him to Batman.

Because this is how we survive this fallen world.

In the valley of the shadow of death, we paint butterflies and Batman masks. We brush the hair out of each others’ eyes and remind each other we are still beautiful in our brokenness. We hug strangers, we hold our friends’ hands. And as much as we can, we offer grace and mercy. We are bumbling, flawed people, but we try our best to love each other anyway.

Because we were loved first.

Life Sentences

6 Sep

The assignment:

Using one of these sentence stubs as a starter, write out a sentence on a strip of paper.

Once when I was little…

I wish I knew…

If I had a superpower…

I thought today…

I like…

One day I will…

We all taped them up around the room, and then walked around, reading and getting ideas for future stories.

Some were hilarious.

“Once when I was little I ate dog poo because I thought it was chocolate.”

Some, beautiful.

“Once when I was little I danced in my mother’s high heels while she smiled and watched.”

Some, amazing.

“If I had a superpower it would be telekinesis so I could clean my room without getting up.”

Some, really weird.

“Once when I was little I thought I was a werewolf because I ate like a dog and ate meat and then I thought I was a shark because I like to swim and STOP STARING AT ME.”

Some simple.

“I like strawberry ice cream because it is so sweet and cold.”

Some have me sitting at my desk long after the bell, praying for children who lay their hearts bare on strips of paper.

“I wish I knew when my mom was coming home.”

Life sentences.

What’s yours?

Still My Favorite

22 Aug

Meet the teacher night is almost over.

The now too-tall stack of crayon boxes teeters dangerously. Kleenex Box Mountain dwarfs the desk. The hand-shaking, smiling, sizing-up session is just  about over when the twins from my first year stick their heads in the door.

The girl throws her arms around me without hesitation. But her brother hangs back until I ask “are you still at the hugging age?”

“Oh yes ma’am, always.”

I remember a day when we’d drawn swords, faced off. He went to the next class angry. But later, a fire drill sent us bumping into the same hall.

I patted his shoulder, whispered “you’re still my favorite.”

He had tried to play it off saying, “everyone’s your favorite.”

But his voice broke, tears came, and he threw his arms around me, repeating “I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry.”

“Me, too,” I said, as the fierce relief of forgiveness welled up in my throat. “I’m sorry I let you leave mad.”

This night, three years later, we talk about books and band and middle school.

“We still talk about your class all the time, about how much fun we had in here,” his twin sister says.

Then the principal is on the loudspeaker thanking everyone for coming, their mom calling for them down the hall.

“You’re still my favorites,” I tell them, as they’re running out the door.

He calls back over his shoulder…

“Everyone’s your favorite.”

Summer Conversations With a Teenage Boy

7 Aug

I don’t mean to be a bother

it’s just that I think

I saw something move under your bed.

It might have been a sock monster,

Springing sui generis perhaps.

More likely the result of sympatric speciation

between the socks and mold spores,

now feeding on sunflower shells dropped down the crack

between your mattress and the wall.

I know. You didn’t notice, being very busy and all.

I’m going… oh, but if I may bring up

the issue of the drinking glasses?

On precursory glance I estimate seeing perhaps a half-dozen of them,

and not to be alarmist, but one appears to be growing a fur coat

or a new strain of penicillin, which would be quite a find.

I hate to hinder science.

Nonetheless, I would prefer the glasses be placed in the dishwasher.

Sanitized for our protection.

Again, I know you’re  extremely busy.

Get to it when you can.

Lastly, I truly rue to mention,

but your closet door seems to be bowing outward

as if it were a womb for some alien life form trying to claw out

I don’t want to speculate recklessly,

but it could have something to do with the fact

that you last did laundry sometime in June

if my admittedly rough calculations are correct.

Perhaps you could get on that eventually.

No rush at all, but apropos of nothing..

I’ve changed the wi-fi password.

You may have it when your room is clean.

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