Big Idea Teaching

“Hey,” I said, leaning down to get at my principal’s eye level, since there was no extra chair. “So. I had another one of my Big Ideas.”

She closed her eyes, took a deep breath and said, “Yeeeees?”


At the beginning of the year, I decided that my students would do an on-going, self-selected graduation project. I check in with the kids, use their needs to inform my teaching, and encourage them to explore their interests. It’s going well, and the students seem (mostly) excited about it.

A few days later, I told them that I wanted them to read a million words this year. I taught them how to calculate the number of words per page and per book, and the Million Words project is entirely optional, although there are small prizes for students who reach their goal.


Finally, the newest Big Idea.

Last week I realized NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) was coming up. I sort of wanted to do it, but needed some encouragement.

So I asked Mark if he was doing it. He said he wasn’t sure, and was I?

I started looking into the Young Writers Program from NaNoWriMo and thought, “This is it!”

I signed my entire class up. Then I emailed Mark and told him a bunch of fifth graders were going to do it. (Adults write 50,000 words. Children can choose their own word count.)

It worked! He said he’d do it, too.

I introduced the idea to my students, who couldn’t decide if they were excited, horrified, or just shocked.

We’ve been learning around writing, story arcs, and characters since then. We’ve put away our “Inner Editors.” More than half of the kids have signed up at the YWP website (in order to use the available tools). My kids are excited.

So am I. I’ve almost convinced my mom to join us, a parent is seriously considering trying it, and I talked Diana into it. Now I have to succeed!

Yard Work, Good Man Style

Here are some remaining photos from last week’s yard work.

Maple Tulip Poplar on Sunday 10/14/2012
(Thanks, Jonathan!)

Mess of Greenbrier

Thorns, Thorns, Thorns!

Hidden in the Ivy


We did some more work today. You can see the maple tulip poplar behind Good Man. The whole thing went yellow in six days.

Good Man Prepares to do Work

I got most of the ivy off of the fence…in some sections. I talked to the neighbor, who said three years ago he got all of the ivy off of his side, but nobody on our side ever ripped it off. Now that we both know we’re trying to get rid of it, maybe we’ll have a fighting chance. I’m going to just keep chipping away at it.

(In this picture, at the base of the tree, you can also see some flat stones. I’ll probably use those for landscaping, as well as the concrete, bricks, and big rocks I’m finding under all of the ivy.)

Almost Free

The greenbrier was nearly waist-high. The tube of thorny vines was several feet long (about eight). I started stepping on it to flatten it out a bit. Good Man had a better idea. He put cardboard on it, then crushed the greenbrier. Fold the greenbrier over and repeat…

Good Man vs Greenbrier

Jump! Jump!


Finally, I was able to carry the vines, in a much smaller mess, out to the curb for trash pickup.

Easy to Carry

Good Man also used the string trimmer to whack back a bunch of low branches. We left those on the ground. We’ll deal with them another day.


Good Man claims to hate yard work, but I think he’s lying!

Good Man the Puppet Master

“You know, it is a shame there are no Asian-American Senators…”

“No, [Good Man]. No. I would not be a good politician’s wife.”

“I want to do behind-the-scenes work. The politicians are just the puppets.”


Freezer Cooking Saves My Tailbone

When the school year started, I was supposed to be taking classes on Wednesday and Thursday. I also needed to learn a new grade (which usually means more time at school planning), and my commute was going to be longer.

Considering all of that, I decided to start freezing meals to enjoy on my class days, so we wouldn’t resort to eating out all of the time.

I used to do freezer meals in our old place, but we were stuck with a tiny freezer. A few weeks ago, we bought a five cubic foot chest freezer for the basement.

Thank goodness I had been freezing meals! When I fractured my tailbone and was in really, really bad shape, we used the freezer meals to pull us through. Banana pancakes for breakfast, Santa Fe casserole cups for lunch, and potato and parsnip soup for dinner.

I am slowly healing. I’m not going to classes any longer (since I can’t drive), and my students are doing most of the physical work in class (since I can’t easily bend, reach, stretch, etc). Still, teaching the kids wipes me out! I have come home every day from work for the past two weeks and napped for at least an hour. I wake up at six and am ready for bed at eleven. My body really needs the rest.

As such, we’ve been eating freezer meals several times each week. When I prepped the spicy pork for Chuseok, I made two extra packets for the freezer so I can take them out, defrost them, and throw them in the slow cooker. Last Sunday I made lentil stew in the slow cooker and froze the extras. Tonight we’re having slow-cooked chicken and mushrooms (I made the rice in the rice cooker). I’ll save two more servings for our lunch, but the rest is going in single-servings in the freezer.

After this unexpected fracture, I am now committed to freezer cooking. You never know when you—or a friend—might be unable to cook for a while!

Hedera helix

One of the things I loved about this house was the ivy in the backyard. So charming! So romantic!

English Ivy

Now that we own (part of) the house, I know that we need to get rid of this ivy. It’s choking the huge catalpa tree in the backyard. It’s hiding treasures in the corners. And while ground cover you don’t need to mow is awesome, it harbors slugs, encourages mosquito breeding, and weakens the old trees.

So Good Man and I attacked the ivy today. We cut it off the trees, we pulled it off the ground. We also whacked down a lot of weedy growth along the fence. (Whose fence is it? We don’t know. The neighbor says as far as he knows, it’s original to the property.)

We’re nowhere near done. And the backyard is a total mess…


Ivy Attacks the Catalpa Tree


Ivy on the Outdoor Fireplace

The Best Part of Waking Up…

…is Diet Coke in the Can!

Or is it?

Earlier this year (March? April?), I gave up soda for 30 days. At work I was drinking two sodas most days. I was drinking bottomless glasses while eating out. And I was drinking it at home, too often.

I know that cola is bad for you, and that diet probably isn’t much better. And honestly, I wondered if my constant need for dental care was related to my love of soda. I like my dentist, but I like my wallet more. I wanted to know if I would feel better.

The entire month, I was counting down to the end of the month. I couldn’t wait to get back to drinking Coke Zero at home and Diet Coke at work!


This summer, I was amazed at how much soda Dad drank daily, and I think it influenced me negatively. I drank even more pop than normal.

At the same time, I wasn’t eating a normal diet (because out kitchen was out of commission), getting regular sleep, exercising regularly (because we were working on the house nonstop), or drinking enough water.

I decided I needed a reboot, so when Dad left, we finished up the last of the soda and didn’t buy more.


A week later, work started. I held off buying any pop until Thursday. I was tired. I did what I usually do on a work day: I headed to the vending machine, put a buck in, and waited for my Diet Coke and my quarter.

I heard two coins hit the return slot. That’s weird, I thought. I fished them out.

Fifteen cents?

I glared at the pop can. I glared at the vending machine—85¢. I rolled my eyes at the coins in my palm.

This was too much. It was one thing to spend a buck and get a false “freebie” with the leftover quarters every fourth time. Now I was going to have to have to buy six cans to get that false freebie, keep track of twice as many coins, and have a nickel left over.

Furthermore, I only keep quarters in my purse. Dimes, nickels, and pennies all get thrown in the pink plastic piggy bank on the office bookshelf.

As I walked up to my room, I considered that if I got into the habit of buying a soda during the first weeks of work, I was going to be in that habit the entire year. I also realized I was going to spend enough money over the year on the price increase alone to buy a fruit tree for our backyard. I mentally tallied up the total cost and realized I could make an orchard in our backyard with the total money I would save if I quit drinking soda.

Tooth decay, the possibility that fake sugar screws up your sweetness receptors, possible bone loss, the massive waste of money, the company’s union busting ways—none of that was enough to stop me from drinking Coke. It was that ten cent price increase that set me over the edge!


I haven’t had a single drop of soda since then. That’s more than five weeks without soda.

The headaches from caffeine withdrawal are completely gone. I don’t have to talk myself out of getting a soda when someone else drinks them. I haven’t been tempted to get soda when eating out.

There are other side effects I didn’t expect. Since I’m no longer going into the break room for soda, I’m no longer picking at the junk people leave on the tables. I’m no longer tempted by the candy/snack sugar/salt vending machine since I don’t see it. At our twice weekly grade level meetings there is always candy. I used to eat too much of it. Other than a few during an all-day meeting, I haven’t had any candy since the first week of school. It’s almost as if I don’t crave the sugar as much.

Do I think I’ll never drink soda again? No. I remember a Cuban restaurant I used to live near in Atlanta that had a great ginger beer I enjoyed as a treat. I want to drink soda like that—as a treat, not a habit.

Chuseok Change of Plans

Originally we invited ten people to Chuseok. Then I realized there was no way I was going to be able to entertain ten people with my condition, so we scaled it back food-wise and people-wise.

Mark, his Lover, and Mark’s parents came over for spicy pork, mandu (from our freezing escapades), brown rice, pajeon (scallion pancakes) with a dipping sauce, sesame leaves (from my garden), quail eggs in soy sauce, tofu in a spicy sauce, three seasoned veggie banchan dishes (purchased), kimchi (purchased), songpyeon (purchased), Asian pears, and some wine they brought, as well as the champagne our Realtor gave us as a housewarming gift!

A few days prior, I asked Mark to bring some extra chairs.

“To sit on?”

“What else do you use chairs for?”

“When I think of Amanda and [Good Man]’s house, I don’t think of chairs.”

Well, that’s true. In our old place, we always ate at our small Korean table.

The food was enjoyed by all, and it was great to entertain in our dining room—with chairs!


Making Mandu

The night before I fractured my tailbone, Good Man and I made mandu together. I basically used the recipe Jonathan left in the comments.

Good Man and I had a good making the mandu and trash-talking each other’s mandu folding job.




Good Man Makes Coffee

By the time we were done snacking making the mandu, I was convinced we needed more than a two-tier steamer.

We wrapped up 110 dumplings and put them in the freezer for Chuseok. But then I fractured my tailbone…