Lost: The Simple Joy of Reading

Guess what happened last night?
I read a book. For fun.  Not a fun school related book, but a plain, unassigned, free reading book. For some reason, I had this urge to read a nice carefree book in bed.  As I was walking to the library to obtain said books, I couldn’t even recall the last time I had read a book for pleasure.  Where had my love of reading gone?

As a child, I was the kid at the library with a stack of books two feet tall, counting them to see if I had reached the checkout limit.  I was addicted to reading.  In the summer, my parents would have to limit the amount of time I spent reading so that I would go outside to play and be social.  I loved that i could be transported to a whole new world and take on a whole new persona with the turn of a page, wherever I was.

My mom read to me almost every night until I was in high school and had to do homework  until bedtime.  Together we ventured to Narnia, became family to Jo, Meg, Beth and Amy, roamed the apple orchards with Anne, and lived on the prairie with Laura, Ma, and Pa, just to name a few of our endeavors. She would read from eight to eight thirty every night; we took turns on who would occasionally fall asleep halfway through; that’s when we knew it had been a long day.  I loved that time. It was mommy and me time, our own special treat at the end of the day after my younger sister went to bed.  Promptly at 8:30 she would stop reading and say, “Alright time for bed Linds.” And I would beg for just one more chapter, just one teeny, tiny chapter.  She would look how long it was, and if it was short enough she would say, “If we read this, you will have to have no troubles getting up on time in the morning.” Of course I would readily agree; I would do anything for just one more chapter.  Together we read over seven thousand pages, and I am eternally grateful to my mom for investing that time in me and helping me cultivate my love of reading.

Between reading at night with my mom, and reading by myself, I logged many hours as a bookworm during my childhood. Like I said I was addicted. But once I got into high school, assigned reading came like a thief in the night and stole my free reading time.  Even on breaks, I either had assigned reading to do, or I was so burnt out from doing the readings before the break, I didn’t even want to think about reading more.  And it got worse and worse every year.  As more and more reading was forced upon me, the passion I had for reading faded dimmer and dimmer.

Not to say there wasn’t ever light in the dark tunnel of assigned reading.  My initial love of reading helped keep a light burning, even when the material was thick and I didn’t understand it all.  I still remember sophomore year reading A Tale of Two Cities, and learning about diction, syntax, tone, and all the usually boring parts of literary analysis.  It clicked for me, and my inner book-lover and nerd came out.  I loved thinking about why Dickens wrote the way he did, because as anyone who has ever read Dickens’ work knows; he has a very distinct voice.  To this day, that is one of my favorite books.  It was a light in my tunnel of literary analysis of assigned reading, a reminder of what I used to love.  But alas, all good things must come to an end, and assigned reading became like a chore again.

Just like reading Tale of Two Cities reignited my love for the written word, summertime also was a time of relaxing with good books.  Granted, most of the time I still had assigned reading to do, but at least for a couple of weeks I got to experience reading for the sheer fact of wanting to read once more.  In the years before my grandma died, she began a quest to read the entire classics section. It was awesome when she was reading a book that I was reading for school, because we could discuss it and read it together.  She made it through the entire classics section at the library, and inspired me to read more classics.  Thus every summer, before our annual long camping trip I would go to the library, and pick up a stack of around seven classics to read that trip.  During the course of these trips, I noticed that I always gravitated towards the classics that were not commonly read in school.  I couldn’t bring myself to read a book leisurely that was a “school book” no matter how great it was. I wanted to read a book that was clearly distinct from any book that had been or would eventually be a graded assignment.

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Assigned reading didn’t make me stop reading forever. It also didn’t make me hate reading.  But even for an avid reader, assigned reading slowly tortured my inner book-worm.  I don’t know how it got that way.  How did reading go from something I loved to a chore, as soon as it became associated with a grade or a homework assignment? Where was the point when reading became a monster?
I see it happening in my sister, as she is reading To Kill A Mockingbird, which if I might add, is an exceptional book, that I would read over and over, but she isn’t reading it because she wants to, she is reading it to answer questions to get a grade.  Naturally when reading something to answer questions, regardless the subject, one will skim to find the information that pertains to the question and then move on.  By doing so, one usually misses key information that makes the story enjoyable to read and less like homework. My sister likes to read, but not nearly as much as I did my freshman year, and I can see the enjoyment fading away as the books take on more weight than they were meant to hold.

I can’t imagine how it is for students who don’t like to read in the first place.  Actually I can; those are the students that don’t even bother opening the book and if the teacher is lucky the student will Sparknote it to at least make it appear like they are reading.  In doing so, they miss out on finding a favorite book or author, which might have led them to find a type of writing they enjoy reading.

It is not to say that assigned reading should be abolished.  What I am trying to suggest is actually very far from that.  Assigned reading exposes students to many different time periods, ways of life, styles of writing, etc. and provides great examples of how to write.  But we aren’t all going to be novelists. Maybe we should add a little more article and essay reading into the curriculum, because in this digital age, isn’t that what the majority of what our students will be dealing with in their workplace, or even in their daily lives?

Will adding articles help students enjoy assigned reading more? Possibly, maybe it will help the slower readers have confidence, because it is a shorter piece of work. Will letting students read what they want to read help them like assigned reading better? Maybe.  It might make it less of a drag and give each student the freedom to read material on what they are passionate about, or even find something they are passionate about.  But then what does one do about grading? How does one grade an enthusiastic student who only likes to read, say cookbooks and travel guides?  How does one encourage, if not require, the reading level to be grade appropriate?  How can one tell if students are actually reading the books?

I don’t have a solution, I really don’t even have suggestions on how to attempt to fix this issue, but I do know that somewhere between freshman year of high school and freshman year of college, my love of reading was vastly diminished as a result of reading wonderful novels knowing that my future would be partially determined on how well I understood and could analyze the book.  My understanding of the book led contributed to my grade in the class, which then played a huge factor in what colleges I got in to.  Reading somehow got reduced to a means to an end, and because of this many have lost sight, at least temporarily, of what the simple joy of reading is, myself included.

To conclude, I have one question that must be addressed; how do we reclaim reading from being a means to the end, and return it to the simple joy that it brings?

Summer Homework: Had Me a Blast

One of my favorite teachers of all time wrote a blog post this weekend questioning the effectiveness of assigning summer homework and it was amazing.  I suggest you all read it on his blog, The Readiness is All.  At the end, he asks readers to share their thoughts in a comment or blog post response.  In the beginning I was going to just leave a short comment and be on my way, but then I realized I had a lot more to say on the subject then would be courteous to leave in a comment.  So here I am, blogging about summer homework, two-week into school.  You would think my opinions would have died down after being in school for two weeks, but nope, I’m still really passionate in my displeasure about summer homework.

To start off, I have had summer homework in at least one class for the past three years.  This past summer was amazing because college doesn’t have required summer homework(that I know of.  Oh gosh, what if they do? Oh no.) and it was amazing.  It was sharply contrasted by my sister’s summer in which she had three books to read for freshman honors english.  Some might argue that the books weren’t super long or hard to read, but that isn’t the point.

The point is that she read all three books diligently and did not wait until the last-minute, but as the first day of school crept closer and closer, she got more and more stressed out.  Talk about nerve-racking! Imagine starting a new school for the first time, one where everyone is bigger than you and there are a bazillion people everywhere.  The stress of six new teachers, finding your classes, having somewhere to eat lunch, being able to find one’s friends in the sea of people, opening one’s locker…the list of stressors goes on and on. Then add the stress of an impending test and multiple essays to be done in class within the first week of school. Poor freshman, I did not want to be in her shoes.

The day before school started for her, I received probably 15 texts, 3 phone calls, and one long FaceTime call in which she was in tears, stressed about the test and essays.  She was so nervous that she would fail and her teacher would think she was stupid and a failure, and even worse, have him think she didn’t even read the book.  She had no idea what to expect except the teachers had given a list of nine essay prompts and said, “Be prepared to answer three of these in class on the first day of school.”  I counseled her and told her that it would be extremely rare for a teacher(especially of freshman) to give a test on the first day because people are getting lost, coming in late, finding their assigned seat, etc.  It just doesn’t work to give a test within those first fifty-six minutes.  She still wanted to be prepared, so she set to writing an essay answering each of the prompts.  She wrote three essays before I was able to convince her that if she felt that she needed to write the essays, to just write bullet points.  She was so stressed.

I know teachers don’t sit around all summer thinking up new ways to torture their students(if they do, that’s a bigger problem than one of summer homework).  So I would like to think that if they knew what summer homework put their students through, they might think twice about assigning it.  Now I know, the reason summer homework is assigned is so that the class can hit the ground running and cover more material in the course of the year.  There has only been ONE class that I have found this statement even partially true and the summer homework necessary.  That class was AP Biology.

In AP Bio, we had four chapters to go over and do activities for on our own over the summer.  It was all review from regular biology, which was a prerequisite so everyone completing the summer homework had taken it, AND we went over it all in class, so if anyone had questions they could get them answered.  The only reason summer homework was assigned in the first place was that the AP test requires so much material to be covered, that one must start in the summer, just to have the time to cover all the required material adequately.  Which is a whole other problem in itself. Why design a test in which all material cannot be covered within the school year?  Oh well, that will have to be a completely separate blog post. The summer homework is justified in the extremely high pass rate that our school has on the AP Biology test.

What I don’t understand is assigned reading for English classes.  And not to bash on the English department at my school; I enjoyed every English class I was in, but I still don’t understand the purpose of the summer reading homework they assign.  I can only come up with two plausible reasons as to why summer reading homework would be assigned.

Reason One: The teachers want to scare of the faint of heart(in an academic sense).  They don’t want to deal with students who don’t want to do the level of work required of a higher level English course. I don’t blame them.  There have been many a time when I have been in class frustrated because some of my classmates did not want to put in the effort and work required of the class, thus unfortunately sometimes bringing the entire class down. I love being in a class with all academic thinking students just as much as a teacher like teaching one.  When everyone is participating and putting something into the class, it transforms the class; discussions flow freely, group projects are no longer a pain, and the positives can go on forever.  But I’m not so sure that assigned summer reading is going to solve that problem.

In fact, in assigning summer reading, one is more likely to scare away those students who are on the fence between excelling in a regular level English class and being challenged in an honors or AP class.  You won’t scare away the students who are forced by their parents to take the upper level course, just to get into a “good college”.  They will just read Sparknotes and take whatever grade they get on the first tests, because they don’t really care.  You won’t scare away those kids that are naturally smart, but have no desire to put any effort into the course. All who get scared away are the timid ones, those unsure about their academic strength, but willing to put in the effort to get to that next level if needed.

Reason Two: Summer reading is important because it helps classes to cover more books in a year, which ultimately helps students on the AP Literature test as they will have more books to choose from when they are writing their free response essays.  I’m pretty sure no teacher can wholeheartedly say this and believe it one hundred percent.  No student in May of their senior year is going to recall a book they read over the summer before freshman year enough to write a fully developed essay on it.  For one, it is highly likely that after reading that book over the summer, they took a test on it and never discussed it again.  Which ultimately won’t help them on the AP test, because on the test one is required to examine the book on a deeper level than just knowing what the book was about.  Class discussion of a book help set those themes in stone in a student’s mind, so that they can, hopefully, recall them when necessary.  Also, speaking solely from my personal experience taking the AP Literature test; you read enough of a variety of books senior year that you can answer just about any prompt and relate it to one of the books read that year quite easily.

There are some many things students can do during the summer that would be way more worthwhile and thought-provoking than summer homework.  I could list them out, but I think you get the picture.  (If you need an idea of what I’m talking about, check out my previous blog post about what I did this summer!)

Just an example of one of the great things students could be doing instead of summer homework-enjoying the sunset!
Just an example of one of the great things students could be doing instead of summer homework-enjoying the sunset!

In conclusion, I am going to echo the wise question of Mr. Theriault; why is summer homework still being assigned?  If you have an answer, or see a reason for keeping it that I haven’t thought of, feel free to comment below!

36.4 Pounds of Mail, One Important Decision

In the past one and a half years, I have received right around 36.4 pounds of college mail.  36.4 pounds!!!! Makes me wonder how many trees were murdered in the hopeful, but probably highly unsuccessful, quest to find applicants.

November came and the first round of applications were due.  I had been writing essays all summer, but the date still crept up on me a little.  Never the less, I got them all in on time, and began waiting.  I have never been so excited to receive mail in my life.  Eagerly, after about two weeks, every day, after practice,  before setting foot inside, I would peer nervously into the mailbox, hoping that there was a big fat letter in there for me.  Then one day, two big, fat, official looking acceptance letters came.  It was like Christmas had come a couple of weeks early. I was beyond excited! I knew for sure that I had somewhere to go next year. What a relief.

December and January were filled with round two of applications, the holidays, and family.  A couple more acceptance letters came in, and I was excited to see how my hard work was paying off. In late January, my family took a trip to visit Baylor and Vanderbilt.  We all fell in love with Vanderbilt.  My sister said,” Might as well buy my sweatshirt now, cause this is where you are going.”  She made a bet with me before the trip, that for some reason I don’t recall making, but the bet said that if she called the school I ended up attending, I would have to buy her a sweatshirt. The school and the trip were perfect.  Well, except for the fact that it was 17 degrees the entire time we were there. (Side note: I have never been so thankful for the humidity and 60 degree weather that we had when we got back home). I was so excited to have found my number one school.

February brought more waiting, scholarship essays, more thinking, and a trip to University of Denver with my dad.  Denver was amazing.  My dad and I had a great time touring the campus and exploring the area around Denver.  It was such a nice opportunity to be able to go on a daddy daughter trip.  We were both impressed with the program that DU had, and especially a selective leadership program in which, if admitted, you live and take classes on leadership with a group of 65 other students, and in the end graduate with a minor in Leadership Studies.

 

April has been an interesting month.  I didn’t get into Vanderbilt and Brown, both of which I  was surprisingly okay with.  All throughout my college search and application process, both my parents and my prayer has been that God would guide me to where He wanted me.  Though it stung a little to get those first rejection letters, I decided to not look at them as rejection letters, but as God closing doors, so He can lead me to the right ones.  In the end of April, my mom, sister and I took a girls trip to tour my final two schools: Lewis and Clark College and University of Puget Sound.  We saw the schools, explored some state parks, and took in the sights of Washington and Oregon.

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I got to meet up with the track coach at Puget Sound to talk about the possibilities of running on his track team.  I went into the meeting expecting to be rejected politely because I am a JV level athlete.  Not exactly the kind of caliber that I assumed all college coaches would be looking for.  I was taken aback when he said that he doesn’t look at times for incoming freshman, all he requires is a good attitude and a willingness to put the effort into getting better.  He never asked for my marks and PRs.  And the team was so welcoming and just plain awesome.

By the end of the trip, I had narrowed my choices down to Denver and Puget Sound.  When I got home, I found out that I was wait listed for the leadership program at Denver and there was a technical difficulty with my application for the Honors program at Denver as well, so I wouldn’t know until after Commitment Day (May 1st) if I would be able to participate in those programs.

After some more research, prayer, deliberation, and lengthy conversations I decided last night on University of Puget Sound.  The funny thing about it is that, I applied to UPS last-minute because I thought the campus was pretty, had heard great things about it at a college fair for it and its sister schools, and they offered me a free application.  When I applied, I had no intention of actually attending.  I guess the pounds of mail, billions of emails, and the numerous phone calls each year are successful; they helped put Puget Sound on the radar for me, and I couldn’t be happier about my decision.

 

The Countdown Begins

It just hit me.  At of the start of writing this post, I have 74 days, 1 hour, and 10 minutes until graduation. As I get super excited and nervous for the future; I can’t help but wonder where did the time go?  It sure doesn’t feel like I have lived for almost eighteen years.  Or that I am prepared to move to a WHOLE NEW STATE only a minimum of 800 miles away and exist on my own!

I joke with my mom that she is going to have to send me away with a three-inch binder with an instruction manual complete with pictures for how to take care of myself.  The sad part is that I like to think I am pretty capable of being self-sufficient too; i mean I can cook, wash dishes, do a mediocre job of the laundry, clean, vacuum, and stay organized, but the thought of actually having to transport myself to the store and buy q-tips and toothpaste is daunting.  Okay, that is an exaggeration, but it already takes me FOREVER at the store when I decide to cook and need to get the ingredients.

I am beginning to realize the many things of my childhood I have taken for granted at some point or another in my life; fresh sheets on my bed, homemade and just out of the oven cookies, dinner on the table every night when I get home, the list really doesn’t end. Everyone reading this needs to go home and thank your mommy.  Or at least give her a call.

While pondering how I will exist on my own, I can’t help but wonder what my family will do with me gone.  Yes, I know my family, and the entire world as a matter of fact, doesn’t revolve around me, but there is a serious question that need to be answered.

Who will help eat all the leftovers?  I have eaten leftovers for lunch (and sometimes dinner) regularly since sixth grade.  Yes, I do eat them willingly, they are usually really good.  I say this jokingly, but in all seriousness, it will be an adjustment for all of us, not just me as is often assumed.

I just asked my sister what three things i did at home were and she replied quickly, “You eat, sleep, and do homework.”  Ladies and Gents, my sister tells it as it is.  I think the geniuses who set up the school system made high school and getting into college so demanding so that the transition from high school to college would be easier on families.  On school days, I am pretty much gone from 7:30 to 5:30, home for dinner and then either alone doing homework, or at another event, and then hiding upstairs doing homework.  Like I have said before, that is why dinner time is so precious to me; it really is one of the few times I see my family during the week.  On weekends, I’m home a little more, but homework, track meets, soccer games, and friends are still ever-present as well.

I guess I am in that stage where I can’t wait to graduate, but yet I can.  Senioritis is waging a hard battle, as seen in the fact that at the end of this post I now have 71 days 20 hours and 12 minutes until graduation.  Thank goodness that only adds up to 43 more school days. At the same time, I’m rather fond of the regular schedule that I have right now, even if it is fraught with homework and studying for AP tests; I’m still not completely for it to change just yet.  But then again, I guess they call it change for a reason; no one is every completely ready for it or else they would call it Normal(version 2.0).

 

 

Over-Involved and Under-Committed: The New Generation

When I was growing up, my parents had a rule for my sister and I (well they had many) but the particular one had to do with commitment.  They told us that we could only choose one sport/ extracurricular activity at a time. We were not the over committed family that always had 3 soccer games, a softball game, church, and a girl scout meeting all in a weekend. The most I got away with doing was soccer and girl scouts at the same time.  And this was permitted only because Girl Scouts met once a week for maybe two hours at a time.  It wasn’t a huge time commitment, my parents believed it was important, and I liked it.  They wanted to preserve family time and their sanity.  I am so grateful that they did.

But I am noticing a growing trend that concerns me.  First in society as a whole; that we are way to busy.  I am totally guilty of this, so I am not preaching from any pulpit, that’s for sure.  Secondly, many people, especially high schoolers, are over-involved and under-committed.  Now, hear me when I say that.  Over-involved and under-committed; how is that even possible?

To answer that question, I ask you to reflect upon what most colleges are looking for in a competitive applicant.  They want a well-rounded individual, who has played a varsity sport, been the president of a club, while being involved in two other clubs, been involved in the community, and on top of all that maintained stellar grades and achieved great test scores. I feel like they are asking for their applicants to dabble and under commit to everything, just so they can attain that “over-committed” level that colleges look for.  If there was a common mantra among current high school students, I’m pretty sure it could be, “Just do it for the app.”

The frustrating thing about this over-involvement is that instead of picking a couple of things that they love and committing to them and being super involved with them, students are doing things for the label, just so they can say they are “involved” on their college application.  AND COLLEGES SEEM TO ENCOURAGE THIS!  Though I’m sure every admissions counselor would say, “We would much rather you be deeply involved in a few things that you are passionate about, instead of a bazillion different things”; the activities section on the common app begs to differ. There are ten different sections to fill out describing your different activities and involvements in high school.  And if you only fill out four of them, that’s leaving a lot of blank space on the application that decides your scholastic fate.  Thus, students are driven to over involve themselves and under commit.  It is impossible to be completely committed to ten different activities, maintain good grades, have some semblance of a social life, and still sleep for the 8-9 hours recommended for teenagers.

What is created is a “Do it for the college application” attitude. And one can assume how frustrating and annoying this attitude can be. Try taking already slightly noncommittal teenagers, throwing them into ten different activities, and telling them to be committed to every one.  What you get is the bare minimum, a warm body in meetings, brain only half there, constantly thinking of all the other things that have to be done.  The expectation is that we are able to do it all, while in reality we have no chance.

 

 

Secret Garden Salad

There has always been a garden in our backyard.  My mom was raised in the same house we live in now, so even decades before I was born, when the house was brand new, there has been a garden.  My grandpa grew potatoes, corn, tomatoes, avocados, oranges, apricots, and beans.  Today we grow apricots, spinach, romaine lettuce, swiss chard, garlic, beets, onions, kale, broccoli, snap peas, green beans, tomatoes, olallaberries, lemons, oranges, tangerines, basil, cilantro, potatoes, carrots, and avocados.  Needless to say, we grow a lot of our own produce in the right seasons.  Right now, the lettuce, chard, kale, and broccoli are booming.

The weeds in the garden used to annoy me so much; there were so many of them and I HATED pulling weeds.  I didn’t like it because I wanted perfection and didn’t want to see a single weed in the entire garden.  The task was daunting, so I usually pulled weeds in maybe a two foot square area and gave up.  Then one day something clicked.  I realized that I don’t need to pull out all the weeds at one time.  Like everything that needs fixing and adjustment, it becomes more manageable if you do it a little at a time.  Now, every time I go out to pick fruits and veggies, I pull fifteen weeds or so, and toss them in the compost bin.  Maintenance is always easier than overhaul.

Anywho, because our veggies are booming, we have been eating salad right out of our garden and it has been wonderful.  We got a recipe for an awesome salad that we fell head over heels for probably four years ago.  Since then, I can count on one hand the number of times we haven’t eaten some variation of this salad with dinner.  And we have salad with dinner almost every day, for sure an average of 6 out of 7 days of the week.  The dressing is homemade and simply amazing, and we have altered the recipe to our liking and to make it easier to prepare every night.

This isn't a picture of one of our salads, but its very similar and you get the idea.  It's a delicious salad.
This isn’t a picture of one of our salads, but its very similar and you get the idea. It’s a delicious salad.

My mom was hesitant to even give me the secret recipe to post, because it is so wonderful.  Caroline on Sweetly Lemon specifically asked for it, so here it is!

 

Roberts Family Famous Salad

Salad:

1 head romaine lettuce, chopped

spinach, kale, chard(whatever greens you have available), chopped

broccoli(cut into small bite sized pieces)

¼ to ½ cup red onion

a good sized handful of dried cranberries

6-10 strips of cooked bacon, diced

2 handfuls of Pita Chips, crushed

Put it all in a bowl together and wha-lah! We only have bacon in it for special occasions, and never measure any of it specifically, the measurements are just guidelines; feel free to alter them based off of how many people you are serving.  Don’t put the pita chips on until the last-minute, as they will get soggy quickly and just roughly crush them in your hands and sprinkle it on top.

Dressing:

1 cup canola oil

½ cup sugar

½ cup red wine vinegar

1 Tablespoon soy sauce

a couple cloves of garlic, smashed(just leave them floating in the dressing container, remove it before pouring it on the salad)

We always have the dressing on hand in a protein shake type container because we use it so often.  I would recommend making it in advance-it tastes way better that way.

 

This salad has been particularly amazing as all the produce is home-grown, straight out of the garden.  I highly recommend this salad, as well as planting a garden, but the garden requires much more time and space than the salad.  Happy salad making!

Gluten Free Culinary Perfection

Ever since day one, my family and I have had almost weekly dinner with our family friends(more like family) that live four houses down the street from us.  The meals are sometimes more elaborate, and sometimes its a “whatever we can make with what’s in both fridges” dinner.  Either way, the food is always great and I always look forward to it.

I can’t even count the times where we have called our family friends or vice versa and said, “Hey! We’re trying a new recipe tonight, would you like to join us for dinner?”  (I’m pretty sure normal people don’t invite people over for dinner when they are cooking a new recipe, just saying.)  The fun thing is that whenever we try a new recipe; there is always the possibility that we will have to call for pizza, and we are all willing to take that risk. In all my years of eating these creations, I can’t remember a night where the dinner has been so terrible that we actually have called for pizza.  That being said, this environment has always encouraged me to try new recipes, and wing it, even if you don’t have all the ingredients and are under a little pressure.

Over the weekend, my grandpa came down to visit and attend my sister’s soccer game.  We all completely forgot that he had recently(within the past two weeks) become officially gluten intolerant, and didn’t remember until he said, “This is amazing! It’s the first bread I have had in two weeks!” when we made him a sandwich.  He ate the sandwich, thinking it would be okay just for that meal, but it didn’t go over so well.  He told us what he had been eating and how much he was missing noodles and toast, and especially cookies.  He LOVES homemade cookies.  He wasn’t even aware that they made gluten-free substitutes for bread and noodles, and was blown away that I could make him some gluten-free cookies.

I, being the extremely resourceful person I am, googled some recipes, found a promising one, went to Sprout’s for the gluten-free ingredients, and embarked on a gluten-free cookie journey.

The reviews I read for this recipe were all very good, and praised it.  My goodness, I followed the recipe to a T and I ended up with gloppy, crinkly, soft, and gooey cookies that wouldn’t even come off the cookie sheet.

It was a mess. These are just the ones that came off the sheet looking at least a little like a cookie.
It was a mess. These are just the ones that came off the sheet looking at least a little like a cookie. The rest was only fit for ice cream toppings and/or immediate sampling.  Needless to say, there were several cookie fatalities that night.

 

I finally got so frustrated with it that I stuck the remainder of one sheet back in the oven to hopefully crisp up and be easier to remove while still maintaining the cookie shape.  Meanwhile, I ranted to my mother about school, checked Facebook, lamented the sad state of my cookie disaster, looked at another recipe-realizing I forgot to pick up half the ingredients, made an entire new batch of cookies after tweaking the recipe, got them all set up on the cookie sheet, turned on the oven, took a picture of my kitchen mishap, and finally looked at the oven to see why it was seemingly taking forever to heat up.  And this is what I found…

My First Ever Burnt Cookies :(
My First Ever Burnt Cookies :(

I have never, ever, burnt ANYTHING this badly. EVER.  It was terrible.  I burnt everything so much that the chocolate chips were crummy.  Boy was I frustrated.  I don’t really like failing at things I normally excel at.  Like I have said in earlier posts, I don’t mind failure, knowing that failure is the only way to learn, but seriously, I have been making cookies since I was old enough to be in the kitchen with my mom.  Thinking back on it, I think I was more frustrated that my cookie pride was hurt, not really that I had “failed”.  It wasn’t a complete failure as the undercooked ones tasted good, but just didn’t hold their shape.

Being my hardworking and stubborn self, I wasn’t going to let these cookies have the best of me, I put the newly altered recipe batch in the oven and watched them like a hawk.  The reward was SWEET REDEMPTION, both literally and figuratively.

Much Better
Much Better

Lesson learned, just like Aunt BethAnn has always said, don’t ever be afraid to make a dish, based on how it will turn out or how it did turn out; you can always order pizza and try again another time.

Professional chefs have had their share of meal mishaps and burnt food, and look where they are now.  Maybe burnt food and mishaps are just a step in the right direction towards culinary perfection.

Anyway, I almost forgot to include the recipe(the one I changed).

Gluten Free Chocolate Chip Cookies

 

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 9-11 minutes

Total Time: 26 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/4 cups of your favorite GF all purpose baking/flour substitute
  • 1 teaspoon guar gum
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract (for chocolate mint chip cookies, use 1 teaspoon peppermint extract)
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 cup (6 ounces) gluten-free chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup chopped nuts (optional)

Preparation:

Preheat oven to 375° F / 190° C

Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper or lightly oil

Combine dry ingredients in a medium bowl and whisk to combine. In a large mixing bowl, combine egg and sugar and beat with an electric mixer on high until light and fluffy. Add butter and beat on high until combined. Add extract and beat briefly. Add dry ingredients and mix until combined. Stir in chocolate chips and nuts (optional).

For 1 dozen large cookies use a 2 tablespoon (1/8 cup) ice cream scoop or drop heaping tablespoons of dough on prepared baking sheets.

For 2 dozen small cookies use a 1 tablespoon ice cream scoop or a rounded tablespoon.

Bake in preheated oven for 9-11 minutes or until cookies are crisp on edges and slightly soft in the middle. Cool on baking sheet.

My Confession to the World

I have a confession. Well, its more like a giant secret that I have held in so long, so close to my heart, that my parents don’t even know it.  NO ONE knows it.  I have always been afraid to reveal it, because of what society might think. Who am I kidding, it’s not what they will think, it is what they WILL SAY.  We are so judgemental as society, and note I say we because I am totally included in this group.  Though I try to work on it, it just naturally happens; I see someone and instantly categorize them based off of what they look like.  It’s terrible.

Anyway, today I decided, I have had enough.  I will not hide part of who I am any longer.  So here it goes.

I want to be a plumber when I grow up.  There I said it.  I am just so fascinated by how all the pipes work together to deliver water to the various places in a house.  How could someone even be smart enough to think of all that?  And all the work in the dirt, mud, and water sounds right up my alley because I love the mud.  And guess what?  They only work when called and they get paid by the hour AND they get to charge whatever they want.  Combine all of those positives and you have the recipe for my dream job.

Now, I know what you were thinking.  Most people would think, “Okay, but why don’t you be a doctor or go to college first and then decide what you want to do?”  Watch the spoken word video, linked below.  If you are short on time,  just watch the first two and a half minutes or so, otherwise I highly recommend watching the entire video.  It is amazing and brings me to the verge of tears every time I watch it .

TED Shane Koyczan- To This Day

“If you can’t see anything beautiful about yourself then get a better mirror, look a little closer, stare a little longer, because there is something inside you that made you keep trying despite everyone who told you to quit” -one of my favorite quotes from the video

“They asked me what I wanted to be and then told me what not to be.”  This is the epitome of the state of our education system in America.  From day one of kindergarten, the expectation of the student is that they will grow up, go to high school, take a full load of AP classes, go to a prestigious college, and then become a doctor, engineer, or lawyer.  The driving force behind every class, lecture, presentation, and guidance appointment in high school is to prepare students for college.  Look even in recent news, and the Presidency is pushing for higher education(college of some type) for everyone.  The attitude that comes out of this is that it is absurd for someone not to go to college.  Completely absurd, in their minds.

Well, what happens when everyone starts going to college like society is encouraging and calling for?  Many things.  One, we lose people going into the job fields that don’t require a college degree, but still are necessary to keep society functioning.  For example, my dad doesn’t have a college degree.  Yet, he is a fire captain and has worked in the fire service for 17 years.  He is on a National Disaster Management Team and gets sent all over the Western United States to manage the resources(people and machines) when fires and other natural disasters occur.  He may not know how to help me with my AP Calculus homework, but he is one of the smartest people I know.  So, remind me why everyone MUST go to college?  So they can do well in the world? To that I ask what is the definition of doing well in the world, being happy, having money, or something else?  It all depends on the person, whom defines how well they are doing for themselves.

Second, if everyone goes to college, then does it not just become a continuation of high school, and the only way to be competitive in the job market will now be to get a Masters or a PhD?  It doesn’t make sense to encourage every student to go to college, putting themselves in debt, when every job does not require a college degree.

In my case, as I do not actually dream of being a plumber, I need to go to college to pursue a job in the field that I desire.  I hope to major in Biology with an emphasis on genetics, because, in my opinion, genetics is the medicine of the future.  Though I do not want to be a doctor, I do need to go to college in order to even have a chance of getting a job in genetics.

Simply put, we need to stop instilling in our kids that the only way to succeed in life is by going to college.  There are other ways to succeed, and we need to be open to them.  Some of the biggest advancements in our history have come from relatively “unschooled” people.  Maybe its time we stop focusing on standards, and believing that without school education is impossible, and realizing that school isn’t the be all end all that it’s often cracked up to be.  There are several ways to get to the one end that we all desire- a happy life.

The Definition of You

Someone once told me that the definition of a person can be found by examining what they talk about most.  I had to ponder it for a while, until I saw the truth in what they had said.  It wasn’t what I wanted to hear, because I defined myself as a vastly different person with different values, than the one whom my friends would speak of based off of what I talked about most.  Granted, I know there is more to a person’s characteristics and definition, per se, than JUST what they talk about, but it was still really interesting to think about.  If I want to influence people, shouldn’t what I talk about be right on par with whom I want to be and am?  My speech shouldn’t be filled with complaints, if I am really an optimistic and content person that just doesn’t voice my happiness as much as my complaints.  If I consider myself a Christian, why don’t I talk about it more often?

The answer plain and simple is that I have a habit of putting God in a God box, only to be opened on Wednesdays and Sundays, and I pray that I am alone in this struggle and that everyone else is a pro at letting God be in every part of their lives, but I fear that is not the case.  I compartmentalize my faith way too often, and it is like a sickness that needs a cure.  I’m getting better about it, but there is no one time cure, it takes diligence and perseverance.  Studies have shown that 70% of church attending Christians will graduate high school and stop attending church.  Of that seventy percent, only half will return in their lifetime.   What happens when that somewhat mandatory opening of the God box goes away?  What happens when, now, the students can dictate their own lives and schedules?  The God box get shoved in the back of the attic of life, right next to broken relationships and old forgotten passions.

Time goes on and they forget what a relationship with God is like, and decide that they can get on without one.  And they never go back.  Or they have a crisis that sends them searching for any semblance of who they used to be, and they find the God box, dusty after all those unopened years, and open it on a last resort.  Hopefully, they rediscover the wonder and crave a relationship with Him again.

Both situations could be avoided, though, and that is the sad part.  It is awful to think that there is a chance that we could save people from going through this, if we all just talked about our faith a little more.  I’m not saying we need to introduce ourselves and say, “Hi! My name is ______. Have you heard about Jesus?” All I’m saying is that, at least for me, there are moments when I should be more open about my faith and welcome questions about it.  I need to stop thinking about being labeled as a “Jesus Freak”, and just accept it.  I would rather be sharing my faith and be called a Jesus Freak, then be quiet about it and still be thought of as a Jesus Freak because I don’t cuss, drink, or party and I go to church.

So what defines you?  Is it what your friends would say as well?  If is your faith?  Or is it something else?  Don’t let society be the first to define you, beat them to it and define yourself through your actions and words.

youer_than_you__by_moustacheme-d4t6hdf

Failure is…Fun?

For the past three and a half years, I have been a cross-country and long distance track runner.  Running is basically all I know how to do well, sport wise.  I can throw a baseball, play soccer, and fumble my way through other sports, but I for sure do not excel at them.  Running, for me, is and was an escape, and it was something I was good at.

Unfortunately, I was too strong-willed and stubborn and made decisions that got me injured both at the end of my sophomore and junior year.  Sophomore year, I ran through a stress fracture and at the end of season had to take two months off.  Junior year, I injured my back before season even started.  I was out for five and a half months.  I learned a ton from these injuries, but that is a long story for another post.

Last Tuesday, I stopped running on cross-country and long distance track.  It was a huge step for me, because my team had become my family and my whole friend base.  Going into high school, I knew three people in the entire 3,650 student body.  Basically, I knew no one.  But once I joined cross-country, I knew and was friends over 200 people.

This post isn’t going to be what you think: a memory filled, sob story.  It’s about what I learned in the week after stopping.  Now, I didn’t stop entirely, I just moved events.  It feels like I am on a whole new team, playing a whole new sport, because I don’t practice with my old teammates anymore, but I’m still on the track team and so are they.  The only difference is now I’m a jumper and not a distance runner.  I choose to change events because my body couldn’t handle the high mileage of distance running any longer and it needed a break, but I wasn’t ready to give up all together.

This past week, I re-learned that one must fail in order for greatness to appear.  I failed on so many levels this week, but its okay because it is part of the curve of learning something new.  I had fun failing! Now, think about it, how many people can say that?

My favorite failure by far has to be weight room.  Distance runners at my school DO NOT lift any weights.  Picture the most scrawny arms you can imagine, got the image?  This week I failed at chin ups, dips, power cleans, and basically anything that we did that involved upper body strength.

We were doing chin ups from a dead hang (straight arms while hanging on to the bar).  We had a bungee to put one leg in and my friend had just flown through her sets, so I figured it couldn’t be that hard right?  Boy, was I wrong.  It took every ounce of concentration I had to pull my body up an inch from where it started.  And I still had at least a foot to go to even be near the bar.  Talk about weak and embarrassing.

Failing was fun this week, because I am challenging myself to do new things and break out of my comfort zone.  I look forward to the days when I have learned enough so I no longer fail everyday, but for now I’m okay and enjoying my failures. What about you?  How are you challenging yourself and enjoying the “failing” that comes with it?

success 2