Entries from February 24th, 2013

never say never

Sunday, February 24, 2013

When I was young, I wanted to be a teacher. When I got older, I said I could never teach kindergarten. Next week, I’ll wrap up eighteen months of life as a kindergarten teacher.

What started out so foreign but became so familiar will soon seem like a past life – the three minute walk from door to door, the mandatory watered-down Americanos from the only cafe open early enough, the one-story stair climb to the entrance of the school, muffled squeals of early arrivers behind the doors, kids occupied with water cooler talk too busy to say good morning, the smells of mini sweaty feet from the shoe room and steamed rice from the kitchen at 11:45, like clockwork – all of it.

In the beginning, no teacher in history was more awkward. If the kids asked their parents for an exchange when they got home, I would not have been surprised. Ship her back to 미국, Mom! You said English school was going to be FUN!

If I were to do it all over again, I would be more prepared. I would read more about education, in general and in Korea. Time was what I didn’t have, and I was on a plane before I could change my mind. Though the learning curve was steep, the whole process was game-changing, and I’m anticipating a loss I’ve never felt at the end of a job before.

Last Tuesday, I bit my lip and told my students they’d be getting a new teacher soon. Jed cried on my lap for six minutes, but the rest took the news pretty well. They shrugged their shoulders like yeahwell, nice knowin ya. Can we please color now? Larry put his finger back up his nose, Philip asked if it was time for gym, and it was back to business as usual.

My kindergarten teacher was Mother Theresa. She never yelled. She was patient and fair, and she glided from one end of the room to the other in her long denim skirts with the grace of an Olympic figure skater. Her taste in classroom pets, however, was questionable. One morning when we came to school, there was a cage on a table with a  black and white spotted rat inside. We quickly named her Honey Huggles Phyllis II, and then we took turns holding her. I was terrified that she’d escape while in my custody, so I squeezed her so tightly her little eyes bugged out a bit. That was the only time Miss T ever scolded me, and I cried. When summer vacation came and Miss T needed a home for Honey, my mother volunteered to take her in. Honey died at the end of that summer, and I cried again. Because she knew, my mother replaced her three times within the next year. Some people had dogs. We had domesticated rats. Whenever I tell this story, I try to sell off Honey as a hamster, just with a longer, scalier tail.

A RAT?! they all say.

Well, not like a cat-sized subway rat. A domesticated rat. It’s different.

Like children, they’re never easily fooled, but they usually give me the benefit of the doubt, if only to switch subjects.

One extraordinary effect of teaching is that you get a peek of what you’d be like as a parent. You see your weaknesses and insecurities with glaring acuity. On good days, you handle anything thrown your way with grace, humor, and agility. Your job is the best in the universe, and to your bewilderment, you are a damn fine teacher! On bad days, you feel no more equipped to rear children than Mama June. Bad days rain, and when they do, they pour. I can’t say I’ve never yelled, and I’ve lost my patience once or twice. When the best pet I could give our class was a baby bird made of cotton with a paper beak and googly eyes, they went along with it like champions. But maybe they’ll remember our blindfolded taste tests, how to sing to Barbara Ann, and the difference between a hug and a bear hug.

Tomorrow is my last Monday, and though I’ll probably forget what it feels like to be near the end, I won’t forget how it feels to love these kids.

All names changed to protect the innocent, except Honey’s.


Monday, February 11, 2013

Sunday morning has ticked by, and on this side of the world, it’s after noon. May I interest you in a plate of pancakes?

At the end of last year, around the same time winter had begun to seem endless, my friend Niki sent a care package of locally-made Minnesota foods. Everything was wrapped carefully in thick white paper, and so thoughtfully chosen. Nothing lasted very long because it was all so ridiculously good. Tin of anchovies? To pasta! Gone in a week. Heirloom tomato jam? For toast, grilled cheese, and cheese, straight up. After six days, I was scraping the sides of the jar for every last bit. But the jug of maple syrup stood the longest on the shelf before I finally cracked it open.

When I think of syrup, I still think of all of my botched attempts at pancakes, of the many leaden, burnt and lackluster results, pancakes that have made me question whether I even like pancakes, and affairs that nearly ended in a year-long hotcake dry spell because I just couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong. In the meantime, I did learn how to expertly fry an egg, so I suppose not all was lost.

While that jug of maple syrup stood neglected on its shelf, I thought of how I might put it to use. As it turns out, there are many, many ways to do justice to the stuff that have nothing to do with a griddle, like for hot and cold cocktails, vinaigrettes, and donuts. Still, I wanted pancakes, and I wanted them to be good. Talk about greedy, right?

But lo, the spell was broken, much because I felt the syrup deserved it. Nothing a little research and determination can’t overcome where matters of the kitchen are concerned. This recipe is pitch-perfect, and the secret is a medley of buttermilk, a gentle mix, the separation of egg yolk from white, and patience. I borrowed tips from Deb for a basic recipe that can be played up with fruit, chocolate, or nuts. Pictured above: persimmon pancakes with crunchy and soft persimmons.

May good pancakes be a part of your very near future, my friends. And Happy Lunar New Year.

Sunday Morning Pancakes (makes 6)

1 cup buttermilk (or, 1 cup milk with 1 T lemon juice stirred in – allow to sit for 5  minutes combined)
1 egg, separated
1 cup flour
2 T butter, melted
1 T sugar
1 t baking powder
1/2 t baking soda
1/4 t salt

*Mix together flour, sugar, baking powder, soda, and salt. Don’t sift.

*Whip the egg white until stiff, or just nearly stiff. Whip the yolk separately.

*Whisk the egg yolk into the buttermilk.

*Mix the egg yolk/buttermilk and butter into the dry ingredients. Barely mix. Lumps are good, as long as all bits of dry flour are concealed.

*Finally, fold the egg white into the batter

*Lightly brush a pan with melted butter, and go! And keep the heat at low.

the process of writing

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Just like there is no one correct recipe for living, there cannot be one standard way to write. I don’t know much about how others write because I guess, up to this point, I haven’t spoken so openly about the process with many people. Writing still feels incredibly new.

Most of the time, I let the words come freely, even if they make me cringe. Ideas can be redundant – I let them – because sometimes the third sentence is better than the first. My brain has never worked in step-by-step, logical patterns, but I so envy people who operate by this method – it seems less chaotic, more stable. What if we all could see thought maps of our brains to understand exactly how our individual thoughts are developed and expressed, and through which channels they pass to come to fruition? I think mine would look like a splattering of paint, winding round in an unpredictable path, enough to drive a Virgo or someone of similar temperaments insane.

Writing is like sewing for me because I dissect each sentence, cutting it from its initial position and pasting it elsewhere until it fits. This is the part that makes me want to tear out my hair. Writing isn’t easy. It’s incredibly difficult, but that’s why I do it. Things that scare me or make me want to run away – those are the things I want to push through while I’m here. When I come up with a better analogy, I’ll let you know.

If you write, what is your process like? I would love to hear.

p.s. a magnificent explanation of why one writer writes.