Beet & Apple Pasta Salad

IMG_0336Another entry in my summer salads. The next post will be back to serious stuff, I promise! (Though food is serious!)

Only last summer did I learn to like beets, and this is a fantastic way to enjoy them. The earthy beet flavors were balanced nicely against the tart sweetness of the apple and the dressing, with the garlic adding a nice kick. Also, the crunchy apple and soft roasted beet and boiled pasta played well together.

Here’s the specifics:

  • 1-2 small beet, roasted and then chopped
  • 1/2 medium apple, chopped fine
  • 1 TBSP minced red onion
  • 1 tsp minced garlic scape
  • 1 TBSP sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1/4 cup chickpeas
  • A few leaves of spinach and basil, to taste
  • 1/4 cup pasta, cooked
  • 1 TBSP each olive oil and lemon juice; 1 tsp white balsamic vinegrette; dollop prepared Dijon mustard and honey

Because this is a salad, the directions for assembling this basically amount to “mix everything together.” I did that, then left it in the refrigerator for half an hour, so the flavors could develop. Then I took it out, topped it with bacon, and ate it.

I should note, when I roasted the beet I erred on the side of under-roasted, rather than over-roasted; I wanted the beet to be al dente. Also, if you can’t find garlic scapes, adding minced bottled garlic either to the dressing or the salad would work as well. One final note: I got the idea for this salad from this blog here, but since I only had a few of the ingredients mentioned, I used different ones instead. Creativity is the mother of invention.

In any case, this was wonderful. Highly recommended if you like beets, and if you don’t, perhaps the salad will help you learn!

It was wonderful.



A Word on Tone

lucyRecently, two people on my Facebook feed shared The Federalist’s post on the myths of modern education. Since the people who shared it are thoughtful people who work as educators, I checked it out.

I got about halfway through the essay, and before I finish (I really will!) I had to step away and address something that troubles me about it, and nearly (but not quite) keeps me from putting it away altogether.

It’s not the content. So far, the post is making a lot of good points. I agree that students need to learn facts in order to get a holistic understanding of the world. Indeed, the book I just finished reading made the point that in order to think well, students need to have something to think about; if we do not teach them concrete knowledge, they will not be able to think.

I agree that teacher-directed instruction, even lecture, is far under-appreciated. Some of my best instructors in college and graduate school were lecturers, and I know from experience that my students appreciate a good lecture as much as anyone.

No, what bothers me is the tone: dismissive, snarky, and so prone to sweeping generalizations that it’s hard to take seriously.

Here’s how the essay opens:

In many ways, the progressive education establishment is akin to a leftist “Hive”—people who think and speak alike and move in concert, even without centralized control or an active conspiracy.

The education Hive exercises power and influence in every state and nearly all Western countries.

The Hive? Really? To make matters worse, the writer continues to refer to the progressive educational system as “The Hive” throughout the rest of the essay.

To me, the ‘hive’ conjures up images of the Borg from Star Trek, or the Formics from Ender’s Game. To compare people you disagree with to something as alien as this does not show respect for people you disagree with, or a willingness to consider points of view other than your own; it’s hard for me to listen to your point of view, when you characterize other points of view as so utterly foreign.

Because here’s the thing: Not everyone in the progressive system actually subscribes to the myths as wholly as the essay suggests they do.

Take the second myth, that the progressive educational establishment is against teacher-directed learning. Here’s the writer’s take on how contemporary educators feel about lectures:

The Hive, of course, sniffs at the former [teacher-directed learning] and embraces the latter [student-directed learning], arguing that one better achieves deeper conceptual understanding by independent investigation. In fact, Christodoulou recalls that one of her instructors when she was in teacher training warned her that if she was talking, her students were not learning.

Notice first of all the utterly dismissive tone in which the writer portrays contemporary educators: They sniff at lecture, the word ‘sniff’ implying that their reaction against lecture is one of taste and feeling, not one of logic; the writer is suggesting that progressive educators are not a logical bunch. This suggestion is hardly the first step towards a productive conversation.

But beyond that, her characterization is not true. One of my favourite teachers was Dr. Tim Dayton, who taught modernism and literary theory at Kansas State when I attended for graduate school. Most of his classes were entirely lecture-based: engaging, productive lectures, but lectures nonetheless. In fact, when he was asked about educational theory, he said: “You’re a teacher. Teach.” – the idea being, of course, that sometimes the teacher needs to step in and communicate content directly to students, instead of letting them flounder as they try to piece it together on their own.

This was the same message that I got from the writing center at Kansas State, when I tutored there during graduate school. I recall a conversation with the director about teaching methods, when she told me that when she’s in the classroom, she does not play “Guess What’s in the Teacher’s Mind” with her students. Discussion, she said, should only be used when there’s no one right answer, when a range of “right answers” are possible; if there’s a specific idea you want to communicate, such as the proper methods for introducing quotations or citing material in MLA, don’t discuss it. Lecture about it.

I have two points here. One, there is diversity in teaching methods among progressives, and that among progressive educators, the lecture still has its place: truths that the Federalist writer misses, because she insists on calling her opponents names and painting with broad generalizations.

Two, watching our tone in discussions is incredibly important. Writing snarky things about people we disagree with is fun, true; but it’s a temptation that we need to resist, because when we do so, we risk obscuring the truth.

I want to note here that the Federalist essay is hardly alone in writing with a snarky tone. Snark and sweeping generalizations, hyperbole and ad hominem are very common in discourse today. And while progressives and conservatives are equally prone to such talk, I want to address myself to people who are (like me) more conservative: For too long we’ve dismissed the “other side” as dumb. We have to stop it. If we claim to value truth, then we have to talk about big issues in a way that actually gets at the truth, rather than obscuring it. If we claim to value truth, then we have to talk about it in a way that helps other people think about what is true, rather than turning them off it completely.

In her delightful book Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies, Marilyn Chandler McEntrye urges us to care for words by using them truthfully, eschewing hyperbole and imprecision; such methods of writing have more in common with our media-saturated and consumerist society than with a life of faith, and they come about because we have devoted neither sufficient attention nor respect to our subject.

Rather, McEntyre encourages us to adopt a discourse of precision, one that gives “care, time, and attention to the person, place or process being described” (51), and relies on the power of understatement to powerfully communicate truth.

Remember, she writes, “the persuasiveness of the ‘still small voice’ that speaks beneath the whirlwind” (51).

So let us watch our tone, and speak more softly, and thus more accurately.


New Years’ Resolutions: Teacher’s Edition

teachOne of my goals this year was to read The Seven Laws of Teaching, by John Milton Gregory (If nothing else, that name of his was alluring!)

I was skeptical when I opened the book and discovered it was published in the mid 1800s and written in part to Sunday School teachers. But this is an excellent book.

My purpose in this post is not to do a full review of the book, simply to highlight a few valuable takeaways. Essentially, I’m recording my ideas here so that in the fall, when I return to teaching, I remember what I learned, and apply it.

Lesson #1: Teach the new skill or idea first, then the words to describe that skill.  

When I teach students to add quotations to their writing, I start by introducing the term “quote sandwich.” When I teach students to read poetry, I start by defining “close reading” for them. Frequently, they get a little freaked out by these unfamiliar terms; they may insist they don’t do poetry, or that they’re not naturally good writers.

Reading Gregory’s book reminded me that when students are first learning something, they learn best when the subject builds on familiar knowledge and is described using familiar vocabulary. “Ideas,” writes Gregory, “must precede words in all but parrot speech”.

Essentially, I see it this way. The stuff I’m trying to teach students is in a box, and on that box there is a label, something like “quote sandwich” or “close reading” or “A-Ha! Moment”. If I teach students the word on the label, all they have is superficial knowledge; they know what’s on the box, but not what’s in it. Knowing that a specific style of shoes is called Manolo Blahnik is meaningless if you’ve never worn a pair of shoes in your life.

But if we take the stuff out of the box, handle it it, play with it, try different things with it, and only at the end affix a label to it, then students understand both how to use the stuff in the box and the term for it.

So here’s my goal for next year: I’m going to stress vocabulary less, skill more; I don’t care if students know the terminology (much of which I make up myself anyway) if they can demonstrate the principles I’m teaching them. When I do want them to know the vocabulary, as much as possible I will try to introduce the vocabulary after the skill – for instance, assigning reading about quote sandwiches only after practicing quote sandwiches (without using that term) in class. When I absolutely have to introduce vocabulary before the concept, I will not only teach the term before we practice the new skill, but afterwards too, so that if the term did not make sense in advance of the lesson, it may be clearer after the lesson.

Lesson #2: Get students talking about and working with the material we learn in class. 

On a related note, Gregory also stresses that if students are to really understand course content, they have to get beyond “parrot speech” and clearly put the new concepts and skills they’re learning into their own words.

A few things. One, this rests on Gregory’s assumption that learning is not transferring data from the teacher’s brain into the student’s, like moving gold nuggets from one prospector’s pan into the next. Rather, learning is about the teacher enabling the student to recreate an experience, to apprehend how what she is learning connects with prior knowledge and applies practically.

Given this, how elegantly and vividly the teacher can explain the lesson is not as important as whether the students have a chance to explain and practice the lesson themselves. If ideas really do come before words, at some point students need the chance to put the ideas and skills they are learning in their own words, and they need to be guided towards the most accurate words.

Since reading Bruce Wilkinson’s book The Seven Laws of the Learner, I’ve taken responsibility for guaranteeing that my students learn, but in general, that means I’ve made a good effort to make my lessons rich in visuals and examples, and to meet personally with students to help them apply what they learn. Now, I’m going to put less work into thinking up visually rich lessons and creating beautiful Power Points, and more work into asking good questions that get students talking about what they learn. I’m going to keep reviewing terminology with students, but instead of just asking (say, for example) to define symbol, I’ll ask them how they know that the birthmark in Hawthorne’s story is in fact a symbol, which gets at not only the vocabulary but (more importantly) the experience and skill behind the words. I want my students not only to parrot back definitions; I want them to explain what they are doing, the experience they are having.

Two, later in the book, Gregory stresses that since learning is about recreating an experience rather than rehashing a lesson, students must be stimulated to independent thinking and independent work on the subject if they are to really learn. Gregory rejects “the notion that [the teacher] can make his pupils intelligent by hard work upon their passive receptivity.” Instead, he suggests that teachers should spent their time “assisting the mind to shape and put forth its own conceptions” of the topic. In my writing classes especially, I have noticed that thoughtful papers depend on students taking time to mull their topic over, and so I’ve urged them to do so.

But in general, I’ve expected that mulling to happen out of class, while we use class time to discuss general writing principles. I see now that I have been trying to make my students good writers by “hard work upon their passive receptivity”: If I just explain the general writing principle clearly enough, and if students are diligent enough to think about their topic out of class, they will become good writers. This is not true. In the future, I am going to give students time in class to actively think about their topic, to practice and discuss and apply the specific writing skills we learn.

Lesson #3: The teacher should make sure she is studied up for the lesson. 

This was a good reminder for me. I confess, when the grading piles up mid-semester and my day is chock full of meetings with students and meeting with colleagues, it’s easy to convince myself that I don’t need to do the same reading I assign to students, because I’ve read it before. I don’t need to brush up on the methods used to create an outline, because I’ve done created so many outlines before. Surely I can wing it in class.

Not so, says Gregory. “Imperfect knowing,” he warns, “will be reflected in imperfect teaching.” Unless we really know what we’re teaching, we lack the ability to correct students’ misunderstandings, to ask guiding questions, to provide clear examples, and to explain the topic in a way that will hep students learn.

The truth is, I probably will skimp on preparation in the future. My time is not an inexhaustible resource (literally, I turn into a pumpkin after 10.00 PM), and some things are more important than being fully knowledgeable about what I’m teaching. But I am also going to hold myself to a high expectation of knowing as much as is reasonably possible about what I’m teaching, and refreshing my memory frequently.

Concluding Thoughts: 

There were, of course, other takeaways from this book.

I was reminded not to use vocabulary or examples that my students were unfamiliar with.

I was reminded of the importance of reviewing, and reviewing not only little bits & pieces of what we learned but the whole topic together, making sure students can see the big picture.

I was reminded to check what my students already know about the topic before starting the lesson, so that we can build on previous knowledge.

I was reminded to be thorough, going fast enough to keep up enthusiasm for learning new things but slowly enough to make sure students can explain the new concepts and skills they are learning.

But I’m going to end with only the three big takeaways from above. When you make life changes, you’re generally urged to make only one or two at a time, lest you get overwhelmed; changing everything all at once is rarely a good idea. The same is true for teaching. Can I improve in many ways as a teacher? Sure. But I’m not going to improve in every area all at once. For next year, my goals are more modest: Put new ideas before new vocabulary, experience and thought before data, and student talk before teacher talk.

We’ll see how it goes!


Radish Panzanella


How not to do salad.

Whenever I hear someone say they don’t like salad, I get a little sad inside.

I love salad. 

It’s fresh and flavourful and so good for you!

My theory? If you say you don’t like salad, you just haven’t had it made right. Because honestly, I don’t care much for lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, and carrots in a bowl. This was the salad I grew up on, and – sorry, Mom! – it just wasn’t that great.

But then I went to college, where some days the salad bar was the only edible thing around, and I learned to add Craisins and nuts and beans to my salad. I learned to combine flavors and textures to make something delicious.

So this summer, now that fresh produce is in season and I finally have a smartphone, I want to highlight some of the salads that I eat. I get it, this is a totally dorky series of food posts. Please don’t give up on this blog – I have some posts on teaching and Christian living coming soon! But salads are delightful, and I want to inspire people to break out of the tomato-and-cucumber-tastes-like-I’d-rather-be-fat rut.

Here’s what I had today: radish panzanella.

My new book, The Flavor Bible, assures me that radishes go really well with bread, and so a bread salad (that’s basically what a panzanella is) with radishes made sense. To the radishes and bread I added red onion, chickpeas, a little bacon and cheese, parsley, and Craisins. The Craisins were a great addition; their tart sweetness paired nicely with the peppery radishes. I topped the whole thing with a yogurt dressing.

Here’s the full recipe:IMG_0267

  • 3 radishes, sliced thinly
  • 1-2 TBSP Craisins
  • 1 TBSP chopped parsley
  • 1/4 cup chickpeas
  • 1 slice bacon, fried
  • 1-2 TBSP feta cheese
  • 2 TBSP chopped red onion
  • 1 slice bread, torn into pieces and toasted

I’m running low on spinach, so I didn’t add it, but some gorgeous green spinach would be a nice addition. Once I’d chopped everything up, I made the dressing:

  • 1 TBSP plain yogurt
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1/4 tsp minced bottled garlic
  • 1/4-1/2 tsp honey (to taste)
  • 1/4 tsp white balsamic vinegar
  • Salt & pepper

I shook the dressing together, stirred it into the chickpeas, then added the ingredients that weren’t likely to crumble: the onion, radishes, parsley, and craisins. Over the whole thing I added the bread, bacon, and cheese.



The Limits of Teaching Writing


Photo: Thomas Hawk, Flickr

One of my projects this summer is to revise the English Composition course I currently teach, making it easier to transfer online (another of my projects for this summer) and guaranteeing that it has objectives and rigor similar to those of writing courses at our sister colleges.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve collected syllabi from other colleges (Spring Arbor University, the Baptist College of Florida, Kansas State University), and this morning I made a list of the things that other college writing courses have in common.

Of everything I noticed, one thing stood out to me: Most other college writing courses have strict formatting and page length requirements, and they penalize students for not meeting them. 

I haven’t done this for years. Partly this is because, all rumors to the contrary, I’m kind of a softie; if a student has a good paper, or if they tried really hard, I feel badly penalizing them because they have one fewer source than needed. After all, maybe I was confusing when I gave the directions, and it wouldn’t be fair to penalize my students.

Partly this is because I’m a big-picture kind of gal, more interested in the quality of my student’s thought than whether they can meet a (somewhat) arbitrary standard or whether they use Times New Roman or Arial font (though I’ll be honest, Calibri drives me nuts. It is hands-down the ugliest font. Future students, if you’re reading this, I never want to receive your papers submitted in Calibri. Wingdings is preferable.)

And partly this is because I want to be encouraging to my students. Writing is scary enough for some of them without worrying about meeting what they perceive to be an arbitrary length, or finding what seems to be a humongous number of sources.

Focusing on quality of thought more than meeting page length and formatting requirements was how I learned to teach, and it’s been how I’ve taught since then.

Yet removing limits does not seem to make my students better writers, or encourage them the way I think it would. In fact, seeing that other colleges do in fact penalize students who don’t turn papers in using the correct font or including the correct number of sources has made me think about the importance of having limits. 

Wendell Berry has pointed out the destructive impact of our refusal to live within ecological limits, always wanting more food or wanting food out of its season or region; he notes that we are less able to cope with grief and difficulty and loneliness in life due to our inability to life within the limits of community. It was Berry who first drew my attention to the importance of limits, and now as I am planning next year’s Composition course, I find it interesting that having limits may help students become better writers.  

Having limits to work within actually made me a better writer. I tend to be a very wordy writer; having professors who held me to a strict maximum word count forced me to use fewer, more powerful verbs and to eliminate filler words. Perhaps the same thing will be true for my students, only in reverse; maybe if they’re working to meet a page length requirement they’ll find new ways to describe their point, new questions about it to answer, new research to include. Maybe they’ll be less likely to let themselves get away with mediocre work.

We can be lazy when there’s no limits. When I’m not running a race, trying to make a good time, I run slower. When my mother does arm exercises, she uses an exercise band to give her resistance; the band is surprisingly stiff, but it’s that stiffness that tones and strengthens her arms. When we have a limit, when we push ourselves to meet expectations, we grow. I think I’m encouraging my students, making things easier for them by removing limits, but perhaps the opposite is true. 

We Americans, I have realized over the last year or so, hate the idea of having limits. Idina Menzel sings about how there are “no rules for me” and yearns to “defy gravity” – and we take these two songs as cultural anthems, things that we aspire to (Okay, I’ll be fair; I love both these songs.) But the truth is, while we hate the idea of having our choice curtailed, or living up to external expectations, having expectations to live up to can make us stronger.

Not all expectations are good, of course. A friend of mine grew up in a strict fundamentalist household and finds “Defying Gravity” freeing. And of course, in my writing class, if I were to require limits that are beyond my students’ ability to accomplish, that too would backfire.

But sensible, manageable, healthy limits do not hinder us. They hone our skills, train us, and make us stronger. My hope is that having limits will push my students and strengthen their skills more than having no limits would. 

There’s a second benefit to having limits, that limits guarantee clear (or at least clearer) expectations. When I don’t have limits for students, that doesn’t mean that I have no expectations for them either. I do: I expect them to explain their point in several different ways, to quote regularly from their sources, to show deep critical thinking and nuanced thought. Some of these expectations are spelled out on the rubric, but some are simply assumed. Who knows what “nuanced thought” means?

My students don’t, but they do know what a four-page paper looks like. And trying to meet that four page paper may encourage them to develop more nuanced thought along the way. After all, they have to fill up the extra pages somehow.

So students: I’m putting you on alert. Expect page length and source requirements next year, with penalties if you do not meet these requirements. Expect a few more reading quizzes.

And to the rest of us: Remember that being encouraging and supportive does not necessarily mean removing limits. Being supportive may actually require limits. After all, what else is a scaffold besides an artificial limit?

If we are to live within our limits, we must teach within them too. 



Counting Costs


Me, except instead of packets of sugar and ketchup I have a free banana from my staff meeting today and twenty tomatoes from last summer in my freezer

After my last post on the Benedict Option, which netted me a few new followers (hurrah! And if you’re reading this, welcome!), I felt as though I needed to live up to my status as a thought-provoking writer, and write a thought-provoking post.

This post is not that.

One goal of this blog is to engage with larger, thoughtful conversations, like that surrounding the Benedict Option. Another goal is simply to chew through the daily experience of living, and this post falls into that category.

I’ve been working through my budget lately.

A few years ago, I caught myself running short on food money every month, so I limited myself to a certain amount per week: between $40 and $50, for just me. (This sounds high, but when I compare it to USDA stats, I realize it’s about average.) Using a set amount of cash to pay for food-related expenses has stabilized my food spending.

But I’ve also been burning through $200 on “miscellaneous”, which I find difficult to track and keep in check. Curious where the money all went, I tracked my food expenses in April and my miscellaneous expenses in May. The results were illuminating, and embarrassing

Some miscellaneous funds go in big chunks. In May, for my birthday I received an excellent coupon for Mary Kay products, and so I spent nearly $50 on makeup, all at once. More concerning are the little expenses, which add up slowly:

  • Gum: $16.00
  • Nuts: $16.00
  • Yogurt-covered pretzels: $5.00
  • Library fines: $9.00
  • Plants: $20.00
  • Random fun stuff (a pretty teacup here, a few books there, some chocolates): $25.00

For several years now I’ve been increasingly aware of the consumerist society we live in, and upset by its dominance over our lives; through reading Wendell Berry and others, I’ve noticed how shopping helps not only fill up our free hours by also defines who we are. (We’re the kind of person who shops at the farmers’ market or only buys free trade, we go church shopping and career shopping, and we devote hours to websites such as Pinterest which are essentially geared to get us to buy stuff.)

And I’ve liked to think that I’m above the consumerist society. After all, I haven’t had a new pair of jeans in three or four years, and I almost never go out to eat.

But looking at my spending makes me wonder if that’s true. After all, why else would I spent half a week’s food budget on teacups and chocolate if I didn’t feel that having stuff made my life better? And there are weeks when I catch myself stopping at every shop, looking around for good things.

Look at the plants expense in particular. I like to be surrounded by beautiful things; I get one petunia, and immediately I want three more petunias. Right now I’m growing one pot of basil and wondering whether I should purchase a second pot in case something happens to the first. There’s always the desire to have more. 

And so it’s my goal to make do with less, to remember that having a satisfying life has nothing to do with how much stuff I have. This is easy to say, easy to pay lip service to, but surprisingly difficult to do.

I’m not entirely sure how this will work, though I have a few ideas. Maybe instead of daytripping to a city I’ll take my journal and a book to a local park. Maybe instead of shopping around in secondhand stores, I’ll organize my yarn collection. I’ll be more home, I’ll go on more walks, I’ll find the beauty in the everyday and not always be looking for something new.

I read a book recently, Acedia & Its Discontents, and it argued that when we’re bored, when we’re weary of our work, the cure is not to throw off the work and go do something exciting; we must, like the ancient monks, keep at the tasks we are set. This is my hope: that rather than seeking out excitement in the city, I keep at my task here, and find joy in my home, quiet though it is with just me.

I may also cut back on certain forms of media consumption. Useful as websites like Pinterest are, the fact remains that all those pretty pictures make me want to buy more stuff.

The other thing I’m interested by is my food cost. Some trends there:

  • About 10% of my food budget every month, $20 out of $200 and change, goes to yogurt, usually really good brands bought on sale.
  • Nearly 25% of my food budget goes to produce: apples, bananas, berries, onions and bell peppers, and chickpeas.
  • I spent $70 on snack items, including the gum and yogurt-covered pretzels.
  • I spent $10 on wine & alcohol, which was more than I thought but much less than it could have been.

My main goal with the food is to cut back on items which deliver little or no nutritional value: the snack items; and to spend the money on better food, like a meal out with friends or even takeaway from Panera. I also want to watch how much I’m spending on yogurt and produce. Since I’m not about to stop buying yogurt and fruits and veggies, I want to make sure I’m spending money in the right areas.

I’m planning on tracking my miscellaneous and food expenses both through the month of June. Tracking food will be particularly interesting, since farmers’ markets are alluring to me. (My freezer has far too many tomatoes in it.)


Me again, only at the library booksale. 

So here we are, at the start of a new month. I have money set aside for food, for travel, for some new yarn I had ordered and for clothing, and a little miscellaneous for purchasing ingredients for desserts I make for book club, or gifts for friends, or postage for letters.

The goal is to buy, and be thankful, for what I need.

And apparently, to break my gum addiction.