12.19.2010

nothing makes the cold more bearable than a big christmas tree

I love living the student lifestyle. I wake up (usually) when I want to, plan my schedule to suit my taste, and can do my work almost anywhere. Most of the time, it's totally worth the near-poverty-level income. But the one time of the year that I rue my student status, is during the holidays. With the stress of finals and summative presentations, the Christmas season always flies by almost unnoticed, no matter how good my intentions were for the year.

J and I both finished all our class obligations this week. So last night, we got ourselves bundled up and trekked out in the cold to see the Christmas tree in Boston Common. It was definitely worth it:


Afterwards we ate dinner in the fourth oldest restaurant in Boston. Our entrees? Fall-off-the-bone-tender pork for J, and prosciutto wrapped rabbit for me. What a wonderful yuletide gift.

Merry merry!

11.15.2010

espresso makes cocoa taste richer

I didn't know that until I baked these cookies:


The texture came out more like brownies than cookies, and they are really rich. Best when straight out of the oven!


Dark Chocolate Cookies with Espresso

1 cup flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp instant espresso powder
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, 4 ounces melted and 4 ounces coarsely chopped

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. In a medium bowl, mix flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt; set aside.
3. Beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition; mix in vanilla.
4. Combine espresso and melted chocolate; beat into butter mixture.
5. Fold in flour mixture gradually; mix until just combined. Fold in chopped chocolate.
6. Drop dough onto baking sheets. Bake until edges are dry, 14 to 15 minutes, rotating halfway through.

I used Olivio instead of butter, and "egg substitute" instead of eggs to make this just a little healthier. The recipe was adopted from Martha Stewart's "Everyday Food."

10.04.2010

tests raise as many questions as they do answers

For my assessment class I have to write a weekly journal entry organizing my thoughts around my opinions and ideas of testing and assessment. While all my entries are in rough draft form and will require some revisions, I thought I would share one here as a little bit of insight into what I'm studying for those of you interested. This entry begins by discussing the TIMSS assessment, which is administered by the International Study Center where I am now doing my assistantship.


As we discussed the validity of the TIMSS study in last week's class, we broached the idea that if a math test is assessing the math taught, and is reliable, then it is ultimately fairly valid to make inferences about the math students have learned. From this discussion, I acknowledged that we can fairly reliably and validly assess what it is that we have taught, but I wondered how we know if we are teaching the "right" thing. The assessment assumes already that the curriculum is appropriate.

Generally, math skills are considered to be important for three main reasons. The first is that they help people function effectively in the "real world." That is, in daily life, they will use skills in arithmetic and other basic math areas to survive. The usual examples are budgeting, paying taxes, and grocery shopping. In the US, we usually focus on the second reason math is important: that it will result in greater success in college and in the workplace. This reason is likely less truthful than it is idealistic. Realistically, people do not need very strong math skills in the workplace, and many people finish college without taking any math classes. Yet colleges and companies set minimum standards in math skills, because they believe their employees and students should have a certain ability level in math. Whether or not this is a valid requirement, I will not address. Finally, our third reason for learning math is that people proficient in advanced math will likely contribute greatly to the field of math itself, or to the many fields of engineering and science that continue to make our nation globally competitive. From a political perspective, this is perhaps the most important reason to learn math, whether or not it is the most noble. If the first reason were our driving force, we would learn a lot less math than we actually do. If the third were, we would focus more of our energy on those students destined to be gifted in math, and less in those with lower aptitude. Because the second is our focus, we stay on a middle ground. Furthermore, as part of our national culture, education has become a right of citizens, so beyond the material motivations to learn math, we also treat it practically as a human need. If we truly put faith in this idea, then we are doing a great injustice to our students. They are quickly learning to hate math.

Chinese Taipei consistently scores well on the TIMSS assessment. In a summary of their national curriculum, a key word appears that likely appears in none of the state curricula of the US: beauty. Written into their curriculum is the overarching goal that students will learn to appreciate the beauty of mathematics. In the US, we seem to have replaced that word with "utility." In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell also references the great success Asian countries have traditionally had on math assessments. While he hypothesizes various reasons, one of the most interesting ideas is that Asian languages often name numbers in a more logical fashion (think two-ten-five, instead of twenty-five). Even in the very concrete arena of arithmetic, a focus on the structure inherent in numerical patterns seems to be more successful than meaningless labels. Just as lower levels of thinking seem to come easily if we teach for higher levels of thinking, maybe the application of math in the "real world" will come easily if we teach math for math's sake, not for its utility.

Ultimately, the importance we have placed on math education is just another paradigm of our times. It is based on the idea that math is necessary for success in careers, and that that success is more important than other aspects of our well-being. While I would not be able to begin assessing the truth behind these assumptions, I still think it is worth the investigation. If we can bring ourselves to painfully examine the real reasons we need math education, without the pressure of tradition, maybe we can begin simultaneously to identify more effective ways to teach it. Maybe the key to doing well on math assessment, is assessment of math instruction itself.

9.19.2010

the world could use a little more jon stewart

I'm not consistent about following current events. I always hesitate to make political judgments, in fear that I just don't know enough to sound like an informed citizen. I'm usually pretty sure that someone else can out-argue me about politics if they have taken the time to watch even an hour's worth of news that day. Unfortunately, most of the information that people use to argue about politics comes from extremely unreliable sources motivated primarily by profit maximization, not information dissemination.

That's why I love watching Jon Stewart. He can't be firmly labeled as liberal or conservative, Democratic or Republican. Regardless of his personal, debatable, moral convictions, The Daily Show only seeks to comment on the logic of political decisions and political reporting. Jon Stewart is smart, and concerned about the irrational ways Americans judge the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of the political system. He is a comedian, but takes his responsibility to report honestly seriously.

I would love to share tons of my favorite clips of him. Instead, I will just share what I am most excited by at the moment, his call for a "Rally to Restore Sanity." Please enjoy this clip:
I will not be in attendance, as Jon Stewart says, because I have s*** to do. But I hope the rally gets some real attention and promotes the voices of the quiet people, who just want to see some thoughtfulness in the political arena.

9.11.2010

sometimes it's nice to just sit by a window and think

xoxo, Maus

it's hard to plan a bad day around beer and sushi

Last weekend, T&C came to visit us. We stuffed our time together full of fantastic activities (which included a special showing of To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar). But our Saturday featured two gems of local attractions: the Harpoon Brewery and the Fish Market Sushi Bar.


T will probably kill me for posting this picture from the brewery, but it really perfectly captured the time we had there. Beyond being really interesting and full of insanely good beer, Harpoon's atmosphere mixes a go-with-it attitude with some pretty impressive technology. It made me feel like we had stepped into Willy Wonka's beer factory, relocated onto an organic barley farm. If that description is too much for you, just trust me when I say we had a great time, and this place passes the test for a Saturday afternoon adventure.

Harpoon Brewery
306 Northern Avenue
Boston, MA 02210

Later that day, when our bellies were no longer full of delicious beer, we refilled them at the Fish Market Sushi Bar in Allston. Besides being adorable, this little restaurant serves up some mean sushi. It's always easy to leave room for dessert when doing sushi, but at this place, it's a requirement. T got a cute little green tea mochi, and I had my first helping of sesame ice cream. Both of us went home happy.

Fish Market Sushi Bar
170 Brighton Avenue
Allston, MA 02134

We were so happy T&C were willing to make the trip up here and hope it happens again. Maybe next time we'll try wine and cheese...

8.31.2010

manchmal haben die besten fragen die meisten antworten

Sometimes the best questions have the most answers.

I am using the excuse that I want to keep up my German in order to live out a second childhood. I recently discovered "Die Sendung mit der Maus" ("The Show with the Mouse"). It reminds me a bit of "Sesame Street" and has been around for about as long (since 1971). They have a lot of animated shorts, often featuring narration by children. The one that follows is my favorite so far. Below it is my rough translation.

I dedicate this post to my brother, who at the tender age of 4 or so, asked at a family gathering, "Why are we here?" When a cousin explained that we were spending time together and enjoying some good food, he clarified, "No, why are we on the earth?"


"The Big Question"

Why am I on the earth?
haha!
You are on the earth to celebrate birthdays.
You are on the earth to purr...and at most, also to catch mice.
You're there to sing a song.
You're on the earth to have patience.
Naturally you're on the earth so that I can spoil you!
I believe we are on the earth to bark...and from time to time, to howl at the moon.
You are on the earth to cruise the sea, of course!
You're on the earth to trust.
You're there to wake up early.
Because Mama and I love each other.
I have no idea at all.
You're on the earth to love life.
You are there to be there.
You're there to kiss the clouds.
You're on the earth to love yourself.
You are there to fight.
You are there, because I love you.

hahahahaha!

8.29.2010

one man's trash is another man's treasure

Lesson 4 is certainly not an original thought of mine. Nor is it a recent discovery. It is, however, newly affirmed by my first visit to Urban Renewals... "a Family Thrift Center for the city dweller." I fell in love with this place as soon as I walked in the door. It is huge! I always worry about the competitive nature of buying used; that is, you really have to search for the gems, and a lot of that depends on timing and luck. But Urban Renewals is so big, that it is almost impossible not to find something. I picked up a few gems, and I'm sure I passed over many more.

The store is sorted by color and clothing type and all seems to be very clean (though I still stand by washing everything before wearing). Various household goods, toys, and linens line the walls. And there is a separate room for furniture and more household goods. There is a donation "pile" in store.

There are a few uncomfortable aspects of this store. There are no dressing rooms, so people tend to crowd by the mirrors and awkwardly try clothes over their outfits. The furniture room has a smell kind of like a wet garage. And on the Saturday morning that I went, there were a lot of moms hauling around a few very loud children.

But if you are a true thrift fan, those aspects of the atmosphere are to be expected, and the deals are worth it. I plan to make many more trips here. Unfortunately, moving into a new apartment made me acutely aware of how much stuff I have, and I made a promise to myself and J, that every time I bring new things into this place, I will get rid of some old things as well.

So it's out with the old...



And in with the... old...



I bought two t-shirts, a pair of shorts, a long sweater, a book, and a pair of gold earrings. My total? $16.38. If you do the math, that's an average of $2.73 an item!

Urban Renewals
122 Brighton Avenue
Allston, MA 02134

8.28.2010

the sweetest rewards are well-earned

So J went away on a boys' camping trip this weekend, and even though I hope he's having a blast, I have to admit that I was less than thrilled to be spending the weekend alone. Without a real circle of friends in the area, and limited familiarity with the local haunts, I was sadly expecting a weekend of boredom and lots of reality tv.

Well, the reality tv part turned out to be true. But the boredom? Not so much. After J left yesterday afternoon, I became a cleaning machine. By evening our place was shining, and the lonelies were beginning to creep up. So when I woke up this morning, I decided I deserved a few treats to help me enjoy my solitary weekend.

Reward 1
How I earned it: I went to the gym regularly, ate healthily, and made other healthy changes in the past month (full update coming).
What I earned: A day off from the gym. I was tired when I woke up this morning. And though I don't ever like to skip planned days at the gym (it too easily becomes a habit), I felt I earned this one. So I took a day, slept in a bit, and it felt good.

Reward 2
How I earned it: I bravely faced a weekend alone. Ok, I didn't really earn this one. J was going away whether I wanted him to or not. But I somehow felt the universe owed me one, so I took things into my own hands, and gave myself the reward.
What I earned: A shopping trip. True, we've been investing a lot in our new place, but this was a very "thrifty" trip. I'll post details later.

Reward 3
How I earned it: Well, I went on a big shopping trip.
What I earned: Chicken Saag from Indian Dhaba on Brighton Ave.


I love this place for a few reasons. Firstly, it's called the "Indian Dhaba Roadside Diner." This is awesome. Secondly, they keep a large supply of lassis and gulab jamun in the refrigerator next to the cash register. It's super easy to go in and grab a few packages. Thirdly, the prices are amazing. I'm talking about a $4.95 lunch special on a Saturday. Why would anyone want McDonald's?! Fourthly, it's very casual, so you get the convenience and atmosphere of a pizza place, but the spice and aroma of an Indian place. The next time I go, I'm going to get something spicy, and if it's hot enough, this place officially passes the test.

Indian Dhaba
180 Brighton Avenue
Allston, MA 02134

8.26.2010

when it comes to boston weather, "overprepared" is not an applicable adjective

Since my move to Boston, the weather has been blessedly beautiful. We've had sunny skies and warm days, if not a little too warm. In fact, I was itching for a taste of some weather that might make me shiver a little and hunker down in our cozy place. On Sunday, my wish started to come true...

We entered a few days of rain, sometimes wretchedly heavy and at other times, hardly a drizzle. I ventured out in it on Tuesday, reminding myself that I needed to be prepared for a commute that will always involve lots of walking outdoors, and often involve some miserable weather. I knew I needed to break myself in. But it was...wonderful. The rain was light, and after spending a few hours away, I came home with damp jeans and made myself some hot soup. It felt good to need socks.

So yesterday I went out again, this time to the gym. I thought about bringing my fantastic Tretorn galoshes, and changing into my sneakers in the locker room. But then I realized how silly that would be of me, considering how light the rain had been on Tuesday.

As I was walking out the door with two bags of garbage and saw the rain I thought, "Well, I'll pretend I'm on a quest in Middle Earth and have a cozy hobbit hole waiting for me at the end." (I typically use whatever fictional bent I'm on to keep my spirits up on bad days.) When I missed a train by seconds and had to hop over a huge puddle, I thought, "Well, I'll pretend I'm on a walkabout in Lost and I'm embracing the rain." After waiting at the T-stop for a few minutes, trying to make myself as small as possible under my umbrella, I thought:
  • I'm going to have to work out with wet, itchy feet.
  • I'm going to get athlete's foot.
  • My feet are going to stink.
  • My shoes are still going to be wet tomorrow.
  • My calves are wet and cold.
  • I hate the MBTA.
After spending 15 minutes in the locker room trying to inconspicuously dry my socks and shoes with a hair dryer, I decided never to underestimate the weather here again. I will never leave my galoshes when it might be rainy. I will never wear a light jacket when I think it might be cold. I will never leave my hair down on a day when it might be windy. Then I'm sure I'll always look like this:

8.25.2010

even blogs deserve a makeover

I was sitting in my new apartment, surrounded by a lot of new things, across from my new (best) roommate, and thinking about my new future. And then I realized...my blog deserves a makeover. I'm in a fresh place, and while I treasure the journey of my thoughts from the past year, the old just didn't seem to meld with the new as well as I'd hoped. Don't worry; the other posts haven't gone anywhere. I've just hidden them very sneakily.

The transformation proved more difficult than I expected, but ultimately, I ended up with three main goals:


Identity

I don't think my blog gets read by too many people who don't already know where I am and what I'm doing. My blog was originally created as a sort of newsletter to keep loved ones up-to-date, and while I'd be totally happy if it stayed that way, I'm also realizing how much more it means to me. Whether or not anyone ever reads it, my blog is that place I go to where I always have an imaginary audience. Here I can hash out the stuff that makes me excited, angry, inspired. And so, I'd like to imbibe it with a bit more of my identity, and let it speak for me as a person, not just what I'm up to.


Aesthetics

This goal was largely inspired by T's blog, which she magically transforms every so often. I love reading her posts not only for her fantastic recipes and cute stories, but just to see what sort of great pictures she's posted and what great web design she's done. While I can't promise to be as diligent about giving my blog its deserved makeovers, I think we're off to a better start this time around.


A Unifying Theme

At first, this one seemed impossible to me. Considering all the blogs I've kept in my life, my topics have included travel, environmentalism, teaching, urban life, home, and more. I have a lot to say about a lot of things, but not enough to keep up a blog for each area. Then I thought about what I really get from blogging. I am a think-aloud person. I like developing ideas by bouncing them around with other people (just ask J...he never knows if he's actually obligated to respond to what I'm saying at any given time). Blogging is a way for me to do that. I get my thoughts down somewhere and get to believe that other people are along for the ride. Thanks for sticking with me so far! Through this process, I actually learn a lot about myself and about the world around me. And that is the theme of my blog. Each post, in its content, writing, or rereading, is a little life lesson for me.

As a teacher, I learned that a lesson is just no good without a unifying theme or objective. I'm hoping this format will help me keep things a little clearer, and write out my lessons with real meaning. I hope that it will make me more aware of all the little things I learn every day. And I also hope it encourages me to post more often.

and just one more thing...the lowercase letters in the title? through my listography site, i've figured out that it's good for me to go into my discomfort zone and avoid capitalization a bit. i'm convinced it helps the thinking process.


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