Magpie’s Shiny Things: March 31, 2011

Magpie's Shiny Things

I just realized it’s the last day of the month. Time for another edition of Magpie’s Shiny Things.

The other night I received a friend request on Pioneer Woman’s Tasty Kitchen site, and I’ll never be the same. It was from Paula Jones of bell’alimento. Sigh, swoon, gasp. I think we may be kindred spirits. Love of Italy, love of Italian food, love of Nutella. It’s a match made in heaven. I can’t wait to go bleary-eyed reading every single recipe on her site. The food photography is gorgeous, as well.

Let me whet your appetite just a bit. How about Nutella-filled cinnamon rolls drizzled with cherry glaze? Huh? Huh? In this recipe, she announces a new website called Bella Nutella, dedicated to, you guessed it, Nutella recipes. I’m sobbing! I was under the impression that you couldn’t cook with Nutella. A message on the label says not to microwave it. I carried that warning to the extreme. (Kind of like how my Mom has never cut those tags off her pillows because she thinks the Feds are going to show up at her door.) But I digress. Bell’alimento offers a lot more than just desserts. There are mouth-watering pasta, chicken, beef, pork, vegetable, and seafood dishes, too. Check it out, preferably when you’re not too hungry. ;-)

Michael of Sharing a Love of Teaching comes through again with another great post on education. This time it’s The Use of Video in Education and it features Salman Khan’s talk at TED. (I love TED talks!) Khan was a hedge fund analyst who made YouTube videos for his cousins to help them with their homework. Other people found them and used them, and now he has over 2,100 videos posted over at the Khan Academy site. I haven’t looked through all of them, obviously, but if you have kids in school (just about any level) or if you have gone back to school yourself, you might want to check them out. Topics include arithmetic, calculus, biology, chemistry, banking, economics, history, finance, and much more. 

And finally, if you’re in the mood for a heart-tugging read and some beautiful photography, check out Rebecca Mullen’s Altared Spaces blog. She is visiting colleges with her daughter and her latest post explores their relationship, using elements of nature to spotlight the contrasts. See if you can read this one without tearing up.

Silicone, silicone everywhere and not a drop to drink

…said the snake. You’ve heard the story, right? In the news a couple of weeks ago? A model handling a snake during a photo shoot had her fake boob bit by the snake…who promptly died. Her silicone implant supposedly ruptured and the snake ingested some. They gave her a tetanus shot for the snake bite. But what about that silicone that’s doing a slow drip inside of her. You know, the silicone that KILLED THE SNAKE. Well, apparently, the story is not true. The snake did not die of silicone poisoning. That was just a rumor that major newspapers picked up without verifying. Must be nice to get paid for making stuff up. “Um, never mind,” said the fiction writer.

What about this story? A mother of a four-year-old is suing a private pre-school because it did not adequately prepare the child to take the entrance exams required to get into the most elite elementary schools in New York. She’s also claiming they didn’t prepare her daughter for the Ivy League. Lady, you’ve been smoking too much ivy. You make Tiger Mom look like a pussycat rolling in catnip. Get a grip. She’s four. And go see the film Race to Nowhere. The popcorn’s on me.  

Talk about people who are out of their quacking mind…Gilbert Gottfried. When you’re the spokesduck for a major insurance company, maybe you shouldn’t make jokes about tsunami victims. Only “Aflac”ing idiot would do that. Or a comedian.

 …Or a governor’s press secretary. Governor Haley Barbour’s press secretary, Dan Turner, resigned after making a Japan earthquake joke in an email. When public figures want to moonlight as comedians, they should take a tip from the Unknown Comic. Insert head into paper bag, do a little dance, tell joke, return to day job, no one the wiser.

And thanks to ABC for sending the wonderful message that you can destroy their offices and break their windows, sending glass raining down on the pedestrian-filled, Times Square streets of New York, and be invited back for another interview. And the award for prolific creator of real-life stories he doesn’t want to talk about in interviews goes to…Chris Brown. Idiot!

“That’s all the news that’s fit to print,” said the journalists.

Magpie’s Shiny Things: January 25, 2011

As you can see, my artistic ability has not progressed since Kindergarten.

Magpie’s Shiny Things is a new feature that will highlight links to cool places I’ve visited on the internet, inspiring blogs, yummy recipes, to-die-for products, whatever has caught my attention.

As stated in my post Procrastination, “I’m like a magpie, a bird prone to thievery, according to folklore, because of its penchant for shiny things. I can be in the middle of one task, when ‘something shiny’ catches my attention and I’m off on another adventure.” The promise of something new gets me every time.

My hope is that you’ll find something you like here, too. And who knows, perhaps with this feature as an outlet, I may find my way to a more focused blog. After all, why should readers have to guess which one of Margaret’s 17 personalities they’ll encounter on any given day? :-D

So, here, without further ado, I present my first edition of Magpie’s Shiny Things.

With snow and other foul weather preventing me from getting out for my daily walk or run, January was the perfect month for online exploration. (Yes, I know I could have exercised indoors, but in the spirit of full disclosure, I mostly sat on my growing butt with the laptop slow-roasting my thighs and watched marathon sessions of Criminal Minds. There, I’ve admitted it.)

One of my great finds this month was the blog Altared Spaces. You’ll find yourself breathing a bit easier after reading Rebecca’s posts. One of my favorites is Cinnamon Rolls Taste Like Gratitude. No, it’s not a recipe. Not of the food variety, anyway. It’s more a recipe for gratitude and thankfulness. Though it was written back in November for Thanksgiving, thankfulness is something we can practice every day. And tell me the gorgeous centerpiece in the photo below couldn’t be updated a bit for display on Valentine’s Day, a holiday when we’re thankful for those we love. Think candy conversation hearts in the vase instead of pine cones and “snowflake” hearts in rosy hues hanging on the branches.

The re-designed movie blog Celluloid Zombie is a frequent stop in my blog travels. Richard Lamb offers up wit, sarcasm, charming English spellings, and tons of great reviews that will have your Netflix list overflowing with celluloid goodness. What I especially enjoy are his fresh takes on oldies-but-goodies. The Gremlins Gag Reel reminded me how much I loved that movie in my youth and it made for a great movie night with my son. I had tons of fun trying to spot the gags.

Nathan Bransford is an author, former literary agent, and blogger extraordinaire on all things publishing related. His recent How to Use Twitter was a good reminder that I’m not quite there yet with my Twitter platform. Okay, not even close. I also owe Nathan a big thank you for giving me the idea for Magpie’s Shiny Things. He regularly posts a blog that links to all the great sites he finds. It’s one-stop shopping for those of us who don’t have a lot of time but want to keep up with what’s happening in the industry.

Michael G. is the blogger over at Sharing a Love of Teaching. He is a Grade 4 teacher in Australia, and from the posts I’ve read, a wonderful one at that. What I love about his blog is that it challenges me to think, and I usually end up rethinking my opinions on topics in education, bullying, etc. Everyone with a school-aged child in their life should read this blog. And everyone with a child who has a social media profile on sites like Facebook, etc. should immediately stop what they’re doing, sit their child down, and watch the video he shared in his post I Urge You To Show This To Your Kids.

Okay, I’ll sheepishly admit I was probably the last person in the world to hear about Ree Drummond’s blog The Pioneer Woman. But just in case your siesta under the rock lasted a bit longer than you’d intended, skip on over there as soon as you can. Ree blogs about cooking, photography, and homeschooling. My favorites are the recipes, with her hysterical asides, anecdotes, and self-deprecating humor. If you want to experience the feeling of “died and gone to heaven,” you’ve got to try the Pecan Pie Muffins.

Well, there you go. Hope you found something to love here. Let me know if you did. And please feel free to share your great finds, too, in the Comments section.

I’m off to discover more shiny things.

Review: Race to Nowhere

Last month, I visited the C. W. Post campus for a screening of “Race to Nowhere,” a documentary that answers the question “How are we doing?” with regard to our education system. Apparently, not so great.

The film interviews students, parents, educators, and other experts in the field. It examines the pressure on students who spend much of their valuable school time not exploring and questioning and learning but memorizing tons of information to pass standardized exams. It shows the extracurricular activities, clubs, and teams they join to make their college applications stand out from the pack. Most of all, it shows kids who are burning out and parents who have been brainwashed to believe this is the way it should be. One shocking tidbit was the high percentage of students entering their freshman year of college who have to take remedial English and Math classes because they haven’t mastered basic skills during their previous 12+ years of school.

“Race to Nowhere” was a powerful lead-in to a much needed discussion about where we’re headed in the current education system. The discussion that followed the screening on the Post campus was amazing and just one of many to come. Here’s the link to the website on which you can view the trailer and find future screenings in your area: http://www.racetonowhere.com/.  

The website also offers pages of links to the latest coverage of the film and movement. Here are a few to get you started:

The New York Times 

The Huffington Post

The Washington Post

Feel free to comment below about your experiences, thoughts, suggestions.

Did your Schoolhouse Rock…or was it the House of Blues?

Have you ever considered…Which school subjects were valuable in your adult life and career? Which subjects were nice to know but not critical to future achievement? Were any a waste of time? Which subjects do you wish had been stressed more because as an adult you realize how useful they are in your life?

Lately, my thoughts have turned to my early school experience, no doubt the result of observing my 11-year-old son in his studies. School is a lot different these days. Kids are exposed to topics in elementary school that didn’t come my way until junior high school. I can’t help but feel we’re rushing in, bombarding our kids with tons of material, before the 3 Rs—Reading, wRiting, and aRithmetic—have taken hold in their adorable little brains.

A few years ago, a teacher confided that new material is presented too frequently for the students to become proficient. After a day or two they move on to the next topic, resulting in lots of breadth and not much depth. Each topic is like a toothpicked morsel on a butler-carried tray, quickly consumed and followed by the next. Shouldn’t subjects that are the basis for all other learning be more like a sit down meal that you linger over? The following year, many of the same topics are repeated for the same short periods of time. Because no foundation has been laid, it’s like learning it anew.

All of this had me pondering what in my schooling I felt was valuable. The first thing that popped into my head was exposure to books and storytelling, which led to a passion for reading. My third grade teacher, Mrs. Heller, held a regular story time. She was an entertaining reader, using different voices for each character. For a moment each day, I was in that crowded bed with Charlie’s quirky grandparents, or standing in a barn gazing up at a lovely arachnid marketer who spun messages in support of “some pig.” I tasted the sweet pulp of a giant peach while visiting James and his insect friends. Needless to say, I couldn’t wait for story time, and when we were told to read on our own, I ran to select a book.

Mrs. Heller didn’t make it to the end of the school year. Maternity leave beckoned and our substitute for the rest of third grade was Mrs. Zuckerman, an Argentinian, who decided to teach us Spanish at a time when foreign language study did not begin until seventh grade. She must have known that language is more easily acquired before the age of 12. When Spanish was finally officially taught in junior high, there was already a comfort level and an enjoyment. I took it every year thereafter, eventually majoring in Spanish Language and Literature in college, along with studying Italian and Russian. We become more and more global every day, and the internet allows us to talk to people all over the world, provided we speak each other’s language. Moreover, vacations are so much more enjoyable when you can immerse yourself in the culture and speak the language of the natives. But learning a foreign language was important for another reason. It helped me “back into” English grammar since in the 1970s in my part of town knowing the parts of speech had been deemed an unnecessary skill. (And “old math” was frowned upon. ;-) )

Another source of pleasure in elementary school was music. In addition to a music class and participation in the glee club, I had a fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Nannarone, who brought in her daughter’s John Denver album to share with us. She clearly loved this album as much as her daughter did and her enthusiasm showed. My favorite song back then was Grandma’s Feather Bed. Come on, it was nine feet high and six feet wide. You gotta love that. :-D But there was more than music at play here; we were listening, evaluating lyrics, and discussing Denver’s stories. It was a lesson in comprehension and so many other things.

Sigh. All these great memories and then…SOCIAL STUDIES. It’s not that the study of history isn’t valuable. It was the way it was taught that rendered it dull, quickly forgotten, and avoided at all costs. Do you remember memorizing timelines? Did you enjoy it? Has your life ever depended on knowing the exact day that Columbus discovered America or that the Constitution was adopted? Would knowledge of the general time period have served you just as well? I think so. I also think that social studies textbooks should be banned from elementary school. There, I said it. They are the absolute worst way to get a child interested in history. In this day of multimedia, why are we not using more of it to engage our children. I grew to love history as an adult when I began to experience it in the form of biographies, vacations to historic sites with engaging tour guides, and TV programs and movies, such as the recent John Adams on HBO, which had me running to other sources to research more. A textbook never had that effect on me. I do not know as much as I should about history, politics, geography, or other topics taught with that cursed social studies textbook, and yet I was a straight A student. That’s because your brain can memorize facts for a test and forget them immediately afterward. What good did that do me? Huh? Huh? [Note to Self: Breathe deeply and wipe froth from mouth.]

So, what do you think? Which subjects or events from your early school years made an impact, either positive or negative? Which do you think served you well into your adulthood and career? Which do you think were a grand waste of time? Which subjects would you have school children learn to make them most effective in their futures? I’d really like to know your opinion.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 126 other followers