Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Christmas Traditions

One of my family’s favorite Christmas traditions is decorating the tree. After getting the conifer as vertical as possible in the tree stand, Dad hangs the lights. Then each ornament is unwrapped and held up as excited questions bounce back and forth. “Do you remember when…?” and “How old was I when I made this?” Memories of days gone by swirl around us as we carefully place each treasure in its place of honor amid sticky pine sap and needles as sharp as knives. The cats watch with interest — thinking (I am sure), “Yay, cat toy!

But the best part of decorating our Christmas tree is also the tastiest—Grammie Forbes’s caramel corn. My family enjoys this treat just one day each year. We plan this day carefully; making sure everyone will be home. As the children get older, finding a compatible schedule for everyone is becoming trickier but not impossible, as this is an event no one wants to miss.

Making homemade caramel corn is classic kitchen chemistry. After mixing the butter, sugar, and corn syrup you then bring it to a boil. Not the 212 degree F boil of water, no the 290 degree F boil of almost hard crack candy. My favorite part is the final step of mixing the vanilla and baking soda into the hot liquid, creating an almost volcanic eruption. Stir, stir, stir or it boils over the sides of the saucepan!

One year, we almost had a caramel corn calamity! While in the middle of mixing up a batch of my grandmother’s caramel corn, I had an uncontrollable urge to text my daughter to see if she was on her way. I interrupted my kitchen duties to tap out a message on my cellphone.

Meanwhile, back at the stove, a saucepan of sugar, corn syrup, butter, and vinegar boiled merrily as the needle on the candy thermometer inched toward the goal of 290 degrees F. Usually I tend this molten mixture closely, stirring frequently until it turns creamy amber. Too hot and it burns, too cool and it stays sticky, never reaching that crisp, crunchy, melt-in-your-mouth heaven that is Grammie Forbes’s Caramel Corn.

I snapped my phone shut and mixed in vanilla and baking soda. The foaming froth of scalding liquid threatened to bubble over the rim of the pan. I quickly stirred it over the waiting popcorn, coating every kernel. It wasn’t easy waiting for it to cool enough so a sample wouldn’t burn my tongue. I popped a morsel into my mouth and chomped down … only to discover that my teeth stuck together!

 With visions of pulled fillings, I kept my teeth clenched and waited for the sugary sealant to melt. Finally I was able to open my mouth. Argh! The batch hadn’t reached the proper temperature! It turned out to be a soggy ruined mess! Only one thing to do—throw it out to the squirrels. They wouldn’t notice or care.

Back to the drawing board, er saucepan, for me. I made another batch of caramel corn, this time focusing on the task at hand. The result? Perfect. Melt in your mouth. Sweet, buttery, crunchy. Alternating between hanging ornaments and munching on caramel corn, the family agreed that it was the best Christmas tree decorating session yet. Thanks, Grammie Forbes!

Do you have a favorite family tradition? Leave me a comment. I’d love to hear from you!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Are You a Gracious Gift Receiver?

Let’s face it, most kids get gifts at one time or another, especially at birthdays and certain holidays. Sometimes the gifts are just what you wanted—that special toy or article of clothing. Other times, however, you might get what you consider, a “dud” of a gift. You know, socks, or something you don’t quite like.

What’s a kid to do? Do you say, “Yuck, I don’t like this!”? Do you throw it on the floor and stomp on it? Some kids do this sort of rude behavior, but I don’t recommend that. It could hurt the feelings of the person who took the time and money to get you something. Even if it’s not what you expected or even want.

No, it’s important to thank the giver no matter what. And really put in the effort to be sincere. Nobody likes a fake thank you. Take a breath; look at the giver, smile, and say thanks. It won’t kill you to be nice. Some kids in this world never get gifts, good, bad, or ugly. Be grateful for what you have.

Have you ever received a "dud" gift?  How did you react?  Leave me a comment.  I'd love to hear from you!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Positive Self-Talk and Achieving the Impossible

One of the biggest roadblocks to success in school is negative self-talk. That’s when you think in your brain, “I can’t do this.” As soon as you start thinking that, your brain shuts right down. Of course, once your brain has shut down, you can’t learn. This is a vicious cycle! And very frustrating!

This week my fourth graders tackled long division. After my glorious lesson involving the mnemonic device “Does McDonald’s Sell Cheeseburgers?” (Divide, multiply, subtract, check, bring down), only two people grasped the concept.

We kept working and working on it and more and more students caught on. But not before one student put their head down on their desk. I knew the student was thinking that deadly phrase, “I can’t do this.”

Negative self- talk happens to all of us at one time or another in our lives. The best strategy is to recognize it, stop it, and turn it into positive pep-talk. The absolute worst thing you can do is give up. That’s what this student did. As I continued to demonstrate, they refused to watch. They sat there at their desk with their eyes squinched shut. As a result, they are very far behind the rest of the class who didn’t give up. The rest of the class is getting it.

And now those who have resisted learning their basic math facts are finding out how important those pesky facts are! They are able to do the long division but it takes them twice as long as those who have their basic facts memorized. I tried to warn them.

Here are some strategies when you get frustrated and start to hear “I can’t do this” in your head.

1. Picture a big stop sign. This will stop your negative self-talk.

2. Think “This is hard, but I’ll get it soon.”  Now picture the word "Go" in your head.

3. If you can, take a break. Go for a walk or shoot some hoops, etc.

4. Have a drink of water or a healthy snack.

5. Promise yourself a reward when you’re done.

6. Set a timer and get going! You can do this!!!

I hope you found this helpful! Have you ever overcome any negative self-talk? Please leave me a comment. I’d love to hear from you!