Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Power Of Boredom

 The last soccer game of the season.  
It was very chilly, maybe 45F.
The girls were running and stayed warm; we froze.

Safety Guy is learning the power of being bored.  That is, he was grounded from all electronics except his MP3 player this weekend.  Two and a half DAYS without any visual/electronic input - HORRORS!   In the absence of his TV, computer, and video game options, he rode his bike (a lot), went trainspotting (several times), read books, went to his sister's soccer game, played with his model railroad and talked.  A lot.  But he's also learned a valuable lesson:  if he gets into trouble at school, the consequences go on at home.  And those consequences aren't worth getting in trouble for.  Hopefully the message will stick for a while.

I haven't been bored.  I've had a pretty productive weekend, with cleaning, laundry, yard work, sewing, cooking, and relaxing all in the mix.  I planted more bulbs today ('Tricolor' crocus and 'Slim Whitman' daffodils), and started the process of pulling dying annuals in the big front flower bed.  Tuesday is supposed to be a really nice day, and I won't have school (conference day), so I'm hoping to finish the yard work then.  I still have to clean up the veggie garden beds, too.  I'll draft Safety Guy to help me schlep wheelbarrow loads of defunct nasturtiums to the compost pile.  He still owes me money for the stereo he bought earlier this year.

This week I can start my Christmas shopping.  I'm looking forward to that.  It's fun to plan the gifts for my family, and find just the right things.  This year maybe I'll be done a little ahead of time.  And I have to start my Operation Christmas Child boxes, too.  I love participating in OCC every year, and our kids look forward to helping with it too.  I'll have another post about that later this week, once we start packing some boxes.

Until then, I hope this week goes more smoothly than last week.

Friday, October 28, 2011

It's Amazing

- how quickly I can go from feeling like a competent teacher and reasonable parent, to feeling like I have no business being in a school, or raising my own children.  It's been that kind of week.  Behavior issues left, right, and center, 24/7, at home and at work, and seeing the best of teaching and the not so good every day.  (I haven't seen awful teaching, but this week was discouraging enough, thank you, I'm not going looking for it.)

Both kids have been grounded at various points in the past couple weeks.   Both have had meltdowns.  Both have had to have serious attitude adjustments.  My students have been off the wall, even many of the ones who are usually less needful of discipline.  Today was a rough ride all around and ended with a crash.  Safety Guy had a particularly difficult day that ended with unpleasant consequences.  My own attitude this week has veered from "I can do this," and "I think I'm doing pretty good under pressure," to, "What did I do wrong that my kids are being so foolish?" and "Why the heck did I have kids in the first place?"  Don't ask me how many new gray hairs I've gotten, since it's time to renew my color and I'm showing a definite "Bride of Frankenstein" dash of white at my temples.  Heck, I'm feeling rather like something from a scary movie lately, maybe I should just work with it.

Anyhow, it's been a very long week for my first solo teaching in so many years.  I think I hear a glass of wine calling my name after the kids are (finally, at long last) in bed.  I already got into the Halloween Reese's Peanut Butter Cups.

Good night, friends - maybe I'll have happier things to chat about in a day or two.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Beautiful Fall Day

Last weekend I had the wonderful luxury of spending some time with my sister and my parents.  My husband, blessings be upon him, held down the fort with the kids while I was out of town.  It was so good to hang out with my sister in Corning.  We spent some time on Market Street, visiting the glass studio where my sister is learning how to create stained glass pieces, stopping by the ceramic studio to pick up some ornaments to work on, browsing through an antiquarian book store, and going to my sister's favorite coffee/tea shop.

Hector Falls, not far north of Watkins Glen, NY.

The ceramic studio is the same one I used to work with in Corning, but under new management.  I was able to talk to the owner, and she was willing to give me the same deal I had before for purchasing and firing objects.  That was wonderful news, since it's likely to be a while before I get my own kiln.  I bought a half dozen ornaments and a votive candle holder to work on, and spent the evening decorating them at my parents' house.  I'll have a lot fewer ornaments available to sell this fall, but I got a late start.  Such is life.

 Autumn glory in my parents' back yard.

Not only did I enjoy seeing my family, but I also thoroughly enjoyed the drive.  It's 2 1/2 hours or so each way for me to visit them, through the heart of the Finger Lakes wine region of New York.  I absolutely love that part of the state, and I often think about what it would be like to retire there someday.  As I drive, I look at properties and views, and think "What if. . . ."  I also stopped to pick up a bottle of wine (Jester's Juice from the King's Garden Vineyards, a sweet blush wine).  I like to try new wineries from the Finger Lakes region every so often.  (The wine was VERY good, by the way!)

The weather Saturday was grey, but Sunday was glorious.  I took my camera so I could get some photos around my Mom and Dad's yard, and on the trip each way.  I got some good shots.  I hope you enjoy this glimpse of my favorite drive!

 A river birch in my parents' back yard.

 Looking out over the lower part of Hector Falls, toward Seneca Lake.

 Twin hickory trees - that rich, vibrant gold is my favorite color of fall.

Bronze-gold oak leaves against a white pine tree in my parents' yard -
a nice contrast in the sun.

 The bridge over the little creek at Mom and Dad's house.
The kids used to play "Pooh Sticks" with my Dad there.

Looking northwest from Hector Falls over Seneca Lake.
Gorgeous!  Someday maybe I'll live near there.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011


 Safety Guy at his birthday party last weekend - 
pizza, arcade games, and cake!

It's been a long week since I last posted on here.  I was busy with subbing, and I'm now officially the full-time, long term sub for someone on maternity leave, until Christmas.  It's a bit scary going back to work like this, after so much time away from teaching in a school.  Some things have changed (technology, most notably), and some things haven't (pokey bureaucracy stuff, and kids are always kids).  Mostly I'm trying to figure out how to juggle my school responsibilities and my home and family responsibilities.  I've always respected working mothers, but now I'm seeing their struggles in an even clearer light.  It's exhausting!

Miss Molly Meow and her catnip chipmunk.
She's just a little mellow on 'nip now.

Our kids are excited that I'm working (hooray, more money for special things, and I can see them at school whenever I want), but they are also a bit weirded out by the changes in our family routines and roles.  One big change is that they'll have to take on more chores, so we can balance out how things get done around the house.  I can't do as much as I did before, and they can certainly do more than I've asked of them in the past.  This will probably be good for all of us in that respect.  But it's also a little scary, all the changes going on, and our daughter has been acting out BIG TIME over the past few weeks.  It's more than just pre-teen stuff, more than hormones, more than "just the age."  I hope she settles down soon; we've had some ugly confrontations over her disrespectful behavior. 

 A trebuchet (a kind of catapult) at a pumpkin farm/corn maze 
that we visited a couple weeks ago.  Fun!

Thankfully, soccer is almost done for the fall, and that will free up HOURS every week in our schedule.  Our son's tutoring will end around Thanksgiving, which is more hours in the week not spent going to/from the learning center.  December will feel like a vacation in contrast to the next month.  And once this maternity subbing "gig" is finished, I'll probably cut back on subbing for a little while, to 3-4 days a week instead of 5.

And, to top off the "You can please some of the people some of the time, but not all of the people all of the time" vibe in the house, all three of the cats are mad at me for not being around more now.  Sigh.  One looks sad and mopey, one has left me "gifts" to express her displeasure, and one is clingy and whiny.  I just can't win.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Laurel's Slow Burn Chili Recipe

It's fall - time for what my husband and I call the "Soup Of The Week Club."  That simply means when cold weather comes, we make a kettle of soup almost every week and use it for a meal, and then have the leftovers for lunches at work.  I rotate through a handful of favorites, and occasionally try something new.  This week we're back to an old standby - chili.

I make chili two ways:  vegetarian, and with ground beef.  Today's choice is with meat.  It's one of those dishes that varies a little each time I make it, since I'm not a measuring kind of cook, especially for soups.  I like my chili spicy, rich and flavorful, with a definite slow burn to it - not masochistically spicy-hot (I'm not into painful food), but it's more than hot enough that you KNOW you're enjoying real chili when you take your first taste.  If you usually prefer mild chili, this isn't the recipe for you!   Here's the recipe as I made it today:

Laurel's Slow Burn Chili 

2 1/2 pounds ground beef (85-90% lean)
2 15 oz. cans  low sodium black beans, drained and rinsed
2 15 oz. cans low sodium dark red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 medium onion, chopped
1 large jar chunky salsa (about 2 1/2 cups - any generic/store brand salsa is fine; I use medium hot salsa)
2 28 oz. cans crushed tomatoes or tomato puree
2 15 oz. cans diced tomatoes (for extra heat, you can use canned diced tomatoes with green chilies)
3 Tbsp. chili powder  (I like  Penzey's hot chili powder, but you can use mild chili powder or less chili powder to tone it down - although why you'd want to is beyond me ;-)
3 tsp. chipotle powder
3 tsp. ground cumin

Brown the meat in a stock pot with a little vegetable oil.  I always pepper my chili meat while it cooks, but I don't add extra salt.  Drain off the excess fat.  Add the rest of the ingredients to the pot; don't skimp on the spices.  (Chipotle is smoked, dried, ground jalapeno peppers.  It adds a nice, smoky, slow heat to the chili.  It's worth using the full amount for the amazing flavor.)  Bring the chili to a slow boil, reduce the heat to the lowest setting on your stove, and simmer it for at least an hour (stir occasionally).  The longer it simmers, the better it gets, and it's even tastier the following day as leftovers.  Serve hot, with sharp cheddar cheese, sour cream, and tortilla chips.  Corn bread is also a nice side dish for this meal.  (Or, if you're from Cincinnati, serve it over spaghetti.  Really.)

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Time Flies

I can't believe it - our son is 13 years old today!  People told me it would go by fast, but I didn't realize just how fast they meant.  We've had an eventful 13 years since the day he was born, and he's growing into a fascinating young man.  Happy birthday, Safety Guy!!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Anxiety Issues

I get the impression from talking with other parents who have kids on the autism spectrum, and from reading blogs and other articles about autism, that anxiety goes with the Asperger's Syndrome territory. I think that's actually been one of the more difficult aspects of his autism spectrum disorder for us to deal with as parents.  Really, it's easy for us to see why he shouldn't be anxious, but equally hard for him to see why he shouldn't be anxious.  Then we get frustrated by his reaction to "normal" situations, and he gets frustrated that we don't understand why he's upset.  And every situation is a potential anxiety producer.  Life is a minefield of anxiety-provoking situations for him, every day and every place he goes.

Our son has certainly had his share of anxiety ups and downs for his whole life, starting well before his official diagnosis at age 5 1/2.  (We noticed his intolerance for loud noises or crowded situations well before he turned 1.  As a toddler, he cried at every birthday party where people sang, and had meltdowns at almost every new experience.)  His anxiety comes and goes now, sometimes being more pronounced and difficult for him to function around, and other times being just a minor inconvenience for him.  He's in a really anxious phase right now, showing more self-stimulating behaviors, perseverating on things that make him nervous, and even experiencing heart palpitations on occasion.  He's doing his best to cope, using the strategies we've taught him over the years (like deep breathing, taking a break to listen to music, finding a quiet room to sit in for a few minutes, or going for a walk), but the anxiety has been getting the better of him recently.

As a result, he's been edgy, moody, and even more rigid than usual in his need for routine and predictability.  Part of me is so very glad he can verbalize to us that he doesn't want to leave his "comfort zone" because he's anxious.  We've worked so HARD for that priceless bit of self-awareness!  But we still have to tell him that he can't live in his safe little bubble of routine and home 24/7.  Life won't leave him alone until he's ready to handle it.  He'll have to deal with it at inconvenient times (like when we made him go with us to his sister's away soccer game today - oh, the drama and fireworks!).  To be honest, it's been more than a little bit crazy-making for his father and I.  I'm still grateful that Safety Guy has been able to use his coping strategies independently - he's learned a lot, and come a long way.  But when his strategies don't work (or don't work as well as he thinks they should), he gets even more anxious and angry.  It's a nasty cycle that's really hard to break.

I'm hoping that as his birthday passes this weekend, he'll calm down a bit.  The "big event" has been on his mind for weeks now.  He's having a modest party with a handful of his friends, at a local pizza place with a small arcade.  Familiar place, familiar people, favorite food, and favorite games - it's all good.  Once the excitement has passed, maybe he'll be able to relax a bit. 

I know school has been a stress factor for him too, but really his 7th grade year is off to a very good start.  As usual, the hardest things for him to deal with are the unstructured times - cafeteria, hallway transitions, and dismissal.  Since I started subbing, his resource teacher has sought me out a couple times to discuss his progress.  I say hi to him in the halls, and occasionally he hitches a ride home with me instead of on the bus, but I'm careful not to embarrass him.  I think he likes to know I'm there.  With this latest round of anxiety, he's been seeking out physical reassurance from me - asking for a hug, or putting his hand on my shoulder for a minute or two while we're driving.  Coming from my "Don't embarrass me, Mom!" seventh grader, that's very unusual.  But I'm glad I can help him in such a simple way, and that he still wants that closeness.  Sometimes it's hard to remember that this hulking young man is still my little boy in many ways, and always will be.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Knowing My Place

I think, but I've been forcefully reminded after a scant three weeks of substituting, that I already knew that I was never cut out to be a primary school teacher.  I thought I knew that long ago, but over the years various people have tried to tell me that I'd be good at teaching younger students.  And I've given it a go, many times - in practicum for grad school (kindergarten), in vacation Bible school (first and second grade), in church (infant and toddler nursery), and more recently in 4th and 5th grade classrooms as a substitute.  And it's official.  I STILL DO NOT LIKE TEACHING ELEMENTARY SCHOOL AGE KIDS IN A CLASSROOM.  So there.

I do enjoy working with older students, though.  I've been asked to substitute for a couple months for an 8th grade special ed teacher who's going on maternity leave.  I said yes (after spending a day with the students).  Sure, they're moody, hormonal, awkward, rowdy and flaky, often with 'tude to spare.  They're also interesting, challenging, smart and funny.  Taken as a whole, I deal much better with the older students in smaller groups/for shorter periods of time.  And, let's face it, no matter how difficult they're being for me, from 7th grade onward they change classes every 41 minutes or so.  I can handle almost any teaching issue for 41 minutes - I think.  At least, I can handle it more easily than I can deal with 25 squirrely fifth graders by myself for a whole day, every day.  To each their own specialty, and more power to teachers who CAN do it as a career, like my awesome aunt and uncle, who taught K-2 and 4th-5th for decades, and did it really well.

I've had quite a few people over the years say things to me like, "You must be so patient to work with kids with special needs."  Or, "It takes a special person to work with those students."  Frankly, it takes a particular kind of person to do ANY job.  I can't imagine myself doing jobs that others would find satisfying and stimulating (software engineer, or stock broker, or mechanic, or store manager, for example).  Thank God I can do what I do, and thank God for all those people who do what I could never do.  We'll balance each other out, and I'm grateful for their gifts and talents.  (And I'll leave for another post my frustration in dealing with people who think I'm some kind of saint for raising a child with an autism spectrum disorder, or for teaching kids with special needs.  One part of my life I had no choice over - my children are gifts, and I do my best with the treasure I've been given in them, no matter what abilities they have or challenges they face.  The other part of my life, my teaching career, I chose with my eyes wide open and do willingly, so I don't deserve pity or a pedestal.)

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Sliding Into Gray Days

Fall has returned in earnest, after our week-long flirtation with the tag-end of summer.  And I'm grateful for that, since I love the fall.  I wish we'd had a fall wedding; if we ever renew our vows, it just might be in the fall so I can wear a creamy autumn-brisk dress and kiss my man among the chrysanthemums and falling leaves.  Wine will figure in there somewhere, too.

It was an uneventful day, gray and with rain threatening but never quite arriving.  I did a little house cleaning and took a trip to the SA to look for some work clothes (I found a few items, one new with tags - hooray!  I love a good bargain).  There were other errands in there, including a stop to pick up more fall bulbs (mixed large crocuses, and 'Gavota' tulips).  I did some light yard work, too (cutting off dead annuals and perennial stalks, and planting the bulbs).  I'm feeling kaput now, but I'm still not done for the day.

Safety Guy has a Boy Scout dinner tonight - chicken and biscuits, a fundraiser for the troop.  He's on the clean-up crew.  The whole family will go for dinner with him tonight, then I'll bring Princess Yakyak home while my husband waits for Safety Guy to finish helping with clean-up.  I don't know about the kids, but I'm ready to go to bed early.  It's just been one of those kind of days.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Daily Grind and Indian Summer

We seem to be settling into a new routine with my substitute teaching.  I'm a bit more comfortable in the high school/middle school now, and the rest of the family is getting used to me being out of the house more.  I've had mostly good subbing experiences, although I had one today that I don't ever want to repeat - thank the Lord that it was only one period out of a half day in the high school.  I've never had a class be that disrespectful and unmanageable.  I felt only a little better to have their regular teacher return and tell me that that's his worst class EVER, and the other teachers commiserated with me about it.

Safety Guy seems to be having more anxiety issues lately.  I'm not sure if that's related to school, to his upcoming birthday, to seasonal allergies, to the full moon, or to all of the above.  Today was a good day for him, though, and he seems more relaxed.  I hope that continues for him.  He was pretty upset over the weekend, and actually sought out hugs from me - highly unusual behavior from my "Don't embarrass me, Mom!" almost-teen son.

Princess Yakyak had a rough weekend, too.  She was moody, cranky, headachy, dramatic, and all that jazz.  She pushed it to the point of being grounded from friends and electronics for two days, and earned a handful of yukky extra chores.  She seems to be back on an even keel now, and hopefully we'll see a lower drama quotient for a few days.  I'm pretty sure she's becoming a young lady early and starting the hormone merry-go-round.  Poor thing (and poor US as her parents!).  And she had what appears to have been a migraine over the weekend.  Yep, she's my daughter all right - I had those awful headaches on at least a monthly basis (and often more frequently) through my 20s, due to hormones and stress.

After surviving the class period from hell this morning, I came home to get my head back together.  I'm still working on more little teddy bears (I've taken over a dozen to the gift shop, and I've got a bunch more finished or in process).  I also made time to go outside and plant some alliums, irises, and daffodils today.  Tuesday is our easy day as a family - no tutoring, no soccer, and no Boy Scouts.  Jambalaya for dinner tonight, too - something SPICY will go down good.

We've had our "Indian summer" over the past handful of days, well up into the 70s and gorgeous.  I did finally finish staining the deck, too.  The summer-like weather is supposed to end tonight, with rain and generally cooler temperatures over the next week, although not too cold.  I'm really glad I talked Tech Guy into leaving the air conditioners in for an extra couple weeks, though.  I don't do stuffy, humid heat well at all.  (I'd be a total failure at living in the Deep South, Gulf Coast or Mid-Atlantic.)

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Fall Chores

It's an absolutely gorgeous day in Central New York today - sunny, around 62F, with a little breeze.  I subbed this morning, but I just couldn't stay inside all afternoon, even with the mega-pile of laundry needing to be folded.  I'll fold when it gets dark; the laundry isn't going anywhere.  I spent a nice chunk of time out in the back yard instead.

This time of year is my favorite weather-wise, because it tends to be cool, with low humidity.  I'm not a sun-lover at all; I'd far rather be chilly than hot.  This is also my favorite gardening weather, for the above reasons.  Plus, I enjoy the slow routine of getting the garden ready for winter - putting it to bed, as it were.  There are a number of things to do around the yard, and I pick away at them for most of October and into November.  We had our first frost last night (unusually late for our part of NY), so the tender annuals are kaput and ready to be removed. 

Here's sample of what I do each fall in my garden:

1.  Pull weeds - well, that goes on from April to October, but by now the annual weeds are dying and are easy to pull, and the perennial weeds that survived previous weeding blitzes are easy to spot and remove, and not much will grow back before winter settles in for good.

2.  Put a fresh edge on the flower beds.  The grass creeps in relentlessly - I have to tidy the borders several times a year.

3.  Pull the dead/dying annuals, except for the frost hardy ones (like violas, pansies, and snapdragons, that don't mind the frost and will bloom for a few more weeks if I'm lucky).

4.  Thin out my daylily seedlings.  The ones that bloomed I marked with a tag, indicating keep or compost.  The rejects got dug up today.

5.  Cut off and compost or bundle dead perennials and flower stalks.  That includes the daylilies, Siberian irises, hollyhocks, sweet annie, and others.

6.  Dig out the bottom of the compost pile and spread it around where needed.  There's a nice layer of black gold at the bottom of the bin now.  I think shifting that will be my project this weekend (since Safety Guy is in hock to me for some stuff he got at a garage sale, and owes me some yard work).

7.  Dig out and mulch any new garden beds I want.  There won't be much of that this year - I just expanded one this spring, and added the raised beds for veggies, so I'm good.  I do need to add more compost and mulch to the two remaining boxes that didn't get the full treatment in the spring.  That's another chore I can drag Safety Guy into.

8.  Plant bulbs.  I'm like a squirrel burying nuts when it comes to bulbs.  I have some allium Purple Sensation to plant, and I can always find room for more tulips and daffodils.  Speaking of that, I need to get some of my favorite daffodils in ASAP.

9.  Move any perennials that I want to establish in a new location.  Today I lifted a peony that has lagged in its growth - I think I planted it too deep after we  moved, and that can stunt them.  Hopefully it will be happier a couple inches higher.

10.  Empty out containers into the raised beds, and compost the dead annuals.  I don't use the same soil every year in the small containers - it's much easier to start fresh each year and not have to deal with old roots in a small space.  I do leave the soil in the biggest containers year round, but I dig out the old root balls and refresh the mix when I plant in them in the spring.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Bad Flashbacks - High School Gym Class

Today was interesting, to say the least.  I got a call at 10:15, asking me rather frantically if I'd be available to substitute in a high school gym class, right now.  I have to confess, I wasn't dressed yet (although I was up, breakfasted and spinning laundry by then), but I didn't tell them that.  I told them I'd be there in 15 minutes, threw my clothes and makeup on, and hit the road.  It turns out that someone forgot to request subs for the gym teachers that would be helping with today's Special Olympics events at the high school.  So, I was IT in every sense of the word.  I was literally the only sub they could get to come in - I have no idea if they had others decline the invitation to sub in a gym class, lol.

So, in the apparently closed-loop default routine of gym classes all over the United States for the past 75 years, I came in to get several classes through KICKBALL.  (Actually, it was the variation that my own schools called "mat ball," since the "bases" were 4' x 6' gym mats, so multiple kids could be "on base" at any given time, although when I called it mat ball today the kids looked at me like I was from Mars.)  Anyhow, the class divided themselves into two teams, with a fairly even mix of jocks, popular girls, sporty girls, unathletic/possibly nerdy guys and girls, and the usual handful of "I don't give a rat's behind" kids who just stand around and talk while the ball and other kids whiz by them in random trajectories.  By the end of the first class, I'd established that I really could yell as loudly as my mother (who has a voice projection gift that's legendary in our family), and I really could keep the upper hand among 20+ high school students, even the ones who tried to sneak out early to get to lunch.

Then we came to the second class.  Somehow, mysteriously, between the first class and the second class, one of the kickballs had gone missing, and one was stuck up above the scoreboard (tossed there by guys fooling around with it, naturally).  No kickballs to use, the ball locker was LOCKED, and the only other available equipment was for FLOOR HOCKEY.  Oh-kay.  I took my life in my hands and issued hockey sticks and a whiffle ball to the kids.  My voice got an even better workout with this class, full of high-sticking, rowdy guys and a handful of brave girls.  I only had to sideline two kids, and only two fingers got mashed.  Small victory.  (Did I mention it's homecoming week, and it was costume/twins day?  So I had a set of guys dressed as giant mustard and ketchup containers playing hockey.  Mustard got benched.)

Finally, the third class, of about 40 students - a double class.  By this point one of the two gym teachers normally in there was supposed to return from their Special Olympics duties.  The class started, and I was still solo.  (Thinking, "Oh crap, what am I going to do with 40 high school kids in the gym for 40 minutes?!")  I was just getting ready to have the kids play "capture the flag" (at the suggestion of one genuinely helpful young man in the class) when two things happened:  the missing kickball suddenly reappeared from heaven only knows where, and one of the gym teachers returned.  I was saved!  He got out a small electric personnel lift used for hanging banners and changing light bulbs, and retrieved the stuck ball.  (Obviously this was almost a daily occurrence, retrieving objects stuck in the rafters and scoreboards - he might have been going to get coffee, it was so routine.)  I was SO grateful to see him!  More kickball/mat ball ensued, with no more injuries (although I had to duck one kicked ball that would have taken my head off - at least I still have decent reflexes).

I was relieved to survive the gym, but the day wasn't over.  I'll be subbing in a special ed class on Friday, and the teacher came down to ask me if I could stop by during the last period (when I had no gym class) to talk with her about her students.  She works as a 7th-8th grade resource/push-in teacher in several classes, and has a small math class as well.   This teacher will be going on maternity leave soon, and I may be asked to take over her class for a while, as a long-term sub. (The assistant principal asked me about the possibility last week.)  It was good to talk with her and meet some of her students, and I think if I'm asked to, I'll accept the long-term sub position, which would be at least up to Christmas break. 

Busy, busy!  But in a good way.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Cookie Truffles Recipes

Yesterday we celebrated a handful of birthdays with my husband's family.  I brought the dessert, an assortment of goodies instead of a cake, because I felt like baking lately.  I rarely bake and keep the whole batch of whatever I made home for us to eat.  We don't need that many sweets hanging around to tempt us.  Our son's special requests (since one of the birthdays coming soon is his) were his favorite Triple Peanut Butter Cookies, and Vanilla Cookie Truffles.

I've made these cookie truffles in an assortment of flavors before.  They're quite easy to make, and lend themselves to almost infinite variations.  Here's the vanilla recipe:

Vanilla Cookie Truffles

1 pound of your favorite vanilla sandwich cookies (like Vanilla Oreos - they come in a 15 oz. package, close enough to a pound to make no difference, but inexpensive sandwich cookies work just as well)
8 oz. package (brick) of cream cheese (you can also use neufchatel cheese)
1 tsp. vanilla extract (optional - I like the extra punch of vanilla in them)
1 pound vanilla candy discs 
non pareils or sprinkles (jimmies) for decoration

Let the cream cheese come to room temperature, or soften it slightly in the microwave.  Crush the cookies in a food processor and put them in a large mixing bowl - they should be finely crushed, not chunky (think of the consistency of graham cracker crumbs).  Mix the cream cheese and the cookies and the vanilla by hand, pressing and folding until you have a ball of stiff dough.  Pull off small pieces of the dough and form 1" balls.  Place the balls on a cookie sheet or cake pan and refrigerate for an hour or so.  When the balls are chilled, you can melt the candy discs in a bowl in the microwave.  Heat on high for 30 seconds and stir with a spatula.  Heat again and mix, in 30 second increments, until the candy is smooth and creamy.  Be careful not to overheat it (the candy can burn if you're not careful).  Using two forks, roll a dough ball in the candy then set it on a cookie sheet.  Immediately sprinkle it with the decorations (the candy will harden fast on the chilled balls; if you wait, the sprinkles won't stick).  Repeat for all of the dough.  Refrigerate the truffles until the shells have fully hardened (15 minutes or so), then store them in the refrigerator in an airtight container.  They can also be frozen.  Yield:  approximately 3 dozen truffles.

I've made these truffles with several variations:  using Nutter Butters in the dough, and coating the truffles with peanut butter candy, topping them with miniature Reese's Pieces; using chocolate-creme-filled Oreos and coating the truffles with dark chocolate and chocolate jimmies (shown here - very decadent); using regular Oreos and milk chocolate coating; and using ginger snaps and the white candy (with a bit of candied ginger on top).  Any crunchy cookie would work.  I'm sure Mint Oreos or regular Oreos with mint extract added would be wonderful - I plan to try that for the holidays this year.  Cinnamon graham crackers would be tasty in the filling, too.  Use your imagination, and have fun!