A math facts pack

When I was in 3rd grade, my classmates laughed at me because I accidentally said my times tables in Chinese.  Ching-chong, people.

When I was in 3rd grade, my classmates laughed at me because I accidentally said my times tables in Chinese. Ching-chong, people.

When I was teaching, I often found myself struggling with the question of parity for my students.  If I do something for one student, would it only be fair if I did it for all my students?  It left me in the position of providing fewer “extras” and reserving rewards for situations with equal opportunities, because I was often concerned with being fair.

But, some students just need a little extra, and some students will make the most out of these added opportunities.  I can never resist a child who asks for more help in a specific, constructive way.

I’ve been fortunate enough to return to the classroom at the end of this year, working with students with individual needs in math.  One of my students in particular is amazing with visualizing geometry, good at solving procedural problems, and really really really terrible with her basic math facts. So when she looks at me, stops saying “this is hard” and “I’m bad at math” and instead says, “you know, this is the only thing holding me back from doing much better in math class,” I am unable to ignore that plea.

After confirming that she is good with using the resources given to her, and talking with her about using tools to brush up her math facts this summer, she and I picked out the following:

She is self-aware enough to know that regular flash cards have not helped her to learn her times tables, and she doesn’t memorize things visually in that way.  Since she is good at recognizing relationships, we are hoping that the three-corner cards and the math-wheel cards will be different ways to look at the times tables and develop a better sense of numbers that go together.

In addition to the flash cards, I made a book of 150 Mad Minute practice sheets and a tracker for her to track her progress with the times tables.  These will go into the binder she picked out, and she will use the timer to administer her own mad minutes.

Of course, once I get going with these things, I can’t stop myself.  I had to make a cute little backpack to store her math practice toolkit.  It only took about 15 minutes and I had all the materials handy in the house.  (It’s taken me far longer to format this post than to make the backpack.) I also found a few stamps and a few stamp pads that I threw into the pencil case.

The Math Facts Pack goodies - stamps, pencils, timer, flashcards (and binder in the background)

The Math Facts Pack goodies – stamps, pencils, timer, flashcards (and binder in the background)

OK, I think the pack is pretty cute.  Then again, I'm not a 7th grader, so who knows.

OK, I think the pack is pretty cute. Then again, I’m not a 7th grader, so who knows.

I have high hopes that she becomes a math facts wizard by the end of the summer, and can come back in the fall and be a mentor to 5th graders in the school who may be struggling with their own math facts.

I’m not really doing this for her appreciation, but it’s so little in the scheme of my day, and can be so big in the scheme of her life.  I couldn’t NOT do this when it asks so little of me.  I know this kind of attention isn’t scalable, but not every student needs this.  Other students will need other things, and hopefully I’ll be able to answer them when the opportunities arise.

Yes I did: 18 hours to a baby shower

Have you heard of the Five Love Languages?  They are: Words of Affirmation, Acts of Service, Receiving (Giving) Gifts, Quality Time, and Physical Touch.  My interpretation of these principles is that you have primary love languages that you “speak” and other love languages that you “hear”, and that they are not necessarily the same.  Christian-roots aside, I believe in the simplicity of this concept—by understanding which languages you and your loved ones speak and hear, you improve communications in your relationships.

For me, I am most comfortable expressing myself with Acts of Service and Giving Gifts 1.  No “diagnostic quiz” taken, just deep introspection over time and many dinner conversations with friends rehashing examples and hypotheticals.

Given those love languages, making handmade gifts is my favorite expression of affection.  It pains me when I don’t have enough of my own time to create personal gifts by hand.

I had grand plans for this weekend’s baby shower – I was going to make a small tag blanket 2, with one knit side and one minky side, and a matching baby hat with ears.  With 18 hours to go (6PM Friday), I was looking at 10 rows of baby hat, AND had just remembered that I volunteered to make a savory finger food.  NOT ENOUGH HOURS LEFT. I resigned myself to purchasing a more substantial gift off the registry, but was going to make a great effort to finish the hat and make some food.

FRIDAY NIGHT:  Finish baby hat & decorate and wrap the present.

One last-minute baby hat, still made with love.

One last-minute baby hat, still made with love.

I really wanted to make the Flour Sack hat from Baby Beanies: Happy Hats to Knit for Little Heads by Amanda Keeys, but I don’t want to buy books of patterns anymore, so I decided to wing it with a basic square hat.  (If this pattern were individual PDF on Ravelry for $3, I would have totally bought it because I’m lazy about knitting trial and error.)

My “pattern” is basically a square hat, with the corners tied off for ears.  Same as book?  I wouldn’t know!

Yarn: Berroco Comfort in Boy Blue.  It’s a washable nylon/acrylic blend that is actually pleasant to knit with and I use it on nearly all my items for kiddos these days.

Needles: size 8 40″ circular, using Magic Loop method

  • CO 60 stitches, divide for Magic Loop.
  • K2P2 ribbing for 10 rows for a foldover brim.
  • Knit in the round for 36 rows (or for the height of the hat to fit the entire head, then extra rows for the length of the ears).
  • Turn inside out and use 3-needle bind-off. Weave in all ends.
  • Turn right side out.
  • Thread needle with yarn, and run thread from side “seam” 8 rows down, to top seam” 8 columns over on both sides. Tie in a square knot to form the ears. Leave ends as bows or trim.

I managed to finish all the decorations at 11:30PM.  Bedtime until the AM and then, savory snack-making.

SATURDAY MORNING: Savory Treats before 9:30AM

Of all the days, Ben & I had to go to a bath showroom today to look at and pick out a bathtub for house renovations Round 3 (definitely for a different post).  With the baby shower at noon, and the showroom opening at 10AM, this meant that all baby shower preparations had to be complete by 9:30AM.

Mac & cheese muffins

You can eat mac & cheese with your hands. Genius!

The momma-to-be does love her mac and cheese, and I really wanted to make these for her shower.  However, I didn’t have cheese in the house, and it was really tempting to shelve this in favor of something where I already had all the ingredients.

I opened my eyes at 7:08AM, still felt like mac & cheese was the right choice, ran to our local grocery and picked up cheese in order to make this happen.  Fork-free mac & cheese, what’s not to love?

I used Food & Wine’s basic technique:  undercooked mac folded into cheese-enhanced white sauce (butter, flour, milk).  I doubled the recipe for 1 pound of pasta and 24 muffins. I substituted 1/2 the amount of mozzarella for the American cheese.  I added seasoned breadcrumbs to the parmigiano reggiano at the base of the “muffins” and also on top of the muffins to make a better crust and to add flecks of green color.  I also baked in the oven at 375-degrees instead of 350 for about 20-25 minutes until the tops were super crispy and the bottoms held together, checking frequently to make sure they didn’t burn (too badly).

I left them out to cool, plated 21 of the 24 muffins, and left 3 to be devoured by Ben at some point during the day.  He claims that they’re even better at room temperature, because of the increased crispiness factor.

Bacon-wrapped apricots

Everything is better when wrapped in bacon. Yes, everything.

This was my original plan – bacon-wrapped apricots with sage.  The prime reason was because I had some sage growing like crazy in the herb garden, we have apricots on hand for snacking, and I had a package of bacon in the fridge.  I scrapped this for the mac & cheese muffins because I wasn’t sure about pregnant women and eating bacon.  (Big Data must think that I’m pregnant with all the searches I do for what pregnant friends of mine can and can’t eat…)

While the mac & cheese was in the oven, I found myself a little idle…and craving some bacon.  So the bacon-wrapped apricots were back on the menu.

Things I learned from the recipe:

  • You really only need 1/3 a slice of bacon for each wrap—the flavor balance is perfect.
  • You don’t need a whole sage leaf.  I cut my leaves up, because I had a few GIANT sage leaves on the plant, and I also didn’t want to completely decimate my sage plant so early in the growing season.  It was plenty sage-y and the flavor complemented the bacon so nicely.
  • Seam-side down means you don’t need toothpicks.  I didn’t believe it, but it worked like magic.
  • YASSSSS…brush lightly with maple syrup.  NOM.

I managed to get both these dishes out by 9:35AM and make us a breakfast with the leftover egg whites and some ham from the fridge.  We were out the door by 10AM, and had picked out a tub by 10:50AM.  (I could have mooned over everything at the bath/kitchen/lighting showroom forever.)  Back in the house by 11:15, and off to the baby shower at noon. Productive morning all around.

Mac and cheese and bacon and apricots and sage.  Eat all of the things!

Mac and cheese and bacon and apricots and sage. Eat all of the things!


Why did I put myself through all this?  It would probably have been fine to pick up a vegetable platter and some dip and just have the registry gift.  In fact, no one notices at a shower whether you actually brought a gift at all, and a late registry gift to the house would have been totally acceptable.  Well, two reasons:

  1. I have a hard time backing off of my commitments.  Once I say I’m going to do something, like “make a savory finger food”, I will MAKE the food unless it is completely impossible, or else I will feel bad about it.
  2. Handmade with love is my best love language.  If I can give you a gift made with my time, that is the best gift that I can give you, whether the time is spent knitting, cooking, or just decorating the box that the gift will arrive in.  I don’t need my recipients to treasure their gifts forever, just to recognize that I care about them.  (Once a gift is given, it’s yours to do what you want with it, as gifts SHOULD be.)

People often tell me that I should sell the things that I make, but I don’t craft or cook for money, and I don’t think that I can be motivated to make things for people that I don’t love.  Actually, it’s hard for me to get motivated to do anything that I don’t love.  That’s a growth area for me.

  1. The love languages I “hear” are Quality Time and Acts of Service. Gifts are nice, but only if the giver has thought about the gift and has chosen something meaningful, so effectively an act of service. 

  2. Try to avoid buying from the Taggie company.  They are excessively EVIL about protecting their patent, which basically says that any ribbon sewn in a loop between two pieces of cloth is FROWNED UPON in this ESTABLISHMENT.  Google tells me that not only are you not allowed to sell them, but there may be issues if you even MAKE them.  Who knows if that’s truth or just paranoia, why can’t I make what I want if I’m not selling it?  I will thumb my nose at that, here’s a pattern for a great tag toy for babies from Sew Like My Mom, and here’s a picture of one that I made for my nephew:

    I made this ..."soft toy"... any resemblance to other real toys is purely ... coincidental.  Yesss...coincidental.

    I made this …”soft toy”… any resemblance to other real toys is purely … coincidental. Yesss…coincidental.



batmeme holidiys

Around the holidays, I have the intention of DIYing all of the things, because 1) I love DIY gifts, 2) I love making DIY gifts, and 3) I want my gifts to express the thought and care that I feel about my friends who receive them.  Last year, I knitted for all the kiddos in my life, and although they have long outgrown the gifts, it was really cathartic for me to make some kid-sized gifts and craft productively in a period of underemployment.

Clockwise from top left:  Aviator sweater/hat set for Olivia, Dino-rawr sweater for Landon, Monster mittens for Kai, Zebra suit for Alden

Clockwise from top left: Aviator sweater/hat set for Olivia, Dino-rawr sweater for Landon, Zebra suit for Alden, Monster mittens for Kai.  Not pictured:  Killer Bunny Rabbit mitts for Julia.

But as the age of Pinterest grows, I become less interested in DIYing for the holidays, partially because I have a fear that everyone is reading the same Buzzfeed or Brit + Co. or MAKE magazine, and that the ultimate “I made you the same gift!” faux-pas is just on the horizon.

I haven’t even been able to get started this year.  I think about DIY, and then my creative paralysis sets in, and I end up doing nothing but surfing more Buzzfeed or Brit + Co. and feeling more bad about the DIY that I am not doing. The vicious circle of DIY shame.

This is not how DIY is supposed to feel, people. I am overwhelmed by DIY, and I’m not even doing anything! All these cute “edibles in jars”.  Too cute.  Jars.  Too much.  They give me DIY anxiety.

Buzzfeed: http://www.buzzfeed.com/christinebyrne/spicy-pepper-vodka-and-sriracha-salt

http://www.buzzfeed.com/christinebyrne/spicy-pepper-vodka-and-sriracha-salt.  Hey, your label spells sriracha incorrectly.  Maybe sricacha is more appropriate for pepper-infused cachaça.


http://www.buzzfeed.com/emofly/diy-food-gifts-in-jar.  In case you didn’t have enough to do this holiday season, look at these DIY gifts with envy and regret and self-doubt.  YOU DIDN’T PICK OUT ALL THE MARSHMALLOWS IN THE LUCKY CHARMS?  How can you call yourself a true friend??

I made resin jewelry, but they came out badly…and then I gifted them anyways…and I felt bad about it, so I will have to re-do them and regift them. Embarrassing. (There aren’t even pictures, it was that bad.  Maybe when I re-do them I will take pics.)

Yesterday, to cope with the DIY drought, I made 3 flavors of nutella macarons (cinnamon, mint, and lemon) in cute boxes.  They don’t have the hefty pieds that make macarons awesome because I had too many mimosas while making them, and didn’t figure out why they were slightly defective.  Still delicious.  I may get around to giving them out to people I had intended to give them out to.  Or maybe I will just invite them over to eat them and have more mimosas.

Mimosa...I mean, macaron ingredients up top; cookies right out of the oven; and filling the mim—macarons and boxing them.

Mimosa…I mean, macaron ingredients up top; cookies right out of the oven; and filling the mim—macarons and boxing them.

My knitting needles have been sitting untouched.  My sewing machine and sewing bin have been in my car for 2 weeks.  My craft room is peppered with the remnants of badly poured resin jewelry. We haven’t even sent our DIY Christmas Cards out yet, and they are just sitting in a pile on the floor of my living room, screaming to be stamped and addressed.

Somehow, my DIY failures are making me feel like I am lacking in holiday spirit this year.  How very Grinchy of me.

I hope to rekindle my holiday spirit and my DIY spirit in the next couple of weeks, before the end of 2013.  I am looking forward to settling down with a nice book, some tea, and a great mindless knitting pattern.  And just maybe, I’ll gift it to someone.  For their birthday.  Or for no reason at all.

Happy holi-DIYs, everyone.