Friday, April 15, 2011

Teachers in the Wild

I think that Highlights for Kids should introduce a new section entitled "Teachers: They're Just Like Us!"  At the very least, such a photo spread would be educational for the first-grade girl I ran into the other day at the vending machine in my building.  I had been standing with my eyes trained squarely on the Cheez-Its--deftly avoiding looking toward the jacuzzi where I had once accidentally seen two college kids making out--when I heard a teeny voice say, "Miss Robertson?"  Then the voice grew louder with confidence, "Miss Robertson?  What are you doing here?"

That question is where this picture, positioned next to Goofus and Gallant perhaps, would come in:

They eat stale Chips-Ahoy!
Miss Robertson stepped downstairs to get a bag of chocolate chip cookies and a pop. Sources close to the Grand Forks substitute teacher report that she often eats vending machine food for dessert.

That one picture wouldn't even begin to make a dent in changing most students' responses to seeing their teachers in the suburban wild, however.  As a sub, I run into kids I've taught nearly every day, and I've learned that their reactions range from embarrassed, shy surprise (hiding behind their mothers' coats) to excited, loud surprise (the little girl at my building's pool).  This tabloid-style photo layout would have to be a regular feature, then, with occasional special edition inserts aimed at other school employees: "Principals: They're Just Like Us" or "Paraprofessionals: They're Just Like Us!"

Witness (and please forgive the Myspace quality of these photos):

Their hair gets frizzy!
We snapped Miss Robertson reading a book near her Grand Forks apartment.  It was unclear if the sub, who recently moved from Chicago, had remembered to brush her hair that morning.

They go to the grocery store!
Miss Robertson was caught wearing her favorite sunglasses on the way back from the local Hugo's.  The thrifty GFPS sub apparently had a coupon for her favorite pop.

In other news, I've been looking for a photo to include with the resume packet I hand out to principals.  I think I've found it.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Taco Friday

Based on my (pitifully few) blog entries, you might conclude that I'm obsessed with Mexican food.  I've mentioned tacos four times as often as I have the legendary actor/director/producer Clint Eastwood, after all, and anything that gets more column space than Dirty Harry must rank pretty high up there.  I also have to confess that I do love me some plastic spoon tamarind candies:

However, I would like to state for the record that it is this town--and not me--with the fixation on Mexican food.  In fact, if you were to distill Grand Forks cuisine into one base recipe, I believe it would read something like this:

1. Take a carbohydrate, preferably one fried.
2. Top it with taco meat, preferably of the Taco Bell variety.
3. Optional: Add Cheddar cheese, jalapeño peppers, or mild salsa.

Taco in a bag obviously falls into this category.  So does the food at Taco John's, where I recently ordered a taco with a side of Potato Olés (I think the accent mark over olé adds an air of authenticity to what is a dish of tater tots topped with nacho cheese).

But the grand poobah of the North Dakotan take on the taco is the Grinder, a deli sandwich found at Red Pepper.

There, they take a turkey or ham sandwich, use what looks like a frosting spatula to smear taco meat and some kind of sweetened mayonnaise on top, sprinkle shredded cheddar cheese over all of that, and arrange it all on a paper plate.

The result, I have to say, is not my favorite of the taco creations on offer here, but the restaurant is charmingly quaint.  I can also understand the Grinder's appeal to people who were weaned on them or to college students who just had a few beers at one of the frat houses a block down the road.  Actually, I think I could see the appeal even more if the chefs put a Cheez-Whiz–like nacho sauce on top, like Taco John does with the tater tot. In fact, since I just signed up as a Potato Olés Maniac on the Taco Johns website, I just might have to go redeem my free bowl of Mexicanized tater tots now.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

From the Home Office in Grand Forks

Deciding to eat lunch in the teachers' lounge for the first time at a school is like choosing to enter a police interrogation room.  Between bites of my peanut butter sandwich, I field endless questions from teachers about my decision to live in Grand Forks.  This lunch-time grilling is almost always the same, beginning with the question, You're married to someone on the Air Force Base, right? and ending with So what do you do living on your own? (And, yes, that sentence has a weak pun.  And, no, I'm not ashamed to admit it.)

Tonight, ladies and gentlemen, I will answer the question of what a single girl in a new town does to pass the time.  From the Home Office in Grand Forks, North Dakota, I present to you the Top Ten Things to Do When You Live on Your Own in a New Place.

10. Take up unnecessary crafts, like magnet-making.  

Avoid potentially useful hobbies, like photography.
9. Drink coffee.  Read.  Fill in the crossword.  Repeat.

8. Check in daily with the wise basket owl who lives on your kitchen wall.  How many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop, Mr. Owl?

7. Procrastinate updating your blog.  Watch 1980s David Letterman on YouTube instead.

6. Swap recipes and coupons with the Manitoban housewives at the Hugo's Grocery.

5. Start a 2-hour skirt pattern.  Stretch it out to take several weeks.

4. Cook while listening to "Jolene".

3. Sample the cookie dough Blizzard at each of the four Dairy Queen locations.  Go back to each to compare their chocolate-dipped cones.

2. Clean while listening to "Coat of Many Colors".

And the Number One Thing to Do When You Live on Your Own in a New Place--drum roll, please, Paul--

1. Throw spontaneous dance parties for yourself.  Model your dance moves after this:

Sunday, February 27, 2011

An Open Letter to Our President

Dear Former United States President George Washington,

            This week we, the first graders of Grand Forks, North Dakota, studied the contributions you made to our illustrious country.  We celebrated your life and career through song (“Young George and the Cherry Tree” to the tune of “Yankee Doodle Dandy”), the study of the dollar bill, and myriad read-alouds.  Despite our in-depth research into your life, we are still left with a few questions and comments that we feel only you, Our Founding Father, can address.
            First, we are curious about why you and your associates wore wigs.  Why did you consider this fashionable and not silly?  Did it itch, hurt, or feel tight on your head?  Did you wear it all the time or just for special occasions?
            In a similar vein, we remain unconvinced that you are not in fact the man on the oatmeal box we have sitting in our cupboard at home.  Are you at least brothers?  Despite what our teacher told us, we do not fully believe that two white-haired rosy-cheeked men could not possibly be related. 

As a matter of fact, now we are curious as to whether you are not also Santa Claus.  If so, we would like new hockey sticks for Christmas.
            Lastly, we now know that George Washington refers to you, a person, and Washington, D.C. is a city.  What, then, is George Washington, D.C., and why does our teacher keep telling us to stop saying those three words in succession?

            Thanks for your time,
            The First Graders of Grand Forks, North Dakota

P.S. The boys would like you to know that they think it is AWESOME that you chopped down a cherry tree using a hatchet!  If you are in fact Santa, could you include one of those with the hockey sticks, along with a note to our parents explaining that every little American boy should have the opportunity to carry a hatchet around in his pocket.

P.P.S. Yes, we do have an amazing vocabulary for seven-year-olds.  Thanks for noticing!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Miss Robertson with a Tan and a Bow in Her Hair, and Other Tales from the North

We had a brief heatwave, but it is now back to being fabulously, unbelievably cold.  I've put my stylish, decidedly not-warm Jackie O jacket back in its rightful place in my closet's "autumn collection" and have rediscovered the wonder that is long underwear.  After a disastrous evening walk from my garage to my front door in which I thought my fingers might actually break off at the joints, scattering on the frozen ground below me, I have also retrieved my gloves from the bottom of my purse.

Meanwhile, I'm learning more and more about the North Dakota Child's interests--namely that all boys obsess over hockey (PeeWee, UND Sioux, and NHL, in that order), all girls favor heavily sequined shirts and pompom-ed or animal ear-ed hats, and that both genders enjoy a good laugh at Miss Robertson's accent.  People here have that tendency toward the vowel sounds unique to Wisconsin and Minnesota.  As a result, the local specialty, Taco in a Bag (alias The Walking Taco, or taco meat and toppings served over a bed of crushed Doritos) is pronounced Taco in a Bayg.  Additionally, my pronunciation of the e in Caleb and the a in Maggie is apparently so egregious that students with those names don't even respond when I call on them in class.

The website I took this tasty-looking picture from posed the question,
Where else besides Ohio can you get taco in a bag?  The answer:
Anywhere in Grand Forks, including--but not limited to--
the mall, school cafeterias, and at informal dinner parties.

Despite my faulty pronunciation, students still mostly seem to like me, as evidenced by the fact that my hug-to-handshake ratio as students leave at the of the day is approximately 3:1 (I require one or the other).  As further evidence of these students' esteem, I present Exhibit B: a caricature that some third-graders and I made in class one afternoon.  I've entitled it "Miss Robertson with a Tan and a Bow in Her Hair."  If you look closely, you can see that it is signed by the artists.  Enjoy:

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Southern California, Here I Come!

I'm taking a brief break from my life in the frigid north to enjoy sunny (God willing) Southern California.  Before I go, I thought I'd take a moment to channel everyone's favorite, Ms. Margaret Wise Brown, and say a temporary goodbye to my North Dakota treasures:

In the great white room
There was a plant
And a colorful basket
And nesting dolls of—

 The fantastic Swedish pop band ABBA

And there was one stylish girl lounging on her yellow chair

And one owl
And a kitchen towel

And a rolling pin
And a sugar bin

And a can of kraut juice
Next to a menu from Blue Moose

And a beautiful sunset and snow on the ground
And classes of children who make lots of sound

Goodbye plant
Goodbye ABBA
Goodbye yellow chair
Goodbye owl
Goodbye kitchen towel
Goodbye rolling pin
Goodbye sugar bin
Goodbye kraut juice
Goodbye Blue Moose
Goodbye beautiful sunset and snow on the ground

Goodbye North Dakota children

See you next year!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Shrimp, Sauerkraut, and Me

In the intervening month between this post and my last (I set myself a simple goal--one post a week--and blow it only two months in), I've fallen in love with the North Dakota third-grader.  With streetwise smarts at the level of a Chicago kindergartener, these students are reminding me how kids can take a person to the highs and lows of self-esteem.

Last Friday, a third-grade girl asked me to stand "just for a second" in front of her.  After I stared back at her quizzically, she explained, "You're just so beautiful, Miss Robertson."  Monday's third-graders, on the other hand, picked up on a different attribute: "Miss Robertson, you smell like shrimp."  I like to think this comment was based on my super awesome Miss Frizzle-style crustacean earrings (thanks, Dani!).  I also like to remind myself that North Dakotans have most likely not even been exposed to shrimp, so it's possible this girl thought that the shrimp's scent is a sweet-smelling cross between roses, freshly baked chocolate chip cookies, and California oranges.

Despite the crustacean comparisons, it is good to be back in North Dakota's schools after a week in my old Chicago haunts.  There's nothing like being greeted, too, with snow on the ground, Christmas tunes weakly sung by a gaggle of blond fourth graders in a school gym, and a fridge of canned plums, canned peas, and canned sauerkraut juice.

(Photo courtesy of Wegmans,
the best grocery store in the lower 48.)
As to that "Kraut juice"?  Not as delicious as one might think, but anything in the fight against scurvy.  Skol!