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!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

High School Confidential

I'm slowly starting into a new pattern of life that involves waking daily at 5:30 a.m. to the cheery ring of my cell phone and the computerized voice of the automated subbing system.  I now can "press one to accept this job" with my eyes still closed and my head unmoved from the center of my pillow.  In general, a couple of hours from that time and a few snooze buttons later, I'll be sitting in front of a class of high school kids.

At this juncture, I suggest that we pause for a moment to consider how some typical high schoolers look versus how I look:

I may have stacked the deck a little in favor of my sisters by choosing a picture of me post-tilt-a-whirl at Six Flags, but still, those kiddos on the left are nine and seven years younger than I am.  (Also of some relevance: ten minutes after that picture of the roomies and me was taken a high school boy manning the line at the bumper cars tried to get my number.)

Anyway, I was understandably a little dubious about how I'd fare in a high school, but it turns out that North Dakota high schoolers are tamer than a class full of Chicago kindergarteners (I miss you, Chicago five-year-olds!).  It also turns out that high school subbing means knowing how to pass out worksheets and press play on the VCR.  Or, in the case of the "special foods" class I subbed, knowing how to taste and rate six delicious homemade apple pies.

Subbing in a high school does not seem to mean all of the things I learned to consider during my last two years in Chicago Public Schools.  I don't, for instance, have to plan in bathroom breaks, herd children through cramped hallways, or lead Dr. Jean songs.  In a striking exception, though, the special foods experience did teach me that high school kids serving crumbly pies creates as much of a mess as second-graders building gingerbread houses out of M&Ms, frosting, and Graham crackers.

Speaking of which, let's just take another moment to celebrate those second graders' success with that project, as well as the successful use of plastic tablecloths by Ms. Walsh and me:

The need to get a class full of fifteen year-olds to clean up pie tins also left me realizing that I do not have any ideas for how to refer to a group of almost-adults.  The old elementary standards--"boys and girls", "friends", and "children", all said in the ubiquitous sing-song teacher voice--don't really apply.  I guess I'm left with a booming "ladies and gentleman", which seems a little silly and is causing me to flashback to the sir-ing and ma'am-ing of my Louisiana high school experience.  For lack of anything better, though, I guess for the time being I'll be rather formally addressing the teenagers of North Dakota.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Miss Robertson Goes to Grand Forks

So it finally happened--I'm a teacher again!  After months of filling out paperwork, getting my fingerprints processed through the FBI, and countless calls to the state education department in Bismarck (not to mention several frantic calls to Amy), I received my North Dakota state certification, complete with a gold emblem and all.

In my mind's eye, the cover letter for my certification packet would read something like this:

Dear Miss Robertson,
         Y'betcha you're qualified for teaching in the state of North Dakota!  We are extremely excited to enclose your North Dakota teaching license, and we know that our students will benefit from your skilled teaching.  What is more, you sound like a cute, fun girl.
         Come visit us in Bismarck any time,
         The Education Board

In the end, the letter I received proved a little less personalized and folksy--although I like to think it is just as glowing an account of my teaching, looks, and personality if read between the lines.  Unfortunately, though, instead of cordially inviting me to tour their state capital, the Board has cordially invited me to register in classes in American Indian Studies and Space Science.  Ladies and gentlemen, there's a Space Race afoot, and, alongside testing their reading fluency, I need to examine my kindergarteners for the potential of The Right Stuff.  I could have the next Chuck Yeager or John Glenn or Sally Ride on my roster, after all.     

None of this really matters, though, because I'm now in the Grand Forks Public Schools substitute teacher pool and have a snazzy clip-on teacher ID to prove it:

Here I am doing my best impression of Lulu from To Sir with Love.  I suppose more modern media figures like Rihanna also sport the single earring look, but why go for the less obscure celebrity reference when I can instead compare myself to a 1960s British pop star?

Here's hoping that some day one of my students will compose and perform a song in my honor.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Why North Dakota: Musings on Life, Love, and Sweaters in the Dakotas

For obvious reasons, I spend a lot of time fielding questions about why I chose to move from the big city of Chicago to Grand Forks, North Dakota.  Chicago, after all, is home to several pro sports teams, its own brand of pizza, and the Magnificent Mile.  All of this makes it difficult to explain why a city with a population of 50,000 located 80 miles from the Canadian border jumped out at me as the Happening Place to Be without getting into the vagaries of my psyche.  As a result, I generally answer this query with lots of smiling, discussion of the friendly population, my love for winter, and a little hemming and hawing. I'm beginning to learn more about my new home, though, and I think I can narrow down my response to an elevator speech with a few key, if eccentric, reasons.  Here's what I've compiled so far:

1.  Shopping

First, corduroy is a year-round fabric here.  Second, most thrift-store clothes are in my size and color.  An unexpected side benefit of being a Scandinavian-heritage gal moving to a land populated by Norwegians and Germans, all donated sweaters here come only in those colors that bring out a healthy amount of rosiness in my cheeks and accentuate my eye color (for your viewing pleasure, I model one such sweater below).  Anything that shortens the amount of time I spend in dressing rooms, thereby increasing the amount of time I can devote to Cinnabons and soft pretzels, is okay by me.

2.  Cream of Wheat

An enterprising bunch of wheat millers invented Cream of Wheat here in 1893.  If your favorite breakfast food were scrapple, you might move to Pennsylvania; granola, Dansville, New York; or Graham crackers with milk, New Jersey.  My idea of a perfect morning is a strong cup of coffee and a bowl of cream of wheat tempered with milk.  Thus, Grand Forks.

3.  Driving

I won't give you another long diatribe, but this warranted a second mention.  I mean, as Professor Syverson writes on his website, just look how empty and flat this North Dakota highway is.  That's my idea of driving heaven.

4.  My Blog

Moving here gave me an excuse to start a blog, which I have thoroughly enjoyed and which additionally has allowed me to sustain fantasies of my life being turned into a Hollywood movie.  Produced by Clint Eastwood's production company Malpaso, this charming adaptation of my stunningly insightful blog stars Dakota Fanning (as me), Sandra Bullock (as my mother), and, inexplicably and in a yet-to-be-determined role, Peter Sarsgaard.  The movie will premiere at the University of North Dakota's Chester Fritz Auditorium.  As the only two other people to have set and filmed a movie in North Dakota, Joel and Ethan Coen will be in attendance, and I will meet Frances McDormand.

No. 4 probably won't make the elevator speech cut, but nos. 1 through 3 are definitely compelling reasons to move to North Dakota, as I think we all can agree.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Driving and How to Spice up Your Life with Clam Juice

If you know me (and I'm just going to go ahead and be honest about the current readership of my blog--you know me), you probably also know that my driving is a hybrid of that of a gum-chewing teenager and a squinting, hunched-forward old woman.  It doesn't help that I look just a few months shy of my eighteenth birthday and that I drive a 1996 Buick LeSabre--no doubt a "friendly and cheerful" car, as my uncle puts it, but also definitely a grandpa car:

(That's not a picture of my actual car because either my car isn't very photogenic or I'm not a very good photographer.  I choose to believe the former.)

Luckily, the good people of North Dakota have put in place a system designed just for such a driver.  I've faced a few tough decisions, most definitely.  Last night, for instance, I had to call upon my tractor protocol knowledge to decide whether or not I should go around a tractor on a gravel road.  (I actually discovered that I possess no tractor protocol knowledge, so if you know the answer to this, let me know).

In general, though, North Dakota driving does not even rate on the same driving stress scale that Chicago is on.  Within the city proper, the farthest to possibly travel seems to be about 2 1/2 miles, and the parking spots are so wide that I have the option of parking either straight or at an angle (I generally waver between the two and park as though perhaps I chose to go Irish with my coffee that morning).  What is more, the fastest posted speed limit is 45 miles per hour, and on any given street I can drive 25 miles per hour without one person sending dirty looks, honking, or swerving around me.  One time the person in front of me decided to drive 17 miles per hour on a major roadway, and everyone just rolled with it.  My mother and I encountered one aggressive driver--and quickly noticed that his license plate read "Da Bears."

Speaking of which, if you're looking for a new Sunday Night Football drink tonight, might I suggest the eternal favorite: Clamato and Miller Lite?  You can buy it either as a six-pack or mix your own.  Nothing says "Go team!" like clam juice, tomato, and lite beer.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Green Gear (and Goose Meat Part II)

I don't know what it is about moving to a major college campus, but a person basically gets molded into an insta-fan of its sports team.

(The exception to this rule is, of course, the University of Chicago where the sports teams have to bribe students with pizza and free plastic leis to get even half of the seats filled. For evidence of this phenomenon, see basically every article that Joe Katz wrote during his tenure at The Maroon, or just ask Rachel and me, who copy edited every other one of those articles.)

But I digress.  Newly  minted Fighting Sioux fan that I am, one of the first things I did when I moved here was stock up on some gear.

First, an academic planner.  Day planners make me feel contemplative. 

Next, a mysteriously floating coffee mug with a logo apparently designed by my friend Lauren's great uncle.

And,  last but definitely not least, a multi-tasselled hat.

I'm pretty sure my tassels and I are going to contribute to a lot of hockey victories.

In other news, I know that many of you out there are thinking, I've made delicious goose meat tacos, but I still have a lot of leftover goose.  Now what?  Our friendly Goose Expert at the local hunting station suggests serving the shredded meat with a simple cream sauce over German spaetzle or a nice linguini.  Both are very authentic.  Bon apetit!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

On Geese and Tacos

At the end of my mom's and my twelve-hour drive to Fargo last Sunday, three central clues made us realize we'd made it to North Dakota--a state neither one of us had ever set foot in:

1. There was a friendly sign.
2. The land seemed to get somehow flatter, slightly oranger, and to have fewer of Minnesota's famed "10,000 lakes".
3. The Mexican food sounded even less authentic.

In retrospect, #1 was probably evidence enough.  Also in retrospect, #3 was a pretty difficult test for North Dakota to pass given that somewhere a little after St. Paul, we passed up the opportunity to dine at "Taco Gringo".  Our first hint of the quality of North Dakotan Mexican fare came from a radio program advising us on how to cook a goose (our second hint was the sighting of several Taco John's, which you'd think the original John could have at least name Tacos de Juan or something):

Goose Expert: One thing about geese, you will probably have leftovers.
Radio Host: Hmm.  What do you suggest for goose leftovers?
GE: I often make tacos.
RH: And what do you put on your goose tacos?
GE: Oh, the usual.  Lettuce, cheese, tomatoes, pickles.

And that is when I learned that if asked if I want everything on my taco, I need to specify, "Please, hold the pickles."

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Greetings from North Dakota!

It's official!  I've gone Dakotan.  In week one, I signed a lease

...bought and outfitted a bed

...and, after a ten-minute wait and an arduous eye exam, was awarded my North Dakota driver's license!

As you can see on the right, I'm pretty excited to bring my gangsta attitude to the Greater Grand Forks area.

You betcha,