Please Stop Saying that Kids Don’t Read Anymore By Andrea Koleck

A great post written by my friend and colleague about how our own generational bias impacts how we view children’s literacy.

learning curves nyc

The generation gap is an American institution. Every generation experiences it and technology exacerbates it. We don’t talk about the impact the generation gap has on our perception of children nearly enough. Specifically, we need to start talking about how our generational bias is impacting our perception of literacy.

We think of the classics as the books that have been loved for generations. And we think of it as a tragedy if these books aren’t being cherished by new generations. But we create readers or nonreaders by what we provide. They might not care about the Babysitters Club, and aspiring author and tomboy Jo March might not speak to your favorite 12 year old. Some kids need Harry Potter in their lives, but some will reject the entire wizarding world. All of this is fine. The very idea of a “good” book is subjective.  And honestly, as a collective group…

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The Perfect Table, or How to Dine Out

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The perfect table.

I follow a few simple rules when dining out. First, only dine in places serving cuisine and dishes that I couldn’t make myself. Second, as my good friend puts it, if your meal is under three hours or courses, you’re doing it wrong. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, be the perfect table.

When I worked in the restaurant industry, we referred to “the perfect table” as one that coursed out their meal and ordered a bottle of wine with every course. There are several variations on this theme, but generally the perfect table starts out with a round of cocktails before looking at the menu. Then, they share a bottle of wine with their appetizers. Following appetizers is the main course and another bottle of wine or two. Lastly, dessert arrives along with a round of after-dinner drinks.

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The Champagne and oyster course.

I love starting off the meal by sharing a half-bottle of champagne with my dining companion and a dozen oysters. If I’m dining Italian, then the meat and cheese board is a must. From here, depending on my appetite, I could go into a soup or salad course, or I might dive into the entrée. Whatever the choice, there will always be a new bottle of wine to pair with the meal– a substantial red if I’m eating a meatier fish, steak, or hearty pasta; white if it’s lobster or a lighter fish. I’m partial to an unoaked Chardonnay or an Albarino. Depending on the number of guests I’m dining with or how quickly we sip our wine, a second bottle will be ordered for the table.

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Pass the Courvoisier.

Finally, after several hours of libations and good cheer, time for what is perhaps my favorite part of the meal: the after-dinner drink. Nothing complements a delightful evening of food and friends quite like a snifter of Courvoisier. Some reach for the port, others a Brandy Alexander, but me—I love cognac.

With there being thousands of dining options in New York, I want my dining experience to be just that—an experience. I want the restaurant where I dine to grant me access to food and wine that might otherwise be out of my reach. If not, there’s no point in eating out. While I don’t dine in this manner every weekend, I do strive to be the “perfect table” at least once or twice a month. Of course, being the sensible New Yorker that I [almost] am, I always budget for such meals.

The Dark Before the Dawn

“Remember,” they say, “that the darkest hour of all is the hour before day.”- Samuel Lover

The actual dark before dawn.
The actual dark before dawn.

It’s been far too long since I wrote my last blog post. I could give you a laundry list of excuses as to why this is the case, but I don’t believe in excuses. It looks like I’ve allowed myself to fall victim to the “busy trap” once again.

My last blog post was about letting loose and de-stressing, which is ironic, because at the time I wrote it, my stress levels were at an all time high. New York City was wearing me down and instead of attacking back with a can-do attitude, I let it run me over.

In my two-and-a-half years of living in New York City, I’ve found that city life is a constant give and take. Some days I feel the city takes more from me than it gives. Yes, it’s extremely expensive (I’m looking at you, income taxes). Yes, it feels overcrowded at times, bordering on extremely claustrophobic. Yes, people can be rude, not to mention pushy. At the same time, I love everything the city has to offer. Botanical gardens, surfing lessons, Broadway shows, art museums, French films, awkward poetry readings, garage band performances. You name it, New York City has it.

Just another day of reaping what New York is sowing.
Just another day of reaping what New York is sowing.

There’s so much to do in New York that it can be distracting. I still have to make money and even save it, too. It’s hard to save money when I’d rather be out reaping all that New York is sowing. I feel a constant struggle between making money and doing what I love. Part of the issue is that I didn’t quite know what I wanted to do professionally. Being unsure of what you want to do in a place like New York City where you have to be cutthroat to get what you want doesn’t work out so well. For too long, I’ve put what I love to do professionally on the back burner.

Until recently.

A few months ago, I made the decision to return to teaching. Teaching is where I’ve always belonged, I just didn’t realize that until I took a six-year hiatus. Last week, a few days before my 31st birthday, I accepted a classroom teaching position. I couldn’t be more thrilled. I’ve finally turned a professional corner, or at least returned to the right road.

I’m excited to start a new chapter in New York, which is working in a field I so strongly believe in, in a position I’m passionate about. It will be challenging, stressful, and a whole slew of other adjectives, but I’m looking forward to being a position where I can give back to the community of which I’ve grown very fond.

10 Things Someone Can Expect To Learn In the First Year Living In NYC

20130208-023409.jpg On Tuesday, I celebrated one year of living in New York with my two dearest New York friends in the comfort of my Manhattan apartment. Moving to New York City was such a great decision that I decided to honor February 7th, the day I moved to New York, the same way as I do New Year’s. It just so happens that my one friend moved here on the same exact day, so this gives the day added meaning. I couldn’t imagine my New York life without these two friends, so it was only fitting that they came over for dinner. Seasoned New Yorker brought over his cheese biscuits and Fellow Newbie brought this amazing list written on loose leaf paper entitled, “What Someone Can Expect to Learn in the First Year Living in NYC.” Without further adieu, here are 10 things someone can expect to learn in first year living in New York, as told by Fellow Newbie:

train10. The most disgusting things in the whole word can be found on the trains of the NYC subway system.

9. It is inevitable that within your first NYC year you will scream, not yell, not talk loudly, but scream profanities such as “F*ck you!” and “You’re an a**hole!” to a taxi driver.

8. You will realize that hell actually does exist on Earth and it is located on 3rd Avenue between 76th and 77th streets.

7. It is a guarantee that on a day you are walking the city streets with a slight smile on your face, appreciating its greatness, feeling a sense of accomplishment and pride that you actually live here in the amazing city of New York, a semi-truck, cab, or local driver will honk their horn with such a loud prolonged persistence that you will contemplate murdering them.

Times Square6. By the end of your first year, if not by the end of your first month in NYC, the mere thought of having to go anywhere near Times Square makes you want to kill yourself.

5. You will learn that the appropriate and only acceptable attire for women of the Upper East Side is as follows: yoga pants, oversized sweatshirt and/or t-shirt that droops exposing shoulder, unbrushed bed head looking ponytail, aviator sunglasses, a stroller, a coffee, a nanny, and a fake, half-assed man-eating grin that screams, “I’m a rigid c***.”

4. It will become apparent that those women who trudge around the city in heels are nothing more than mere masochists. You will learn that flats are not only appropriate but less of a health hazard. Wearing heels, you are destined to fall on your ass if you hit the wrong pothole, step on a grate, or get shoved by a fellow passerby.

3. The phrase, “Ugh, I need a drink!” will be spoken daily, often before 11 am.

2. You will being to truly contemplate if you can be in a relationship with a gay man. The only men in the city are homosexual and you will inevitably find yourself lusting after one, mentally envisioning your life together regardless of your lack of desired gender.

1. The desire to shoulder check, shove, or hit people with your bag will become an ever-growing rage as people enter and exit the subway.

More importantly, in our first year, hopefully you have the luck to land a truly amazing friendship. One that can withstand the trials and tribulations of the city that will bring you up when you are down, that will laugh with you until you cry and one that will always remind you are not alone in this big city, that will walk or run through this adventure with you, never letting you feel defeated.

Hopefully you find a Sonja.

Food Obsessions

While reading about culinary quests in yesterday’s New York Times Magazine issue on food, I started thinking about my own personal food obsessions. As a food lover and cook, there are many dishes, condiments, and meals that I continually obsess over. I am known to frequent restaurants that are way out of my way just to get eggs done a special way or go to a tucked away specialty store to get my favorite variety of mustard. We all have foods that we can’t live without, and below are the items are my food obsessions:

ImageGigantic salads 
Among family and friends and anyone else for whom I’ve cooked, the gigantic, all-encompassing salad is known as my signature dish. I love when a salad is a full meal. My salads have staples: toasted nuts, grilled veggies, cherry tomatoes. I like to vary the seasonings and proteins I use. Sometimes I’ll throw in bacon, other times grilled salmon or another grilled fish. I like to add cheese shavings, particularly aged gouda. Homemade dressing always.

Pesto
Summer in the Whipp house meant an abundance of pesto on hand. My mom made pesto from the fresh basil in her garden and since I soon became addicted to this sauce, I made sure that I learned how to make the perfect batch of pesto. On many summer mornings, I went to the garden to pluck fresh basil for my pre-swim practice meal. To me, pesto goes with everything; on pasta, in sandwiches, and as dip for carrots. I’ve gone to great lengths to make pesto. Once, at a college dinner party, I resorted to using a mortar and pestle to make pesto because none of us could afford the luxury of a food processor.

ImagePizza
Pizza was always considered a treat when I was young and I still view it as such. When my parents left us with a babysitter, we were treated to pizza. When I dined over at my best friend’s house in elementary school, we were surprised with a pizza from the local pizza joint. I could probably eat pizza every day (in fact, I tried that once when visiting the south of France) and though I eat if often, it always feels like a delicacy. I’ve eaten a lot of pizza in my day, but I’m still convinced Zaffiro’s in Milwaukee is the best pizza I’ve ever had. (Joseph’s in Boston runs a close second.)

ImageBrunch
Who doesn’t like brunch?! I’ll eat it at any time of the day. I love inventive egg scrambles with interesting spices, breakfast burritos, huevos rancheros, savory breakfast meats, coffee, bloody marys dragged through the garden and topped with oysters, the list goes on. I enjoy going out for brunch as much as cooking it in the comfort of my own home. Since moving to New York, I know also enjoy ordering in brunch. A few months ago, my friend and I discovered a great little place in East Harlem that delivers brunch on the cheap and they deliver coffee! The best part is that the food travels incredibly well. I’ve become a big fan of cheap, instant brunch that I don’t have to cook and can enjoy in the comfort of my own home.

Deluxe Grilled Cheese Sandwiches
I do not like plain old grilled cheese sandwiches. What I do like are grilled cheese sandwiches stuffed with meats, vegetables, maybe even a crabcake or two. It’s fun to experiment with making melts because the possibilities are endless. You can vary the bread you use, the kind of cheese, the sauce you put on the sandwich, the kind of bacon, etc. Never met a deluxe grilled cheese that I didn’t like. If you need inspiration, check out the Wisconsin Board of Cheese’s Grilled Cheese Academy for recipes (and food porn).

Mustard
My favorite condiment. I’m partial to Grey Poupon, especially of the Country Dijon variety. I put mustard on sandwiches, in dressing, and on crackers. I’ve been meaning to get to the National Mustard Museum in Wisconsin, but time has not permitted. Yet.

Bacon

ImageSimilar to brunch, I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like bacon (except for my vegetarian friend). Like pizza, I could also eat bacon at every meal. I was delighted to find this “Bacon 25 Ways” article in Sunday’s Times magazine and have already vowed to make all of the dishes. Recently, I discovered the joys of bacon infused whiskey and yes, it is delicious.

What are your food obsessions? Anything you think I’ve missed? Anything I’ve mentioned that you can’t stand? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Take Off Your Headphones

ImageWhile going to the laundromat isn’t necessarily my most favorite pastime, I do welcome the allotted amount of freedom that doing laundry provides. This free time allows me to read to the paper, work on the Times crossword puzzle, listen to music, and tweet.

Today, I found myself in the chairs of the neighborhood laundromat reading the Times and blasting music into my headphones. A cool breeze blew through the somewhat stuffy laundromat as I read about a cheating scandal and an unlikely nude beach in Wisconsin.

Amidst my reading, I noticed that an older, tiny woman sat down in the chair next to me. All of the other chairs in the laundromat were empty, but the woman chose to sit directly next to me. I’ve often found that any time I’m sitting in an empty place, whether it’s a movie theater, a train, or a bus, people always tend to pick the one seat directly next to me. As soon as she sat down, she motioned to my headphones.

“You should be careful not to have those in your ears too often,” she said. “Take if from me, I’m hard of hearing and hearing aids are expensive!” I laughed and thanked her for the kind advice. I never much thought about the price of hearing aids, but I welcome any advice on how to save money. I took off my headphones and turned off my music so that I could open the door for a conversation with this woman. She saw the opportunity and we began chatting a little. Once the conversation ended, I returned to my paper to continue my reading.

As I paged through the paper, I noticed the woman peering over my shoulder. I angled the paper so that she could take a peek as well.

“They’re still talking about her?” she asked, referencing the article about Nora Ephron’s memorial service.

“Yes,” I said. “They just had a memorial service for her. They’re talking about who attended and what they said.” I turned the page and moved on to another article.

“That’s awful!” she said, referencing the next article I read about a brownstone in Brooklyn that collapsed.

“It stood for 150 years! Unbelievable,” I said. She began chatting with me about what it was like to visit her old neighborhood in the Bronx many years later when she was a case worker. The buildings were not as large has she had remembered and you could no longer get ice cream for a nickel at the local store. In fact, there was no local store.

She then pointed out another story that I hadn’t heard about–a story about a boat that capsized during the 4th of July fireworks.

“That guy should be held partially responsible for those drownings. After all, it was his boat!” I skimmed the article for the facts and found that the boat had been filled with many more people than its capacity and there weren’t enough life jackets. Worse, children drowned. Enough of that news for one day. I moved onto the Arts section.

“Is it supposed to rain any time soon?” she asked. I picked up the front section and turned to the back where the weather reports are printed.

“Not until Saturday,” I said, quickly skimming. Our conversation came to a halt when it was time for her to move her laundry from the washer to the dryer. I got up to fold my laundry that had finished drying.

As I began folding bath towels and t-shirts, I found myself next to the woman again as she was looking to put her laundry into the dryer. It happened to be just as I took a Wisconsin Badgers t-shirt out of the dryer and began folding. Her eyes widened with excitement.

“Did you attend Wisconsin?” she asked.

“I’m from there!” I said.

“I went to Michigan State. From 1953-1956.”

“Big rivals!” I said.

“My brother went to Minnesota,” she said.

“Another rival!” I said.

“Back in those days, there were only 14,000 people at Michigan State. So our professors new us. That was nice,” she said.

“Only 14,000 people back then? Wow,” I said.

“We went to the Rose Bowl. I didn’t even ask permission from my father. And in those days, there were no planes. We took the train. I can’t even remember if the band was there or not,” she said. The Rose Bowl! The Badgers have played in the Rose Bowl for the past 2 years so I’m no stranger to the hype surrounding the game and the travel plans involved. To think that this woman attended that game in the early ‘50s as a young college student and took the Union Pacific to get there and 60 years later we’re standing face-to-face in a New York City laundromat. Before this conversation, she was just a little old lady doing her laundry, but now, she was something more. A woman of the world.

I had finished folding my laundry and it was time to go.

“It was so nice to meet you,” I said. “Have a great day.”

As I walked back to my apartment, clean laundry in hand, I thought about how glad I was that I took off my headphones. You never quite know who you’re going to run into in this city and it’s such a treat when someone takes the time to talk to you and share their story. I’m also glad this woman took the time to look out for the wellbeing of my eardrums. Especially with the price of hearing aids being so high. I will be certain to take off my headphones more often.