Grandma’s Best Recipe


Grandma’s Best Recipe

When I am in the kitchen, my grandmother is in my mind. I was lucky enough to inherit her metal measuring cups and her set of well-used pots and pans.

Antique measuring cups isolated on white background.Her voice is always there when I cook, but especially when I do something old-fashioned like bake from scratch, wear an apron,  or “put up” fruits, vegetables, or jams for the winter. I only do a few things, strawberry jam, canned peaches, canned tomatoes, but it is enough to keep her present with me.

This Christmas I finally approximated her delicious yeast rolls after quite a bit of trial and error. Eating them on Christmas Day with my family was like having a bit of her with us again.


Take a 1/2 Cup of Time

Mom taught for a few years after I was born and until my little brother, Mike, arrived. During those years, my two grandmothers kept me, alternating every two weeks.  Unfortunately, my maternal grandmother passed away when I was four. Our story is for another day. Besides Grandma babysitting me during the school year, I always went to stay with her during the summer for a week. This was a family tradition that was much watered down by the time it got to me. My dad used to travel from Akron (well, I guess someone drove him) from the ages of 7 to 11, to stay with HIS grandparents on their farm on Carroll-Eastern Road. In the 40’s, this would have been a long trip—not just a couple of hours. He would then stay for as much as 6 weeks. He was driving a tractor by the age of 8, although he was scared to death to do it. After the age of 11, his folks, my grandparents, moved down to the Baltimore area again and he was over at his grandparents all the time, working and helping out on the farm. The tradition of dedicating time to go stay with grandparents had been put in place. This is all a long way to say that I treasured those weeks in the summer with Grandma when we wouldn’t do anything special except be. There was no planning of special activities; I just went along with whatever Grandma had planned for her day. And that was okay.

As a little girl, I was often perched on the kitchen counter next to her as she cooked three meals a day. The breakfasts were smaller during my time with her, but lunch and dinner were both full, hot meals. To eat at a restaurant was a special treat; to eat at a restaurant like we do today was unheard of. When my dad was growing up on the farm, he famously ate a half dozen eggs, a rasher of bacon, and a mixing bowl full of cereal—with fresh, whole milk, of course–every day for breakfast.  I can only assume there was also toast involved. This was during the time that he had to milk the cows before school, played sports after school, and was growing like and into a 6’4” weed.



Dad, Mom, Grandma and me, 1966. She is a few years younger here than I am now.

As I kept her company during her work in the kitchen and elsewhere, she would tell me tales of the family. Grandma’s mother, Martha, was the “saving-est” person ever was. This was said with great reverence as she described my great-grandma not even using a match to light the stove (this would have been in the 1920’s and 30’s), but rather rolling a piece of newspaper into a cone, lighting it by the kerosene lamp, and then transferring the fire to the stove. During the Great Depression, Great-Grandma made 9 quilts to sell to help keep the family afloat. Nine! By hand!

Another person she loved to talk about, of course, was my dad. He grew so much one summer, they didn’t know him when he went back to school in the fall! To my little girl mind, I believed this very literally and imagined my dad having to introduce himself to classmates and teachers that he had known his entire life. 

Another summer he was sick with chicken pox or something and was in bed with a fever. There was an incident with Beauty, the prize Holstein who gave the richest milk, and who had a white blaze in the shape of the state of Ohio on her forehead (see below). One day during Dad’s illness, she had fallen in the creek, and Grandma couldn’t get her out; Grandpa was at work.


Dad with Beauty, early 50’s

Cows are naturally not the most nimble of animals, and Beauty had managed to go down on her forelegs in water up to her chest. Keeping her head above the water was imperative and nearly impossible. I don’t know if he heard Grandma yelling or what, but Dad had to rise from his sickbed to rescue the foundering heifer from the creek. Good thing he ate all those huge breakfasts!

Another bit of lore was how he got a cherry pit stuck under his tongue, it swelled up, and he almost swallowed it! (His tongue, not the cherry pit). Apparently, my dad is allergic to certain cherries—THAT’S what caused the swelling, etc—but how dramatic! *Correction: It wasn’t a cherry pit that got stuck under his tongue, but rather a splinter! When they removed it, it left a hole. He must have eaten tart cherries right after that which caused his tongue to swell. Are the two things really related? Well, surely if you know my dad, you are shaking your head about now. He IS still allergic and I’M not going to argue with him about the “splinter-hole”. What we do know for sure is that Grandma’s stories never lacked flair.

1/3 Cup of Frugality

I can still see Grandma measuring batter from the 1/3 measuring cup into a muffin tin and cleaning out the cup with her sturdy square-tipped fingers. There was very little waste in Grandma’s kitchen. When cooking, one scraped every last drop out of the bowl before putting it in the sink to be washed by hand.

Even table scraps—those that couldn’t be composted—were saved for Great-Aunt Dorothy’s cats. Aunt Dorothy lived on a sheep farm at that time and had quite a few barn cats. I don’t know how it worked exactly, but Grandma would fill up a cardboard milk container with table scraps piled willy-nilly in it and take it over to Aunt Dorothy’s farm on Bickel-Church Road.

There was a compost pile, of course, for fruit and vegetable waste. Grandma also put coffee grounds around her trees for their nutrition. Just another reason to stop using a Keurig!

1 Heaping Cup of Industry

Back in the 40’s, with her Victory Garden, there was a summer when she preserved over 200 quarts of foodstuffs that she kept in the fruit cellar at the farm. I wish I had written down how much of each thing she had done when she recounted that season to me. In her words, she was “very workative” that summer.  I’ll say.

There was a china cup that sat by the sink from which she drank coffee; she drank so much coffee for so many years, that the kitchen counter had a permanent coffee stain ring on it that no amount of scrubbing could remove. We found out later that she used to drink 16 cups of coffee a day. With a note of wonder in her voice, she recalled, “I used to get so much done!”

Sprinkle Liberally with Perseverance

When I was a young mother, I was, of course, interested in providing nutritious fare for my little ones. Grandma loved to help out with things in this vein. So one summer, I went to her house to freeze apples for applesauce, apple pie, apple crisp, etc. She had a couple of apple trees in her backyard which had a bumper crop of apples every year. As we started peeling and slicing a bushel or two of apples, she said, “You have to be like an old-fashioned woman today and stick with it until the job is done.” I had intended to do that, of course, but how often do folks today NOT stick with something until it’s done? The very fact that she felt she needed to mention it still sits there, hard in my mind. I haven’t forgotten that lesson.  As I use Grandma’s measuring cups and pots and pans daily, a piece of her is with me. When I feel tired sometimes, I think, “Freeda wouldn’t quit because she was tired.” And she wouldn’t have.

Mix Well and Serve with Love

Those humble measuring cups and sturdy pots provide a daily reminder of the precious lessons learned from Grandma: homemade is best, time is a priceless gift, waste not, work hard and often, finish what you start. What a legacy she gave to me.


Grandma and me at a holiday dinner, 1972
She is buttering one of her famous rolls.

A Case of the Worms and What I Learned about Managing my Classroom

Several experiences over the last few weeks got me to thinking about the baptism by fire that is the first year of teaching. One of my former standouts in Spanish class let me know via the miracle of social media that she will be doing Teach for America next year. Another lovely young woman reported that she will be a teaching assistant at her university. Yet another family friend is currently in her first year of teaching special needs middle school students, and her parents were regaling us with stories about her day to day adventures. The young woman doing Teach for America said she would appreciate some hints for working with difficult-to-reach students, so here goes.

downloadFirstly, why is it a “baptism by fire?” It’s hard to explain to someone not in education, but the reality of one’s first year of teaching is that it is a perfect storm of learning one’s craft versus being foiled at every turn by reality. No matter how well the teacher college at your university prepared you—and in my experience with student teachers, the universities are doing a good job—the fact that you are dealing with human capital means that nothing is predictable. Like many things, this is a profession that you must learn by IMMERSING yourself in it, not by learning ABOUT it.

My first year of teaching, I taught Spanish I and 11th grade “Basic” (not the honors kids, fyi) English. I still feel okay about the job I did in the 4 Spanish I classes because I had done my student teaching in Spanish. The English classes were a different story. I had not student taught in that subject despite double majoring in English and Spanish and getting my teaching certificate in both. I’ve always been my harshest critic, but I felt less than confident about the job I did in that subject area. Still, I got through it and did a better job the second year.

How did the cosmos conspire against me? First of all, there was a shortage of space in the school (which has been a problem in all 4 high schools I’ve taught in). As such, I taught in the band room. I had collapsible desks that we put up and took down three times a day, since I taught in that room before and after the band used it and then they used it after school. That was a lot of nonsense, but nothing I couldn’t handle. The icing on the cake was what I’m going to tell you next.

This particular high school had been built during the energy efficiency craze of the 1970’s, i.e. it had no windows. In fact, despite changing school districts, it would be 19 years before I taught in a classroom with windows. I think it is criminal to have to work/learn/be without windows, but I digress. The second problem with the building was that it was completely constructed out of cement block—which had never been painted. Ugh. The third and final problem was that it had been built on a rather low-lying field and the grounds around it were perennially wet. When it rained—and guess what, it was Ohio, so it rained a lot—worms would find their way under the door to the band room (it had an outside egress) and would prostrate themselves all over the red carpet in a desperate quest for safe habitat. Instead of safety, what they found was a group sacrifice reminiscent of Jamestown minus the Kool Aid. When I would come in to the room in the morning, it was completely normal for the custodian, dear Dale, to be vacuuming up the worms. images-1It was a very large room and there were a whole big bunch of worms covering it. Eventually, Dale made a salt dam around the cement pad on the outside of the door so that the worms could commit hari-kari outside the building and I could teach in a worm-free environment. 

Another bit of nonsense that I had to deal with as a baby teacher was the fact that I was very young when I started. My birthday is in September, so I was still 21 for a few weeks at the start of the school year. Some of my students in Basic English 11 were 19. They smoked and had tattoos. I kept a can of air freshener for the room after they left each morning because it smelled like such an ashtray. I managed them, but just barely. One of them was particularly hard to like. Since it was 1986, he was 135 pounds of mullet-headed, tank top-wearing, lightly-mustached bad attitude. He hated me, but he loved to stare at my chest. Experienced teacher me would have handled Mullet-Boy so much differently. Baby teacher me just ignored his horribleness most of the time and prayed for the period to end. Here is an approximation of his likeness: images-2

Paying It Forward

All of this is a long-winded way to say that novice teachers are on my mind. What words can I offer them to give them some guidance in case they have a case of the worms or have to deal with a Mullet-Boy?

1. In a previous post I wrote about relationships. That’s the key, so start there. I wasn’t able to cultivate a healthy relationship with Mullet-Boy; I don’t know if it would have been possible, but I didn’t have the tools I needed at the time. Rapport, the human touch, being relatable—that’s where good classroom management starts.

2. If a student requires some kind of discipline, try your absolute best to deal with the discipline privately. In other words, allow the student to save face—and you, too, while you’re at it. A calm (or calmer) discussion in the hallway is generally a good idea.

3. Do NOT send your students to the office for every single infraction. Try to manage the behavior in your space on your own. That being said, when something keeps happening, or it’s something pretty egregious, don’t be afraid to go to your administrative team for help. It has been my experience that your admin will have your back if he or she knows you’re doing your level best to handle things on your own and that you wouldn’t ask if you didn’t need to. There were many times as I mentored a novice teacher who was out of ideas for trying to change a child’s behavior. At those times, one of the suggestions could be that it was time to “go to the office” for help.

4. Some magic words that I learned were, “Let’s have a fresh start tomorrow.” Sometimes this is accompanied by assurances that you are not going to hold whatever the kid did against him/her. Sometimes this is accompanied by an apology on YOUR part—maybe you feel bad (and it’s bad, not badly, btw—you don’t say “I feel sadly”, do you?) that you flew off the handle or that you didn’t handle the situation as well as you could’ve. Taking some ownership for the interaction if it is appropriate can be powerful.

4a. To continue with #4, one of my former all-stars who has been in the classroom for 6 or so years says that she was surprised to find that kids themselves usually don’t hold grudges (I’ve experienced some notable exceptions, but she’s mostly right). They WANT to have a good existence for the time that they’re in your class. Allow them the gift of acting like the previous day’s nonsense didn’t happen. We all need that sometimes.

5. Lastly, do NOT be afraid to call home or to request a parent/teacher conference. Nine times out of ten, it will help the situation (there’s always that one…). A face to face (or at least voice to voice) conversation ensures that the parents are in the loop about what’s happening and that they have ALL the information. In all honesty, sometimes I did this and sometimes I put it off because of nerves. I can see now that I should have done it more—especially as a less-experienced teacher. Even if a student absolutely drives you nuts, for the moments you are working with him/her and the moments you are talking to that child’s parent, you MUST be a professional. It is NOT personal. You CAN and WILL be able to muster up concern for that child even if you’re not really “feelin’ it.” download-1


This ended up being more about classroom management than reaching difficult kids (I think?), but I hope something is useful. In the comments below, feel free to add other ideas for this subject or to propose a new topic.

All my best,


**Disclaimer—while I’ve not always had ALL of the very easiest of children as members of my classroom, I would be disingenuous if I did not admit that I have never taught in a really “tough” or “inner-city” environment. For the most part my administrators were supportive and I had the respect and support of my colleagues and families. My last few years were an absolute dream.

The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same

I started teaching in the fall of 1986.  Let me also say that my parents, my husband, my in-laws, and my son were/are all teachers too, so I might be a little hyper-aware to educational issues.  In the fall of ’86, I was hired into a rural school outside of Springfield, Ohio.  I had 2 preps (teacher shorthand for preparations, meaning classes that were in my teaching load).  At that school a normal load was to teach 6 classes, so roughly 150 students.  In subsequent years at that school, I had 4 preps, and always 6 classes.  We were expected to do all the usual things that teachers have to do:  prepare for class, impart knowledge, assign homework and give tests, grade those materials, average grades (with a calculator), handwrite interim reports and grade cards, maintain order in our classes, and contact parents if and when necessary.  Our principal required us to hand in a 6 week goals and objectives sheet (which was roundly derided by all) and he, of course, was required to observe us maybe twice a year.  I honestly have no recollection of being formally observed with the requisite paperwork, but do remember him sitting in my class every now and then—as he should have.  That was pretty much it.  The kids were pretty good—I still keep in touch with some of them today, and they have been wildly successful considering their humble roots—but that’s a story for another day.  The staff was also filled with wonderful teachers and some slouches just as every other staff I’ve ever worked with has been.  Schools reflect real life, after all.

As way led onto way, my husband and I decided to move to the Columbus area and I took a job in another rural district for a year and then ended up in a very large suburban district where I taught until I retired last May (25 years in that district alone).  The school that I last worked in is regularly ranked in all the ‘top’ rankings there are.  I was proud to teach there, but am ecstatic in my retirement.  So how was my job different in 2018 than it was 32 years ago?  Where to begin?

The One Constant: Relationships

I think I’ll begin with the one constant in all 32 years—relationships. Relationships remain THE most important aspect in education—or really in life. Relationships were important when my dad started teaching in 1961, they were important when I retired in May, and they are important to my son as he teaches now. Why? Why are relationships so important?images-4

The educational axiom, “Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care,” has been attributed to Theodore Roosevelt. Nowhere is this more true than in the classroom. It seems that teachers that have the knack of creating good relationships with their students often are able to get more out of their students; certainly, the students enjoy being in the classroom more with teachers with whom they have good relationships. To truly great teachers, this piece, this relationship-building, comes naturally. It is like breathing. What is it that teachers (or anyone, really) who are good at relationships do? How can you improve your relationships?

1. Be confident

images-2The teacher (leader, manager, parent, friend, co-worker, owner, etc) is confident but not condescending. The teacher is warm without crossing important personal boundaries. The teacher is not judgmental or mean-spirited. The teacher lets it be known that it is OKAY to make MISTAKES. MISTAKES = LEARNING. The teacher might even make a mistake herself and should always own up to it. Be confident in the job you’re doing and that you’re giving it your best effort.

2. Be organized

Organization and executive functioning skills don’t come naturally to everyone. If you are someone to whom they don’t come easily, take the necessary steps to change. A disorganized person does not elicit confidence in the job they are doing and causes unnecessary stress and upset to the students (or employees or family members, etc). Relationships are not fostered when a teacher loses an assignment, doesn’t get those papers graded, and/or doesn’t follow through with planning for the trajectory of the course.

3. Be funny or fun if you can

Is anything worth doing without a sense of humor? The class should know that there is plenty of room for laughing together at situations that occur but that it isn’t okay to laugh at someone. The teacher should be the first one to laugh at herself. Even a somewhat serious person can play a game or two in class every now and then. A serious person can also have candy for prizes. In fact, candy for prizes is a sure-fire, relationship win!



4. Be present

First and foremost a good teacher knows the name of every student. A good relationship with those students is based on the teacher knowing something personal about each one. This is so very easy to cultivate—either explicitly or implicitly with small conversations as you greet them each day, asking them to take some sort of survey at the beginning of the year, journal entries for world language or writing students, etc. Beyond taking an interest in them personally, how the teacher acts within the classroom dynamic is important as well. Be willing to help, listen ACTIVELY, focus on the student in front of you. So many times young people just need someone to listen to them. It is a good thing when adults haven’t forgotten what it’s like to be young, and all the angst and feelings that go with it.

5. Be authentic

Little personality quirks or habits that helped me to form good relationships might not work for another person. I loved to give nicknames to kids, I was quite sarcastic most of the time—but NEVER in a mean way, and I gave kids sincere compliments and encouragement. Another teacher might have a different set of behaviors that work for him. Regardless, it’s important to be real and be yourself. Being yourself doesn’t mean, however, that you should share your personal problems with young people. It’s okay to share tidbits here and there about yourself, but kids do not need to know every detail of your divorce proceedings. Connecting with them about pets, hobbies, things you enjoy (or maybe hate!) make you relatable to them.  Finding common ground is paramount to a good relationship.

6. Be humble


It took me a long time to be able to admit that I didn’t know the entire Spanish dictionary. Admitting that I’m a learner too, helps the students in their learning journey. When a student would ask a word in Spanish that I didn’t know, I would simply say, “I don’t know; let’s look it up!” Learning WITH the student is powerful. Treating students as equal, sentient beings is important. They know you’re older and more savvy than they; there is no need to act superior just because of your age. Engendering the feeling that we’re all in this together goes a long way toward building good relationships.

7. Be vulnerable

This one comes with a word of caution. As I said above, don’t pretend to have all the answers.  Certainly, you should have an incredible amount of answers as the leader in the classroom, but there WILL be times when you don’t have the answer—and that’s OKAY. You, too, are a human being. Being vulnerable doesn’t mean you talk about all your innermost feelings to the students, it just means that you show and share your humanity.

8. Be honest

There comes a time in every teacher’s career when they make a mistake. Maybe a grade wasn’t calculated correctly, maybe the test key had an error, and the list goes on and on.  The very best way to handle this is to be up front, name the problem, and TAKE RESPONSIBILITY. A sincere apology does wonders for relationships—with students AND parents. Kids can smell a lie a mile away. images-5Parents appreciate straight talk—especially when they may have been expecting a confrontation. “What can I do to make this right?” is a powerful relationship builder. In another vein, not every thing one has to learn is all bells and whistles. Sometimes, you have to have a little straight up learning to get to the exciting stuff where you get to apply what you’ve learned. Be honest about all that too. As Mary Poppins said, “A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down!”

9. Be open

Be open to new ideas, suggestions from peers, AND suggestions from the CLASS. Letting a lesson go in a different direction can be powerful. Flexibility before, during, and after a lesson is one of the hallmarks of good teaching—and it is also good for relationships! Don’t throw out everything you’ve used before or all your tried and true methods, though. The new and the old can and should go hand in hand to create a robust teaching/learning dynamic.

10. Be the leader

It is your space, the classroom, make it welcoming. It is your time, the class, make it worthwhile. It is your subject area, the lesson, make it meaningful and real. If you aren’t passionate about what you’re teaching, how can you expect a child to be? Let your excitement for your subject(s) show!



This list is at least a start for examining the qualities of people who build good relationships, specifically the teacher-student relationship. I hope that I’ve not omitted something really important and I also hope that the reader has some good food for thought. Thanks for reading!

My Single Step

Thanks for joining me! I suspect if you’re here, you are a family member, friend, or former student or colleague.  Thank you for taking time to visit! If you are NOT one of the aforementioned folks, here is a little bit about me.

My name is Marla Morris and I taught Spanish (among quite a few other things) for 32 years and lived to tell about it. After teaching for 32 years, my husband and I both decided that the time was right to retire.  His reasons for doing so are his own, but I’d like to share mine with you.  In English, our word is “retired” for this phase of life.  That word evokes images of fading away, of resting, of a lack of vibrancy.  In Spanish (that beautiful language I dedicated my life to), the idea is completely opposite–as is often the case.  The Spanish word for this phase of life is “jubilarse”, to become jubilant.  What a happy thought!  The images this evokes for me are ones of having time to live the creative, devoted, purposeful life I’ve never had time for.  The ideas I have about “mi jubilación” are ones that will feed a part of my psyche that has been dormant, just waiting to be given oxygen.

Spending all that time around youngsters led me to believe that I like to help people and I have a few opinions about how best to do that. Working in a high-achieving school district in Ohio led me to be called upon to serve in many capacities as well–committee volunteer extraordinaire, department head, lead teacher, you get the idea. As such, I often find myself with SOME THOUGHTS, so this blog is my first step to begin a journey of sharing and reflecting with a larger (I hope) audience.

So. Here we are.

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Lao-tzuThe Way of Lao-tzu