B.U.É.K.! That Great Hungarian Abbreviation!

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One day my first year in Budapest I was giving my third graders a lesson on abbreviations. Kids like abbreviations. When given a choice, they will always choose to abbreviate a word rather than write it all out. For children, it’s way more fun to write Jan. than January and U.S.A. than the United States of America. After making a list of abbreviations on the white board, I asked my students to tell me their favorites. Kids have favorite foods, sports, and subjects in school. Why not have a favorite abbreviation? Continue reading

Hungarian Stripes: Who Knew?!@#!

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We’ve all heard of coats of arms and crests to identify one’s family, but years ago in this part of Europe, when setting off to the miller – Hungarians used something I’d never heard of before. Stripes! Yes, in the days when farmers carted sacks of wheat or other grain to the miller’s to grind into flour, the miller needed some way to identify the sacks. So, each family’s sacks had their own, unique set of stripes. The women would weave them right into the home-spun cloth. One family might have wide red stripes, another narrow blue, a third a combination of both, etc. Sometimes, if two families’ stripes were similar, they’d even embroider their initials. I find this utterly charming, and ever since I discovered it have been trying to figure out what stripes I would have chosen. If you were dropping off sacks at the miller, what would your stripes look like?

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A Tribute to Hungarian Strudel!

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Fall’s here, and I miss Nora Ephron. Leukemia took the brilliant writer and humorist over a year ago. I don’t like to think about it. It’s at this time of year that I like to grab a quilt and curl up on the couch with one of her movies: When Harry Met SallySleepless in Seattle, or You’ve Got Mail. Hers are the only films that I rewind just to hear the writing. Always sharp and honest, Ephron lifted me with her wit; she was unmatched in delivering the punchline. One of my favorite Ephron essays is her New York Times piece about Hungarian strudel, called rétes here. After having eaten bakeries full over the years, I appreciate the essay even more now. If you’re not familiar with it, I’ll share it with you here. In fact, I think right after I post this, I’m going to go out and get myself a fresh, double-sized piece of rétes and eat it while I run one of Ephron’s films. Boy, do I miss her. Continue reading

Dobos Torta: The Cake with the Secret Recipe!

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When I was in kindergarten, my teacher put on a pageant for the parents, and I was part of the Angel Band. Nine of us little angels stood in a line with tinsel halos and cardboard wings covered with aluminum foil. Each held an instrument. After the other eight angels played their triangles and shook their rattles, I was to give my drum one giant wallop. Well, boy did I.  When my turn finally came, I banged that drum so hard, one cardboard wing snapped off and my halo went flying. It was one of my proudest moments. Continue reading

International Day: Just What the World Needs

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I’m a crier. I get teary when I see a father holding his child’s hand on the way to school. I choke up reading Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree to my students. I can’t read A Hundred Dresses or Crow Boy without holding back tears, either. Heck, I get weepy when I watch the first aid training video at work and the dummy needs CPR. Last week, I was reading a sentimental picture book to my third graders when one called out, “Mr. Done, why aren’t you crying yet?” Continue reading

The Reminder: Out of the Mouths of Babes

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I was having a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Teacher Day. I’d arrived to school late, forgotten a meeting, misplaced my lesson plan book, and dunked the tip of my World’s Greatest Teacher tie into my coffee mug. It was only 9:30 a.m. I’d already been feeling overwhelmed. Report cards were due soon, and my assessments weren’t complete. My principal wanted all the teachers to launch new web pages, and I’d barely begun. Goal conferences with the parents were coming up for which all students had to write personal goals plus plans for how they’d accomplish them. My students hadn’t even started.

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Tokaji: The Wine of Kings & King of Wines!

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What do Frederick the Great, Beethoven, and Thomas Jefferson all have in common? They all loved their Tokaji Aszú. This famous, full-bodied, amber-colored dessert wine comes from Hungary’s Tokaj-Hegyalja wine region, a World Heritage Site honored with the oldest classification of vineyards in the world. Tokaji Aszú is made from late-ripened grapes affected by a mold that concentrates sugars into marmalade-like sweetness. Highly esteemed, the region’s vines are even heralded in the Hungarian national anthem. Continue reading