Monthly Archives: October 2017

Teaching Tuesday: PSAT blues

I hate standardized testing. I mean, I really, really, really hate it. Not that I actually know a single teacher who is in favor of standardized testing. At least not in the quantities we have to do it.

I understand the standardized diagnostic test we give to all students in the English department during the first week of school. Each grade level has a test that has been compiled by members of my department using a standardized test questioning website in order to gauge where are students are at the start of the year. We use a similar, skills based diagnostic at the end of the year to help us measure their progress. We use this data to guide our lesson planning, create additional practice activities for students who need them and so that we can address overall weaknesses we see in students both at the high school and middle school level. It’s a great way for us to make sure we are aligning our curriculum 6-12.

However, with in the first month of school we also use NWEA to test all of the 9th and 10th graders in the entire school. Students take these tests so we can get a broader picture of where all of our students are in English, math and biology in order to better prepare them for the state mandated standardized testing they will have to do later in the year.

Today, during the third day of our second quarter, we gave all sophomores and juniors the PSAT. In order not to leave 9th and 12th graders out, they also got to spend part of the day testing. 9th graders took a pre-PSAT test (yes, you read that right) and 12th graders took the ASVAB test.

Since today was a late start day (due to PLCs), we started testing students at 9:20. Even with the speed bubbling of the required student biographical information The College Board requires, students tested for 3 solid hours. And when I say 3 solid hours, I mean most classrooms started testing at about 9:45 and finished up at 1:00.

We then had 2.5 hours to get in 4 classes. If this time could have been divided evenly, instead of our normal 85 minute blocks, we would have had 37 minutes in each class. While this is an abysmal amount of time, even it would have been better than what we got. Since we had to figure in a 25 minute lunch period for everyone and our student body is large enough that it requires 3 lunches AND we had to have passing periods to get from one class to the next, 3rd block (which is our lunch period) met for 60 minutes and the other three classes each met for 15 minutes.

Wanna guess what can be effectively taught in 15 minutes after students have spent over four hours in testing rooms and not gotten lunch until 1-1.5 hours after their usual lunch time?

Yep, you guessed it: absolutely nothing! The best I could do was explain the homework they needed to do in order to prepare for the next class. Although we’d known about the testing for weeks, we were originally told testing would be finished by 12:30, which would have allowed for over double the class time we got. So we all planned for mini-lessons. As short as those lessons would have been, they would have meant some real instructional time. Alas, it was not to be and we had to scramble at the last minute.

Now, I should be clear that I do find value in the PSAT. However, considering that we have another week of NWEA testing coming up in December, and ECA make up testing for seniors who have not yet passed the test (they need it to graduate) and the actual finals we are required to give in each of our classes, this entire loss of a day is frustrating. Especially when coupled with the additional two weeks of NWEA testing we’ll have to do in the spring; the nearly four weeks of ISTEP testing that will go on in March and  April; and AP testing, final course diagnostic testing and spring finals in May. And in addition to all of this testing is the fact that in order to prepare students for the ISTEP test, every single teacher in every single block has to do 11 constructed writing activities between November and February–even if we don’t teach students who have to take the test. Plus, all of our sophomores have to spend 15 of their 25 minute Student Resource Time every day completing math practice questions on Study Island. At times it feels like all we are doing is testing and teaching kids how to take those tests.

It’s no wonder so many kids dislike school.

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Chocolate Monday: Droga Money on Honey

Money on honey close upYesterday I met some of my favorite former students at Starbucks. While one of them has a coffee habit that might single-handedly keep that particular store in business, I am not only NOT much of a coffee fan, but I’m really not a Starbucks fan. It’s not the crazy, over the top commercialism of the chain. It’s not the cold, uninviting atmosphere (and darn uncomfortable chairs). It’s not even that I don’t really like coffee much. I have a special dislike of their coffee because it always seems extra bitter to me. Not to mention that I’ve never once had a good cup of chai, my coffee shop standby, at Starbucks.

Since Starbucks bought Teavana a few years ago, I’m actually not quite as disappointed when someone suggests we meet there. I actually enjoy many of Teavana’s teas, so if I’m going to be stuck in a Starbucks, at least I can get a cup of Peach Tranquility or Pineapple Kona Pop herbal tea to make my visit more enjoyable. Sure, I’ll still be uncomfortable while I’m in the joint, but at least my tea will be good.

I’d just finished a rather huge travel mug of David’s Tea before I pulled up in the Starbucks lot, so I wasn’t really in a tea mood. I broke tradition and ordered a salted caramel mocha. As usual, I was greatly disappointed. It was just too coffee for my taste. I managed to drink most of it, but more out of habit than enjoyment.

Money on honey wrapperWhile my beverage was a let down, I was pretty excited about a snack item I noticed on the rack next to our table. I saw the bright white and yellow package for Money on Honey wildflower honey caramels. Even though the wrapper said it was dark chocolate, the idea of a honey infused caramel was too tempting for me to pass up. I LOVE honey in pretty much any form it wants to take. My favorite way to eat carrots is steamed and then cooked in some butter, honey and brown sugar. Yum!

Even though I love honey, I have been burned by honey chocolate before. My complaints about honey chocolate are two fold. First, honey is almost always paired with dark chocolate and often the dark chocolate is so overwhelming that the honey is lost. My other complaint, is that often when the bitterness of the dark chocolate doesn’t overwhelm, the honey is still completely underwhelming on its own.

Since Money on Honey is a honey caramel, my hope was that it would be heavy on the buttery taste of caramel and the silky taste of honey so that I would forget these were dark chocolate caramels.

I seriously lucked out. Yes, the dark chocolate is definitely there, but as it melted away and the caramel was left in my mouth, I got a full on blast of honey goodness. It actually reminds me a bit of a Bit O Honey, but only in flavor, not texture. It definitely has the chewy consistency of a caramel, but not the “I could chew this for hours” chewiness of Bit O Honey. It also doesn’t have any of the nuttiness of the Bit O Honey, which is fine. I want my caramels smooth.

money on honey trayThe addition of the sea salt on top of the caramel, which really seems to be the only way caramel is produced these days, helps balance out the sweet of the honey and also distracts from the bitterness of the dark chocolate. I happen to be a pretty big fan of adding salt to very sweet candies–I like the way it confuses my tongue with the sweet and the savory. However, I really do feel like in the last few years it’s gotten almost too cliche. Even though I enjoy the combination, it would be refreshing to find caramel that isn’t salted.

That being said, I’m glad these caramels were salted. These are some of the best caramels I’ve had since I tried Vosges exotic caramels about a decade ago. Vosges bee pollen caramels are good, but I think I might like these even better.

Overall:

Taste: 9/10
Appearance: 6/10
Value: 8/10 (I don’t remember the exact cost of these, but I think they were about $3 for 4 caramels.

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Free Reading Friday: Turtles All the Way Down

Turtles bookI’m not just giving this book 5 stars because I love John Green. Although I do very much love John Green. Especially after seeing him live for the Turtles All the Way Down book tour. John Green is an amazing human being who is funny and poignant and a spectacular writer.

But this review is not about John Green (although I would also give him 5 stars for his excellentness as a human being). This review is about his first book in five years: Turtles All the Way Down. As much as I wanted to read TAtWD the moment it came out, since I am lucky enough to live in one of the tour cities, I bought at ticket which included a signed copy of his book, so I had to wait a little over a week to get it. Of course, I started it that very night.

Like all of Green’s novels, it is a YA novel. This particular book centers on a high school junior named Aza. Aza transcends the usual nerdy, slightly socially awkward protagonist of most of Green’s novels. Unlike his other protagonists, Aza is suffering from some pretty serious mental health issues. Although she tries her best to hide it from her mom and best friend Daisy, Aza gets caught in these thought spirals, which she calls “invasives” that do exactly that: they invade her mind to such a degree that she becomes a danger to herself at times.

When Green was speaking during the tour, he talked quite a lot about psychic pain and a bit about his own struggle with mental illness. His words were extremely personal and it was easy to tell that Aza is a character he connects very deeply with. While he made it clear that his mental illness is not the same as Aza’s, he wanted the audience to know that the book was his attempt to accurately portray what it feels like to struggle with mental illness. As he makes clear in both the novel and on the tour, it is nearly impossible to describe pain, whether it is physical or psychic pain. When doctors ask us to describe the type of pain we are in, words tend to fail us. Grunts, moans and screams cover it best.

A member of the audience, who happens to be a professor at a local university who plans to teach Green’s book next semester, asked him what questions he would like her students to consider about mental illness when discussing this book. Green didn’t so much have a question for them to consider about a message in the book so much as he wanted them to consider whether or not he was able to portray mental illness accurately. He wants to know whether or not Aza’s experiences right true for people who suffer. His goal was not so much to make everyone able to empathize with Aza as it was to just try to give voice to what it’s like to live with mental illness.

While I consider myself very fortunate not to be fighting a life long battle with mental illness, when I lost my father five years ago, I sank into a pretty deep depression. I do not pretend to speak for anyone who suffers on a regular basis, but I think Green did a damn fine job of putting words to what I could not. Not even when doctors asked me to describe what I was going through. I could only communicate my pain in sobs, and not very well at that. However, I found Aza’s words so very fitting. The idea of feeling like you are and are not connected to your body, spiraling thoughts you can’t get out of and the inability to shut out those thoughts were all elements I struggled with. Finding myself swimming in dizziness and panic I could not explain or stop followed by an inability not to weep made me feel like I was so very lost. My depression made me feel like I was not me, but some sort of physical embodiment of the depression that was eating away at me. The monstrous depression took over and I was not sure who I was anymore.

While mine was a temporary depression that has eased over time, Green makes it very clear that Aza, like most people who struggle with mental illness, will not be so lucky. There is no miracle cure. There is surviving and there is moving forward.

I think this book is a crucial read for teens, especially for those who are living with mental illness. After all, “we’re here because we’re here because we’re here because we’re here.”

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Throwback Thursday: Vacationing with kids

Athens playgroundFrom the moment my best friend delivered the devastating news that she’d gotten her dream job–10 hours away from me–I started planning my first visit to see her. It just so happened that her move at the end of July coincided with my school’s very first year on the balanced calendar. In between trips to our favorite coffee shop and last minute movie watching, she was packing up boxes to move three states away and I was putting the finishing touches on my lesson plans.

Although juggling the heartache of her leaving with the extreme stress that comes with the start of each new school year was really weighing me down, I just kept reminding myself that in a little over two months I’d be taking my first trip to see her. I attempted to delude myself into believing that I’d be so caught up in the new semester that it would be easy to forget she was no longer right down the street. Sadly, I’ve never been a great liar…not even to myself.

The time did pass and at the end of the grading period, we loaded the family up and headed to Georgia. Of course, we only stayed with her one night before continuing on to Disney World. After five days that I can only describe as the best family vacation we’ve ever been on, we turned around and headed back to see my best friend.

This time my husband only spent one night before he had to head back home to work, leaving me and the kids behind to spend an amazing week with my best friend and her husband. Although we had no car of our own, it really wasn’t a problem. When my best friend had to teach we either hung around her house doing crafts and taking walks or we went to campus with her and played in the fun park-like area near her building or she lent us her car and we went to local parks. Then, when she was off, she introduced us to a plethora of really fun places for the kids to play while we got to talk.

Since this initial trip, we’ve found some favorite places in Athens that we go back to every single visit.

park bulldogOne of the best parts about visiting Georgia in October is that the weather is usually pretty nice. Unlike Indiana, where the temperatures sometimes sink down into the 40’s, in Georgia the weather rarely dips below 75, which means plenty of outdoor time with the kids. And since my kids LOVE to be outdoors, if it’s not raining, we plan outdoor activities.

This year we got to check out the new World of Wonder park, which is actually part of Southeast Clarke Park. We’d actually visited the park on one of our previous trips and while the playground was pretty cool and the kids had a blast, it was not nearly as epic as the updates are. The playground was actually moved to the other side of the park and now has two separate park areas, one for kids under 5 and one for bigger kids. The bigger kid playground features 10 different slides, a really cool webbed climbing merry-go-round thingamabob, a three-story tree house looking structure for kids to climb, wobbly bridges, tons of swings, lots of room for families to sit and even these really cool porch swings (of sorts) that are in shaded areas. The picture at the top of this blog is from the WOW park. My kids had a blast on it. My son particularly liked the “mushrooms” which were these stepping areas that reminded him of the mushrooms in Mario Bros. He loved the way they sprung beneath his feet as he jumped from one to the next.

My BFF and I loved that we could sit on a lovely shaded bench and talk while my kids ran amuck on the playground. Since we could see just about every area of the playground from our seats, we never lost eye contact with the kids for more than a few seconds. And, since the playground is surrounded mostly be a wide open grassy area (and is completely fenced in), it’s not like they could really wander off anywhere.

Bear Hollow signOn our last full day in Athens we also got to visit one of our favorite places: Memorial Park/The Bear Hollow Zoo. My BFF is not normally a fan of zoos. Like many people, she hates the fact that animals are taken from their natural habitats, forced into cramped spaces (at least compared to how they’d live in the wild) and put on display for our amusement. However, she is a huge supporter of The Bear Hollow Zoo. The reason is simple: The Bear Hollow Zoo only has animals that are native to Georgia and only has animals that have been injured and are in need of rehabilitation and protection. All of the animals in the zoo have been injured and cannot survive on their own. They are brought to the zoo by people who rescue them. Some times the animals can be rehabilitated and released back into the wild, but often times their injuries are so severe that they would not be able to survive in the wild, so instead they get to live out their lives at Bear Hollow. The zoo is fairly small with only less than two dozen animals in it, but it’s pretty cool.

The zoo has a few birds, including two owls, an alligator, three bears, an opposum, a tortoise, an otter, a bobcat, an eagle, deer, turkeys and some reptiles. Every time we’ve gone we’ve been able to see all of the animals, which is pretty cool. Since it is part of the public park system, it’s not fancy, but it’s a great way to spend half an hour with kids.

Bears at Bear HollowAs part of her service learning class, my BFF has her students do volunteer work for the zoo, so she always has some great information to share with me and the kids. One year she even got us a “backstage” tour. We got to feed almost all of the animals (we skipped the alligator and the snakes) and even got to go into some of the enclosures. My daughter still goes on and on about how she fed the bears blueberries. Yes, that’s right, my kids actually fed the bears in this picture yogurt covered blueberries. It was initially pretty terrifying for me to watch, as I was sure they’d lose at least a finger if not an entire hand, but they loved doing it.

Once we finished up at Bear Hollow, we walked down a short wooded path to get to Memorial Park. Although much smaller than the WOW park, it has a fun little playground, which is geared more toward younger children. My son, who is 10, still finds ways to have fun on it, but everything is sized a bit more for my daughter, who is 7. In addition to the playground equipment, Memorial Park also has a large man made lake full of ducks, geese and turtles. There are hundreds of turtles in that lake. And, there are little machines with food in them scattered all around the lake, so once we finished on the playground, I handed my kids a few quarters and we killed another 20 minutes walking around the lake and feeding animals. The turtles were not too quick on the uptake. Most of their food was snatched by very quick little fish. My kids thought that was hysterical.

One great thing about the parks in Athens is that they also feature the famous UGA bulldog. My kids LOVE driving around Athens and looking for bulldogs, which are all over the city. At the parks not only do they get to look, but they get to climb on them as well. My kids have memorized where some of their favorite bulldogs are and they make a game of trying to be the first to spot them. Whenever we find a new one, they get very, very excited.

Not only is Athens the home of my best friend, but it’s also a wonderful place to find great food and some great outdoor family fun.

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Wildcard Wednesday: John Green

Turtles busI love John Green. I make no apologies for this fact and do not hide it from anyone. Not only do I think the guy is a pretty fantastic author, I also LOVE his Crash Course Literature series (and I’m pretty keen on his Crash Course histories too). On top of that, I love the vlog Brothers AND I simply adore all the work John Green does to take very complex topics and make them easier for teenagers to understand.

Most of all, I LOVE that John Green has written six phenomenal books that have helped me truly connect to my students and have brought immense joy (and more than a few tears) to my life.

The Fault in Our Stars was the first book by Green I read. I read it not long after it came out and, coincidentally, not long after I lost my father to cancer. I knew the book was about a teenage girl struggling with cancer, but somehow I didn’t really connect my own experience to it. It wasn’t until I found myself sitting at my son’s taekwando lesson, reading about “the last good day,” that I really just lost it. Despite being in a dojo surrounded by people I did not know, Green’s words struck a powerful chord with me and I sobbed. His description of “the last good day,” broke my heart because just like Green says in the novel, you don’t know it’s the last good day until well after it’s over. And you don’t appreciate it at the time the same way you do in hindsight.

From that moment, I was hooked. I spent the next few weeks reading all of his other books, even though TFiOS remains my favorite. After I finished his books, I turned to everything else John Green and got to know so much more about him and his brother Hank. With the help of some of my students, I learned all about Nerdfighters. My search also led me to some other great books including This Star Won’t Go Out and Behind the Beautiful Forevers. My searches led me to attend The Night Before Our Stars (the early movie premiere) and A Night on the Town (the early movie premiere).

turtles bagMore recently, my love of John Green led me to buy tickets for his Turtles All the Way Down book tour. Since Green and I share a home town, I’ve tried to attend a few other speaking engagements he’s had locally, but I’ve never managed to get tickets–usually because they’ve been held at venues with first come, first serve tickets and I could not take a day off of work AND find a place for my kids to go while I waited for hours outside a speaking venue. But this time the venue was only 10 minutes from my house and on a weeknight during fall break. Plus, the ticket came with an autographed copy of the book. It was a must have.

John and Hank Green put on quite a show. I found myself laughing out loud more times than I could count. Sometimes I wasn’t even quite sure why it was so funny. For example, after John’s initial welcome and reading from the novel, he introduced Professor Lawrence Turtleman who came out and gave a Power Point presentation on taxonomy and phylogeny. While I had no idea why this was going on (I hadn’t read the book yet), the fact that Hank Green came out in a ridiculous turtle costume and made a very passable attempt at a biology lecture was hysterical. Everything about his energy and his commitment to the bit (which he tried to claim wasn’t a bit) was wonderful. When John came out at the end and could barely contain his own laughter as he mentioned how much he loves that portion of the show (and how much his kids, who were in the audience) also love it, it was great.

As part of the show, Hank and John did an impromptu vlog brothers bit, which again nearly had me rolling on the floor at times. Their energy is amazing. I loved Hank’s cheery, if slightly creepy optimism mixed with John’s hopeful cynicism. They are amazing compliments to each other. When they answered multiple questions from middle school teachers and started deciding about their placement in the afterlife, well, it was golden.

I also loved when John answered Indianapolis specific questions. I won’t lie, it’s pretty cool reading books set in my home town. It’s even cooler that a few very big landmarks in both TFiOS and TAtWD take place right by my house. I especially loved that when asked why anyone would have to jump on 465 (the circular highway that runs around the entire city) to get to 86th and Ditch, he admitted that he totally fudged the geography of the city to help create his metaphor. It was pretty funny as he knew we’d be the only city to grill him on those details.

What amazed me most about the show Hank and John put on was not just how funny it was. Spend 5 minutes watching any of their videos or John’s Crash Course videos and you’ll know he’s quite funny. No, what amazed me is how easily he used humor to transition into some pretty serious subjects. Since his book deals with a teenager who is struggling with mental illness, a lot of what he talked about dealt not just with his character’s metal illness, but with his own struggles. He talked openly and very personally about just how debilitating his mental illness has been in his life. It was easy to tell that he deeply connected to his character of Aza.

One of my favorite moments was when a professor at a local university asked him what questions about mental illness he would want her students to delve into. His response was not so much questions for them to explore, but rather he wanted to know if he’d done a good enough job trying to use words, which are so inadequate, to describe Aza’s pain. He then went on to talk about how words fail us in moments of true pain because language cannot truly describe physical or psychic pain. Deep pain is better expressed in screams, groans and grunts because there are no words because we cannot really share that pain.

If all of this wasn’t enough, I also greatly enjoyed the singing. Yes, that’s right, this was also a musical extravaganza. Hank played a few of his songs for us. Then, he broke into a version of “All Star” and the entire audience joined in, complete with cellphones in the air and swaying. John had us sing a touching tribute to a friend of his (which also appears in the book). We finished off with two songs that I thought were truly great. One was the strangest version of “Sweet Carolina” I’ve ever participated in, but which truly created a unique, shared experience for everyone in the audience (and made John do a fantastic happy dance across the stage). We finished off the night with “This Year” by The Mountain Goats which both Hank and John sang and encouraged us to join in on. If you’ve never listened to it, I highly recommend it. It’s a great song and perfect for his new book.

And best of all, I got this.turtles signature

 

 

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Teaching Tuesday: Grading over break

When most people who first meet me find out I’m a teacher, they make a few assumptions about what my life must be like. One of the biggest assumptions people make, and probably the one that angers me the most, is that my job is pretty easy thanks to all the vacation time I get. I cannot even count the number of people who have dismissed my job as far easier than theirs simply because of all my “vacation time.” Heck, even some of my best friends used to make comments about it.

What most people don’t understand about teaching is that while we may technically get more days when we don’t have to go in to work, it is very much balanced out by all the hours we put in for our jobs on our own “free time.”

My fall break is a perfect example. While it is true that I just finished up 10 days where I did not have to drive into school and actively teach students, I spent 7 of those 10 days grading, answering student (and parent) questions via email, responding to a plethora of emails from administrators, guidance counselors and other teachers about things that will need to be done in the next grading period and planning materials to teach in the next grading period. While I did not spend a complete 8 hours each day on these activities, I averaged at least 3 hours of my “vacation time” each day on these activities.

I know that probably still seems like a pretty good deal, right? Only working 3 hours each day and from the comfort of my own home (or, as it turns out from my best friend’s house while on vacation with my kids) doesn’t seem like anything to complain about, right? Of course those 21 hours of work are in addition to the time I spent over the weekends also grading, answering emails and planning. Once again, I averaged about 3 hours on those weekend days as well. Since weekends should be completely my own, that’s an additional 18 hours that should, in fact, have belonged completely to me.

Now, I know what a lot of people will probably argue: I should have gotten all that grading done during the first grading period. I mean, that sounds completely logical, right? Except of course, that I was already putting in 50+ hour work weeks during those 10 weeks, so in order to get all the work I did over break done during the actual grading period, that would have meant working closer to 55-60 hours per week. Keep in mind, that those extra hours come with no additional pay.

And even if this sounds completely reasonable, it’s actually an impossibility. At the end of each grading period, we have to give final exams. Our last final goes until the end of the school day, so there is actually no way to end the grading period without taking work home. Even if I’d gotten everything else graded by putting in those 60 hour work weeks, I would still have finals to grade. And since I teach English, finals mean essay questions and 110 of those take a LOT of time to grade.

And of course, even if somehow I’d managed to get all of the grading done, I’d still have to respond to emails from students, parents, administrators and coworkers. And I’d still have to make sure my lessons were prepared for the next grading period. While I always have long-term goals established before the start of every year (for the entire year) and I even have pacing guides for every unit, the day to day details have to be worked out and those change depending on the ability levels of my students, the slight fluctuations in days per grading period, changes made due to school-wide testing, convocations, weather related incidents, holidays, sick days, etc. Planning and re-planning is a constant throughout the year.

So, just in case you happen to be one of those people who think teachers have it easy because we get a ton of “vacation time,” please take a few minutes and actually ask any teachers you might meet how much of their own time they devote to their jobs. Ask them how much of that extra “vacation time,” they get is actually dedicated to their students. Just because we may get to do that work in our jammies at midnight doesn’t mean we’re not working.

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Chocolate Monday: Sweetie Pie

SP cookies

Cookies featured in photo: (top row): chocolate malt, peanut butter shallot, maple pecan
(middle row): oatmeal raisin and sweet and savory
(bottom row): pumpkin, chocolate chip and ginger turmeric

One of the best parts about visiting my best friend in Athens, Georgia is that it is a town full of amazing food. And I do love food.

Since I visit her for at least two weeks out of every year, I’ve had a chance to discover some favorite places that are must eats every trip. Despite having some tried and true favorites, she always manages to introduce me to some amazing new places.

On my very first trip to Athens four years ago, as I prepared to turn into her neighborhood for the very first time, I noticed that directly across from the entrance was a tiny shack-like building that appeared to be a restaurant. It was a smokehouse called Rooters. Since I love barbecue, I asked my BFF about it, but she said they hadn’t tried it since they didn’t have a single vegetarian option (a rarity in Athens). Her husband later told me that it was decent, but that their hours were so strange that he pretty much gave up trying to eat there.

About two years ago, right as I was preparing for our bi-annual trip to see her, I got an excited text from my BFF telling me that the BBQ joint was no more. In it’s place was an amazing little bakery she could not wait for me to try out.

And try it out I did.

Like its predecessor, Sweetie Pie has some annoying hours. It is closed on Sundays and Mondays and only open from 7:30-3:30 Tues-Sat. I also learned on that first trip if you are not one of the early birds, you completely miss out on one of their absolutely best treats: chocolate croissants. Now, I am a pretty huge fan of the chocolate croissant, no matter who makes it, but I have to say Sweetie Pie takes it to a whole other level. Wow…just wow!

But like I said, you have to get up pretty early in the morning to get them. The owner, Savie, only makes a limited amount and when they are gone, they are gone. Luckily she makes several other flavors of croissants that while not as good in this chocoholic’s opinion, are still completely worth it if you want to sleep in a little.

Much to my severe annoyance, my kids are pretty early risers. My daughter feels that 6 am is the perfect time to wake up, even on vacation. Now that she’s 7, I have made it very clear that unless the clock says 7:00 am, she is not allowed to get out of bed. And, if it doesn’t say at least 8:00, she is not allowed to wake me up. My son does like to sleep in a bit longer, but when he has to share a room with her on vacation, he tends to rise when she rises. The only time I have every been thankful for their insistence on rising before the sun even has the decency to start shining is when I get those chocolate croissants from Sweetie Pie.

Although my heart clearly belongs to those chocolate croissants, on this trip I decided to try something a bit different. This time I took a look at all the different cookies Savie had available in her case. Despite faithfully stopping in at least twice every visit, I’d only ever had croissants, scones, breads or cinnamon rolls before. I’d never actually tried any of her cookies and I thought this was the perfect chance to remedy this.

SP logoWhile Sweetie Pie features typical baked goods you’ll find in a lot of cafes like blueberry scones or pumpkin bread or almond croissants, Savie utilizes a lot of flavor combinations found in Asian desserts. She has taro root muffins, red bean croissants, Thai tea scones and green tea cupcakes. Although I have not tried them all,  the Thai tea scones and green tea cupcakes are excellent.

When I gazed at her cookie offerings, I found several rows of cookies both of the the very traditional variety: chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin, pecan and the more exotic: sweet and salty, ginger turmeric and peanut butter and shallot. Yeah, you read that last one correctly, she offers a peanut butter and shallot cookie. And yes, I tried it.

I decided to order one of each cookie. While I knew there was no way I would be able to eat them all, since there were 5 of us in the house, I knew they wouldn’t go to waste. I also knew that I wouldn’t feel too guilty about trying just a couple of bites from each cookie. At least not over the course of a day or two.

And so later that afternoon, I embarked on an epic cookie tasting adventure. Eight cookies to try and eight cookies to write about.

I’ll start with the more traditional flavors. The chocolate chip cookie, which I worried might be a bit hard as it seemed a little on the thin side, was amazingly soft, buttery and just the perfect amount of chewiness. It was actually fairly light on the chocolate chips, which despite my love of chocolate, is what I prefer. It was very good, but might not be the best choice for someone with a true hankering for chocolate. My best friend, who loves her chocolate chip cookies filled to the brim with chocolate chips, thought it could use more.

The oatmeal raisin was exactly what I expected out of an oatmeal raisin cookie. It was sweet and buttery, with the perfect amount of raisins adding that burst of fruit with each bite. Oatmeal raisin cookies are always a favorite of mine and this one was great. I ended up eating most of this cookie during our epic Settlers of Catan battle the next night.

The pecan cookie, which was pretty big, was soft and chewy and very pecany. If you like nuts, this would be a great cookie for you. I’m actually not a huge fan of nuts in cookies, so while it was good, it would not be one I’d get again.

The pumpkin cookie, which actually had more to its official title which I could not remember once I got back to my BFF’s house (I think there might have been caramel in it too), was delightful. I know pumpkin spice gets a really bad rap, especially in the fall where it is pretty much in everything. Hell, I get annoyed by it myself. I think pumpkin spice Cheerios and Twinkies are pushing the envelope (and not in a good way). And don’t even get me started on the pumpkin spice dog breath freshener chewy things we saw at the pet store. However, as pumpkin pie is also an absolute favorite of mine, this cookie was nearly perfect.

SP choc malt cookieNow, onto some of the more unique flavors. My favorite of the all Sweetie Pie’s cookie offerings were ones I’d never tried in any other bakery before. My absolute favorite was probably the chocolate malt cookie. I’ve never actually  had a chocolate malt before. The closest I’ve come is like Whoppers malted milk balls–that’s similar, right? But this cookie was incredible. Once again, I was initially concerned about this one since it was so thin. I was positive it was going to be the type of cookie my BFF complains about Jittery Joe’s having. However, it was amazingly soft and chewy. It was also very, very chocolatey. I loved the light sprinkling of powdered sugar on the top of it (which amazingly did NOT come off all over my hands). It was light and buttery and reminded me a bit of chocolate fudge. However, it didn’t have that cloyingly sweet taste fudge often gets.

My second favorite cookie was the ginger turmeric. This cookie was the epitome of Fall to me. If I had to assign one taste to the season, it would not be pumpkin spice. It would be this cookie. It was chewy and had just the right amount of spicy ginger. It reminded me a bit of a molasses cookie, but it wasn’t as heavy or syrupy. If only the weather in Georgia would have dipped below 85 degrees, eating this cookie would have made me feel like Fall had finally arrived.

The sweet and savory cookie was not as savory as I worried it would be. The little tag with the cookie mentioned teriyaki as part of the flavor combination, so I was worried it would be too salty. However, it was mostly just very oatmealy. It actually reminded me way more of butterscotch than teriyaki. It probably didn’t hurt that it has the same slightly orange tint oatmeal scotchies have. It was a good cookie, but I liked the raisin version better.

Finally, I attempted the most intriguing, and admittedly potentially upsetting cookie: peanut butter and shallot. It definitely smelled like onions. It was an odd combo to say the least. The cookie itself didn’t taste like onions. It had an oniony after taste, but even that was fairly subtle. The peanut butter was also not overly pronounced. It was definitely a sweet cookie with slightly oniony hints. While I would probably never buy it again as it didn’t wow me, it actually wasn’t bad. Neither of my children were brave enough to try it (my daughter hates onions and she knows shallots are really just fancy onions), but my BFF and her husband did and they agreed it was not what they expected.

I am very depressed that my next visit to Athens will not be for another 5 months. Not just because I miss my BFF so terribly, but also because I won’t get any of Sweetie Pie’s amazing baked goods for a long time.

Overall:

Taste: 9/10
Appearance: 9/10
Value: 9/10

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