Apropos of my post from yesterday

Someone posted this. And now I want one.


Secret Potions

Are there any secret potions in the world that are truly magic? I wondered about this as I made my coffee this morning. Coffee is neither secret, nor a potion, but I do wonder if perhaps it might not be magic. The entire concept of creating something as fine as coffee tends to boggle the mind. For example, in order for coffee to be any good you have to roast the beans, grind them up, percolate hot water through them, and then, depending on your preference, add cream and or sugar, or just drink it black.

How does one go through all those steps just to create a food? And how many times do you have to develop something truly awful before you get to the really good thing?

Coffee doesn’t happen by accident, it just can’t. Not anymore than cheese, bread or wine. You have to work at those things. You have to time stuff. You have to have the right conditions (not too moist, not too dry). How does that work?

I imagine the first time someone made coffee. They probably just tried chewing on the raw beans. Yuck. That clearly isn’t going to be something yummy.

Maybe the second time someone tried, they had tipped a bunch of the coffee beans into the fire, and someone said “Hey, wait, that smells good.” So then they sat around and chewed the roasted beans. Some of them were not quite roasted enough, and others were probably burned. But then, like with Goldilocks, some were just right.

But wait, there are still so many steps to go through.

Probably someone realized that there was too much work involved in chewing the beans. What happens if you chop ’em, mash ’em, grind ’em? Well, OK, now it’s less work, but it’s kinda gritty. I’m imagining someone with a mouthful of coffee grinds, half of them smeared all over their face. The expression would be priceless. They’re saying to themselves “Really? Someone thought I’d actually like this? Maybe this person secretly hates me.”

Again, a serendipitous accident. Someone knocks over a bowl of coffee grinds. They fall into a bowl of water. Presumably, no one notices for a while. Someone comes home to a dark, mahogany colored bowl of water, with the grinds resting at the bottom. It looks lovely. It has a faint aroma that promises something deep, rich and sensual. Mmm.

Except room temperature.

Do we see the problem here? Each permutation until the last, final, perfected one is most likely quite disgusting. Or at least, nowhere near edible. So how do these kinds of accidents happen? How does one manage to get from nasty, bitter, raw coffee beans to … well, heaven?

Photo: Getty Images

AP Reading – Day 3!

Day 3 of the Reading, and man was it a rough day! My day started at 4 AM – yes, you read that correctly – FOUR AM when I received not one, but TWO, count ’em, two text messages. They were sent from Arlington, VA, which is of course, two hours ahead, which means that had I been at home, I would have already been awake to receive the texts (which was about a traffic delay, by the way…see what happens when you sign up to get emergency messages from your county? You find out all kinds of interesting things at all kinds of interesting hours). As it was, I was rudely awakened by the first text, and then about 10 minutes later the second one came through. I had a very difficult time getting back to sleep. By the time I finally drifted off, my alarm went off (this time actually at 6, local time), and I felt that awful kind of drowsy that you feel when you’ve been woken from a deep sleep and not at the proper point of your sleep cycle. It was not a happy morning.

I actually did manage to get myself over to the convention center in time enough for a leisurely breakfast, despite the rude awakening. Had breakfast, and went to buy my coffee (remember, the coffee offered by the convention center is very weak and kind of yukky) only to find that my coffee shop that has been my lifeline the last two days was closed. CLOSED. On a Tuesday. I didn’t understand. I still don’t understand. It was just, well, awful. How was I expected to function on disrupted sleep and no coffee, I ask you? I made it to the break, barely, and chugged down some of the awful, weak coffee. Bleah. Just bleah.

It’s OK, though. I have a line on a Starbucks that’s about a block from the convention center, and I plan on going there first thing tomorrow morning. In fact, I may go there even before I grab breakfast, because this whole “no coffee” thing just is NOT working for me.

(Plus, it really wouldn’t be fair to the students either.)

As for the Reading itself, I think I’ve got the rubric under my belt, despite an overly sleepy and under caffeinated day. We’ll see what happens tomorrow, though. I tend to have these peaks and troughs with the rubric – sometimes I’ve got it, and other times it unravels and dissipates like so much smoke. (Yes, I did mix that metaphor. Get over it.) One of the things that’s pretty cool about this rubric is that we’re looking not just for the student to show mastery of the skill of thesis writing, or evidence, or comparison, but we’re also asking for some plain old good writing as well. The watch-phrase has been “Show, don’t tell.” Don’t tell us there’s a similarity…show it. Kind of cool, huh?

Day four tomorrow, and who knows what kind of writing it will bring? Hopefully I’ll see some really good ones! I had a few that were quite good this morning, and then a string of … well … yes. I’ll just leave that to lie there, shall I?

AP Reading – day 2

Good morning from Salt Lake! It’s day 2 of the Reading, and I am sitting at the desk in my hotel room with a gorgeous view of mountains out of my window. This particular angle does not give me the snow-capped mountains, but I do get mountains nonetheless. Kind of cool to be surrounded by mountains like this!

It’s going to be a beautiful day here in Salt Lake, with a high of 77, and about 25% humidity. Back home it’s going to be 90, so this is just wonderful. (Although in all honesty, I could do with a skosh more humidity, but not the levels they’ll have at home, thank you).

The first day of the Reading went well – we started with our opening meeting with the new Chief Reader, and a fairly long, drawn out metaphor about missionaries (that we are world historians and on a mission to bring world history back into American high schools). Some amazing statistics: 208,000 students took the APWH exam this year, which means that we have about 624,000 essays to score.

I mentioned yesterday that I am on the comparison essay this year, and so far it seems to be going OK. There are a couple of tricky things about the rubric, so I’m hoping that this morning will help solidify it for me. Having only gone through 1 folder of actual live essays (that’s just 25 … my reading partner reads v e r r r r r y s l o w l y.), I can’t say with much certainty that the students are writing all the essays this year, but out of the 25 in yesterday’s folder, only 3 students left the comparison essay completely blank.

Since we are here in Salt Lake at the convention center, this year we are not the only readers in the area. In addition to AP World History, we are joined by AP Chinese Language and Culture, Japanese Language and Culture, Latin (Virgil), Art History, Studio Art and US Government & Politics. I have several colleagues from other schools here reading the AP Government exam, so I run into them randomly throughout the day (although I have yet to run into the colleague from my school reading gov’t…).

Our accommodations are a far cry from previous years as well. Since I started reading exams for APWH, we’ve been at Colorado State University in Ft. Collins, CO. Ft. Collins is gorgeous, and it’s a cute town too. The CSU campus is pretty (and since I went to New York University, the campus is HUGE and I am SO NOT USED to that), and we were staying in campus dorms. As you can imagine, our accommodations were…well, they were dorms. You know what that means.

We moved here to Salt Lake because we are too big for CSU’s campus. (We’ve got 1030 readers.) How have our accommodations changed? Well, I am in a hotel, for starters. It’s a FOUR STAR hotel. My room is about the size of my apartment, and I am NOT exaggerating. The bed is king sized (as opposed to the smaller than twins you get in college dorms), and when I came back last night, there were chocolates on my pillow. Chocolates. On. My. Pillow.

A girl could get used to this!!!

The only problem so far – the coffee has been so weak that it might as well be water…

I am on a mission to find a decent cup today. Or three.

In terms of Salt Lake itself, I am enjoying being here because it’s a city. As my friends know, I am a city girl through and through. I like concrete and tall buildings. I like being surrounded by people (but not crowded by them…it’s an interesting contrast). I am not a fan of great big, wide open spaces. It’s not an agoraphobic kind of thing, it’s just a discomfort kind of thing. I like knowing that around the corner or down the block is a bodega or an ATM or a Rite Aid (even if it does close at 7pm) or a reliably good book store (used, for rummaging…found one on Sunday. Am going to pick an evening to explore more fully). Ft. Collins was pretty, but it was too spread out. It was too … not city-ish. (I went to Scotland one year, the Isle of Skye. Gorgeous. Beautiful. So glad I went. Spent much of my time wondering how the people (what, there were only like 50 of them, right?) living on Skye didn’t go mad from the open spaces and lack of other humans. There are more sheep on Skye than people!) So all in all, I will say that the switch to Salt Lake has been a positive one.