Christmas Spirit 2014

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After two Christmases of living in tiny (and I do mean tiny) apartments, Jordan and I found ourselves with a wee bit of elbow room this year. We thought we’d better take advantage of it while we have it (you never know what the future holds, right?) by doing some holiday decorating and a bit of entertaining. I have found that I seriously enjoy baking and cooking for others. I like entertaining. And while I could pretend that I simply do it for others, I know that I probably reap the benefits of the event more than anyone else. I mean, really, I do enjoy planning, shopping for, and preparing meals for just the two of us, but the joy is increased tenfold when I invite ten people over.

For me the recipe research is nearly as fun as the actual preparation. It allows me to make lists of what will be eaten. And then more lists of what needs to be purchased.

We kicked off the holidays by inviting over a group of Jordan’s colleagues and a couple of my pals, too. We went with an ever-so-slight Midwest Holidays theme for the event (Okay, when I say “we” here, you can assume that it was me nudging and Jordan acquiescing). Yes, we steered clear of Jell-O salads and “hot dishes” (Wait, what?! Can this even be a Midwest theme??!!!). But there were holiday cheese balls, Chex mix, and puppy chow. Would you believe that the only guest who knew what it was and had actually tried it is originally from Michigan? This is when I knew we had succeeded (in being Midwestern, that is…).

The Menu


sourdough xmas tree


xmas brigadeiro

  • Classic Sugar Cookies (help from the Mister with the frosting)
  • Classic Gingerbread Men (again help with frosting)
  • Chocolate Espresso Snow-Caps
  • Green Tea Shortbread Cookies
  • Puppy Chow!
  • Brigadeiro (pictured above)


  • Mulled Wine (Vin Chaud)
  • And whatever people shared with us

I prepared enough food to feed a small, heavy-on-the-sweet-tooth army, so we spent the next five days enjoying little to no cooking. I’m not saying our diets (apart from maybe our breakfasts, which succumbed a bit less than they other meals) were healthy…

Since then, we’ve attended two other holiday events, and I’ve officially decided that the red velvet buches de Noel are the best ones. With my teaching sessions ending this Friday and Jordan’s lab winding down a bit for a holiday break, we’re looking forward to a bit of down time (read: yoga, tea, and reading!).

Gift Guide for ESL/EFL Instructors

This guide is meant for people who buy gifts someone in their life (spouse, sister, close friend, child, etc.) who happens to be a language teacher. If you’re a student or parent of a student looking to give a small gift of appreciation to the language instructor at your school or institution, check out a different list for more appropriate suggestions or look for the gifts followed by ($).

Tablet of his/her choice ($$$)


I’m partial to the trusty ol’ iPad myself. Because that’s what I own. I use it in every single class. For listening exercises. For verifying spelling (yes, I teach English, but that doesn’t mean I don’t forget how to spell things now and again). For storing digital copies of teachers’ books.

A few free applications I use often in class include Paper (for anything from simply writing new vocabulary words or playing pictionary-like games), Voice Record for making and sharing audio clips in class, and the ever-worthy Merriam-Webster dictionary.

Of course, the Kindle Fire, the Google Nexus, and any other popular tablet can probably get the job done as well.

Traveling Teacher’s Kit ($)

ESL teacher's toolkit

Instruction books or gift certificate to a bookstore ($$)

For English instructors who are starting to build an EFL/ESL collection, I recommend checking to see if they’ve already got the following books (click on images to go to book descriptions and source):

azar grammar bookenglish idiomsOP picture dictionary

For anyone in Montreal, these books (and hundreds more!) can be found at the Librairie Michel Fortin. Sometimes when I go in, I think I may never come out.

Games that will work in any language or focus on words ($$)

If the person you are buying for is not in a permanent location, remember that you may wish to buy smaller games. I’ve had a great time playing  Spot It in three different languages using the same exact game. It’s portable and adaptable.

spot it (Source)

I’m also a fan of taking a break to use MadLibs or Apples to Apples during class. Both are great for introducing new vocabulary and coaxing students into talking.

Witty mugs (reusable to-go coffee mugs) or totes with puns or language expressions ($) 

I could definitely see myself carrying my books in this:

bag_ipa_tote_bag Source

What?! That’s hil-ar-i-ous!

The options are plentiful. Language teachers are lucky to be able to get away with using almost any fun activity in class, as long as everyone is speaking in the target language, it’s useful. Ask the person you want to buy for what she is lacking in class or what types of activities work best in her classes, and she’ll probably freely offer up some item that could be purchased as a gift. She probably won’t even have a hunch that you’re asking for gift-choosing purposes.

Happy shopping!

FYI: I receive no money from affiliate links or for any of these recommendations.

French Christmas Vocab Words I Didn’t Learn the First Go ‘Round

Elf in green outfit with words même plus de vocabulaire de Noel

This holiday season marks the second that we have spent in Québec. Therefore, it’s the second year I’ve looked for words to explain my family traditions and holiday plans in French. Last year, my French was in a very different place than it is now. I was thankful to have mastered even a few words, like sapin, la veille [de Noël], and cadeau. I used a few prepared lists of vocabulary to get me started.

Check the French Christmas Vocab list here.

This year, I’ve been reading a few more blog entries about Christmas and wanting to describe my holiday plans in a bit more in depth than last year. So I got back into the holiday vocab-list-writing spirit with a list of my own.

an elf	un lutin a jingle bell	un grelot/une clochette a sleigh	un traîneau a lump of coal	un morceau de charbon decorate the [Christmas] tree	faire le sapin Boxing Day	le lendemain de Noël/l'après-Noël get together with family	se rassembler/réunir toute la famille extended family	la famille élargie believe in Santa	croire au Père Noël a Christmas stocking	un bas de Noël stocking stuffer	un cadeau pour les bas de Noël a centerpiece	un centre de table a table runner	un chemin de table to wrap gifts	emballer des cadeaux to unwrap gifts	déballer des cadeaux to give gifts	faire des cadeaux the garland	la guirlande a tree skirt	un cache-piéd [d'arbre/pour arbre] a tree topper	[une décoration] pour cime de l'arbre Christmas ball [for tree]	une boule de Noël the wreath	la couronne

One thing that I’ve noticed in particular is that while I have the tendency to say “My family decorates the tree the day after Thanksgiving,” I’ve heard most people use the verb faire (to do) used. I’ve also heard faire used with the word gifts a couple times. I’m sure I heard these expressions last year, too, but wasn’t able to quite grasp/remember it.

So what is still missing from the list? Any suggestions?

I’ve been collecting holiday food-related vocabulary over the last few weeks, and will probably be posting another vocab list before the end of the season.

If you’re looking to see some words used in context, take a look at some of the following resources:

green elf hat with jingle bell, joyeux noel

Ne vends pas la peau de l’ours | French Expressions

French expressions, image of angry bear and basket of eggs

What do an angry bear and a basket of eggs have in common?

Each of them represent an expression that means you should not count on or plan on things before they actually happen.

If English, we would say:

Don’t count your chickens before they hatch.

In French, you’ll say:

Ne vends pas la peau de l’ours avant de l’avoir tué.

This would literally translate to Don’t sell the hide/skin of the bear before you have killed it.

expressions in french and english with graphics

The week or two before Christmas would be the perfect time to use this expression, as young children often think they know what they’ll receive for the holiday!

Things from the Internet: December Edition

I have done this to you in the past. But usually with books. This time, though, I’ve simply enjoyed some good ol’ stuff from the Internet. It’s a bit all over the place, but all certainly falls into the range of things that interest me on a regular basis. Grab some cookies and a glass of milk–almond milk if you prefer, and settle in for some internet browsing….


This [French-language] post about traveling to the Smoky Mountain in Eastern Tennessee made me more than a little nostalgic for our time there. The article doesn’t really hit what would be my must-see list [I say skip the fly-over and the zipline and get out and hike], but was still fun to see Sevier County in Montreal’s newspsper. This second article highlights only the Ole Smoky Moonshine distillery 😀

Living Abroad

Miles Long Coffee Project highlights the women who work in the coffee industry there. The photography of Amy Carlson is spectacular, and her focus on the women in Burundi struck a chord with me. I downloaded the free computer wallpaper and have already applied the faces of these beautiful women to my background.

After perusing the above blog, I wandered into another blog, which had a post that I really enjoyed about things expats should stop doing if they want to more fully embrace their present home.

Pop Culture

Like everyone else, I was torn between excitement and frustration when I learned about Carrie Underwood and the live version of The Sound of Music. And I still had mixed feelings after seeing it. And this New Yorker article about the “anticipation trap” nicely sums up why.


I love browsing a good edition of Bon Appetit. I am very rarely led astray by the recipes I find there. And finally, they’ve posted a basic egg nog recipe, which can be made with cow’s milk, soy milk, almond, or even coconut. No, this does nothing for the sugar and eggs. No help there. But we’ll be doing it anyway. Elf, Home Alone, and egg nog. It’ll be great.

In pure holiday fashion, Bon Appetit also posted a gingerbread construction slideshow. The Empire State Building and the Smithsonian Castle are my personal favorites!

And finally (because you know I could post about fifteen more food articles/recipes), an article about the growing wine industry in South Dakota from the New York Times. It actually came out in October (does this mean I’m “behind the Times”?), but I still had a good time reading about people from my second-home state. Next time we stop by (not sure when that’ll be!), I’d love to extend the trip a bit to explore the wineries 😀

In the News

There are oodles and oodles of tribute stories online about Nelson Mandela, and frankly, the best ones are the ones that you make a point of reading. This one from the Atlantic has 25 captivating photos attached.  I also spent some time reading the BBC article about his 27 years in prison, and how he used that time to educate himself. The article also mentions the effect on his children and the feelings of Winnie, his wife, during this time.


Most language-related things I read tend to be about learning other languages, but with students always curious about swear words [and me naturally trying to change the subject], I found this to be an interesting read. Ohio, you swear the most. Washington, hat’s off to you. Wisconsin, we need to beef up on our niceties.  

And since you know I’m always on the hunt of some interesting reading which permits me to put off a bit of housework [baking aside], I’d love to know what interesting blogs, articles, etc., you’ve been reading lately.

The ESL Teacher’s Toolkit

ESL teacher's toolkit

ESL teacher's toolkit

With Christmas and the holiday break quickly approaching, I thought someone out there might be thinking about what items they should consider when restocking their teaching supplies or could buy for that special ESL/EFL teacher he or she knows. Obviously, this list could apply to a teacher or any language, so if you know an on-the-go Spanish or Mandarin teacher, I am certain they would be appreciate of the same items. Below is a list of my must-haves when teaching.

A super cool (or granny) bag/pouch

crocheted drawstring pouch
My ESL toolkit primarily fits into a crocheted drawstring pouch. I confess, it was actually a mistake project, but it ended up being extremely handy for this reason. If your ESL teacher of choice only teaches within the same classroom, then this may or may not be important for them. For me, however, it is essential for organization, because I teach each class in a different building in different areas of the city. It measures approximately seven inches long and has a diameter of at least three inches. Obviously, the options here are limitless. Having something homemade is often a conversation starter with my students, but choose this part of the kit based on your/the teacher’s interests and tastes.

3×5 colored index cards
Think flash cards. Impromptu activities. In-class games. Why is colored better than white in this case? You can sort adjectives, adverbs, nouns, and verbs in a hurry. Or any other categories you may need to separate. I’ve cut all mine up, so I have no photo for you. I need to replenish my stock before the new sessions start in January.

Scissors (small enough to fit into said pouch)

small scissors
Don’t try carrying around a regular-sized pair in your daily tote bag, or you’ll end up like me. Now I’ve got a tote to patch and winter coat that needs sewing. These are handy when you need to hand out small pieces of scrap paper, threaten students who refuse to speak in English in English class or cut those note cards into smaller flash cards.

Quality pens 


No-one wants to waste his or her time digging through a bag to find a pen that works in the middle of class. I typically keep one black pen and one blue pen at all times. I stay clear of red pens for corrections, so instead just opt for the color the student didn’t use on his or her paper.

Dry-erase markers in various colors


Since I move from classroom to classroom (and building to building), I cannot be sure that a) there will be markers, or b) that these markers haven’t dried out. Truth be told, not every room has a white board, but they are standard in most places I teach. Obviously, we don’t need a rainbow here. But we do need at least three colors, so that corrections can be distinguished from the original sentence, or the object pronouns stand out in different colors, etc.

A Stylus (or a pen with a stylus) for iPad if your teacher is tech savvy


This was a gift from one of my students this session (they had given these out to every person in her department and had some extras laying around). She simply couldn’t believe I had been using my finger to write on the iPad. I shrugged at first, but quickly converted to her point of view. It’s so much handier for iPad use and does look much more professional to use in class. She’s warned me that my pen is not the highest quality, so mother/father/husband, I’m in the market for another one next time you’re looking to send something this way. 😀

A highlighter
One or two solid highlighters will do the job here. It’s nice to write the word Master on one of your verb chart copies, so you don’t lose the original, to highlight the great sentences students [hopefully] write, or to highlight the main points in your lesson plan.

A die

a die
You know that old board game you haven’t played in years and aren’t intending to play? Save the die. Not only will you wow your students by telling them that “die” is the singular form of “dice,” but this can be used to spice up almost any activity. If you want to save some paper/note cards, but still add an element of chance to your [boring] grammar exercises, have your students roll that die. Also, that way, none of your students can claim that you keep giving him or her the hard ones. This is my secret weapon, and my students have even asked to use it a few times when I wasn’t planning on it.

Like I said, I’ve got to keep things light since I spend a lot of time walking/bussing between classrooms. I always have my iPad, the course book (usually a digital version on the iPad), and a folder with the class handouts with me as well.  While I’d love to be able to carry around more games, movies, and random aids, I simply do not have a Mary Poppins bag at my disposal. I’d love to hear advice from other language teachers and tutors, though.

What other items are must-haves in a language teacher’s toolkit?