Monster Cookie Malfunction: Tales from the 3rd Grade Archives

What do you remember most about third grade? Kate Messner, author of the newly released MARTY MCGUIRE, wants to know!

Marty McGuire by Kate MessnerFirst, let’s meet Marty:

Marty would rather spend recess catching frogs in the pond than playing dress-up with the other girls in third grade. So when her teacher casts Marty as the princess in the class play, Marty’s absolutely, positively sure that there’s been a huge mistake! But after a special lesson in the art of improvisation, Marty comes up with her own plan to improve the play. Why use a stuffed-animal frog onstage when a live one would be so much better?

In the end, Marty’s one-of-a-kind performance makes for an unforgettable show. Maybe Marty can live happily ever after, after all!

I loved Kate’s THE BRILLIANT FALL OF GIANNA Z and SUGAR & ICE, so MARTY MCGUIRE is going to the top of my list.

In celebration of Marty’s debut, Kate asks: “So… isn’t that at the heart of third grade? Improvising? Trying out new things (and winging it when something unexpected happens)?” In response, she’s encouraging us to dust off the archives and share a third grade memory of our own.

I’m sure I had a right colorful time of it (and Mom probably has the pictures to prove it), but only one event stands out in my mind as quintessential third grade moment…

Monster Cookie Malfunction

Eight years old. Feathered bangs. Future bride of Michael Jackson. Yep, it was the eighties, and I was ready to take on the world. Or at least the classroom. My teacher, Mr. Vuich (pronounced vyoo-itch), had a full beard but a gentle manner and an endless collection of pink ties, pink shirts, and yes, even pink pants. You could call him a trailblazer and you wouldn’t be wrong. I thought he was super old, like fifty, but he was probably only marginally old, like thirty.

Mr. Vuich was always planning clever little non-lame school activities for us which, as a creative person-in-training, I totally appreciated. One morning during Halloween season (yeah, it’s a whole season when you’re that age), Mr. V. surprised us with a new twist on the craft closet:

“Class, today we’re going to make…” he said, pausing for dramatic effect, at least that’s how I remember it, so, wait for it, “…monster cookies! Yeah!”

Yeah is right. Monster cookies? Yeah, yeah, hella-yeah!

Our wily brood spent the entire morning making sugar cookie cutouts in the likeness of our favorite scary monsters. And of course by scary I mean deformed, but you know, we were only eight. We put them on trays and then picked out our planned decorations from the sugary buffet before us. There was frosting — white, pink, yellow, and blue, but I swiped some additional red and blue food coloring to hand-tint my own special shade of screaming purple. There were black and red licorice ropes for hair, M&Ms and gum drops for eyes, candy corn which nobody liked but made the best pointy noses, and raisins which no one touched because Brian Sours (real name) told us they were dead flies with the wings pulled off, which unleashed a slew of “Hey Brian Sours, can we use your face as a scary monster mold?” jokes.

All in all, it was a great idea. Score one for Mr. V.!

He loaded trays of our raw cookies on an AV cart and shipped them to some mysterious place for baking — probably the school cafeteria which was filthy and smelled like Spaghettios — and then sent us out to the playground with another class for fifteen to eighteen minutes.

Sadly, during those precious few minutes, all of our monstrous hopes and dreams were dashed on the sad rocks of reality.

We returned from the playground, rosy cheeked and eager to decorate or creations. But as we filed into our seats, we noticed the classroom did not smell of fresh baked monster.

Mr. Vuich perched his pink-panted little bottom on his desk and sighed.

“I have good news and bad news,” he said. “The bad news is… our monster cookies burnt.”

Nearly thirty years later, I haven’t forgotten those four little words, the utter defeat in his voice, the guilt in his eyes, the despair on his shoulders like a yoke. The class gave a collective gasp. Mr. Vuich slumped further. And then he rose, crossing to the back of the room where a row of Super Duper (real name) grocery bags glistened on a windowsill in the high afternoon sun. Well, they more likely just stood there not doing anything because they were still brown paper back then, which doesn’t glisten. But in my mind they glisten.

“The good news is that we can improvise.” Mr. V. fanned his arms out over the stash, a smile finding its way home to his face. “I picked up some graham crackers and marshmallows, and even though we can’t cook them, we can still decorate and eat them. Yeah!”

Yeah is right. Yeah, yeah, hella-yeah! We spent the rest of the afternoon decorating and eating. Trading and eating some more. And laughing, because monster grahams? Win!

I still remember my square-headed, purple-faced monster grahams. And I still remember Mr. Vuich and how he saved the day with a little improvisation and quick thinking. That was probably one of the best lessons he ever taught us. So Mr. Vuich, if you’re still out there, I hope you know that I never forgot that. And I hope you’re still rockin’ those pink pants. 🙂

And readers? I hope you’ll check out more third grade antics, improvisation, and of course, charm in Kate’s new release, MARTY MCGUIRE! If you have your own third grade story to share, head on over to Kate’s blog for more details on how you can enter to win a signed copy of her latest book.

By the way, does anyone else want a monster graham now? I totally want to make them…

Zillycakes: Best Idea Ever

OMG that whole post I did the other day about cool places in my neighborhood? Fughettaboutit. This one totally wins: Zillycakes. It’s a cake shop with an awesome name, yeah. But it’s also…


A cupcake bar! A cupcake bar!

*Dies at the thought of it*

It just opened last weekend, and I went there tonight with Alex, my brother Scott, and his girlfriend, Alanna.

Alanna & Sarah at Zillycakes


*Dies again*

Here… I brought some cupcakes back for the ninjas. You deserve them! Enjoy!

Lavender cupcake with lavender buttercream frosting: The flavor took me a minute to get used to. I love the smell of lavender, but I’m used to smelling it in soaps and lotions and girly bath stuff. But once I got over that, this was quite delish!

Zillycakes Cupcakes

Peanut butter cupcake with chocolate buttercream frosting, peanut butter Captain Crunch, and chocolate chips: Sadly, I wasn’t quick enough to taste this one. Pet monster… he ated it!

Zillycakes Cupcakes

Spicy chocolate cupcake with orange chocolate ganache and pink confetti hearts: NomNomNom. I love spicy chocolate anything, orange chocolate anything, and pink hearts are just the icing on the… icing!

Zillycakes Cupcakes

Now I must speak with Zilly immediately about creating custom Twenty Boy Summer cupcakes for a party. Actually I just want more Zillycakes. That’s why I’m having a party. 🙂

Spring in Buffalo: Not an Oxymoron!

It’s finally spring in Buffalo, as evidenced by the daffodils lined up outside our porch and the mass exodus of former shut-ins pouring out of their houses for the first time since Halloween, all chanting the same thing:

“The sun! The sun!”

It’s been in the high 60s and 70s for almost a month, and recently my husband Alex has taken to motivating us (read: standing at the end of the bed and pulling on my feet, bribing me with coffee and sweet-talk, and generally cajoling me in the nicest way as he can manage) to get up and walk every morning, right after coffee and a light breakfast (that was my rule) but before diving into work.

I’ve got to hand it to him. He’s persistent. He doesn’t cave in to my irrationality. And I can be quite a challenge *cough* stubborn pig-headed pain in the ass who would have been the last one standing on the Titanic deck just to prove a point if someone told me to jump before I felt like it *cough*, especially pre-coffee. Seriously, I pretty much whine about it every time. I’ve got work to do! I’m tired! I’m dizzy with starvation! My knee hurts! My eyebrows have bedhead!

But he persists, and I go along with it. Partly because I’m afraid one morning he really will get the ice water. Mostly because I don’t want to cause him any more stress than living with me already causes *grin*… but the funny thing is, as soon as I get outside, I STFU, because I realize I’m super glad to be there. Yep. It’s all very “Sunshine! Oh how I’ve missed you!”

So I’ve been appreciating these little walking tours for exposing me to sunshine and *gasp* exercise and allowing us to more fully explore the neighborhood we inhabited just before winter set in last year. After spending like 6 months under a blanket of snow and slush and ice, shut in with the rest of the crazies in this city, I was beginning to question our judgment (hey, it happens, okay?). But now that it’s spring, it’s like someone has breathed a whole new life into Buffalo — and into me!

*Runs barefoot through the meadow for effect*

Elmwood Village Fangirling

Can I just take a moment to give a huge shout out to our neighborhood? Specifically:

  • Delaware Park, with its green grass and weeping willows and rose garden and lake! Next up: touring Forest Lawn cemetery, which is part of the park.
  • Dolci, a sweets and bakery place I almost wish I hadn’t discovered. Try the fudge covered macaroons or the Mexican wedding cakes. *Drools*
  • Victorians. The homes around here are old (like over 100-120 years old) and beautiful, with crazy features and windows and woodwork and probably secret passageways. Some are even bright pink or purple, because when you have an amazing old Victorian, you can get away with stuff like that. I love walking up and down random streets and checking them out.
  • Gardens. Many people around here participate in Garden Walk Buffalo at the end of July, so we get to see all of the colorful gardens coming to life around us, right in front of those big old Victorains. ❤ Flowers! *Must remember camera on tomorrow’s walk*
  • Trees. In October of 2006, Buffalo was hit with a freak snowstorm before most of the leaves had fallen from the trees. Snow and ice coated the trees, and the leaves got soaked and made it all much heavier, causing many limbs to snap under the weight. The city, including Delaware Park and the streets of our neighborhood, suffered loss or damage of 90% of its trees. You can still see the broken tree limbs on the survivors, but the good thing is, there were survivors, and new trees have also been planted along many of the sidewalks. So I love seeing the trees in spring, all of the new growth, and the pink and white blooms on all of the flowering trees around here. ❤ Trees!
  • Ethnic food. I love India Gate, Saigon Cafe, Mythos — and they’re all just a few minutes’ walk. We haven’t tried Wasabi yet, and I’m still on the lookout for a great Italian place close by, but we’ve got our faves covered for now. And yeah, don’t even get me started on those bakeries and coffee shops and other dangerous dens of food iniquity!
  • Puppies and babies. Altogether now… “Awwwwww!” Yep, wherever we walk, puppies and babies abound, both equally happy to be out in the sun. They’re all so cute, so adorable, so much fun to ogle from a safe and non-responsible distance. 🙂
  • The farmer’s market. The Elmwood-Bidwell Farmer’s Market starts up again soon. I can’t wait to check it out. I could never seem to wake up in time to catch it last year. Now that Alex has appointed himself commander of Operation Get Wife’s Ass Out of Bed Before Sundown and Make Her Walk, we might actually stand a chance at scoping out the zucchini and blueberries before the farmers pack them up for the day.

Yeah, I think we’re going to be okay up here in Buffalo, now that things are thawing out. I’ll bring the camera out next time so I can show you what I’m talking about. I know, I know… without photographic evidence, all you non-Buffalonians totally don’t believe me when I tell you we really do have nice weather here. But we do! Just not from October to April. Other than that, it’s perfect!

So tell me… what’s spring like where you live? What do you love most about it?