It was the fresh cactus in the window that got me in trouble.

I was running some errands in Manchester this afternoon and drove by a market I've never been in before.

This is somewhat dangerous, because I'm a bit obsessed with food and small, hole-in-the-wall ethnic markets, and you're not going to find many places much more ethnic or hole-in-the-wall-y than this place. Given that I was driving in one of the residential areas of the city, where the streets are only a lane and a half wide at the best of times and that there are still snowbanks from the last snowstorm to contend with, AND double-parking seems to be more the rule than an exception, this was probably not the best place for me to be distracted while I was driving.

Anyway, I managed to pull over, make an quasi-legal 23-point turn and park in front of Empire Foods, a very cool, pocket-sized bodega in Manchester's "Tree Street" neighborhood.

I went in.

Which is kind of deceptive. To say I "went in" implies that I had some sort of choice, that I could have stood out there in front of a strange, new bodega and after some thought, turn and walk calmly back to my car and drive away instead of being sucked into the store like a hard-boiled egg into a milk bottle.

Anyway, I walked in and was immediately hypnotized by all the cool stuff - mostly Mexican ingredients like dried herbs and mysterious canned goods - on display. The guy behind the counter seemed fairly suspicious of me and the longer I looked around, the more bemused he became.

(Cool word, huh? Bemused - it's worth 20 grains of rice at

Anyway, after a few minutes, he came right out and asked me what a guy like me was doing in his store. (Clearly, I don't represent his usual customer demographic.) I told him that I'd seen the nopales - fresh cactus paddles - in his window.

He brightened up and said, "OH! You're from Texas!" (This seemed to clear things up, at least a little bit, for him.)

I told him, no - I just like food.

He thought this over for a few seconds, then smiled. Apparently, this was an answer he could really get behind.

We chatted for a few more minutes then I felt I needed to buy something before I left. I'd been intrigued by several 1-liter bottles of some canary-yellow beverage in a glass bottle. When I picked it up, it had a warning about pregnant women and operating heavy equipment, so I ended up buying it.

(I've had several glasses of it now, which probably explains the rambling nature of this post. I'm not worried though. I know it must be good for me - it has a cow on the label.)

Anyway, the upshot of all this is that I have a new friend and new store and a bottle with a cow on it, so life is looking pretty good.


So, what does any of this have to do with the classroom?

Um.... Give me a second....

Aha! I've got it!

When I got home, I added Empire Foods to my Awesome Food Map.

For the past few months, I've been adding all the grocery stores and restaurants I visit to a custom map on GoogleMaps. This allows me to share cool new finds with friends and family. Each place is marked on a map that allows them to find out a little bit about each place, look at it on a satellite photo and even find driving instructions on how to get there.

Now, imagine using this in a classroom setting to map all the Civil War battles in your state or all the places Flat Stanley has visited or all the places that various ancestors came from during a Family Tree project - you start to see the potential.

I already do a project like this with my students during our Civil War unit. I'll post more about it when we get to it.

In the meantime, please enjoy my Awesome Food Map:



Now, if you'll excuse me, my new friend the cow and I are going to watch a movie.

Or maybe just take a nap.