Friday, December 27, 2013

Memorial Globe Ornaments

We lost a very dear member of our family last week. Any loss so close to the holidays is difficult, and considering the time, I wanted to do something special in honor of our beloved family member.

I took a rose from the casket after the funeral. A friend gave me a box of empty globe ornaments, and I proceeded to pick the petals off one-by-one and filled the globes with them. They were a beautiful pink color.
 I wanted to complete the globes in time to give them to other family members, so to hasten the drying process, I placed them on a towel in a pan, and put them in the oven COLD. I turned the oven on (so the glass would heat slowly with the oven) and kept it very low, at *150, overnight. Until I went to bed, I shook the globes about every 30 minutes to keep the petals from sticking to each other.
 The next morning, I took the pan out of the oven and found the petals had changed in color, but were completely dried. There was no longer any concern for them molding in the globes.
 Syd went with me to the store to pick out ribbon. He also saw the ladybug buttons and really wanted to  buy them for the ornaments. We got home, and he slowly divided the buttons by the three globes we were preparing.
 After tying ribbons on the top to make a loop with which to hang the globes, I tied a ribbon around the neck of the globes. I also used superglue on the knots to make sure they didn't come undone. Once the glue was dried, I wrote "In Memory of " in puffy paint, including the family member's name.
These turned out beautifully. We have ours hanging on our Christmas tree at the moment, but I want to keep the Memorial Globe out year-round. My only concern, now, is finding a suitable place to house the globe throughout the year.

We'll miss you, Nannette. You will always be in our thoughts.

Rice Crispy "Coal" Snacks

My son is 4. And as much as we try to teach him the true meaning behind the holidays, and assert what we find to be most important, there is still plenty of room for fun not only as a family, but also because...well, he's 4. What a fun age for nearly every endeavor! 

That being said, I found a version of this recipe online and tweaked it (of course) and fell in love with it. It is really quite simple and the results are hilarious as well as delicious.

Rice Crispy "Coal" Treats

Begin with your standard recipe for rice cereal treats:

  • 6 cups of mini-marshmallows
  • 3 Tbsp butter
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 Tbsp black food coloring
  • 5 cups rice cereal
  • Approx 6 mega-stuff Oreos, crushed (around 1 cup)
-Melt the butter in a large pot. When it is melted, add the vanilla, cinnamon, and food coloring. 
-Swirl the combination until the food coloring has melted throughout the butter.
-Add the marshmallows and turn down the heat - allow to melt into the butter folding regularly.

-While the marshmallows take their dirty bath, crush the Oreos as much as possible (the mega-stuff prevents this somewhat) and mix into the rice cereal.
-Keep stirring the marshmallow mixture. I tried to squish the remaining lumps to help them melt faster. Try to ensure that the black is spread throughout the mixture.
-Toss everything together while the marshmallows are still warm. Be sure to fold gently. Spread parchment paper on your pan and drop by spoonfuls onto the pan so they look more like coal. Place in the refrigerator (or outside, depending on where you live!) until hardened.
-Eat and enjoy! They were truly yummy - the extra cream filling adds an interesting flavor to the standard crispy treat, enhancing the vanilla and subtly sweeter. And the cinnamon adds just a hint of spice that warms you on the cold nights.
Fair warning, though - the black food coloring does have its repercussions. We had a LOT of fun determining who was affected the most. No worries, though - as the night progressed and we continued to munch on chips, cookies, etc., the color wore off. I did look a little Goth for awhile with dark lips, though.

Fun times - especially if you can keep the black mouths a secret until everyone looks around and realizes what happened! I hope you enjoy and have someone "deserving" of coal!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Roasted Apple Crisp - Waste Not, Want Not

How often have you remembered you've some sad, lonely fruit or vegetable sitting around? I was yearning something sweet, and I knew I shouldn't let these sit any longer, so I decided to make my own version of quick Roasted Apple Crisp - with the crisp inside the apples!

Roasted Apple Crisp

  • Start with thoroughly cleaning the apples. I love this organic Veggie Wash - it just helps me feel I'm doing something good for my family, especially when we're unable to always obtain organic vegetables or fruits.


  •  Using a melon baller, scoop out the core. Make sure you leave part of the bottom intact so the juices and butter don't all escape. :-)


  • I mixed about a tablespoon of butter with 1/4 oatmeal, a tablespoon of brown sugar, and 1/2 teaspoon of ground cloves and cinnamon as well as a dash of salt. Mix the stuffing until it is crumbly.
  • Spoon the mixture into the apple cavities and place the tray in the toaster oven/oven. I used our toaster oven and set the temperature to around 375*. I would say the apples took about 20 minutes to roast.
They were so yummy! What a perfect way to curl up and read a book - with a cute little apple crisp topped with a dollop of whipped cream. I can see myself doing this on the nights that Steve and I curl up with our hot cocoa and just enjoy the tree lights and fireplace. The only thing missing is a gentle snowfall outside our windows.

What do you have lying around you'd like to repurpose? What methods do you use for cleaning out the cupboards and the fridge?


    Sunday, December 1, 2013

    Pumpkin Pie Surprise - Waste Not, Want Not

    I have a 4 year old. The result of having a small child is that there are often temperamental changes of mind on anything - clothing, activities, and most especially, food. Sydney accompanied me on our most recent grocery trip. He saw a box of chocolate graham crackers and promised promised promised he would love them and eat them and be a good boy.

    He didn't like them.

    Confession: I didn't like them when I tried them, exasperated that he wouldn't eat them.

    But I refuse to let decent food go to waste.

    So, I made miniature Pumpkin Pies out of them. I used a muffin tin so I could freeze them and eat them more slowly.

    Pumpkin Pie Surprise

    1. The first thing I did was crush up all 3 sleeves of grahams in a gallon-sized freezer bag. Sydney had a lot of fun helping Mommy punch the baggie to break up the crackers. I added a few teaspoons of cinnamon after the pieces were fairly small, just for fun and a little kick.
    2. Spray a 6 & 12 tin muffin tin with olive oil. You could probably use just the 12 but the cups would be very full.
    3. I melted a stick of butter, poured it into the baggie, and smooshed everything until it was fairly well-mixed.
    4. Add a spoonful of the crumbs to each tin and tamp it down.

    5. I beat 2 eggs really well and added 1/2 teaspoon of ground cloves, 1 teaspoon of cinnamon, about 1/2 teaspoon of freshly ground nutmeg (the selling point! Smells so delectable!)
    6. Beat in about 1/2 cup of heavy whipping cream and add 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Beat in a 30 oz can of pumpkin pie filling (I usually buy just canned pumpkin, but had grabbed this one by mistake).
    7. Fill each cup to about 3/4 full and bake on 350* for about 20 minutes, or until the cups are firm in the center.Allow them to cool in the cups, then remove. 
    8. Store in a container in the fridge, or freeze individually.

    These were delicious! I know there are many variations of pie out there, but the chocolate crumb crust added a nice touch. Please let me know if you try this or something like it! I hope you enjoy!

    Wednesday, November 27, 2013

    Simplicity is Key - Holidays 2013


    What is one of your favorite past-times during the holiday season? What traditions do you hold dear to your heart and carry forth each year?

    My husband and I love the nights when we turn on our fireplace (electric heater - one of our best investments!), turn off the lights, and just sit on the couch enjoying each other's company while we drink hot cocoa with whipped cream and watch the tree lights twinkle against the various ornaments.
    We will always do that. I can visualize us sitting together sipping cocoa in 50 years. It doesn't happen every night, but when we do take advantage of the opportunity to just stop and listen and be together in quiet, it is a glorious moment and I cherish those evenings.

    My sister has some wonderful tips on her blog, Art at Dawn. And truth be told, I've incorporated several of her ideas into our lives in the past (ahem - baking cookies...). Part of the holiday season that we love and loathe at the same time is the frenzied schedules, wild decorating, incessant baking and cooking. But do we have to blindly accept this?

    We're trying something new this year. We want to try to capture the same spirit of the season with less stress - less hassle - fewer moments of "I need to catch my breath." How are we attempting it, you ask? Two occasions have already presented themselves:

    1. Our tree. We used to get a live tree. When Syd was old enough to pull it over, we invested in a beautiful pre-lit artificial tree that was covered in "snow." Last year, however, the "snow" caused rather severe allergic reactions in the three of us while we were putting it up and taking it down, so we decided it was time for Steve to take it to work and we would go back to our live trees. But why spend money and time on that when we had these lovelies packed away? Our three trees have been in storage for nearly 10 years. I wasn't even sure they would work. But once I started setting them up, I loved the way it looked - especially when we set up our growing village for the first time since Syd came along. This was simple to set up, Syd had a ton of fun unpacking the villagers, and the house is just as festive as it would have been with the single tree.
    2. Our cookies - I love baking. It relaxes me. But when I am trying to balance home, school, laundry, cooking and baking, it can get stressful. Add in the fact that my little chef is old enough to truly help me and wants to, and things can get even more exciting! I decided that we're going to try a single type of cookie this year that allows you to choose different additives to change the flavor. And I don't mean my famous biscotti. I will miss baking my biscotti, but I am excited to try variations on my meringue, and I am looking forward to having my little helper work with me. 

    I am sure there will be more opportunities and more choices to make as the season progresses. I have no doubts there will be those harried moments. But I also know that I feel more relaxed entering this season than I have in quite some time, and it is a rather enjoyable feeling to experience. 

    So, as the season begins with tomorrow's Thanksgiving celebrations, what steps are you taking to ensure enjoyment in all you do? How are your plans progressing? In all the memories that filter back to my mind's eye as I think of the holidays, it is the people I remember the most - the visiting with family - and the moments of quiet that punctuate the noise that accompanies those visits. I look forward to having crowds visiting and an abundance of food, but I also look forward to the contrasting solitude and serenity that comes with a moment of silence and a mug of hot cocoa, sitting next to my wonderful husband.

    Monday, November 25, 2013

    Why I Decided not to Stress - Nanowrimo 2013

    At the beginning of this school year, I made a vow to myself to use every spare moment - to prioritize my time - to cherish opportunities for accomplishing everything. While I have had a few set-backs, I have been far more successful in keeping up with everything. Nothing is perfect, but I feel I am more balanced and more up to date than in the past. For example, this is the first time I've ever gotten both summer reading projects for my AP kids graded within the first half of the first quarter. I have been pleased with my efforts, and vowed to keep working towards the goals I had set for myself.

    November's Nano started with big expectations. I was looking forward to writing my next novel, and I felt confident as the month began. I easily sailed through the first week, building my word count up and surpassing the daily goals by 2,000 words in that first week.

    The second week began and I knew I was going to have to fight to make my word count. I had a few days at school where I seemed to run at a break-neck speed. I began to fall behind. I held my ground and managed to take care of school, the house, and cater to my son, somewhat, and still catch up by writing nearly 5,000 words in one day over the weekend.

    That was exhausting.

    Syd is still in the habit of getting up by 5:30 on most mornings. Now that I'm no longer nursing, we've gotten into the habit of getting to bed by 10:30. On 'Mommy Nights' - days when I bathe Syd, rock and read, and put him to bed, I am usually free by 8:30. That gives me two hours to get ready for the next day, to complete school work, to straighten the house and throw a load of laundry in, and to write.

    Let's be honest. Not much writing was getting done after 8pm. I am tired in the evening. It is difficult to keep everything in balance and I had faith that I could still do it all. I have a great idea for my book and it started to write itself. But then it took a very odd turn, and I struggled to make connections between where it was heading and where I wanted it to head.

    But then I started feeling that same gripping, drowning feeling I've had in the past. I started to stress over not getting an opportunity to write. I started fussing at Sydney when I was trying to write and he wanted to play, or watch Mommy write, or just needed a granola bar or milk in his cup. And I felt horrible.

    And my grading began to pile up. And laundry began to pile up. And my cooking/baking slackened.

    Needless to say, I started to struggle to find the words to put down on paper. And I fought myself to force myself to write.

    And then I wondered why.

    I've accomplished this once. I know I will have more opportunities to complete this in the future. Why does it have to be THIS year? Why?

    And I realized... it doesn't.

    And I decided to let go. To return to the plans and vows I had made myself that were making me content. I returned to playing with my son. I returned to baking for fun. I returned to trying to keep the ever-growing/never-ending piles of laundry smaller.

    And I felt peace.

    So, remember, above all, "To thine own self be true," and pick your battles. Do what makes you happy for who you are, not for some random goal you feel you have to accomplish. I got halfway to the end in my Nano 2013 sprint. And I'm very happy about that. And I'm perfectly content to leave it sitting there until time and energy allow me to refocus on my writing as opposed to my other goals in life.

    And most importantly - I felt peace with my decision.

    This holiday season, do what makes you happy. And find your peace.

    Friday, November 22, 2013

    My Story - Endometriosis: Part IV - Post-Baby

    My baby boy was beautiful. Perfect. Truly perfect.

    He was breach, so by having a c-section, his head came out perfectly round with no pointed crown. He had flawless skin and has only started developing freckles as he's aged. He didn't have any birthmarks. He had eyes so dark it was difficult to see what color they were, but then they turned a cool gray/green. He was, and still is, beautiful.

    Sydney knew what he wanted, too - his latch was unmistakable. He grew quickly and is still a big eater. I nursed him for nearly 3 years. And because he ate nothing but breastmilk for the first 7 months, the hormones to produce the milk prevented anything else from happening with my endometriosis. It was wonderful. I started to think the pregnancy had "cured" everything.

    When Syd turned 7 months old and started solid food, the milk production obviously reduced. With the reduction, the pain started to return.

    Over the course of the next few months, the waves of pain, discomfort, and bleeding began to increase exponentially. It was manageable while I still nursed primarily, but as Syd began eating increasing amounts of solid food, and reducing the amount of milk, the symptoms grew.

    By the following August, in 2011, I was experiencing so much pain my doctor recommended we try an IUD to control the hormones and help alleviate the excruciating discomfort. During work week of the school year, I paid a visit to my doctor. And I regretted it.

    We were to wait up to 3 months to make sure the hormones were working. Every month that passed, I kept hoping that "it would soon be better - by next month, I would be fine." Every month that passed got worse. And the end result of what was transpiring was a solid four-month stretch that I wouldn't wish on anyone. Here, there are details I will refrain from going into - but something had to change.

    In December, I read a book that spoke of the uses of progesterone to treat any number of maladies in "aging" women - not menopausal - not perimenopausal, but premenopausal women. I was absolutely miserable. To be quite honest with you, I've shut out some memories from that time (less than a year ago) and can only say that I was ready to just get everything taken out.

    At my next doctor appointment, I discussed everything - laid it all out on the table. I'm sure I was instrumental in causing her to be late with subsequent appointments, but frankly, I didn't care because I was desperate for something to change. We immediately removed the IUD and the doctor asked I keep her up to date on how my body was sorting itself out.

    I fought to try to do whatever I could to help myself. I increased water consumption. I tried regular exercise. I increased natural foods - grains and fresh veggies. I tried to monitor my sleep and, even with a young one, maintain a consistent sleep schedule. Nothing worked. My body was all over the place.

    Three months later, I started bleeding. Hard. And bad. I, again, will refrain from detail. But it came to a point one afternoon where I called the doctor's office on my way home and asked the nurse to do whatever she needed to do to 'fix it.' I was absolutely desperate lest my home life and my career be compromised. She called me back within 20 minutes and told me when to be at the hospital for an ablation.

    Less than a week later, I had an endometrial ablation. I was very lucky in that the outpatient surgery coincided with the beginning of our spring break, so I did not miss out on any school. However, I did not get anything done for school that week, and I missed out on a lot of play time with Sydney. The end result was initially quite worth it, though.

    Since the ablation, I have had absolute negligible amounts of bleeding - nearly 2 years later. The procedure rectified the weakness that accompanies loss of blood, and the loss of blood, itself, but it has done nothing to remedy the pain, the bloating, the discomfort of endometriosis, nor the cravings, the irritability, the acne, the bloating that accompany a normal menstruation cycle.

    Essentially, I still have the exact same problem as before, minus the expulsion of endometrium cells. I call these my "non-period periods." In addition to my "NPPs," I also have near constant pressure on my lower abdomen and lower back pain. I can no longer sleep on my stomach as it makes my lower back ache far too much. I have trouble lecturing for too long in class because standing for extended amounts of time makes me feel like someone is squeezing me in a vise. I am miserable during our SoL testing because we are not supposed to sit - we have to be constantly moving to monitor the students as they test and these tests last for hours on end. I have to watch how I pick up my son, how I play with my son, how long I spend time doing chores around the house.

    I hate this aspect of my life. I refuse to let it derail the plans I have. It sidelines me, sure, but it won't win. The problem is, I'm not even sure having a hysterectomy would rectify the situation in any manner. So, it is a game of "how much can I take before I must lie still with a heating pad." It is a constant reminder to me that I struggle to do what I should be able to do without blinking.
    Photo courtesy of https://www.violetpetalstudy.com/FAQ.aspx?l=e
    I know this path in my life is far from over. I just wanted to let others know where I've traveled in hopes of helping someone - anyone - who experiences the same situation. So, to all my Endo Sisters, stay strong and refuse to give in. I'm here for you.

    Saturday, October 26, 2013

    Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

    Low and slow, baby.  Low and slow.

    That's the only way to succeed with one of my seasonal favorites.

    I love pumpkin. I am a fiend for pumpkin. Anything and everything pumpkin. I am thankful that pumpkin is canned and I stock up during the fall. Most of my baking surrounds itself, it seems, around pumpkin - year round.

    But one seasonal staple that remains seasonal is my roasted pumpkin seeds. They are healthy, delicious, and so easy to just chomp on, husk and all.

    I even offer to roast any seeds my students bring in, then share them with the entire class.

    Roasted Pumpkin Seeds
    First, it is important to note that you need a lot of time at home to do this properly. If you've only got two hours before you have to leave for work or to go to a meeting, follow step one then stop until you have more time. Make sure you store them in the fridge, covered.

    1. After you cut the top off the pumpkin, use your fingers as a sieve to scoop out the seeds. This will help tremendously in separating the 'guts' (pith?) from the seeds. I usually drop my seeds into a bowl of heavily salted water to soak and wash off the pumpkin. 
    2. Preheat the oven to around 250*. I sometimes go lower, but never - NEVER go higher.
    3. Using either your hand or a strainer of some sort, scoop the seeds out of the salted water onto a large rag or towel. If there are clumps of pumpkin still stuck to the seeds, separate. It certainly won't hurt to roast that as well, but the flesh turns rather dark and tough and can be a turn-off to first time seed tasters.
    4. I tend to fold the towel over and do a quick rub, just to soak up any excess moisture.
    5. Folding the towel in half, I create a 'spout' and pour the seeds onto a lipped sheet pan. You may have to scrape some that stick to the towel.
    6. Liberally pour olive oil onto the seeds. Toss gently to coat. 
    7. Sprinkle sea salt onto the seeds. 
    8. Sprinkle garlic powder onto the seeds (no need for garlic salt. We're not going for a heart attack, here)
    9. Toss the seeds gently, then sprinkle again.
    10. Pop the pan into the oven.
    I let them bake for an hour before I toss them again. Subsequently, toss them every 30 minutes. As the seeds begin to dry, they will stick to each other. Re-sprinkle with salt and garlic each time you toss them while they're still damp.

    When the seeds sound like coins (they tend to clatter a bit after they've dried fully), toss them one more time and turn the oven off. Leave them in the oven overnight.

    By the next morning, you have a healthy snack! My students ask if they're supposed to eat them whole or crack them like sunflower seeds. Eat them whole. They're so yummy!!

    I've also tried this with cinnamon and sugar - these are just as yummy but the sugar can sometimes caramelize a bit, causing an almost 'bark-like' consistency. I would merely suggest that you toss them more frequently than every 30 minutes if you're going for a sweet treat.



    Sunday, October 20, 2013

    Gasping for Breath

    I cannot believe I haven't blogged since the end of August. I think that speaks to what has been happening in my life more than any other explanation I can possibly offer.

    Most recently, and quite enjoyably, we housed 2 French exchange students. My boys were a lot of fun and they definitely made an impression on my family. The house still feels empty without them. Sydney still asks after them. They just left us yesterday and we're already eager for a chance to see them again.

    I am hoping "Life," in all its vast unknown, will bless me with the normal hectic frenzied craziness that this time of year brings us.

    We're beginning our new batch of SoL testing starting tomorrow - My thoughts have turned to the students we are trying to help through the state-mandated testing so they can enjoy the remainder of their education and graduate on time to the hoots and hollering of parents and family and friends in a crowded, hot arena.

    Life is for the taking, and sleep is for when I've succumbed to some disastrous illness, so I'll plunge on and do what I can to help anyone I can. Let's just hope Syd is able to make it through his 2nd year of public school relatively unscathed. :-)

    Saturday, August 31, 2013

    Oatmeal Cut-Out Cookies - Dinosaurs and #4s

    Syd's 4th birthday is just around the corner, and I have a quite a bit of fun experimenting on cheap but fun ways to make it entertaining. You can see many of the activities I did over the summer and am planning for his birthday on my Pinterest board here. But the most recent addition to the 'dance of experimentation' was the Oatmeal (a.k.a., healthier than store-bought) Cut-Out Cookies.

    The first time I made these, Syd was about 18 months old, and none of us liked them, much. I honestly do not recall where I found the recipe. It was handwritten in his book, so I'm going to assume I copied it hastily out of a magazine. Regardless, they were rather flavorless. However, they did cut out well. That's a bonus, right?

    Since Syd's birthday theme is dinosaurs, I thought it would be wonderful to have a simple cookie to go along with his festivities. Bonus - after tweaking the recipe, he wolfed them down, so I think I may have a winner. I was tempted to purchase a dinosaur cutter, but then realized I had his sandwich cutter that made 2 dinosaurs out of his grilled cheese. Problem solved! I did, however, buy a #4 cutter to accompany his brachiosaurus cookies.

    Oatmeal Cut-Out Cookies

    Preheat the oven to 375* (I think this is a little hot; I went to 350*)
    1 cup unsalted butter - (I usually let mine sit out, but I've also found that 15 seconds in the microwave on half-power does the trick nicely.)
    1 1/2 cups sugar

    Blend these together well until fluffy.

    Whisk the dry ingredients together while this blends:

    3 cups all-purpose flour
    1 tsp salt (I used more - probably 1 1/4 tsp - and I used a coarser salt than the regular table salt - it added a subtle but nice surprise every once in awhile as you bit into the cookies that blended well with the sweetness.)
    1 tsp baking soda
    1/4 tsp baking powder
    Cinnamon - (I'm a nut for cinnamon, so I don't measure. I dump some in and after I've whisked the dry ingredients together, I smell them. If I can't smell cinnamon, I add more. Simple enough. You need to measure to your own taste.)

    After the butter is fluffy and the dry ingredients are whisked well:

    2 eggs - beat these into the sugar mixture well, one at a time, incorporating each egg well.
    1 Tbsp vanilla - (I love vanilla, too - I used vanilla paste instead of extract. Yes, that says Tablespoon - think about all the absorbing ingredients - flour and oatmeal? It needs the extra punch.)

    Slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet, mixing well. Afterwards, add in 2 cups of dry oatmeal, folding this in by hand.

    Roll the dough to 1/4" and cut-out. Spread on prepared (greased - blech - I used parchment paper) pans. Bake at 350-375* for around 10 minutes or until lightly brown.
    These were test cookies - I plan to add icing to the top for Syd's birthday so the 4 looks like a 4. And this is the only dinosaur that survived, so it looks a little sad, but the sandwich cutter worked very well. Either way, these are yummy! I hope you enjoy!

    Wednesday, August 21, 2013

    Cannonball! Jumping in to School Year 2013-2014

    I am excited for this new year. It is impossible to enter into the new year without reservations regarding certain issues, topics, etc., but I honestly feel more prepared for this year than I think I ever have, and it is a very satisfying feeling to possess.

    This will be short - I merely wanted to touch base and let you know that I've been busy with school, which is why I haven't blogged recently.


    1. I've been reading 3 books to help administration with work week lessons for the teachers - sort of like an inservice. Drive - by Daniel Pink, was a fascinating read about what motivates us and how we need to start intrinsically motivating our students to succeed rather than tempting them with Shrute Bucks. :-) (This is a video that explains, perfectly, how we tend to withdraw from extrinsic motivators.)
    2. I also read through Flip Your Classroom, by Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams. This will revolutionize the classrooms as children know it if we are able to institute this everywhere. Essentially, the students watch videos the teachers produce that explains the lesson (what would normally be done in class) for homework. Then, when they come into class the next day, they do the practice (what would normally be the homework) and are thus able to get more help from the teachers as needed, rather than.. ahem... throwing their Algebra book across the room at 11 at night and waking up their Mom who wants to know why they're still up and what's wrong before they burst into tears because it just doesn't make any sense. Yeah - I vote to help keep kids from having to do that.
    3. Last, I was involved in a group that explored Project Based Learning, produced through the Buck Institute. I am astounded by the idea. I am terrified, yet enthralled by this idea. Watch this video about Sammamish High School in Washington. I cannot fathom how to incorporate this into my AP class, but I definitely want to try with my 9th grade class. 
    The point to these three books is that I feel a revolution coming, and it starts in my own curriculum. I'll keep you posted as things progress! 

    Monday, August 5, 2013

    My Story - Endometriosis: Part III - A Baby Story

    We were pregnant.

    It was unexpected. It was ... holy cow - it was nerve-wracking.

    I am a natural mother. I've mothered my siblings as long as I can remember. I mother my students. I am why 'mother' is a verb. I knew there was an exciting, frustrating, fun-filled life ahead of us. Steve was more pragmatic and wanted to start budgeting immediately. But by the end of the first week after finding out, we were both looking forward to our bundle of joy and anticipating what that joy would consist of. Besides, for the first time in YEARS I didn't hurt. I didn't ache. I wasn't nauseous. You heard me - nary a symptom of morning sickness did I have and I have only recently realized it was the just rewards for dealing with endometriosis my whole life. Karma finally said "Give her at least 9 months of freedom." It was heavenly.

    Other factors were uncomfortable. Mind-numbing leg cramps that made me sit up in bed like a gunshot were fun. Steve got very adept at deep muscle massage in his half-sleep. And my muscles in the back were strained (it wasn't sciatica, but very similar from what I understand) b/c the full weight of Syd was in the front. But in all, I had the most peaceful, pleasant pregnancy I believe I've heard of - to the point where when, sitting in the doctor's office waiting for my check-ups and overhearing the other expectant mothers sympathizing with each other, I just kept my mouth shut.

    My beautiful boy was breach. The entire time. He was and still is quite stubborn. This was demonstrated when the ultrasound technician was trying to get a measurement of his neck. I was 33 and I have a direct cousin with Down Syndrome - the Nuchal scan measures for extra fluid around the neck which Down Syndrome babies tend to exhibit. Every time she zeroed in on him and was ready to snap a picture so they could measure, he flipped sides. He went from right, snuggled up to me, to left, back to right. She finally had to move on and check some other things before trying to measure him again.

    The good news? The Nuchal measurements were within normal standards. I was thankful that I wouldn't have to have an amniocentesis, which would be the next step. The bad news? He was a hairy baby. You could see his hair. By the last ultrasound done, he had an inch of hair on his head. And I was a poster-child for the old wife's tale that hair = heartburn. I chugged Tums like they were candy, walking around the classroom, chomping in between answering questions.

    The auspicious month arrived and we were as set as necessary for a newborn. We had one last scan to see where his head lay; it had not moved in the last 6 weeks. I was doing swimming exercises to encourage the baby to turn, etc. The doctor, Steve and I decided a c-section would be the safest way to deliver our Sydney baby. We didn't know gender. We only knew name. And we were overjoyed to meet our son on that morning.

    I healed well - as quickly as any c-section survivor could. The doctor, while she was "in there," took a look at my ovaries to check for any cysts, etc. I have often experienced direct pain on my right side, but she said it all looked healthy to her.

    I had also heard that sometimes, the pregnancy hormones can, in fact, help endometriosis - reduce the lesions, sort of turn back the clock, and that symptoms are much lessened after a baby is born. I was hoping, praying, pleading that was the case - especially since she said everything looked healthy for the time being.

    Alas, that was not to be. And Part III is over.

    Tuesday, July 23, 2013

    My Story: Endometriosis, Part II

    To recapitulate briefly, I finished Part I with explaining that I used depo provera for 5 years. It initially is the only substance that brought any semblance of relief. It was also cheaper than birth control pills ($30 a month for pills versus $30 every three months for a shot in the rear). I stopped using depo the spring of my second year of teaching high school.

    I had no relief any longer from it, and the fear of what faced me was diminishing with the looming summer months to "recuperate" and balance.

    That was fun. No, it wasn't. Not at all. My body was so dependent on the shot that I was thrown into a frenzy the likes of which I can still, 7 years later, remember all too well. I had the most debilitating insomnia one can imagine, coupled with hypersensitivity to noise, light, touch - I honestly felt I could relate to Roderick Usher's malady in Poe's story. When I finally DID fall asleep, a mere creak of floor boards would awaken me and it would take me hours to sleep again. 

    On top of the insomnia, my chest grew - in size and sensitivity. My breasts were so painful I had to wear a sports bra every moment of every day. I had to tip toe up and down stairs. I couldn't even hug my husband. 

    I had hot flashes and cold sweats. And I was in pain and irritable. Thank heavens we were out of school. On my own, I started journaling the symptoms I had every day and the level of pain (1-10) I felt and where it was located.

    I saw the doctor, again, after these lovely symptoms didn't subside before school began, and he told me to start keeping my basal temperature. He also made copies of all my notes to keep in my file. I did as he asked for the next 6 months. I also did everything I could on my own to encourage my natural health - exercised regularly, increased the amount of water I drank in addition to green tea and cranberry juice (I had a kidney stone the fall of my second year teaching. That was miserable!), and ate as cleanly as I could. The sleep balanced more, but I am still an incredibly light sleeper.

    After returning to the doctor with what I thought was proof that my body, over a year after halting the depo, wasn't balancing out, he gave a perfunctory glance to my charts and said it looked good. I was flabbergasted. I had no idea what I was supposed to see, but to me, my basal temperature was all over the place. One day I was 96.1, the next I was 99.4. How is that evening out? 

    He asked if we were intimate. I said yes. And that is when I got his attention. He asked what birth control we were using. I said we weren't because, let's face it, I was all over the place. There is no way we were going to have a viable egg fertilized; and then his jaw dropped.

    Everything I had done. Everything I had recorded and monitored. And the only thing that made him pause was the fact that I wasn't pregnant. Then, the doctor told me he wanted to run fertility tests. 

    I thought I could smack him. First of all, why NOW? What was it about not being pregnant that made him suddenly realize something serious was going on? And second of all, what good would that do? Steve and I are rather set against forcing something that isn't meant to be to happen. If we couldn't have kids, we couldn't have kids. I have nearly 200 every year that are mine. Even after they leave my classroom. Why would I waste money and time and stress on tests that will show what I already knew?

    At that point, he had nothing else to offer me. He knew I was set against trying another pill, shot, implant, etc. until I finally found some natural balance. So he told me to let him know if anything changed and sent me on my way. I was confused, angry, and dumbfounded. I felt neglected and just set adrift. He did offer one suggestion, though. He recommended that, since we weren't using any protection, to start taking prenatal vitamins, just in case. And it was a big "Just In Case."

    Steve and I scoffed and started saving money for Europe. If we couldn't have kids, we would do everything else we'd always wanted to do. But I'm rather glad I listened to that last bit of advice. After another 8 months, my body finally sorted itself out. The first semester of school ended and I felt odd. 

    Different. 

    Pleasant, even.

    The last day of first semester exams, I took a pregnancy test, fully expecting to see the "Not" symbol. Imagine my shock, my surprise, my delight in seeing the two straight lines, instead. We were pregnant. It was wholly unexpected. We had written it all off and were going to Europe. Weren't we?

    Wednesday, July 17, 2013

    Unexpected Realizations - Lesson Planning for Freshmen

    I've said the Pledge of Allegiance on a nearly daily basis for over 20 years.

    For awhile, when I was the student, there were times it became rote. I would stand for the required 20 second speech, hand over heart, and my mind would switch off while my brain spoke. At other times, usually when the speaker we all followed like lemmings had longer pauses than accustomed to, I would think about what I was saying and it would have a fresh impact on me.

    Then, someone some where in my life pointed out Red Skelton's vignette from his show and I was amazed.  I was already out of high school at this time but it made me thankful to have the sincere meaning stressed to me again. I promised myself that if I went into teaching, I would have a lesson based on the Pledge in hopes of reminding the wave after wave of young people I encountered why we celebrate Independence Day, why Memorial Day is so important, why we need to treat our veterans with respect and compassion. Considering how many of "my kids" have gone into the military since I started teaching, this is even more important to me.

    At the end of this past school year, I was in a full-fledged creative flow. Steve even expressed surprise at each new project I began, and seemed dubious about my dedication to finish them all. I'd been itching for months to let my creativity out of hiding, and the constructing of a Pinterest account in addition to impending summer months with a child old enough to participate increased my endeavors.

    Although I've worked my various creative side on numerous projects, I'm still feeling a little unfulfilled. Many of the projects I've developed over the past two months (beginning before school let out) were toddler/preschooler based. I am still yearning to stretch my own muscles before they atrophy.

    Yesterday I was running errands. I took a different route to a store for a change of scenery.  While paused at a stop light I've driven past countless times, I noticed one of the metallic historical markers that explained the significance of William Fleming, a physician and member of the military who lived in Virginia during the late 1700s. I was struck by this marker that is probably ignored 99% of the time people drive past it.
    http://littlebitsofhistory.blogspot.com/2012/12/dr-william-fleming.html
    Just like my reawakening to the importance of the Pledge of Allegiance every time I stop and think about each line, I was shocked to realize how little I knew about William Fleming. I was horrified to think of how little I knew about William Byrd, even though I've looked him up. And I've taught Patrick Henry's speech to the Virginia Convention, but how much do I actually know about the man?
    http://www.encyclopedia.com/RankImages.aspx?topicid=58354
    William Byrd II
    Eureka! I am teaching freshmen again this year. It has been... 6 years? since I've taught the general freshman classes. Since then, our standards have changed and a much larger influence is placed on nonfiction literature, on vocabulary, on grammatical construction. Since these students are new to the high school scene, why not ensure they have a full understanding of the importance of their own school's namesake? Why not research the buildings in this area that have been named after those who had an impact on this community and develop their appreciation of their hometown? The lesson will accomplish, hopefully, much more than mere preparation for their benchmark tests.

    And as I'm pondering this idea, I realize that my creativity has been flowing the entire summer - just in a different canal than the one I intended. I've been thinking and rethinking my lessons - what I've done in the past, what I can salvage, what needs to be completely trashed or can survive an alteration, since May. What I didn't realize was that, as I was making cardboard box rockets, or hand print t-shirts, or canning jam or cleaning out the closets, I was doing what I've wanted to do.

    I still need my time this summer. I still have many projects - some for me, some for Syd, to accomplish. But I am feeling a quickening. I am excited for next school year. I am by no means ready for it, but I am looking forward to implementing my new ideas. And I'm amazed by the little things, like an historical marker, that inspire me every day.

    Sunday, July 14, 2013

    My Story: Endometriosis, Part I

    I've only known one stretch in time when I was pain free. The 10 months I was pregnant was the most relaxing, enjoyable period in my life, aside from the normal discomfort that comes w/ carrying a baby. I have distinct memories of obtaining amazing abs in college because the only thing that alleviated my pain was rocking back and forth or, when I wearied, sit-ups or crunches. 

    It started at around 16 years. At this time, what I experienced was what one may generally think painful cycles would include: severe bloating, cramping during the cycle, irritability, etc. I had a doctor who tended to believe I was merely an "hysterical" (ba dum tsss) teenager who blew her symptoms out of proportion.

    My mother had a full hysterectomy when I was a senior in high school, and call me crazy, but I had a bad feeling regarding what that portended for my own health. 

    I had my first laparoscopy, under the patronizing doctor, my sophomore year of college. I was officially diagnosed with Endometriosis. Essentially, the uterine lining that is supposed to slough off and exit the body was growing outside my reproductive system. When the hormones signaling the end of the cycle begin, the cells have nowhere to go and pool, causing immense pain, bloating, digestive issues, nausea, etc. If it is severe enough, they can form a binding of the organs, limiting movement, increasing the pain, and limiting fertility. 
    Photo Courtesy of http://medeasy.me/2012/05/17/ch-14-endometriosis/
    At the time of my laparoscopy, I was a residential assistant and had to wheel myself through the halls on a desk chair because the pain as well as the pain pills were pretty interesting for someone who never touched anything other than chocolate. This first surgery was diagnostic as opposed to a form of treatment. Once inside, the doctor did try to zap a few cell clusters with a CO2 laser, but he knew he wasn't able to find everything. Over the next few years, I went through 3 different brands of birth control pills trying to control, well, everything.

    I had my second laparoscopy after I graduated from college but before I started graduate school. At this point, I was put on what was, at the time, an experimental drug, that caused me to become menopausal for almost a year. Let me tell you - I am dreading the time I have to experience that in real life. It was miserable. And to top it off, we went through a heat wave that summer that made me feel as though I were cooking inside and out.

    By this time, Steve and I were both asking the doctors if they would perform an hysterectomy just so I could have some quality of life. The list of symptoms I experience(d) grew exponentially, and varied as much as and as often as the weather changes. As soon as something weird crops up, I first have to attribute it to my fluctuating hormone levels before I can look to anything else. Doctors refused, stating we were too young to know that was what we truly wanted. I dare any of them to feel what I felt and not think that would be desired.

    After the Lupron, I went through another doctor and 2 brands of birth control pills before finally trying depo provera. I started the depo after graduating with my Master's. Depo offered me some relief, finally, but my body quickly adapted to it and it began to be a surface relief and a crutch. I was so terrified of what I would experience if I stopped it, that I kept using it. I was also told that we would be lucky to have children at all, as it seemed most of my system was compromised.

    Depo is only supposed to be used for up to 3 years. I used it for 5. It sucks the calcium from your bones, so I stopped the depo and had a bone density scan to ensure the safety of my skeletal health. Because of the lovely side effect of most (all?) birth control, I fought long and hard against weight gain, losing grandly. However, the weight-bearing exercises I had been using kept my bones strong enough to fight off the use of the depo.

    This is where my story begins to veer, and thus, the end to part I.

    Saturday, July 6, 2013

    My Story: Endometriosis - The Grand Reveal


    I am currently reading Candide, by Voltaire. One take-away lesson that has struck me repeatedly, as it did young Candide, was the fact that everyone has his own story. Everyone has his own struggles, his own demons, his own trials and tribulations to face and conquer. And let's face it - we don't often speak of the ills we each suffer, candidly, unless we're amongst those we trust or those we feel we will never see again.

    In my years as an educator, especially of high school teenagers who all know so much more and so much better than I, I have found it important to not dance around issues pertaining to the mature adult. I'm not saying I talk about intimate details of my life, but I certainly don't sugar-coat what it was like being pregnant, nursing, dealing w/ rushing out of the classroom to rescue my son from excruciating ear infection pain his first year of preschool, etc. And I do not feel a need to hesitate or change the class discussion when my students ask me when we were going to have another child. "I can't." I say, as easily as I next claim to "love chocolate." Only a few get nosey at that point, but most just accept it and turn back to asking someone for gum or a dollar to get a drink out of the vending machine.

    My point in this digression is to state that I am done dancing around the issues. I am truly on my last chance to get my health in order, or I will have no other choice but to have a full hysterectomy. I would prefer not to do that. I've done the drugs (one was even experimental - yes, I was a lab rat), the surgeries (yup - multiple), and various other methods of controlling the symptoms and the pain.


    I found a blog that discusses using yoga to treat endometriosis. Dorothy states, very concisely, "But that is how it is with chronic pain.  The pain takes over and you begin to just endure it.   You angrily accept that pain is a way of life and that you are powerless against it.  You stop searching for ways to feel better.  You don't sleep right, your eating habits get all crazy, your digestion goes all out of whack, and you get irritable.  It's frustrating, depressing, and downright exhausting!" I couldn't have said it more succinctly myself. I am tired of being angry about the pain, discomfort, and various other aspects of endometriosis, and I am exhausted w/ trying to hide what I've been feeling.

    In light of the fact that I've felt almost like a pariah because, well, we don't speak of women's health openly, I am saying enough. Enough not letting it out in the open. Enough dancing around why I just can't get on the ground and play with my son. Enough hiding the fact that I'm close to passing out in class. Enough of it all. I've seen, through my research, that I am not the only one who was scared to talk. I am not the only one to suffer. And maybe - just maybe, I'll have some tidbit of information that will help another woman experiencing the same struggles.

    Endometriosis be damned - this is my tale.

    Friday, June 14, 2013

    Slow-Cooker Meatloaf

    My husband claimed he never liked meatloaf before we met and he tried mine. Since then, I've turned him into a fiend. I had no specific recipe, but I've always been pretty good about "seeing" recipes and pairings. I found out only a few months ago that I apparently inherited that from my 98 year old grandmother, who rarely made the same recipe twice. I often tell Steve we're "experimenting tonight!" but am thankful that very rarely is it inedible.

    Today is my wonderful husband's birthday. He is such a large part of my life. I cannot possibly express how I feel about him in a few words on a blog. But suffice it to say that I wanted to try to make tonight's dinner special.  The only problem with our family's birthdays is, depending on the weather, all three can be uncomfortably warm. June; July; September. I wanted to make Steve's favorite meal, but I wanted to attempt it in a manner that would not heat up the house, since meatloaf usually needs to bake for at least an hour. So, I figured I would attempt a slow-cooker version that used less energy and made the house much more comfortable.

    I started with attempting to keep this fairly healthy. I didn't want the loaf bathing in grease, but I didn't know what I could possibly use that fit my crock-pot. I dug through pans long since forgotten in the recesses of my cabinet and found this lovely - it is either an expandable hot-pad for dishes on the table, or something to hold a huge roast or bird in the dutch oven. I think it's a stand for hot dishes. Either way, it was this or the steam basket for vegetables, but I thought this would work better.
     Next, I gathered my ingredients. I use ground beef (1 lb), one egg, approximately a cup of oatmeal, and normally large chunks of garlic w/ various herbs. However, I've found these lovely gems by Land O Lakes - these are advertised as saute starters, but they're fantastic to toss into brown rice, saute vegetables before putting into stuffed peppers, or, as I found, to mix into meatloaf. Side note: these do not contain hydrogenated oils or MSG, and I can pronounce every ingredient.
     The only way to thoroughly mix meatloaf, as any chef knows, is by hand. Dig in. Have fun with it.

    My finished product rested easily on the hot pad. I added about an inch of water, sprinkled Parmigiano Reggiano cheese on top, put the lid on, and started on high for 10 minutes while I got Syd ready for the park. Right before we left, I switched it to low and left it until dinner time.
    What can I say? I meant to take a "finished" picture, but we had a guest for dinner, and in the rush to get everything else done, I forgot. However, it was the most moist meatloaf I have ever eaten. So exquisitely delicious. I don't know if it was the low and slow, the butter mixed in with herbs, or my deft hand at mixing, but there is not even a full serving left over.

    Try it out - it was delightful, and a new addition to our summertime repertoire. So, rest easy and know you're saving money on your air conditioning. Let's hope we do not have the joy of triple digits this year.
    Bon appetit!

    Wednesday, June 12, 2013

    Mulberry Cinnamon Jam - Freezer Production



    We moved into our house in July, so it wasn't until the following spring that we realized we had a fully mature mulberry tree in the back yard. I loved the idea of making my own jam, but by then I was teaching, coaching outdoor track, and there was absolutely no time for any sort of canning endeavor.

    That continued for four years. I just never had a chance to sit down, or when I did, was I passed out asleep. The one year I was determined to make jam, we had a horrible late frost that killed the fruit. Go figure. And then, the baby years hit. And there was not even any thought of attempting jam.

    This year, I didn't really think about it, again, until I was mowing last weekend, and I got hit on the head by ripening fruit. Syd was antsy today after his nap and in light of the superstorm that is supposed to be hitting tomorrow, I figured some fresh air and sunshine was a must. We went out to play baseball and ended up picking the berries. When I couldn't reach any higher, we threw his bat at the branches to force the ripe fruit onto the ground. It was an excellent way to wear out a 3 year old!

    Before I started with the berries, I washed my jars and left them sitting in scalding hot water in the sink. The lids and rings I rinsed and added to a pot of water sitting on the stove to ensure everything stayed warm (so glass doesn't shatter when the hot fruit is added in).
    When you use the fruit, make sure you separate the ripe (deep pink or purple) from the unripe fruit. There are dissenting views in the research I did on the internet, but it seems the unripe fruit can make you ill. It is all so beautiful, though, isn't it?  
    I measured about 8 full cups into my large mixing bowl. At this point, put a few inches of cold water in the sink and separate the berry from the stem and drop the berries into the water to wash them. I read that they stain (they do) but I couldn't get the stem off with gloves on. I had to use my thumb nail to snap the stem. I now look like I've been changing the oil in cars for the past month. After you complete this step, very gently lift the berries out of the water. You don't want to bruise the fruit before you have it in the pot.
    I tossed the entire collection of washed berries into a large pot and smashed lightly with a potato masher. I then mixed in one cup of sugar (ripe mulberries are quite sweet on their own). I mixed a packet of pectin with another cup of sugar to keep it from clumping, and after another quick mash added this in to the mixture. I then added 4 cinnamon sticks and 2 teaspoons of cloves, put the lid on, and let it simmer lightly for a few minutes.

    Chill a spoon in the freezer and dip into the jam mixture. Wait about a minute, and test the viscosity and sweetness of the jam. I loved how the scent of cinnamon came through lightly in the flavor. I can't wait to try this on toast with coffee!

    Use a wide-mouthed funnel to help keep from spilling the jam on the rim of the jars. Spoon the mixture in quickly and top with the hot lid and rim. I tightened the lids enough to allow some suction, but let them cool slightly before putting them in the freezer. 
    I tasted the remnants as I was cleaning up, and it is delicate, sweet, yet not too fruity. I am also tickled by how viscous the remaining bits were in the pot. I am so happy with what I have here; although I know why it hasn't happened before, I am frustrated that our birds and groundhogs have gotten 8 years worth with no fight from me. If I can manage to get another 8 cups before the season is over, you'd better believe I'll make another batch. 

    Let me know if any of you try this out! The cinnamon adds a truly nice spice to the jam. 
    Bon appetit!

    Wednesday, May 29, 2013

    A Gift of Thanks - Ice Candles

     One year, when I was a child, I wanted to make something special and unique for Christmas presents. I pored over library craft books (this was waaayy before the Internet) and found this fantastic idea for ice candles. The creations were each unique from each other due to the way the wax cools around the ice as it melts. The closest thing I can think of to relate it to is the from the movie Sweet Home Alabama, when the lightning strikes the sand and turns it into glass sculptures.

    Fast forward quite a few years. My son is about to finish his first year of preschool. Not only have his teachers helped see him through some of his biggest milestones (potty training, teething his last molars, etc.), they've also protected him through 2 lock downs (one in immediate danger zone), cuddled him through strep and a handful of ear infections, and rocked him to sleep on his off days. They've done an incredible job keeping him stimulated, learning, caring, and independent. They've instructed, consoled, encouraged, and corrected him. They are angels. And I want to give them something unique and special to show them Steve's and my appreciation for all they've done the past 9 months. But what could I offer that wouldn't be overdone, or useless, or ruin a diet? Then I remembered the ice candles.

    Before you can begin, you must collect as many tin cans as you need in the size you want. The only stipulation is that these must be of the "old school" design - meaning, both ends must be able to be cut off in order to successfully extract the candle from the can. I don't know how recently the "stackable" cans came out, but the bottoms are rounded and cannot be cut off. Avoid these for this purpose. Below, I have two pumpkin cans - one upside down so you can see the ridge that enables the can opener to cut the bottom off.
    You will also need whole candles to fit in the middle of these - if they're too long (as you'll see in my picture below), heat a knife and cut these to the desired length.

    Next, I was able to garner a large quantity of slightly used crayons off of freecycle.com. I discovered each teachers' favorite colors and began to separate the crayons. This was a practice in 'browns' 
    First, peel the crayons. 
     Mark the insert candles with the length requirements and cut them with a heated knife to make the cut cleaner and prevent damaging the candle as a whole. 
     Using an older (or buying a cheap pot just for this purpose) pan, melt the wax.
     I used a popsicle stick to stir the wax as it melted. This is a lovely chocolate brown color.
     As the wax melts, pour a tray's worth of ice cubes into a freezer bag (thicker than regular storage baggies) and hit on a safe, hard surface to break the ice up. You do NOT want shavings or tiny pieces. Try to keep these fairly large. You may purchase a bag of from a store, too. I used our basement floor, since it was concrete, as I didn't want to damage the surface beneath the baggie.
     Pour the ice chunks around the center candle.
     Using the baggie (or newspaper) as protection, pour the melted wax over the ice. One key note of advice: make sure you have enough melted wax to come to the top of the can. As you can see, my practice candle was, thankfully, practice. I did not have enough wax to fill it. After the can is filled, let it sit long enough for the wax to harden. I initially put them into the freezer to speed that up, but only long enough for the top to solidify. After that, pull them out so the ice will melt.
     I let them sit overnight. Then, pour out as much melted ice as possible. Placing a towel on the counter, cut the bottom of the can, but leave the bottom on. Very gently, and pressing as evenly as possible on the bottom piece, push the candle out the top of the can. There will be pieces that break off, but you should be pleasantly surprised with the myriad of designs that appear.
    Here's the collection of candles I made for Syd's teachers. Notice that the cans are full to the brim with the various colored waxes.
    After extracting, these are each unique. I hope his teachers are able to enjoy these, and I hope it conveys, in some small part, our appreciation for their time, energy, and love for our son.
    It's odd. I've been a public school teacher for 8 full years, now. I've always enjoyed the letters, the notes, the small gifts my students bring me - before the holidays and sometimes at the end of the year. But I find myself pondering the thank you gifts we're giving my son's teachers more than expected. It is an interesting dichotomy of thought, and it makes me appreciate the time I have with my students even more.