Monday, August 4, 2014

Summer Comes to Another Close - New School Year Goals

I can't believe it is nearly time. This summer, more so than in the past, seems to have flown by. Syd is older and requires much more energy out of me, though, so that may be where my lapse in time enters. He also grew out of his naps a few weeks into summer, so I've been mourning the loss of my quiet "Mommy Time."

So, with only a few more items left on my "Things I Have to Get Done During Summer or They Won't Get Done" list, my mind is already distracted by looking to the future and the beginning of a new chapter. What do I need to do so my work week goes more smoothly? What do I need to accomplish so I don't feel a panic rise at the thought of the first day of school? How can I make mine, and my family's, lives better over the next few weeks in preparation for the next 9 months?
  1. I want to stockpile slow-cooker recipes and create "at-a-glance" grocery lists for items specific to these recipes that I may need. Starting last year, we utilized our slow-cooker much more frequently. It saved many a dinner. In fact, I want to obtain a smaller size for meals that require more than one component, or for desserts. I've become a fanatic on Pinterest, pinning slow-cooker recipes that I think my family would enjoy. I need to sort these and organize them in a way to ensure at least 2 meals a week via the slow-cooker. And stockpile the little baggies that make cleanup soooo much quicker.
  2. I also want to stock up my freezer with pre-made breakfasts. I've done that every fall, and it helps tremendously until we find our rhythm. Frozen homemade pancakes for Syd; egg cups w/ veggies for me - look through the recipes I've discussed on this blog and you'll find these hints for a healthy and easy start to the mornings. Just make sure you use parchment paper to separate the frozen pancakes or you'll spend more time trying to pry them apart!
  3. Syd is all set for school clothes, but I need a few fresh items. My wardrobe is tired. But I hate loathe despise detest clothes shopping. It takes all my energy. Regardless, I need to find a few new items to add to my closet before I have no time to get out and look around.
  4. One last thorough scrub of the house would be nice, but I'm not pushing it. I've had a mind to scrub the kitchen floor all summer. I'm not sure it would be worth it, though, since at one point or another, I've had to mop up something Syd spilled, so I'm sure the floor got wiped in its entirety anyway, right? I'm just thrilled I got to wipe down all cabinets and the ceiling fans. It doesn't hurt to hope, though, since I probably won't get to a full cleansing again until winter break. 
And now, for school goals...
  1. Last year, I did well with utilizing all my free time during the 1st semester. I stayed on top of assignments and I handed back papers quicker than I ever have in the past. I was very proud of myself. And burned out very quickly. I teach upper level students - which translates to a ton of short answer and essay grading - by winter break, I was exhausted and felt I'd ignored my own needs (and some of my family's needs) far too much. I need to continue to work on balance. This will be my 10th year as a high school teacher, and I STILL have no idea how to balance home life with school. It is very frustrating.
  2. I rearranged my room - my set-up needed a big change. It is far more inconvenient for me, but I'm hoping it will encourage me to monitor more closely the students as they work. I spent three days at a workshop with Anita Archer and, while I don't agree with everything she taught, found a great deal of her ideas to be the change I needed in my classroom. I'm hoping to be able to reach the students who flail more quickly to ensure their success - especially in our society's data-driven school system.
  3. I want to work to help our department stay tightly-knit. We're a very close department. But stress and duties and priorities can cause hairline fractures in any relationship. I know we're coming in after time off and that is the best medicine teachers can have, but I want to mend any rifts and make sure we're 'feeling the love.' I've got a special project in line for our first department meeting. And yes, it's a little cheesy, but I don't care - I'm a cheesy person. And proud of it. :-)
I love teaching. I know that keeping my list of expectations for myself small will help me succeed - and even though the list is small, the objectives are rather large. So, here's to new beginnings. Here's to a new chapter and, as a last note, Autumn, my favorite season, is nearly here! All will be right with the world. :-)

Saturday, July 5, 2014

A Little Boy's Dresser - Putting Dreams to Reality

Forgive me for my absence. I am quite ashamed at how much time has passed since I wrote a post. I have nothing to say except - this was a doozy of a school year. And I needed to distance myself from all that is scholastic for a time in order to feel the quickening that is necessary before I start to plan for next year.

In that distancing from all academia, I have discovered about myself that, as much as I love to bake, or write, or draw, or build out of blocks, or paint - I am a creative person - and as much as I find solace and enjoyment and relaxation in any of these while I am enmeshed in them, I would not be happy making  a career out of any one of them. I get giddy over putting together a lesson that I think is wonderful and interesting for my students. But I also find tremendous satisfaction in baking for my friends and family or making a healthy, satiating dinner for my family. I get butterflies when a poem bursts out of me with nary a distinct thought from my own head telling my hand what to write. I can take a deep breath and sigh with exhausted contentment when I battle, and defeat, a big mess or pile of laundry. And I had an unbelievable amount of fun conquering the mess that was this dresser, making it something my 4 year old is thrilled to have in his room. I need to flex my creative muscles in a wide variety of ways in order to feel whole. And this dresser put my muscles to the test in more ways than one.
I got it for free. I subscribe to - a website that is, essentially, a list where people send out emails stating they have something to give or need - all for free. It is a way of preventing the landfills from overflowing. Last winter, a very nice woman posted that she had an antique dresser to give away. It had water and termite damage. It was in very rough shape. It originally had four legs that stood it at least another 10 inches off the ground, but one leg was broken (eaten) off. Since I knew I would need another dresser for my son, soon, I accepted it. He's small. It made more sense to just cut off the three remaining legs and bring it down to his height.  
In the process of priming it (two coats of Kilz - water damage stains soaked through almost immediately), I realized the bottom drawer was not worth the effort to fix. So, I broke off the sides and bottom and kept the front panel. My husband sawed off the braces for the bottom drawer, and we now have a nook where my son can keep his shoes out of the way and in one place, freeing up some space in his toy room.
My son loves blue. It has been his favorite color since the day he could point out colors. He always wants to wear blue. He wants blue food. He wants blue toys. At a birthday party yesterday, he chose a cupcake to eat solely on the fact that it had a blue cocktail umbrella in it. So, it was an easy choice for me to pick colors. He picked out two blues that he liked (though his absolute favorite is the darker of the two). I painted the entire outside of the dresser in this darker color - two coats. The insert panels and the inside of the dresser are the lighter shade.
For my son's 5th birthday in September, we're having a Star Wars themed party. He adores Star Wars (episodes 4-6). They have become his new pick for sick days, for rainy afternoons, etc. I found these drawer pulls on Etsy - the characters are outlined in glow-in-the-dark paint. They are a big hit with the little one!
The drawers (and the third front panel) I painted in a color that is actually a twilight purple. It is very dark, but not black. I wanted them to stand out from the blues on the dresser. Then, I scoured the internet, poster sales, wall paper selections - you name it! - for solar systems, planets, stars. I wanted a celestial background for his Star Wars characters to stand against. I finally resorted to checking a book out of the library on galaxies and making color copies of them. Everything I found was either cartoonish or obvious paintings/drawings of stars and planets. I just envisioned real solar systems. This was the only way I could make my vision come to fruition.
Using the store brand of Mod Podge (I really wish someone had just told me that this was essentially nothing more than a huge tub of liquid glue), I decoupaged the pictures to the front of the drawers, adding two coats to the top of the pictures. In this one, above, you can still see the last solar system drying.
My son, and his little buddies, all made July 4th t-shirts during one of our play dates. I had plenty of white and glow-in-the-dark paint left over, so I added little drops to the board in random sizes and places. I outlined, dotting out the stars, the solar systems in the GITD paint. In this one, above, you can see a faint bit of the glowing. After I was satisfied with the number of stars and the GITD paint, I added two more layers of glue/decoupage over the top to seal everything in and, hopefully, keep the added stars and dots from getting rubbed off, broken off, etc.
Above, you can see the very wet GITD paint. It shows up yellowish-white, then fades to almost translucent after it dries.
Once all layers of paint and decoupage had dried and seasoned, somewhat, I added the Star Wars drawer pulls. Darth Vader looks like he is about to fight off this spiral solar system. 
 My finished product. I have no idea how old this dresser was to begin with, but the frame was solid. And the remaining wood, even if a bit water stained, is in good shape. And I believe this is the first time something I imagined came out almost exactly as I imagined it. 
Here, below, is the matching 3rd drawer-front. I finished the top and sides of this the same as I did the drawers. I painted the insides of the drawers to seal out dust and dirt and then added contact paper to the bottoms to keep his clothes from snagging on anything. To the 3rd drawer-front, I added the 4 remaining drawer pulls and drilled hangers on the back. This will be a place for him to keep his hats, jacket, etc.
Below, you can see his 3rd-drawer front hanging in his room. His bed faces it, so he'll be able to see his solar systems glowing.
Here's my little Snickerdoodle photo bombing the finished dresser.
 The finished dresser. This, too, faces his bed, so he'll be able to see the GITD solar systems and drawer pulls at night. He has also begun moving his shoes under the cubby the 3rd drawer made.
 My little escape the first few weeks of summer gave me a chance to truly stretch creative muscles I hadn't used in quite some time. And this was such fun. My son helped paint some of the blue, too, but even though the end product was for him, the process was for me. He always had input on how things were done, though. I know he'll outgrow this dresser at some point, but I'm hoping that doesn't happen for a long time. And after it does, I'm still keeping the drawer pulls. :-)

What ways do you find to stretch yourself - either creatively or mentally? I'd love to hear your stories!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Because it is My Name - Thoughts on Raising a Well-Behaved Child

My son is 4.

He is a good boy. He is kind and compassionate. He shares his food with me whenever I ask. Sometimes, I ask just to see if he's willing, even if I "change my mind" after he says yes. And I am happy to say that he always does, though he sometimes hesitates at first. 

He is interested in many different walks of life and happy to chat with everyone we see. He is generally very helpful around the house. He says please and thank you and I'm sorry. He loves his friends and his family, and, though still a small child, is pretty good about sharing his toys.

But lately, he has been getting quite an attitude.

He has begun to sigh when I ask him to do something.

He has sassed back when I've corrected him or instructed him to do something.

I have caught him rolling his eyes at me when I do not give him what he wants immediately.

And tonight, he went too far. He not only sassed me when I told him to eat his dinner, he did so with the mimicky, high-pitched voice that warranted an immediate response from me.

I am frustrated with this increase in attitude. Steve and I do not spank, but we are very clear in our expectations and, I like to think, very consistent in our responses to misbehavior. We treat each other with respect and make it a habit to model the behavior we expect from our son. We certainly do not sass each other, nor do we perform the mimicky voice he pulled this evening. I have to presume he learned some of this from outside the home, and developed the rest on his own as he tests the limits.

We do not spank, but we do correct.

As I commanded his attention, directing him to look me in the eyes, I suddenly remembered this scene from The Crucible. I was surprised to discover that, by about mid-January, I missed my 11th grade curriculum. I have taught The Crucible for the past 8 years, and suddenly, quotes from it come floating to me at the most random moments.

PROCTOR, with a cry of his whole soul: [...] how may I teach [my son] to walk like [a man] in the world? [...]Because it is my name! Because I cannot have another in my life! [...] How may I live without my name? I have given you my soul; leave me my name!

It is my name. My son has my name. Everything I do and for everything I strive - I must teach my son, guide my son - so he is worthy of my name, and so I am worthy of the title of 'Mommy.' 

There is a meme floating around cyberspace that says, if I remember correctly, "Leave a better planet for our kids? Why not leave better kids for our planet!" How can I ensure my son will be able to help in some capacity when he's older? 

I corrected him. Immediately and clearly, but calmly.

Will it happen again? Of course. He learned this somewhere, but he is also of the age where he is testing limits - seeing just how much he can get away with before he is called on his behavior. He will also forget. We all forget. The only thing I desperately hope he remembers the first time around is when safety is involved. The rest, I may be frustrated or disappointed, but I understand repetition and consistency are necessary.

I love my son - so much so that I insist on his being respectful to others. So much so, that I will not allow him to get away with sassing others. He is a good boy and I am proud of him, but I know there is still a lot of work ahead of us all.

Image courtesy of

Saturday, April 12, 2014

An Endometriosis Update - Part V

As of January 1st, I started going gluten-free to see if that would help with any of my discomfort. At first, I was simply reducing the amount of gluten that I ingested. I would say I was about 75% gluten-free in my diet.

But as it is, I started to forget when I had had actual bread, or cake, or pizza. And then I started to justify eating it. And then I started to feel badly again, and was bloated, and had an upset stomach.

So, I rearranged my thoughts, reasserted myself to the strictest of diets, and now, I am consistently approximately 99% gluten-free. I am very conscientious of what I'm eating and when, and I've noticed enough of a change in how I feel to stay on this path of restricted diet. It is encouraging.

This does not mean that I don't have the incessant back-ache. Or the pain in my ovaries. Or that I don't bloat. But the repercussions from these are reduced, enough so to encourage me to keep to this change.

The few occasions I have allowed myself to slip, I've noticed a difference the following day - enough of one to cause me to redirect back to my gluten-free diet. There is one particular meme I've found on Pinterest that describes how I felt on a regular basis before beginning this diet.

Do you remember (I don't know if they still exist, honestly) the Pillsbury dinner rolls? You press a spoon on the seal after peeling back the paper and it pops open? Yeah - that is how I used to feel before this diet. I used to feel like I would pop buttons on my jeans any minute. I used to buy multiple boxes at a time of diuretics to help me feel better about dinner out with friends or other special events. I used to suck down water endlessly, hoping my body would begin to reject it and I would stop looking pregnant.

I am so happy with the lessening of bloat and pain I've felt that I actually bought a bread maker (for health reasons, too... far fewer chemicals if I make the bread homemade...) that has a gluten-free setting on it, and I can assure you, homemade gf bread is nothing like the store bought. It is something you will not regret.

So, ladies, if you haven't already gone gluten-free, I would recommend it. I know different treatments work differently on us all. And it takes time to work through each to see which effects we notice, but this is one my doctor approved of. My next goal is to reduce dairy, but I love sour cream and cheese, and I know that will be much harder to let go of for me.

In the meantime, keep on trying. Know you're not alone, and let me know if this post was helpful. Endo sisters forever.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Homesick - The Importance of Place.

It is by knowing where you stand that you grow able to judge where you are. – Eudora Welty

     In graduate school, I took a class on Ecocriticism. I took this class partially because the title fascinated me, but also because I was feeling a connection to land - to place, and I wanted a chance to indulge myself and examine what I was feeling and why. Ecocriticism is, essentially, the study of Place in literature. It is not the landscape or the setting, but Place almost as if it were a character within the text. It was a fascinating class.
     In the process of writing my final paper for this class, I read a book called From Where We Stand- Recovering a Sense of Place by Deborah Tall. The book offered a look at Place as it impacts us. According to some theories, wherever we live at the age of 10 is where we feel a deep connection. I refuse to speak for others, but where I was at the age of 10 was in Wisconsin - on the prairies - with the breeze rippling across the prairie grasses and undulating over the hills. With puffy cumulus clouds that seemed close enough to touch as you laid on your back, warming up from the cool swimming pool waters and with the sky matching the blue of the water at your side. With storms that you could smell miles away and funnel-clouds that arose in purple clouds - and sirens that sounded directing you to your basement's alleged safest corner - the southwest corner. With lake-effect snow that, at 5 inches, was a tease as you walked the mile to school and you only jumped for joy when a solid foot fell overnight. With the joke that Wisconsin has only two seasons: shovel and swat. And with snow that stuck around for more than a day.
     Flash forward many years. I have fallen in love with the mountains of Virginia. Autumn is my favorite - the motley of colors splashed against the rising, rolling peaks dotted with shadows from clouds enthrall me. I find a lot of beauty in all I see and in every season. Virginia has all 4 seasons - most of the time. But the winter here is dull. I cherish the days we get snow, even if the curving, hilly roads are too dangerous to attempt. Most of the time, though, when we do get snow, it is usually coated with ice or it melts within a day. It is not much fun for playing in and cabin fever can be even more realistic than it was in the frigid Wisconsin temperatures.
     On a few occasions, we will get a storm so powerful, or the temperatures will remain low long enough, that the snow will last more than a day. And on those occasions, I feel a tremendous homesickness. I've been in Virginia for 26 years, now, and I still yearn for the nights when the clouds insulated the air and I and my brother went out to shovel our driveway at 10 at night in hopes that our Mom would have an easier time the next morning. I miss the blue hue that night takes on when any and all light is reflected in the crystalline ground. I gaze, longingly, at the rolling hills here, serpentine tracks from sledders (sleds - not sleighs. The two are not interchangeable.) curving down until the bottom is reached and a host of foot tracks climb to the top. And I miss the warmth that can accompany the cold when you work up a sweat shoveling, or rolling a huge base to a snowman, or engaging in a snowball fight.
     I am homesick at the moment. I am so happy that the storm that hit us last Thursday has lasted this long. I love the fact that I got 3 days of shoveling in - at least an hour each day - providing me with a workout, fresh air, sense of accomplishment, and a reason for a back massage all in one. And I am so thankful that my son got to go outside every day this week to play without worry about wind or mud or ridiculously frigid temperatures and was worn out every evening, dropping easily off into slumber. Steve laughed at the frustration he's felt, having to trek into work -- he shook his head in exasperation and said he has absolutely no inclination to move further north. 
     These mountains are where he was when he was 10. And he loves these hills. When we take a trip to the beach, as much fun as we have, he sighs in happiness and relief when we finally get back to "his mountains." I know I will never be able to instill in him the same love I have for my prairies. And I know, too, that I am easily looking past the downfalls to my prairies. But I am relieved to know that, regardless of Place and Home, as much as I love my prairies, my time here has demonstrated that every place you try on can be a fit, if you give it a chance.
     Steve and Sydney are my true home. I miss my prairies, and I enjoy knowing I'll, one day, be able to show Sydney the joys I experienced as a child growing up on the lolling hills. But as long as I have my two boys, I'll be home, regardless of prairie or ancient hills.
     Where were you at age 10? Does it have a wonderful hold upon you? Are you still there and is that landscape a part of who you are?

Image of prairie courtesy of
Image of Appalachian Mountains courtesy of

Friday, February 14, 2014

Reminiscing while Juggling Tasks - Making My Love Known

We've been hit with the 3rd largest snow storm in my town's recorded history. It isn't THAT much, in terms of what I've seen as a child growing up w/ lake-effect snow from Lake Michigan in Waukesha, Wisconsin, but it is enough, what with our hills, curvy roads, and mountain passes, to side-line everything in the surrounding area for a few days.

That being said, today is Valentine's Day, and while I did have something special and unique planned for Steve (we don't usually celebrate this as a special day, since I'm thankfully conscientious of how important he is to me), the weather has side-lined it. It may end up being a birthday surprise this summer when there is no chance of a blizzard ruining it. :-)

Instead, though, I did what I felt was next best - and what I strive to do on a daily basis - I wanted to demonstrate to him, and to my son, what true love looks like. Steve had to go to work. He purposely drove a work jeep home so he could get in and out over the past two days, swinging by to pick up his employees, coming home an hour or more late due to impassable roads, etc. So, what could I possibly do to make his life easier once he got home from making sure the entire valley had water? That his employees were safe?

Yes, a hot dinner on the table is essential. But so is a driveway that is maneuverable, a happy child waiting to play with him, work clothes cleaned, folded, put away. I am happy to take care of my family when they do so much to take care of me. And Steve is such a kind soul - such a good Daddy - such an uplifting friend and confidante and positive influence in both our lives. He is worth the sore back I will have the next few days.

So, I bundled the kiddo up and we went outside to play. I cleared out enough for his car to come home and dug my car out so today's sunshine would make short shrift of the thaw. Syd loved the huge pile I made near the mailbox, and climbed to the top over and over, yelling in glee as he crested.
Then, no snow day is complete without the signature snowman. I have a kit that my wonderful sister gave us for Christmas several years ago, but I hadn't fully expected Syd to last this long in the snow (the past few days, we've lasted 30 minutes, tops). He proved me wrong and we built this guy, using gravel and mulch for the face.

My thoughts drifted back to my childhood, after we moved to Virginia. There was a huge snowstorm when I was in high school, and when I think of it, I automatically remember my entire family getting so excited because we'd missed our Waukesha snow so much. My mother couldn't make it into work, so she was home with all of us. We made a HUGE snowman in the driveway - at least 6 feet tall (if you know the women in my family, that is huge!). My mom went inside, gathered together several water bottles, and filled them with water and food coloring, and we completely decorated our snowman, giving her a dress, a face, hair, etc. I know we have pictures somewhere, but I will have to really dig to find them.

My point is, in building our snowman below, and the subsequent activities, I thought very fondly of the time Mom and I spent together outside, forgetting chores and roles and just playing. I truly hope that Syd grows up to have fond memories like these of the two of us, especially since we'll be sharing all snow days together.
After the snow man, Syd and I rested in the seemingly warm snow. The temperatures have risen to the high 40s, and it was downright pleasant to lay in the snow, staring up at the cerulean blue sky with nary a cloud nearby. I was struck by this picture, and I wish you could truly see just how beautiful it was with the sparkles from the snow reflecting off his skin.
He got tired of laying and started throwing snowballs at me. So, I did what any good Mommy would do and began to wrestle with him. Here, he is struggling to stand back up.
He continued to throw snowballs, so I talked him into building a snow fort so we could attack Daddy when he got home. This shows how tall it is! We'll both be able to successfully duck down and block any snowballs coming our way.
I built a fort for Daddy, too. After I finished, Syd wanted to test them out, so we had a snowball fight. Here's a solid launch he let fly. Suitably, it looks like it is in the shape of a heart! After a long day fighting snow, keeping us in water, and just being out and about, I know a snowball fight with our new forts will help Daddy forget his stress and kick off his weekend perfectly.
After we came inside, I got laundry going so we would have dry clothes to get into for our next trip into the white wonderland outside. Then, we baked a cake. One square pan and one circle pan. Cut the circle in half and attach with frosting to perpendicular angles of the square to form a heart. Syd loves to bake with Mommy, and Daddy will still have something special waiting for him at home.

How do you show your love in simple ways? How do you pass the time when the weather is bad? Share your ideas and perhaps we'll try yours next snowstorm!

Happy Valentine's Day to everyone - and Happy Memories with the simple things in life.

Monday, January 20, 2014

I'm Sneaky - Pumpkin & Black Bean Lasagna

I've said before that I am starting to get a reputation for someone who manages to hide vegetables in various foods - both savory and sweet. Once I started testing recipes out, I just couldn't stop. It was downright fun finding ways to get my boys to eat more veggies.

In an effort to stretch the meals a bit as well as hide some squash, I started mixing thawed, drained winter squash into my spaghetti and lasagna. It adds body to the flavor, nutrients to the meal, and another serving to the quantity. But I've since tweaked my lasagna even further.

Lasagna with Pumpkin and Black Beans

After I fry up the meat (beef, ground turkey, whichever you prefer) and drain it, I rinse my beef with scalding water to get rid of excess fat. This picture shows my Halloween pumpkins (pie pumpkins, not the tough Jack-o-lantern kind) - before they sat on the porch too long, I roasted them and scraped the flesh, freezing it in 1 cup quantities. Add the pumpkin to the beef and mix in well, keeping the heat on - you want to cook off as much moisture as possible. Add garlic, onions, salt, pepper, and basil to this as it cooks down. Keep in mind the pumpkin doesn't have the seasoning, and neither do the black beans, so adding flavor on every layer is important for depth. (Or, for a vegetarian take on the meal, leave out the meat and simply cook off excess moisture with the seasonings added in. It is just as delicious - Yes, I've tried it.)
I've got a coffee grinder I use solely for flax seed. Flax is a very tough seed and most cooking times won't steam the outer layer enough to release the healthy oils. For anything that steams or boils, I toss the seeds in whole. For anything else, I grind the seeds before I toss them into the food.
Here is the finished mixture - pumpkin and beef cooked down with ground flax seed.
Begin your layers - organic spaghetti sauce (or, even better, this lovely concoction that uses 10 veggies!), Oven-ready noodles (not pre-cooked), ricotta cheese, meat mixture, shredded cheese, and repeat. when you finish with your last layer, take rinsed and drained plain black beans and layer across the top. This adds another element of fiber as well as protein. I will probably add these to every layer next time I make it.
Top with a last layer of sauce and cheese, and bake for at least an hour on 350*. When I am truly productive, I make this at least a day in advance. There is just something about chili and lasagna that makes the flavor better if it is cooked, sits, then is warmed up slowly.
If you choose to make this in advance, you can freeze and reheat it, too. I would recommend that you tent tin foil over the top to make sure the cheese doesn't stick and that excess steam has an opportunity to escape..

I hope you try this! Let me know your thoughts if you do. Considering the winter blast we're supposed to get tomorrow, I am thrilled that we have leftovers in the fridge. There is no better way to warm up after playing in the snow!