Books · Reading Life · Teacher Life

Have you seen this book?

Have you seen this book?

SavinSaving Fable_Cover (1)g Fable by Scott Reintgen (@Scott_Thought)is an exciting mix of fantasy and adventure. Saving Fable is set in an imaginary world where characters train and wait to be picked to become parts of stories. Indira Story is one of those characters. Indira is hoping to become a protagonist in a story yet to be written, one that will be loved by readers everywhere — like Harry Potter. However, the process that leads to being picked by an author is demanding, and difficult. Some characters are destined to become side characters, antagonists, or worse, unfinished characters who spend eternity in the Sepulcher. 


Indira is a strong, female character. She faces many difficulties, including a classmate who seems bent on thwarting her every chance at success, and trusted adults giving her false information and advice. But Indira rises above her own doubts and difficulties, and becomes the hero that she was determined to become.

Middle grades readers who enjoy fantasy and adventure will enjoy this book. 

Family · Slice of Life · Stewardship

Finding Chocolates

I walked into my closet with the goal of decluttering just a little more. My goal is to remove just a little clutter every day. It’s like dieting, a pound here, a pound there, and pretty soon, you reach your goal. And if you don’t reach your goal, at least you have made inroads.

I stood at the edge of the closet and looked up at the full shelf, mentally calculating what could be moved without causing a small avalanche. I saw a brown paper grocery sack and reached for it first. I was imagining some papers had been hastily thrown into the sack, and then tossed on top of the shelf to be dealt with later.

I was not prepared for what was actually in the bag. I unfolded the top of the paper sack and took a look.

Ghiradelli chocolates. 6 bags of Ghirardelli chocolates. Some of the bags were opened, some werestill sealed.

I don’t remember when I put them there. I do remember putting them up high in case we accidently left the door to the closet open, so the dogs couldn’t get them. I think I bought them for Christmas one year — but I don’t remember which year. A taste test proved it couldn’t have been too long ago — the sea salt caramel squares were still just as good as ever.

I am amazed that I didn’t sneak back to the bag to eat the chocolates. Maybe that was my plan, but I must have gotten busy and forgot. I should tell my WW leader! That is a non-scale victory, if there ever was one.

I took the chocolates to the dining room and emptied the bags into the crystal bowl that sits on the table. The chocolates are now for everyone to share, instead of being hidden away.

I look at them as a reminder to UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_79f7share sweetness. I hid the chocolates for reasons I can’t remember. But now they are something for the family to share and enjoy. And it is making me happy to share.

Changes · Family · Spend Less · Stewardship

No Food Buying February

It has been one week since I challenged my husband and myself to spend February (at least) purposefully eating the food we have stored up in our pantry and cabinets. During this week, I focused on cooking and eating what was perishable first — so we ate the almost sprouting russet potatoes at several meals, as well as more salad than we normally eat. I bought salad mix for my lunches at Costco, and there is a lot of salad in those clamshells. We also ate leftover risotto and soup from the freezer — they weren’t in danger of perishing soon, but I want to clear out all of the stored food.

I also threw away some more packages from the pantry and refrigerator that were far beyond their expiration dates. The packages were bought, and then forgotten — wasted money and additional waste in the landfill, not to mention the wasted energy of production and shipping of food that is thrown away.

Today’s challenge was going grocery shopping without buying anything we didn’t absolutely need. I started at Sam’s because I needed gas, and a big bag of candy for my classroom. Going into Sam’s knowing I was only there for 5 items was more difficult than I imagined. It was hard to navigate the aisles without stopping for every “good” buy. One thing I love about shopping at Sam’s is the produce. There were bags of apples and trays of berries that looked so tempting — besides they are super healthy foods. But in the end, I resisted temptation. I only bought one item not on my list — a package of socks because I had forgotten the sock drive at school until I saw them. I left Sam’s having spent $45 — only $8 was for actual food for the week (salad mix and bananas for my lunches).

Then my husband and I went together to the local grocery store. All we needed was salt and butter, and we treated it as a challenge to actually only buy those items. As we walked the aisles, I thought about getting coffee and my husband commented that he was out of brownie mix. I also looked at the dairy case for a minute to see if a non-dairy yogurt I had seen advertised was available. But we resisted those temptations. We ended up getting 3 cans of dog food because I had forgotten to put that on the list, but it was a legitimate need for the week.

The best part — I didn’t have multiple bags of groceries to put away after shopping and we spent less than $20 on the food for the week.

I have been wondering why it is that I over buy food like I do. I think I have an unreasonable fear of running out of something important. I pass 5 grocery stores just on my way home from work every day, so I don’t even have to go out of my way to pick up something when I need it. Or perhaps it is because I hate shopping and I somehow think that by stocking up, I somehow won’t have to run to the store every Saturday — but it isn’t true. I will always have to shop.  

I have heard that there are people who actually let their refrigerators and pantries go almost bare. It is hard for me to believe. I’d love to hear how other people manage their food shopping — do you overbuy or just buy enough for the immediate future?

 

Changes · Family · Stewardship

Take What You Want, But Eat What You Take

I have been on many youth group retreats and mission trips with high schoolers from my church. One rule I’ve heard many times is, “Take what you want, but eat what you take.” This is an important thing to tell teenagers who are allowed to serve themselves from a buffet line. I have seen teenagers respond to a buffet as though they haven’t been fed in a month — and they load their plates with more than they can eat. I have seen plates mounded over with french fries and macaroni and cheese. The people at the end of the line may not have anything at all by the time they get to the line, or there is substantial food waste — and correlating excess cost to cook and serve food destined for the trash.

I have to say, I’m pretty good on a buffet line. I rarely have a problem eating what I put on my plate, and I don’t think I over serve myself because I have been at the end of the line and know what it is like to have little from which to choose.

But it is a different story when I go grocery shopping. For some reason, even if I make a list, I end up buying more than I can possibly eat in the interval between shopping trips — every single time. (But I won’t take all of the blame for this. My husband is as bad as I am at overbuying. One time I asked him to get me some dental floss, and he got 2 multi packs — I’m good on dental floss for a year or more.)

At this point, our pantry is beyond full. I can’t find shelf space to put anything else. I can’t even begin to clean it out because there is not enough space on the kitchen table to sort through all of what we have bought. For example, the 12 pound bag of black beans was a great deal when I bought it last spring at Sams — but even eating black beans every day in my salad at lunch, I’m only going through a cup of dried beans every week! It is going to be a year before I get through that bean purchase. And what was I thinking buying an 800 count box of stevia packets?? It has taken me a year and a half to use the 40 count box. But I was at Costco, and I had stevia on my shopping list, and it was super cheap at Costco — so it went into my cart.

“Take what you want, but eat what you take.” I will have to use 3 packets of stevia every day to use up that box before it reaches its ‘best by’ date. I definitely took more than I can possibly eat on that one.

It has become a problem and I have decided to stage an intervention for the two of us. For at least the month of February (and probably into March since I just bought rice at Costco….), we will buy no more shelf-stable food items until the pantry has been cleaned out. We will work on eating the fresh foods purposefully so that we limit our food waste, while also eating the stored up foods instead of buying more.

My motivation for my husband is that once we have cleaned out the pantry, I am going to help him redesign the pantry he has always hated, replacing the wire shelving with solid shelves, and to make it more like a butler’s pantry for dishes and appliances we rarely use. Since it is only the two of us at home most of the year, we should be able to use the smaller cabinets (that are also way too full) for our daily staples, making the kitchen flow more efficiently.

The rule “Take what you want, but eat what you take” is going to become my shopping mantra. I have been acting like those teenagers at the buffet line, buying far more food than I need or can even eat. I know economics and food distribution is far more complicated than a buffet line, but in small ways, I am taking up more than my share of the earth’s resources every time I throw away food that has gone bad or past its expiration date hiding in the far recesses of my cabinets, I am adding to the landfill in my community. This is not a good use of earth’s resources, and I need to make a change.

Does anyone else have this problem in their pantries?

If you want me, I’ll be drinking my tea — with stevia!

Books · Reading Life

What are you reading now?

I love to read. That is not a surprise to anyone who knows me. That has been a truth in my life as long as I can remember.

I currently have 231 book on my list of “to read” books in my Goodreads account. I currently have 4 books started, even though I promised myself to only read one book at a time this year.

I have 5 more e-books borrowed from the library through the Overdrive app — but I probably won’t even be able to open them before they expire. I guess the next time I get “hold happy”, I should limit my requests — I really didn’t expect all of the books to become available at the same time.


My goal is to not only get through half of my “to read” list this year — or at least 100 books since it goes without saying that there will be many more books to add to the list as the year progresses — but I also plan to blog about my reading.

The books I am currently reading are Beneath a Scarlet Sky, How Not to Die, The Bullet Journal Method, and The Summer of the Monkeys.

Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark T. Sullivan is my book club’s selection for February. It is a WWII novel set in Italy. I have read many books about WWII, but I have never read one set in Italy. The main character is Pino, an 18 year old caught up in the conflict in his home of Milan. The story is a fictionalized version of true events.

I love this quote from this morning’s reading, “How do you find happiness?” Anna paused, then said, “You start by looking right around you for the blessings you have. When you find them, be grateful.” (p. 261, Kindle version).  Anna is a 24 year old maid to the mistress of a top ranking Nazi official in Milan. Pino is his driver, and is a front row observer of the atrocities of the war. I love this quote because it reminds me that there is beauty in life, no matter how hard the day may be.

I just started rereading How Not to Die by Michael Greger. I read this book last year, but I don’t think I really read it with intention. My plan is to read it slowly, and work to improve my diet throughout the year. Today I read the introduction. The main premise is that diet is the strongest component in health. What we eat will determine our level of health, both now and in our future. When we eat whole plant foods, and stay away from the processed foods that I love so much, our health will improve.

I also started reading The Summer of the Monkeys by Wilson Rawls this week. This is a middle grades novel, first published in 1998, about a 14 year old boy living in the Ozark Mountains of Oklahoma in the late 1800s. While looking for a cow that got out of the fenced pasture, Jay Berry Lee has discovered a monkey in the woods nearby. My 4th grade reading team has chosen this book as a read aloud for the 3rd quarter this year. I was able to get through the first couple of chapters during an all day planning lunch break on Thursday. My copy from Amazon just arrived in the mailbox, so I am anxious to continue reading this story.

The last book I am reading is The Bullet Journal Method by Ryder Carroll. I picked up this book after seeing an online book club forming around it. I have been dabbling in bullet journaling for a few years, and I want to grow in my use of this method of ordering my life, in order to prioritize my days and activities. I have only read a few chapters, but one idea that has stood out to me is that while I keep myself very busy, I often choose activities that do not align with my life goals. For example, I often choose to watch hours of TV, which I enjoy, but the long list of books to read nags at the back of my head. If my goal is to read these books, which also gives me pleasure, I need to decide how many hours should be devoted to each pursuit, and possibly adjust the way I spend my days.

So that is the answer to the question, “What are you reading now?” I wonder if anyone will follow my year in pages.  I hope someone will join me.

Please let me know what you are reading.

 

Family

Hamilton!

Last night, I finally got to see Hamilton.

I remember the day I learned the show was coming to Charlotte. I immediately contacted my husband and told him we needed season tickets to the Broadway shows, just so we could get tickets to this show. That was 3 years ago. We bought 6 seats for 2 seasons, just so we would have the tickets last night.

While we were driving uptown, my daughter Taylor called. “Would you, dad and the brothers like to go backstage after the show?” Of course we wanted to go backstage. Several of the cast members have been taking a fitness class she teaches, and one of her new friends offered to show us all around. Could this get any better?

The show was amazing. I have studied the lyrics, the books, and watched every video on Youtube, but finally seeing it in person was worth the wait.


After the show, the 6 of us walked to the stage door access behind the theater building. There were security guards and a dog guarding the exit. After a few minutes, Kristen Hoagland came out of the door and took us past the barricades and the guards, into the theater’s backstage area. She showed us where the actors changed wigs, where each actor kept their props and costume change items. She showed us all of the costumes, hanging to allow the accumulated sweat to dry before the next performance. Each actor has their own set of cubbies and drawers to keep their shoes, hats, and other costume items neatly stored.

The stage itself has a turntable, with an outer ring that sometimes turned with the center, and sometimes turned opposite the center. The turntables allowed the illusion of walking, or distance on the stage, and allowed the actors to change position on the stage without actually moving themselves. It gave a 360º feel for the audience at times as the stage itself turned so the audience could see all angles. Just standing on the stage was surreal.

The different furniture props were suspended above the heads just off stage, so the pieces could be lowered when needed, but out of the way other times. There were cubbies filled with different papers and items the actors used throughout the show. It was all extremely neat, with everything immediately accessible as needed.

Kristen was such a sweet host. She told us a little about her time on the tour, and answered all of our questions. She took our picture on the stage. I imagine she was tired after such a long performance, but she didn’t show it. We got to say hello to other cast members as they walked by, each going to their own home-away-from-home here in the city.IMG_0925

Thank you, Hamilton cast and crew, for such a great night with my family. That was one to remember for a long time.

 


 

Teacher Life

A Teacher’s Summer — Day 1

June 14, 2018

So many people have asked, “What do teachers do in the summer?” that I thought I’d answer that in my blog.

Yesterday was my first full day of summer break. I filled it with what you might expect — I read on the back porch (10 more chapters into War and Peace), I walked with friends, and I did laundry. But I mostly went to my routine appointments that I had put off for several months. I started the day with a mammogram — only 2 months overdue — and ended it with a trip to the dentist — only 5 weeks overdue. And in between I made phone calls to schedule more appointments. And I am not alone in the teacher rush to make appointments during our summer break — most teachers do this, postponing routine physicals, dentist appointments, etc, simply because it is too hard to miss school days.

This isn’t because I don’t have days I could take off for medical reasons. My district is generous with sick days, and  I now have a little more than half a school year saved up. I could take all the days I need to make these appointments anytime during the year.


The real reason teachers don’t take time off from work for routine appointments during the school day is that it is too much work to be away from the classroom. Substitute plans take hours to write. I have developed a template method, and my sub plans STILL take me about 2 hours to write for every day I’m out of the building. My template plan is this — at the beginning of the year, I write a basic sub plan template. I include emergency instructions (fire drill, lockdown, etc), students who need extra help or understanding, dismissal information, classroom rules and routines, and class lists. This template gets copied every time I need to write new sub plans, and I simply tweak it with dismissal changes, class helper changes, and adjust the class lists as students move in and out. That saves at least an hour of writing for every sub plan I have to write.

Because I teach at a departmentalized school, I only need to plan lessons for language arts and social studies, and then repeat the same lessons for a different class after lunch. That helps tremendously with writing sub plans, but they are still hard to write. The trick is finding activities students can do basically on their own that will be engaging enough so they won’t misbehave, but easy enough that they won’t need much instruction. Then I have to identify any problems that may come up with the lesson — primarily technology based — and teach a few key students how to troubleshoot these issues. For example, our social studies website has crossword puzzles that help students identify key vocabulary. It is an engaging activity which forces the students to reread the articles looking for the words that match the meaning given as the clue.  They enjoy it and it is a pretty easy activity to leave in sub plans. However, sometimes the crossword puzzle fails to load — I don’t know why but I figured out that if you simple delete the browsing history on the student’s Chromebook, it is fixed. It is simple enough on paper — but then I have to teach several 9 year olds in both classes how to find the settings, scroll down to advanced settings, and click through all the steps to delete the history – and then make them the classroom tech gurus to help everyone one else in the room — and hope that they aren’t absent (or forget) on the day I’m out of the room also.

But the real issue with writing sub plans is that often they are not followed — not even a little bit. Sometimes subs are not available, or they cancel at the last minute and the class has to be dispersed. But sometimes subs just don’t do what is on the plan. My favorite was when a particular sub was in my room and told the class my plans were stupid — then had them work on memorizing the states and capitals instead — not an objective in my state for my grade (or any grade since my WATCH can tell me the capital of any state or country in less than 3 seconds). So everytime I take a day out of the classroom, not only do I need to write meaningful lesson plans (copied to all administration in the building and all the teachers on my team), but I have to plan for those lessons to be completely ignored, which puts my class behind the pacing guide every time. (Kids, I’m truly sorry that instead of spending the 45 minutes I planned for writing your essays, the sub told you stories about her dog, but the district says we have to move to another topic on Monday, so your paper is still due tomorrow. Have fun tonight…..).

Yeah — that tooth cleaning can wait…….

I have to say, not all substitute teachers are that bad. Karen, Linda, June — I’m looking at you. But the good subs are usually taking the long term jobs in my building, and are booked up months in advance. And I understand being a substitute teacher is HARD. I was a substitute for 4 years in my district, so I know how difficult it is to come into a classroom just before the students, have to read and understand the plans, figure out technology that is new and different from classroom to classroom depending on the model and age of the device, and then be ready for a full day with students in 10 minutes or less. And most do try — but it is a very hard job.

So next time you wonder what teachers do on the summer break, remember that they are probably catching up on all the appointments everyone else makes during the year.