Tuesday, August 27, 2013

First Day of School Excitement, and How To Survive When the Excitement Settles!

I'm on my way to my first day of school for the 26th time (counting being a student and a teacher)! I have to say, I'm not sure it's much different for either.  Whether you're a teacher or a student, the first day of school is filled with excitement, chaos, and a bit of anxiety.  There are new supplies, a promise of organization, hope in the air, and a rush of endorphins as you tackle that first day.

There's also a sense of sadness for the summer that must end.  For me, each summer as a teacher has gotten better and better. I've become more financially stable, and been able to work less and less each summer.  This summer I was able to do something other than teaching/tutoring, and coached soccer.  It was a great change of a pace, and I really enjoyed it.

Coaches from this summer

There was also many days spent on the beach, weekend trips with M, long walks with Stella, ventures with friends, and days spent doing exactly what I wanted (even if that meant sitting on the couch in the air conditioning watching Bravo marathons).  It really was glorious!

And just like that, it's OVER! After 3 days of professional development without the students, I'm actually more than ready for their arrival.  This will be my 9th year teaching 5th grade, and my 2nd year at my current school.  In true "First Day of School Eve" form, I could not sleep last night...thus, I'm up at 3:30 a.m. typing this post! Even though the excitement of the first day(s) will power me through today, and hopefully the week, I have some tricks and tips that help me get through the busy year.  Here they are in no particular order:

Tips For Getting Through Busy Work Weeks:

I know this seems silly, but for me, knowing I have a rest day planned not only makes that day easier, but it motivates me through the workout the day before (since I know I'll have a break the next day), and also the day after (because I know I didn't exercise the day before).  My favorite rest days are Mondays (they're hard enough already!), and Thursdays (it sets me up for a weekend of great workouts).  

This is a trick I got from my mom.  She actually makes 2-3 main dishes on Sunday, and then uses them for dinners throughout the week.  Knowing that dinners are simply heat and eat makes it feel so much easier Monday through Friday.  In the summer, we'll grill a few things like steak, chicken, sausages, and then add onto them to make meals that are super easy.  In the winter, the crock pot and baked dishes make an appearance. Lasagna, enchiladas, pulled pork, and baked chicken casseroles are favorites.  These are also easy to freeze portions of, so in a pinch a hot meal is just a 6 minute trip in the microwave away! 

During the week, a big headache is trying to hit the grocery store after work.  Even if it's just for yogurt and eggs, bustling through the store at 5 p.m. is utter chaos. I try to take a look in the fridge and get everything we're low on either Saturday or Sunday.  Weekends that look particularly busy are good candidates for Peapod (or whatever your local grocery store offers as delivery service).  It's about $6.00 to have groceries delivered, but there are often promotions that offer it free when you spend a certain amount.  I also have to say that when I order my groceries, I'm able to bargain shop more and make smarter decisions because comparing costs is just a click away.

Getting our home in order before a busy week always makes it feel a little more manageable.  If I can find my shoes, bag, glasses without a 5 minute scavenger hunt, it opens up more time for important things....like snuggling Stella! Clearing off our kitchen table (it tends to be our dumping spot for papers, bills, odds and ends) and putting a fresh vase of flowers also makes me happy throughout the week.

I know this is probably easier for someone without children (like me), so I'm speaking from the perspective of a non-mom/dad, but carving out a little time for myself each day after work helps me get through a jam-packed day.  Reading in bed for an hour, or watching guilty-pleasure T.V. (like Real Housewives of whatever county...) are two of my favorites.  At 2:00, when students are tired, and I have a headache from talking all day, I think about this time that is in my future and it powers me through.

- SET A TIME FOR TALKING ABOUT THE UPCOMING WEEK (i.e. complaining on Sunday night!)
I know this sounds ridiculous, but I am someone who always has trouble living in the now.  I'm always thinking ahead and planning/worrying/scheduling.  M actually came up with the idea, and said we can't talk about the upcoming work week (obviously we do if there's something we feel we really want to talk about, but we try to avoid it), until 6 p.m. on Sunday.  This actually works for me, and I don't find myself stressing until, ohhhhh....about 6:05 p.m., but hey, it's better than waking up on Sunday and perseverating over the impending week.

So there you go! A few tips and tricks that I employ to make the work week go a bit smoother around here.  

Do you have any tips that make the work week smoother for you? 

Any teachers out there? Where and what grades/positions?

Friday, August 16, 2013

Where did the summer go?

Oh my gosh...well, that was fast! Last I posted I was thinking about all of the things I was looking forward to this summer...and whoooosh, just like that it's just about over! I've been bad about blogging, but not by choice.  M used my laptop, and it kind of crashed.  

We put it aside, said we needed to get to the Apple Store, and then made no real effort to do so.  I was desperate the other day to get something done for work, so I tried to boot it up (does anyone still say that?!), and it worked! Looks like it just wanted a summer vacation too!

Despite being bad at blogging, I was pretty good at taking pictures. We have had something 8 of the 9 summer weekends that had us pack our bags (they actually stayed packed all summer) and get on the road.  Here's a little recap in mostly pictures!

Wedding in Brooklyn for M's best friend growing up:

One weekend break, then Cape Cod with his family and my family for the 4th of July:

All the dogs were there!
Rhode Island for a Soccer Tournament for GirlsCan (I coached in their Summer Elite Program):

Saratoga NY for a family trip to the horse races:

Cape Cod for another trip, only my family was up there this time:

Pennsylvania for another GirlsCan tournament (last of the summer season):
Dunkin' for breakfast, and surprised to see a Hooters attached to it!

GCF Coaches

Cape Cod again, this time only M's family was up there:

Saw the coolest meteorite shower

Some of us were more excited about it than others!

Golfing in the rain
Sanddollar Cookies!
Off to my sister's house this weekend to go out to dinner for her anniversary, and to tackle her Sunday long run with her (she's training for a half marathon). The boys will probably play golf on Sunday when we run.
Happy Anniversary Tara and Mike!

So, as you can see it's been a crazy busy, but amazingly fun summer! I'm sad to see it end...but there's a few great days left to it! 

What was your favorite weekend event this summer?

Did you go away at all this summer? If so, where?

Friday, June 28, 2013

Wedding & Wedding Anniversary

This past week we went to a beautiful wedding in Brooklyn, and also celebrated our 2nd wedding anniversary!  Being the guest at a wedding right around our anniversary helped us celebrate.  You can't help but feel the love and excitement that surrounds the newly married couple, and it brings back feelings from your own wedding day.  We had a great time.

The reception was at The Liberty Warehouse, which is actually where the first "Real World" T.V. show took place.  Remember them?! 

Anyways, it was a gorgeous reception venue.  The view was breathtaking, and cocktail hour took place outside overlooking the water.  

The weather was sunny, breezy, and the perfect temperature.  We spent a lot of time outside, before we were called in for the bride and groom's entrance.  When we got to our table, the centerpieces stole the show.  They were giant vases full of fresh flowers, surrounded by candles of varying heights.  

In between courses, we snuck outside for sunset.  I don't think I could have planned the picture below any better.  The ship cruised in between the setting sun and the Statue of Liberty at just the right moment.

After sunset, we spent the rest of the night celebrating, dancing, and enjoying delicious cake and...pizza!  The bride and groom had a pizza truck drive up, and guests received a small box of pizza as their wedding favor.  What a great idea! 

A few days after the wedding in Brooklyn, M and I celebrated our 2nd wedding anniversary on June 26th.  He came home early from work, and we enjoyed some quality time.  I made him dinner, and we took a walk with Stella.  We exchanged little gifts (cotton is the theme for 2nd year anniversary gifts), and relived our special day! 

For those who might be as stumped as I was in the beginning, here are some cotton-themed ideas.

Second Year Wedding Anniversary Gift Ideas 
Traditional Gift- Cotton

* Personalized Cushion Cover from Etsy (with last name and coordinates of wedding reception or current home)

* Cotton Cuff Links from Etsy, there are different styles for whatever your love likes.
*Personalized Sweatshirt Blanket from Personalization Mall (use words and dates that are meaningful to you as a couple)

*Any type of jewelry, watch, trinket, etc. placed in this cotton pouch from Etsy, which can be personalized with name/nickname/wedding date 

*Any gift you wish, but attach a bag of this sweet treat with some ribbon to the top of your wrapped gift

Can you think of any other cotton themed gift ideas? 

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

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Historical Fiction Book Clubs

It's about time I get back into a post about teaching, especially since I'll be off for summer soon (although I do find myself creating and reading a lot for school in the summer, so I'll be sure to have things to share in July and August, too!).

We use Lucy Calkins Units in my school, although we supplement and create add-ons as needed to support these lessons.

We used MANY picture books to launch Historical Fiction, and walked through the key elements within each one that justified it's genre as Historical Fiction.  Posters and charts such as the one above were filled in to keep track, and were then hung all around the room.  Some books we used were:

     Henry's Freedom Box - By Ellen Levine
     The Butterfly - By Patricia Polacco
     Faithful Elephants - By Yukio Tsuchiya
     Pink and Say - By Patricia Polacco
     Freedom on the Menu - By Carole Boston Weatherford
     The Other Side - By Jacqueline Woodson

After creating many charts where we worked through key elements of historical fiction, we developed an overall chart that outlined what readers of historical fiction do:

We were then, ALMOST, ready for our book clubs (which students were so excited for).  We had done group discussions already this year during our short text unit, but I wanted a little something more to encourage discussion, so I thought up: 

We practiced logical stopping points to think (noted on the logs of the fire), and how to phrase fire starters that could be brought back to the group to encourage discussion (noted on the flames).  We did a series of them together with one of the picture books, and students were really into thinking of ways to "ignite" thinking in their group.

From here, students chose book options they were interested in, and groups were formed.  Students set guidelines for their group, using the overarching principles we set together:

(I apologize for this getting cut off, but you get the idea!)

The last step was for students to develop a reading schedule to ensure they all had the same stopping points.  I walked them through how to best do this by splitting their book into fourths, and making sure to stop at the end of a chapter.  I created a bookmark for each group, where they filled in their stopping points. I also made a classroom chart with all bookmarks so that I could be sure of all groups' progress.

We went through 2 sets of novels, and students LOVED it! For the 2nd set, I wanted to do something a bit different for their meetings, so they worked to create and add to a big chart of their own that outlined the important concepts of their book.  Before doing so, we brainstormed important elements of historical fiction books that could be noted on their chart. The list included: 

     *Setting (Time period/Location)
     *Main Characters
     *Fire Starters
     *Unfamiliar Words

Students chose which of these to include on their book's chart, and I noticed that their discussions even further improved with this task because the conversation surrounding what to add and what to not add become even more intense since the success of their chart was at stake! 

You can get free downloads to some of the items discussed on this post at my TPT store.

Happy Historical Fiction Reading! 

Monday, June 17, 2013

The Perfect Carrot Cake, Father's Day Style

Yesterday was Father's Day, and it was a darn good one! M and I had a tough time figuring out what to do, since his dad is in NJ, and mine is in CT. We often do a 3+ hour tour de Rt. 95 on holidays so that we can see both sets of families, but decided against that this year.  He went to take his dad to play golf, and I went to my family where my sister was throwing a Dad's Day cookout.

It was so great to see my dad, grandfather, and uncles and spend time with my family.  We are known to have a lot of family parties, but even still...it always feels like it's been too long since I've seen them.

For Father's Day, we got my dad a gift certificate to go golfing with M and my sister's husband (whom we refer to as Mike 1, and yes...that means my Mike is referred to lovingly as M2 around my family).  We also made him a mug on Shutterfly to bring to work, which featured the newest member of our family whom he's a father too...Eli! 

It came out really cute, and my dad loved it.  We stuffed it with a couple of chocolate bars and the gift certificate, and it was a really nice addition to his day. 

I also made a carrot cake in honor of him, and to coincide with our gift.  It was my first time trying to make M's family's recipe, which I've taste tested plenty of times at parties.  It really is the perfect carrot cake. 

Actually, correction...it was MY 1st and 2nd time making it,  all in a matter of 12 hours! Let me explain- the recipe called for 2 teaspoons of baking soda, which seemed reasonable.  After tasting a sliver, I knew something was off.  Then I looked closer and saw green carrots! It actually didn't taste terrible, and the green carrots are (allegedly) perfectly safe, but I couldn't let my first try at this be mediocre.

I remade the cake (with an adjusted baking soda quantity), and then did this to it:

The pictures make it look a little more lime-green than it really was, but it turned out pretty cool.  I used green food coloring in the cream cheese frosting, then traced a putting green out of a paper plate to cover where I wanted the cake frosting to stay smooth. From there, I dusted green dyed (again just food coloring) coconut over the rest of the cake as grass.  I used a tee, golf ball, upside down chocolate chip, and flag (made out of a wooden skewer stick and red paper) to finish it. 

I used a mixture of walnuts and brown sugar, pulsed in the food processor, for the sand traps, and used the edge of a paper plate to keep them in place as I scatter them.

It came out great, and served a party of 15 adults, with a lot left over.  I think the addition of coconut, pineapple, and walnuts to the mix makes the cake dense, yet melt in your mouth smooth.  The cream cheese frosting is just an added decadence that takes it over the edge.  Second time's a charm! 

*Ingredients in gray reflect the change to avoid green carrots! 

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