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Life Lessons Happen in an Unlikely Place: the Kitchen

Someone recently asked me if I enjoy cooking, and I wasn’t sure how to answer the question.

It’s complicated.

I’ve never been particularly confident when it comes to my culinary skills. When our kids were young, I made a lot of Hamburger Helper and we made weekly outings to McDonald’s.

It was just easier for me to read the directions on a box than to strike out on my own. If I wasn’t in the mood to “cook”, we made a McDonald’s run.

Even times when I attempted to make a recipe from scratch, every ingredient had to be measured perfectly. If I didn’t have all the ingredients, I froze. I didn’t know how to replace them or what might work. I was too panicked to even try, so I didn’t.

I feared failure. I was afraid to take risks. I stayed in my lane by only sticking to what I knew I could do. I wasn’t being flexible. I didn’t show myself grace or patience.

What Changed?

I’m not sure when it happened, but suddenly my kids were teaching me things and at first I was embarrassed. These were concepts I should have taught them.

I started watching how they evolved in the kitchen as they became adults. They weren’t afraid to try different recipes and they put their own spin on them. If the kitchen was a disaster at the end, it could be easily cleaned. If they were missing ingredients, they looked up alternatives or just tried different ingredients to see what worked. Sometimes they succeeded and sometimes they failed.

When we moved our son to Chicago less than a year ago, I remember being in awe as I unpacked his kitchen. He has so many different spices, and he knows how to use them. He enjoys cooking for himself and for others. Our daughter recently made her son’s smash cake for his first birthday, completely from scratch (including the frosting).

I’m over here like, “Who are these kids?”

The differences? They took what they learned and applied it the next time they tried the recipe or they took what was successful and remembered it for the next time. They weren’t afraid to put themselves out there. They were fearless, they were flexible, and they gave themselves grace.

And That’s a Wrap.

Basically, I’ve learned more from my kids than just gaining confidence in the kitchen. I mean, that’s part of it, but in general I’ve learned to not self-sabotage. Previously, I was doing the equivalent of letting one setback cause me to spiral and give up.

“Giving up your goal because of one setback is like slashing your other three tires because you got a flat.”

Mel Robbins

I’ve learned to try new things and know that even if I fail that I learn something in the process. However, when I don’t fail, I get something amazing like this:

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People Were Right: I Am Tired

I chose to ignore what people were saying during the school year. Right and left, I noticed quotes and comments on Instagram and Twitter about teachers saying how tired they were. Allies were saying the same thing about us.

I chose to ignore what was being said, because I’m a firm believer that even if you don’t feel a certain way that you soon start being influenced if you read it or see it often enough.

It’s like the story about buying a car. You don’t see your particular style of car on the road until you buy it. Suddenly you see it everywhere.

Why? Because you weren’t looking for it previously. Once you do, then you begin to notice it.

I felt the same way about teaching during a pandemic. People everywhere were talking about how tired we were, but I chose to ignore it. I didn’t want to fall prey to herd mentality. There were days I felt fatigued, but then again, who teaches all day long wearing a mask? Eventually, I got used to the routine. I got used to coming home with no energy, not working out, forcing myself to stay up until 9:00, and then dragging myself to bed. I got used to waking up needing more coffee than usual to get through the day and not feeling rested.

I didn’t complain though, because I thought about our healthcare workers during the pandemic. I thought about all the PPE they wore for 12+ hours a day. I thought about all the death and dying that surrounded them with each shift and difficult decisions they had to make. Even though things are better overall, the threat isn’t over and they are still dealing with a lot. I thought about people who were working in the service industry during the pandemic. The small business owners trying to stay afloat over the last 15+ months.

Who was I to think that I was more tired than anyone else? So, I didn’t. I soldiered on just like everyone else.

In short, I didn’t think about it until the school year ended. Now that I’m into my third week of summer break, I get it.

I am tired.

I have a new lease on life, and I feel incredibly grateful.

What am I doing differently?

Oddly enough, I know this because I’m appreciating this summer more than any other during my 27 year career in education. It has to do with the time I’ve been able to spend with my grandson. It has to do with the pure giddiness of being able to get out and about more. It has to do with the fact that I’m chasing new pursuits (Can we say, yoga certification?).

I’m doing a better job of not wasting days, but I’m also listening to my body more. A few days ago, I had a huge migraine and I opted to stay in my pajamas for the entire day and I took a two-hour nap. It’s called self-care.

I’m putting more social outings on my calendar. Because I’m fully vaccinated, I feel more comfortable getting out. The United States is trending in the right direction and I hang out with like-minded people. I’ve been reaching out to friends for coffee dates, went to a winery with teacher friends, enjoyed dinner at one of my favorite restaurants with family, and have hit up the farmers market twice so far with my husband.

After listening to Brogan Graham on the Rich Roll podcast, I started sending friends and family short video messages. They are 60-90 second messages that you send to people for a variety of reasons. Mine are focused on how much I appreciate them and the story they have played in my life.

I’m taking more time to read, journal, and bible study each morning. I take a bubble bath and give myself a facial once a week. I’m trying to eat better (work in progress), drink more water, and sleep 7-8 hours a night. My husband and I are getting out for a 20-30 minute walk each morning.

And that’s a wrap.

I realize I’m fortunate that I get so much time off in the summer to recharge, and that is not lost on me. I’m hoping that I take some of what I’m doing so far beyond the summer. If nothing else, this pandemic has taught me to appreciate what I have and to cherish the moments. Let go of what no longer serves me, and that includes toxic relationships. Show more compassion to myself and to others.

Be gentle. Be kind. Be love.

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It’s Been a Hot Minute

The last time I wrote my grandson was seven months old. He just had his first birthday a little over a week ago.

So much has happened over the last five months, but it makes no sense to give a rundown. There’s too much to tell. Over the next few weeks my goal is to get caught up. I definitely have enough content to do so. Simply put, I haven’t made writing a priority but it’s time to get back to something I love doing.

In the coming weeks, you can look forward to learning more about the following:

  • Finishing my second year back in the classroom
  • Deciding to move from 7th to 8th grade
  • My ongoing battle with getting back into shape
  • Working on earning my 200 hour yoga certification
  • Being able to spend time with my mother-in-law while helping to take care of her during her last few weeks
  • Applying to be a brand ambassador
  • Apartment living vs. buying a house
  • Realizing how tired I really am after teaching through a pandemic

Until then, the picture above was my view from the swimming pool at our apartment complex. I’m sure people thought I was taking a selfie, but I’m just not that vain. 🙂

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Everyone Needs a Grandchild

#1 Lesson: Live in the moment

Image for post

The love of my life is seven months old, and my husband isn’t even jealous.

Our grandson is the love of my life, because he has already taught me an important lesson: live in the moment.

While I have always tried to be present with people I’m with, I feel like I’ve made huge gains because of him.

I don’t worry about doing anything else when he’s over for a visit. I drop everything and he has my complete attention. We play, we cuddle, I read books to him while he chews on others, we laugh, we sing (well, I make a joyful noise) and dance, and I cherish each and every moment.

I don’t think about what I need to get done or what I’m missing. I will drop anything at a moment’s notice to hang out with him.

It’s the craziest thing I’ve ever experienced.

However, it’s something I want to bottle and continue doing on a daily basis in my life. I want to slow down and focus on the here and now. I want to worry less about what I think needs to be done, and enjoy what should be done.

I think about the parable of Mary and Martha. While Mary sits at Jesus’ feet, Martha is rushing around the kitchen irritated with her sister. She’s frustrated with Mary for not helping her. Jesus explains to Martha that Mary is doing the right thing. Totally paraphrasing here, but that’s the gist of it.

I want to be more like Mary each day, and I know I’m going to get there because of my grandson.

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Why can’t people follow simple directions?

Photo by Jamie Templeton on Unsplash

As I rounded the corner to head into my local Target this morning, I was met with a corded off area at the entrance directing me to use the entrance at the other end of the building.

No problem. The extra steps would do me good.

At the other entrance was the sign that masks were now required. No problem. My mask was already on and I went in to do my shopping.

As I proceeded to leave, I remembered that I could exit out the original set of exit doors closer to where my car was parked. I just couldn’t use that entrance.

If I didn’t have a mask on, people would have seen my jaw dropped open as I witnessed a half dozen people come in through that exit and three of them weren’t wearing masks. The closed entrance clearly shows where to go to get into the store, and the exit signs clearly say, “Do not enter.”

What is wrong with people?

I shook my head in disgust but kept walking. These are the people that think they don’t have to follow simple directions for the good of everyone. Saying something to them would have done no good, and I wasn’t in the mood for a confrontation. I kept telling myself that I’m doing what I can to keep myself and others safe, which was a good thing because I also kept having sarcastic comments rising in my throat itching to come out.

Seriously, can someone tell me why it’s so hard to follow simple directions?

Whether you agree with masks keeping people safe (I do), it’s a matter of respecting the protocols of the establishment where you have chosen to shop. In fact, while I was shopping an announcement came over the intercom outlining the new rule of mask wearing at Target and if you chose not to wear one then you were more than welcome to shop using the drive up option.

And yet, there are people who believe they are above simple directions. They figure they aren’t going to be stopped, and they weren’t. To some degree I get it because of the whole confrontation issue as an employee. On the other hand, if they are not willing to confront people who choose not to wear a mask, then why have it in place?

My solution to this problem is an easy one.

Just follow simple directions or shop elsewhere. Don’t put employees in an unenviable position. Be a decent human being.

Or is it too hard for you to follow that simple direction?

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Kindness Always Wins, Always

I believe that a person should always be kind no matter how hard it might be. I don’t know why but sometimes it’s a challenge to be kind, especially in a world where people tell you that sometimes you just have to be an asshole. 

People take advantage of kindness. People see kindness as a weakness. 

A time or two I have been referred to as too naive, optimistic, or positive. That’s okay as I’m good with wearing all three monikers. 

I try to be kind anyway.


Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

I feel that kindness always comes back around to you. If you put positive karma out to the universe, it will find its way back to you.

Sometimes you don’t realize it when it happens but figure it out later. You have an aha moment and it becomes clear. Other times you don’t realize it at all, but that’s okay. Simply knowing it will happen is good enough.

However, there are the rare occasions where your kindness is rewarded on the spot and it makes your smile so wide you’re afraid your face might crack.

I recently experienced this rare occasion.

I had driven my husband and me to the local Dairy Queen to pick up a treat through the drive through. Since it was a warm weekend evening and dine-in was not an option, the line was rather long.

As I inched my way along, I came to an opening to the second entrance to the parking lot so I made a gap for any cars to go through to then wrap around to join the end of the line. One such car came through this entrance, but rather than wrap around, he thought I was letting him go ahead of me. 

There wasn’t much I could do. Well sure, I could have been an asshole, but he was still ahead of me. I didn’t dare look in my rearview mirror at the three vehicles behind me. I’m sure they were less than pleased.

I let it go and we proceeded to inch along even slower with the added car in front of us. While there was a part of me that felt bad for being kind, I was even more disappointed in myself for having that feeling. One should never feel bad about being kind no matter what the circumstance. 

We eventually placed our order which came to $9.29. When we got to the window to pay for our order, the cashier informed us the vehicle in front of us had paid for ours, the one I had let in ahead of me. When we looked up, we saw the guy turn the corner and look over at us. We shared a wave and he moved on down the street.

Never in my life have I seen kindness be rewarded instantaneously. 

In a world where there is a lot of chaos, tension, and unrest (justifiably so), I keep reminding myself that kindness always wins.

Showing kindness deescalates situations, it doesn’t discriminate, it shows the best in us, it promotes love, it brings people together, and it solves problems where none should have existed in the first place. 

Again, people will point to my naïveté but that’s okay. They might only need more kindness in their lives and I’m happy to provide it.

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When a Simple Errand Becomes Life-Changing

Yesterday I picked up an order for my daughter so that she wouldn’t have to leave the house with her infant son. Easy enough. I drove there, picked it up, and headed back.

On my way I encountered several four way stops. At one in particular there were red reflectors attached to each stop sign. I thought it was unusual since I hadn’t noticed it at any other intersection.

I slowed to a stop, checked to wait my turn, and as I slowly let up on the break it happened.

Photo by Luke van Zyl on Unsplash

A truck blew through his stop sign. 

My first reaction was anger. I blared my horn at him, and he slowed down briefly before moving on down the road. 

When I got to my daughter’s house and told her what happened, she brought up that we had thought about going together to pick up her order and then decided to just have me go on the routine errand.

An errand that was nearly life changing. 

Later, I became reflective and I realized how moments like this greatly influence our priorities if we let them.

Nothing is guaranteed.

I’m as guilty as the next person when I think I have a treasure trove of days ahead of me. If I don’t get something done, I simply think, “I’ll do it tomorrow.” 

Not so fast. The only guarantee is the moment we have right in front of us. Yesterday is in the rearview mirror and tomorrow is not promised. There’s no look ahead mirror.

God gives us signals daily. 

Your belief or not in a higher power is your business, but I believe in God and that He watches over me. He gives me signals daily, but I don’t always notice them or pay attention.

I firmly believe He planted in my brain to notice the difference in this four-way stop. I firmly believe there was a reason I slowly let up on the brake without stepping on the gas. I firmly believe He made sure I stayed right where I was supposed to be.

You can firmly believe in whatever you choose. 

I choose to believe God was watching over me like He does every day and I was in tune with the signal He gave to me on this particular day.

Figure out what is important.

While I feel like I do a good job of keeping my priorities straight, I know I can do better. I bet you feel the same way. Hopefully it hasn’t taken you as long to get to this realization as it took me. Perhaps it comes with age, but each day I think about what footprint I want to leave on the day.

Do I want to tie myself down to a task list? Do I want to be productive or do I want to be effective? At the end of the day, do I, as author Todd Henry says, die empty?

Dying empty doesn’t mean exhausting myself until I simply fall into bed at night. Not for me anyway. 

Dying empty means pouring myself into others. Spending quality time with my family, checking in on friends, serving others to empower their lives, making a difference educating the young people I get to be with in the classroom each day, and living the best life I know how to live.

It means taking care of myself so that I can do for others. If I am depleted, I can’t pour myself  into others. I listen to soothing music, drink a glass of wine or a mug of hot tea, take a bubble bath, meditate, journal, go for a walk in nature, snuggle with my newborn grandson, or sit in silence. 

Whatever you want out of life, make sure you figure out what is important. 

Do that today. Repeat daily as long as you are given the opportunity. I know that’s what I’m doing. 

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Hitting a Detour Doesn’t Equate with Failure

To say my journey to overall better health is off to an auspicious start would be very accurate. I had everything organized to set myself up for success, and then this happened:

Our grandson Ace was born, our first grandchild. While I was planning to start focusing on my journey, my path went completely to this precious baby boy. I have enjoyed every moment I have been able to spend with him, my daughter, and son-in-law over the last week.

What that has meant for my journey is a temporary pause and that’s okay. I have been doing some things, just not ones I had planned.

Values and Priorities

One activity I did for myself was to start The Healthy & Whole Project with Becca Shern. The first week’s activity was to complete a values and priorities assessment. In general, I feel like I have a pretty firm handle on this part of my life. 

My foundational values are relationships, health, and leisure. I included leisure because it is a value I haven’t appreciated. Leisure in my mind equated to laziness. If I wasn’t doing something to be productive even if it was more “busyness,” I felt like I wasn’t measuring up. Now I view leisure with a positive perspective. I look at it more as self-care and service. 

How can’t I take care of myself and also take the time to help others? 

I’m more intentional with how I spend my time, and I no longer feel guilty if I want to take 30 minutes to sit on our deck to read a book. If I want to take the time to go visit someone, I simply do it.

Another part of the assessment was to identify core values. The ones I identify with most are love, spirituality, gratitude, peace, optimism, and centeredness. (You can find a list of more than 200 core values by simply doing a search.) I could have listed up to 15 core values, but I wanted to go with the ones that I most intimately connected with overall. These are the six that I feel most in tune with on a daily basis.

Finally, I looked at tertiary values and imaginary values. These are areas that can take away from core and foundational values. Although it wasn’t necessarily eye-opening, I found myself cringing at some of the activities I wrote down that steal my time. Social media by way of Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook frighten me in terms of the amount of time I spend using them. A look here and there or flat out going down rabbit holes has shown me where I need to do better in order to be better. 

This was such a healthy exercise for me, because it showed me what I do well and where I can and want to improve. 

This is an activity I should do periodically. My plan is to sit down with my assessment every 4-6 weeks to notice if there are any changes in these areas:

  1. Foundational Values
  2. Core Values
  3. Tertiary and Imagined Values

This Week’s Takeaway

The biggest takeaway for me this week was that even though I didn’t complete what I set out to do initially, I still had an effective week in learning more about myself. Moving forward, I will post my values where I can see them every day. I’m also working to wean myself off social media by setting up specific times during the day to update and interact. Setting limits with a timer will also be helpful. 

The best takeaway though? I experienced tons of snuggles with my grandson. 

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Continuous Journey Requires Specific Goals

“The point is that you are back, wobbly or not!” When I wrote about getting back on the bicycle after time away from doing things that had been a natural part of my life, a friend of mine made that comment.

I loved this, because it was so accurate. That’s exactly how I felt!

But now it’s time to take the next steps and I’m going all in. One thing that is fair to say about me is that most of the time I don’t dip my toe into the shallow end of the pool. I just dive right into the deep end. 

Photo by mauro paillex on Unsplash

I’m diving back into my health and wellness. 

For reference, I’m no stranger to being in really great shape. I was the type of person who would routinely be at the gym for close to two hours daily and ran half marathons. While I still have my gym membership, I haven’t been there in months (some of it due to COVID-19) and I haven’t run a half-marathon in four years. 

To say I have a lot of momentum to regain is an understatement, but I’m putting some pieces in place to hold myself accountable and have set some very specific goals.

Goals

Over the next 10 weeks, I’m focused on getting back some of the physical shape I’ve lost through the following goals:

  1. By the end of 10 weeks, I will be able to run a 10K. I’m not concerned about time yet. My focal point is to complete a virtual run.
  2. During this time frame, I will lose 10-12 pounds. Roughly a pound a week is doable.
  3. While my BMI is a perfectly acceptable 22.1, my goal is to get under 20.
  4. In addition to my physical health, I’m also focusing on centering myself better mentally and spiritually. 

How

Sure, it’s great to have goals, but how am I going to get there? You can’t have a destination without having an idea of how you’re going to get there.

  1. To run a 10K, I have downloaded Runkeeper to track my runs. I have also planned my runs on a calendar, 3-4 days a week. (Since I have trained for half-marathons, I know how to schedule my running workouts.)
  2. Losing the weight will come through tracking my macros. Using the macro calculator on healthyeater.com, my focus is 200g – carbs, 81g – protein (I’m shooting more for 50-60), and 53g – fat. Each day I will put my daily intake in a spreadsheet. In addition, I’m planning to drink at least 60 oz. of water daily.
  3. For my BMI, running and eating better will make a big difference, but I’m a gym junkie and I’m most excited about getting back to lifting weights consistently. I use the Shred app, and I will get in 3-4 workouts a week.
  4. My one word intention is “Center” and this is a big one for me. I regularly meditate, do a daily bible study, and journal. However, I want to put it all together – my physical, mental, and spiritual health. Therefore, I’m taking part in Becca Shern’s The Healthy & Whole Project. Becca is a registered dietitian with a master’s degree in public health. 

“During the nine weeks of The Healthy & Whole project you will discover how to nourish your body, mind, and soul to see gradual but long-lasting results.” (Excerpt from the description about the project on her website.)

Here’s what I love the most about Becca’s program: She gets it. During this stressful time, she understands that finances are tight for a lot of us and so she is offering this program as Pay As You Can, Standard Price, or Superhero Price. I hope you check it out (and join me)!

  1. Probably the most daunting of all is to post before and after photos, but that’s a huge accountability piece to see how far I come in 10 weeks. No, I’m not expecting monumental changes, but I know I will see progress.
  2. Finally, I’m going to document my journey on my website twice a week (Mondays/Thursdays) and once a week on Medium (Mondays).

Why

This is the most important piece. If you don’t have strong reasons for your goals, it doesn’t matter what the process is, you won’t follow through. 

  1. I have one amazing life to live and I want to be as healthy as I can so that I can enjoy it to the fullest extent possible.
  2. I know that when I’m in great shape that everything else falls into place. I simply feel better about everything else.
  3. I’m a classroom teacher, and leading by example is very important to me. It’s not only about my content as an English teacher but also as a leader of young people.
  4. I’m about to be a first-time grandma and I want to have the energy to keep up with my grandson.

Wrapping It Up

I can’t even begin to tell you how excited I am about embarking on this journey, or rather continuing on this journey! While I know it might look somewhat ambitious, remember, I like diving into the deep end of the pool. Feel free to join me if you’re ready to jump in.

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Unexpected time off, unexpected thoughts

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

To borrow an overused word, it’s been a ‘surreal’ start to my spring break as a classroom teacher. This is the first time I’ve had a spring break in my educational career, and while I thought I would be giving myself a long to-do list to accomplish this week, I find myself in thoughtful contemplation more often than tackling the list.

This contemplative state has much to do with the worldwide pandemic of COVID-19 and the unknowns it has created. A one week spring break has turned into an indefinite future, and I find myself a little lost, annoyed, and yet relaxed.

Lost because school districts in my state are in a holding pattern right now. My district’s leaders are trying to figure out how to best serve our students moving forward. While we were told to relax and enjoy the break, it’s a challenge not knowing how things are going to be moving forward.

Even though there are unknowns, there are things I can control. I’ve already given myself a daily schedule to keep me on track with self-care, learning, and entertainment. I have two daily exercise routines in place, one through the Shred app and the other by going for a walk with my husband so we get some fresh air. If nothing else, I’m going to be in great shape!

However, following so many small businesses on Instagram is breaking my heart as they are closing indefinitely, adjusting hours to be in alignment with state guidelines by offering curbside and/or takeout options, sending reminders about their online stores, etc. I think about everyone in the service industry who suddenly find themselves without an income. There are always things we can do. Buy gift cards at favorite eateries to use in the future when they are back on their feet, or send a little love to your service professionals via Venmo when you have to reschedule with them. I keep trying to think about ways to be supportive.

I also think about the parents who can’t take their kids to daycare, because it is closed for now and they have to figure out how they are going to continue working while also caring for their kids. While it doesn’t solve the riddle of financial strain, this is a gift of time. Read with your kids, take them outside and go for a walk, play games, build a fort in the living room, draw pictures, put puzzles together, bake with them, teach them life skills, etc.

Teaching myself to slow down and relax is paramount right now. I’m reminding myself how truly blessed I am and that the world is hurting right now. Healthcare professionals are already exhausted and facilities are maxed out. While it doesn’t seem to be enough, I’m spending more time in prayer. I’m praying that people use common sense by staying home as much as possible. I’m praying that world leaders make decisions that are in the best interest of their citizens and that as citizens we follow them. This is not the time to be a precocious, stubborn child who does not want to be told what to do. Being selfless means thinking about others instead of doing what we want to do when we want to do it.

While I want to go out for a coffee with my friend, head to the bookstore to get the book that was ordered for me, and go to my hair appointment to get the gray out, home is where I will be. I hope you will be too.

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Taking a break is okay

Photo by Nick Morrison on Unsplash

Sometimes I just need a break. I need to stop what I’m doing and alleviate the undue stress I’m putting on myself.

Recently, the undue stress has been writing. Every time I sit down to start a new blog post, I look at the blinking cursor with a ton of thoughts running through my mind but nothing concrete makes it to the screen.

Ideas aren’t the problem. My head trash? Now that’s another story. When I think about writing on a particular a topic, I recall all the articles I’ve already read about it and doubt I can put a different spin on it. I remind myself that my voice will give it a fresh perspective, but when the words begin to come out they sound contrived and artificial. Like it’s not my voice.

I go back to the drawing board. I read and I write down additional ideas. I took the advice of another writer to jot down 10 possible headlines each day. Yeah, that lasted about three days. While I had 30 headlines, I didn’t do anything with them. I know it didn’t give it enough of a chance, and I do think it has merit. Maybe I will give it another go.

Then there are the times that I plan out my writing. For example, I tell myself that I will put out new content on Mondays and Thursdays. That way I have a few days to develop an idea, give it some time to simmer, go back to edit, and then finalize. It’s a great plan that I have yet to execute.

Planning will many times give way to flat out procrastination. For example, I have a snow day today from my day job as a teacher. It’s a free day that gives me ample time to write. Instead, I’ve cleaned the apartment, sent some email correspondence, checked social media more than I care to admit, made a second pot of coffee, read my book, booked flights for an upcoming trip in April, ordered tickets to a comedy show for the weekend, boiled eggs (random, I know), and chatted with my husband.

While it sounds like a productive day so far, it isn’t when my intention was to write. I got lots of “stuff” done but not what I told myself I was going to do.

That’s when it dawned on me.

It’s completely okay to take a break. I’m finally giving myself permission to let the head trash go. Maybe I needed this little hiatus to get myself writing again. That, and nachos. A break to have nachos is also okay.

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Friday nights are for meal planning

I’m trying to find ways to create this delicious pizza from Biggio’s in Houston.

Figuring out new recipes is what everyone does on a Friday night, right?

No?

Okay, maybe it’s just me then, but this is exactly what I’m doing tonight because I finally got fed up with our eating pattern. Or lack thereof.

My husband and I have been doing this delicate balance of trying to adhere to both of our eating styles. He’s a diehard carnivore and I’m a diehard vegetarian. You would think we would simply be able to make a vegetarian recipe and add the meat.

Theoretically it makes sense but is hard to put into practice when only one of us eats meat. After three days of eating a leftover pork loin on his own, my husband has about had it.

And then you have to add in our different tastes in various foods. For example, we both like pasta but completely different types. He likes regular, white pasta. I like gluten free and wheat pasta. So, when I make a pasta dish I cook two different pastas.

Two pastas for two people. A bit ridiculous, don’t you think?

What ends up happening is we do grab and go dinners that fit our tastes but aren’t necessarily the healthiest choices. I finally got tired of that insanity and decided to spend my Friday night doing…you guessed it…looking for recipes.

My plan is to try three different ones each week. I found five ingredient vegetarian recipes that we can add meat to for my husband’s portion. They all revolve around fresh vegetables and very few processed foods. I have even taken a couple of the processed options and inserted fresh.

This week we will be trying black bean quesadillas (adding hamburger for my husband), green pizza (adding chicken), and spaghetti genovese (adding pork loin). I found all three recipes at eatingwell.com. All three had a rating of at least four stars out of five, so I figure we are on the right track.

If you’re looking for some new options to try that seem pretty simple, give Eating Well a try and let me know what you think. (And no, I don’t get any kickback from mentioning the website. I just wanted to share.)

Teaching Middle School During a Pandemic Has Its Benefits

Photo by Joel Muniz on Unsplash

While many of my teacher friends share tales of woe and

While many of my teacher friends share tales of woe and higher stress levels, I would like to offer an alternate view of teaching during the pandemic.

Yes, a majority of us have been thrown into something we’ve never experienced. As a 26-year veteran, I thought I had pretty much seen it all, and then COVID-19 happened.

In some ways, it’s a bit (or a lot) of a shit show. Even the school districts who probably felt like they were somewhat prepared for distance learning have experienced curveballs they weren’t expecting.

We are suddenly being thrown into the world of Zoom meetings, using Padlet, creating lessons that can be both digital and paper-copied, and figuring out ways to keep students engaged and motivated.

We are asking ourselves how we can deliver essential learnings and pondering the ethics of grading when all students cannot be reached either by choice or necessity. Teachers report spending more time on lessons and responding to student work.

And then there are our parents who are trying to work full days, are making sure their kids’ basic needs are being met, and are filling in as teachers.

It’s no wonder stress levels are through the roof. School districts are trying to make decisions to meet the needs of every student. Individual teachers are trying to deliver content. Parents are trying to fill in the gaps. Students are trying their best, but many of them are frustrated and tapped out.

It feels like a no-win situation.

How my school district is handling curriculum.

At the district level for our middle school curriculum, we have broken it down into six essential learnings over a six-week period. There are six of us in the department at my school and we are in teams of two, so every three weeks it’s my team’s turn to take one of the essential learnings to deliver a lesson. Even if 117 of our students turn in the work for the week, the feedback is divided by my teaching partner and me. We would each have roughly 59 responses in a perfect world, but as you can guess it’s much fewer than that. In any given week, I’m responding to around 25 assignments.

While I would much rather be responding to all students, I will take what I can get at this point.

I know I’m very fortunate in the way my district has decided to handle what we are doing at the middle school level. Many of my counterparts in other school districts are having so much more put on their plates. I get why their stress levels and anxiety are causing sleepless nights.

As with everything, there are parents who feel like we should be doing more while others think it’s too much.

Again, it’s a no-win situation.

Why I’m framing it differently.

Photo by pine watt on Unsplash

Instead of looking at teaching right now as the entirety of the picture above, I’m focusing on what I can control within the frame.

It’s making all the difference for me.

While I’m adhering to our district’s expectations, I decided to do something to feel more connected to my students. It also falls under the category of something I’ve never experienced.

I decided to create a YouTube Channel, and I post daily videos. (You can check it out here.) Each video is roughly 3–5 minutes, and I give students a daily challenge to complete for points if they choose to do so. These challenges range from explaining their personal meaning of a quote, determining the parts of speech for a sentence, or telling a story using a prompt.

In addition, they can continue turning in book reviews (something we also did while school was in session) for more points. Completing the district assignment for the week is also worth a varied number of points.

While there are significant academic challenges, the videos are somewhat entertaining (or I’m sure weird, according to my students). My husband comes on to deliver dad jokes twice a week. Our cat Chloe has made a couple of guest appearances. I record the video from different parts of our apartment. Sometimes there’s even singing, or what I like to call, making a joyful noise.

At the end of each week, I add up student points. If students participate in the district assignment and in at least two of my activities, they are put into a drawing for gift cards. Three students are drawn each week and then I send them the gift card with a note letting them know how much I appreciate their participation and hard work.

The end result.

While I wish more students participated, I get that it’s not realistic for every student. Some don’t have technology or a way to get the paper copies. Some parents simply don’t have enough hours in the day to be able to sit down with their students. For some of my students, they are fortunate if their daily needs are being met. It’s a matter of survival.

For the students who are participating regularly, they are blowing my mind! Several of them are writing more than they ever did in a classroom assignment. I believe much of it has to do with the creativity behind the lessons. Much of our curriculum is so structured that there isn’t time for the creative endeavors.

Having less stringent guidelines during this time is giving me the opportunity to give students more creative, outside the box assignments. For example, one day I asked them to draw a picture of a hamburger riding a bicycle and then to write a story as to why this would be happening. Another day, they wrote about building a snowman with the added component of highlighting the prepositions they used. Creating a sculpture out of paper and telling me about it was another way for students to explore and try something new. They are taking more risks and writing more than they did previously.

More importantly, I have gotten to know some of my students a lot better during this time. It’s a weird feeling, because there were students who showed up to my classroom day in and day out, did their thing, and then moved on to the next class. Now I’m finding out more about their interests, what they are excited about, and what is bothering them during this time.

They are opening up and sharing more of themselves with me through the written word. They share a word document with me and continue to add to it each day. Others send emails with their responses. They know I’m checking in daily during my office hours, so they know when to expect feedback.

No, it’s not perfect, but then again it’s not going to be. We are living in a very strange time right now. I’m not kicking curriculum to the curb, but I am putting a lot less importance on it and making more time for connections. Students need to know they are being heard and that I care.

And that is a win-win situation.

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