July 27, 2015

Summer is for Salsa & Guacamole

Even though I've been crazy busy making things for my classroom, I'm not sharing those things today because I'm still waiting on some final information before I can consider them complete.

School doors open in one week for classroom setup, so I'm planning to go on Monday to meet my principal (I hope) and hopefully some of my team members who can answer the list of questions I'm keeping. And hey... maybe I can even get my hands on the curriculum!

In the meantime, I'm going to share some YUMMY recipes for Monday Made It. I don't know about you, but on really hot days in the summer, I have ZERO desire to cook. Also, when I've been SO busy preparing for this next year, I find it hard to pull myself away from my work to make food.

It's just so much easier to graze.

So... I made some grazing foods this weekend. And they were all AMAZING, so of course, I have to share with my favorite Internet friends! Check out this goodness:
Nothing really compares to homemade salsa and guac, and these were divine! I couldn't possibly tell you which is my favorite because their flavors are so distinctly different. This was what we had for lunch yesterday. No... I'm not kidding.
 First up is Jeremy's Corn Salsa, which is a recipe that was shared by my dear friend Alison at Rockin' and Lovin' Learnin' last week. I don't really like tomatoes, so any salsa recipe that uses something else as it's base is good in my book (though I did use one tomato in this. As expected, it was DELISH! Thanks, Jeremy and Alison!

When Joel's mom comes over or one of us goes to see her, we never walk away empty-handed. This week, she gave us a bunch of delicious peaches, and I just knew they were going to go bad if I didn't do something with them. Since I'm not a big fan of peach desserts, I looked online for a peach salsa recipe. I found one from the Pioneer Woman and gave it my own twist. The result was AMAZING!



The guacamole the recipe from Chipotle, except I use three avocados instead of 2.

I hope you guys enjoy these recipes as much as we have!

July 20, 2015

Classroom Management Freebies

Happy Monday! I love that I can say that to teachers in the summer and MEAN IT! haha

We finally had a break in the rain this weekend, so Joel, his sister, and I headed downtown for some relaxation on the beach of Lake Michigan. We didn't hit much traffic until we arrived, when it took us 1.5 hours to find parking! I guess when the hottest day of the year (two years, actually) falls on a Saturday, EVERYONE heads to the beach!
Joel in his happy place
By the time we got situated in the sand, some ominous clouds started forming above. I swear we weren't even there an hour before it starting storming again!

Luckily, I have a great friend who lives nearby and invited us to dry off at her apartment. We ate some linner (that's what I call a late lunch/early dinner) and played a round of my current favorite board game, Ticket to Ride (Note: it's not actually called Ride the Train as I said previously. I miss that up EVERY time. I don't think it's hard to see why!).
Even when I lose, I still have fun
By the time we were cleaned up, the sun was shining again, so we headed back to the beach. It was much cooler, so we didn't get in the water, but we were DETERMINED to make the most of our beach day!

See all that water behind me? That's ON the beach!
OK... now for the stuff you're really here to see! I'm linking up with my girl, Tara at 4th Grade Frolicks, for Monday Made It, which is definitely my FAVORITE linky of the week because I'm stealing so many great ideas for my classroom!


I was pretty busy again this week, making things for my classroom. And the good news is that I have some freebies to share with YOU!


The first item I finished this week is a classroom management visual for my classroom. A couple years ago, I learned about CHAMPS, which is about setting clear expectations for every activity in the classroom. Students need to know, for each Activity, the expected Conversation level, how they should seek Help, what Movement is allowed (if any), and what is expected for Participation. As always, it's a good idea to display this in your classroom so students can refer to it as needed.

As you know, we can do MANY activities in an ELA block, so this can change multiple times per period. I've seen some teachers create HUGE posters that show all of the information for each type of activity, but I feel like it's too overwhelming to see all of that information at once. Instead, I created HEADINGS & TAGS for each section. Mine are printed and laminated, and I'm putting them on those loose leaf rings (which I will hang on a thumb tack) so I can flip to the correct tag for the current activity. I plan to make a student responsible for this (as we discuss the expectations for each activity) so I don't spend my whole day changing the tags!


I obviously made these to match my new classroom, but if you'd like a copy of my set, you can grab it, my first freebie, here!


Up next are two posters I created for my classroom. I adapted the SWAG posters I've seen all over Pinterest to meet my needs in the middle school classroom, and of course, I needed a THINK poster that would match my new decor. I still have to print and laminate these, but I have to go Kinko's for that so... it may be a while before that happens!

These will eventually be a part of my Classroom Poster Set, but you can click on the pictures below to download these flash freebies! Grab them before the set goes live on TPT and the freebie ends!





I also threw together this Classroom Behavior Log, which I plan to use for tracking purposes. I have four boxes for each day because, as an ELA teacher, I want to track their behavior in 4 instances:

  • First period of the block - Teacher Instruction
  • First period of the block - Workshop Time
  • Second period of the block - Teacher Instruction
  • Second period of the block - Workshop Time
As you can see, I plan on doing a reading and writing workshop in my classroom this year, and I want to be able to track WHEN students are off-task as much as HOW OFTEN. I have some simple codes for things like no pencil or no book that I want to record for conferences.

Click on the image below do download your copy!



Finally, I made a little somethin' for me. While we were at the beach, we saw vendors selling big chunks of DELICIOUS-looking melons, and it gave me a serious craving for some fruit. I made Joel go with me to the store yesterday and purposely selected some fruits we don't normally buy.

When I got home, everything sounded so good that I couldn't decide. So... I made GIANT fruit salad with kiwi, pineapple, nectarines, honeydew, and watermelon. OH MY YUM!


OK, folks! That's all for this week, but don't worry because I'm already hard at work on next week's items to share!

July 17, 2015

Happy & Healthy Breakfast Recipe

If you've read my blog for a while, you're probably well aware of the fact that I LOATE mornings. I've always been more of a night owl, which is proven by the fact that I'm usually commenting on posts at 1:00 AM over my breaks!


With my new job, though, and the EXTRA long commute (1 hour without traffic, 2 during rush hour), I know I need to start thinking about my sleeping habits now. When school starts, my plan is to leave at 6:00 to beat the morning rush - actually, I'm PRAYING that's early enough because this 5:30 alarm is a whole hour earlier than normal for me, and I just can't fathom waking up any earlier!

As you can imagine, 30 minutes doesn't leave me a whole lot of time for morning preparations. For this reason, I try to do as much as possible the night before. Before I go to bed, I always do the following:
  • Shower, blow dry, and straighten my hair (only minor touch ups needed in the AM)
  • Apply makeup (I only wear eye makeup, and I've never had any issues with this)
  • Lay out my clothes for the next day
  • Pack myself a lunch & snacks for the following day
  • Prepare whatever is necessary for the next night's dinner (thawing meat, chopping veggies) so i can throw it together when I'm hungry and tired after school
  • Set my travel mug next to the hot water dispenser with a bag of tea waiting inside
  • Pack my school bag and set it waiting by the door
When I'm in a rush, the easiest thing for me to neglect is breakfast. Now, don't get me wrong! I LOVE a good leisurely breakfast; it's one of the things I enjoy most about school breaks! It's just that my desire to sleep usually wins out over my desire to eat.

Herein lies my problem: grab and go breakfast items are ALWAYS super carb-heavy and often full of sugars. They also typically lack the protein I need to stay full throughout my morning (because when you eat breakfast before 6:00 AM, lunch never comes soon enough).

I did protein shakes pretty religiously for a few years, and I got pretty burnt out on them. I was good about changing up the flavor all the time so I didn't get sick of the taste, but I've learned that I'm just not always in the mood for a cold drink in the morning - especially during a Chicago winter!

My best solution so far as been overnight crock pot options, which are hot and ready when I wake up in the morning. I like that they're easily customizable, which helps us to not feel like we're stuck in rut, eating the same meal every morning. I switch up the veggies and use breakfast sausage or bacon to change the flavors each week.


Obviously, this recipe includes carbs, but it also includes a ton of protein and vegetables, so I don't feel so guilty about it. It's not one I can eat easily in the car, but I can scarf it down before I walk out the door or heat it up once I get to school in the morning. 

Joel actually threw one together last night after he found some sausage in the fridge that was dangerously close to its expiration date! Below shows you what it looks like after 8 hours on low. I have to be careful with that because my crock pot will burn everything past that 8 hour mark, even on "keep war," so I have to turn it off as soon as we wake up. This feeds us both some pretty hearty portions for 4 days.


Do you have a easy breakfast recipe to share? If so, come link up with Mentoring in the Middle and Stuck in the Middle so we can all add to our repertoire! 

July 14, 2015

Socializing on the Internet

Growing up, my dad was pretty technology-savvy (which is funny because I would definitely not say the same today about the man who only ever calls me for help with his phone/computer), and I don't remember a time without a computer in our home.

When I was in elementary school, we had Prodigy... remember that? I used to send emails (is that what they were called then?) to my cousin, Casey, in Colorado, but that was the extent of my online knowledge. I don't remember thinking much about it, but I was young.

In middle school, I sauntered into my dad's home office one day complaining that I was bored. He took this as an opportunity to introduce me to AOL and helped me create my very first screen name, Coffee123 (if I remember correctly, the coffee was because I described myself as hyper, and my dad suggested 123 when my favorite number, 13, was already taken). Suddenly, a new world of chat rooms (I cringe at the thought of this now) and instant messaging was opened to me, and I was completely hooked on the possibilities of the Internet.

Throughout high school, I primarily used the Internet to socialize with people I knew in real life and to illegally download music (thank you, Napster) like everyone else I knew. Being grounded from the computer was literally the worst punishment EVER (honestly... this would still be the case for me)!

In college, the Internet allowed me to stay in touch with high school friends AND to connect more easily with my peers on campus. Thanks to those oh-so-important away messages, I was in-the-know about social events both near and far. This was also the time when Internet research began to trump book research, mostly for the sake of convenience.

In my adult life, with Internet access on a multitude of handheld devices, I not only have endless knowledge at my fingertips, but I also have constant access to social networks. The Internet has allowed me to be "present" for things I can't see in person when we've been separated by distance. I've watched friends get married through live feeds. I've watched their children grow through photos, videos, and status updates. Our relationships have continued because we've been able to connect in this way.

One thing I never would have believed, though, is the way the Internet has helped me to create new friends. I think about when I first decided to focus my blog on education (when I first started blogging, teaching blogs weren't even a thing) and became friends with a budding blogger, Erin Cobb. We navigated the blogging world together, and she introduced me to TPT (and has since become its queen).

I started participating in linky parties and got to know my girl Alison, who has genuinely become one of my best friends... even though we've never met in person (which is weird to even admit because I feel like we've been friends forever). I can't tell you how many nights I've stayed up texting and emailing with her about school and life. I'm a better person for our friendship!


And then I took on a writing challenge and became dear friends with Michelle, who has turned into a real-life friend and mentor. She has been an endless source of encouragement when I've fallen into blogging ruts and pondered throwing in the towel, and she's proven to be an terrific instructional coach, even though we work miles apart! Also? She encourages me to drink red wine... proof that bloggers are good people! :)

I could go on and on about the wonderful online friendships I've made, not only with other bloggers, but also with my readers and people I've met through various Facebook groups. I feel like the Internet makes it easier to find a network of people (whether they be people you know from real life or not) to support me and challenge me.

I can't even imagine my life without the Internet!

July 13, 2015

Monday Made It for My Classroom

EDIT: I forgot to mention that I redesigned my blog ALL BY MYSELF. So... I guess that counts as a Monday Made It too! Haha!

I'm so excited to finally have the opportunity to link up with Monday Made It with actual teaching stuff for the first time.... possibly ever! I was talking to a neighbor, who was teasing me about tagging my whole house with glitter spray paint, about how I haven't had an opportunity to set up my own classroom since 2009. Every job I've had since then has been in an inherited classroom because I was covering a leave or because I was hired after the school year began. That means that since the dawn of Pinterest, I've been hoarding away ideas I haven't been able to use... until now!!!! :)


Since I haven't yet gotten my hands on the curriculum or seen my classroom in person (actually, I haven't even met my principal, who was on vacation during my interview), I've been somewhat limited in what I've been able to do to prepare for the upcoming year. I did, though, decide on a color scheme (more on this to come) and took several cans of spray paint (and glitter) to several mismatched items for a cohesive look and feel.

Seaside and glitter spray paints from Home Depot = Magical!
In that top left box, you're looking at my new teacher toolbox. Those who follow me on Facebook know that I was left pretty disappointed when I first saw it at Lowe's because none of the boxes are big enough to fit items I would expect for a teacher's toolbox: pens, pencils, scissors. They look deceivingly big in photos! Initially, I walked away without purchasing it, but I decided to go back the next day because I figured I could still store many of the other items I'm always digging for inside my desk. A few coats of seaside spray paint and some glitter made me fall in love!! The labels were another challenge, not in size but color. It is dang near impossible to match blues on a home printer. I finally got a color I can live with, even though it's not a perfect match. 

I decided to repurpose an old flower pot, which my mom gave me for my very first classroom to hold my items that were too long for the toolbox. My flair pens are safely tucked inside in this photo, if that gives you an idea of it's size. Once I decide on THE perfect quote, I plan to write it next to that little pencil. 

I had a bunch (5) of crates from over the years that look so much nicer now that they all match. I use these for my student portfolios. I like for them to have a place to store all of their work in the classroom so if there's ever a question about a grade, we can go right to the source. I send the portfolios home at midterms and the end of every marking period (or upon request) so parents can refer to the assignments related to the grade. Inside the cover, I have a sticker with spaces for parent signatures so I know they've seen the material, and then the students bring back the folder when it's been reviewed (usually for a grade for accountability). 

The last photo are some old Sterilite organizers, so old that you can't even buy the containers with the handles like this anymore. I know because I tried. One of the containers has a hole in the top (from something heavy sitting atop in storage), and I wanted to replace it. As it turns out, I couldn't find one anywhere, so I just jazzed them up and put the broken one on the bottom. I still may try to use a laminated label on top of them so I can use them separately in the classroom, but I haven't gotten around to that yet. In any case, this can work as a fallback option.

I've also been working on posters and other items for my classroom, but I'm going to hold off on sharing those because they aren't yet finished. Stay tuned...

July 5, 2015

Remember When

Remember that one time when we went to a 4th of July barbecue and everyone ended up with food poisoning?

Yeah... that happened last night.


The food was delicious going down, but not so much coming back up (or out... or both). And since we're still not sure what caused it... all those leftovers in our refrigerator are going right into the trash. And Joel's poor mom was in tears today because she feels so bad.

As Joel has been saying all day, "Shit happens... literally!" LOL

Luckily, the rest of our weekend was pretty epic. Joel's sister, Resha, was able to get Friday off work so we took Aniya to the new library to check out the children's section. It was SO NICE! They have all sorts of puzzles, computers full of stories and games, and a crafting room where we made a paper lantern. I also found out that they have a Teacher Resource Room with a laminator and die cutter. And you can print posters on their giant poster maker. I'll give you one guess where you can find me for the next few weeks of classroom preparations!

Puzzle time at the new library
Our city does fireworks on the 3rd, and we ended up with fantastic seats thanks to a hook up from Joel's stepdad (who has a guy for everything, I swear). The show was probably one of the better ones I've seen, which is good since we missed round 2 last night due to the sickness.


I'm telling ya, between the library and the fireworks show, I'm feeling pretty good about my city right now! It's nice to see my tax dollars well spent! :)

July 3, 2015

Blogging & Social Media

Happy Fireworks Day! I'm taking a break from classroom preparations today to do some blogging, take my niece to the new library where there are some books on hold for me and to check out the children's section (and get some more information about making posters in the media center), and then we're going to watch the fireworks. I'm so excited!


Today on the Big Time Blogging Challenge, we're talking about social media and blogging. I started blogging in my first year teaching back in 2008. Teaching blogs weren't even really a thing at this point. Almost all of my readers (and all of the blogs I read) were friends from high school and college talking about their weddings and babies. Teaching was (is) my baby, so I wrote (write) about my new job (and TPT products) along with my rants about current events and snippets of my personal life. My focus has changed with my various jobs over the years, but I'm definitely feeling a renewed energy toward education since signing my new teaching contract!

In regards to social media, Facebook is still my favorite medium. I'm on it all the time for personal use, so it's pretty easy for me to also jump onto my blog page from there. I don't use it solely to advertise my blog or products like many people. I post links to education articles and try to throw out some conversation starters in an attempt to make my page more interactive. I want to engage, not just with other bloggers, but also with readers. Also, I often read blogs on my phone, which makes it REALLY hard to leave comments. I really think Facebook is the perfect solution. Basically, I'm most active there, so you should definitely be following!

Somewhere along the way, I set up a Twitter account for my blog. I'm going to be honest and tell you that I really haven't utilized it, but it's one of my goals for this year. My blog posts and Instagram posts are posted there, but because I haven't used it, I don't really have any followers. Michelle keeps telling me this is the way to go, so I'm trying to be a good student and take her advice. So... if you're on Twitter, please follow me so I can follow you back and maybe start using this thing! haha

I have an Instagram account, but for right now, it's just a personal account. I follow other middle school ELA teachers because I'm always on the hunt for new ideas, but I really don't want my IG to be a constant advertisement. For now, I just link the education posts to my Twitter and Facebook pages.

July 1, 2015

So Much Excitement

I love the first of the month. There's a certain fresh slate that comes with the beginning of each new month that makes me pause briefly and set mini-goals for myself of things I want to do better or different in the next 30-ish days. This is also my favorite thing about being a teacher, the ability to reinvent yourself each year!


This month, I'm excited because my sweet friend, Michelle, who blogs at Big Time Literacy is hosting her annual Big Time Blogging Challenge. I don't know about you, but I am much better at life when there's something holding me accountable in some way. Her challenge is just the push I need to spend some time putting my words in writing. I'm extra excited about this year because I have been thinking about teaching pretty much non-stop since signing my contract last week. I have so much I want to share, and I'm anticipating so many helpful posts from you guys!

Being that I'm on time today (woohoo... I did it right this time!), I thought I should link up with Farley at Oh Boy Fourth Grade and tell you guys what's Currently happening in my world...


Listening - I personally don't find most of the fail videos to be very entertaining. Actually, I often have to look away because I can't stand watching people get hurt! I love when he watches them because some of the clips have him in stitches!

Loving - I'm somewhat limited in what I can do to prepare for my new classroom since I haven't actually seen it yet (I've asked when I can come take pictures for planning purposes). I have, however, decided that I want to do black & white with pops of this seaside color that I LOVE. Joel's been helping me paint a bunch of old organizational drawers, milk crates, and my new teacher toolbox, and then I got really excited to find GLITTER spray paint! I underestimated myself by only buying one can, so we have to go back for more tomorrow! I can't wait to share the finished products with you guys!

Thinking - My project list keeps growing and growing. I'm making new posters and classroom management tools in my new color scheme. I want to be really intentional about making my classroom a CALM and INVITING space. I'm working really hard on the details that will set that tone. More to come on this...

Wanting  - See above.

Needing  - Part of this calm, inviting space, in my mind, includes making my classroom a cozy environment. I didn't see any carpet in the building, so I'm on the hunt for some inexpensive rug(s) to separate my spaces and make it feel like home. If you have any suggestions, please share!

All Star - Joel had to tell me today that it was time for a break. Since I'm currently working on my organizational systems, which is my FAVORITE part of classroom prep, I tend to get into a zone and forget to come up for air. I just have so many ideas floating around in my head, and I have a hard time deciding when to stop. I think this is partially because I haven't been able to set up my own classroom in advance since 2009! Every job since then has either started after the school year began or wasn't my own classroom (long-term subbing). This is the first time in a long time that I get to do things my way... and Im having too much fun creating all the projects I've been eyeing on Pinterest for years but haven't been able to implement.

Whew! If you made it through all that reading, you get a gold star in the gradebook today! :)