Sunday, March 24, 2013

Freezer Cooking Day

well today is freezer cooking day. for some reason my phone keyboad is refusing to allow capital letters and most puncuation. so i guess all i can say is... more on this coming. oh and i will be fixing all the errors as soon as my laptop gets fixed. the broken laptop is a whole other story.

Monday, March 4, 2013


Just when life starts to get stagnant, out of nowhere, suddenly you are hit with a curve ball; that is where I am right now. Don't get me wrong the constant sickness that has been in and out of this house has kept things... interesting... to put it nicely.

I have been substitute teaching for 2 years now. Last school year I got called a whopping 10 times ALL SCHOOL YEAR. Needless to say that year was discouraging at best. This year things have been better. I signed up for a service through the website where teaching jobs are posted and now I have access to several jobs pretty much every day. If the kids could stay healthy for a whole week straight I could even work 5 days a week.

I LOVE teaching, even when I get really rotten classes. I actually like the newness of going to a new class each day. I am learning so much by being exposed to snippets of other teachers’ classroom environments. I am getting a chance to see lots and lots of behavior management techniques, teaching styles, materials, references, etc on an almost daily basis.

Deep down I really desire my own group of kids that after 9 months will have carved a forever spot somewhere in the depths of my heart that when I see them years down the road the heart strings will pull and I will get to remember all the fun we had when they were just in ___ grade. I want this. I want to teach and inspire children. I want to nurture and challenge them. I want to be there to support them and cheer them on as they develop skills and independence. I want to sit in an empty room on the last day of school and wipe away a tear as "my kids" leave for the last time.

This brings me to the massive curve ball that is hurtling at me. Do I catch it or do I let it pass and take the out? I have been called by a school I work at to take a long term subbing job with a classroom of VERY challenging students. The students being challenging doesn't worry me. I will just apply some "tough love" and give them a nice solid schedule with lots of predictability and that should bring most of them back in line. What worries me is the 7 IEP's in a class of 22, and the other 8-10 who are at risk and are not meeting potential for whatever reason. I have no experience with IEP's, modifications, accommodations, the laws behind documentation, etc. I know that if I take a job at the beginning of the year I will likely face all of this as well, but I would at least have the full 9 months to work with the students. There are only 3 months left in the school year and these kids are nowhere near their goals for this year. They have fallen so far off track that it will take a miracle to get them back on the right track.

Do I have enough knowledge to perform that miracle? Will I have enough energy and stamina to give 1,000% all day with these very needy kids and then come home to grade assignments, analyze the data and use that to write effective lessons plus keep up with my responsibilities as a mom? Do I want to take a chance and risk putting these kids farther behind and potentially causing them (not all) to be retained because they didn't gain enough knowledge? Can I handle the guilt of letting them down? I know their gaps in learning are not my fault, but will I be able to remember this if they are retained?

As the hands of the clock continue to click closer to midnight I must sign off as my alarm is unrelenting and is scheduled to go off at an ungodly early hour.


When I first wrote this is was 4 days ago and there were still so many unanswered questions. So many what-ifs. I was tossing around so much self-doubt and so many insecurities that I almost forgot why I spent 10 years in college earning not only my bachelors degree in education but also my master's degree in education. Why I studied tirelessly, why I research endlessly, why I wanted to become a teacher in the first place. I want to teach so that I can give children a small token of my wisdom, I can be their safe haven when the rest of their life is crappy, and I can be the force that pushes them to keep trying and not lose faith in their abilities or themselves. I have looked back over my many years of education from as far back as I can remember and I think about some of the great teachers who have touched my life in ways that they will never know (maybe they had an inkling, maybe not). I became a teacher to have the same impact on children that so many great teachers had on me.

I decided yesterday that even though I may not be perfect that's ok. These kids do not need a perfect teacher, they need a real teacher who will see them for who they are, challenges and all and who will accept, guide, and love them. Someone who is endlessly patient (or at least willing to try to be endlessly patient), but consistent, firm and fair. The biggest strength that I can say I bring to the table is that I am firm, fair and consistent. I set expectations high, but will extend my hand to help struggling children reach those expectations. I decided to take the long term subbing position. The school is going to wait until summer to make a decision about hiring the new full time teacher to allow me time to get my feet wet, get a feel for the school and decide if it is a good match for me before I apply for full time. The next 3 months may lead me in a different direction, who knows. I don't. I may discover that children who come with a lot of emotional and educational baggage are exactly the kids that I need to be teaching. I don't know. The one thing I do know. Stay or go, this long-term position will be a valuable opportunity for me to stretch my wings and find out what kind of teacher I am. To start to find out what teaching methods, behavior management plans, ect mesh with who I am. I will get to develop a whole bag of tricks for when I finally have a classroom of my own.
So, today I sign off as a (temporary?) 3rd grade teacher with a wild bunch of kids who are responding well to some of the changes I am implementing.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Little Man

Tonight I will spend some time updating all things little man.

Where to begin?


He started preschool almost a year ago. This was a huge transition for us both as he had never been in group care. The only time he had been away from me was during my student teaching and he was with his Poppy and came to see me at lunch every day for some nunnie milk (breast milk). The transition was made a million times easier because I was working at the daycare where he was. I was in his classroom for the first few months so he could learn to explore and make friends and every time he looked back, I was always there.


Over the summer, he moved into the toddler room and I moved into a different toddler room. This was challenging some days because he did not understand why he could not just open the door between our rooms and come on over and say, "hi" whenever he wanted. He learned to adjust, sort of. By this time, I was not feeling the arrangement anymore. He had fallen into a bookshelf in his class and cut his face so bad he needed five stitches. The center did not make parents keep sick kids home so because he had NEVER been exposed to the germs he was catching EVERYTHING and was CONSTANTLY sick. His teacher was an "Old school grandma" style caregiver. She was not careful with things like food allergies (he had been fed other kids foods on several times that he is allergic to and came home covered with hives) and her hygiene in the classroom left a lot to be desired.


Therefore, I began looking for a new center for little man. None of the centers that I called (and felt comfortable with) were willing to accept a child who used cloth diapers. I tried explaining how easy they were to use and that they went on and off just like a disposable (which they do) and the only difference would be mine would be tossed into a wet bag for me to bring home instead of being tossed into a trash to go to the landfill. No one would budge. I argued that even the state licensing board had regulations in place allowing cloth diapers in daycare centers. It did not matter; they were determined not to use cloth diapers. SIGH.


So, I did the next best thing. I decided it was time to potty train him. He was now 2 years old and even though he was not even remotely interested in going potty, it was time. I turned to my good friend, Google for help. After an evening of research, I decided on the Potty Training in a Day method. I needed something fast. For a whole week I talked to little man about the big changes coming and how we were going to go buy some big boy undies and a potty, he was not interested. I picked him up from his class on a Friday evening and told his teacher, "We will see you on Monday in underwear! Ready or not we are doing this!" She responded, "Sure, we'll see."


We went to Wally world and set out to find the cutest and tiniest little underpants ever. An hour later, we left with a great potty chair and 24 pairs of underpants ranging from Batman, Spider man and the Hulk to Dinosaurs and some basic boy colors and even a few whitey tighties. When I put him to bed that night I reminded him that when he got up the next day we would be wearing undies and using the potty. He said, "NO!" Sigh. Was this going to work? Is my little man Taurus going to out bull-head me?


We got up and ate a good breakfast (this was important as the rest of the day was pretty much going to be all junk). After breakfast, we started following the plan (we did not do the calling people and writing things on a chart, which seemed pointless to me). Basically the plan is to pump the kid full of salt, sugar and liquid in an attempt to make his little kidneys work in over gear producing copious amounts of urine; and to bribe the child to sit on the potty for as long as possible and as often as possible in the attempt to catch a success IN the potty. Catching a success and having a crazy party reaction to it is VITAL in the first day! After 14 accidents, little man finally pooped AND peed in his potty literally right before bed on day 1. We sang and danced and had treats and sang and danced! Oh, it was a fun potty party! However, he finally understood what I had been asking him to do all day long. I put him in bed that night and PRAYED he would remember in the morning.


We got up Sunday and he actually DID remember! He asked to go and went as soon as I took his DRY diaper off. We repeated the singing and dancing and candy party from last night! I did not care in the neighbors heard. Potty training is big business! Day 2 the focus is on reinforcement so there was no need to pump the liquids and sugar/salt snacks. He had only five accidents this day! I still had to take him potty every half hour but he was getting it and even told me or just went potty a few times. Yes, success!


The next few weeks were about continuing to support and guide him. He learned to hold it for a longer period, how to take himself, and had very few accidents over those weeks.

*Note* When using this method it is important to have the child ONLY wear his/her underpants and a t-shirt on the training days. You want it to be EASY PEASY to get those pants down in the beginning. Many accidents happen because pants take too long to undo and get off.


So, with a now fully potty-trained toddler, I scheduled some tours and we decided on a new daycare center. He LOVES his new school. I love how caring everyone is and he is flourishing. He did not have any separation issues going to this new school. He did regress a little in potty training but a little tough love and guidance from his new teacher put him right back on track (tough love meaning sometimes she had to tell him that not sitting on the potty was not a choice and that he had to go sit and try to potty).


Little man recently had a lot of dental work done. His baby molars were discolored and brown when they erupted and I called the dentist who told me, "We do not see children until they are 3, just keep brushing his teeth they are fine." So, I brushed and scrubbed and those "stains" never faded, they actually kept spreading. I called the dentist 3 more times and each time it was the same thing, "Keep brushing and we will see him when he is 3." Finally in October I called them and told them that the "brown stains had developed into holes and that I was NOT taking "We'll see you when he's 3" as an answer and very begrudgingly she scheduled the appointment. The dentist took one look at his teeth and said, "Oh!?! We cannot treat his teeth here. He needs to see a pediatric dentist who can do this under general anesthesia." WHAT?! I wanted this looked at MONTHS ago when it was just little brown spots. Had they seen us then, they could have sealed his teeth and advised us to go on a regimen to block the bacteria S. Mutans that causes cavities like this. Instead, they ignored my pleas.


On Jan 21st, I held Little Man as he fell asleep fighting his anesthesia and crying, "Help mommy." Once he was asleep, I cried. I had never felt so helpless in my entire life. I walked out of the room hugging his brown puppy. About an hour later, the nurse came to get me because he was starting to wake up. As soon as his eyes opened, he lurched to be in my arms.


The next week was horrible. I had just weaned him off the breast the beginning of January in order to prepare for this surgery. He spiked a 104-degree fever the day after surgery. He had come down with influenza. Crap. He did not want to eat or drink all he did was cry and cry for nunnies. I knew I could not give in and let him nurse or it would be a million times harder to wean him again. Eventually, the flu subsided and he began to eat and drink again. We made it through.


Around this time, Little Man started getting ear infections that would not clear up. We also discovered that he is allergic to all of the -cillian antibiotics so that leaves only five antibiotics to treat these persistent infections. Finally, after his fourth infection the pediatrician referred us to the ENT. The doctor said that in most cases he would recommend that we wait another year before placing tubes, but because our arsenal of antibiotics is very limited due to allergies he would like to place the tubes to eliminate the repeat infections or at least make treating them easier. Little Man will be going in for ear tube surgery the 15th of this month.


In April, he will be playing U6 soccer. He has wanted to play for the last year that his sisters have played but he needed to be three in order to play. Since he turns three in April, we signed him up. My one goal for him this season is to follow some of the directions and to NOT have a complete meltdown on the soccer field!

So much more has happened in the last year but this blog post has already gotten excessively long.


Saturday, February 23, 2013

Freezer cooking 101

I have been freezer cooking for several years now. It is a great way to ensure that I get hot home cooked meals on the table even on busy nights. What is freezer cooking? Basically, it is preparing and storing meals in the freezer that are ready to thaw (full or partially) and cook. Some meals are cooked before freezing so that they just need reheated and some are assembled and frozen raw. It really depends on what is being cooked. I have been asked by many friends to explain how I do freezer cooking. I decided to share here what I do.

Fully stocked freezer with 22 meals, plus all the sides and veggies

Step 1: Make a plan
In order to prepare large quantities of food to be stored in the freezer you have to decide what you want to cook. Start by brainstorming your families favorite dinners. Head on over to Google to search for more ideas. Things to consider are to choose foods that freeze well. Even if a dinner has some ingredients that don't lend well to freezing, don't completely pass it by. Pasta does not hold up well in the freezer in my experience (unless it is lasagna or manicotti because those have special cooking instructions) but my family LOVES chicken alfredo. I will brown chopped grilled chicken breasts and add to a batch of yummy homemade alfredo sauce then freeze with instructions to pour over freshly boiled pasta. I can have a family favorite on the table in less than 30 minutes and clean up is a breeze!

Here is what I am planning to prepare and freeze over the next few weeks (updated to add links to the recipes that I used for inspiration, as usual I did tweak them to suit my families tastes and needs).

Lasagna w/ garlic bread
Pizza w/salad
Mac and Cheese (with cauliflower) w/broccoli
Pulled pork w/rolls and coleslaw (add horseradish to the slaw for a fun kick!)
Pork chops with Au gratin Potatoes w/peas
Salisbury Steaks w/mashed pots and corn (Used cube steaks instead of ground beef)
Teryaki Chicken with rice and broccoli
Turkey with stuffing and gravy w/ rolls (slices of turkey breast slow cooked in gravy served with stuffing and rolls)
Stromboli w/salad
Manicotti w/garlic bread and salad
Salsa Chicken w/tortilla and black beans
Brisket w/mashed potatoes and green beans (I puree the vegetables that are cooked with the brisket and use them with the pan drippings to make a gravy (cornstarch gravy)
Man Pleasing Chicken w/butternut squash and bread (no knead bread) (I use pre-cut squash in the steamer bags)
Forgotten Chicken w/peas
Chicken Tenders w/french fries
Bourbon Chicken w/fried rice
Balsamic Pork Tenderloin w/bread (no knead bread) and mashed potatoes
Rotisserie chicken (crock pot) w/salad
Spinach Lasagna rolls w/ salad
Chicken Alfredo
French Toast

I will also freeze several bags of cooked ground turkey and beef for insanely fast convenience meals and several bags of cooked grilled chicken to toss with salads.

Chocolate Chip cookie dough
Snicker doodle dough

Favorite recipes and shopping list (3 pages long) for all of the meals I have listed here.

Step 2: Write a shopping list
First gather up all your recipes for every meal you planned in step 1 (including sides that can be frozen). Write down all the ingredients you will need (I write them all down, then visit the pantry to take note on how much of each I have and if I have enough I cross it off, if not I write how much more I need). This is how I write the shopping list.

Chicken breast (boneless skinless): chix alfredo, man pleasing, bourbon, teryaki, forgotten, tenders, salsa chix
Milk: alfredo, mac&cheese
Flour: pizza dough, Stromboli dough
Rice: forgotten, teryaki, fried rice

I go ingredient by ingredient like this so that when I am looking at the chicken breasts I can quickly decide how many pounds I need to buy. Don't forget to write down items needed to STORE your food (freezer bags, foil, disposable Tupperware, foil pans, etc). Look at each recipe and decide the best way to freeze them (some recipes online will already have this information included).

Freezer bags?
Foil pans?

Step 3: Plan your cooking date(s)
Look at your calendar and decide when you want to do this. You will need to set aside about 45 mins per recipe (give or take). You will need to decide if you want to do a single marathon weekend or split it up into a couple weekends. Once you decide on your date(s) you can plan to go shopping a day or 2 before. If you are planning on splitting the cooking up make note of this on your shopping list. I go through my list and highlight the menu items for each weekend. So everything needed for weekend 1 will be green, weekend 2 yellow, etc.

Make sure when planning that you look at HOW each recipe cooks. You do not want to commit to 2 long cooking crock pot meals on the same day.

Step 4: Go grocery shopping
Now you may wonder why I am writing about something as simple as shopping. Let me explain. If you are looking at batch freezer cooking there is a pretty good chance you have at least one rug rat. Shopping for this kind of cooking is INTENSE (unless you are just doing a couple meals). My advise is to leave the kids at home with daddy, or send them to grandmas for the afternoon. If you have to bring them along make sure they are well rested, fed and that you have some entertainment for them (I also bring a snack when I have to bring my 4 kidlets). Speaking of being well rested and fed, make sure you eat a good meal before you go. People shop smarter when they are not hungry, you will more likely stick to your list and not splurge. It is often helpful if you clean out your fridge and freezer before shopping so that you have plenty of space to store your loot till cooking and freezing it!

Step 5: Cooking day(s) eve
The night before your big cooking day make sure you have a loose schedule planned. I like to set my day up so that I do all of my handling of meat at the same time, all my veggie chopping at the same time and all my sauce making is done as needed during the cooking and assembling of the meals. I always get crock pot meals in the crock first! I say to make a loose schedule because even with everything planned out things happen and you may have to go out of order. Plan for easy meals for the cooking day(s). My last piece of advice for this night is to get to bed early. You will be getting up early and working hard all day!

Step 6: Cooking day(s):
Set your alarm for at least 2 hours earlier than your family normally wakes. I do my batch cooking on Saturdays and Sundays. My family normally is up by about 8am those days. I set my alarm for 5:30am. I get up put on a pot of fancy coffee, hop in for a quick shower then grab a quick bite to eat. I always shower first so that I am fully awake. You do not want to be following a bunch of recipes and handling sharp knives half asleep. I recommend getting up early so that you have 2 hours of uninterrupted time to knock out a lot of the prep work, cutting up the meats, veggies, etc. After that is done the rest of the day is all about assembling meals and cooking them if needed.

That's Freezer cooking in a nutshell (at least how it's done at my house).

Friday, February 22, 2013

A whole year?

Wow, time sure flies when you're having fun... or just really dang busy!

In the last year I returned to work... full time... It has been an adjustment to say the least. My job title has changed from toddler teacher to substitute teacher. I really like the latter (an current) job title. I am learning so much that will prepare me for my very own classroom. Fingers (and toes?) crossed that I get my own class soon!

This has been a terrible year for sickness. I can't even begin to count the number of times we have been down for the count with some form of a bacteria, virus or other parasite. YUCK!

Little man has had a rough year too. He ended up falling into a bookshelf at daycare (in the first couple weeks there too) and gashed his cheek open. He ended up with FIVE stitches. That was hard on this momma. 4 kidlets and the baby is the first to need stitches. More recently, he had to have quite a bit of dental work done (more on that later).

The girls are doing good. Sassy as ever and keeping their momma on her toes.

T started middle school this year. OMG! Where did the time go? Where did my baby girl go? She is adjusting well to the demands of growing up. She also is now the very proud owner of her own cell phone (it is necessary for her safety). She is still on the gifted track at school and her MAP test results are still off the charts. Proud momma here! She joined the 6th grade choir, knitting club, and art club! She is applying for the National Jr Honors Society!

E is in 2nd grade. She has now been identified as gifted in both math and reading on the MAP test. :) Proud momma grins! She is playing soccer and I am her soccer coach. Her biggest accomplishment though is she has finally stopped sucking her thumb! She will be getting her ears pierced very soon as a reward for sticking to her goal!

C is in first grade. School hasn't come as easily for her as it has for her big sisters. We are in the process of working with the speech therapist at school to see if her previous language delays have anything to do with the struggles she is facing. I also am going to have them evaluate her for dyslexia. She works hard at school and we have hope that with the right supports she will start to make better progress. I am still very proud of her! She is also playing soccer and I am her soccer coach. She is a natural at soccer. I think we have found her niche. When she is on the field with a ball she is a powerhouse that nothing can stop, she is fearless!

Daddy went back to school. He is working on getting several computer related certifications. A++ and some networking things. He is more than ready to jump out of the food service industry into a career in computers! We celebrated our 10th anniversary in June. He did a great job surprising me. It was a great day!

I am hoping that I can get back into the swing of posting more! Coming soon is a great post on how I do batch freezer cooking to make meals during the busy seasons faster and healthier than takeout!