Friday, May 8, 2015

Student Appreciation

Every new school year, I have to relearn, rework, and re-imagine my job. With every new group of students I need to learn who they are, what they need, and how to best support their education. Every year, this is a long, changing process. This year in particular, has been quite challenging. It has been difficult to feel as though I am doing my best to support all of my students, to teach them the skills they need to know, and to do my best as an educator. I have struggled. It has been difficult. A week ago, my thoughts about the end of this year consisted of excitement for summer break, excitement for next year's schedule, and preparation for doing things differently. I was ready.

Since then, my thoughts have changed drastically. This past week was Teacher Appreciation Week as well as conferences. Throughout the week, cards and snacks trickled in from my sweet students, as they usually do. But this year, my students gave me a gift that I was not expecting. Gratitude, true appreciation, and a profound sense that I have done my job this year, that I have made a difference. These are the things that I needed. They are the things I didn't know I needed.

Wednesday (our last day with students this week) one of my quiet, sweet young ladies met me at the door first thing in the morning. She had a bouquet of flowers and a handwritten note in hand. I love the flowers, but it was what she said that I took to heart. She thanked me for taking extra time to teach her writing skills that she had struggled with and gave me a big hug. Although I know we have worked together quite a lot this year, I did not expect this. I had no idea that my extra time meant so much to her. A wonderful way to start my day.

My beautiful flowers

Then yesterday (our first day of conferences), I talked with many students and their parents. Much of the day went as conferences usually do, but there were some differences from conferences of the past. My last set of visitors before our lunch break changed my day. She changed my perspective. I will call her "E". "E" came in with her dad, who has attended each of the conference days this year. Each time we meet, I get to gush about how wonderful of a student "E" is, how respectful and responsible she is, how she has grown into a tremendous leader, and about her publish-worthy writing skills. Every time we meet, it ends in all smiles. This time it ended in much more.

"E" entered my room with a painting in-hand. A painting she MADE for me. She spent hours of her time creating this painting as a Teacher Appreciation gift. Just as with the flowers, the painting is so appreciated, it will hang in my classroom forever more, and words can't express my gratitude. However, the words behind the painting are what has changed me. "E" and her dad told me how I have inspired her, how she has learned things from me that have nothing to do with conventions and sentence structure, how she appreciates me and what I have done to help her grow as a young adult. When they left, nearly forty five minutes later, I didn't mind that I had missed most of my lunch. I had all the energy I needed.
A stunning painting from an astonishing young lady

Later that evening, a mom stopped by my table. She asked how her daughter, "K", is doing and listened to my positive comments and suggestions. It seemed, once again, like a normal conference. Then the mom asked about a small group activity with a local author that I had arranged for our aspiring 6th grade writers. She told me how much "K"had appreciated the invite to the event and how it had led to a novel project that her daughter and a friend had created. She also told me that "K" spends hours telling her about our classroom discussions about bullying, homelessness, teen activism, and leadership.

She said that her daughter tells her about the respect she feels in our classroom, how I talk to them like adults, and that we talk about grown up topics. She thanked me for inspiring "K", who is very quiet, to be a leader and to stand up for what she believes in. This same young lady, gave me a card the day before as well as wrote me a very thoughtful, specific letter about how I have impacted her school year and her life.

Every year I hear (as every teacher does), "You are my favorite teacher!", but these interactions were different. These students had more to say. They had specific reasons why our time together matters to them. They used words like "inspire", "respect", "challenge", and "support". I left conferences dreading the end of the school year. Realizing that I have only one month left to complete my work is a sad thought. I want more discussions with these students. I want more chances to reach them. I want more time. My struggles with this year are no longer front and center. Now my limited time with these amazing young people is what matters.

It always surprises me who gets the most out of my classes. This time, it may be me.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Pinterest Food Challenge Day Four: Pretzel Dogs

I will start by saying, our weekend got away from us and we weren't able to stick to our challenge. We were having way too much fun to think about cooking. Tonight, we were back at it. We have rearranged our schedule, but will still make all of the dishes listed in the first challenge post. This time, Pretzel Dogs!!

I was a bit intimidated by the idea initially, but they turned out amazing! I thought that I would ruin this recipe for sure, but it was much easier that I thought. I read one of the comments, which said something along the lines of "to get a true pretzel flavor, do this....and this...". So I wasn't expecting a wonderful pretzel flavor, but boy was it there. The bread tasted exactly like a soft-baked pretzel and paired nicely with the hot dogs. I ended up with a bit extra dough, so I made some extra pretzels to send in Liam's lunch box this week.

Again, both boys really enjoyed the meal. Liam ate an entire pretzel dog (which were quite large) and an extra pretzel. Both smothered in ketchup and mustard. Joe was pretty excited that there were only two left, because then there is not enough for another dinner, meaning.........he gets to take the leftovers for lunch tomorrow.

If you are interested in the recipe, click this link: Pretzel Dogs

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Pinterest Food Challenge Day Three: Pork Schnitzels and Mashed Potato Pancakes

Due to my head cold, we took yesterday off from our food challenge. My poor kiddos had to eat boxed macaroni......again. We will move the recipe that we should have done today to Monday, so stay tuned!

As for today, both recipes were quite yummy. As with every dinner in our house, one boy likes one thing on his plate and the other one likes something else. This evening was no different. Liam loved the pork and Nolan loved the potatoes. Joe and I like both. I do have to say that I would not pair these items again. They tasted great together, but it was too much fried food in one meal.

As with the other two recipes, everything took longer than suggested. The one change though is that the actual cook time (for both recipes) needed to be longer. Both the pork and the potato pancakes needed to be flipped about 5 minutes in rather than the 2-4 minutes listed on the recipes.

If you are interested in giving either of these recipes, the links are right here!

Pork Schnitzels

Cheesy Leftover Mashed Potato Pancakes

Monday, April 27, 2015

Pinterest Food Challenge Day Two: Enchilada Casserole

This post will be short and to the point. This recipe is awesome!! It earned two thumbs up for the two year old, and four (don't ask) from the five year old. My husband and I loved it as well. I'm hoping it is just as good the second time around, as we ended up with enough to have it again tomorrow night (barely, as I had to have two helpings tonight).

The only changes that I would make to the recipe are to, once again, change the prep time as this mom took far longer than the allotted 10 minutes. Also, I made our casserole in a 9x13 pan, which required four tortillas rather than the three which the recipe lists. I may try to make it in a smaller pan next time, so we end up with more, thicker layers of goodness.

Either way, this recipe was a hit!

Want to give it a shot? Here is the link: Enchilada Casserole

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Pinterest Food Challenge Day One: Teriyaki Turkey Meatballs

Today was day one of our Pinterest Food Challenge. Throughout this week, our family will only eat my pinned dinner ideas. Today was Terikayi Turkey Meatballs with rice and egg rolls.

We chose this meal because it is a crockpot recipe, which we love to make on Sunday afternoons. I will start off by saying that we all loved the flavor of the meatballs and the Teriyaki sauce, even the boys! They were very flavorful, juicy, and easy to make. However, as with most recipes, the prep time of ten minutes was not at all at my "non-chef" speed. It was more like 30 minutes. Also, my meatballs didn't quite look like hers. My sauce was not as thick as I expected, although still very tasty.

The only modification we made to the recipe given was to not add the optional sesame seeds, otherwise we stuck to her instructions and ingredients. When I make these again, the only change I would make, is to bake them in the oven a bit longer. I like a crunchier texture to the outside of a meatball. The recipe made enough for two family dinners, so we packed up the leftovers and popped them in the freezer for another day (we will see how that goes).

My family would recommend this recipe to others, even the five and two year old! Give it a try!

Link to the recipe: Slow Cooker Teriyaki Meatballs

Saturday, April 25, 2015

One Week Pinterest Food Challenge

I love Pinterest. I spend far too much time scouring pin after pin. I have pinned close to 3,000 things, all with the intention to use them in some way. I, like most "Pinners", rarely actually do anything with them. My Pinterest page has turned into a graveyard of all my good intentions and creative inspirations.

My husband and I are waiting to get my son's blood test results, which could shed a lot of light on some uncomfortable symptoms he has been dealing with. Obviously, I'm going crazy waiting. So the only sane thing to do is to give myself something else to obsess about.

Our family always struggles with what to make for dinner. We procrastinate, until we give up and make boxed macaroni.....again, or make a quick stop at Taco Bell. Our stomachs and our food budget are not feeling so hot.

Three issues, one solution: A One Week Pinterest Food Challenge!

For one week, our family will only eat dinners found on my Pinterest profile. We will use the recipes that I, apparently, thought looked delicious. We created the menu for the week, will shop for any needed ingredients tomorrow, and spend the next week trying new recipes. Each day I will post a review of the recipe made, including how the kids liked it, as well as a link to the website where the recipe can be found.

While narrowing down our long list of pinned recipes, I learned a couple of things about items found on Pinterest. 1. Many of the "easy" recipes are not, in fact, easy. 2. Many of the websites which the pin takes you to have nothing to do with what you pinned or the page is inaactive. 3. Every website associated with recipes comes complete with pop-up and ad, after pop-up and ad. So, this little project also helped me to clean out my food board.

Our Menu

Sunday- Teriyaki Turkey Meatballs, rice and egg rolls
Monday/Tuesday- Enchilada Casserole
Wednesday- Pork Schnitzels with Mashed Potato Pancakes
Thursday- Herb Crusted Chicken in a Basil Cream Sauce with Pasta
Friday- Pretzel Dogs and Extra Crispy Oven Baked French Fries
Saturday- Buffalo Chicken Garbage Bread
Sunday- Crisp Meat Burritos 

I'm very excited to have something silly to focus on, to put my hours for pinning to good use, and to find some new, yummy recipes to add to our families short list. Let the challenge begin!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Fighting My Gut Feeling

It started almost two weeks ago. We were celebrating Liam's 5th birthday with close friends. It was a wonderful day, filled with happiness, love, and laughter. After the guests went home and we all started to wind down, we noticed that Liam had hives on his belly and back. This had happened before, so we gave him some Benadryl and didn't think too much of it.

Very early the next morning, Liam found his way into our bed and the constant scratching became something we were well aware of. After just a couple of minutes of his tossing and turning, my husband decided to turn on the light, to which we found him covered, head to toe (literally- scalp to the tops of his feet) with huge, bright red hives. Since our youngest was still sleeping, Joe decided he would take Liam to the emergency room, while I stayed home with Nolan. I hated every minute they were gone. I wanted to be with Liam, to help sooth him, to make him feel better.

When they finally returned about an hour later, Joe told me that the doctors believed that the hives were a reaction to the antibiotics that Liam had been taking for an ear infection, that they gave him a dose of steroids, and stop giving him the meds. We did.

Sunday went by, every minute he looked a little better. Monday morning arrived and I noticed that his ears were a bit read and were sticking out a bit. I scoured his body for any other signs of irritation, but only found the remnants of the allergic reaction. I reluctantly took him to preschool with a pretty unsettling feeling. Within two hours, Liam's preschool coordinator had called, saying she believed he was getting worse and should be picked up.

By the time I got there, he looked miserable. The hives were back, his eyes, ears, and lips were swollen, and he could barely walk (at the time I thought it was due to the uncomfortable rash on his legs). I rushed him to urgent care, where once they heard the words "swollen lips" they looked a bit more worried and urgency could be felt. We were shuffled to a room within a minute or two, where Liam was watched closely by three doctors and two nurses.

Two hours later, we were sent home. I was terrified to leave, due to their constant reminders to call 911 if there was any swelling of his tongue or breathing issues. He was, once again, given steroids and we were on our way. It took three more days for Liam to feel well enough to return to school. Even though the constant rash was a thing of the past, and scratching done resulted in an instant hive that would disappear within a few minutes.

We made it through work and school on Monday, but when I arrived to pick him up, he was barely walking and looked like he was on the verge of tears. Once again, I took him to see his pediatrician, who told me it was just a muscle cramp in his leg. Totally unrelated to his health issue of the week before.

We went home, did the things he suggested, and within two hours Liam was running and playing like
normal. We thought, for once, we had an easy answer.Then pick up on Tuesday resulted in the same situation. We did the same things as the night before, which once again, resulted in a happy boy. Wednesday, the leg pain migrated to the heels of his feet. Today, his feet were bothering him, yet again.

His smile lights up the room!
Due to his allergic reaction possibly being thanks to antibiotics, our pediatrician suggested that we take Liam to an allergist. Today was the day. Unfortunately, because he is still hiving at the slightest scratch he couldn't be tested on his skin, as they usually do. We were sent to a nearby lab to have his blood drawn to be tested that way. Unfortunately, after two failed attempts, a ton of tears, death stares, and four nurses, we left without a drop of blood.

I'm worried for many reasons. 1. His allergic reaction was so severe. 2. We don't know what, if anything, he is allergic to. 3. His leg/foot pains make him walk like a 70 year old man and breaks my heart simultaneously. 4. Autoimmune diseases run rampant from both sides of his family tree. 5. We have to go back to try a blood draw again tomorrow.

What if he is really sick? What if this is more than muscle cramps and allergies? What if my broken genes are hurting him? What if whatever is attacking him, doesn't stop? What if we never find out what is causing this? All I can do is think about my poor little man, who celebrate his birthday between painful illnesses. How can I watch my little boy be so sad, scared, and confused? I'm trying to be strong for him. I'm trying to be proactive rather than feeling defeated. I'm trying.