Around Here Week 28: 07/07-07/13

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

A glimpse into our life as it is just this moment.


























watches one episode of Marie Kondo...




Intentional Outdoor Hours: 369+ hours (of 1000)
Up 32 hours this week thanks to really beautiful and perfect summer weather. We have been catching lightening bugs almost every night - there are so many!- and I love seeing the kids run all over the yard with their arms up in the air. Violet is our master lightening bug catcher and she names them things like George. And our resident toad is back: Steve! Grey found him on the back patio one night this week as we were sitting around the fire.

Reading Miles Morales Spiderman by Jason Reynolds. Also read and finished We Got This by Cornelius Minor with the Book Love Foundation Summer club. I underlined and made notes all through We Got This and it really has me inspired and energized for the upcoming school year. I felt overwhelmed this year and I said multiple times (in my mind and aloud) that I felt like a drop in the bucket with a system that is often broken and kids that are struggling with big problems; what good can I really do?! But I loved these quotes particularly from the book,
"I came to teaching wanting to give tools to be free - free of the external structures and pitfalls that can rob young people of opportunity and free of the internal mind-sets and attitudes that can keep us mired to where we are instead of focused on where we can be....To love children is to love their futures." -pg 73 
"We are not victims in a dysfunctional system; we are agents with the vision to imagine new systems - even if they exist only in our individual classrooms or departments for  now."  - pg.115
Camping at the Quemahoming for the last day of our cousin weekend. The kids all had so much fun together and we had the perfect day for water fun on Sunday. I took the paddleboard out with kids crammed all over it and then use it as a diving board in the middle of the dam. Everyone was jumping, splashing, laughing, and shouting - it was everything that summer memories are made up. We looked like we were having so much fun; Brandon and Ray jumped in and swam all the way out with us to join in on the battle. We were so lucky to be able to get all packed up literally moments before a torrential thunderstorm hit around dinnertime. The most perfect ending to our cousin camping weekend!

Getting slammed with the Norovirus (stomach bug). Violet got hit first and started throwing up at camp, she was such a trooper and tried to hang in there. Luckily, we only live about 10 minutes from the Que, so I just brought her home to sleep for a few hours and when she woke up she said, "Let's go back to camp!" Then RustMan got it next (throwing up on the way to and at the farmer's market!) and he spent a few days with it because he doesn't understand yet that what he needs is rest and to just lay down!

Stressing about our THREE roosters! Apparently we have three roosters and I don't like it one bit; they are always herding the girls and chasing them around for you know what and trying to show their dominance by plucking each other's feathers. Grey is all like, "I'll shoot them!" and I'm all like "we are not shooting our own pets, child, even if I hate them." #outdoorsmanmommaprobs I'm looking to adopt them out to our fam & friend chicken owners for their flocks - anyone need a rooster?

Preparing Gemma for her theater camp audition. She practiced singing Mamma Mia all week and then auditioned on Wednesday. She said she was nervous and excited and Grey watched from the other room with his hands over his mouth (he was nervous for her!) She learned a little dance, read some lines, and sang. Her camp is this coming week and they are doing Annie Jr in one week!

Getting stuck in the mud, literally, on Wednesday after Gemma's audition. Hah. Oh, Sheila, she was sunk way down deep in some mud and there was absolutely no way she was getting out on her own. The kids and I took a hike around Westmont until B was able to come with the truck to pull us out on just about the hottest day of the summer so far (hah!) We walked several blocks in our bathing suits (having just come from the pool) like some kind of weird, cranky, tired, parade. It turned out okay, but it was pretty ridiculous.

Working on KonMari Method for Category 1: Clothing after watching one episode of her series. It was really inspiring and I was getting a little emotional actually when she was greeting and thanking the family's home for keeping them safe, warm, and dry. 'Spark joy' is a little awkward for me to use, so I have been holding each piece of clothing and asking my heart, "Are you truly grateful to own this?" There were a few items that I thanked and parted with because they were pieces of clothing that I know I bought and wore because I didn't like the way I looked and felt about myself. It was freeing to be able to thank them and then say goodbye. (#thanksketo #thanksmariekondo )

Saying farewell to our great uncle Sharpie who we laid to rest this week. Although it was a terrible reason, we were grateful to see our family and be able to be there to support them in these difficult days. Our whole family attended the visitation on Thursday night followed by swimming at the hotel with our cousins. Then Gemma and I went to the funeral on Friday morning.

Date nighting with B when all the kids were requested for sleepovers! Gem spent the night with the Fiores swimming and giggling, Violet and Rust got their aunt all to themselves at Aunt Kitty's house, while Grey soaked up all the grandparent glory at Gigi and Pappy's. B and I went for a bacon appetizer and cocktail at Tap 814 where we ran into high school classmates we have been missing and then ate too many carbs at Nyko's with sushi and steak. #worthit

Hosting our Goddaughter (and cousin) Mallory at our house for a two day sleepover! She lives near Pittsburgh, so Gemma was thrilled to have her with us for three days and two nights (me too!)

Visiting some summer favorite spots including the Jim Mayer Trail for a little overcast hike with the dogs. We met our besties, the Fiores, at Stutzman farms to pick buckets and buckets full of blueberries. I'm pretty sure Grey picked as much as he ate (about 1.5 lbs) and even though Rusty and Violet don't love blueberries - they had so much fun picking them! We spent Saturday morning at the Ligonier Farmer's Market with my mom and sisters snacking on samples, buying fresh jams, and stopping at Jarred for our favorite mustards (Kickin' Mustard & Roasted Red Pepper Mustard).

Summer sporting with two late volleyball games this week (won 5, lost 1) without the kiddos, thanks to our cousin and babysitter Ariel! Grey had baseball practice once this week and then played in the West Suburban tournament on Saturday afternoon (two games) & B worked in the concession stand for an hour too.

Making leftover chicken nugget wraps & mac and cheese muffins, walking tacos, frozen pizza, and mac and cheese casserole (left over extravaganza that the kids actually loved!) Violet helped mix up a batch of pumpkin/chocolate chip muffins.

Keto'ing with all kind of good eats this week. We had beef roast in the slow cooker, salmon & asparagus on the grill, turkey taco bowls with cauliflower rice, avocado, and jalapenos. We made buffalo chicken dip with cucumber, pepper, and broccoli dippers, and turkey burgers and hot dogs on the grill.

Kids in the Kitchen

Friday, July 12, 2019

We are pretty big on kid independence in our house and one area that the kids love practicing this is in the kitchen - helping with cooking and baking. So, the kids get invited to join regularly and I never, ever lack for a kid who wants to help cook- it's more like too many of them want to help and I have to divide the steps four ways so everyone gets a turn at something.

Depending on their ages/abilities, it is easy to add kid help to anything I am making for any meal. Being a total nerd about education - it's such a joy for me to watch how much they are learning about so many different things while we cook/bake together. Grey learned about how important it is to measure when adding salt to food when he made a super-salty egg sausage casserole that made his Dad's face squish up (hah! still a favorite memory story around here!)

We practice counting cups, reading recipes, even fractions! We learn about time - why does it take so long for the cookies to bake?! - we learn about not wasting food, and how much better things taste when we use fresh food (from our own garden, or chickens, or the farmer's market!)



It's not perfect by any means - we've had plenty of burned fingers from the stove or oven, enormous flour explosions when the electric mixer gets too speedy, had to pick egg shells out of a mix. And it can certainly be frustrating for me because when I have a house full of hungry kids and a piled up with dishes kitchen - ain't no momma got time for little hands sticking their fingers in my cookie batter (hah!) But like most things when it comes to raising up future people - you have to smile through the patience and focus on the learning. They're never going to learn to do it for themselves if you don't show them and then let them do it (no matter how long or how much of a mess it makes the first couple tries).

Here is how the helping in the kitchen shakes out for us currently and through the last year. Even writing this list out has me motivated to keep teaching the kids new skills (Grey - mac & cheese solo, Gem - grilled cheese sandwiches solo). It's always evolving and figuring out what works best for each kid and age.

Ages 2-3 (Rusty)

  • can stir mixes with a utensil- frequent reminders that "we keep one hand on the bowl to hold it steady, and the other hand stirs the spatula"
  • can add pre-measured ingredients to a bowl
  • can get supplies out that we will need (peanut butter, chocolate chips, etc)
  • can do one by one things: put cupcake liners in cupcake tin, add blueberries as toppings to each iced cupcake, etc
  • always up to taste test and lick the spoon!


Ages 4-5 (Violet)
  • can crack eggs into a bowl
  • can use an electric hand mixer
  • can count correct cups (I can give her the correct size measuring tool and the item she is adding and tell her, "you need 3 of these")
  • can use cookie cutters without assistance
  • can use a butter knife to spread toppings (butter/jelly - although peanut butter is a hard one to get right - even our 9 yr old still struggles adding peanut butter to toast!)
  • can pick ripe vegetables from the garden (knows the difference between still growing and ripe)
  • can make toast/waffles/toaster strudel & take it out of the toaster safely



 Ages 7-8 (Gemma)

  • can cook eggs on a stove (scrambled)
  • can brown ground meat in a skillet
  • can use a sharp knife to cut up vegetables
  • can pour own drinks/cereal (without a huge mess)
  • can ice a cake/cupcakes 
  • can add sprinkles (without a huge mess)
  • can flip pancakes
  • can 'fold' delicate things into a batter (like blueberries)
  • can make her own sandwiches (lunchmeat, pb&j)
  • can shuck corn (unassisted)
  • can set the microwave time correctly (after a lot of supervision and one incident of a melted bowl and a smoke filled kitchen)



Ages 8-9 (Grey)

  • can follow a handwritten recipe after we go over it together
  • can read & understand the packaging for baking instructions (oven temp and length of cooking)
  • can put things in and out of the oven with mitts
  • can cook on the stove (including turning it on/off, using the correct size burner, etc)
  • can mix his own sauces: when he realized we had run out of buffalo ranch dressing, I told him that he just needs to get the right mixture of hot sauce and ranch dressing and he could make his own. He blew his own mind! 
  • can start a fire in a fire ring (for campfire cooking)
  • can steam things in a pan (breakfast sausage, vegetables)
  • starting to learn how to grill simple things like hamburgers and hot dogs - highly supervised/assisted
  • starting to learn about cooking clean up - that all the ingredients you use during cooking need to go back in the fridge/cupboard, it's easier to wipe the stove right away rather than let messes sit, soaking baked on pans, etc



Now if only we could get them to clean up after a meal as good as they cook/bake - that'd be a real miracle!

Spanish teacher in a small town

Thursday, July 11, 2019

When I was a little girl, one of my favorite ways to pass time was to play teacher. My parents put a huge chalkboard in our playroom and we had an old fashioned student desk in there too. I would spend hours instructing my younger sisters, or make believe students on any kind of topics that popped into my head. Brandon is wary to hear if I've visited Staples, Michaels, or the Bookstore (the kids also know that 'Momma cannot be trusted in these stores). I get deliriously happy when I get new sharpies or post-its and if there were a fire, my planners are the thing I would grab from my classroom. (I have a daily planner for my regular life and a teacher planner for school life).

After graduating undergrad with a degree in Spanish, I taught English as a Second Language in Brooklyn, NY with Teach for America. My students were all different colors, from all different backgrounds; about 70% spoke Spanish as the primary language at home, and in grades K-4. Many of them were the translators for their parents; it wasn't just about doing well in their classes - their family was relying on them to be the bridge to a better life. I worked with students in small groups in my classroom giving them tools and patterns to recognize between Spanish and English. I pushed into classes full of kids and assisted general ed teachers on how to make it more accessible to language learners. I went home regularly with a heavy heart to know that my encouragement to kids about the importance to work hard in school was sometimes background noise to the loud sounds of their bigger issues at home. How can I explain to a second grader that he "really needs to learn how to read" when he hasn't eaten since his last school lunch?



Teach for America and teaching in Brooklyn was one of the things that most changed me on the timeline of my entire life. Working with my kids (still in contact with some of them) and learning first hand about the challenges that students face in their attempts at education - right here in our country! -have and will forever shape my beliefs and dreams about childhood and education and freedom. I truly believe that education is the answer to so many issues but that also education is so multi-faceted that to fix the system; you have to fix so many other busted and twisted pieces of the puzzle.

I care about your kids' education and that kid's who lives in the poorest part of our town's education, and that kid's who lives in the sticks in that middle state, and the kid's who lives at the southern border - because every single one of the kids are going to grow up to be an adult who lives in and votes and works and makes decisions in our country. If we want a safe, smart, incredible country - we should be educating kids no matter where they live and no matter how much money their parents make with the very best resources, teachers, and schools. full stop.


After teaching in Brooklyn, I went to the other side of education - testing/assessments and teacher training. Then I raised my own babies for awhile and now; by the ways of the universe, I am back in the classroom again.

I teach now in the (near polar) opposite setting of my classroom experience in Brooklyn. I am now a teacher in a very small (mostly white) town in rural Pennsylvania teaching Spanish to English speakers in high school. In every period of the day, I am usually the shortest person in the room and my kids still have struggles that keep me awake at night. Many of them are the same; hunger, healthcare, addicted parents - and then with the added bonus of hormones, boyfriends/girlfriends, and having after-school jobs.   And it's a different time, truly, only 10 years later - there is a new frontier of competing with the blue screen draw of cell phones and social media to contend with.

In a time where high stakes testing holds all the power (don't even get me started down that road!), and Math, Science, and ELA at the top of that concern - what importance does my subject as a foreign language teacher really have in today's world, right?

Well, you have come to the right place, because I take very seriously my responsibility as a foreign language teacher in a small town.

With the internet and access to all the world - you'd think that it would allow people to learn about new things, however it has instead allowed people to create strange bubbles around themselves that only include information that they already know and enjoy. In some cases this can be incredibly uplifting and supportive - for me, to be able to learn from and converse with other Spanish teachers for example. I am part of this strange little online community of other Spanish teachers who are teaching through comprehensible input and novels and SeƱor Wooly, which has allowed me to grow so much in the past three years in my practice.


But it can also mean that you can stay only within a strictly framed viewpoint that you already understand and agree with. The internet is tricky like that, right? It recognizes that you liked a video of a cat playing with a duck and suddenly you have ads for cat food and DIY duck coops popping up in your sidebars. My students have been living in that targeted cyber world since they became digital citizens - which could have been when they were in elementary school.  

I view my job as not only a responsibility to teach kids verb tenses and Spanish vocabulary for family members and clothing, but more so to offer a window into a new perspective. We listen to Spanish music and learn basic Merengue and Salsa dance steps. We celebrate Hispanic holidays to learn about how and why they celebrate and how we can make it special in our own way (more than just a day to have a 'fiesta'). We talk about how there are phrases that make so much sense in only one particular language; how that makes language so incredible and each one important. We try making and eating new foods and sharing them with classmates. We learn about the weather, geography, and customs of other countries and then talk about how odd our own customs might be to someone who didn't grow up here (I tell them how I struggled to explain Groundhog's Day to my host family in Costa Rica). We learn about the struggles of the past and current events around the world and many times the response from students is, "how didn't I hear about this?" 


My job is one part "did they learn the words and conjugations" and one part "are they getting opportunities to understand that the world is big and interesting and different but also there are commonalities between our differences." I want it to be fun and interesting and surprising because that is how you encourage the mind to ask questions and be curious and keep looking for new ways to understand the world and people around you. 

I am still growing and learning in my teaching too. I have a big dreams about taking students abroad in the summer of 2021 and I have just the group of Spanish club officers that will hold me accountable to making that happen! (thank you Olivia, Sarah, Jamie, Ryan, and Drew!)

And I don't think that my responsibility to children as a foreign language teacher is more important or valuable than other subjects. 

That's the thing - each subject, even if not tested, holds just as much weight and importance as any other. 

You amazing arts teachers giving kids tools to express themselves and introducing them to the brilliant artists and styles of the past, giving the opportunity to use their hands and voices to make something new for the world.

You fun and active gym teachers who give these kids (who are asked to sit in desks and be quiet all day) the opportunity to move and be competitive, who remind them that they can play no matter how grown they might think they are

You awesome English teachers who give kids books with characters who look, think, and worry like our own kids - who open up the whole world by giving the tools to have their voices heard in writing - I love you for that. 

You fantastic Math teachers who teach our kids to speak the universal language of numbers, who show kids that there is a solution to problems and all things can connect and make sense if you have the right tools and methods

and you creative Science teachers who let our kids experiment and make mistakes on purpose so they can try again until they get it right, how much of that bleeds into every little piece of living

and the elementary school teachers - BLESS YOU - who teach our kids to read and spell and use scissors and stand in a line and raise their hands. do you know how incredible the ability to go from learning to read to reading to learn is?! you are literal superheroes

and you preschool teachers, you potty training, coloring, mini science experimenting, teaching to share, making snacks, snuggling and hugging magical wizards, your patience and kindness comes from another planet. 

and the coaches who are teaching kids dedication, perseverance, collaboration, and hope
and the guidance counselors who are holding hands through each new next phase and stage 
and the social workers who listen and support and show up for our kids and the problems they are too young to carry
and the aids and paraprofessionals who build relationships with our kids that help them succeed

I don't know that anyone could convince me that there is more important work than that of working with, raising up, and supporting kids. This responsibility that we; teachers, coaches, school leaders, parents; all share is literally the tending to the future.  

I am grateful to each of you that is doing the hard work everyday of being the person that you needed when you were growing up. What you do for a young person today, matters for all of us tomorrow. 


just half more of summer before we are back at it, fellow teacher friends.
I am already cheering you on. 
i love you. 

A day in the life - July 2019

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

A photo every hour from Monday, July 8, 2019. Just a day in my life that was extraordinarily ordinary. Some days are better, some days are harder - but most days are about like this; little moments of wonderful, lots of moments that require patience, and many tiny regular moments that all together make up my life right now.


around 5:45am, after making Brandon's lunch for work and kissing him goodbye. I get to sit down at the dining room table and plan, brainstorm, and track in my planner. I started tracking on my monthly calendar pages various goals that I have for myself (like water intake, outdoor hours, step count, etc) about a year ago and I have loved being able to hold myself accountable each day and month; it is motivating and inspiring to me. I blogged, checked email, and added things to an online cart for camping items I am fantasizing about (not buying, just adding and thinking about them, hah).


Around 6:40a, I went down to let the chickens out of the coop who had been clucking and crowing at me. I refilled their feeder and carried up their water container because it is empty after a few days. Every morning as I'm walking to the coop, I say to them, "Good morning, girls!" They love being free range and I love looking out the windows all day and seeing them waddle about the yard.


Around 7:30a, Grey was up first this morning, and uncharacteristically early because after our long weekend I made everyone go to bed last night at a decent time. I was just finishing up my blog post and I showed him what we were doing this time last year and the years before that. He knows I "write a blog" but he still doesn't get what that means. Someday I hope he and his sibs float back here and are grateful to find their mother's words and perspective from when they were growing up. 


Around 8:50a, as I am recovering from the past holiday and weekend of not tracking macros on Keto and I find that I am pretty hungry. There will be no intermittent fasting today! (hah). I made an egg, ham, and muenster sandwich on a Keto bagel with a little bit of mayo. The kids have already eaten pb&j toast, so while I eat, I start on the last chapter of my Book Love Foundation summer club book for this week - We Got This by Cornelius Minor.


Around 9:45a, I have the kids do some chores because the house is a wreck from all the camping this weekend - sheesh! the laundry! Three kids split the dishwasher (Rust gets silverware duty) and Grey chose cleaning the downstairs bathroom over the dishwasher. I still have to hand wash the roaster pan from the family reunion, the thermos from camping, and the crockpot from last night's beef roast.  


Around 10:30a, I go collect the chicken eggs because the girls need a little time in the morning to get their egg laying done. We hadn't collected over the weekend while at camp, so we had 15 eggs that I carried up in my shirt. We keep our eggs out at room temperature until we have about 2-3 dozen of eggs to wash. Once they are washed, then they go in the fridge.


 Around 11:35a, we make it to the Jim Mayer Trail for a walk with the dogs. I was feeling really guilty about the pups being stuck in the house all weekend while we camped - so my guilt motivated the ambition to take both dogs (nearly 100 lbs each) and all four kids to the trail by myself. It was an overcast day, so my fingers were crossed that it wouldn't be crowded (Bullet does not do well with strangers) and my wishing paid off - we only saw a handful of people biking/walking! The kids walked, picked up millipedes, made walking sticks, and splashed in a few run offs along the trail.  Bullet even got to swim in the river which made him the happiest boy ever. Good job, guilty brain!


Around 12:50p, we made it back to Sheila after our walk and everyone was ready for a snack. One of the most important things I've learned in my nine years of motherhood is that any event or activity will fall all the way to hell if you do not have snacks. Literally, it is the key component to success: must have snacks. The kids had veggies straws, chocolate chip cookies, and juice bags.


Around 1:20p, it's time for real food and the kids had lunchmeat sandwiches and yogurt at the kitchen table. They were being really silly and giggly and it was kind of making me nuts actually because Rusty is making messes and they are laughing about it. I ate a cheese stick, salt & vinegar Blue Diamond almonds, and half of a 85% chocolate mini bar - also drank a big bottle and half of water.


Around 2:45p, time to use the leftover coffee in the pot for afternoon iced coffee (I love this daily tradition so much). I had a ton of laundry to continue to switch in the washer/dryer and/or fold. The big kids were watching Hunter Street downstairs on tv and the little kids were cutting up craft paper in the girls' room and drawing.


Around 3:45p, I made the kids get into the garden with me to do some (much needed!) weeding. Everyone got a plant (or a row) that they are responsible to weed before they can be done. It was sunny but not too hot, just muggy. We have tomatoes, brussel sprouts, and zucchini growing...and maybe a few bean plants survived (?) B was home by now and headed down to the garage to change the oil in both vehicles and the tractor. 


Around 4:40p, I tried to teach Rust (again) to use the peddles on his bike. It is frustrating for both of us. He can do the rotation about twice before jarring back on the brakes. I want to have more patience but I'm bent in half moving his feet around singing "around and around and around we go!" like a psychopath.


Around 5:50p, the kids were jumping on the trampoline and I got to finish We Got This. B had come up to see if I will come down and hang out in the garage while he changes the oil...I do sit for a few minutes with him while he's under the truck with oil all over his arms and hands, but I start thinking about the laundry that I could be doing, and the dinner that needs made, and then Rustman needs a drink anyway, so - love you, babe, but bye.


Around 6:30p, I put in dinner for the kids which consists of all the leftovers from this weekend's family reunion. I put the mac&cheese into muffin bites in hopes that it would inspire them to eat more because we have a huge tupperware still left over (update: it didn't inspire them). And we have left over chicken nuggets that I put into wraps for them with shredded cheese and Ranch. 


Around 7:45p, the kids were driving me bonkers. It's too much silliness and then I found an empty juice bag in the couch cushions and I start yelling. Literal garbage is laying in our house and they keep walking by it!?!?! It's becomes a whole thing. I send Gemma to her room for giggling too much (most amazing mom ever) and give Grey a whole lecture on how if he wants to be treated like a big kid, he needs to act like one. Rust has to take the juice bag to the garbage because I know it was him (lol!) and Violet gets reminded that she needs to stop whining because she ain't no baby child - you are almost five! Ugh, I get to the end of all of my mom lectures before I realize I'm probably an insane person and I tell them they are not allowed to watch tv until they put together a 100 piece puzzle of Chewbaca.


Around 8:45p, after helping the kids finish the puzzle, B and I sat down to dinner while the kids watch more Hunter Street. We had baked garlic & Parmesan salmon with asparagus and it was amazing. The Smirnoff sparkling seltzer helped too. hah. We got to talk about our days, and work, and what's coming up in the week, and I got him updated with all the new possible camping supplies I added to the online cart today.


Around 9:30p, after putting Violet to bed, I found Rustman asleep snuggled up to Gem on the couch. She and Grey are "sleeping downstairs tonight!" and I carried Rusty upstairs to his own bed and then I laid down next to Gem on the couch for a little and then sat next to Grey and try to understand this weird show and asked questions to which he answered, "Mum, it's like kind of hard to explain this is like the third season and you missed too much." B finally came in from his oil change marathon.


Around 10:45p, after turning on the dishwasher, and switching the last laundry load, and washing my face and moisturizer, and kissing everyone goodnight - I snuck to our bed to read some of Miles Morales Spiderman by Jason Reynolds before B came to bed. Truthfully, I made it one paragraph until my head bobbed and I hit my face off the page.

Not very fancy, but it's exactly right parts boring, wonderful, challenging, and simple that make this one precious life extraordinary.