Wednesday, August 26, 2020

School Reopening: My Thoughts as a Teacher


1.  My Role and Insight as an Online Teacher During the Pandemic.
   I recognize that during this time I am privileged to be teaching in a virtual school. This means that while I am not untouched, my day-to-day and my personal concerns have changed very little compared to others when it comes to work. My biggest changes as a teacher are dealing with my kids being home while I'm working, our face-to-face school field trips and professional development being cancelled, and and an extra emphasis on supporting the mental health of my students as well as my own. I'm very thankful to to get to work where I do, and I'm happy to help those teaching online for the first time, even if it's not your cup of tea for the long haul. Let us as teachers support each other no matter how and where we are teaching! While online school can absolutely be done effectively while making meaningful connections, it's not what works best for everyone and that's okay. And keep in mind that being forced into a different kind of schooling during a crisis is not the same thing as choosing a different kind of schooling and going in prepared. Normal schooling from home, whether a virtual school or traditional homeschool, has never inherently meant social isolation and we are all dealing with things we've never dealt with before. Realize that this time isn't an accurate picture of  schooling from home and be kind to yourselves. My heart genuinely goes out to the brick and mortar teachers who are feeling frustrated, overwhelmed, scared, and disrespected. I applaud your bravery whether you are jumping into a new way of teaching, leaving a job you loved because you didn't feel safe or valued, or are showing up for work despite all the unknowns and anxiety.
2. A Plea to Parents Reacting to Back-To-School Plans
   Parents, please be respectful to those making the tough decisions for your school. It is certainly a position I don't envy, and there is no easy answer that will make everyone happy. If you are happy with the plan there is going to be another parent who is mad about it and vice versa.  Assume positive intent - that they are trying to do what is best everyone with the information that they have, even if you don't personally agree. Be kind and respectful to each other too. A parent choosing the home option doesn't mean they are living in fear, and a parent sending their kids to school doesn't mean they are reckless and don't care about people getting sick.
    Most teachers and school staff  had no say in the decisions that were made. Be nice and make their jobs easier and more pleasant, not harder and more stressful. If you are going back in person respect the rules and guidelines that the school is asking you to follow. Teaching was already shown to be one of the most stressful jobs in the country before the pandemic, and now we are being asked to do more with less at a whole new level. While the CDC guidelines may be scientifically researched for the best way to reduce spread, most teachers, whether they agree with those guidelines or not, are wondering if anyone at the CDC has ever set foot in a school. I'm not sure where they think schools are going to find all this extra space to create more classrooms, or how we are going to keep students even 3 feet part in classes that were already overcrowded before the pandemic. Teachers have to depend on parents to donate school supplies and consistently pay for them out of their own pocket during normal years, and now schools have to provide extra sanitation and health supplies for in person learning as well as remote learning programs and wi-fi hotspots for students at home on reduced budgets. These are things that are issues even in what are considered high quality, well-funded districts. A teacher expressing concern over the upcoming school year in no way makes them a bad or lazy teacher, (trust me, teaching online is real teaching and it takes a lot of work!), or changes how much they truly care about your children. If we didn't care about our students we couldn't survive in this career. Remember that teachers are people too, and once again, let's all assume positive intent so we can work with each other, not against each other.
    Please don't use your intent to school from home as a threat to get what you want or as a jab at your school district's decisions. If you are choosing not to go back in person yet with the decisions that were made, be thankful that your school is offering a remote option for you to accommodate that or that you have the privilege to school from home a different way - not everyone is in a position where they can truly make this choice. My husband and I are viewing our decision to keep the kids home for at least the first semester as a way of actually helping our school. Since we can facilitate a good education in a healthy environment at home, doing so will make it easier for teachers to follow all the guidelines and they can better support the students who truly do need to be there in the safest way possible. If you've decided something different, that's okay. This is just what we are doing and the way we are looking at. Do what is best for your family, just please be respectful of others while you do it.
3. The "Parents Need to Work" Argument
    I'm not a public health expert and I don't have the answers on when and how schools should reopen, but "schools need to re-open so parents can work and support the economy" is a terrible argument - stop making it. This argument disrespects the fact that teachers are highly educated professionals by equating us to babysitters. This is especially frustrating as being treated as the professionals we are has been an uphill battle long before the pandemic. It feels like any hope in this area that was brought on by all the appreciation in the spring is now being thoroughly dashed. Don't get me wrong, being able to work and support oneself and one's family is not just important, its a basic right and its vital. However, it is not schools that need to bend over backward to accommodate business, it is businesses that need to accommodate and support their employees who are parents. Employers should have systems in place that allow parents to continue supporting their family while still being able to choose the education option that's best for them, including remote learning. The "I have to send my kid to school because I can't afford to miss work" issue is a problem that causes parents to send sick kids to school. It happens all the time. We need to to fix the the things that put parents in this position in the first place, not use it as reason that schools must open. Choosing the schooling that is best for one's kids and keeping them home when they're sick, pandemic or not, should not be a privilege set aside for the affluent and, let me say it again for the people in the back, teachers are educators, not babysitters. At the end of the day it is not business or even school that is the foundation of a thriving, healthy society, it's families. This argument only shows that our priorities are out of order.

4. My Hopes

   All these things understandably can be quite disheartening, but I am hopeful that by this crisis showing some of the cracks in our education system that we can begin to repair them. That we can more fully recognize parents as the first and primary educators of their children, that we as teachers are here to help parents with the task of education, not replace the role of parents in kids' lives. That we can provide more, and better opportunities for choice in education so families from any background in any location are free to choose what works best for their children. As important and impactful as education is, that we can see that some of the problems we face as a society have deeper roots than what can be addressed by schools alone and act accordingly. That we can realize that high stakes testing does not improve education or give an accurate picture of student learning and stop pushing young kids so hard with standards and expectations that are not developmentally appropriate. (I assure you there was not a single teacher who was upset that state testing was cancelled!) That in the long run this will help us move towards respecting and compensating teachers on a level on par with our fellow professionals with the same level of education in other fields. That maybe one day we will look back in disbelief at some of the things we used to do.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Grandma's Spaghetti Sauce - Sts. Anne and Joachim

  Today is the feast of Sts. Anne and Joachim, the parents of Mary, and grandparents to Jesus. They are of course, the patron saints of grandparents. This is a great day remember your grandparents in prayer, call or write to them, and even spend a little time with them. As Pope Francis puts it, "Grandparents are a treasure in the family. Please take care of your grandparents: love them and let them talk to your children!"

   My paternal grandmother has passed, and we recently did some cooking that brought back some of my favorite memories. Whenever we used to visit she always had a delicious, made-from-scratch meal waiting for us when we arrived. I always hoped that it was her spaghetti with homemade sauce, (accompanied by her mandarin orange and almond salad of course), and it often was. When I bought some ground beef in bulk and I didn't think to portion it out before freezing it, I knew that this would be the perfect recipe once it came time to thaw and cook it. A single recipe is quite large, and I made a double recipe, filling up an entire large stock pot. Thankfully it freezes very well, so we'll have some of Grandma's spaghetti sauce ready to go whenever we need it. There was always something about eating at Grandma's house, even the toast at breakfast seemed to taste better!

Grandma's Spaghetti Sauce

2 pounds ground beef
1 pound sweet Italian sausage
1 pound hot Italian sausage
some garlic - minced (I used about a heaping tablespoon)
some onions - chopped (I used one small onion)
3 teaspoons dried oregano
3 teaspoons dried basil
4 teaspoons dried parsley
2 Tablespoons fennel seed
2 Tablespoons sugar
2-3 cans of diced tomatoes
3 large cans of tomato sauce
1/4 cup olive oil

Brown the meat in a large pot with the olive oil. Add the garlic and onions and saute a bit longer.

Add the seasonings and stir well.

Add in the tomato stuff. Stir well and simmer, (do not boil), for a couple of hours stirring occasionally.

Sts. Anne and Joachim Prayer

Parents of the Virgin Mary, grandparents of our Savior Jesus Christ,
Bless all parents and grandparents and help them teach their children Christian values of faith and compassion.Bestow courage and hope upon couples
who struggle to start their families. 

Guide new parents and bless parents of growing children with strength and understanding,

And bless grandparents with wisdom and kindness.

We thank you for the example you set for us with your daughter Mary and grandson Jesus, and we strive to show the same love to our children and grandchildren. 

May the strong foundation of faith you laid for Mary and her son Jesus always inspire us to guide our children and all future generations in their faith journeys with love and support. 

In God’s name we pray, 

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Beachside Birthday

Happy 1st Birthday Clara! A summer birthday means that we get to celebrate outdoors, and what better locale for a my "bright pearl" than the local beach? My first two both got 1st birthday themes that related to their names, (Sam - Green Eggs and Ham, Rosemary - rosemary), so I had to keep the tradition going. 

It was a beautiful day at the beach celebrating with family. We rented a little pavilion right next to the water, (no decorations were needed as nature provided!), and had your standard cookout fare - hot dogs, chips, watermelon, etc.  Of course we can't forget the birthday cake!

I absolutely loved how this one turned out, it was just perfect for the occasion and easy to put together too. Of course when I use boxed cake mix and canned frosting everyone tells me how delicious my cake is, but what are you going to do? 

To make the cake I stacked four 8 inch round layers, alternating between orange sherbet and strawberry flavor, which made for a nice effect when cutting into it
Next I did a crumb coat in white, and let the cake sit in the fridge for a little bit to firm up. After that I covered the whole cake in Pillsbury's Aqua Blue Funfetti vanilla frosting. I don't think I could've gotten that shade of blue on my own, and it comes with fish shaped sprinkles! 

Next I pulverized some graham crackers in the food processor and lightly pressed the crumbs onto the bottom section of the cake to look like beach sand. The oyster with pearl on top was made with two Voortman's sugar free shortbread cookies, pink frosting, and shimmer white Sixlets candies I found in the baking aisle of my grocery store. 

I finished things off by covering the top with the Funfetti fish sprinkles, pressing more of the candy pearls into the bottom, and writing "Happy Birthday Clara" on the top in pink frosting. Of course the bright blue frosting made for some great making a mess with the birthday cake pictures! 

We spent the rest of day playing at the beach, and nobody wanted to stop swimming and playing the sand. Our sweet one year old Clara is truly a beach baby! I love you Clara, and I look forward to watching you grow. Here's to many more beach days to come. 

Friday, June 15, 2018

Outdoor Fort Chalkboard Wall

Happy Summer! There are still a few  end of year tasks for this teacher to do, but the kids are done and it's time start enjoying more time outside.

My kids absolutely love drawing, so playing with sidewalk chalk is a natural summer activity - unfortunately our country driveway is mostly dirt and we  don't have any sidewalks, so drawing space is limited. Last spring to help combat this we created a drawing wall on the side of the kids' play fort. I was 8 months pregnant at the time, so trust me when I say that this is quick and easy project! We just grabbed a piece of plywood, spray painted it with chalkboard paint, and screwed it in to the side of the fort. Voila! We didn't treat the plywood in any way before painting, so you can't really erase easily by wiping the rough surface, but a spray with the hose or waiting for rain words just fine - just like you would if you were drawing on a driveway or sidewalk.

Monday, April 30, 2018

My First 1st Communion Cake!

  The past weekend was filled with blessings as my oldest child was confirmed and received his first Holy Communion. I was quite the proud mom as I watched him receive these sacraments, and my husband even cried. After mass we celebrated this momentous occasion with family and friends at our home. It was a wonderful day!
While the title of today's post may say cake, the man of honor requested a mint chocolate brownie. I used the Julie's Awesome Brownies recipe I've shared here before, and instead of mixing in chocolate chips I used chopped up Andes mints. Since this was both a first communion and confirmation "cake," I added a border that looked like flames to represent the Holy Spirit. The technique is a trick I learned from Catholic Cuisine's Pentecost cupcakes - you cut a mini marshmallow in half and dip the cut side in sanding sugar. All in all, I think it turned out great!

Friday, March 2, 2018

Mixing Up Meatless: Grandma's Tuna and Noodles

I hope everyone is having a wonderful Lent that is bringing them closer to God as we prepare for Easter! Today I learned that the word lent comes from an Anglo-Saxon word meaning "spring." This really made my day as I'm currently reading The Secret Garden with my 6th graders which uses winter turning to spring as a symbol for Mary and Colin's closed off hearts coming to life. I love it when little things in your life fit together like this. What a great new Lenten lens to look at the novel with!

For some of you a good old fashioned tuna-noodle casserole might not seem like "mixing things up," for your meatless Lenten meals, but it sure was for me! My husband doesn't like tuna, and while I hoped the kids would love it, they didn't like that all the ingredients were together and touching each other. Sigh. We'll just call it a Lenten sacrifice for them, though my husband did say it was really good, "for having tuna in it." I on the other hand thoroughly enjoyed myself. Bright green peas and meaty savory mushrooms mixed in with creamy noodles and tuna, yum! My favorite part are the mushrooms, so much so I think I would be willing to ramp up the amount of 'shrooms, leave out and the tuna, and just have mushroom noodle casserole - a great vegetarian option.

Once again I am pulling from my greatest culinary resource, grandma's recipes in the family cookbook.  To be specific, the second edition. In the first edition the cream of mushroom soup and cheddar cheese were accidentally left off the ingredients list. Needless to say when my uncle tried making the recipe it turned out a little dry!  The recipe in the book doesn't have exact measurements for everything, namely the vegetables, but I'll put the amounts I used.

Tuna and Noodles

1 bag egg noodles
1 onion, chopped
1 stalk of celery, chopped
1/2 a green pepper, chopped
1 pound fresh mushrooms, sliced
2 Tablespoons mayo
A few drops hot sauce
1  can cream of mushroom soup
1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese
2   6 oz cans of tuna
1/2 bag frozen peas
breadcrumbs or crushed crackers

Cook noodles in boiling water.

While the noodles are boiling, saute the onions, celery, and pepper in butter, be generous! Add the fresh sliced mushrooms and continue to saute until the vegetables are partially cooked.

When the noodles are done, drain them and mix in the cooked vegetables, mayo, hot sauce, cream of mushroom soup, grated cheese, tuna, and peas.

Put in a 9 x 13 baking dish. Cover with buttered bread crumbs and bake at 325 degrees for 20 - 30 minutes. Enjoy!

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Olympic Bites: PyeongChang 2018

It's Olympics time again! Memories of myself pretending to figure skate in my socks on the kitchen floor are coming back as my daughter shows me her own jumps and spins trying to copy the graceful and powerful skaters on the television. My son is setting up his own curling games in the living room and looks on in awe at the ski jumpers. I love it!

My idea of cooking foods native to the host country back during the Rio games became a tradition this year as I scoured the internet for information on Korean cuisine. This one felt a little more intimidating though as Korean food is not something I'm very familiar with, and many ingredients seemed to be something I'd have to get at a specialty market. Not to mention that my distaste for kimchi put me at a serious disadvantage. According to my dad who spent some time in Korea with the Army, Koreans serve kimchi with absolutely everything; breakfast, lunch, and dinner - even on the army base! In the end I did find some recipes that I thought would please my picky bunch and use easily found ingredients.

The first dish I decided on was dessert. Dessert isn't a huge thing in Korea, but I found a few videos about ppopgi, a candy kids would buy from street vendors that only uses two ingredients - sugar and baking soda. Making it is pretty easy, though it can be a little time consuming since you have to make them one at a time. The videos showed them being made by holding a metal ladle over a flame.  I don't have any metal ladles, so I used a metal measuring cup. My family described the flavor as tasting like a toasted marshmallow and the texture as cracker-like.  Traditionally vendors press a design into the candy like a flower or a heart. I used the wide end of a piping tip to make the Olympic rings.

Ppopgi (Korean Sugar Candy)

Brown or white sugar
baking soda


Over medium heat, melt  about a 1/4 cup of sugar in a metal ladle or measuring cup, stirring so the sugar doesn't burn.

Once the sugar is completely melted, add a pinch of baking soda and stir until the sugar is foamy and light in color.

Pour the candy onto a non-stick surface. I used a sil-pat dusted with baking soda. Press the candy down with the bottom of a metal measuring cup or flat side of a chef's knife.

After the candy cools a bit, but before it hardens, (about a minute or so), use a cookie cutter or other tool to press a design into the candy. Let it cool completely and enjoy!

Here's a link to the videos I looked at if you want a live demonstration:

I also decided to bring back my St. Andrew Kim day triumph - Crockpot Bulgogi. Using the slow cooker was great since the opening ceremonies were on a Friday and I had to work the whole day before cooking.

 Click the link for the recipe - Crockpot Bulgogi

Next I decided to try my hand at kimbap - basically a sushi roll filled with any variety of ingredients like meat, eggs, and vegetables. I was little more nervous for this one as homemade sushi skills are something I hadn't really tried before, but it proved to be much easier than I anticipated! A bag of short grain rice and nori sheets are also easily available in your regular grocery store and aren't that expensive.  For this dish I used the cookbook Quick & Easy Korean Cooking by Cecilia Hae-Jin Lee as my guide. I've always loved checking cookbooks out from the library since I was little!

Kimbap (Korean Seaweed Rice Rolls) 

1 cup short grain rice
1 1/2 cups water
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
seaweed sheets (nori)
sesame oil

your choice of fillings. I used:
sauteed spinach
bulgogi (click the link above for the recipe!)

Prepare your fillings so they are ready to go when it's time to roll.

Cook the rice according to the directions on the package. While it cooks mix the vinegar, sugar, and salt together.

After the rice cools slightly, stir in the vinegar mixture.

Place a nori sheet down and spread a layer of rice on it using a rubber spatula. Place your fillings in a line horizontally at the end nearest to you. Roll it up as tightly as you can, tucking as you go. Brush a little sesame oil onto the seam.

Using a knife dipped in cold water, (don't use a serrated knife), cut the roll into bite sized pieces.

Lastly, I also used Quick and Easy Korean Cooking to make pajeon, or green onion pancakes. According to my friends putting stuff into pancake form is quite popular in Korea. Now, this isn't a light and fluffy sweet American pancake. It's flatter, chewy with crispy edges, and savory. The cookbook suggested using a combination of rice flour and all purpose flour for the best texture, but even with all the alternative flours that are out there these days I couldn't find any. I did find banana flour though, weird. Just like the other recipes I decided on the ingredients were simple and the dish was easy to make. My husband doesn't really like green onions, but he really enjoyed these!

Pajeon (Korean Green Onion Pankcakes)


2 cups all purpose flour (or replace a 1/2 cup with rice flour)
1 teaspoon salt
Dash of pepper
3 cups cold water
6 green onions, chopped
2 grated zuchhini
1 grated carrot
Vegetable oil for frying

Mix together the flour, salt, pepper and water. The consistency should be like a think pancake batter.

Add in the vegetables.

Heat vegetable oil in an 8 inch skillet on medium high. Spoon in enough batter to make a flat pancake the covers the bottom of the pan.

Cook on one side until golden brown, and then flip and cook on the other side. Serve them fresh with seasoned soy sauce for dipping.

Seasoned Soy Sauce

1/3 cup soy sauce
1 green onion, chopped
2 cloves minced garlic
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
1 teaspoon chili powder + a pinch of cayenne (that's what I used to replace the Korean chile powder)

Let me know what your favorite Winter Olympics event is in the comments!

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Mario Party 8

Well, I finally did it. I gave in and let my son convince me to do a Mario theme for his birthday. And you know what, it was really cute and turned out great!

Thanks to my husband Tyler for the cute power up art on the dry-erase board! Sam made the hat himself.
It was a pretty simple party. Friends came over to play and spend time with us. No big organized activities, mostly free play and a little Mario Kart thrown in. We even encouraged guests to bring "their presence, not their presents," a line I stole from the book The View from Saturday by E.L. Konigsburg. I'm desperately trying to get rid of the clutter in my house, not add to it!  Plus I think it helps put what's really important into perspective. I promise I'm not being a mean mom! We did get him a new book, and of course grandparents can't resist giving birthday gifts either. Truthfully, the birthday boy didn't seem to mind at all. He was happy just to have his friends over for a special day!

Food is easy with Sam. It's always pizza, pizza, and more pizza!  I guess that goes with theme this year since Mario and Luigi are Italian. I made the the drinks  on theme by making fruit punch and labeling it "Mario Punch" and coloring lemonade green and calling it "Luigi Lemonade."  We also picked up some green and red cups from the store.

The centerpiece of the party, and one of the main reasons I finally agreed to a Mario party, was the cake. We've been known to watch an episode or two of Rosanna Pansino's YouTube baking show "Nerdy Nummies." When Sam saw her make a question block pinata cake filled with chocolate coins - well, let's just say I knew what I was doing for his birthday! A couple of Sam's Mario toys on the table next to the cake rounded out the decorations.

This was the first time  I've ever made a pinata cake, and it is actually really easy. And the excitement from all the guests when they see the surprise inside is very rewarding! It was a huge hit. There were a few differences between Rosanna's cake and mine. I used boxed cake mix in chocolate, yellow, and white instead of homemade lemon cake, the bottom of my pinata was the cake stand, not a layer of cake, and I decorated completely with frosting, no fondant.

 As you can see, it took three layers of cake baked in a 9X9 square pan to give us the final shape. . Each layer was one box of cake mix. If you want a true cube you'll probably want a fourth layer. I put the first to layers down and cut a square out of the middle, which I filled with the chocolate coins. These were readily available at the store since it was around Christmas time, (they are often used on St. Nicholas Day and during Hanukkah). Then I put the last layer on top, frosted in yellow, and added the question marks and corner dots in white. I decided to the use the cake I cut out from the middle to make a warp pipe - you don't want to let any cake go to waste!  That just took a little carving with a serrated knife, green frosting, and some melted chocolate chips.

Happy Birthday Sam! You amaze me every day. I can't to see how you grow this year.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Baked Bacon and Egg Cups

For many years we've been spending Christmas mornings at my dad's house. Since he knows that our visits to other family members during the day usually involve more than one big Christmas dinner, he's made it a tradition to make a small but special breakfast. These baked eggs are a Christmas breakfast staple and are super simple and quick to make. Despite how easy these are, there is something about the way they are served that makes the meal feel a little more special and elegant.

The traditional way to make them is by cracking in a whole egg as is, but since my kids only eat their eggs scrambled I like to make a few with scrambled eggs as well. I'm sure putting in additions to the scrambled eggs like meats, cheeses, and veggies would  work well too if you wanted to go that route. I do think the whole egg looks prettier though. They are the perfect addition to any Christmas breakfast or brunch!

Baked Eggs

Bacon Strips
Salt and Pepper

Partially cook bacon strips until they are pretty much cooked, but still flexible and not crispy.
Line muffin tins with the bacon strips.
Crack an egg into each lined tin. Salt and pepper to taste.
Bake at 350 degrees for 12-15 minutes.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

All Saints Day Costumes 2017

Though we just started doing it last year, I have absolutely loved putting together All Saints Day costumes to help our family celebrate! This year the costumes were extremely simple to put together, but came out wonderfully. It helped that we happened to already have everything we needed around the house! (To see last year's costumes, click here.)

This year Rosemary dressed up as Our Lady of Guadalupe, and Sam once again went as St. Juan Diego, his favorite. For Our Lady of Guadalupe, we just used a pink dress and black ribbon, and for the veil we actually used a dress she happened to have that was blue with gold stars! I just bobby pinned the skirt part to her hair, and tucked in the top and sleeves. Just look at this face! She was so thrilled to dress up as Mary - maybe even more excited than she was about dressing up as Glinda from The Wizard of Oz on Halloween.

For St. Juan Diego Sam rewore the costume we made last year (an oversized shirt with fake roses and a picture of Our Lady of Guadalupe hot glued to it), but we had a little fun updating it. We did a photo shoot of Rosemary in her Our Lady of Guadalupe costume, printed that picture, and then glued it to the tilma in place of the old picture. It was a big hit at the All Saints Day mass.

As for the baby, I didn't really come up with a costume for her this year. A friend said she was going as baby Jesus fleeing to Egypt since she was fussy and my husband had to take her to cry room. Works for me!
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