Today Needs a Smile

What a Monday – nothing like teaching after a four day weekend! (We had conferences last week.) I texted my husband at lunch that I was having a tough morning, and he sent me this GIF in place of a hug:

I almost cried over this adorable chicken. I hope it made you smile, too. ❤


Why Homestead?

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Tonight, we’re visiting the third house on our house hunt. No, not our house hunt – our homestead hunt. We’re finally getting close to being able to declare our hunt as officially in season, but with that comes the question of what we’re looking for – a homestead. But with that comes the question of, “Why?”

Although society is starting to relax and open up in so many ways, there are still these stereotypes about life and your success in life depending on getting that college degree, getting a well-paying job that provides you with retirement accounts and 401(k)s, settling down and having two kids in a nice neighborhood, and spending your weekends at a furniture mart shopping for bedroom sets. Your food and supplies come from big mart stores that provide convenience and ease, your social media provides inspiration and social status. Your backyard is perfectly groomed and has the occasional flower garden and there’s no point in creating items when you can buy them at a store on sale.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with wanting this or even wanting this – it’s just not for us.

For me, my journey started three years ago when Evan and I first moved in to our current rental home. We were in the middle of the zombie apocalypse craze – with the TV series and movies chronicling the events of a small group of people following some kind of world collapse, there was suddenly this thought:

“Wait, what if this ACTUALLY happened? How WOULD we live?”

It was unsettling to say the least. I can’t even cut firewood (thank goodness I chose a partner significantly more skilled in that arena), much less know how to build shelter that would keep me alive for the night, not even thinking about a zombie attack. It started us thinking about not having the life skills that our grandparents had – keeping livestock, growing and tending crops, using resources on the land, creating the items you need for your survival or day-to-day happiness.

At first, our journey was about being stocked with emergency supplies – stockpiling rope, freeze-dried food, duct tape, portable cookware, propane lanterns, a hatchet, and desalinization straws. I began looking into how to prepare food for long-term storage – dried noodles can only go so far in survival packs. One of my family members joked with us that we were becoming doomsday preppers. As we were growing our stores, I still had a feeling that this wasn’t the right direction – we were missing something. Then, I came across this eye-opening read:

The Prepper’s Cookbook: 300 Recipes to Turn Your Emergency Food into Nutritious, Delicious, Life-Saving Meals

“The Prepper’s Cookbook” by Tess Pennington introduced me to a whole new direction – while you should be preparing for the worst, the worst may not be a zombie apocalypse but a staggering veterinary bill or major car repair. What will you do next week when you’re suddenly at the emergency vet’s office facing the possibility of a $900 bill for an overnight stay to monitor your diabetic cat? (This was us three weeks ago – thankfully, Cattigan is now home and happy.) Suddenly your grocery money goes out the window – so you should be growing, harvesting, and storing the food that you will eat every week rather than bags and bags of cheap noodles and salty flavor packets or cheap, overly-sugared cans of baked beans that no one would want to touch on a good day.

This book helped us count and calculate which foods and how much of them to grow, preserve, and/or purchase for the house. We started keeping bulk dry beans and pasta as well as cans of pickles and diced tomatoes to pull from when we cook. Just last week, we cracked open a can of sauerkraut I made last summer when we were grilling bratwurst during a freak February warm spell. The idea is to be able to sustain your own lives and lifestyle despite any type of emergency – from wrecking your car to a zombie in the garden.

A harvest of black beans and a stash of peppers, tomatoes, and cucumbers from last year’s garden.

I finally had the right plan.

I was canning from our garden and stocking up on bulk rice and nuts or jars of peanut butter when it went on sale at our co-op. We’d buy bags of potatoes or peppers when they were put in the price-reduced bin and slice and freeze them for later use. I up-cycled this beautiful book shelf and now stock it with supplies like pasta and sugar or boxes of onions – it stays cool and dark in our basement and provides us with a pantry supply of food. Plus, now I don’t have to worry about staring at bare cupboards while planning dinner – I have so many options for soups, chilis, Mexican, roasted vegetables – you name it.

A few of our ‘pantry’ items – we’re running low this time of year, but this is how we get started at sustaining ourselves with our own pantry and goods. (And yes, there is still a package or two of noodles for a true emergency.)

But that wasn’t the end of it – the next step became whether or not we can continue to produce that kind of food on a regular basis and provide for ourselves every day, and not just during times of shortage.

It was time to think big picture and long-term, and this is where we’re doing most of our learning – what did our grandparents do to keep their plants alive during sudden freezes? How did they keep chickens alive while roaming pastures to avoid buying feed all the time (which makes them more expensive than just buying organic eggs at the store)? Before power or even during power outages, how did they keep their house cool in the summer or warm in the winter? While we want to live with the modern conveniences of air conditioning and internet (we are very much a Netflix/Hulu household), we want to reduce our carbon footprint and our dependency on the grid to heat and cool our house or power our cars. Especially in light of recent political events, I want to control where my money is going and how my money is buying my energy if the government won’t protect our environment. This can be a whole conversation on its own – but, for example, we believe whole-heartedly in the sustainability of solar – so let’s invest in solar panels and get our money out of coal power plants.

What’s wonderful is that anyone can do this – my husband has been pouring over this book about finding self-sufficiency on 1/4 acre. It’s been essential to us as we do calculations and come up with ideas for maximizing space and the power of our dollar, and is jam-packed with everything from gardening to canning and dehydrating to soil health and composting, and more.

 Mini Farming: Self-Sufficiency on 1/4 Acre

Rather than 1/4 acre, however, are aiming for 2-3 acres for our future homestead. A homestead of this size gives us the breathing room and space to do so much, from keeping a goat or two to including a cottage for my mother-in-law. I want the space to sew more t-shirt quilts for family or floor cushions (that my cats steal – thanks, guys…) when we’re not outside tending patches of tomatoes or harvesting black beans (Let me digress for a second – black beans are one of the easiest plants to grow and take care of – you literally water it all summer and wait for it to die in the fall before you know you’re ready to harvest – I love ’em!). We can work with a local energy company to at least lease solar panels to power our property and maybe even invest in an electric car. I dream of free-range chickens that provide us with fresh eggs, pest control, and soil maintenance (small amounts of manure but lots of scratching and stirring soil). Over the years we can use crops and crop rotations to improve the soil health of our land so that every vegetable or fruit we grow is bursting with nutrients that are missing from commercial and mass-produced foods – plus, doesn’t farm-fresh just taste better?

My husband left me a note last fall when I came home from work – better than any box of chocolates or vase of flowers, in my mind!

We’re big dreamers – I often happily imagine a snowy, Kansas Christmas around a fireplace with our family out on our glowing homestead – but we’re ready to be realistic. We know that to get a piece of heaven so close to our city means that we’ll probably be sacrificing on the quality of house we’ll find to stay in our price range – no 5 bedroom mansion with a 4-car garage and heated barn for us. (We will likely be stuck with a cramped ranch-style home with a scary basement and overgrown property that screams “RUN AWAY” rather than “Future Garden of Eden”.) We’ll be starting small, and our first garden will probably be terrible with very little production on this nasty northeast Kansas clay soil. But every year we’ll plow a few more garden beds by hand, search the internet for second-hand chicken coops, and maybe even save up for a pressure cooker to help with canning or a new patio table to fit more than 3 people out back.

The idea of the American dream is to pull yourself up by your bootstraps – that hard work pays off and gives you the life of which you have always dreamed. We’re unlucky compared to most farmers – we’ve inherited no land and we haven’t hit rich with any lottery ticket to give us a head start. We’re going to be moving forward with the love and support of our family and it’s going to take time, and we’re okay with that. We’re building the Epperson Homestead from scratch – and every little thing I learn how to fix or make means I am that much more proud and invested in my home. We’re getting back to our roots – valuing the work our hands can do, cherishing the seedlings that sprout in the plant tray on my bookshelf, reading and expanding our knowledge and imagination, putting the importance back on happy animals and happy soil that, in turn, only make us healthier and stronger.

Lastly, I’ll leave you with this quote to ruminate over as we all dream of spring and greener things:

“The single greatest lesson the garden teaches is that our relationship to the planet need not be zero-sum, and that as long as the sun still shines and people still can plan and plant, think and do, we can, if we bother to try, find ways to provide for ourselves without diminishing the world. ” -Michael Pollan, “The Omnivore’s Dilemma”

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My Top 10 Favorite iPad Apps for the Elementary Music Classroom


Let’s talk iPads! From one to 1-to-1, no matter how many iPads you have can be an excellent way to extend your students’ learning and engage them in one of their favorite (for better or for worse) items – technology.

First off, don’t be scared of technology. The most wonderful thing about it is that your students will probably not only figure out any issues you might encounter but might help discover new features or ideas within the apps you use. You should, of course, preview anything you show (check for inappropriate ads or prompts to purchase upgrades). Sometimes when we get a new app or find a new website, I’ll have the students help me play around and explore. We’ll experiment a little bit and then reconvene – what did you find? What didn’t you understand?

I’ve compiled a list of my favorite 10 apps – most are free, some can be used at stations and some can be led by the teacher during whole group. Feel free to explore them, try them out, and let me know what others you have fallen in love with!

1. GarageBand ($)

This is a STAPLE. GarageBand has so many opportunities and options for you! It is wonderful for our students because the Smart Instruments and the loops provide no-fail ways for your students to compose their own projects. The tempos default to the same speed as you record new tracks and the loops tend to overlap in key correctly (not all, but they tend to work more often than not).

When we need to practice singing a song but need to shake up the repetitions, I’ll ask individual students to select and piece together a Smart Drum track to accompany us. Talk about instant interest!

New on the iOS update is this new “Live Loops” feature – suddenly your students can be their own DJ and mix together dubstep loops, Chinese modern loops, funk loops – you name it!

2. Rhythm Cat Lite (free)

This is a great app for your upper kiddos – Rhythm Cat Lite (or the paid version) will help reinforce rhythms with your students. I’d start this app with 2nd grade after they’ve learned half notes – the first couple of levels start right off with quarter notes and half notes and then extend to whole notes and dotted half notes. It’s not quite in line with typical Kodaly sequences (it’s probably better for piano students) but it’s a great way to practice rhythms kinesthetically (by pressing and holding the button for the durations).

Also, kitties!

3. Falling Stars (free)


This is a fabulous app to explore timbre and creative sound. My Kindergarteners beg to play this game! Simply put, you choose a leaf pattern at the bottom, draw with your finger, and then let the stars fall on the drawings and listen to the result. Each leaf pattern makes a different sound when the star falls on it – we use it as a way to start discussing timbres and how sounds are differentiated from each other.

4. DoReMi Zoo (free)

What a great way to practice solfege! My students use this at stations with flashcards – they play the keyboard on the screen and hear the patterns as played by the iPad. You could also use this as a way for students to hear their compositions – while I want to trust that I have perfectly built up their aural skills, I know they aren’t perfect, so this let’s them hear accurate patterns and helps to reinforce the correct skills and not best-guesses.


5. Playpad (free) img_0091

This takes a slightly different direction than DoReMi Zoo (app #4). This one makes sound wherever you touch on the staff – this helps students translate notation on the staff to sound or reinforce patterns.

6. Incredibox ($) img_0090

MY. STUDENTS. LOVE. THIS. APP. And what better way to teach ostinato? Incredibox is also a free website ( – students choose a clothing item to put on the character and it creates an ostinato pattern. Some are melodic in nature, some rhythmic, some beatboxing – layered on top of each other, they create a fascinating and fun set of songs! The combinations are endless, and my students could play this for days.

7. Monkey Drum (free)

My K-2 students use this one for rhythm practice and composition. Monkey Drum has an echo portion where you tap the drum and the monkey answers – your students can play this with flashcards or compose their own patterns for the monkey to play. There is also a song builder that uses pentatonic scales to set up simple repetitive patterns that the students control.

8. Camera & Video App (free)

It’s easy to forget about this included app, but the camera provides lots of ways to accentuate and help your teaching. I particularly love using the video app for recorder – I’ll go through and record how-to videos for different songs or different concepts (all done in the comfort of my own home!) and the students can go back and review the videos as needed.

I also use the video app for my students when they’re ready to test for Recorder Karate belts – I can only listen to so many at a time when I’m working one-on-one during a class, plus my more introverted students love being able to work on their own time with just an iPad watching them.

Need to increase your contact with your parents? Start a newsletter, and take pictures of your class doing different activities in class, and send out a few action shots! It’s free advocacy for you (How many parents really know what you do? How many administrators really know what you do?) and scores you credibility and visibility into your classroom. (Plus, your students love to pose for the camera!)

9. Noteworks (free)

There is a free and paid version of this app. This particular app does a helpful job of reinforcing naming notes on the staff. This is great for 3rd grade and up. Do be mindful that the first level is middle C to G on the second line of the treble clef, so this app does very well if you work on notes below the staff as well as just the lines and spaces. It’s a competitive, interactive game that challenges you to perform at varying speeds – you have to either name the letter or play the note on the piano before it gets incinerated at the end of the assembly line. My piano students loved this when I taught private piano lessons – plus, you can change the speed of the notes to challenge your students as they get more comfortable.

10. Sand Timer (free)img_0085

This last app might come as a disappointment to you – but don’t write this app off so quickly. Having some kind of visual timer for your students can clean up so many loose behaviors when it comes to collaborative or individual activities. I will put up this timer on our projector screen when we are doing worksheets, group work, playing an iPad game, taking turns using Kagan strategies, practicing recorder independently, working in stations – anything for when my students are engaged on their own and might be able to drag their feet or miss a transition. Having a visual timer let’s them check on how much time they have left to complete, gauge whether they have time for an extension activity (if I’ve provided one), pace themselves on their worksheet, or just keep a mental awareness that a transition is happening soon and they need to be prepared (I have so many students who require prep before a transition to a new activity). Also, if there’s a sound with your timer, it helps save your voice from trying to shout over the students or hope they pay attention to your quiet signal. With a timer, it’s an inanimate object giving the students the instruction to clean up and transition. You can’t argue with the timer or think the timer is being unfair – and thus, the timer becomes a teacher’s best friend.

What are your favorite iPad apps? I’d love to hear what works in your classroom!

6 Ways to Avoid Burning Out

bedtimeThis week was rough. I was tired, my students were emotional and upset, some of my lessons didn’t go the way I planned, I had a lot of physical prep to do for a music program (moving 12 xylophones, a stereo cart, a PA system, baskets of finger cymbals and mallets, and a guitar all from the portables to the main building by hand), and it was just that kind of week. Unfortunately, for teachers this can happen a lot, and not because we’re bad teachers, but because of the nature of our job – we take in our students and promise to work with them no matter where they are mentally that day. Ready to break all the pencils in the basket? Come on in. Didn’t eat dinner the night before or breakfast today? I might have a granola bar for you – let’s eat up and get started. Unable to process your anger and cool off because you’re in your 4th foster home? You can go out to recess to get a break even after you screamed at me for asking you to wait to use the bathroom. Exhausted because you didn’t sleep a wink after listening to your parents argue all night? I’ll let you close your eyes while we watch a music video but then it’s time to get up and sing.

I’m nearing the end of my third year teaching, and it has been both the longest three years and the shortest three years all at the same time. Before I started my teaching job, I heard from so many people that teaching is the greatest thing you can do – you’ll feel so happy and fulfilled and want for nothing as long as you have those smiling faces to greet you every day. I was alarmed, though, when it was October of my first year and I was exhausted and ready for a break – I was tired before I even got out of bed and had so much anxiety about doing well at school. When I started a new rotation of lessons I would have butterflies every morning – what if these lessons failed? What if the kids saw right through it and refused to do anything? What if I was a bad teacher? It was nothing like this perfect dream that others described – and my clientele was so challenging! I teach at lower income schools, one of which is a Title I school, and I had students who would cry and scream in class.

I thought it was all my fault.

I was so worried about what would walk through my door that day and not know what to do. Sure, I could call the office for help, but what had I done wrong that meant one of my students shoved everything off my desk, crawled under a table, and yelled curse words at the class? I was hopelessly unprepared for this level of student need.

I learned after some time that, of course, wasn’t being triggered by me – in most situations, the simple direction or activity had merely been the straw that broke the camel’s back. The students were unstable because of situations at home, instability in their own lives, emotional or intellectual gaps that kept them from functioning on the level of most of their classmates.

But how do you continue to come to work every day? Because let’s be realistic, your students aren’t the only thing you deal with – you have lesson plans, assessments & grading, lesson prep, program prep & paperwork, meetings and professional development, extension activities and remedial work, student support plans, parent communication, newsletters, extracurricular activities, behavior tracking…and that’s only the half of it. Teacher burnout is a real and terrible thing, and it’s something we have to fight every day when we open our eyes and decide to walk in through that door again and greet that kid that you secretly pray would be sick just a few more days out of the year to give you and his classmates some peace.

I don’t pretend to be a psychologist or to have all the answers, but the following things have preserved my sanity in times of need, and I seriously hope that these can help you survive your first few years – or, even remind seasoned teachers who are feeling the burn – and not become one of the statistics about teachers who burn out.

1. Bite off only what you can chew.

Don’t be afraid to say ‘no.’ As hard as it is, you have to say it, even to your administrator or colleagues. You do no one any favors by saying yes to everything and overworking yourself, or worse; forgetting or accidentally neglecting your duties that you signed up for. (Then, your reputation is damaged and people won’t want your help when you do have the time.) If you are open and honest with the person who asked you to help with the school carnival planning or the site council members who asked you to head an after school club, then they should totally understand why and support you. If they aren’t supportive and act annoyed, then you probably shouldn’t surround yourself with people like that and, therefore, you shouldn’t care how put off they are at the idea of taking care of yourself. Come up with your phrase ahead of time:

“Thanks for thinking of me! Let me think on it and I’ll let you know if I’m interested.”

“I really appreciate you thinking of me, but I think I’ll have to pass. Please ask me next time, though!”

“Thanks for asking – I think I’m going to have to decline, I’m trying to not overload myself this year. Please let me know if I can help in a small way!”

It’s important to thank the person for the offer – they didn’t have to come to you or take the time to ask, so be sure to validate their request and show that you are grateful that they thought you would be helpful.

2. Take mental health days.

You get so many extra days per year as per your contract – USE THEM WHEN YOU NEED THEM. Whether you are stockpiling for maternity/paternity leave or not, when you are just at the end of your rope and feel like you desperately need a break, TAKE A BREAK. I see so many colleagues say that they just have to be here or that maybe they can fake their way through the day, but are you really helping your kids if you have Reading Rainbow on for half the day and do barely anything for the rest? Sub plans are no fun, but if it means that you can sleep in and binge watch Netflix so you mind can unwind for a day, then DO IT! You have to make the call on which days you actually have to be there and which days you can hand off lessons to a sub, but I guarantee that you will be grateful for that occasional mental health day to reset. You WON’T be grateful when you’re sick from stress and crying over your pile of grading papers after school.

3. Listen to your body.

This is easier for some than others – for me, I eat pretty well so I can tell the difference between the days I put good things into my body versus days I didn’t and try to respond accordingly. What you need to do is take a few moments every day and stop – how does your body feel in this moment? What hurts? What feels heavy or slow? Why? We all have evenings when we deserve that extra glass of wine or a cheat meal at the fast food restaurant, but your body can start to take a hit if that becomes every night. When your body is busy trying to fix itself because of what you put into it, it can’t take the time it needs to keep you from catching the flu from that overly-friendly 1st grader who insisted on crawling in your lap. If your body is telling you something is wrong, then try to fix it – don’t keep saying, “I’ll eat better next week”, or “I’ll take a nap tomorrow” – fix things now, even if that means grabbing a banana from the teacher’s lounge rather than your sixth cup of coffee. Close your eyes for 20 minutes after school or while you’re waiting for the printer to finish printing your lessons at home. Make time for your body – no one else can do that for you.

4. Do something non-school related in your downtime.

Especially for music teachers – who spend so much time teaching ta & ta-di every day – you need to have a hobby that is adult and all your own. Sing in your church choir, write a blog about gardening, actually garden (yes, a flower box counts!), go bike riding, walk your dog around your local botanic gardens, volunteer at the Humane Society, knit…it goes on. As much time as you feel you won’t have when you’re learning how to write lessons and deal with parents, you must make time for yourself. You are not your job – your only successes and happiness should not exist solely at school. Your principal did not hire a robot to function and smile only at your desk – you are a human with likes and dislikes; now get out there and USE THEM!

5. Have someone – or something – you can rant to.

You are going to rant. There are going to be angry days. Do not turn to Facebook to rant –  this can damage your credibility with your colleagues or even any parents you happen to be friends with on Facebook (I don’t recommend this anyways) – or any parents or administrators your friends happen to be friends with. Don’t put that negativity out there that you’re forced to relive with every TimeHop post. Find someone that doesn’t mind you sharing the tenth story of Bobby rolling his eyes, and open up to them. This might come in the form of a TGIF group of teacher friends – or maybe it’s your cat (kind of wonderful, actually, because they can’t talk back, and they’ll generally snuggle up to you despite your mood). Or, start two diaries – one of happy experiences, one of negative. Document what happened and move on. Heck, even write down a terrible experience and burn it. We all know that fire fixes things…

Anyway, the point is to not carry around the negative experiences – get them off your chest in a productive and simple way, and not in a way that can land you in trouble.

6. Remember that you are still learning, too.

Are you dead? Then you’re still learning. It’s not always in the big, obvious ways that your students learn – but you’re still learning, whether if it’s that you should change the order of your musical concepts for 4th grade or ask John if needs to use the bathroom at the beginning of the period rather than dealing with his constant requests throughout class. You’re also learning new skills to keep your students’ attention, more efficient ways of responding to parent contact, how much prep you actually need for a particular lesson, which type of activities resonate with certain groups of students, and so on. That horrific lesson when all of your transitions between activities failed and you had to stop and re-teach expectations six times? Learn from itand learn to laugh at your own mistakes. There are times when I look at my kids, sigh, and smile, saying, “Well, this didn’t go as things planned. Let’s take a break and play a game and I’ll think of a new way to present this Friday.” It’s okay!

Even 20 year-plus veterans say that every year has its own set of challenges and difficulties and there will always be days or weeks that don’t go well. Like we tell our students to think positively and approach new concepts with the concept of growth mindset, you have to do the same for yourself. Rather than, “This lesson sucked, I must be a terrible teacher”, reflect on what really stuck out as something you need to work on. What aspect are you not really comfortable with yet? Speak with your mentor or trusted colleague, ask your principal for ideas, or even for him or her to come observe your teaching for ideas (their job is to help you be successful, and they’ll be happy that you’re reaching out for assistance when you know you need it!), or see if there are workshops or classes happening in the area to help generate new approaches and methods. Grow your toolbox.

And lastly, remember that you are loved. If you truly care for your students and try your best for them, it will show, and they will appreciate it. You are making a difference, even on your worst days – those crumpled notes of you as a smiling stick figure, the Valentine that says they love you, the complimentary parent email, the extra hug before they leave for the day all prove that and weigh so much more than Monday’s disorganized lesson presentation and that time you forgot about the fire drill. You are loved, you can do this, and it will be summer break before you know it.

Starting from Seed


Our low temperatures are dipping in the teens this time of year – it’s the perfect weather for gardening! Well, indoor gardening, that is.

Living in Kansas, we can see snow and freezing temperatures surprise us even as late as  May, though sometimes our last frost is the beginning of April. The running joke is that if you don’t like the weather here, wait 5 minutes. I distinctly remember dashing home from a morning recital my junior year of college to yank the tarp out of the garage and cover our seedlings in the garden to shield them from a sudden snowstorm – in the first week of May. We tend to run the gamut – sometimes lows below zero in the winter and highs in the 100’s in August. Our gardens have to be hardy, well-watered, and set up for success.

Evan picked out our seed packets from our local garden center this week – we have no particular ties to seed companies, but our preferred choices are organic and heirloom as often as possible. Let’s take the best of the best for this volatile region!

We haven’t grown many of these varieties, but we’re sticking to the same type of plants we grew last year – tomatoes, peppers, squash, cucumbers, beans, and so on. We might start shopping for our very own homestead as soon as this summer, so there is a chance that we’ll have to leave this lovely garden behind, but we hope to pour as much love into these green little friends for as long as we have them.



First up are Italian Roma tomatoes – we always enjoy canning a large selection of tomatoes in addition to slicing tomatoes, and we’ve heard from friends that Romas are excellent for canning and produce well. Our tomatoes last year were yummy but few in number and late in coming.






Up next is a spaghetti squash variety – we accidentally grew spaghetti squash last year when we mistook some seedlings sprouting in our compost for cucumbers! Squash varieties tend to look the same when they sprout, but after the first two leaves develop things start to change. We had already transplanted the seedlings when we realized that they weren’t growing the way we knew cucumbers to grow. A couple of months later, we had 4 happy spaghetti squashes, and they lasted until nearly Christmas in our cellar!




We’ve grown straight-8 cucumbers for several years now, and I just haven’t been super impressed with their slicing abilities. They can well, but I’m far more likely to eat sliced cucumbers than a jar of pickles each day. We’ll try “Telegraph Improved” and see how these do.




This is a new squash for us this year – in the last couple of seasons we have found some new ways to roast butternut squash with our holiday meals or winter vegetable roasts. Brussel sprouts, roasted butternut squash, onions, carrots, garlic, and a dash of salt & pepper with olive oil make for a delicious combination!



We’re continuing to experiment with finding the right slicing tomato – this year, maybe a rainbow blend will do the trick.







I have no experience with cowpeas, but the story of how these Michels cowpea seeds were gathered is just fascinating. A soldier was marching by a farm in the 1940s and decided to pick a few beans as a keepsake. He kept them safe for quite some time and they ended up planted on the family farm back in Kansas, and since then they’ve been added to the Seed Savers exchange program.



img_1433These envelopes are jalapeno and bell pepper seeds that I collected from our best-performing plants last year. We still have jars of hot peppers in our basement and we loved how thick-walled and strong our bell peppers turned out. Hopefully they’ll be just as delicious this year!






Our last packet is of some cayennes – we had problems with squirrels this year and cayenne peppers can be a natural deterrent. Usually the cayenne needs to be crushed or sprayed near the plants, but maybe proximity will also do the trick! They will also be helpful for making some salsas and pepper mixes.




I think we will also be planting some leftover black beans from last year as well as a round of onions and potatoes in addition to our usual herbs. Our peppers go in the indoor seed trays this weekend to give them 8-10 full weeks of growth before outdoor transplant – we’re guesstimating that the last frost will be Evan’s birthday, April 21 and we’re aiming for an outdoor transplant of around May 1. Stay tuned for more seedlings!

New TPT store developments


Teacher friends, there are a few hours left in the February Teachers Pay Teachers sale, and it’s inspired me to jump into creating more resources and really trying to expand my store. The hardest thing about starting a store in the last year is that it feels like all of the wonderfully-creative ideas have already been taken, and if I’m not careful I’m just creating redundant products! I’ve decided to make items that really pertain to my classroom and what my students will use, and hopefully others will find some use for them, too.

Two of the biggest type of resources that I want to utilize more in my classroom include interactive resources and composition resources. This year, I have a SmartBoard at both my schools (WOO HOO!) and we are loving using it with our QuaverMusic subscription. I take any chance I can get to have my students up leading class or driving our lesson, even if it just means pushing the “Next” button on the slideshow page. So why not combine our constant need to practice music literacy with interactive features?

I created the first of several resources in this line of thinking and posted my first one online just now – it’s called “Pizza Melody Practice: Sol & Mi.” I developed it to be a new way to practice melody flashcards – I’ve paired the objective with a fun concept (pizza toppings!) and made it so the students run the lesson and I, as the teacher, can step back. The students choose the melodies based on what pizza topping they click or tap on, and they even have an opportunity to improvise a short phrase here and there, as well! I’ve included a few thumbnails here to take a peek, but you can get a full preview and even purchase this product in my Teachers Pay Teachers store.


Don’t forget, if you are shopping late this evening in the February sale (2/7-2/8), enter ‘LOVETPT’ at checkout to save up to 28%!



Short & Sweet Valentine’s Day Idea for the Music Classroom


I never know how much to do for Valentine’s Day at school – my husband and I don’t really celebrate it (working at a restaurant doesn’t make for a relaxing Valentine’s!) and I know some students feel kind of sensitive about it. Having crushes and getting caught ‘liking’ someone can be awkward, some schools don’t even celebrate the day, what happens if not all the students get cards or gifts, does Valentine’s promote only straight relationships or that the holiday is only for couples as adults…it goes on. I haven’t done much in the past, but I found a small way to incorporate a few hearts in a simple way in my stations this week.

My second graders are practicing do – we just presented the new concept last week and now I’m having my students work in stations to get their hands dirty. Around my room, I have them set up to work on the following four tasks over the next two classes:

  1. Practicing writing and identifying do in the context of do, mi, sol, and la with Lindsay Jervis’s “Ready, Set, Print!” worksheets
  2. Practicing identifying lines and spaces by their number (line 1, space 3, etc.) with a game from QuaverMusic on their iPads (prepping for note names and reinforcing knowledge of the staff as we add more note reading)
  3. Listening and identifying patterns with do using the interactive “Where’s Freddie’s Pad?” PowerPoint by Linda McPherson
  4. Composing and performing patterns with do on xylophones

Station number four is where we got to break out a hint of Valentine’s fun! Dollar Tree has foam sticker packs of white, red, and pink hearts and little heart-covered treat baggies – I took a few minutes and labeled the hearts with a variety of do’s, mi’s, sol’s, and la’s and put a handful in each baggie. Each student was instructed to compose their own Valentine message and then play it to a friend! They could lay the hearts out next to one another or arrange them on a laminated staff.


To set them up for success, I utilized the power of washi tape and added some labels to a few xylophones. Eventually, I’d hope that we could comfortably read the notes we placed on the staff, but my students just aren’t there, and I’m okay with that. My focus on this station is to compose a song and immediately hear what they wrote – instant feedback. The labels help guide all of my students and provide some built in support for some of my learners who need greater assistance.


We kept the labels on and used them to play “Snail, Snail” with my 1st graders afterwards! The students were so excited to learn how to play a familiar song so quickly and easily using sol, mi, and la right at their fingertips.

My students enjoyed the little bit of Valentine’s fun to kick off our week – it’s a small detail, but it was a fun one!


DIY T-Shirt Quilt


It’s here! I’ve finished my first-ever quilt, and I am so proud of this project! It is by no means perfect, but it worked for me and my amateur sewing skills and I think it looks wonderful in its imperfections. (My cats love it, too! They were glued to it during every step in the process…)

I didn’t follow any particular pattern as I made this – I did some research on Pinterest and didn’t find anything or any particular approach that I loved. I knew I had 12 KU Band t-shirts (my husband and I met and fell in love thanks to marching band, and this quilt is here as evidence!), I wanted to include sashing (the red polka-dot stripes in between each t-shirt panel), and I didn’t want anything that took me too far beyond straight-stitching. (I saw patterns where they used t-shirts offset on top of black squares to create a shadow effect – while this was a neat effect, it was a little above-and-beyond for my first go.) I gathered some info from quilting friends and diagrams, and off I went!

To preface these instructions, please know that this is not likely to be the most perfect pattern – I picked the steps I did because they made sense to me, not because I have a PhD in quilting. My measurements were not perfect – I ripped out plenty of stitches and tried to hide my cutting mistakes as much as I could – but it’s good enough for my cats and my home. img_1407

If this (and the thoughts of photos taken in the evening with poor light) doesn’t deter you, then read on below for my pattern!

DIY T-Shirt Quilt Instructions


You will need: 

  1. T-shirts (I picked 12)
  2. Fabric for sashing (stripes between shirts)
  3. Fabric for backing of quilt
  4. Interfacing for t-shirts (I used iron-on) to keep the t-shirts from stretching while sewing
  5. Quilt batting or fleece of some sort (I used iron-on fleece) to line inside of quilt
  6. Thread to match your fabric
  7. Iron (if you chose iron-on interfacing/fleece) & tea towel or light material to guard t-shirt ink while you iron (mine started to smudge!)
  8. Sewing machine
  9. Scissors (or better yet, a rotary cutter! This was a life-saver – it’s like a pizza cutter that cuts fabric.)
  10. Measuring tape
  11. Highly recommended by technically not necessary is a quilting square – I purchased a 12×12 (measures 12 1/2 on the outer edges for seam allowances) transparent quilting square to help cut my t-shirts into perfect squares. Again, another life-saver!

    My new favorite tools – a quilting square and a rotary cutter. (Not recommended is the piece of wood – I used a piece of wood as a buffer for my rotary cutter and I’m sure this is really bad for your blade, so I’m saving up for a self-healing cutting mat as soon as possible!)


  1. Decide on numbers. Choose how many t-shirts you will use – my 12 t-shirts made a throw blanket that would not completely cover a twin bed – the more shirts you use, the bigger your blanket. Also, pick how large you want to cut your t-shirts – I purchased a 12×12 inch quilting square to help me cut my shirts and decided (randomly) to go with 3″ of sashing in between each shirt and along the border of the outside.
    1. Using your measurements, draw a diagram to help you figure out how much square footage of fabric you’ll need and divide down to find out how many yards of fabric you’ll need.I purchased 2 yards of fabric for sashing, 4 yards of fleece iron-on interfacing*, 4 yards of blue fabric for the back of the quilt.

      *In retrospect, this should have been 2 yards of normal interfacing rather than fleece to line the shirts and 2 yards of the fleece interfacing. My quilt ended up being twice as thick and it made my machine a little unhappy at the end, but it worked.
  2. Pre-wash all t-shirts and fabric to eliminate extra shrinkage/stretching.
  3. Cut your t-shirts & interfacing to your desired size. Using my quilting square, I cut each of my t-shirts to 12 1/2 x 12 1/2 (my quilting square has an extra blue edge that adds 1/4 inch to each side) and cut an equal amount of interfacing pieces to match. I should have been using normal interfacing rather than iron-on fusible fleece interfacing for this, so my shirts were a little thicker going into the sewing stages. Iron your interfacing to your shirts, keeping a tea towel or other cloth between your hot iron and your t-shirt ink – you don’t want it to run or smudge.img_1306
  4. Cut strips of sashing to run along one side of each of your t-shirt panels. My pieces were 3 x 12 1/2 to match the length of my shirts.
  5. Sew your sashing strip to one side of your panels. For each t-shirt, choose one side to sew your sashing to – make sure you pick the same side for all shirts or you’ll be piecing things together. I chose the right side of each panel. Face the right sides together and sew using a 1/4″ seam allowance. Repeat for all t-shirts.
  6. Take a break and lay out your panels to adore your work so far! You can also start to decide what order you want your panels to lay in – I had a bunch of colors of shirt to work with and wanted it to look balanced.screen-shot-2017-01-22-at-7-50-11-pm
  7. Sew your t-shirt panels into rows. Face the right sides together of your panels, pin as needed, and sew together with 1/4 inch seam allowance – continue and repeat until you finish a row. Repeat with the rest of your panels to form rows.img_1373
  8. Cut long strips of sashing to run in between your rows. Measure the length of each row and allow for some wiggle room – at least a couple of inches. For me, this meant cutting 53 x 3 inch strips to line the bottom of each row.
  9. Sew your sashing to the bottom of each row. As you did before, face right sides together, pin as needed, and sew using a 1/4 inch seam allowance.img_1375
  10. Sew each combination of sashing/row to one another to create your almost-finished front of your quilt. Now it will start to take shape! Starting at the top, take the top two rows and face right sides together, pin as needed, and sew, using a 1/4 inch seam allowance.img_1380
  11. Cut longer strips of sashing to complete the outside edges of your front panel. Measure the outside edges of the top and left of your quilt sides and add several inches to your total – also, make sure that you allowed for 3″ around the edge of the quilt to match the other outer edges.
  12. Sew your sashing trim to the outside of your front panel and trim edges. As before, face right sides together, pin as needed, and sew with 1/4 inch seam allowance. After all sashing has been sewn to your quilt, spread it out flat and trim any extra pieces that are hanging out or that look rough. One side of my quilt ended up off-kilter with itself – I decided just to trim this to gradually taper to the correct width.
  13. Measure and cut your back panel(s). My quilt was too wide to accommodate 45″ fabric widths (the typical width of fabric you purchase), so I needed to piece two panels together to create one big piece. Unfortunately, I didn’t write these measurements down to share with you – they should reflect the total measurements of your quilt front. I knew I was going to have a rough edge with the off-kilter right side of my quilt that I trimmed earlier – I went ahead and ignored that as I cut my back panel and I’m fine with the back panel showing a bit around the edge after finishing.

    My backing fabric doesn’t match the size of my quilt – I decided I needed to cut two panels and sew them together to create the correct size.
  14. Sew your back panels together. Allowing a 1/4 inch seam, I sewed my two back panels together to create one giant full panel for the back of my quilt.

    Much better! Now it’s the correct size and matches the front.
  15. Cut your quilt batting/fleece interfacing to the size of your back panel(s). As I reflect on this, you could have done this step one of two ways – the way I have described it here, or having cut and attached the fleece to the two back panels and then stitched them all into one big panel. That might’ve been easier to maneuver and manage, but this way worked, too. Using the same measurements as before, cut your iron on fleece interfacing to match your back panels.

    One half of the fleece interfacing.
  16. Iron on your fleece interfacing to your back panel(s). I’m not sure how you would use regular quilt batting in terms of sewing this to your back panel – I used iron-on, so I pressed the interfacing to the back panels and didn’t have to worry about stitching.

    Olivia approves.
  17. Sew your front panel to your back panel. Start by facing your front panel to your back panel, right sides facing each other. Carefully pin around all the edges and pick a corner to keep un-sewn – you’ll sew almost all the way around and leave around 8-10 inches open so you can reach in and pull the quilt inside out. (Or, technically, right-side in, since it’s being sewn inside out.) Sew with a 1/4 inch seam allowance.
  18. Turn quilt inside-out. When you’re done sewing, snip the corners so the corners won’t bunch when you turn it inside out. Reach in and pull the quilt inside out, and admire! You’re so close!img_1396
  19. Hand-stitch corner of the quilt closed. I know you can machine-sew this somehow, but I’m not confident in my ability to stitch in a way that hides the stitches, so I hand-stitched the open corner closed.img_1400
  20. Anchor front and back of quilt to each other. Let me start with what I tried, which may or not work for you (and didn’t work for me initially).I decided to “stitch in the ditch” to anchor the front of my quilt to the back – I didn’t want repeated washes to overly-separate the two pieces and create gaps. However, having used two layers of fleece (hopefully you’ll use one layer of fleece and a layer of thin interfacing, so you won’t have this problem) made my quilt pretty thick and it tried to fight with my machine a bit as I was stitching. I used some red thread (to match the sashing) to attempt to sew a straight line through the center of my sashing, and the thickness and some slight variance in measurement of my back panel and front panel (they didn’t exactly line up) meant that I had some bunching issues – some really obvious, but most I can overlook. I’m going to go back and tear out one of my lines of stitching to try to remedy this.

    If you’re pretty comfortable that your front and back are exactly the same size and won’t pull as you stitch, then go ahead and try this method – with my thickness of quilt and mismatch front and back (just by half an inch or so), I probably should have just put in a couple of small darts by hand in the corners of my t-shirts and not sewn across the whole quilt. But hey, it’s a small problem to have, and stitches can always be torn out (albeit with much effort).

  21. Crack a bottle of wine, curl up with your new quilt, and enjoy!

    Cattigan approves.



    Olivia is excited for her – I mean, Momma’s – new quilt!

Where I’m From

At school, our teachers are continually challenged to explore our concept of race and how we’ve been influenced by it. For me, it’s been a big awakening to realize how much white privilege has really influenced me without my knowledge, and I wanted to share an exercise that one of my principals challenged us to do. This particular exercise has less to do directly about race as it does more with identity (for some, these two concepts align more closely than for others). George Ella Lyon, Kentucky’s 2015-2016 poet laureate wrote the first “Where I’m From” poem and you can explore it here – it’s a beautiful, introspective poem that provokes a lot of thought on where we are each from. What aspects of your childhood stuck with you, influenced you? What is driving you and inseparable from who you are and where you came from?

We are presenting each of our poems in the next couple of weeks, and I thought I would share mine here, with you:

Where I’m From

Megan Epperson, January 2017

I’m from colored chalk and mini chalkboards, acrylic paint and turpentine, school craft projects and my mother’s hand-painted ceramics.

I’m from devotion and commitment, a mother who always put us first, a father who debated politics with me.

I’m from KU basketball tickets and waving the wheat, a big yellow house and a basketball goal.

 I’m from a hand-me-down piano, violin strings, flutes, and a basement full of guitars.

I’m from late night football games and marching shoes, plumes and bulky uniforms.

 I’m from wagging tails and snuggly purrs, late night cicadas and dirt under my fingernails.

I’m from buttered popcorn and cheese parties, homemade biscuits and dessert glasses of cocktail fruit.

I’m from a playhouse that wasps loved as much as my sister and I, and dreams of a garden the size of my house and room to breathe. 

I’m from hard work and a battle for perfectionism, kindness and laughter, and curly hair.