Sourdough Starter

I’ve made a sourdough starter from scratch – just flour, water, and some time on top of the fridge collecting “wild” yeast. Looks like I’ll have a starter to make some sourdough this weekend! Today was day 4 of “ripening” and the smell was incredible – I’ve heard friends reference the sour smell of naturally-fermenting foods, but this took the cake. How is it possible for something to smell so sour and yet so healthy and organic all at once?

 

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Day 3 of my sourdough starter. 

I gathered my sourdough starter recipe from Emma Christensen at Kitchn – the starter takes 5 days to “ripen” and requires daily feeding with flour and water. I can’t wait to see how it tastes this weekend – anyone have any favorite recipes for sourdough bread?

 

“May I Have This Dance?”

Happy Monday…or shall I say, happy that Monday is over? Our day at school had its ups and downs – we had the full moon at our backs, we’re wrapping up a 3-day weekend, and this is the week before spring break. Tonight, however, I’m choosing to focus on the joy we experienced today – my 4th graders rocked at the grand left and right in one of our folk songs and some of my students started using my break corner with great success. Plus, my students really enjoyed our shamrock improvisation activities! I’m realizing how important it is to put me as the human, not as the teacher, first and to focus on the positives. 

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Every day, I face students who thrive and students who need that extra boost, as well as students who make every direction and activity difficult, and I find that these kiddos cloud my thoughts in the midst of the joy I am trying to find. For a variety of reasons, students who are oppositional or defiant can turn our lessons upside down and wrench our control away in a heartbeat, and its so frustrating to not know how to help them (or not hand them the exact ammunition to pull you to pieces) and lose face with my students in an attempt to reckon with them. Today, I received an email from our school social worker with this intervention document attached, and I wanted to share it with you, because I spent the next half an hour memorizing it!

“May I Have this Dance? Effective Interventions for Oppositional and Defiant Students”  presented by Sharon Blanchard MS, LPS and Dr. Jeanie Johnson

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I’ve already used several of these tactics with some of my most difficult students, and I have found them to be incredibly effective. This document not only talks about why students are (and got to be) defiant, but it provides ways to navigate issues with students for when they say, “This is stupid,” “You can’t make me,” or try to push all of your buttons. What I also love is that it discusses how you can make things unintentionally worse and how to develop conversation tools to deepen your relationship with the child. This is a treasure trove – I hope it will help you like I think it will help me unlock some of my toughest students. 

Improvising Shamrocks

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I can’t go to Dollar Tree anymore.

I end up walking out with piles of craft foam shapes, treat baggies, stress balls, decorations, storage bins and a thinner wallet anytime I go there. I purchased some shamrock shapes at least two years ago and hadn’t come up with an idea for them yet, so I put them to use with some improvising practice this past week.

My 4th graders just learned eighth-two sixteenths – “ta-dimi” we call it – and we are in the process of introducing some improvising methods to my second graders, so I was able to kill two birds with one stone with this activity.

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I took four shamrocks at a time and created beat charts – I chose to laminate them because the sparkles on some of the shamrocks got everywhere, though is did make the charts a little warped in some cases. We paired these with dice I made on foam blocks – I made one set with quarter note, two eighth, four sixteenth, and eighth-two sixteenth and another set that just had quarter note, two eighth, and quarter rests for my 2nd graders.

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In groups, the activity started as a way to practice clapping rhythms. One student would roll the dice, arrange them in the pattern of their choosing on the board, and clap the pattern before passing it on to the next student. But after a while, I’d take one dice away, and then the assignment changed – it was time to improvise! The last beat, now blank, would be filled in with a rhythm of that student’s choosing. After a few minutes of getting comfortable improvising one beat, then we could take two dice away and improvise two beats. Continuing this process, we can wade in to the deep, scary side of improvising slowly and get used to the water rather than just demand the students to make music on the spot in front of their classmates.

We’ll continue using these beat charts this week and adding some Irish folk dancing and games to wrap up before spring break, and a couple of grades will do a “write the room” activity where they have to hunt around the room for flashcards I’ve hidden and copy them on a worksheet. Hopefully the spring weather will warm up and help the trees be as green as our classroom before St. Patty’s day!

Pushing the Reset Button

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Sometimes I’m jealous of my husband’s video games.

Last night we played Resident Evil 4 together, and by together, I mean that I kept dying at the hands of those stalker zombies and I needed some professional intervention. Watching him take the wheel – er, joystick – and navigate expertly without worry made me jealous, because these games always spook me and make my heart pound. What if I messed up just around the corner and set myself up for failure? I’ll probably die and have to do it again, and that’s no fun.

Video games, though, let us do what we can’t always cleanly do in life. If I messed up in the video game and started over, the companion girl I’m trying to lead to the next save point doesn’t carry a grudge about how I messed up or and she can’t decide to skip out because it’s not so fun on the 9th try. I can always push the reset button and get a clean slate.

I wish I could always do that with teaching.

I have more failed lessons than I’d like to admit. What’s frustrating is that it’s not for lack of trying or lack of love. We teachers pour our hearts and souls into our lessons and do everything we can to have a successful day, researching new ideas and trying new experiences to help out that tough class or that challenging kid. We give and give, and yet there are some days when all of those best laid plans not only get shoved aside but are doused with lighter fluid and thrown into a flaming dumpster. And rather than be able to get a clean slate next time, those students will remember that flaming dumpster and your lame attempts to put it out. Last week, I had a flaming dumpster day, and I was searching for the closest thing to a clean reset I could find so we could put our class back on track and back on the path of joy.

Without going into details, the group that helped me send a lesson into a fireball of chaos is a group that has students who suffer from emotional/behavior disorders and alongside typically-developing students who struggle with respect, listening, and anger issues. Tempers can make things volatile and we’ve worked really hard to find a happy balance and make our classroom a musical place of joy as much as we can. But Monday had it out for us.

I left school that day feeling like the worst teacher ever. I wasn’t providing my students with the right steps or plans to set them up for success and they didn’t enjoy the lesson, much less the interactions with one another.

I set out to make their next music class one of joy, success, and where I, not the distractors, was back in control of learning – and it worked.

I made a couple of key decisions for our next class period that helped us find that reset – and it left me dancing a happy jig as my smiling students left the classroom. Now, the next trick is to keep this momentum rolling, of course, but we’re back at the “Start Game” screen, and that’s the first step.

1. We didn’t talk about the last class period.

The first decision I made was to not talk about the last class period. I saw the couple of uneasy glances and sighs as they walked in the door, all leftover from the unhappy memory of the last class period explosion. I answered them with smiles and happy greetings – today was going to be a new day, and it was going to start with my attitude and me believing in my students. There was no point in rehashing what had happened last time – I didn’t want to sour the milk of today’s lesson and have my students reminisce about how they got in trouble or how music class wasn’t a fun place to be.

2. We reviewed the rules.

We started off with our class opener and then, with a smile on my face, I asked for students to help me review what our class rules are. It was important to me to remind everyone what the expectations were when no one was in trouble so that this was a reminder and goal activity, not a pointing-fingers activity that inadvertently shamed the student who just caused the infraction. We took some time to talk to our neighbors about different music scenarios and how to work through them and make a positive choice.

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3. I implemented a break corner.

Self-regulation is a vital skill to learn – those of us who navigate our adult lives successfully don’t understand how wonderfully we really have it. We know what will trigger us to be sad or angry, we know how we will typically react, and we have already worked through and understand the processes of how to suppress the need to lash out or cause harm and to channel our feelings in a more productive way. We also know how to keep those issues from damaging relationships. It’s second nature. But for some of our students, they don’t have that filter or it comes with much more difficulty. In them, we see shutting down, shouting, knocking over chairs, lashing out at friends or us, defiance, and vengeance-seeking.

This issue with self-regulation was one of the downfalls of our failed class beforehand, so I asked my students, “How many of you have ever had a bad day?” All hands went up. “Now, when you’re in a terrible, awful mood and you feel angry or you want to cry, do you usually feel more comfortable with a bunch of people or when you have breathing room and quiet?” They all agreed that they wanted space and quiet. My portable classroom at this building is small, but I do have a back hallway where the restrooms are located and that morning I set up a basic little “resting spot.” This spot was just inside the hallway but visible to me from 90% of the classroom, yet secluded enough that a student taking a break doesn’t feel like they’re still in the middle of the room, or even within arm’s reach.

I purchased a timer and some fidgets (stress balls and a fidget maze – you can push a marble through this little felt maze that helps you focus on something external and tangible) and told my students they could take up to one break per class and for up to 5 minutes. They would be expected to start the timer, use a fidget if they wanted, and put things away and come back when the timer was up. My students seemed very interested in it, and I had a couple of students remove themselves to try out the spot. Now, did all of those students really need a break? Maybe not, but I only allow them one break and after a while it will not be as novel or fun for students and will see less use. However, having it available at all times means it will be there for when a student flies off the handle and needs a moment to cool off so they can rejoin positively.

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4. I gave the students new seating arrangements.

We’d previously been using a circle on the floor to sit, but I decided each student needed clearer boundaries and a new format. I pulled out our chairs and set them up in a C shape and rethought where I had placed some of my students and by whom – I tried new pairings of classmates and made sure to put some of my students who thrived on classmate attention in corners or in the back so it would be harder to gain attention from friends.

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5. I put the students in charge of supporting one another.

We were using our SmartBoard that day, and they love the interactive features in our QuaverMusic curriculum, so I would choose students who were calm and quiet to use the interactive features and “run” class. Everyone wanted the chance to go up and touch the SmartBoard, so I put it to work for me!

At some point, there’s only so much listening students will do with adults. They value what I say and what I do and why, but there is also an element of peer pressure and peer acceptance that influences their actions in ways that I cannot, so I found time in my lesson to step back and let them hold each other accountable.

I would pick a student who was modeling good behavior and ask them to come up to the front of the room to navigate on our interactive resource, for example, but then rather than me choosing another helper I asked the student to choose someone who was listening quietly and following directions to take their place. I love using this, because even my craziest Kindergarten class will sit bolt upright, perfect their criss-cross applesauce posture, and smile silently and expectantly at the helper at the front of the room.

After setting up the exchange of helpers, I took a step back and stood behind the class to observe and turn over the reins to them. The students started searching for people who were following directions, and the interest and drive to be chosen by a classmate, to be labeled as someone who was doing the right thing, transformed how they were working. They were holding each other responsible, motivated by wanting to participate in a fun activity, and I wasn’t involved and having to play the “bad guy”!

Now, we still had a few issues with excess talking, but setting up these five aspects of my lesson helped provide natural supports and set up my students for a successful class that was night and day compared to the previous class period. I left school that day smiling and thrilled that we were back on track – and so relieved that we had found the closest thing we could find to a reset button in teaching.

 

 

New Sewing Projects

There’s nothing quite so satisfying as making something by hand.

I’m no master sewer by any means – I’d barely qualify myself as a crafter. I value the ability to craft my own items rather than purchase them and to conceptualize how projects can be formed by its smaller pieces and the process of assembly. I’ve found myself studying my bookshelf, a cheap purchase that is held together one of those cardboard backs and tacks, and theorizing how to best build one of our own. Making something from scratch helps you appreciate how items are held together and the purpose of each step in the creation process.

The last two weekends I picked a couple of simple projects for around the house – a couple of outdoor throw pillows and a floor cushion for the living room.

Last year, I took an old sofa frame that my husband used in his dorm room and painted and waterproofed it for our patio. This year, I wanted a softer touch to the basic frame and simple brown cushion – some throw pillows would do nicely! img_1595

I picked up a couple of pillows for sale at JoAnn’s and some outdoor fabric – while nothing explicitly stated that it was waterproof, I think these will be great additions for when we’re outside enjoying our garden and they’re easy to toss inside to stay out of the rain.

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My new throw pillows with a cup of my favorite black tea – complete with a big slice of lemon! 

When I settle in for school work and need to spread out, I enjoy sitting on the floor with papers and books scattered all over my coffee table and floor. (The kitties love all the crinkly paper to roll on, too.) I usually pull up a cat cushion to sit on but I don’t much prefer all the hair that follows me around afterwards. So, why not a floor cushion so Momma doesn’t have to steal the kitties’ pillow?

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Now the kitties can steal Momma’s cushion instead!

This project I conceptualized on my own – remember those paper dice we made at school as kids, where you cut out the series of squares and folded them together to glue into the cube?  I made this floor cushion the same way.

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Olivia brought me a toy for encouragement – this stringy spider friend cheered me on from it’s spot on the rug. 

This project could have easily gotten out of control in price had I filled it with piles and piles of fluff and batting. Thankfully, I’d recently cleaned out my fabric bin of scraps and bits that were unusable and created a stash bag of leftover fabric for just this project. All of the extra t-shirt scraps from my t-shirt quilt? Lumped together in a big pile of fabric. I stuffed all of these into my cushion and, therefore, eliminated the need to purchase bags and bags of poly-fill. I did buy one bag to soften the outsides of the cushion by surrounding the scrap fabric in a layer of fluff, much like the layer of sweet and juicy pineapple fruit surrounds the less desirable and bulky core.

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Now, I have a special spot of my own in the living room – when Cattigan and Olivia aren’t occupying it themselves, of course.

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Happy sewing!

Time to Explore

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The calendar says we are still weeks away from spring, but our cats assure us that spring is most assuredly here. They beg by the back door to be let out into the warm air, rotate from window to window in search of warming sunshine, and stare in fascination at the growing flock of birds that frequent our feeders outside our front window. This morning the three of us – Cattigan, Olivia, and I – ventured out into the unusual warmth to do a little spring tidying out back.

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Early buds on our lilac bush.

We mulched many of our potted plants with leaves and sheltered them by the house from the worst of the cold winds this winter (and even then, we didn’t have many). This fall, my husband raked a bunch of our oak tree leaves into a DIY cage up-cycled from some old fencing wire so we can always have mulch at our disposal – we fell in love with using grass clippings on our garden beds to add nitrogen and this summer we might mix in some leaves as well. We tend to get very hot and dry in August and September, and our poor cucumbers can use all the help they can get to shelter their roots from the heat.

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I spent some time raking out the leaves from the woodpile and straightening up the logs, while the cats lounged and explored. Olivia has a new favorite task – she loves patrolling the neighboring fences and rolling in any dirt patches she can find. The cats only go out under our watchful gaze – we don’t need any “presents” or complaints from the neighbors about digging into garden beds, plus it’s bad for the bird population to allow the cats to kill for pleasure rather than need. (Trust me, they’re well-fed.) Here, on the outskirts of town, we get the occasional coyote visitor and birds of prey, and while I don’t worry about my hefty Cattigan I do worry about how petite Olivia will fare against a hawk.

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Olivia, mid-roll in the dirt.

Tomorrow, our task will be to sort and turn our compost pile. We take any organic matter from our kitchen – egg shells, onion peels, wilted spinach, juicing remains, coffee grounds, tea leaves, you name it – and deposit it into this giant compost pile. If you haven’t invested in a compost bin, I cannot recommend it enough; we store all of our kitchen scraps (no meat) in a sealable container in the kitchen, and when it gets full we take it out to the yard and dump it in this bin. Every few months you should turn the pile and make sure that it stays moist so the decomposition process can move speedily along. Adding compost to your garden is one of the best fertilizers you can give it, and it’s absolutely free. It gives new purpose to your kitchen scraps, and the chopped up taco topping leftovers that you left in the fridge for too long no longer stare guiltily up at you from the bottom of your trashcan – they return back to the earth they came from and give your plants new life.

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This bin is one of the cheapest I’ve found in the process of looking at building or buying our own – when we purchased it, it cost $30 on Amazon. “Geobin” is made of 50% recycled plastic and comes as a roll of mesh that you open to your desired width and hold together with plastic keys on one side. Unless you’re sticking your nose over the top of the pile, there is absolutely no smell with this open air compost – I can be standing right next to it and not notice it is there. It’s a big capacity bin, holding up to 216 gallons and measuring 4 feet in diameter, as you can see with Cattigan as a size comparison in the picture above. I highly recommend checking this one out! We purchased our Geobin from Amazon here.

Cattigan and I checked on our crop of garlic from last October – we planted some hard neck garlic and let it overwinter, and these last few weeks of warm temperatures have made them thrive. Their bright green stalks shot through the leaves and they basked in the sunlight after I fertilized them with some of our smelly fish fertilizer. (The cats always sniff the bottle very curiously when it comes out of the cabinet!)

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When our garden is full to bursting, we’ll find the cats navigating the maze of tomato plants and investigating the strange smells of peppers and bean flowers. They love to lounge on our warm patio stones and sniff the breeze – we can’t wait for more warm days that we can spend outside as a family to relax and explore what we’ve grown and cared after.

 

But now, for a nap.

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Three DIY, Natural Products that Save Money

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When we first switched to shopping at our co-op, certain products suddenly became incredibly expensive. Household products, cleaning materials, detergent – buying natural suddenly doubled or tripled the prices we’d paid at the grocery store up the street. We only had so much to spend on a first year’s teacher salary and a (then) bartender-server salary, so even putting dryer sheets into our cart stung at checkout.

I started attacking Pinterest for ideas to substitute or prolong the life of my purchases. I dug out my 3 favorites and wanted to share them with you!

1. Make-Up Remover

This make-up remover is natural and easily removes even waterproof makeup with the aid of a damp washcloth, made with only witch hazel, your choice of oil (I like jojoba or almond), and filtered water. The blog this recipe comes from encourages you to use a preservative of some kind and to be careful of any bacterial growth – I’ve been using this mixture for months and have not had any issues with bacterial growth, thanks to the witch hazel (or eye issues, for that matter).

Price: A 6 ounce bottle of this make-up remover costs $3.54. 2 ounces of the chemical-laden leading brand can cost upwards of $5! 

Witch hazel – $8 for 16 oz (Certified organic, I purchased mine from our co-op, but it’s also sold through MountainRoseHerbs.com)

Almond oil – $11 for 16 oz (available from Amazon)

Water – It’s not the same as filtered, but I use water from our PUR water filter 

$19 for 32 oz of supplies, which means you are paying around 60 cents per ounce.

For the recipe and details, visit Adrienne’s article on Whole New Mom.

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2. Reusable Dryer Sheets

Not only were the natural sheets starting to feel expensive, but all those sheets getting trashed was wasteful! Thanks to Stacy Barr from “Six Dollar Family”, I made these reusable dryer sheets for free.

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Choose a fabric – I took an old, beat-up tea towel and cut it into rectangles – and add vinegar, water, and essential oils. I know what you’re thinking – vinegar in the dryer? Believe it or not, your laundry won’t smell like vinegar – just the essential oils you add to the jar.

Visit here to get the recipe and the details:

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3. Homemade Laundry Detergent

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What a steal! This homemade laundry detergent cuts the costs of natural detergent in half. Instead of around 20 cents per load, this costs only around 10 cents per load. This recipe calls for Borax, Washing Soda, a bar of soap (grated), and baking soda. You’ll need to pick up the ingredients from your supermarket – I couldn’t find Borax or Washing Soda at the natural grocery stores.

I found this detergent to work just as well as our normal detergents – no issues with stains or bubbling. I spilled red wine on my sheets the other night – trying to read in bed with a glass of wine resulted in me just falling asleep and knocking over the glass (I’m a brilliant person sometimes) – and with the addition of some vinegar to the load of laundry and this soap, it all washed out. 

Check out Sarah Mueller on her blog, Early Bird Mom, for the recipe and more details!

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I love finding new ways to save here and there on our grocery budget – plus, it’s a proud feeling to know how to make staple products for my household that I can recreate with little effort. Do you have any favorite DIY products for your home?


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