20 Things I Learned from my Mom

1546023_10153002254948940_1454609887939616400_nAwhile back I wrote a post about all of the things I learned from my dad. I knew then that I wanted to write one about my mom, but I was having a tough time coming up with a list. My dad is the lecture type (think of your typical TV sitcom dad), so it was easy to come up with twenty lessons. Thinking about what I learned from my mom required a bit more effort, but it was well worth it! I feel so lucky every day to have such amazing, loving parents.

  1. Be kind to everyone. You never know what someone else is going through.
  2. It’s never too late to try again.
  3. No matter what kind of job you have, always give it your best effort.
  4. Cake is a perfectly acceptable breakfast (…..and lunch and dinner).
  5. Life is short. Buy the shirt/shoes/bag/etc.
  6. Animals are a good judge of character. Be wary of people that dogs/cats dislike.
  7. Dance like no one is watching.
  8. Do the dishes as soon as you’re finished eating (your future self will thank you).
  9. It’s okay to choose to stay in when everyone else wants to go out.
  10. Clean with music on.
  11. Follow the big red bus (a.k.a. when the obstacle seems too great to overcome, don’t underestimate the power of distraction).
  12. Telling someone you understand what they’re going through because you have been through it too can make a world of difference.
  13. Take care of your elders.
  14. Be thoughtful – something as simple as buying someone their favorite candy bar or magazine can really make his/her day.
  15. You’re never too old to learn new things.
  16. Say what you’re feeling, but be ready to accommodate other people.
  17. Driving in the city isn’t as scary as it seems (driving at night is, haha).
  18. Crying is sometimes the best medicine.
  19. Paper planners are essential.
  20. Amazing things can happen when you put everything you have into achieving your goals.

I love you, mom!


Ten Middle Grade Books You’ll Love No Matter How Old You Are

Ten Middle Grade Books You’ll Love No Matter How Old You Are

The best part of my teaching day is the fifteen minutes of quiet reading time at the beginning of each literature class. It makes me so happy to look around and see each student focused on their book and lost in their own separate world. Once reading time is over (it kills me to break the peaceful silence), I ask students what they’re reading and whether or not they like it. If a student seems really excited about a book I try my best to read it, and nine times out of ten I am so happy that I did. Middle grade books should not be underestimated- they can make you laugh, cry, and contemplate life’s big questions.

So, whether you’re a teacher looking for new recommendations or someone curious about the genre- here are ten middle grade books you should definitely check out:

  1. Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan. When I picked this book out to be a class novel I knew I would have to read it toobut I was dreading it! This book was like nothing else I had read before – Monsters? Greek gods? Fighting? No, thank you! I finally forced myself to read it and as you can probably guess, I loved it (it is number one on this list after all). In fact, I loved it so much that I went on to read the entire series!
  2. The Meaning of Maggie by Megan Jean Sovern. It’s hard not to like this book because the main character (Maggie) is so lovable. She tells readers about her daily life as she deals with her dad’s illness and works toward her big dream of becoming the president. One of my favorite things about this book (besides Maggie) is the author’s use of footnotes; they were the perfect fit for Maggie’s Type A personality! P.S. – A portion of the proceeds of this book are donated to the Multiple Sclerosis Society! 
  3. Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie by Jordan Sonnenblick. This is another one that I was reluctant to read, but ended up loving (I should probably stop judging books by their covers). In “Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie” the main character, Steven, remains sarcastic (you will laugh out loud) and lighthearted throughout the book, despite dealing with tough-to-talk-about topics like cancer.
  4. Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo. There’s no way to say this without sounding cheesy, but I just feel warm and light when reading a Kate DiCamillo book. Her stories have a certain magical quality to them -even when there is no magic involved, and this book is the perfect example of that. Raymie is a quiet and introspective character, who only wants happiness, or as she puts it, “for her soul to feel good”. The book follows Raymie as she puts her plan for happiness into action, and of course- meets a few obstacles along the way.
  5. The Trials of Apollo by Rick Riordan. “The Trials of Apollo” is similar to the Percy Jackson series, but instead of having a demigod be the center of attention, this book is all about the Greek god Apollo….except he’s not a Greek god anymore.His father turns him into a teenage boy at the start of the book and he is very unhappy about it: “I will never understand how you mortals tolerate it. You live your entire life trapped in a sack of meat, unable to enjoy simple pleasures like changing into a hummingbird or dissolving into pure light. And now, heavens help me, I was one of you – just another meat sack.”
  6. The BFG by Roald Dahl. Roald Dahl has written a lot of great books, but “The BFG” made it to this list because the the giant is such an awesome character. You will love his funny language (snozzcombers anyone?), his insightful quotes (“two rights do not equal left”), and his rebellious view on eating humans (he doesn’t, but all of the other giants do). The BFJ is funny, like most of Dahl’s books, but it also teaches readers a valuable lesson: just because something is considered “normal” doesn’t mean it’s right
  7. Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo.  Another Kate DiCamillo book (she’s soooo good!). This story follows Flora, who is obsessed with comics, and an unusual squirrel (Ulysses) on an adventure filled with superheroes, villains, oddball characters, and poetry. If I had to pick one thing I loved the most about Flora and Ulysses it would definitely be Flora’s unique catch phrase: “holy unexpected occurrences!” How cute is that?
  8. Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier. This is a graphic novel, so you could probably read it in an hour, but that doesn’t take away from how good it is. The story deals with smaller topics, like the usual growing pains, as well as bigger ones, like dealing with a relative’s illness – all while keeping it light with pictures, soft colors, and a bit of fantasy! I recommend reading this one around Halloween.
  9. The Honest Truth  by Dan Gemeinhart. This past school year I assigned “The Honest Truth” to a book club full of reluctant readers.When they finished reading it they dubbed it to be, “the best book they have ever read” (…and I did a short victory dance in my head). The book follows Mark and his loyal dog Beau as they embark on a mission to climb Mt. Rainer, despite the odds against them.
  10. Courage for Beginners by Karen Harrington. Courage for Beginners is a heartwarming story about Mysti Murphy, whose life gets turned upside down when her dad falls out of a tree. Readers will love Mysti’s take on life, heroes, and cool kids as she navigates seventh grade.

Have you read any of these? What are some of your favorite middle grade books?



When You’re Not Ready to go Vegan…

Switching to a vegan diet is one of the best decisions I have ever made. I feel a lot better, I learned to cook a lot more (as a vegetarian I relied on pasta and pizza way too much) and I am somehow happier. While my hope is that more people will start to see how amazing veganism is, I also understand that it’s a huge, often daunting step for most. So, whether you want to cut out meat, but you’re just not ready, or you can’t fathom ever saying goodbye to steak – making five small changes to your everyday diet can make a big difference- in your health, your wallet, and the environment.

  1. Switch to non-dairy milk. In what seems like just a few short years, the variety of non-dairy milk choices has increased significantly. So much so, that the dairy industry is fighting to block dairy-free milk companies from using the term “milk”. The dairy industry is losing sales, and it’s clear why. Plant-based milk (whether its almond, soy, cashew, coconut, hemp, or one of the many other choices) is easier on the stomach, much healthier (it turns out milk does not build strong bones), and there are no cows harmed in the making. While you probably will notice a difference if you’re just drinking a glass, it will be hard to tell whether it’s plant or animal based if you pour non-dairy milk into your cereal or cup of coffee.
  2. Trade your butter for Earth Balance Butter. I used to have butter and toast every morning before work, so once I became vegan butter is the first thing
    EB2I had to find a replacement for. Thank god for Earth Balance! Earth Balance “butter” can be found in just about any grocery store, it tastes exactly like real butter (I have several non-vegan friends that can attest to this), it’s non-GMO, has 0g trans fat, and best of all – it’s cruelty free. Next time you run out of butter, consider buying Earth Balance brand instead. It’s a small change that goes a long way!
  3. Buy flaxseed mealAccording to webmd.com, “King Charlemagne believed in the power of flaxseeds so strongly, that he passed a law requiring all of his subjects to consume it.” It turns out he wasn’t wrong to put so much faith in flaxseed 1236c164_goldenflaxseedmeal_f_hr– it’s filled with Omega-3 fatty acids and it has been proven to reduce the risk of certain cancers, heart disease, and diabetes. So how do you use it? Sprinkle flaxseeds on top of toast or add it to your morning smoothie- you will barely notice them, but you’ll still reap all of their benefits! Flaxseeds also make a great egg replacement (1 Tbsp flaxseed meal and 3 Tbsp water for each egg). Bake a cake using flaxseed meal instead of eggs and you can call it “healthy” ;).
  4. Switch to non-dairy ice cream at home. There are tons of dairy-free ice creams out there, and you no longer need to find the nearest Whole Foods to find one. You can find brands like SoDelicious and Ben & Jerry’s at most grocery stores. (Yes, you read that right. Ben and jerry’s now makes dairy free options of classic flavors!) If you have a Trader Joe’s near you, I recommend trying their Soy Creamy vanilla ice cream; it’s not as pricey as some non-dairy ice cream tends to be, and it comes in a bigger size! Dairy-free ice cream is just as good as the real thing, but there’s no animal products in it, so you can feel better about every bite.mm
  5. Meatless Mondays. You’ve probably heard the term “meatless Mondays”, but you might not have heard why it’s such a great step in the right direction. By skipping meat just one day a week, you can help reduce global warming and significantly improve your own health by reducing your risk of heart disease, obesity, and diabetes.

There you have it – five small steps that make a big difference. Let me know in the comments if you have any other ideas of small changes that move in the right direction!




Trader Joe’s Shopping List

The first time I stepped into a Trader Joe’s store I felt lost. I was enticed by the beachy theme and overall feel of the place, but I had absolutely no idea where anything was. I ended up wandering the store for thirty minutes and leaving empty-handed because the odd cashier setup was too intimidating. Thankfully, I have overcome my fear of the unknown and I am now a weekly shopper at Trader Joe’s (applause).

So, without further ado – my Trader Joe’s Shopping list:

1. Quinoa Bread –Quinoa bread is softer than wheat or multigrain, and healthier unnamed.jpgthan white bread – just toast, add a little (vegan) butter and it’s the perfect before-work breakfast!

2. Tofu Edamame Nuggets (or as I like to call them, ficken nuggets) – When I first became vegetarian I frequently bought, and relied on, fake meat. Fake meat is good for the transition period from carnivore to vegetarian, but it shouldn’t be included in your daily meal plan – it’s too processed. While Trader Joe’s Tofu Edamame Nuggets only have a slightly better score on Fooducate than my old go-to (Quorn Chik’n nuggets), they taste a lot better, and I love that you can see the edamame when you bite into it.

3.. Organic Brown Rice Quinoa Fuselli Pasta (also available as spaghetti pasta)unnamed-2.jpg – My older brother is a chef, so I like to say that he got all of the “cooking genes”. He can make an amazing meal with whatever he can find in the kitchen, while I will follow a recipe step-by-step, only to throw it out and order a pizza. That being said, pasta is usually my go-to meal, so making organic brown rice quinoa pasta (try saying that ten times fast!) makes me feel a bit less guilty about all of the carbs.

4. Spanakopita – While I can’t even begin to pronounce this, it’s delicious, easy to make, and high in vitamin A!

5. Chocolate Ice Cream (made with coconut milk) – I try my best to stay away from dairy (keyword: try) this is a great vegan alternative to my absolute favorite food!

6. Trader Giotto’s Kale, Sweet Potato, and Butternut Squash Pizza – I never would havunnamed-3.jpge thought to pick something like this up, but when a kind lady offers you a free taste of it (yay free samples!) you gladly accept…and then promptly buy four pies to bring home. Trust me on this one, you won’t be sorry you tried it out!

7. EnviroKidz Chocolate Choco Chimps Cereal – Yes, these are for kids, but I loveee them. They taste just like Coco Puffs, but without all of the milk and sugar – not only are these vegan and gluten free, but they are also created by a company committed to sustainability and healthy eating (1% of EnviroKidz sales goes to helping the planet).

8. Pizza “burgers” – Okay so I really like pizza (hence my hesitance to go vegan). I unnamed-4.jpgpicked these up in a rush on my way to a bbq and they quickly made it on to my list of favorites!

9. Soycutash – Sweet corn, shelled edamame, and red peppers! Delicious and a high score on Fooducate (yess!). This is meant to be eaten warm, but try it cold (it’s much better). Heat it as instructed, leave it in the refrigerator for a few hours, and then enjoy!

4-trader-joe-s-dog-treats-for-puppies-and-dogs-chicken-recipe-jerky-strips-0bda39d20a2052980a7d615067b03b1c.jpgand don’t forget that special dog in your life.

10. Chicken Recipe Jerky Strips – My dog is very picky when it comes to dog treats (that may or may not be because we fed her human food since she was a puppy), but she goes crazy for these jerky strips! At only only 1.99, it’s easy to pick a bag up every time I shop at Trader Joe’s.

What’s on your Trader Joe’s Shopping list?



Three Things I Love This Week

I feel so lucky to have summer’s off. Not only it is a much-needed refresher, but it also a reminder of how much I love my job. Though there is still a month left of summer, I have begun to prepare for the upcoming school year because I’m truly excited (okay, and a little nervous) for it to start.

  1. The Book Whisperer by Donnalyn Miller: This is a must-read for any reading 519lHx-UOzL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_teacher! Donnalyn Miller does such a wonderful job of reminding the reader (the teacher) what is truly important about teaching reading (Hint: it has nothing to do with worksheets). With such a large focus on testing lately, it is very easy to fall into “skill and drill” mode, i.e. “read this, answer this, repeat.” However, what we need to focus on as teachers is getting students to love reading, because above all practice, the best practice is to just keep reading! After all, studies show that students who read a lot do better in all subjects, not just reading and writing!
  2. Elementary: I have been a fan of Sherlock Holmes ever since my 5th grade teacher read us The Hound of the Baskervilles. Looking back, reading000.jpg Sherlock Holmes seems much too advanced for fifth graders, but our teacher, Mr. Munerantz was so passionate about it that we ended up loving it just as much as he did. Anyways, about two years ago I started (and finished) BBC’s Sherlock Holmes, and I absolutely loved it. I left it at that for awhile, but then recently decided to give Elementary a try. If you’re a fan of Sherlock, it’s important to know that Elementary is nothing like the books or the BBC show, but there are plenty of Sherlock-esque deductions and surprise endings. Overall – it’s an interesting show and it fills my Sherlock needs until the next season of the BBC show is released!
  3. Ben and Jerry’s Non-Dairy: So I haven’t been able to be completely vegan (a trip to Europe quickly put a stop to my no dairy streak), but I have cut down on dairy significantly. This should be really tough when my absolute favorite food is chocolate ice cream, but it isn’t thanks to Ben and Jerry’s new non-dairy ice cream. It’s delicious, and it tastes just like “real” ice cream! So far I have only had the Chocolate Fudge Brownie flavor (5 stars!), but I can’t wait to try the rest! certified-vegan-blog-779x400

Book Clubs 101

Since the start of my teaching career, I had been afraid of book clubs. I knew I would have to face them sooner or later, but I wanted to put them off as long as possible. Not only did I not feel confident in how to implement them, but I was also really reluctant to give up control of my classroom. Unfortunately (actually, fortunately), I was “forced’ to start book clubs this year when we finished our class novel way too early. So, I was left with two choices: stretch out the class novel (“Ok class, here’s another project on Tuck Everlasting!”) or start dun dun dun….book clubs! So, I mustered up my teacher superpowers, planned a book club unit in under a week, and kept my fingers crossed that it would all run smoothly. Thankfully, I was pleasantly surprised! Book clubs have somehow gone from being my worst enemy,  to my new favorite part of the curriculum.

First Things First!

  1. Creating clubs: Students are given the chance to view all of the books and pick their top three choices. I do my best to put students with one of their top choices, but I also need to account for their reading speed and level. It’s really tough for book clubs to run smoothly when the group is waiting for one slow reader, so when stuck between choice and pace – put that student with the better pace!
  2. Setting up: Once I have created the book club groups, I create student folders. Each student will get his or her own manila folder, which will IMG_8503.JPGhave an image of the book on it as well as the items listed below (in the Student Folders category). I do this all for the students ahead of time because it saves time and it’s less of a headache (I can hear it now: “WHICH side did you say to paste this paper on!???!!”). Once you hand the folders out, give students time to create a group name and decorate their folder. It is a fun and easy way to create group morale.

Student Folders:

  1. Calendar (you can print student calendars from http://print-a-calendar.com/)
    • The calendar is used as a large overview of the weeks ahead. Students can use this to get a loose idea of when they can finish the book by counting the number of pages and allocating them among the days. Be sure to fill in (or have them fill in) holidays, assemblies, etc. so that students know what days they will not have time to read/discuss.
  2. Goal Page: “on ___________ we will read from ___ to ____”
    • This is more of an immediate goal sheet. Students in my class usedIMG_8504.JPG it on a day-to-day basis. After reading and discussing, they would figure out what they wanted their goal to be for tomorrow. This was a lifesaver to have written down because It helped students to track and adjust their reading goals (“We read really fast today, let’s set a higher goal tomorrow.”) and 2. It helped absent students know what they needed to do to catch up – without asking their group or me!
  3. Discussion Reflection Sheet (this, as well as the goal page, can be found on my TPT store)
    • I created this sheet last minute on a whim, but it became one of the most aspects because it holds students accountable. After book club discussion, students fill out the discussion log by reflecting on what they did well and what they can improve on. While students are filling this out, I come around to give stickers to groups that I saw working well together that day. Yes, they still love stickers in sixth grade, but there is also an incentive -whichever group earns the most stickers on their folder at the end of book club earns a treat (lollipops). Aside from stickers, I also collect the folders at the end of each day, read their reflections, and then leave my own comments (i.e. “Great discussion today! I really liked how you spent time talking about so and so. Next time, focus on making sure all group members are actively listening.”).IMG_8506.jpeg

It All Comes Together:

  • It’s important to note that prior to book clubs my students would come in to class everyday and right away begin 10-15 minutes of “Quiet Reading Time”. This was a time where they read independent books and worked on weekly reading assignments. During book clubs (only about 3 weeks), students only read their book club books and they did not have weekly reading assignments, other than the book club assignments. I felt I needed to mention this because it may be why the schedule below worked so well with my class (they were used to it), but it may not work with every class; adjust as you see fit.
  1. Upon coming in to class, students will take out their book club folders (I kept them in an accessible cabinet in my room), meet very briefly to review what their goal for the day is, and make any adjustments if needed. For instance, if they had two people absent the day before, that group may decide to do less reading than they had originally planned.
  2. Students will read quietly to reach their goal, and then complete the task of the day.
  • Each day I have two tasks for students to complete after their reading/ before their discussion. The first one is always: 1) Create a discussion question, and the second one varies. Here are some examples:
    • Make a strong prediction (I predict….because….).
    • What is your favorite part so far and why?
    • Make an inference about a character.
    • Sketch a scene (be sure to include a caption).
    • Make a connection (text to text/self/world).
    • Who is your least favorite character and why?
  1. When students are done reading and responding it is time for discussion. Discussion involves each student asking the group his/her discussion question (question 1) and sharing his/her response to question 2. Students will likely have trouble with discussion in the beginning, so it is important to walk around and help them to stretch their thoughts, voice their ideas, and dig deeper. ß This will be easier to do if you have read all of the book club books!
  2. After discussion students will fill out the discussion reflection and the goal sheet. 


How are students being held accountable?

  • Observation
    • Book club relies very heavily on student participation. When I see a student is not participating, I deduct points from his or her class participation grade. While it’s understandable that some students are a shy, it’s still important that they give it their all. Here are some ways to monitor real participation:
Student is actively reading. It is clear he or she is engaged in the book during Quiet Reading Time. Student is restless during Quiet Reading Time (eyes looking at the clock, around the room, etc.)
Student contributes to the discussion with complete phrases and his/her own ideas: “I agree it was really odd when Jenny lied, it was so unlike her! I wonder if she is only doing that to save her friendship with Tom?” Student only contributes to the discussion with short phrases: “Yeah I agree with John.” When it is his/her turn to share he/she uses very basic ideas that could have been picked up through a quick skim or from reading the back of the book: “I can’t believe Harry Potter is going to Hogwarts!”
  • Journal Responses: “Questions 1 and 2” (See number 2 in “It All Comes Together”)
    • I walk around to check individual journal responses as students complete them. If you don’t get to everyone in one day, that’s okay. The good thing about book club is it is a continuous cycle, so you can check on the students you missed the next day.
    • If I want to do a more formal check, I will have students complete their responses on loose leaf, and hand it in at the end of the period.
  • Discussion Reflection
    • As mentioned previously, I check this after every discussion and give groups written feedback.
  • Projects
    • Once a group finishes with their book they create and complete

      Book Club Project     (Student -created)

      a project, time permitting, and hand it in for a grade.

    • Hand out the Project Planner(this can be found on my TPT store) to groups that have finished.
      • Let them be creative – it’s amazing what students come up with!
      • Review their creation, add or subtract as needed, then sign your approval.
      • After they finish the project, the Project Planner becomes the rubric.

1 2 3 10