California Road Trip Day 1: Sonoma Valley

This past Mother’s Day I bought my mom and I tickets to California. I planned a image1mother-daughter road trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles, and today we were finally on our way…with a really early flight. Waking up early was tough, but the airport brought new obstacles. We were at the gate getting ready to board when my mom realized she couldn’t use any of her favorite websites on the flight. “Why can’t I use Youtube on the flight?” (There’s no WiFi), “Can I use HBO GO?” (No), “Can I use Showtime on Demand?” (No), “Netfl…” (NO!). After an attempted explanation as to why we can’t watch Hozier music videos at 30,000 feet in the air, my mom fell asleep before the plane ever left the ground. Let the adventure begin!

Five and a half hours later, we landed in San Francisco. It was love at first sight. We hopped in our rental car and began our journey through San Francisco towards the first destination: Sonoma Valley. “How much do you think it costs to live here?” I questioned aloud, already planning my move. The fog rolling over the mountains, the Spanish style homes, and the sailboats in the bay- it’s all so beautiful. I couldn’t believe I was really here! (Crossing the Golden Gate Bridge was especially surreal).

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Halfway through the trip we decided that we needed some Real Food IMG_3603.JPG(fake food = the cookies, donuts, and pretzels we ate on the flight). As if by magic, a right turn appeared that led us to a place called Cornerstone Sonoma. It was as if someone took everything I loved and put it all together in the mountains of Sonoma Valley. Cornerstone Sonoma has stores filled with cute and overpriced home decor, a coffee shop, beautiful gardens, and a cafe with more than one dish containing fresh vegetables. We had a delicious lunch, wandered the gIMG_3614.JPGardens, and then continued our trip to the Airbnb in Glen Ellen. We arrived to find a small but spacious cottage with a lot of character (the owner is an artist!) and a spacious backyard. Staying in a local house, rather than a hotel, takes away from that awful touristy feeling and replaces it with a feeling of belonging. You get to pretend, even if just for a night, that you live in a place much different from your own. I definitely recommend giving it a try.

IMG_3624.JPGDay 1 was a success- a busy morning and relaxing night.

Until next time xx.

 

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15 Things I Learned During My First Year Teaching

I survived my first full year teaching 6th grade Language Arts! Here’s what I learned:

1. No one knows what they’re doing, it’s not just you.

2. That being said, the most important thing is confidence. The kids will know if you’re freaking out, so smile big and pretend you know what you’re talking about. (That’s not to say you shouldn’t know what you’re talking about, but we all have those days)

3. It’s important for students to like you, but you can’t win them all. Don’t get too hung up wondering why some students dislike you. 

4. Don’t take bad behavior to heart (I’m still working on this one).

5. Be friendly with your coworkers; learn their names and make small talk. Being able to vent or have a light hearted conversation in the copy room can really brighten the day.

6. Send handwritten thank you notes.

7.  The internet is filled with endless ideas for lesson plans and activities. Take advantage of this, but don’t drive yourself crazy. Sometimes simple works best.

8. Remember that two heads are better than one; collaborate with your coworkers – we are in this for the students, not to one-up all of the other teachers.

9. Continuously seek meaningful feedback- from your coworkers, from administration, and yes – even from students.

10. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. More than likely, the person that you ask will be flattered that you thought to ask them.

11. Procedures are important (possibly more important than rules). Set them, practice them (a lot), and redirect the students who don’t follow them. At the start of the year I thought I had all of my procedures ready, but I was wrong. Even the smallest things, like when to use the pencil sharpener, needs a procedure in a busy classroom.

12. Kids appreciate honesty. If you make a mistake, own up to it. They also love to find your mistakes – so check any materials you create multiple times for errors before you hand them out!

13. Follow through! If you say you’re going to call home – call home. Create a discipline plan and stick to it. Kids learn quickly whether you’re serious or “all talk” (I learned this the hard way).

14. Be organized. It doesn’t stop at teaching a lesson – there are papers to grade, meetings to attend, grades to enter, and parents to call (s.o.s.). Find a system that works for you. I write on multiple calendars and a to-do list. During extra-busy-weeks, my desk is filled with colorful Post-it notes.

15. Understand your own rules and reasons for doing things and be confident about them. You will have students and parents who will try to challenge the way something was graded or the reason a detention was given, but if you have confidence in your decision, it will show.

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Book Recommendations

 

nnaa1. Anna and the French Kiss (series) I stumbled upon this book while browsing goodreads recommendations and my first thought was – so cheesy! The name is cheesy, but the rest of the book – I fell in love with it! Stephanie Perkins knows how to create lovable characters. This book is also part of a series, but not in the usual way. The second and third book could be read alone or in any order because they follow a whole new set of characters in an entirely different setting. It’s still a somewhat series because the old, original characters make appearances. I enjoyed all three books, but Anna and the French Kiss is definitely my favorite (I’m even re-reading it – a first for me!).

2.The Meaning of Maggie – Okay, so I haven’t finished this book meaning-of-maggie_9781452110219_normyet and to be really honest, I’m only about half way through, but I can already tell it’s going to be a favorite. I love the voice of the main character, Maggie, who is smart and funny, but in a way that she doesn’t realize. She has big dreams (to become president), she follows her mom’s house rules to a T (she has them all written down), and she can’t understand why her dad’s legs keep falling asleep (she has to be brave, which is not always easy). This book reminds me a lot of Jonathan San Foer’s “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close”, which is also a must read.

3. The Girl on the Train –  I don’t usually read thrillers/mysteries, so I’m not sure how I ended up downloading this audio book, but I’m so glad that I did! Besides it being a ne10735688w genre for me, I was also new to audio books (a first all around!). To my surprise, I really liked listening to a book (it was great at the gym) and I was also very lucky because this was the perfect first audio book. The narrators are English and the book is set in London, so listening, rather than reading, took the story to a whole new level. It also involved three different narrators to accompany the three different perspectives in the book. This was a huge plus! I don’t usually like multiple point of view books, but the change in voices really helped me stay on track with who’s who. As for the story itself – it keeps you guessing constantly and you can’t help but love the main character.

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Falling in Love with Poetry

I have always loved poetry, but teaching poetry has made me fall in love with it even more! With teaching, I’m forced to look at it through the point of view of a sixth grader – which is refreshing and eye-opening. I recently introduced the students to works of the poet, William Carlos Williams (I purchased a product on TPT by Tracee Orman that encourages students to “Write Like Poets”. It is wonderfully put together- it even has audio files of the poems being spoken!) So, after modeling our own poems after “Red Wheelbarrow”, we moved on to look at the infamous, “This is Just to Say”. Immediately after I read it, the kids made a face that said, “This is a poem?” And without ever thinking of this before (teacher auto-pilot), I explained to them that it’s beautiful because William Carlos Williams found poetry in unexpected places (light bulb moment!)

A week prior to introducing actual poems, the kids and I did some close reading with song lyrics. I started out with the song “Let it Go”, knowing it would be easier because everyone is familiar with the song and movie. First, we listened to the song and wrote down any thoughts we had, then I asked them to listen while looking at the lyrics and think about theme, setting, and changes in character. To my absolute surprise: none of them had any idea what the song is actually about…despite singing it for days on end this past winter.rp_Screen-Shot-2015-04-03-at-11.06.52-PM-300x231.png During discussion they brought up the surface facts: she runs away to the mountains, she doesn’t mind the cold, she has magic, etc. So, we worked through it together and found the theme: to just be yourself and not worry what anyone else thinks (at this point there were a lot of ohhh that’s what it’s about!) They went back to work with a new-found appreciation for the song, highlighting important details, and looking for changes in character. I was so impressed with what they found – they even made note of how the tempo of the song changes as Elsa becomes more confident. (Resources for younger kids can be found on Scholastic)

It was a good first experience with close reading, but it was time to move onto bigger things: “Wings” by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis. I got the idea to use this song from the teacher before me. It was such a good lesson, I couldn’t resist repeating it! Just like with “Let it Go”, we started out by listening to the song (I had to give a mini speech about being mature because there are two “bad words” in it). After the first listen all of the students agreed that it sounded like a shoe commercial. I handed out lyrics and we listenIMG_1658.JPGed again… and they were still set on the idea of a shoe commercial. I had them mark up the lyrics, making note of anything – important or not.

The next day, I introduced the theme: what you wear doesn’t make you who you are, and I had them write down the definition for “consumerism”. I talked to them about consumerism; about how, whether they would like to admit it or not, they have probably worn something with the idea that people would like them more because of it. I pointed out current commercials that use celebrities and how it’s so important to have the most current iPhone and real Uggs. This got them talking….and the lyrics finally became clear! We still had to work through them together, but instead of feeling frustrated they were truly interested. After having them mark the lyrics on their own some more and then going through it as a class (and watching the video!), the students filled out a close read worksheet that I created. The worksheet asks for theme and changes in character, and text evidence to back it up (you can find it on my TPT site!) I have found that most of my students work best with worksheets, as opposed to “this is what I’m looking for, write it on lined paper”.

To end the mini-unit on close reading song lyrics, I gave students a week to print out lyrics for a song of their choice and bring them into class. Students close read their chosen lyrics and then filled out another close read worksheet. It was a fun closing activity, but I didn’t grade it because there was too much variety. In the future, I will have a list of songs that they can choose from, because some songs were really difficult to close read (i.e. Best Day of my Life by American Authors).

xx

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A Healthy Twist on Classic Pancakes

(null)I was making pancake batter one morning, when I realized I was out of eggs. With the batter halfway done, it was too late to settle for Eggo waffles, so I looked for an egg substitute instead. On a whim, I threw in half a banana and hoped it would work. To my surprise, they were delicious – even better than usual! I have been trying to stray away from eating eggs anyways, so I’m really happy this recipe worked out so well. The bananas add more taste, but still maintain the same consistency as “classic” pancakes, and they’re a lot healthier too!

The recipe:

  • 1 cup pancake mix (In the picture I have the buttermilk mix, but I think the original mix tastes much better!)
  • 3/4 cups almond milk
  • 1/2 of a banana (Leave a bit of milk in the measuring cup, then use a spoon to mush the banana. Don’t worry about making it perfectly smooth, it’s good when it’s chunky!)
  • 1 tablespoon oil

Mix it all together, then pour onto a hot skillet coated with butter for quick and delicious pancakes! (P.S. Try topping with Nutella instead of syrup!)

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My Favorite YA Books

Young adult books are a guilty pleasure of mine, and as a sixth grade Language Arts teacher I have the perfect excuse to indulge in as many as I like (I’m researching for my students, obviously). I don’t particularly think there’s anything wrong with reading below your intended reading level (after all, reading is reading), and I love the easy-to-follow story lines when everything else in my life is crazy busy. So, I have compiled a list of my all-time favorites (in no particular order):

1. Delirium by Lauren Oliver I read this about two months ago and I still can’t get over how good it was; Lauren Oliver is an amazing writer. The story is set in future America, where love is considered a deadly disease. It is such an interesting concept, and Lauren Oliver made it all seem so real.

2. Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Brunt Carol Rafika It’s not often that a book is able to make 51MDWaEfUiL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_me cry, but this one definitely had me in tears. Despite dealing with tough topics, like death and AIDS, it remains a sweet, heartfelt story about friendship and self-love.

3. Looking for Alaska by John Green  It wouldn’t be a young adult book list without John Green (The Fault in Our Stars gets way too much credit). It reminds me a lot of Catcher in the Rye, my all-time favorite book. I loved the way the main character was sort of obsessed with famous last words, and quotes them throughout the book.

4. Insurgent by Veronica Roth Of course you need to read Divergent first, but Insurgent is by far the better out of the two (I still haven’t read Allegiant). I found myself17623975 actually gasping out loud several times while reading this; every chapter brought new twists and surprises.

5. Just One Day by Gayle Forman I really love all of Gayle Forman’s books, but Just One Day is my favorite. The story follows Allyson, a girl who always follows the rules, as she takes a chance on a spontaneous trip to Paris…with a guy she just met. Gayle does a wonderful job making an improbable story come to life – and you can’t help but wish you were Allyson (have a pencil nearby to jot down bucket list to-dos!)

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