Positive Nesting

I blinked this morning. In the millisecond it took my upper lashes to meet my lower lashes, summer ended. Usually, I bemoan this. Three months is never enough time to recuperate from the school year, from the millions of questions asked by dozens of students, from the endless meetings, from the piles of essays, or from the general entirety of the the position of “teacher.” Yet, September is but a few days away and I sit now at my desk surrounded by my classroom’s walls. Once penned in by anxiety and trepidation, these walls feel very differently in year four. Will I get it all right this year? Probably not.  Will it be a little easier this year? Probably not.  No longer frightened by this, I feel excited to see my students again, excited for the routine again, and excited to be making an impact again. While the summer is a luxurious vacation from reality, the reality of the school day provides so much grounding to my spirit.  Perhaps this is the first time I am appreciating this and looking forward to the year ahead and not back as the summer fades.

Who knows what will happen in these four walls. Some of the material will be the same, but so much of it will be different.  No matter how many times I examine the American Revolution for example, each class and each student understands, feels, and sees it differently. Being a teacher is therefore an exhilarating position. I am constantly on my toes trying my best to build a classroom environment that is comfortable for all student learning and styles. While I may get tired, I never get bored.

The students are probably spending these last few days soaking up as much sleep and friends as they can.  Perhaps some of them are even on some fabulous vacation.  What they don’t know is I am here building up the classroom. Nesting in my space with paper, posters, colors, crayons, and postcards. The walls were so white this morning. A new year and a clean slate for all occupants. A little TLC has transformed these four walls into something warmer.  Into a room that eagerly waits for its new atmosphere of laughter, questions, curiosity, and creativity. The potential is palpable.

Image

Some paper poofs I made to hang from the ceiling

Image

A small glimpse of a decorated board

Image

Some goofy post cards to break from strict History Curriculum

Oddly, this is also the first year I have not experienced one of those haunting “back to school nightmares” where I am standing in front of the class totally unprepared and petrified. Year four seems to be the year of settling in and becoming comfortable with who I am as a teacher, with how teenagers learn, with the constant source of encouragement I need to be, and with the general demands of the day to day.  Finally, I am nesting well here.

Ironically, for some teachers this year, nesting takes on another meaning.  A few of the female teachers have come in this week sporting a new bump in the front. I cannot help but be a little jealous of these ladies as they show off their new addition and talk about the sensations of motherhood, the anticipation of their babies, and the plans they have for their maternity leaves. There is this deep desire within me to start trying for a little one of my own…yet the other half of me knows that the timing is not just right.  I mean David and I just bought a house and have barely settled in and have hung rarely a decoration up on the walls.  And, I know that I am about to welcome a new crew of young adults into my life who will challenge me, learn with me, work with me, and teach me. These new students will be mine to watch over all day long.  But perhaps nevertheless, I am ready for one of my very own.  Instead of feeling overly anxious about lesson planning and curriculum development, I find myself bitten more by the “bump bug” than ever before.

Simple Snack

Sometimes the simplest of snacks can hit the spot and leave you feeling like you made a healthy choice that is also satisfying.

Boil water on stove in a medium pot.  Once the pot reaches a rolling boil, toss in the edamame (fresh or frozen in shells) for approx 3-4 minutes or once they float to the top.  Strain them in the sink.  Transfer the edamame in their shells to a plate or serving bowl and sprinkle with sea salt.  Enjoy a simple and very healthy snack!

Image

“Pizza”

With only two weeks left until the start of school how does a teacher spend her day?  By visiting with fellow teachers of course! With David away visiting his family, I have been feeling lonely.  A good friend once said that some people are “empaths” and as such they crave the presence of others.  These empaths in life enjoy being near, listening to, and embodying the spirit of those around them. When an empath is isolated, he or she is restless.  But, when surrounded by friends, family, or a lively setting the empath is at ease in his or her own skin.  Perhaps, I am one of these empaths.  Even sitting now on my couch typing this little bit up, all alone, has me feeling listless.  There is a part of me that is craving to call a friend on the phone and immediately run to her side for the evening.  Yet, I know that being alone and sitting with the quiet discomfort is probably good for me….and my wallet.  So while I will sit still tonight, this afternoon was spent in lively conversation over some delicious pizza from Otto. This particular day had each of us feeling the urge for fall.  Butternut squash, cranberries, and ricotta cheese combined to bring utter comfort to the table and our bellies. It was truly delightful to relish in the flavors of fall while still being able to savor the ending of summer.

And, the recipe for this pizza does not seem too hard.  To replicate it at home I would:

Get dough, craisins, mozzarella cheese, mashed butternut squash (in a ziploc bag with the tip cut, creating a “pastry bag”) and ricotta cheese (also in another ziploc bag).  Then you would just bake the the pizza at 350 for approx 20 minutes or until the crust looks cooked through and the cheese is bubbling.

Slowly Summer

August is my favorite month of summer. After two months of vacation, I have finally settled into (and accepted) what it means to be on summer vacation.  No longer restless for a routine and something to do with the day and no longer bored by the many unfilled hours that had me either pacing the floor or crawling into bed for a nap in June and July, I can now simply enjoy this quiet time. Funny how this new inner peace leaves me with a mere two weeks until the hustle and bustle of school days, lesson planning, and late evenings grading commences to steal this August bliss away.

I would like to start a new tradition for Thursdays in honor of this August calm. Perhaps by doing this, the sentiment can linger into the school year just a little bit longer.  While there is always so much to share and so much to discuss, it is not always easy to remember to savor the quiet moments of life. Thursday posts will now be dedicated to this.  One photo, one moment captured, no explanation, just the image and the stillness it brings to the table will occupy this space today.

Summer Berry Trifle

Berries are nature’s summer candy. Strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries stock my refrigerator with their tasty healthiness. When we moved into our home, we were told by our neighbor that we were the new owners of a blueberry bush.  Unfortunately, our berries were poached by the local crows before I could even enjoy one harvest. Next spring and summer, I will be more diligent in the guarding of these little blues.  Good thing I could still get my berry fix from the Sunday farmer’s market down the road. Now while I am ready for the first signs of a Fall chill and cozying up in a sweater, I am still reveling in late days of berry season. Perhaps it is all right that we still have three more weeks to share is these bountiful treats.

Image

Summer Berry Trifle

1 carton blueberries

1 carton strawberries

1 sponge cake

2 cups heavy cream

1/4 cup sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla

In a bowl with a hand mixer, mix vanilla, sugar, and heavy cream until peaks form and a light frothy whipped cream is made. In a trifle bowl, or really any bowl , slice the sponge cake into 1 inch or 1/2 inch slices and line the base of the bowl. Top with a layer of strawberries and blueberries and cover with a layer of whipped cream.  Repeat this until the bowl is layered and ready to be shared as a light, sweet dessert .

Simple Fresh Pasta w/ Wine & Roasted Tomatoes

Image

For the first time since we bought our new home, our friends Rodney and Jocelyn were able to come and visit. While they do not live very far, sometimes suburgatory can seem like it is miles away from those more accustomed to living near the city.  Yet, today they ventured the thirty minutes to us and we were delighted to have them over.  As always, I felt a lot of pressure to cook something spectacular. Each summer  the promise of learning to cook rears its ugly head once August settles in.  Yet this August, I am more prepared to rise to the occasion. Usually unable to decide on the menu for fear of being underwhelming, I chose to make a simple pasta and salad for lunch.

While perusing the colorful and intentionally laid out aisles of Whole Foods, the teal cartons of organic tomatoes caught my eye.  Fixated by the lushness of the hues, the firmness of the  skin, and the subtle scent, I purchased three bundles of tomatoes as my recipe starting point. Obviously, half of a carton could be used to top a salad and the other two and half portions would be used in a rustic tomato sauce. Once the main ingredient and idea was determined, the shopping was a breeze.  Home within 20 minutes, I went straight to work.

2 and half cartons of tomatoes, (cherry or grape)

1 cup of white wine

1/3 cup of pine nuts

sprinkling of red pepper flakes

sprinkling of black pepper

pinch of salt

sliced pancetta

5 cloves of garlic chopped

2 tablespoons of olive oil

8 oz of fresh capellini pasta

small bunch of basil chopped

Parmiggiano Cheese

Preheat the over to 400 degrees.  In a dutch oven or oven safe covered pot, toss the tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, red pepper flakes, salt, wine, and pancetta.  Cover your colorful and fragrant mixture and bake in the oven for 45 minutes. Prepare pasta al dente accordingly. Once the mixture has baked, toss in the pasta, basil, and parmiggiano cheese.  Enjoy a light and delightfully satisfying meal.

This was our lunch recipe today but I could easily have thrown in some shrimp or chicken and prepared it for dinner.  It was a fresh, fast, and flavorful meal. Thankfully there are enough left-overs to have for lunch tomorrow as well.

After lunch, our foursome had a blast laughing about our summer misadventures and reconnecting over half drunk glasses of wine and lemonade. Rodney and Jocelyn are so easy to get along with and are always willing to share of themselves deeply.  It is a friendship that I cherish and am happy to watch grow over the years. We couldn’t help ourselves at times from talking about future plans for babies.  We questioned our preparedness, laughed about our notions of childbirth, and enjoyed our naivete and worries.  When did we ever become “adults”?

Image

Image

Image

Summer Spinach & Berry Salad

Trying to add greens to one’s diet can be a difficult task.  Even though doing so brings so many beneficial nutrients to one’s body, it can still be hard to choose to eat those greens and not that bowl of macaroni and cheese.  Finally though, I have created a super easy and delicious salad that has me actually craving my fruits and veggies.  This salad has become a constant dinner item as the summer heat continues to discourage too much hot baking and sautéing in the kitchen

Ingredients:

1/2 cup blueberries

1/2 cup chopped strawberries

bunch of baby spinach

some slices of red onion

some slices of avocado

handful of cherry tomatoes

(anything else you like in your salad…perhaps some goat cheese?)

Mix all of the ingredients above in a large bowl or serving plate. Add a dressing that compliments the sweetness of the berries but does not create an overly saccharine experience for one’s palette. I have been drizzling a little of Annie’s Lite Poppy Seed Dressing over the top.  Then sit back and enjoy a delicious, healthy meal that is satisfying with its many complex flavors.

The reward of throwing this together a few times each week has been watching David enjoy eating salad.  While David is not afraid of his veggies,yet he has never been a fan of salads and has often called them “condiment vegetables.”  Having a salad as the entire meal was never an option in our house.  Often I felt as though perhaps it was his fault that we did not eat as healthy as we should.  Clearly, if he did not eat salad then we had to make our poorer eating decisions of macaroni and cheese, steak and potatoes, and kielbasa. But, it is quite clear that my husband was not the accurate culprit.  Instead, we were not being creative and playful enough in the kitchen. Just because he did not like Romaine lettuce did not mean that all salads were off limits. Going into the grocery store, we began our experiment: one night of bibb lettuce, another of spring greens, another of kale, another of red leaf, and finally a night of spinach. As we played with our salads and tossed in a wild array of toppings, we found that we were having a whole lot of fun eating salad. Who said you cannot play with your food?

Image

Vegan Banana Bread

Image

What does one do with three over-ripened bananas? That was my dilemma the other evening. As I pulled the speckled peel down, I contemplated eating the three of them for dinner.  But, bananas for dinner didn’t seem to quite hit the spot.  I searched my refrigerator for an assortment of ingredients and chose to bake vegan banana bread (as I was short on eggs). Even though the Olympics were on and I felt like being a bit of a couch potato, I decided that my evening would be better served by being slightly active in the kitchen. I set to my task.

2 cups flour

3/4 cups white sugar

1/2 cup light brown sugar

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

3/4 teaspoon salt

3/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 cup of soy milk

1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar

3 mashed bananas

1/4 cup olive oil

2 tablespoons maple syrup

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

From the moment I mashed the bananas in a small bowl, I knew from the delicious aroma that this was the right choice. In this mixing bowl of bananas, I added the wet ingredients of olive oil, maple syrup, and vanilla extract.  I whisked these together adding the cinnamon and set aside for a moment.  In larger bowl, I mixed the milk, apple cider vinegar, flour, baking soda, salt, and sugars with a hand mixer until smooth. I then added my small banana mixture into the larger bowl and again used the hand mixer to blend all of the ingredients in well. When it was all smooth and fragrant, I poured the banana bread into a loaf pan that was slightly oiled and popped it into the oven at 350 for about an hour.  My banana bread needed a little more time after checking it at the hour mark and an extra ten minutes finished it off perfectly. While I should have let it to sit for more than 5 minutes to cool, I cut right into my loaf and fished out the first slice for dessert.  Another slice accompanied by morning breakfast latte today. It was so good to have a yummy treat that has me gearing up for Fall.