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We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming to bring you this important news

6 Mar
I think our students have reached their breaking points.

I think our students have reached their breaking points.

I had planned a different post for today, but when I looked at my blog’s editorial calendar, I decided to switch that post for another day, and share with you some of the stories I have in this week’s newspaper. I’m very proud of my work this week, and I think the three stories tie in so well together, each telling a different piece of the same story, and I also think our story here is not so different from many of my blog readers’ stories all over.

As an education reporter, and as a former educator who lives with three current students and one current educational administrator, I get probably more of my dose of education news and perspective than many. I see educational trends and their impact from all sides. I’m in and out of classrooms from preschool through high school all week long and I sit in on meetings of all kinds both as a parent and as a reporter.

I truly love my job and I love getting to see these many sides to one story as well as to help decipher the education news and share it out to others.

Often however, I notice that many of the people making the decisions about education aren’t teachers, sometimes have never actually even taught in a classroom or run a school and oftentimes have never had children of their own.

I’ve attended forums and heard the guest speakers who have equated knowing what students are going through as students, because they have extended family who have kids, that they know what it’s like in the trenches of the classroom because they have friends who teach.

It’s always struck me as odd, and what they say they’re seeing is completely different from what I know that I’m seeing, hearing and living.

I decided recently that although our kids are the ones who are bearing the brunt of all these educational trends and decisions, it’s rare that we get to hear from them, and oftentimes when I listen to my own kids speaking of their frustrations and experiences, I wonder, “Is it just them? Is it just us?”

It’s not.

I spent the day on February 21 listening to kids talk about school for five hours. It was one of my most favorite interview days ever. I loved meeting the kids I didn’t know previously and I loved hearing their perspectives. I was glad to be able to give them a voice and in turn give a lot of the teachers and administrators a voice as well, because much of what the the teachers and administrators have been saying about the current trends in education are well reflected in the students’ opinions and experiences.

Now clearly, 11 kids does not make a scientific study about education, and I don’t pretend that it does, but it’s enough of a peek into the lives of our students to know that there is much work to be done in the world of education, and I don’t think much more of it can be done by the students.

This week our newspaper published my story, The Voices Behind the Numbers, and the response to it has been outstanding, and a relief to many adults who have wondered the same as we did: Is it just us?

Again, it is not.

Coincidentally, after I’d written and submitted that story, I met with the head of our district’s data team. She’s been in charge of collecting, analyzing and reporting out all kinds of data for quite some time, but recently the big focus has been on chronic absenteeism and trying to determine what types of factors contribute to kids being out so much. A task force was assembled. I am on it representing the faith organizations in our city, but clearly I’m a parent and of course, a reporter, too, so I can give many perspectives in my role. Given the half year’s data explored thus far, the attendance task force has decided that student anxiety needs to be explored in depth, as an important contributing factor in chronic absenteeism, and our state’s department of health is on board to explore this important issue too.

I couldn’t agree more.

You can read that article here, and I do think it ties in well with our students’ perspectives from my own article. I also think that overall in our country there has been an increased concern with mental health, social and emotional wellness, and I think we need to consider that when we think about our students and the impact of the decisions being made when they trickle down to the classrooms.

And finally, I love good news in education, and I love a strong thematic unit that incorporates and encompasses good teaching and still hits all the standards. So often I am disappointed when I ask about some of my favorite classroom units and projects from past years, looking to cover them again in the new year, only to find out that they’ve been cut out of the teaching programs due to lack of time.

This article tells the story of a fabulous program for students that is taught in just one of our city’s 17 elementary schools’ fifth-grade classrooms. The classroom teacher has hung onto it for a decade, firmly believing that it’s an important foundation for his students’ learning, and I couldn’t agree more. I can guarantee you that the standards have been met by the end of this comprehensive math and writing unit, and I know that Mr. Gemma’s students will remember this learning forever and apply it to their real lives after they leave his classroom. I commend him for his continued efforts and congratulate him on this year’s latest success.

 

 

 

 

What’s for Dinner Wednesday: Creamy Mushroom Orzo

4 Mar
I loved the texture and flavor of this recipe!

I loved the texture and flavor of this recipe!

ORIGINALLY POSTED JANUARY 15, 2014: Recently my friend Melissa shared a recipe that came through Facebook. Although Facebook is a great place to find and share recipes, you can’t always be sure where the recipe truly originated, so it’s hard to credit someone. It seems as this recipe for Creamy Mushroom Orzo may have originated on the page of Sharon Fox, who lists herself as author, food editor, radio personality and personal chef. However, even she says that the recipes found on her page are not from her own cookbooks, but are recipes she’s tried and loved. But, we do the best we can. I always like to give credit where credit is due, if I can.

No matter what, I’m so glad that someone, somewhere, originally made and share this recipe! I really loved it. I used it as a side dish for a kind of “boring” meal that we were having and to me, it made my meal so much more exciting.

The kids did not love it quite as much and I think it’s because it calls for white wine and it really holds the flavor.

I think that’s why I loved it so much!!

The recipe was fast, easy to make, and delicious; all my top qualifiers for a recipe.

I’m sharing it here, give it a try if you’re looking for something to jazz up one of your own meals!

This was an easy-to-make recipe, fast and delicious!

This was an easy-to-make recipe, fast and delicious!

CREAMY MUSHROOM ORZO

INGREDIENTS

1 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 chopped onion

3 cloves chopped garlic

2/3 cups orzo

1 cup sliced fresh mushrooms

1/2 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

1 tablespoon fresh sage

1 tablespoons butter

1 cup low-sodium chicken broth (or water)

3/4 cup white wine

1/4 cup freshly shredded Parmesan cheese

DIRECTIONS
1.In medium sized skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add chopped onion and garlic.

2.Stir, cooking until onions are golden and soft.

3.Add orzo, mushrooms, Worcestershire sauce, sage, and butter. Cook, stirring about 5-6 minutes until mushrooms are tender.

4.Pour both chicken broth and wine into orzo mixture. Bring broth to a boil. Stirring often cook 10-15 minutes or until orzo is soft and liquid is absorbed.

5.Stir in Parmesan cheese before serving.

Monday Musings: We were on a break

2 Mar
I thought I'd miss you, but I don't. Not even a little bit.

I thought I’d miss you, but I don’t.  Not even a little bit.

It was supposed to be a temporary break-up.

We were just on a break, really.

Short term, while we took some time to think about what it was we really wanted.

But sadly, and I can’t believe I’m even saying this, I don’t even miss you. Not even a little bit.

It’s me, not you, probably.

You can call me crazy, if it makes you feel better.

But I don’t miss the inconsistencies- the excuses as to why things weren’t working out: too full, too empty, not enough soap, too much soap. The dishes were too dirty going in, needed to be cleaned coming out. There were too many excuses to even list them all now.

It was an exhausting relationship, confusing at times: whose turn was it to fill, to empty, who was emptying dirty dishes into clean cabinets, and on and on and on.

Now, all the dishes are clean, all the time. There’s never a pile in the sink waiting to go into an already full dishwasher. There’s never dread at the end of the day as to whose turn it is to do whatever always needed to be done. I don’t miss the extra steps: the filling and emptying after the rinsing and washing. I don’t miss the extra time wasted.

So as much as our break was supposed to be temporary, and although I need a little more time to think on it, I think we may just be done.

Over. Finished.

We’ll see how it goes, but don’t expect me to come back begging.

At least…..not until we’ve hosted a holiday and washed all our dishes by hand.

Maybe, just maybe, we can talk then.

 

 

The Big 5-0-0

25 Feb
Thanks for stopping by! See you again very soon.

Thanks for stopping by! See you again very soon.

Five hundred.

500.

Today is my 500th blog post.

That means that 500 times I have sat at my computer and shared a part of me with you, my readers.

It’s hard to wrap my head around that.

I’m proud of my blog, but more than that, I am thankful. I’m thankful to all of you who have stopped, read, commented, and even thanked me in person in a parking lot or store, or wherever we happen to bump into each other, for some tidbit or other they found.

I remember a day when someone first said to me, “You should start a blog,” and I remember thinking “There are SO MANY bloggers out there. What could I possibly share that hasn’t been shared already?”

But, I started a crafter’s blog, then a newspaper blog, and a recipe blog. Before I knew it, I was a blogger. So I revamped them all into one blog: The Whole Bag of Chips in September 2011, and my “mom blog” was born; a place where I could write about all those things and more. I could write about whatever I wanted, and I did. I shared recipes, parenting tips and woes, success stories and failures. I wrote stories that ended up being read on stage. I shared photos that ended up being shared thousands of times. I shared my experiences in life and people shared theirs with me.

I love my blog for how it helps others, but I love it more for helping me. I love that it gives me a place where I can sit and write, and I love that it gives me a place to store my stories and recipes for my children to always have for themselves and their children going forward.

I love that there’s a little morsel for everyone: a little piece of lots of people in my blog, whether they’re people I’ve worked with, people from stories I’ve covered, family members I love, people I’ve met in life. There’s recipes, articles, crafts, product reviews, happy stories and sad stories. This blog has it all and I love what it’s become over the past four years.

Thank you all for visiting and I’ll see you again very soon, for the 501st blog post and beyond.

Fun Friday: Blizzard Juno

30 Jan
The calm before the storm.

The calm before the storm.

The last time I wrote, it was Monday, and now it’s Friday, just like that.

So we had a blizzard!

Yep, just as the forecasters had predicted for days prior, we got approximately two feet of snow, give or take an inch or twelve, depending on the drifts.

I spent most of Monday running from store to store to gas station getting the rest of what we needed for food, batteries, and gas for the car. By the time I sat down to start my actual work for the day it was 2pm and by the time I finished it, it was midnight, but I’d beat the storm both in my work and in my preparations at home. I was ready.

Thankfully, we didn’t ever lose power. The temps were frigid and the winds were howling, and we thought for sure it was going to go at any moment, but it did not. That made the week of days out of school and work much more enjoyable. It was like a surprise vacation.

At times we could barely see out the window, especially at the height of the storm.

At times we could barely see out the window, especially at the height of the storm.

We spent the first part of Tuesday literally just hanging out. People slept late, some later than others, and we watched the snow falling furiously and listened to the wind. The term “white-out conditions” was fitting for most of the day and night. We’d gone to bed with about 5″ of snow Monday night and woken up to find 12″ in the morning. By the next day we had at least 18 inches, maybe more. The plows would come by, and seemingly minutes later, you could barely see the path they’d made. We sat and watched TV until about 1pm and then we shut it off for most of the rest of the day.

Even though we didn’t lose power, we made use of the meals we’d planned, and we had several days to hang out, do things we never get to do (including put laundry away), and relax. The kids still had things from Christmas they hadn’t gotten to play with or use yet, things that are more involved and take time, so those things came out early on and I tried my best to make sure we made use of at least one of each child’s “things” during the week, so that no one felt left out. Because we had power, we baked; making special snacks using some fun kits the

The day after the storm dawned so bright and beautiful, a perfect, sunshiny day.

The day after the storm dawned so bright and beautiful, a perfect, sunshiny day.

kids had gotten for Christmas–individual pie makers, giant sugar cookie makers, and the like, all things I’ll focus on for upcoming blog posts throughout the next month or so. We had a family movie night, right in the middle of the week, all piled into the living room, watching an older movie that most of us had never seen.

We had three days out of school and on the second day out, they all got to go outside and play, and as cold as it was, they were in snow-day heaven, as was I. It was so great to see them free and relaxed, enjoying outdoor play time in the middle of the day, in the middle of a week. So much time is spent working on work at school and then working on even more work after school, and doing extra-curricular activities, that many a day go by when outdoor play time just isn’t in the cards. Although everyone had homework this week, some more than others, they still had time to play inside, to play outside, to catch up on sleep, to relax, to cook, to create and to hang out.

For a blizzard, it was a great week.

And guess what?
It’s going to snow on Sunday and Monday. A big Nor’Easter. Again.

I’m not returning my extra batteries and hand-warmers yet!

No matter how old you are, you can always find something fun to do in the snow.

No matter how old you are, you can always find something fun to do in the snow.

Hooray for snow days!

Hooray for snow days!

What’s for Dinner Wednesday: Two weeks of meals and the importance of eating together

14 Jan
Ready for another two weeks of dinners?

Ready for another two weeks of dinners?

Now that we’re back into our regular routines, we’re back to meal planning for the weeks ahead.

Over the holiday and vacation weeks we were eating out of the house so often, either at other people’s houses or at restaurants, that we had absolutely no meal plan at all, and practically nothing to even make a meal with. Once we got back into the routine, we had to sit down and start our preparations again.

One thing I had done over the vacation weeks however, was to keep a running list of the things the kids were asking for during the two weeks. When someone said, “Can we have Shepherd’s Pie for dinner tonight?” during those two weeks, for example, even though I’d have to say no because we were scheduled to eat wherever for whatever event, I’d go and write it down. Making our meal plan is tough because we have to come up with two full weeks of meals. Having a list of favorite requests made it that much easier the next week when we sat down. And, it was kind of nice that first week back to school (which felt as long as five weeks in a row, rather than just one), to announce at dinnertime whose special request produced that night’s dinner.

It’s also been nice to see the kids checking out the menu we post in the kitchen each week, looking forward to the dinner of choice for that night or a future night, especially when it’s something they requested. It makes me feel good to know that they like the routine of knowing what’s for dinner, and that even better, they look forward to certain nights of the week, just because it’s their favorite meal of the week. Our menus are nothing fancy, our meals are straightforward and our lists are posted on whatever piece of paper we have handy, and we cross off as we go, but it’s a routine we’ve established and it makes us all feel good….less stress, somewhat excited for dinner, and looking forward to eating together each night. That’s all good, and I’m glad we’re continuing to stay true to this routine of ours. I hope that in doing so, we ‘re creating good, healthy eating habits and family foundations for our family as we go so that once our kids are on their own, raising their own families,they’ve got a great foundation so that they can eat well and eat together.

I recently saw an article in the Washington Post about the importance of eating together as a family, and its many benefits. It definitely confirmed for us all that we already knew and believed about eating together as a family. If you’d like to read it, click here. We work incredibly hard to keep our schedules and meals consistent so that we can eat together as often as humanly possible, and although we’ve always seen the benefits, which far outweigh the effort it takes to pull it off, it’s nice to have our efforts validated every once in a while too! The article is well worth the read.

In the meantime, here’s two weeks of meals for you to get you started. I’ve even linked to a few of the recipes for you so that you don’t have to search the blog for them:

Sunday: Roasted Chicken Dinner

Monday: Shepherd’s Pie

Tuesday: Pulled pork sandwiches (crock pot meal)

Wednesday: Spaghetti tacos with meat sauce (could be eaten without taco shells or with)

Thursday: Paninis (we used the bbq pork leftovers in the paninis, SO delicious)

Friday: Homemade pizzas (we made three different kinds but here’s just one kind we’ve made before)

Saturday: leftovers

Sunday: Chili

Monday: Ravioli (some of us had butternut squash ravioli given to us by a friend, others of us had cheese ravioli)

Tuesday: Garlic chicken and wine

Wednesday: Chicken Pot Pie

Thursday: Fish Tacos

Friday: Breakfast for dinner

Saturday: Hamburgers and hot dogs

Sunday: Lasagna

 

 

Fun Friday: Apple Pie Bites from Megan’s Frugalista Diaries

2 Jan
The house smelled so good when the kids arrived home from school on this particular afternoon!

The house smelled so good when the kids arrived home from school on this particular afternoon!

Happy New Year!

After taking some time off from my blogging this past week, I’m sliding back into my regular routine. As I often do, next week I’ll begin blogging some great toy and gift reviews from the holidays. I’ll continue this during the month of January in order to give you some gift-giving ideas for the rest of the year, but before I do, I thought I’d put out a new Fun Friday recipe for you.

Today is Friday and it’s still school vacation, so there’s lots of time to relax and do some fun things together before heading back to the school routine. I love school vacation weeks exactly for this reason. We get to do some fun things that we normally don’t have time for during the craziness of the school year. This is a perfect recipe to try out today. It’s a great recipe for little hands to help with (or for bigger hands to complete on their own) and it’s warm and delicious.

The recipe comes from Megan Zietz over at The Frugalista Diaries blog, but I actually saw it on another blog where she was guest blogging for the day. The ingredients and directions are simple and quick, making it a perfect after school snack, dessert or school vacation day treat.

Megan made a note (see below) that she used Immaculate Baking Company’s crescent rolls. I did not have those on hand but I did use a lowfat version of another company’s crescent rolls. I also skipped the vanilla ice cream since I was using this as an after school snack, but if I were making them for a more involved dessert, I’d definitely put ice cream out.

These all got thumbs up. There were eight crescents and five people here, so next time I’d definitely do two packs of crescents to double the recipe. I think you could also throw in some dried cranberries or some raisins to this recipe, and I bet it’d be great.

I hope you’ll visit Megan’s blog. She’s got lots of great posts on there and she covers more than food, so pay her a visit!

Here’s Megan’s recipe:

Apple Pie Bites – Serves 8
1 (Tart) Apple Sliced
3 Heaping Tbsp. Brown Sugar
2 Tbsp. Cinnamon ( I used a homemade Cinni-Sugar Mix)
1 Tbsp. Melted Butter
1 Pkg. Of Immaculate Baking Co. Crescent Rolls
*(I use immaculate baking co. when I’m not doing homemade – no hydrogenated oils and non gmo –  it’s the only thing I feel safe about giving my kids when it’s not from scratch)
Preheat Oven to 350˚
1. Roll out the dough on a greased cookie sheet, brush with butter and sprinkle Brown Sugar and Cinnamon in individual pieces of dough.
2. Roll up an apple slice in the dough forming a crescent, brush with melted butter and top with cinnamon.  Repeat for others.
3. Bake for 12-15 Mins at 350˚.

4. Remove from Oven, filling will be hot! Serve alone or with a dollop of Vanilla Ice Cream.

 

 

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