Herbal Preparations

Happy holidays to all, and I hope this post finds you well and in good health! Today I’m writing about herbs and an exciting new path in herbalism that I started this month.

Since we started gardening, I’ve been more and more curious about herbs and their properties for healing and general health. It started with aromatherapy – my bathroom cabinet has probably close to 25 bottles of essential oils for anything from a Christmas seasonal blend that doubles as a defense for the immune system to a blend for bug spray and plenty of my usual favorite, lavender. I keep a diffuser at home and one at school, and my kids always comment on how inviting our classroom smells with lavender and lemon blends.

(From what I read, you have to be careful with aromatherapy and pets – our endocrine system can process the oils while our fur babies can’t, so if you use aromatherapy in your home, at least provide adequate ventilation and allow your pets to leave the space as needed – but check with your veterinarian for details, of course.)

Seasonal Defensive Blend of Essential Oils

add to a diffuser or a pot of steaming water to fill your home with seasonal warmth!
  • 5 drops rosemary essential oil
  • 5 drops cinnamon bark essential oil
  • 5 drops orange essential oil
  • 2 drops clove oil

Aromatherapy is just that, though – for your smell-izer, not to be taken internally. As we started learning more about the importance of food and the vitamins, antioxidants, and more that the right foods provide, the same suggestions kept popping up alongside the vegetable and fruit recommendations: yarrow helps with circulatory health, echinacea is immune-boosting, dandelion root is good for your liver. I had no idea what to really do with the recommendations, and they usually came as vague as I presented them here. Am I supposed to just gnaw on a dandelion? (Ew.)

Dried chamomile flowers.

I could find dandelion tea and echinacea tinctures at our co-op, so I was at least able to start utilizing the recommendations, but it still seemed like such a grey area – ideas obscured by a lack of knowledge and the cloudiness of contradiction that comes from scanning through Pinterest posts.

I started experimenting – last spring I tried my hand at a nettle tincture to help with my miserable seasonal allergies, and I was pleasantly surprised at how easy and how effective it seemed to be! I’m blessed to have quite the selection of bulk herbs at our local co-op, so I purchased some dried stinging nettle (it only stings when its fresh) and infused it with vodka for about a month, shaking occasionally. Keep in mind, our household bartending experience means that we’re comfortable setting up infusions on a regular basis, but what I didn’t realize is that alcohol can be specifically used to unlock properties in herbs that aren’t otherwise available through water (or aren’t as potent). After straining off the nettle menstruum (the liquid), 2-3 droppers a day helped greatly abate my miserable sinuses and watery eyes during ragweed season.

This fall, I saw a post from Herbal Academy about how to make homemade fire cider and I was HOOKED. I had seen too many sketchy-looking recipes or non-specific ingredient lists on Pinterest so I jumped right in. “At its most basic, it’s a zesty infused vinegar, packed with powerful immune-boosting, anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, anti-viral, and circulatory herbs” – it is a treasure chest of defense, and as an elementary teacher tired of getting the gastrointestinal joy every winter, this sounded like a win.

Homemade fire cider – red onions, whole lemons, a bazillion pieces of ginger, turmeric, ginger, thyme, pepper, cinnamon sticks, elderberries, and apple cider vinegar. It warms all the way down!

After reading and researching more about the Herbal Academy, I signed up to take their intermediate herbal course to learn more about herbalism. I’m two units in and loving all the information so far – the recipes, monographs about herbs, history, and more. So today, I experimented on two recipes – a calendula flower oil (to later be a salve for sore muscles, bruises, and aches & pains) and a immune support tincture made from elderberries, echinacea root, ginger, and yarrow (yarrow grown from my own garden this year!).

Calendula oil and an immune tincture in the works!

If you have ever been curious about herbs, I highly recommend checking out herbalism or the Herbal Academy website. Here’s to a healthful winter – happy holidays to you!

Makin’ the Bacon

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Nope, I’m not talking about makin’ money, I’m talking pork! Last week, my husband and I visited Happy Basset Brewing Company in Topeka, which was showcasing a new favorite farm of ours – Stirring Soils Farm! My husband is the associate general manager at one of our local restaurants, J. Wilson’s, known for “inappropriately good” New American cuisine that revolves around local, sustainable, and healthful products. At the restaurant, J. Wilson’s, Evan and Chef Ty have brought on this marvelous farm that boasts biodynamic pork. Not only do they raise happy pigs – their pigs are allowed to be pigs out at pasture, without antibiotics or deformations of their bodies – but their farm is centered on supporting the pigs and soil as a cohesive unit. The happier the soil, the better the pasture grasses and greens grow, the higher number of nutrients the grass (pig food) contain, the healthier the pigs become, the tastier their meat is, the healthier you are when you eat them. The pigs are even given vegetable scraps and spent grains from the brewing company – talk about connections!

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The resulting pork products are the best we have ever tasted – and I didn’t think I could’ve felt so supportive of being a carnivore again. We have tended to eat vegetarian at our house since we started looking into the living and slaughter conditions of animals that become our food products – it was horrifying. (Ever wanted to try being vegan or vegetarian? Nothing converts you faster than watching a food documentary on Netflix after a glass of red wine – cue the onslaught of tears and frantic check-writing to PETA.)

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But when you eat pork that comes from a sustainable, loving, healthful environment, there is nothing to feel guilty about – there is only gratefulness. We came home with a bag full of ground pork, chorizo, breakfast sausage links, and bacon ends – a plethora of delicious goodies.

My favorite meal so far? Breakfast! Let me paint you a picture: Stirring Soil zesty breakfast sausage links, farm-fresh eggs served scrambled with Alma, KS cheddar, homemade blackberry jam, piping-hot fair trade coffee, and homemade sourdough biscuits (oh my goodness, so fun and easy with my sourdough starter!). Perfection. 

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We’re thrilled to support farmers who value healthy soil and healthy, happy animals, both at home and J.Wilson’s, Evan’s home away from home. Cheers to Chris and Stirring Soil Farms!

Eco-Friendly Classroom Ideas

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We’ve done so much in our home to be eco-friendly – we installed a bidet, use washcloths in our kitchen rather than paper towels, cut down on our mini fridges (sorry, hubby, the one in the basement for band practice had to go!), bought more natural products and invested in ones that have less packaging, bought more items in bulk, use handkerchiefs more than tissues (not as gross as you would think) – the list goes on. But I suddenly realized that my paper product – and plastic product – consumption at school was nothing like what I was attempting to do at home. My room was filled with plastic storage, hundreds of copies were made – and thrown away – each week, I had filing cabinets stuffed with papers I don’t use… the guilt set in. Every other part of my life was filled with trying to do the sustainable, green, and healthy thing, yet why couldn’t I do it at work?

A lot of it comes down to standards – it’s standard and okay to make copies every day, to use color ink on your bulletin boards, to have filing cabinets bursting with lesson plans, ideas, projects, student files, and more. But I want to challenge that standard.

Just because it’s always been done that way doesn’t make it right, or what YOU have to do.

This being said, we all have to approach our journey towards earth-happy practices in our own time and at our own pace and scope. If you don’t do these things in your room, that doesn’t make you a bad or evil person. If the progress you make today is to just be more aware of it when you walk into your classroom on Monday, then that’s progress that shouldn’t be ignored or belittled. If you are inspired to dump your filing cabinets in the recycling bins this summer and switch to Google Forms for tests and lesson plans, then all the power to you!

Here are some of my goals and accomplishments, so far, at achieving a more earth-thoughtful classroom:

1. Make fewer copies.

I have 420-some students, and that makes for a LOT of copies. And if we do a semi-school wide activity, like program evaluations or end of the year summaries, that means so much paper and ink consumption. And let’s be honest, where do those copies end up after they get used? While I’d love to think these worksheets get cherished, we all know they end up trashed at home.

img_17111.jpgTherefore, a lot of this comes down to a more critical examination of my lessons – do I need to have ten worksheets where my 3rd graders practiced writing sixteenth notes, or do I just need them to practice writing sixteenth notes? As much as I can, I’m going to make one set of 25 copies and place them in plastic sleeves for use with dry erase markers. The students still do the worksheet practice, but I don’t have 75 copies of these being made for 3 classes every year. Now, I have a clean, class set that gets filed every year.

I recently purchased these sheet protectors from Amazon – we used them for a write-the-room activity before break where my 2nd-5th graders had to find flashcards that a little leprechaun friend hid around the room. Each grade level practiced their own rhythm sets – but for my 300 students using this activity, I only had 25 copies made.

 

2. Reuse as much as possible.

When I make manipulatives, I try to make them sturdy and long-lasting to get as much out of them as possible. I believe firmly in the power of the laminator and the use of cardstock – the heavier paper and lamination helps turn my projects into long-lasting and strong work. Beat charts and card games that I printed and laminated my first month of teaching are still going strong three years in. Write-the-room cards, scavenger hunt pages, exit tickets, you name it – make one set, laminate, and reuse!

3. Plan smarter and slimmer.

There are some times in your career when scripting lessons is important – first year of teaching, observations, new lessons. But do you need to write your script out for every lesson every day? If you’re like me, you go through 7 lessons a day, 1-2 times a week. If I printed each lesson on it’s own piece of paper, that’s close to 420 pages per year. Let’s round that to 500, allowing for extra paper for your program prep. With 500 sheets of paper in a ream, that 6% of a tree. Multiply that over 5 years, and you’ve used 30% of a tree. Over a 25-year career? One and a half trees of paper. No, thank you!

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I threw together a simpler lesson plan for myself with smaller boxes to abbreviate my lessons and had them printed so that 4 grade levels would be on one sheet – 2 on the front, 2 on the back. What used to take 7 pages of print now takes 1.5 – cutting my paper consumption down by nearly 80%. Teachers Pay Teachers has piles of lesson plan templates – go explore!

Alternatively, you could go all digital – I investigated the idea of an online lesson planning software or even just using Google Docs to type my lessons and transfer them to my iPad’s Google Drive. Explore, and see what’s best for you – I’m still a tactile person that wants to write my lessons by hand, so the smaller lesson plan is working best for me right now.

4. Go digital as often as possible.

In addition to the idea of digital lessons, what about switching your tests and quizzes to a digital version? If you’re not feeling super tech-savvy with using Google Forms to take musical tests with adding pictures of melodic or rhythmic patterns, you can at least start with a performance evaluation that is digital. I made this for my 1st graders, and I was shocked at how easy it was for them to sit down at one of my iPads and take it while we watched our video performance after the program. I set up my 5 classroom iPads at my desk and had five students at a time come over and take the test – they were done within 1-2 minutes and only had to type in their name. This eliminated 450-some performance evaluation copies each year – and each year I read through them and then trash them, so why continue to throw away resources when I can have all the responses digitized, interpreted, and stored on Google?

Visit Google forms to build and experiment, or click here to visit my 1st grade performance assessment.

5. Re-examine student portfolios.

When I first started teaching I wanted to keep track of everything my students did on paper in their very own folders. I had visions of beautiful, crips folders containing their work throughout the year that would awe and wow parents when it was sent home…ha. This dream instead resulted in bulging and overflowing crates of folders that we would forget to keep updated. I didn’t use worksheets as often as I thought I would, so our portfolios weren’t very impressive. So why do I still have them? There’s nothing wrong with sending any of their work immediately home or hanging it in the hallway to show off to their classmates, and it will make the few paper copies they will use that much more special knowing they will be featured.

6. Switch to all natural cleaners and get rid of hand sanitizer.

Not only does the antibacterial sanitizer not truly kill all the germs (why do doctors wash their hands rather than just use sanitizer spray?), they are very bad for the beneficial bacteria in your body. Your body needs certain kinds of bacteria to fight off the bad bacteria (illness, autoimmune diseases, cancer), and antibacterial products don’t discriminate. Encourage your students to wash their hands rather than just rub down with sanitizer.

7. PURGE the unnecessary.

I’ve done so much work to clean and purge every single year I’ve been teaching. Early on, I was making the mistake of printing everything I thought looked fun or interesting…only to have it stack up in my file cabinets. I spent some time during conferences going through and sorting my cabinets, pulling them apart and recycling everything I hadn’t touched in at least two years. While the damage has already been done by having printed the copies, I can start to eliminate the practice to print automatically and second-guess where and how I’m going to store the random worksheet or newest poster I found.

By taking time to purge your classroom of unnecessary supplies, broken instruments, old and outdated curriculum, resources that are falling apart, missing game pieces, broken CDs, and more, you can also start to take away the need to buy more plastic storage containers or sorting bins. Use only what you need – it declutters your classroom and your mind, keeps your dollars in your pocket, and reduces the amount of petroleum products that are living and breathing in your room. There’s nothing that says your desk can’t still be untidy time to time, but you’d be surprised at how calm you’ll feel knowing what’s truly inside your deepest cabinets and hiding under your shelves and knowing that those items are there for a reason and that they have a purpose.

Natural Bug Repellants

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This week was my spring break, and we managed to find a day off together where we spent all day outside. We grilled pizza for lunch and cooked a beef stew all afternoon – and when we pulled it off the fire, it was the most delicious and savory stew we have ever tasted. Better yet, we had made it from scratch in our own kitchen, with grass-fed and humanely-raised beef, and with vegetables we already had in our pantry and in our fridge. What an amazing day!

This spring is shaping up to be a beautiful time of year – the flowers are blooming, trees budding, birds calling, nature is waking up. Oh, and don’t forget the bugs – they’re waking up, too! (Cue exasperated sigh…)

Now, in every ecosystem and environment, everyone has a vital role. From the bacteria in the soil to the leaves decaying to the bee pollinating clover to the rabbit in the vegetable garden all the way up to the humans and big predators, we all have our own role and we must be allowed to play it. What’s unfortunate is that this line of reasoning includes the bugs as being important and critical to the cycle. (Cue another exasperated sigh.)

Now, I respect the role of nature and the different roles that are played by every step of the ladder, but that doesn’t mean I want them to carry out that job on my skin or on my patio. So how do we discourage the bugs from visiting without killing the bugs, or my gut flora?

I started investigating more natural ways to create repellants and kept turning to my collection of essential oils – my husband and mother-in-law have been showering me lots of delicious oils for Christmas and my collection is always growing. I like the natural effect that aromatherapy has on improving a variety of ailments, from mood to headaches to congestion and more. Their pungent qualities make them excellent for all things bug repellant, too!

So this week, I set out to develop two new items that will join us on the patio in the coming months: candles and bug spray.

Part 1: Candles

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I’ve heard that a lot of citronella candles are only so effective because they don’t contain true citronella oil – they just contain a chemical that smells like citronella and not the real stuff. So I set out to make citronella candles with the actual citronella essential oil!

First, I gathered my materials…

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  • soy wax (paraffin wax is made from either coal, petroleum, or oil by-products, so I stayed away from that!)
  • candle wicks
  • jars for candles (Mason jars are thicker and therefore less likely to break with heat)
  • essential oils – in addition to citronella, I bought lemongrass and used the grapefruit I already had in my collection
    • Citronella is excellent at repelling most flying pests, but grapefruit is an added tick protector and lemongrass is also helpful for mosquitoes and flies

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And the items needed for assembly…

  • Double boiler or DIY double boiler (glass or steel bowl in a saucepan with boiling water)
  • Spatula to stir melting wax (avoid plastic because of high heat)
  • Hot glue gun to glue wicks to bottom of jar
  • Pencil or chopstick to prop up wick while cooling

All in all, this candle-making was quick, easy, and surprisingly not messy – all my materials and bowls cleaned up quickly because I washed them while everything was still in liquid form – no scrubbing and scratching away hardened wax!

My bowl was small, so I made enough for one candle and then repeated the process for a second.

Using a make-shift double boiler, (steel bowl over a pot filled with boiling water), I melted down approximately 4 cups of wax (equals approximately 1 to 1 1/4 cup of melted wax) and added about 3-4 drops of essential oils for each cup of wax.

While the wax was melting, I used my hot glue gun to glue the wicks to the bottom of my jars. I sat the jars next to the pot on the stove so they would stay a little warmer – you don’t want to risk them cracking when introducing hot wax to cool glass.

When the wax was all the way cooled, I poured it carefully into my first jar, using a piece of wax paper to catch any spills (that way, I could throw any wax spills away rather than scrub my counter to within an inch of its life.)

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Then, I repeated the process for jar number 2. For each, I propped up the wicks with a chopstick or pencil to keep them from leaning to the edge of the candle. It wasn’t perfectly straight, but they’ll burn fairly straight, so that’s all that matters!

Leave them to cool overnight, and you’ll wake up to scent-a-licious and beautiful candles the next morning! For all new candles, I’ve heard the recommendation that the first time you burn them you should let the wick burn long enough to melt the top layer of wax so that the wick can soak up a little and “remember” for the next burning.

 

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Part 2: Bug Spray

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If candles were easy, then homemade bug spray is the equivalent of eating Girl Scout cookies – easy, fun, and over way too quickly. This recipe was a mixture of the same essential oils from my candles but with the added witch hazel to act as a sterilizing agent (keeps bacteria from growing in the bottle).

In a dark spray bottle, mix the following:

  • 2 oz. distilled water
  • 1.5 oz witch hazel
  • 30 drops of citronella essential oil
  • 25 drops of grapefruit essential oil
  • 15 drops of lemongrass essential oil

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Keep in a dark and cool location, and break out in times of outdoor frolicking. Shake before use, as the oils and water will separate.

I’m looking forward to trying both of these products on our patio with our new patio set – I hope they will be as successful for you as I am sure they will be for me!

Three DIY, Natural Products that Save Money

This post contains affiliate links. 

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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?


I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for me to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.

6 Ways to Avoid Burning Out

bedtimeThis week was rough. I was tired, my students were emotional and upset, some of my lessons didn’t go the way I planned, I had a lot of physical prep to do for a music program (moving 12 xylophones, a stereo cart, a PA system, baskets of finger cymbals and mallets, and a guitar all from the portables to the main building by hand), and it was just that kind of week. Unfortunately, for teachers this can happen a lot, and not because we’re bad teachers, but because of the nature of our job – we take in our students and promise to work with them no matter where they are mentally that day. Ready to break all the pencils in the basket? Come on in. Didn’t eat dinner the night before or breakfast today? I might have a granola bar for you – let’s eat up and get started. Unable to process your anger and cool off because you’re in your 4th foster home? You can go out to recess to get a break even after you screamed at me for asking you to wait to use the bathroom. Exhausted because you didn’t sleep a wink after listening to your parents argue all night? I’ll let you close your eyes while we watch a music video but then it’s time to get up and sing.

I’m nearing the end of my third year teaching, and it has been both the longest three years and the shortest three years all at the same time. Before I started my teaching job, I heard from so many people that teaching is the greatest thing you can do – you’ll feel so happy and fulfilled and want for nothing as long as you have those smiling faces to greet you every day. I was alarmed, though, when it was October of my first year and I was exhausted and ready for a break – I was tired before I even got out of bed and had so much anxiety about doing well at school. When I started a new rotation of lessons I would have butterflies every morning – what if these lessons failed? What if the kids saw right through it and refused to do anything? What if I was a bad teacher? It was nothing like this perfect dream that others described – and my clientele was so challenging! I teach at lower income schools, one of which is a Title I school, and I had students who would cry and scream in class.

I thought it was all my fault.

I was so worried about what would walk through my door that day and not know what to do. Sure, I could call the office for help, but what had I done wrong that meant one of my students shoved everything off my desk, crawled under a table, and yelled curse words at the class? I was hopelessly unprepared for this level of student need.

I learned after some time that, of course, wasn’t being triggered by me – in most situations, the simple direction or activity had merely been the straw that broke the camel’s back. The students were unstable because of situations at home, instability in their own lives, emotional or intellectual gaps that kept them from functioning on the level of most of their classmates.

But how do you continue to come to work every day? Because let’s be realistic, your students aren’t the only thing you deal with – you have lesson plans, assessments & grading, lesson prep, program prep & paperwork, meetings and professional development, extension activities and remedial work, student support plans, parent communication, newsletters, extracurricular activities, behavior tracking…and that’s only the half of it. Teacher burnout is a real and terrible thing, and it’s something we have to fight every day when we open our eyes and decide to walk in through that door again and greet that kid that you secretly pray would be sick just a few more days out of the year to give you and his classmates some peace.

I don’t pretend to be a psychologist or to have all the answers, but the following things have preserved my sanity in times of need, and I seriously hope that these can help you survive your first few years – or, even remind seasoned teachers who are feeling the burn – and not become one of the statistics about teachers who burn out.

1. Bite off only what you can chew.

Don’t be afraid to say ‘no.’ As hard as it is, you have to say it, even to your administrator or colleagues. You do no one any favors by saying yes to everything and overworking yourself, or worse; forgetting or accidentally neglecting your duties that you signed up for. (Then, your reputation is damaged and people won’t want your help when you do have the time.) If you are open and honest with the person who asked you to help with the school carnival planning or the site council members who asked you to head an after school club, then they should totally understand why and support you. If they aren’t supportive and act annoyed, then you probably shouldn’t surround yourself with people like that and, therefore, you shouldn’t care how put off they are at the idea of taking care of yourself. Come up with your phrase ahead of time:

“Thanks for thinking of me! Let me think on it and I’ll let you know if I’m interested.”

“I really appreciate you thinking of me, but I think I’ll have to pass. Please ask me next time, though!”

“Thanks for asking – I think I’m going to have to decline, I’m trying to not overload myself this year. Please let me know if I can help in a small way!”

It’s important to thank the person for the offer – they didn’t have to come to you or take the time to ask, so be sure to validate their request and show that you are grateful that they thought you would be helpful.

2. Take mental health days.

You get so many extra days per year as per your contract – USE THEM WHEN YOU NEED THEM. Whether you are stockpiling for maternity/paternity leave or not, when you are just at the end of your rope and feel like you desperately need a break, TAKE A BREAK. I see so many colleagues say that they just have to be here or that maybe they can fake their way through the day, but are you really helping your kids if you have Reading Rainbow on for half the day and do barely anything for the rest? Sub plans are no fun, but if it means that you can sleep in and binge watch Netflix so you mind can unwind for a day, then DO IT! You have to make the call on which days you actually have to be there and which days you can hand off lessons to a sub, but I guarantee that you will be grateful for that occasional mental health day to reset. You WON’T be grateful when you’re sick from stress and crying over your pile of grading papers after school.

3. Listen to your body.

This is easier for some than others – for me, I eat pretty well so I can tell the difference between the days I put good things into my body versus days I didn’t and try to respond accordingly. What you need to do is take a few moments every day and stop – how does your body feel in this moment? What hurts? What feels heavy or slow? Why? We all have evenings when we deserve that extra glass of wine or a cheat meal at the fast food restaurant, but your body can start to take a hit if that becomes every night. When your body is busy trying to fix itself because of what you put into it, it can’t take the time it needs to keep you from catching the flu from that overly-friendly 1st grader who insisted on crawling in your lap. If your body is telling you something is wrong, then try to fix it – don’t keep saying, “I’ll eat better next week”, or “I’ll take a nap tomorrow” – fix things now, even if that means grabbing a banana from the teacher’s lounge rather than your sixth cup of coffee. Close your eyes for 20 minutes after school or while you’re waiting for the printer to finish printing your lessons at home. Make time for your body – no one else can do that for you.

4. Do something non-school related in your downtime.

Especially for music teachers – who spend so much time teaching ta & ta-di every day – you need to have a hobby that is adult and all your own. Sing in your church choir, write a blog about gardening, actually garden (yes, a flower box counts!), go bike riding, walk your dog around your local botanic gardens, volunteer at the Humane Society, knit…it goes on. As much time as you feel you won’t have when you’re learning how to write lessons and deal with parents, you must make time for yourself. You are not your job – your only successes and happiness should not exist solely at school. Your principal did not hire a robot to function and smile only at your desk – you are a human with likes and dislikes; now get out there and USE THEM!

5. Have someone – or something – you can rant to.

You are going to rant. There are going to be angry days. Do not turn to Facebook to rant –  this can damage your credibility with your colleagues or even any parents you happen to be friends with on Facebook (I don’t recommend this anyways) – or any parents or administrators your friends happen to be friends with. Don’t put that negativity out there that you’re forced to relive with every TimeHop post. Find someone that doesn’t mind you sharing the tenth story of Bobby rolling his eyes, and open up to them. This might come in the form of a TGIF group of teacher friends – or maybe it’s your cat (kind of wonderful, actually, because they can’t talk back, and they’ll generally snuggle up to you despite your mood). Or, start two diaries – one of happy experiences, one of negative. Document what happened and move on. Heck, even write down a terrible experience and burn it. We all know that fire fixes things…

Anyway, the point is to not carry around the negative experiences – get them off your chest in a productive and simple way, and not in a way that can land you in trouble.

6. Remember that you are still learning, too.

Are you dead? Then you’re still learning. It’s not always in the big, obvious ways that your students learn – but you’re still learning, whether if it’s that you should change the order of your musical concepts for 4th grade or ask John if needs to use the bathroom at the beginning of the period rather than dealing with his constant requests throughout class. You’re also learning new skills to keep your students’ attention, more efficient ways of responding to parent contact, how much prep you actually need for a particular lesson, which type of activities resonate with certain groups of students, and so on. That horrific lesson when all of your transitions between activities failed and you had to stop and re-teach expectations six times? Learn from itand learn to laugh at your own mistakes. There are times when I look at my kids, sigh, and smile, saying, “Well, this didn’t go as things planned. Let’s take a break and play a game and I’ll think of a new way to present this Friday.” It’s okay!

Even 20 year-plus veterans say that every year has its own set of challenges and difficulties and there will always be days or weeks that don’t go well. Like we tell our students to think positively and approach new concepts with the concept of growth mindset, you have to do the same for yourself. Rather than, “This lesson sucked, I must be a terrible teacher”, reflect on what really stuck out as something you need to work on. What aspect are you not really comfortable with yet? Speak with your mentor or trusted colleague, ask your principal for ideas, or even for him or her to come observe your teaching for ideas (their job is to help you be successful, and they’ll be happy that you’re reaching out for assistance when you know you need it!), or see if there are workshops or classes happening in the area to help generate new approaches and methods. Grow your toolbox.

And lastly, remember that you are loved. If you truly care for your students and try your best for them, it will show, and they will appreciate it. You are making a difference, even on your worst days – those crumpled notes of you as a smiling stick figure, the Valentine that says they love you, the complimentary parent email, the extra hug before they leave for the day all prove that and weigh so much more than Monday’s disorganized lesson presentation and that time you forgot about the fire drill. You are loved, you can do this, and it will be summer break before you know it.

Juice Blend

My students are thoughtful, sweet, and love to share everything with me… including their germs.

I’m home sick today with a killer sinus bug. I’ve had a terrible sinus headache for two days, ran a low fever two nights ago, and I’ve been so congested that my head feels like it weighs 50 pounds. (Ironically, we watched a Korean drama with my mother-in-law on Saturday night where a serial killer used a kettle ball to club his victims in the head – I’m not so sure whose headache is worse at the moment…)

Last summer, my husband and I got a juice kick – we bought a $150 juicer and started researching new recipes and new ways to get extra vitamins and supplements in our diets. Evan likes to quote something he read that says our carrots are nothing like our grandpa’s carrots in terms of nutrition – our soil is less healthy, plant varieties and species are limited, and we ship our products across the globe (the longer the food goes unpreserved – frozen, canned, you name it – the more nutrients it loses). Today I was reminded that the juicer is a great way to help give me a boost of extra vitamins and nutrients that can help my body when it’s not at its fighting best.

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Nothing like the blood of my enemies to cure a cold. (Thank you, beets, for your ability to turn all juices into a ‘True Blood’-themed drink.)
My juice had the following ingredients, pictured below, plus a carrot: 2 oranges, two stalks of celery, an extra large carrot, an apple, a beet, and around an inch of ginger. It made about 16 ounces of juice, not counting the extra foam. Beets have a tendency to take any juice and turn it instantly dark red – and it sometimes shows up in your own waste later, so don’t be alarmed!
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Also, did you know that you can cut an ‘X’ into an orange and it helps the peeling process immensely? No more getting clumps of rind stuck under your nails or pulling off little bits at a time – it helps get your peel started a little more smoothly.

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Some argue that juicing adds a lot of sugar to your system – that is true, but I am willing to bet my system can handle natural sugars from plants ten times more easily than processed sugar and other added-sugar treats. Plus, let’s be honest – if I wanted some fruits and vegetables to snack on, I would have sliced up maybe two stalks of celery and added peanut butter, eaten maybe one whole orange (definitely not the two above), and maybe half an apple, also with peanut butter. I wouldn’t have gnawed down on a piece of raw ginger or an entire beet. But juicing let me bypass all the extra peanut butter I would’ve added and allowed me to bulk up on addition servings of vitamins and minerals.

Another argument against juicing – “You’ll just pee out most of those vitamins!” Yep, not all that I throw at my immune system will stick, but it’ll do much better than the organic bean burrito I was eyeing in the freezer. (Beans, cheese, and tortillas sure are delicious and filling – and add some good protein and carbs – but I seriously doubt that supports my immune system the way this cup o’ deliciousness did.

Juicing is also a great way to help get rid of those produce odds and ends – you can throw almost any of your veggies or fruits through your juicer (after cutting off the pieces you wouldn’t eat, like stems or rinds) and add an orange or apple or two to sweeten things and end up in good hands. I’ve juiced the end of a box of spinach that’s about to turn, parsley, stray carrots, a squishy pear, overripe strawberries, floppy celery – you name it! Do be cautious with garlic, onions, or ginger – these get potent FAST, so I’d generally suggest just sautéing your garlic and onions separately and maybe adding a tad of ginger at a time to your juice. Then, don’t forget to add the juicing remains to your compost – all that chopped up & processed fiber will break down quickly and does wonders for our garden and soil health.

Cheers!