25 Things I Hope I Am Teaching My Students


With the new school year quickly approaching, and a group of students I taught as sixth and eighth graders about to begin their senior year, I have been thinking about what I hope I have taught them. In sixth grade, I read a chapter from a novel aloud to them each day, and I vividly recall the days when they would beg me to read one more chapter so they could find out what happened. I hope that those stories inspired at least a few of them to continue to read books. 

I hope that through Number the Stars in sixth grade, they began to understand how young people can exhibit bravery and accomplish great things.  Through Bud, Not Buddy, I hope they realized the struggles that some children face and that through Walk Two Moons they got a glimpse of what it would be like to travel through the Badlands (and that they enjoyed a surprising mystery along the way). 

Each of these stories (along with the many others we read together) was chosen for a purpose, and I hope as we studied them together that I was able to teach them to recognize figurative language and to use it appropriately. I hope I helped them understand the tools of persuasion that will be used all around them in life so that they know to seek the truth rather than to believe everything they hear. 

As they prepare this year to leave our school and move forward with the next chapters of their lives, though, I can’t help but hope I taught them that there is more to learn than what is in the curriculum. I hope I taught them these 25 things…

  1.  Every single one of you is special and has something of value to contribute to the world.
  2. You can learn – even if your learning does not look the same as those around you.
  3. Sometimes life will not go your way, but you alone determine your reaction to the situation.
  4. There is more to life than your income.
  5. Choosing happiness in the midst of a challenging situation is extremely powerful.
  6. Sometimes the best way to show your intelligence is to know when not to speak.
  7. Every argument cannot be won – even if you are correct.
  8. Never store the key to your happiness on someone else’s keychain.
  9. Teachers really do want you to succeed.
  10. The fact that I do not allow you to break the rules does not mean that I don’t like you. It means that I do like you and I want you to learn to follow the rules so that you will stay out of trouble later in life.
  11. A big smile and a pleasant attitude will take you far in life.
  12. Grammar and spelling do matter.
  13. Problems at home do not define you.
  14. Giving your best effort at all times is not as tough as it sounds.
  15. Hard work beats talent when those with the talent choose not to put forth any effort.
  16. Following these two simple commands will lead you to success : Work hard. Be nice.
  17. People will remember your attitude more than your intelligence.
  18. Smile as much as possible, even when you don’t feel like it.
  19. Consider the effects of your words before you speak them.
  20. Always do your best, even if you don’t receive credit.
  21. Be stronger than your excuses. 
  22. Don’t compromise the things you want most in life for the things you want now. 
  23. It is not going to be easy. Once you accept that, you will get a lot more accomplished. 
  24. Ignore those who talk about you. If you are not being criticized, you probably are not doing anything that matters.
  25. You have the option every single day to choose to be happy.

What Should Kids Learn in School?

 If you have children, have you ever  thought about what you would like for them to learn before leaving high school? That sounds silly, doesn’t it? Of course in the beginning you want them to learn the alphabet and numbers. You want them to learn to write their names. Later, you want them to learn their colors and eventually how to read. You want them to learn the rules of grammar and how to write neatly, and you also want them to learn how to “do math” well. Finally, throw in a little science and history/government for good measure. You might even say that you’d also like for your kids to learn to appreciate good literature or to learn basic business skills or to study the Bible. Few of your lists would offer many more details than those (unless you knew that someone would later critique your list), but I think this is a question that more parents need to actually sit down and ponder.

If you don’t know exactly what you want your children to learn, by which standards will you evaluate their learning experiences once they have finished? I have taught for enough years to know that, if questioned, almost every parent out there would gladly offer his or her opinion of the school system his or her child attends. I would like to better understand the criteria on which the schools are being judged by the public. I teach in Mississippi, and in our state, we have a teacher evaluation tool called M-STAR. It is a 20 page rubric by which teachers are evaluated twice per year. Here is a brochure, produced by the Mississippi Department of Education, outlining the basics of M-STAR. The goal of M-STAR was to increase teacher performance and student learning. This brings me back to the question I started with, however. What do parents want their children to learn?

As a teacher, I want to make a difference in the lives of the students in my school. Most teachers have this goal. However, I believe that in order to make a difference, we have to teach much more than what is found in the curriculum. The things that students learn from observation will often carry much more weight in their lives than the things on which they are tested while in school.  This is where I think teachers make their greatest impacts upon students’ lives.

Have you ever noticed how a negative attitude can spread like a forest fire? Imagine a classroom full of smiling, happy faces. One student is missing, however. Johnny is running late today. A few minutes pass with pleasant conversation as the teacher begins the lesson. Suddenly, the door opens abruptly, slamming into the wall with such force that the Parts of Speech poster is knocked to the floor. Sally lets out a quick scream and the flying poster hits Susie in the leg, causing her to yell at Johnny. He stomps to his desk, slamming his bag onto it so hard that it tips forward. Billy, sitting in front of Johnny, turns to yell at him. At this point, the room has turned to chaos. The teacher has a choice… she can get angry and escalate the situation, or she can remain calm and diffuse it. The students are all waiting for her response, and although it is not in the curriculum, this is a teaching moment.

Students observe teachers’ attitudes toward their peers and administration, as well. If teachers constantly complain about those around them, the students will begin to view this as acceptable workplace behavior, but when the teachers continue to “put on a happy face” no matter the situation, we can teach a valuable lesson that will help our students in their future careers. Being able to adapt to changing management and workplace standards is a necessary skill in almost any profession. We, as teachers, have a great opportunity to model appropriate behavior for our students.

When we are faced with new principals, changing testing requirements, updated teacher evaluation models, and all the other curveballs that continue to be thrown our way, reacting in a positive manner (at least in front of the students) is an excellent way to teach them to deal with adverse situations in life. Students need to learn to coexist peacefully with people who are not necessarily “like” them. The world, just like our workplaces, is filled with people with differing opinions and lifestyles, and the better we are at getting along with one another, the more peaceful it will be.

Learning the curriculum is important, as is performing well on tests – especially if a student’s path is leading him to college. Higher grades and higher test scores certainly lead to more scholarship money and opportunities for acceptance to “better” schools. Students definitely need to learn to read and write, to perform a variety of mathematical operations, to understand how the body works and the science behind the world surrounding us, and to understand the ways in which our government is run and the historical path which led us here. These are not the only lessons students should walk out of the doors of high school with, however. Of equal importance are all the other things that are not in the curriculum.

In my next post, I will share with you twenty-five things that are not in the curriculum that I hope I am teaching my students, but in the meantime, I would love to hear your thoughts on what you think children should learn in school.

Having Less Gives Me More…

declutter simple minimal minimalism  This morning when I walked downstairs and looked around, I started to panic. My house looked like a wreck! How could this be? I have worked so hard to eliminate the unnecessary. I have tried to establish rules for everyone to follow about putting things away as soon as they are used. I have assigned places to all the things that belong in the kitchen and family room areas. So, how was I looking around at such a mess?

Thoughts started to swirl inside my head… What if someone drops by? They will never believe that it was clean yesterday! I begin to argue with those thoughts, though. I watched a movie with my husband after the kids were asleep last night. This rarely happens because I usually fall asleep too early. If I had spent the time cleaning the kitchen, I might have missed the opportunity to spend that time with him. Hmmm…. there had to be a balance. I decided to just suck it up and the girls and I got busy cleaning. A funny thing happened, though. It only took twenty minutes to clean. Twenty minutes and it was right back in shape! Clean enough for company. Do you have any idea how exciting this is to me?

You see, although there was stuff everywhere, it all had a place where it belonged. It was simply a matter of putting it there. Some things were downstairs that belonged in the laundry basket upstairs…less than two minutes to gather every one of these items and place them in a pile at the bottom of the stairs. Next, there were several pairs of shoes scattered around the room…30 seconds to gather and put in another pile beside the stairs. A few dirty dishes on the table and beside the couch needed to be moved into the kitchen, then the big kitchen clean-up began. First, I filled one side of the sink with hot, soapy water. Next, I started quickly loading the dirty dishes into the dishwasher. There were more in the sink and on the counters. Where do these things come from? Is our cat preparing midnight snacks and eating off of plates every night while we are sleeping? I might believe that was the case except that we were downstairs watching a movie until after midnight.

Okay, I will admit that my husband and I might have cooked a snack to eat while we watched the movie. And by snack, I might mean that we cooked sausage dogs on an indoor grill pan and didn’t clean up the mess when we finished. Don’t tell my girls though. 😉

Back to the cleaning…any dishes that did not fit into the dishwasher went into the soapy water. Once the dishwasher was fully loaded, I turned it on. Ten minutes into the cleaning at this point. I hand-washed the remaining items while the girls dried them and put them up. Fourteen minutes. I used the soapy water to wipe down the countertops and cooktop while the girls cleared the remaining items off the table and put them away (sunscreen, paper and markers, coasters). I wiped down the table. Seventeen minutes had passed. All that remained was for the girls to grab a few toys from the family room and take the dirty laundry, shoes, and toys upstairs while I swept the floors. Done in less than twenty minutes! Now, don’t get me wrong… the floor still needs to be mopped, the furniture dusted, the baseboards cleaned. What I’m shooting for is presentable, though – not looking like a tornado just came through my downstairs. And, we achieved that in LESS THAN TWENTY MINUTES.  I owe this all to having less stuff.

Before I started eliminating the excess, I had pieces from five sets of dishes. A few had been broken along the way, so I kept adding more to replace them without ever getting rid of any. This resulted in my having a towering set of mismatched plates in my cabinet. Putting the dishes away when they were cleaned required great skill and balance. Plates had to be removed from the cabinet and rearranged each time the dishwasher was cleaned out in order to avoid an avalanche if they were not stacked from largest in diameter to smallest. I had three stacks of these. I also had two different types of bowls that resulted in the same problem. They had to be strategically stacked in order to avoid a collapse. I have a good bit of cabinet space in my kitchen, and I felt as if I needed to fill every inch of it. I wish I had counted the number of coffee cups I had accumulated. I love to drink coffee, and we have collected a few coffee cups from places we have visited. In addition to those cups, I had a variety of cups that I had received as gifts throughout the years, the cups that had not broken from three sets of dishware, the twelve cups that were part of my set of china, and the list goes on. For Christmas, my mom gave me a set of black dishes. Twelve dinner plates, twelve bowls, and twelve coffee cups. I decided that I would keep that set and my set of china and get rid of the rest. Putting dishes away became SO much easier. I have two stacks of plates on my lower shelves – the black dinner plates, and the china dessert/salad plates. There is no balancing act because each plate in its stack is identical. And, in case you are wondering, yes…we use the china on a daily basis. My four year old eats breakfast off of the china plate. For years I stored these dishes that I love so much in a china cabinet and only brought them out once or twice a year. I realized a while back how crazy that was. I love these dishes! Why was I saving them?

I kept a few of the special coffee cups in a separate cabinet because when I’m the only one awake, I like to drink my coffee from one of these mugs. If the cabinet gets crowded, though, some will have to go. It is so much easier to put things away when the cabinet is not crowded. If I ever have the need to host a dinner party, I still have more dishes remaining than I have seating.

If you dread having to clean out your dishwasher or put away the dishes after hand-washing them, take a minute and evaluate your dishes. How many do you have? Do you need them all? If not, do you love them all? Try keeping one set of ten to twelve dishes (unless you have a smaller or much larger family) and packing the rest away temporarily. I’m not telling you to get rid of them *yet*. This is just a trial. Give it a month. See how it goes. You might just find that it brings you more peace to wash dishes a little more often but to have an easier time getting them out of and putting them into the cabinets. While you’re at it, evaluate your cookware, too. How many eyes do you have on your cooktop? Do you need more pots than that? What about casserole dishes? How many do you need of the same size? If you run across something you think you might be able to live without, pack it up and put a date on it. If you can make it through a major holiday without needing it, you can probably let it go. If you just feel as if you can’t let it go, at least pack it away so that you don’t have to work around it each time you open the cabinet door.

I have learned that having less gives me more. It gives me more space, obviously. It gives me more time…time that I don’t have to spend cleaning/moving/organizing/looking for/putting away. It gives me more peace…clear spaces make me feel so much more relaxed and calm. It gives me more of a sense of accomplishment…I am learning that the things of life do not define me. Give it a try and see…you just might find that having less can also give you more. I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below. What does having less mean to you? If you are working on this, what have you eliminated from your kitchen and did you miss it after it was gone? If you plan to give it a try, let me know how it goes!

Quite Possibly the Best Chocolate CUPcakes Ever

chocolate cupcakes ding dong  recipe

Okay, if you’ve been following along, you saw my earlier post for what I believe might be the best chocolate cake ever. It is a version of a ding dong cake, made with a dark chocolate fudge cake, layered with a fluffy white filling, and topped with decadent chocolate ganache. Well…things just got serious.

We were invited to a party at my aunt’s house today, and I was trying to think of something to take to eat. My oldest daughter suggested that we turn the ding dong cake into a cupcake. It sounded great to me, so we decided to give it a shot. Oh. My. Goodness. You have GOT to try these cupcakes. They are seriously incredible. And, don’t worry…even though they look difficult, even if you are not an experienced baker, you can do this. I know we might have just met. Online. But really, trust me. Give it a chance. Your friends and family can thank me later.

chocolate cupcake ding dong filling yummy recipe Just look at that filling…

All you have to do is prepare a Duncan Hines Dark Chocolate Fudge cake mix, following the directions on the box. Instead of a cake, place cupcake liners in regular sized muffin tins and bake them according to the directions on the box. You should get 24 cupcakes from a box of cake mix. Go ahead and make two boxes of them. You’re definitely going to want more than 24 of these! Once they are finished baking, remove them from the pans and let them cool completely. Or, if you get tired and want to go ahead to bed, proceed with the next step without letting them cool like I did.

Make your filling while the cupcakes are baking. For the filling, you will need to cream together a stick of softened (not melted) unsalted butter and a package of softened cream cheese. After these are mixed thoroughly, add three cups of powdered sugar, one at a time. Finally, you will remove the bowl from the mixer and use a spatula to fold in one eight ounce container of thawed whipped topping.

Once the cupcakes have cooled, look around and see if you have a melon baller. If you do, it is probably buried deep in a drawer because chances are you don’t actually use it for melons very often. You might even be in the process of decluttering your home like I am and have it packed in your six-month holding box and have to dig it out. Don’t worry, though. Once you’ve tried these cupcakes, you’re going to be using it again soon. If you don’t have one, an ordinary teaspoon or teaspoon measuring spoon will work, too. You need to scoop out the center of the cupcake so that you can fill it with the creamy filling. Begin by cutting a circle in the diameter you plan to use. If you are using the melon baller, just insert the large side into the cupcake and twist to make a complete circle. Scoop out the filling, keeping the top part of the cupcake in tact.

chocolate cupcake recipe easy delicious See, you don’t even have to be neat about it!

Take the part that you scooped out and, using a serrated knife, slice about 1/4 inch off the top of the part you removed from the cupcake. This will be the part you put back over the filling to cover it back up. Don’t worry about matching these up to the exact cupcake they were removed from because it won’t matter. Just slice off your tops and set them aside. Feel free to eat the leftover parts you removed from the center of the cupcakes. I won’t tell anyone. You might want to wait and stick a little of the filling on them though for an even better treat.

chocolate cupcake recipe On the right, you can see the tops I cut off in the top corner and the discards/parts we ate as a snack next to the cupcakes. 

Okay, now take some of the filling and put it into a pastry bag, or if you are like me and don’t remember whether or not you threw your pastry bags away in your great kitchen clean out, just use a freezer ziploc bag. Make sure you use a freezer bag, though, because the sandwich bags tend to explode. Trust me…I’m speaking from experience. If you’re going to pastry-bag route, any large tip will do. You won’t see this, anyway, once you put the cupcake topper back into place. If you’re using the freezer bag, like I did, cut a small bit off the bottom corner of the bag. Twist the bag over the top of the filing so that it doesn’t get squeezed out of the top, and start to fill your cupcakes. You will need to fill them to just below the top.

 After you have filled them all, stick the little tops back onto them, trying to make them as smooth across the top as possible.

Now comes the hard part…you need to cover them and place them in the refrigerator for several hours or overnight so that the filling hardens and “glues” the cupcake lids on top. You should have a LOT of filling left over. I placed mine in the refrigerator in the ziploc bag and used it for decorating the tops. I still had filling left over, so I’m going to dip strawberries in it later. 😉

Once the cupcakes have set (preferably the next morning), you need to make a batch of chocolate ganache. Heat a cup of heavy cream and a tablespoon of butter over medium heat, stirring until it just begins to boil. Meanwhile, pour a bag of semisweet chocolate chips into a medium sized bowl. Once the cream is starting to barely bubble all over the top, pour it over the chocolate chips. Use a whisk and stir it until the chocolate is completely melted. It will look like you have don’t something wrong. Don’t worry…just keep whisking. When it is ready, it will be a beautiful, shiny, smooth chocolate. Get the cupcakes out of the refrigerator. Take each cupcake and dip the top of it into the ganache, turning once to coat it all. As you lift it, twist it slightly so that the chocolate smooths itself on top. If any of the top isn’t covered, you can use a spatula to dip a bit more ganache onto it and spread it gently around to cover it all. Put these back into the refrigerator to let the ganache harden. You can certainly serve them at that point, or you can use the leftover filling to make decorations on top. I did some random swirls, but you could easily do a letter or monogram or even polka dots. I just like the little hint that there is a filling inside. If you have any ganache left over, put it into a glass jar and stick it into the fridge. It is a great dip for fruits. Just warm it for a few seconds in the microwave first!


Ding Dong CUPcakes with Chocolate Ganache

  • Servings: 10-12
  • Difficulty: medium
  • Print

  • 2 boxes of Duncan Hines Dark Chocolate Fudge cake mix, prepared as directed into 48 cupcakes


  • 1 8 oz. package of cream cheese, softened
  • 1 stick of unsalted butter, softened
  • 3 cups of powdered sugar
  • 1 8 oz. container of Cool Whip


  • 1 bag of semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1 cup of heavy cream
  • 1 Tablespoon of unsalted butter

Prepare the cupcakes according to the directions on the box. Allow them to cool completely.

To make the filling, cream together the butter and cream cheese. Add the powdered sugar, one cup at a time. Once it is fully incorporated, fold in the whipped topping.

Using either a melon baller or teaspoon measuring spoon, scoop a circular indention from the middle, leaving the piece you are removing in tact. With a serrated knife, slice the top off the piece you removed and set it aside. Put the filling into a pastry bag or freezer ziploc bag with a small piece cut off the bottom corner. Squeeze the filling into the indention until you almost reach the top. Take the tops you sliced off the pieces you removed, and put one back onto each cupcake to cover the filling. Press it down so that it is even with the rest of the cupcake top. The tops should hide the filling inside the cupcakes.

Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight so that the filling hardens and “glues” the cupcake lids in place. The next day, prepare the ganache by placing the bag of chocolate chips into a medium bowl. Heat the heavy cream and tablespoon of butter over medium heat until it starts to develop small bubbles all over the top. Pour it over the chocolate chips. Whisk until the chocolate is completely melted and the ganache looks smooth and shiny. Remove the cupcakes from the refrigerator and dip the top of each one into the ganache to coat. Use a spatula to fill in any places that do not get coated and to smooth the tops when needed. Place the cupcakes, uncovered, back into the refrigerator until the ganache is hardened. You can serve them at this point, or decorate  the tops with the leftover filling. If you have ganache left over, use it (and any remaining filling) to dip fresh fruit into! *I had a lot of filling left over. Store the leftover cupcakes, filling, and ganache in the refrigerator.

A Series of Fortunate Events

When I was 5 years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy’. They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life.”   -John Lennon

I used to be a lawyer. It was brief, at times it was fun, but in the end I decided that it was not for me. You see, when I was in school, I was always one of the smart kids. I was competitive with my grades, too. I didn’t just want an A… I wanted the highest A. This determination served me well, and I ended up being the valedictorian and the STAR student (highest ACT score) of my graduating class. I had people telling me all the time that I would end up being a doctor or a lawyer or a CEO. I believed them, and when the time came to decide on a major, I began to explore my options.

I’ve never liked to simply follow the crowd, so I didn’t want to do something that all the others were interested in. That ruled out education and business. I wanted to choose a major that sounded impressive. You see, I also had a bit of a chip on my shoulder. The dumb blonde jokes were really popular, and I worked really hard to make sure everyone around me thought I was smart. I never wanted to be thought of as a dumb blonde. I researched my options and decided on electrical engineering. It sounded exciting enough, the research showed that it paid well, and I didn’t know a single person who had majored in it, so that sounded like the major for me. Right up until the end of the first semester.

Engineering, as it turns out, was not the major for me. I had the potential. I had the scholarship. What I realized I did not have was the love. It didn’t make me happy. I gave up the scholarship, researched my options, and changed my major to business…specifically marketing. My brother was working in sales and was very successful, so I decided to follow his path. I loved the classes and started to envision a future in that field. I finished my bachelor’s degree on time, but as graduation approached, I realized that I was not yet ready to get a job. Law school seemed like the logical next step. I didn’t really know that law school was the path that I should take, though. I knew some of the people who were planning to go to law school from undergrad and they all seemed so much more serious about it than I did. Still, graduation was fast approaching and I had to do something. I signed up to take the LSAT. I decided that I would not prepare at all and if I scored high enough, that would be my sign that I should try law school. I did score high enough, but there was another step that I hadn’t really considered…applying! I had less than a week to get my application ready and turned in for law school, so I buckled down and put together what I felt like was a good application minus one thing – the required references. I did not have the time remaining for those, so I sent the application in without them. Again, I trusted that if it was meant to be, I would get accepted. If not, I would find a job. I mean, surely there are always jobs available in sales, right?

I was accepted to law school, graduated a semester early, passed the Bar exam, and married an NFL kicker (whom I began dating when he was kicking in college). The next step fell into place when we were living in Jacksonville. Before he officially made the roster, we needed money. I had passed the Bar exam in Mississippi, where we were from, but I thought that surely I could find a position with a law firm as a clerk. I began researching Jacksonville attorneys online with the hope of finding one who had attended the law school from which I graduated. I found one, e-mailed him, got an interview, and was hired by the firm. I worked with them until my husband was scheduled to kick in NFL Europe for the summer (which got cancelled two weeks before we left due to a hernia surgery). My husband was released by the Jaguars the following year, immediately signed with the Broncos, we moved to Denver, and that is a story for another day.

Eventually, we ended up back in my hometown. We were fortunate to have enough savings that we could take some time off while my husband tried out for some other teams. He never ended up signing with another team, but we had the chance to live, as adults, debt-free for a little while without working. I believe that experience was what shaped all of my future decisions. You see, after that experience, the bar was set high. I knew what it was like to be happy and I didn’t want to settle for anything less.

I realized that the only thing I loved about practicing law was the research. I loved to research and write, but everything else seemed like work. I tried to love it, but I just couldn’t. I had a daughter at this point and started to think about her education. The only thing I knew about the local school system was what I had experienced. I started to think about how I could get involved. I began to tutor and sub and realized that I actually enjoyed the job I never thought I would. I decided to make a major change and get my teaching license.

I am now a teacher. It was a move that most people could not understand. I still have students every year who cannot fathom what would make a person give up a higher paying job for a teacher’s salary. They are amazed. They think I am crazy, and they tell me so (there really is not much of a filter in kids if you haven’t noticed). They ask me to explain my decision, and I do. I know that my words will not sink in now, but I envision a future scenario in which one of my former students becomes a successful lawyer/pharmacist/salesperson/any-other-profession-that-pays-well  and he reaches a point at which he discovers that his true passion lies in some other significantly less profitable field. I see his friends’ and family’s reactions. They tell him he is crazy to give up his great job. They tell him that though the job he wants to pursue is a worthy cause and that those kinds of people are needed in the world that he is too smart for that. He is too successful to give it up. I hope when he gets that reaction and begins to waver in his desire to give up the wealth that he will remember my words and follow his dreams. I hope he will tell them all that it is actually okay and that he knows this because he once had a teacher who taught him something that wasn’t in the curriculum.

And now, here I sit, at the starting line of another dream. I’ve always loved to write, but I never really thought anyone would want to read my words (and I didn’t think I had the time because we still have to pay the bills). As I have spent time lately reading the articles written by others, I have begun to realize that it isn’t really about whether or not others want to read it. It’s about the process. It’s about doing something that makes you happy. So, I will continue down this path and see where it leads me. I don’t know what the destination is, but I know my plan. I’m going to enjoy the ride.

Not Your Typical Cafeteria Meatloaf and a Time-Saving Kitchen Tip

meatloaf recipe not cafeteria chipotle

Have you ever wondered where meatloaf acquired its bad reputation? Is meatloaf the victim of a vicious rumor? Did it show up to a party in a hideous outfit once and never live it down? Just like with people, I like to give foods the benefit of the doubt. I feel like they deserve a chance to earn their own reputation with me without any preconceived notions. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve had a couple of bad meatloafs before, but given its fair shot, I think meatloaf is a food to be loved.

My middle child loves meatloaf “more than steak” and excitedly proclaims it to be the best day ever when she hears that we are having it for dinner. Because I would hate for any of you to miss out on a potential “best day ever” I have decided to share my meatloaf recipe with you. And, by recipe, I mean the one I made last night because though my method remains the same, the recipe varies slightly from one time to the next. More about that later.

To begin with, I am not a traditionalist when it comes to meatloaf. I don’t mix meats. I know that the standard meatloaf combines different types of ground meats, and that is great, but as I’ve told you before…I like to keep things simple. Only ground chuck for me. I begin with about 3 pounds of ground chuck for my family of five. Most of the time this results in enough leftovers for a few meatloaf sandwiches (which is my favorite way to eat it!) for lunch the next day. Occasionally, when we haven’t had it in a while, we eat the WHOLE thing.

To my ground chuck, I add some type of tomato sauce-y product. Sometimes it’s a small can of plain tomato sauce. Sometimes it’s leftover canned pasta sauce or ketchup. Last night, it was Zesty Catalina salad dressing. It adds a bit of sweetness that I used to balance the chipotle peppers that were also included. I add about half a cup of whichever one I’m using to the three pounds of meat. For the heat last night, I used two heaping teaspoons of a product called Chipotle Salsa. It is the same brand as the canned chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, but this product is even better to me because it is already made into a sauce. It’s a little harder for me to find, though, so regular canned chipotle peppers in adobo sauce would work instead. Or leave it out. It’s completely up to you.

chipotle pepper salsa meatloaf This is the salsa I use. It is found with the Mexican foods.

Next, it is meatloaf after all, so it needs some bread. Here, you have options again. Sometimes I use a couple of slices of sandwich bread soaked in just a bit of milk. Sometimes I have Italian breadcrumbs on hand and use those. I have also used oats and crumbled crackers. Last night I had Panko bread crumbs in the pantry, so that’s what I used. I put about half a cup of those into the mixture along with two eggs. I finished the mixture off with the seasonings. I used salt, garlic powder, onion powder, cumin, seasoned salt, and pepper.

I usually use my KitchenAid mixer to mix it all up, but you can certainly use your hands if you don’t have a heavy duty mixer. Once it is all combined well, put it into a dish to bake. Again, I’m not a traditionalist here, so even though I’m calling it a meatloaf…I don’t actually make it into a loaf.  Nope. I like more of a sauce to meat ratio, so I pack mine into a glass casserole dish so that it is not so thick when it finishes cooking. Put it into a 375 degree oven and cook it until it is done – usually about an hour.

meatloaf panko ground beef chuck cumin chipotleThe ingredients and the meatloaf, ready to go into the oven. 

Okay, get ready because you are about to find out one of my favorite time-saving ideas in the kitchen! Once your meatloaf finishes cooking, you’ll have the grease in the pan that cooked out of the meat. Gross! Nobody wants that on their plate or clogging their arteries, so you’re going to need to pour that off before adding your topping. You can’t pour that grease down your drain, though, and if you are like me, you don’t want to clean it out of a bowl later, so here’s my tip: line a bowl with aluminum foil (just stick the foil in it and leave foil hanging over the sides), pour the grease into the foil, and let it cool completely. Once it has cooled completely and hardened (I usually leave it until the next morning), you can just pull the foil up around it, twist it tight to seal it, and throw it in the trash.

kitchen tip grease clean timesaverSee how easy that is?

Once the excess grease has been drained, you’ll want to add a topping. I mean, seriously, the topping is my favorite part. Without a topping, you’ve just created one huge hamburger patty, and that’s not exciting at all. The topping is what makes or breaks a meatloaf, in my opinion, and plain ketchup just won’t cut it! I start out with ketchup, but I add in some dijon mustard, worcestershire, more of the chipotle sauce, and either brown sugar or honey to balance the spiciness of the peppers. I have a great friend who, along with her husband and children, bottles honey from their bees. I love local products, so their honey was my choice this time. Mix it all together, spread it over the meatloaf, and put it back into the oven for about fifteen minutes.

ingredients ketchup dijon honey The topping ingredients.

For the sides, I made smashed potatoes and roasted fresh corn on the cob. If you’ve been a meatloaf hater all your life, give it a shot. I’m making no promises, but you just might find that you like it. At least give it a chance. I mean, come on… haven’t you ever walked out of a public restroom with your skirt tucked into your tights and wished everyone would forget about it? Wait, maybe that was me. Either way, don’t judge meatloaf by its past. Let this one make its own impression. If you give it a shot and still hate it, at least it was judged fairly. 🙂

Not Your Typical Cafeteria Meatloaf

  • Servings: 6-8
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

  • 3 lbs. ground chuck
  • 1/2 cup Zesty Catalina salad dressing
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons chipotle salsa
  • 1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs (can substitute Italian breadcrumbs, cracker crumbs, oats, or slices of sandwich bread soaked in a little milk)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon onion powder (or 1/4 a chopped onion if your family doesn’t mind it in their meatloaf!)
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon seasoned salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper


  • 1/2 cup ketchup
  • 1 Tablespoon dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon chipotle salsa
  • 1 Tablespoon honey

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Mix all ingredients in a heavy duty mixer or by hand. Pack firmly into a glass casserole dish and cook until done all the way through, about an hour. Mix the topping ingredients together. Drain excess grease and cover with topping. Cook for an additional 15 minutes. 

How to Earn a Vote for Mom-of-the-Year (the Easy Way) and a Simple Boredom Buster for Kids

 Let me begin by saying that I am NOT mom-of-the-year. I do a lot of things wrong. We don’t play enough games together. We make messes and don’t immediately clean them up. We don’t take the kids on individual dates. Though I am improving, my house doesn’t stay clean. We don’t invite friends over as often as we should, but when it comes to being a mom, I try. I really, really try.

I’m really not much of a girly-girl. I’m most comfortable in jeans and chacos or my running clothes. My hair is rarely seen down, and the only makeup I wear is mascara and a bit of eyeliner so that my eyes don’t completely blend in with the rest of my face. I have two daughters who are a lot like me. The oldest is an athlete. She doesn’t wear makeup and thinks that dressing up is wearing a pair of jeans with one of the cross country shirts she has won instead of Nike shorts. The younger does like to experiment with clothes, but by experiment, I mean see how many days in a row you can wear the same clothing a without getting in trouble!
Here’s the thing though…we are still girls and girls occasionally like to play dress up.

They each invited a friend over to spend the night last night, so I came up with an idea. I would pull out my old formals, buy some cheap makeup and temporary hair color, and we would have a contest. The girls would each, with my assistance (if they wanted it), do their hair, makeup, and clothing to see which one could best replicate Lady Gaga’s style. Whether you love her or hate her, you have to admit that Lady Gaga has a style of her own. My favorite of her quotes is, “You laugh at me because I’m different. I laugh at you because you’re all the same.” I don’t want my children running around in dresses made of raw meats or outfits made entirely of caution tape, but I do want them to feel comfortable in being who they are.

There is so much pressure these days to be like everyone else. Though this has always been true, in the past it took a lot more work to find out what “everyone else” was doing. You had to sift through Teen magazines and watch countless videos on Mtv, and spend hours studying every episode of Full House to figure out what “they” looked like. Today, most kids have access to all these things in their hands or pockets at all times. With more knowledge of what the celebrities are doing comes more pressure to conform. You might say that I’m promoting that with this contest, and you might be right. I hope not, though. I hope that what I did was show them that 1. It’s okay to be yourself, 2. It’s okay once in a while to dress up and put on crazy makeup and clothes, and 3. When you want to do these things, you can invite me to go along for the ride.

Once they were all at the house, I went over the rules. They would each choose a dress, grab some makeup, and head to separate rooms. I would come around to the rooms as they prepared and offer assistance. Once the makeup and clothing was complete, they would each come to the “hair room” where we would discuss options and I would help each girl style her hair however she wanted. Once each was done, we would have the big reveal. The girls looked over all the glittery makeup options, chose a couple of favorites, grabbed a dress, and off they went.

They each did their own makeup aside from a little help with fake eyelashes and eyeliner. I expected them to need more help with this, so with the extra time on my hands… I decided to join in on the fun. I worked on my own makeup and hair while going from room to room checking their progress. Once each of them finished, they came to me and we worked on hair.

Finally, a contest isn’t a contest without voting, so I posted pictures on Instagram and Facebook and asked friends to vote. The votes are still coming in today, and I’d love for you to weigh in… take a look at what we came up with and tell me in the comments which one you think is the most Gaga-ish!

The big reveal….

Contestant Z

Z, pose number 2

Contestant M

M, pose number 2

Contestant C

C, pose number 2

Contestant L

L, pose number 2

And….I’m not part of the contest, but here is what I came up with!

 the aftermath…..

As I sit here the morning after and reflect on last night, I am reminded of a few things. I’m reminded of why I don’t wear much makeup. I’m reminded of why I don’t curl my hair, tease it sky-high, and hold it in place with Rave hairspray. I’m reminded of why I don’t wear fake yellow and purple hair color and fake eyelashes. I’m reminded of why I rarely dress up in fancy dresses. But I’m also reminded of how much fun it can be when I do. Your kids are only young once, so while you have the chance, make memories with them. Don’t be afraid to make a mess or make a fool of yourself along with them. And always, always be yourself – unless you can be Lady Gaga for a night. 😉

My Thoughts on Quick Lunches and a Simple Shrimp Pasta Recipe 

simple shrimp pasta recipe I love a quick lunch and pasta is our go-to around here. I teach, so most summer lunches are at home. Having sandwiches every day just won’t cut it for someone who loves food as much as I do, so I always keep pasta and a few staples on hand.

First, let’s start with what you need to always have on hand for a quick meal. I keep a variety of pastas at all times. You can use whatever you like (or what you find on sale). I put all my packages into a plastic tub with a lockable lid and keep them on the floor in my pantry. They are a great starting point for so many meals. If all else fails, cook a package up in salty water, drain, coat with butter or olive oil, salt and pepper, and Parmesan cheese, and you will please most of the pickiest eaters! This will work for a quick lunch or a simple side.

Next, I always keep onions in a basket in a dark cabinet and bell peppers (a variety of colors) in the freezer. Buy them when they are on sale (or if you’re lucky enough to have a farmer-friend, offer to take the end-of-season ones off their hands), chop them into large chunks, put them on a waxed paper lined baking sheet and freeze them. Once frozen, dump them into a gallon sized freezer bag and keep them until you need them. You can pull out the amount you need and slice them into the sizes you want without even thawing them. My husband doesn’t really like onions and peppers, so I usually leave them both large and either remove them before serving or blend them with an immersion blender. I also keep fresh garlic because I love the flavor, but garlic powder will work in a pinch.

As far as proteins go, deli ham is a good thing to keep in the refrigerator because it can be used for sandwiches, to add to scrambled eggs, or for a variety of pasta dishes (more of those in later posts!). Frozen shrimp is good to have to make a quick, impressive meal for guests. I also usually have bacon because, well, who doesn’t love bacon? A few extras that I add to many of my pasta dishes are black and green olives, banana peppers, crushed red pepper flakes, and herbs (fresh when I have them and dried when I don’t). Last, but not least, I keep olive oil and unsalted butter on hand at all times. The olive oil adds a hint of flavor, and the butter goes into everything from breakfast to dinner to dessert.

Okay, now that you know my basics, let me show you a quick meal we threw together for lunch today. It’s a simple shrimp pasta dish that is easy enough for a lunch with the kids or impressive enough to serve to pop-in guests. The first thing you’ll want to do is to get a large pot of water over high heat to bring it to a boil. It takes this step a little while, so I always start my water first.  Grab a bag of frozen shrimp and start to run them under cool water today thaw. You’re off to a great start! Dinner should be on the table in about 20 minutes.

Get a large skillet started over medium high heat and add about a tablespoon of olive oil to it. Take two or three slices of bacon and chop them into one-inch pieces. Add them to the skillet and stir to coat them in the oil. Mince a clove of fresh garlic if you have it. I first smash the garlic with the side of a butcher knife, peel it, then dice it finely. Slice about 1/4 of an onion and add these two items to the skillet. Your kitchen will immediately smell delicious. This is when the kids start to arrive and ask if lunch is ready. I also pulled a couple of chunks of bell pepper from the freezer, sliced them, and added them at this point. You could leave these out if you don’t like them. It’s your meal. Make yourself happy. 😉

Your water should be boiling by now, so add a tablespoon of salt to it and add in about a pound of pasta. I used thin spaghetti noodles today. Stir them and get back to your skillet. Your shrimp should be thawed, so shake off the excess water to avoid oil splatter and add them to the skillet. Season them with the Cajun seasoning of your choice and a little Old Bay if you have any. Stir them occasionally until they are cooked through. You’ll know that they are done when they are pink. Throw in a tablespoon of butter for good measure.

It looked like it needed a little more liquid, so I  added about a half cup of chicken broth, but you could use chicken bouillon and water or just a bit of the pasta-cooking water if you don’t have any. To finish it off, I added the juice of half a lemon and a little fresh Italian parsley, but both of these are optional. Drain the pasta and add it tintype skillet. Give it a stir to coat it well, then serve it to your husband and kids, your neighbor, your boss, or if you’re home alone…serve it to yourself.  This was delicious, pretty, and most importantly…fast!

20 Minute Simple Shrimp Pasta

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

  • 16 oz. thin spaghetti (or pasta of your choice)
  • 1 lb. package frozen, peeled and deveined shrimp (raw)
  • 3 slices bacon
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/4 onion, sliced
  • 1/4 bell pepper, sliced
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 Tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 teaspoon Cajun seasoning
  • Juice from 1/2 small lemon
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth (optional)
  • 2 Tablespoons of chopped Italian parsley (optional)
  • Salt

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Put olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add the diced bacon. Once it starts to brown, add the onions, garlic, and peppers. Stir until the vegetables start to soften. Add the shrimp and Cajun seasoning. Stir until the shrimp turn pink.  Once the water boils, add a tablespoon of salt and the pasta. Give the pasta a stir to prevent it from sticking together.  Once the shrimp are done, add the chicken broth (or a bit of the pasta water), the butter, and the lemon juice. Drain the pasta when it is done and add it to the skillet. Stir quickly to coat. Add the parsley, if using, and serve.

The Life-Changing Magic of a Book

  Okay, to say that a book can change your life seems a little drastic, but I recently read a book that was the capstone to a journey I began a while back. Marie Kondo’s bestseller, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, was the final push I needed in a direction I needed to go.

I am a recovering stuffaholic. I majored in marketing in college, and though I understand the tactics, I allowed the ads to draw me in… to convince me that I needed the latest this or the newly-updated that. A few years back, I began to realize that my house was cluttered, so I took the logical(?) first step and began to organize. I created an entire board on Pinterest that was dedicated to organization ideas. I researched the topic and found ideas for ways to organize kitchen utensils, clothes, toys, cleaning supplies, even junk drawers! What I failed to realize was that it would have been much easier to clear the clutter than to organize it.

You see, the organization tips sound great until you step back and realize that most of them require you to purchase – you guessed it – even MORE stuff. You begin to think that if you just had the perfect set of baskets in your pantry, and a set of those beautiful glass containers for all of your dry goods, and a hanging organizer over the door, and an organizer for your canned goods, and some type of organizer for the 250 plastic containers and lids, ……. then your kitchen would look awesome!

Once you make a trip to The Container Store, Walmart, and Target, and you arrive home with all your newly-acquired organization “solutions” you are ready to get started. You begin to pull all the things out and put them into their pretty new compartments and you start to feel that sense of accomplishment. You know the one…look at me, I have organized all this stuff! If you’re like me, though, months pass and the hard work slowly slips away, giving way eventually to another cluttered mess. That’s because, like me, you probably started at the end.  That’s right. Organization is not the beginning. It is the end.

This is where Marie Kondo’s book is useful. You have to first start by getting rid of  all the stuff you do not need. This is the hard part, but it is the part that makes all the difference. Here is my warning, though: if you have hesitant family members or children who live at home, you might want to start with  The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide: How to Declutter, Organize, and Simplify Your Life, by Francine Jay. This book was the first one I read, and I probably applied more of the principles in it than from Kondo’s book. I love that Joy gives you permission to put things on hold and think about them for a while before making a decision (Kondo, on the other hand, wants you to speed through the work and get items out of your home as quickly as possible).

When you are new to letting things go (or have family members who don’t quite buy into it all yet), a holding pattern is the best solution. Pack up the things you think you can do without, or in Kondo’s words, “things that do not spark joy” and put a date on them. Revisit them in 6 months and see if you want anything back. Or, better yet, if you haven’t opened the box in 6 months, just let it go. Either way, you get a chance to see what your home could look like without all the excess. You might just find that you value the space more than the stuff.

I currently have several large containers of items that I have placed on hold, and I plan to revisit them in a few months. For now, I am certain that I enjoy the empty space, but whether some of the items get to hang around remains to be seen.  My very favorite lesson from Kondo’s book is her Konmari method for folding clothes. Why didn’t I learn this years ago? I love opening drawers and seeing items folded using her technique. You can see every single item and pull out exactly what you want without disturbing anything else. Take a look:  

Though I found Kondo’s approach to be a bit more drastic than I felt I could take with a husband and children along for the ride, her words definitely inspired me. While I don’t see myself ever reaching a point where I talk to my socks or empty every item of my purse every night only to pack it all back into the bag the next morning, her words are soothing and through them, she paints a picture of a calm home, filled with joy. She made me want to pull every item in my house out into the open and put very few of the items back (Incidentally, I didn’t- I just looked at each item and made a decision. Don’t tell Marie.). Most importantly, she made me believe that it is okay to live with only the things that spark joy.

Maybe you are one of the lucky ones who learned these things at an early age and already have a calm, uncluttered home. If so, I applaud you (and thank you sincerely for hanging around for the entire post 😉). If you’re like me, though, and feel as if you are surrounded by too much stuff, check out these two books. Post a comment and let me know what you think. If you have already begun a similar journey, I’d love to hear your advice.

Quite Possibly the Best Chocolate Cake Ever

ding dong cake recipe delicious easy simple filling chocolate ganache   Oh, mercy. By the time you finish reading this, you will either thank me or curse me. My mom’s birthday was a couple of days ago, and since we always make birthday cakes at home in my family, I decided to try a new recipe. I had eaten a Ding Dong cake before, so I set out in search of the perfect recipe.

I found a few recipes, but I couldn’t find one that was exactly what I wanted, so…I took the ideas I found and adjusted them to fit my needs (um, wants). What I came up with was so delicious that I would feel selfish if I didn’t share it with you. This cake is layer after layer of deep, dark, fudgy chocolate and heavenly light cream. If that wasn’t enough, the outer layer of truffle-like silky decadence is reason enough to make this cake. Just trust me and try this cake one time….my only warning is that you might want to invite friends over so that you don’t eat the whole thing.

Ding Dong Cake with Chocolate Ganache

  • Servings: 10-12
  • Difficulty: medium
  • Print

  • 1 box Duncan Hines Dark Chocolate Fudge cake mix, prepared as directed in two 8″ round pans
  • 1 8 oz. package of cream cheese, softened
  • 1 stick of unsalted butter, softened
  • 3 cups of powdered sugar
  • 1 8 oz. container of Cool Whip
  • 1 bag of semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1 cup of heavy cream
  • 1 Tablespoon of unsalted butter

Allow the cake to cool completely. If your cake did not bake completely flat, use a long serrated knife to trim any hump there may be so that you end up with two flat cakes. Slice each of the two layers horizontally into two layers (you will end up with four total layers).

Cream the butter and cream cheese together in the mixer until completely mixed. Add one cup of powdered sugar at a time and mix until completely blended. Fold in the Cool Whip gently with a spatula to incorporate it. Place the first layer of cake onto your cake plate. Spoon 1/3 of the cream mixture onto that layer. Spoon dollops around evenly then lightly press them down to spread them around without lifting in order to keep from tearing the cake. Repeat with the remaining layers, ending with cake on top.

I had about a cup of filling left over after using what seemed like A LOT between the layers. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for a couple of hours or overnight.

Put the heavy cream and the tablespoon of butter into a saucepan and heat over medium heat, stirring often, until small bubbles start to form. Put the bag of chocolate chips into a large (4 cup) glass measuring cup or bowl. Pour the heated cream mixture over and stir until all the chocolate has melted. Spoon this ganache over the cake and use a knife or spatula to spread it over the sides, working quickly while the filling is still cold.

Store this cake in the refrigerator, uncovered, until the ganache hardens then you can cover it. BONUS: Use the extra ganache to drizzle a design over the top. If you have ganache left over, use it (and any remaining filling) to dip fresh fruit into!