Hey, World…We Can Do Better Than This! Let’s Stop the Hate.

The world is being brought closer together yet the people are being pushed apart. 

As history unfolds before us, I’m concerned about the direction in which we seem to be heading. However, I’m left to ponder just how much things have changed. I wonder how many similar events were happening throughout history without us hearing about them. One thing that most definitely has changed is that almost everyone these days has immediate access to the world in his or her pocket. When any tragedy occurs these days, we learn about it within hours, sometimes minutes. So, history is literally unfolding before our eyes – in our hands. 

You no longer have to be qualified as a news reporter to report the news, and there are rarely consequences when everyday citizens report “facts” incorrectly. Even some members of the media, in an attempt to be the first with the scoop, report without checking facts. To enhance the stories, everywhere you turn, there is a camera recording images and/or videos which can be uploaded immediately. The world is being brought closer together yet the people are being pushed apart. 

The advances in technology have provided us with smart phones and tablets that are affordable enough for most people to have at least one. The expansive news coverage invites commentary from both experts and everyday citizens like myself. People voice their thoughts on the platforms provided by social media and their “friends” and followers reply with comments. A person in small-town America can, by use of a hashtag, make her thoughts known to a person in the far reaches of the world. These people can engage in immediate dialogue concerning a developing topic. The conversations stretch across races, classes, nations. These conversations could bring about positive change, but all too often, they only enhance the negative. 

People are so anxious to share their thoughts quickly that little time is taken to collect and organize those thoughts in advance. In the past, a person would set up a meeting and prepare for days before engaging in discussion with someone outside his or her social circle. This is no longer the case. In today’s world, a politician can make an offhanded comment, someone can post it on his public Facebook page, you can post your own comment to tell him what you think about it, and he can respond – all within less than thirty minutes. We have never before lived in such a connected world. 

I’m afraid that these connections are contributing to the problems we are now seeing. Every time something bad happens now, we immediately hear about it. Oftentimes we hear about the news on Facebook or Twitter before we even see or hear the media coverage. We are bombarded with the thoughts and opinions of those around us, and some view these as opportunities to try to win over the hearts and minds of others. So many people think that they need to comment on every post or article with which they disagree in an attempt to sway others to join their side without stopping to realize that this rarely happens. What happens instead is that arguments begin. Others chime in, and before you know it, you are arguing with people you do not even know. The words become vile and the hate begins to brew. People read the comments and choose sides, and the division begins. 

Another thing that social media has contributed is a platform through which protests can be organized far and wide on extremely short notice. In the past, in order to gather a large group for a protest, you had to spend weeks spreading the word. That is now done in minutes. When something happens, the news is posted, arguments ensue, groups are divided, talk of protests begins, all in record time. A protest involving hundreds or even thousands can be organized and carried out before nightfall in a large city. The part of this equation that is not equal to the past is the organization factor. Instead of planning and working together, ideas are thrown out and acted upon in the heat of the moment. Oftentimes, this seems to result in unrest and injury to the protesters and law enforcement. Maybe we should just slow down for the protection of those on both sides. 

When I awaken each morning these days, I am fearful of the news that awaits me. I’m afraid another innocent life was taken. I’m not choosing sides here because I do not believe there is a side to choose. To put it simply, I choose God. 

Innocent people of all races, religions, and classes are losing their lives. I don’t know if this happened this often in the past without my knowing, but this is the reason I choose not to watch the news. I see enough of the hate each time I scroll through Facebook or Twitter. We must begin to spread love through the world, not hate. We must put an end to the divisiveness. 

It is okay to hate wrongdoing without turning upon an entire group of people. When acts of violence occur, let’s limit our anger to those directly involved. If an officer wrongfully takes the life of an unarmed man, be angry at that officer – not all officers. If a person wrongfully takes the life of an officer, be angry at that man – not everyone of the same race. Learn to read the opinions of others without feeling the need to argue that they are wrong. Accept that there are differences of opinions and realize that no matter what you say or do, some people will always believe differently. 

We have a better chance of returning to peace with the spread of love than with the spread of hate. Let’s allow God to be the judge and simply follow His commandment to love thy neighbor. We can do better than this, people. We have to. 

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Easy Breakfast Ideas to Get You Out the Door Quickly in the Mornings

I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that I am not the only mom out there who struggles with finding quick, healthy breakfast ideas for the kids and myself. I sometimes feel as if I have tried it all. Smoothies seem like an excellent idea, don’t they? I thought so, too. I tested a few out and got positive reviews, so I bought all the ingredients, prepped them, froze them into individual serving bags that I could pop straight into the blender each morning, patted myself on the back, and fell asleep thinking that I had finally found the solution. Well,…..it turns out that my kids only sort of like the smoothies and really don’t care for them for breakfast. 😁

Okay, no big deal. I decided to make the lovely breakfast sandwiches that I saw on Pinterest. You know, the ones with English muffins with deli ham, cheddar, and an egg that you cook – get this…in muffin tins in the oven! I churned out twelve of these bad boys at a time while I sat and drank my coffee thinking I was a genius. The kids even said they loved them the first day. I alternated with another breakfast so they wouldn’t get tired of them. The second time, I was greeted with a bit less enthusiasm but no complaints. (By the way, I love these things! They taste like egg McMuffins to me, and though I can’t handle much from McDonald’s, I do love egg McMuffins The eggs cooked in the muffin tins turn out just like the ones they use. If you are a fan of those like I am, I recommend trying these.) By round three of the breakfast sandwiches, however, my kids were eating less and less of the sandwiches, so…..back to the drawing board. 

I sometimes mix waffle batter and keep it in the refrigerator to make waffles. This idea isn’t too bad. The kids like waffles – especially with some chocolate chips thrown in – but, they rarely get themselves ready in time to sit down and eat the waffles with syrup, so this one often fails. We end up folding them in half with no syrup and eating them on the run. 

I have tried sausage and biscuits, but my oldest doesn’t love sausage. Bacon makes too much of a mess (and, yes, I cook it in the oven with foil in the pan, but it still makes a mess that I don’t want to clean). They don’t like most frozen breakfast items (which end up being very costly anyway). Oatmeal brings the same challenge as waffles…not enough time to sit and eat it. 

Yogurt with granola…overnight oatmeal…granola bars (store bought and homemade)…I have tried them all. So, this morning we tried yet another idea. I hope this one will be a keeper. It is a recipe from eMeals (I am a subscriber and absolutely love this meal planning service) and was listed as a dessert, so surely it will be a popular breakfast, right?

The recipe is called Peanut Butter-Chocolate Crispy Rice Treats and you can find it here: eMeals Recipe Link. I know that some of you out there are judging me right now… I mean, dessert for breakfast? 

Just look at it…

  
Hear me out though… It’s made with cereal – cereal that has vitamins and minerals, and peanut butter – hello, protein! Admittedly, the marshmallows and chocolate (which is optional, by the way) are not the healthiest, but it can’t be any worse than the store-bought cereal bars or chocolate cereal, and all three of my children actually ate it. 

  
Slightly sugary food is better than no food at all in the mornings in my humble opinion, so, for now I’m going to call this one a keeper. They even asked for it again tomorrow! I would love to hear your ideas and thoughts. What quick and healthy breakfast ideas do you use?

  

Hello Again!

Well, first off, it has been a while. I have been devoting most of my free time lately to rebuilding my Etsy shop. I have had the shop for a couple of years, but I didn’t keep items in it for very long because, well….life got a little too busy, and I didn’t have time to keep up with it. 

Just before Christmas, I had a few spare minutes one day, though, so I pulled out a few of my jewelry-making supplies and decided to create a few gifts. I whipped out a little aluminum rose bangle (see below), and I was hooked again. Since then, I have been making jewelry and frames during all my extra time, so I decided to reopen my Etsy shop and see if I can sell a few things online. 

  
During spare moments while dinner is in the oven, or during halftime in a game, my dining room table is converted into a work bench and looks a little like this…

  
I’m going to make an effort to keep up with my blog posts, too, though. This will be a great way to chronicle my creative adventures and to share the stories behind my jewelry and frames with you. Don’t worry, though. I’m not going to turn this completely into craft central. You’ll still get to hear stories of my parenting adventures and my cooking creations. I hope you will forgive me for my long hiatus and that you’ll follow along on the ride that is my life!

P.S. I’d love to see you on Instagram and Twitter @blueirisarts and if you want to check out my Etsy shop, you can find it at BlueIrisArts

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.

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!