Sunday, November 27, 2016

Later, LeftOvers!!

My family hates leftovers. How can something so delicious from a day ago now seem repulsive? Heaven forbid they have to reheat...oh the horror! (ha-ha!)

So my new strategy is to reinvent leftovers. Others figured this out years ago, but it is relatively new to our home.  I got tired of throwing out food!

There are so many creative chefs out there who have great re-created recipes. They whip up masterpieces as if they attended culinary school!  They may have. I however, did not. I cook to taste and loosely follow recipes. I rarely have a dish taste the exact same twice.

But as a working mom (school principal) with a college student, junior high student, and an incredibly hard-working hubby, my recipes have to be flavorful and quick. My thoughts are: What can I prep and have ready in less than an hour? How can I not waste leftovers that my family won't eat? How can I disguise leftovers and recreate them in a way that they are nearly unrecognizable?

So I scour the Internet, and even reference those cooking books gathering dust in my pantry, and found a few that are winners!  I get a lot of inspiration as well from cooking shows. I watch for spices used, food combinations, and tricks that help it all taste terrific.

Here are a couple of my latest re-created leftover recipes that are quick, delicious, and a hit with the family. Hope your family enjoys them as much as mine do!

Too-Many-Mashed-Potatoes Shepard's Pie
  • Any amount of leftover mashed potatoes (2+ cups is best) 
  • 1 lb. ground meat (turkey or beef) 
  • 1 cup diced carrots 
  • 1 cup diced celery 
  • 1 cup diced onion 
  • Light Olive Oil 
  • Salt, Pepper Herbs de Provence 
  • Unsalted Butter 
  1. Saute the carrots, celery, onion in Light Olive Oil until onions translucent
  2. Brown ground meat 
  3. Add salt, pepper and Herbs de Provence to meat to taste 
  4. Mix the sauteed carrots, celery, onion with the ground meat 
  5. Spread in the bottom of a glass casserole dish 
  6. Spread mashed potatoes over the meat/veggie mix 
  7. Add pats of unsalted butter every 4 inches down the center 
  8. Bake at 350 for 40 minutes uncovered 
 Hearty and warm on a cold winter night!

Maximize-the-Meat Empanadas
  • Leftover taco-meat (ground turkey or beef) 
  • 2 cans of layered flaky biscuits 
  • Baking flour 
  •  Shredded cheddar cheese 
  • 1/2 diced onion 
  • Olive Oil 
  • 4 beaten egg whites 
  1. Saute the 1/2 diced onion in olive oil until translucent 
  2. Using baking flour and a rolling pin, roll out each biscuit until thin 
  3. Mix sauteed onion with leftover taco-meat 
  4. On a non-stick baking sheet, lay out flattened biscuits 
  5. Add approximately 1 table spoon of the meat mix to one side of the biscuit
  6. Sprinkle shredded cheddar on the meat 
  7. Fold over the biscuit and press seams firmly to seal 
  8. Brush beaten egg whites over the top of each biscuit 
  9. Bake at 375 for ~20 minutes (option to also follow the recommended baking time on the can of biscuits) 
This is a true family FAV!!

Got a great favorite leftover recipe? Please share or link in the comments below!

As I find new ones, I will happily share here.

Be Blessed & Happy cooking!

Friday, November 25, 2016

Mom's Fade

It is gut-wrenching that my mom is losing her mind. Literally. Please know I do not intend this to be disrespectful in any way. It is genuine. Our mom has dementia and has lost portions of active brain function. A few years ago she had several mini-strokes and ended up in the hospital. We thought we were going to lose her. But she rallied and her health improved somewhat. Her mind did not.

Prior to that we had seen evidence of aging, normal forgetfulness.  Names, recipes, dates.  But since the episode of strokes, she has mentally declined rapidly. Disorientation, fear, depression, sadness, all in a matter of moments. We knew it was getting bad when she wouldn't recognize our dad. "Who is that?" she'd ask. "Mom, that's dad." "No it's not." "Yes, he is just old now, his hair is white." Trying to laugh it off, she still isn't convinced. When she became disoriented travelling with dad, she would yell for strangers to call the police because she'd been kidnapped. The dog would sit in her lap, yet she'd ask where the pup was. She would finish eating, and then forget that she had.

Medication helps, but it won't take her mind back to where it was. It calms her some, helps her sleep, handles her panic attacks. With a couple of other health issues, it is a delicate balance of treating one, not to exacerbate another, all while making sure she is stable, both physically and mentally.

Just over a year ago we made the difficult family decision to place mom in an assisted living residence. When she is there, she is usually compliant. I say usually.  She may try to open the front door to leave. She argues with staff over regular daily routines. Even in her current mental state, she is extremely stubborn. We always try to joke with her and blame her Scotch-Irish roots.  Sometimes that works, other times no.  When it works, she starts talking with an Irish accent. Oh mom, love her.

Frequently she tells us not to put her in home. While we are visiting the home.  She needs assistance with everything, even the act of putting on socks and shoes. No longer can she sit for hours and read, which was one of her favorite pastimes. No longer can she write, the fine motor skills are gone. No longer can she cook, the recipes and rules of cooking are gone, and too dangerous.

Let me be frank. Dementia sucks. It robs our loved ones of their memories, regularly functioning, and personality.  It infuriates me. It deeply saddens me. It wrenches my gut.  If we can pour so much into cancer research, we need to support Dementia/Alzheimer's research. Let's find a way to better slow or prevent this disease. No one should have to see their loved ones fade like this. It is a fade, a slow fade.

Friends and family have lost their parents. From disease, from cancer. Some quickly, others over time.  We attend funerals now, fewer weddings. I love my mom and the fact that we still have her.  We are blessed.

Though, this is not the future we envisioned in her golden years. We had a few years prior to the strokes of grandparent days at school. Of reading to her grandkids' classrooms. Of baking with the grandkids. Of Black Friday shopping with her daughters. Of cooking big family holiday dinners together. Now, those activities with mom are done. My sisters and I work to keep those traditions alive for our families. We do recognize that this season in life is where we must take on this role.  Making sure that traditions happen. Making connections with kin. We become that leader generation. The torch was passed. Tossed. Thrown.

This is our Mom, but it isn't. She knows she loves her grandchildren and dogs. Names are lost to her but she knows when she sees them, they are hers. Whatever part of the brain that processes new information, that is gone. Get her talking about her past, and she has those memories. In detail. But as quickly as she shares, the next instant she expresses confusion and panic. Where is she? Are we leaving her? Who are we? Repeatedly. But we answer each time. With patience. With love. Over and over. We redirect when she expresses fear or anger. We want her to be comfortable. To be happy. For as long as we get to have her here.  Because she is Mom. ❤

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Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Gullible Mom...Yup. That's me.

Gullible Mom...Yup. That's me.

My kids have my heart.  I was so proud when my daughter went away to school, but I have to say when she changed majors and decided to come home, I was relieved?? Can I say that? No more worry about her being so far away making daily life decisions that I was not apart of.  A mom's innate need to be near her kids? Was I a "smother"?  Probably, but I have to say I love being able to experience her early adult life with her, not a day's drive away. My son missed her too. Terribly. He was brave the year without her, but their hijinks and antics when they are together make me laugh, and keep my heart full. Even when I am the butt of their jokes. It's okay. I can take it.

Two kids who truly enjoy each other's company. Could I ask for anything more? My children who genuinely enjoy each other.  Inside jokes, plotting, making short films, and making fun of their gullible mom.  So happy to be a source of entertainment for them.  Almost eight years apart and they often prefer each other's company over friends.  Of course, sibling issues are always present but he is the male version of her. Genetics can be scary!! Same walk, laugh, sense of humor, even mirror images of birthmarks and freckles.  Both love reading, but their own genres, not necessarily what is required for school.  Have no fear, when she doesn't want her littler brother around, or vice-versa, it is very apparent.

For our wedding anniversary my husband and I took a trip and left the two together. College student and a pre-teen.  Might be a recipe for trouble?  Fridge was stocked and they had ample family available nearby, along with a couple pretty fierce, not, big dogs to protect them. They left us a list of things they were going to do together while we were gone and asked us to read it. Me, in my hurry to get away with my spouse, did the cursory once-over and said, "Yea looks great! Have fun and be safe!" Poof! We were out the door. It wasn't until we got home days later and reread the list that at the bottom was a to-do that was meant just for me. Gullible mom. Silly mom.

Here were a few things on their to-do list:

  • Go to the movies
  • Wash the dogs
  • Keep up the dishes
  • Bake cookies
  • Stay up late
  • Go for a bike ride
  • Go to the park
  • Go swimming
  • Burn down the house

Really??  Burn down the house?? That explains their hysterical laughter as we left the house. I hadn't seen it. Mom was clueless. It was only there as a joke, and I didn't see it. Yea, their sense of humor slays me. It was a running joke for weeks that I didn't catch it before we left. Me. Gullible mom. Even still they occasionally patronize me and say, "Mom...this is sarcasm." Ha. Ha. But have no fear, there is a line. And when they Poke the Bear, they know it. That's me. The Bear.

Despite their constant attempt to make me look foolish, lovingly of course, they are fiercely protective. Of home, of family, of tradition. Both are extremely loyal to family and friends. When they make friends, it is a life-long relationship. Powerful. Full of love. Purposeful. They respect and love their friends, and their cousins are their closest friends. Both kids shy away from drama (thank the Lord!), and keep life in perspective.  Family first. Friends next. Then the rest.

We love deeply in our family. If you betray or hurt us, it takes a long time to recover or forgive. And when we do forgive, we do not forget. Not altruistic but how we are wired. It has taken me years to practice showing grace toward others, but my children have the skill down pat. They are patient and kind with others and each other, and have a wicked sense of humor. (My Boston family would be proud.) Yup.  My family.  And I love them so dearly!

I am so very thankful that they are both Christians and firmly believe in the power of prayer. For years as I drove the kids to school and to daycare, we prayed each morning in the car as we pulled out of the driveway. Over time, schedules changed, but some traditions never die. When we ride together now and leave the home, we pray. Out loud. Thanking the Lord, reflecting on His greatness, and with prayer and petition for those in need. Thinking of others and knowing prayer works. To save, guide, protect and teach. God is good!

These kids. My heart. Full-up and exploding. So proud, and still so gullible. At least, that's what they think. 😉

"You're a parent. This is your circus. And these are your monkeys."

Thankful for Time


Today I am thankful for time.
Time to sleep in, despite the caffeine headache.
Time to write, even if it isn't very good.
Time to connect with my family, in pj's, at home, over coffee.
Time to cook, try new recipes on my guinea pig famliy.
Time to nap, as often as possible.
Time to take my time getting ready.
Time to reorganize.
Time to reflect and pray.
Time to be silly.

My time today will be used wisely, on my own terms. To renew. To restore. To refresh. To create. To imagine.

Enjoy every moment. ❤

Monday, November 21, 2016

Principal Thoughts: 2 Ways to Increase Student Achievement

2 Ways to Increase Student Achievement
Student achievement is the indicator by which educators and schools are evaluated.  If is often frustrating to teachers and school leaders when we know our students are learning and improving, only to see that achievement results have missed the "target" as defined by the district or state. It begs the question, is what we are doing working to increase student achievement?  What are teachers doing and what practices have the greatest impact?  Are we maximizing student relationships to assist in learning?

Meeting Students 1:1, Personally not Technology
While technology resources are increasing at an exponential rate, the best of technology can never replace the necessity and importance of a great teacher. Teachers affect student lives, everyday, and have the potential to impact them in a positive way. When teachers and educators take time to get to know their students on a personal level, they have a greater impact on the students' lives. They begin to truly 'see' their students. They know them, their likes, dislikes, emotional triggers, strengths, weaknesses, and family life. They better understand what baggage students bring to school that might affect their day, like did they sleep well, have adequate clothing, or even have breakfast?  Many of these issues may be relevant only to low socio-economic groups of students.  However, despite socio-economic status, all students want to know that the adults in their life care about them. Students who do not feel that their teachers are invested in them, especially children who struggle, will lack initiative to challenge and achieve.

In our 1:1 device school (TK-5), students are directed to spend time on their Chromebooks for a variety of tasks including Google Classroom assignments, Accelerated Reading and Accelerated Math, SpellingCity, Discovery Learning, Lexia Core5, just to name a few. When teachers review their dashboard data on these programs, they can dig into where students are achieving and where they might need additional intervention on a skill or concept. Having a student-teacher conference, a 1:1 personal conversation, allows the teacher a unique opportunity to connect with a student, with every student. The intent would not be to scold or criticize but to seek to understand. "I see that you did great on this skill-nicely done! Let's look at this area and see how we can help you." Taking the time to speak with students individually creates a culture of trust as well as builds a greater understanding for specific student needs.  The personal connection becomes stronger, and both student and educator are encouraged.

Use Data to Build Skill-Based Intervention
During regular Professional Learning Community Meetings (PLC's), i.e. Grade Level Meetings, teachers and administrators regularly review student data and learning goals. The idea is that if educators can identify strengths and weaknesses in learning, they can better design and mold the curriculum to meet the needs of their students.  Educators begin to develop a greater growth-mind set that leads to innovative ways to meet student needs and build student achievement.

In a typical lesson, often teachers provide instruction, check for understanding, and then pull back students that may have questions.  Some students do not prefer to make public their lack of understand and will not seek additional help. By using the 1:1 conference model and reviewing student skill data, teachers can strategically create skill-based interventions that work to scaffold the learning for small groups of students. Once students have foundational understanding and competency in the area of their skill-deficit, they begin to better understand then core learning objectives. Teachers have tremendous impact when they break down data of student achievement student-by-student, skill-by-skill, and then create small group mini-lessons, or interventions, to help students better understand the concept. Reviewing this data openly at grade-level PLC's allows the educators to share best teaching strategies to design specific instruction based on student need. While sharing class data can be intimidating for many, when approached with a growth-mindset, educators can rest assured their input contributes to improving the learning of their students.

When educators, teachers and administrators, take the time to use the data they have acquired to thoughtfully create lessons and a learning environment that fosters positive contact and feedback, students WILL achieve.
I am currently a principal in a TK-5 school in the central valley of California. Our student population is 97% low socio-economic. With 10 years of administration experience and 19 years in education, my thoughts here share two ways educators can increase student achievement, through data review and personal, positive student contact.  I have witnessed these two strategies have a huge impact on increasing student achievement.

If you would like to share your thoughts or connect,  I can be reached through Twitter @susandenton27, or