Freezer Cooking Day, Part One

 A lot of people ask me how I learned to cook, and I honestly can’t ever remember a time when I wasn’t cooking. My mom loves to cook, and she would set me on the counter in my little infant seat so she could watch me while she was in the kitchen. Basically, I’ve been cooking with her since birth. When I got older, I had a stool so I could reach the counter to join her in whatever cooking she was doing, and she always let me help, even when it would have been easier (and cleaner) for her to just do it by herself.

She is one of many great cooks in my family, and she is definitely the reason that I love cooking and sharing recipes so much.

I haven’t gotten to cook with my mom much since I got married and moved away from home, but I went to her house on Wednesday and we took the day to do a ton of freezer cooking. We stocked our freezers with all kinds of casseroles and prepared meals to help make things a little easier when the baby comes. At the end of the day, I came home with 24 freezer meals and my mom kept about 6 at her house.

Freezer cooking is something that we have only recently started doing. We used some of our own recipes and also tried some from The Pioneer Woman’s cookbook (she has a freezer cooking section in her newest cookbook). I would highly recommend checking out her recipes! 

Here’s how we made 30+ meals in about 5 hours:

Step One: Boil a HUGE pot of chicken

We decided to do a lot of recipes that used chicken to make it easier to do our cooking in bulk. 

Step Two: Prep your other ingredients. We had planned out our menu around the following recipes: chicken dressing, squash dressing, squash casserole, chicken and broccoli casserole, poppy seed chicken casserole, chicken pot pie, baked ziti, and taco meat. We started with the chicken recipes first, so once we started boiling the chicken, we cooked our cornbread, rice, broccoli and whatever other cooked ingredients we needed. 

Step Three: Assemble your recipes and casseroles. 

Step Four: Package your meals for the freezer. We used disposable aluminum containers for the casseroles, but you can put them in any container that is freezer safe and will keep your food air-tight to prevent freezer burn. Make sure to label each container with the container’s contents, date, and cooking instructions for easy prep later. 

We started with my mom’s chicken dressing recipe. This is a staple in our family on any holiday, but we love it too much to just reserve it for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Typically, we make this whenever we have leftover cornbread. This is one of my husband’s favorites, so I kept one pan of this in the fridge last night and cooked it for our dinner tonight. It took about 40 minutes to bake it, and in that time I heated up some rolls and put some potatoes and butter beans on the stove. It was a pretty effortless dinner, and it was amazing. 

Here’s the recipe:

Tina’s Chicken Dressing

  • 1 large pone of cornbread 
  • 2 chicken breasts, boiled and shredded
  • 2 chicken thighs, boiled and shredded
  • 1 sleeve of saltine crackers
  • 1/2 medium onion, diced
  • 1/2 stick margarine, cubed
  • 6 eggs
  • Salt, pepper, and poultry seasoning to taste
  • Chicken broth (save from when you boil the chicken)

Crumble the cornbread in a large bowl. Crush the saltine crackers and add to the cornbread. Toss in the diced onion and cubed margarine and stir into the bread mixture.

Scramble 6 eggs in a bowl and pour them into the bread mixture. Make sure to stir the eggs into the bread mixture well. Add shredded chicken and stir. Slowly add hot chicken broth to the mixture (if you add this too fast, it can cook the eggs and you end up with scrambled eggs in your dressing – it’s best to use a ladle and add a little at a time and stir well after each addition of liquid).

Add broth until mixture is very wet (the picture above shows this in-progress – we added more broth to this before it was ready to pour into the pan). You want a really wet mixture so that the dressing will be moist after cooking it. 

Next, add salt, pepper, and poultry seasoning to taste (once you put in the hot chicken broth, it is fine to taste test this mixture – the broth cooks the eggs, so you can start by adding just a little seasoning, tasting it, and adding more as needed).

Pour the mixture into a large baking dish and bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes to an hour.

For freezer cooking, we used disposable aluminum pans that were about 4×6 inches and about 2 inches deep. These pans are the perfect size to hold a casserole or meal for 2 people. We ended up getting 4 pans out of one of these recipes.

For freezing, you do not have to cook this before putting it in the freezer. Just cover your pan and stick it straight in the freezer. As long as it’s in an air-tight container, it will keep in the freezer for up to 6 months. When you’re ready to cook it, place it in the refrigerator for a day to thaw it out, then bake at 350 degrees for about 40 minutes to an hour (depending on the size of your container). You want the top to be golden brown. 

Our next recipe was one that we have adapted from Trisha Yearwood’s cookbook. Her recipe for chicken and broccoli casserole is wonderful, but I don’t like cheese, so I omit the cheese and cover my casserole with half cheese (for my husband) and half crumbled butter crackers (for me). Both toppings freeze really well. Here’s my adapted recipe:

Chicken Broccoli Casserole

When I make this just for Jeff and me, I half this recipe and use a can of Cream of Chicken and Mushroom soup (Campbell’s sells these half and half cans, and I love them!). I cook mine in an 8×8 baking dish when I’m making it for just the two of us, and I half my toppings as I mentioned above.

This is the full sized recipe, which makes a nice family-sized casserole in a 9×13 dish. 

If you want a cheesier version of this recipe, check out Trisha Yearwood’s cookbook Georgia Cooking in an Oklahoma Kitchen. 

  • 4 to 6 large chicken breasts, boiled and shredded
  • 16 ounces of sour cream
  • 1 can cream of chicken soup
  • 1 can cream of mushroom soup
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • Splash of lemon juice
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 lb of frozen broccoli florets, steamed
  • 2 cups cooked white rice (I use Minute Rice and put some margarine and salt in the water as I am cooking the rice so it has some good flavor on its own.)
  • 1 to 2 sleeves of butter crackers, crumbled, OR 2 cups of shredded cheddar cheese (as a topping for the casserole)

Start by layering rice in the bottom of your pan.

Then, layer the steamed broccoli florets on top of the rice. Make sure to put some salt on the broccoli! Season each layer for the best taste.

Next, mix the shredded chicken, sour cream, cream of chicken soup, cream of mushroom soup, mayonnaise, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Stir this mixture well. And layer this on top of the broccoli.

Next, sprinkle in your topping of choice. I make his and hers casseroles by topping mine with half crumbled butter crackers and half shredded cheddar cheese. 

If you are freezing this, you do not need to cook it before freezing. Make sure to store it in an air-tight container. It will keep well for up to 6 months.

When you’re ready to cook this, thaw it out and bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes, or until the cheese bubbles. 

This is a perfect meal all on its own. We have this at least 3 or 4 times a month at my house. It also heats up really well in the microwave if you want to take leftovers for lunch. 

Our next recipe is one that my husband requested when we first got married that I had never made or eaten before: poppy seed chicken casserole. This one is super easy and can be a complete meal on its own, although sometimes when I make it, I will microwave a bag of steamed veggies to go with it. 

Poppy Seed Chicken Casserole

  • 4 large chicken breasts, boiled and shredded
  • 2 cups cooked white rice
  • 16 ounces sour cream
  • 1 can cream of chicken soup
  • 1 can cream of mushroom soup
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 tablespoon poppy seeds
  • 1 to 2 sleeves butter crackers for topping
  • Optional – 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

Mix all ingredients except crackers together in a large bowl. If you like cheese, you can add the cup of shredded cheese to this mixture. 

Spread into your pan and top with crumbled butter crackers.

If you are going to freeze this, you can put it straight into the freezer without cooking it. When you’re ready to serve it, let it thaw, put a few pats of butter or margarine on top of the casserole, and bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes. 
This is the first half of our freezer cooking day. I’ll be adding another post soon with the rest of the recipes we made. Make sure to check back soon for those!

Happy cooking! 

Getting Ready for Baby Jack

One reason that I am so glad it is finally summer is that I can take a break from school and focus on getting ready for Baby Jack’s arrival. Jeff and I got the nursery painted about a month ago, and we got the crib put together, but other than that, Jack’s nursery is looking pretty sparse.

We decided to go with a woodland animal/mountain theme, and I’m so happy with how the wall mural turned out! My husband was such a good sport about painting those mountains for me! We’re going to be adding some glow-in-the-dark stars to the sky part of the mural, and hopefully I can get some vinyl letters that say “dream big, little one.”

My mother-in-law bought us these adorable woodland animal prints. I’m going to hang these above the dresser/changing table.

The dresser is an antique that was handed down to me from my uncle. I cleaned it up and changed the knobs and I’m going to put the changing pad on top, along with some diaper changing essentials.

For this blank wall, I found a pretty easy pattern for floating shelves and I’m planning to make three of them. This will be where we put all of Jack’s books (I’m planning to build him a huge library, so this storage will be great!). I’m going to be working on the shelves next week, so I’ll have a tutorial on the blog soon.

I’m planning to get some bins and boxes to put under the floating shelves for toy storage. I’ve also been looking at an adorable little teepee to put in the corner.

Other special touches include this chair, which came from my great-grandmother’s house and the framed cross-stitch, which my grandmother made for my nursery when I was born. I’ll post some updates as I get things done.

We’re officially down to 7 weeks until Jack’s due date, and I’m nesting, so hopefully I’ll be getting some work done in here really soon!

Let me know what you think of Baby Jack’s space! I can’t wait for him to get here so we can enjoy this room together.

1001 Chocolate Chip Cake

This cake is one of the easiest recipes to make. People always rave over it when I make it, and nobody knows that it is just straight out of a box and 100% not homemade. (Shh… don’t tell anyone my secret!)

In fact, this cake is what made Jeff know he wanted to marry me. Unfortunately, it wasn’t me who made it the first time he had it and fell in love with it…it was my mom. He jokes that the first time he had dinner at my parents’ house and tried my mom’s cooking, specifically this cake, he knew he wanted to be part of our family. 

I came up with this recipe when I was a teenager. Since then, my mom has tweaked it and now she uses her own from-scratch chocolate cake recipe when she makes it. I, however, am still loyal to Duncan Hines. 

Here’s what you need:

1 box Duncan Hines chocolate cake mix (Duncan Hines is the best and makes the most moist cake)

3 large eggs

1 cup water

1/3 cup vegetable oil

Chocolate syrup

2 cans of Duncan Hines chocolate frosting

1 bag of mini chocolate chips

Start by preparing the cake mix. I follow the directions on the box and then add 1 tablespoon of chocolate syrup to the batter. It makes the cake extra moist. 

I whisk my batter by hand, but you can use a mixer if you want. Just make sure not to over beat the batter. 

Pour the batter into two 8 inch round pans and bake according to the package directions. 

When the cakes are done, let them cool and turn them out onto a cooling rack.
When the layers are completely cooled, ice the top of the bottom layer with the chocolate frosting. Then (this is the most important part) sprinkle mini chocolate chips on top of that layer of cake. Put a generous amount of these. They’re the best part of this cake!

Place the next layer on top and frost the rest of the cake with the chocolate frosting. I usually end up using about 1 and 1/2 cans of frosting for an 8 inch round cake. Put another generous amount of mini chocolate chips on top and drizzle some chocolate syrup over the top of the cake.

Easy, right?

Now stick the cake in the fridge for at least a couple hours (or overnight if you have time). The colder it gets, the better. This makes the chocolate chips really hard and crunchy, which is a great contrast to the moist cake.

The cake is best served cold, and most of my family likes to eat it with vanilla ice cream. 

On another note, look at this adorable cake taker that my best friend got me for a housewarming gift when I moved into my first house! I should really make more cakes as an excuse to use it. 

Books, books, books…

This year, I set a goal for myself of reading 24 books. That doesn’t sound very hard. After all, that’s just two books a month, right?

Well, it’s June and so far I have only read 3 books total. Pretty pathetic, huh? I’m using grading 150+ papers written by high school freshmen and juniors as my excuse, but still, that’s pretty bad. 

This summer, I have plans to do some major catching up on my reading list. Here are the books I’ve read so far this year and a list of books coming soon.

  1. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins – I bought this book when it first came out with intentions to read it then, but somehow I just got to it earlier this year. It was definitely a page turner, but there weren’t very many characters, so it didn’t end up being much of a mystery in the end. I did like that it was written from different character’s perspectives, so you got to see the story from multiple points of view. I would give the book 4/5 stars. After I read it, my husband wanted to watch the movie, which was a total let-down after reading the book. This was my first Paula Hawkins book, and I would definitely read one of hers again.
  2. Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer – My husband insisted that I had to read this book and I am so glad that I did! It is now one of my favorite books of all time, and I’ve already bought another of Krakauer’s books because this one was so good. It tells the story of Chris McCandless, who left behind his money and the expectations that society had for him to hitchhike across America. He spent a summer in the Alaskan wilderness and at the end of the season, his body was found by some hunters. Krakauer retraces his steps and tries to figure out how he ended up there and what exactly killed him. It is one of the most beautifully written nonfiction novels I have ever read. Despite the fact that McCandless ends up dead, there are so many things that you can learn from his journey. I completely fell in love with this book and will probably reread it regularly. 
  3. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood – Okay, I read this book because it was on a list of books all women should read and I had heard a lot of great things about it. The idea behind the book was interesting, but I didn’t love it. I almost had to force myself to finish it, and I really didn’t have a single character that I was really invested in or cared about. 

The next three books on my list are As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner (a classic that I have somehow never read), In Cold Blood by Truman Capote, and The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer (my students’ summer reading assignment). 

Have you read any of these books? What did you think about them? Do you have any suggestions for my To Read list? I’d love to hear your comments! Happy reading! 

Hospital Door Hanger How-to

So apparently, if you have a baby these days, it is a requirement to have one of those adorable door hangers for your hospital room door with the baby’s name, birth date, time, length, and weight all documented on it. I think they’re the cutest, but I had honestly completely forgotten that I would need/want one until one of my friends had her baby a couple weeks ago and posted a picture of her precious little one and the door hanger on Facebook. 

At first, I was planning to get one on Etsy or at a local baby store, but I had a hard time finding one that went with my nursery theme and wasn’t super expensive. 

Thank goodness for Pinterest and Hobby Lobby, though! I picked up some canvas and paint today (on sale!) and got a little crafty after dinner. 

Even though I am totally not a crafty person, I decided that I could make my own. The design I chose is pretty simple because I needed it to be something that I can actually do by myself.

I started with a blank 8×10 canvas. 

Since there are a lot of blues and greys in the nursery, I decided to paint the border around the canvas grey. I left the middle white to make it easy to put Jack’s name there. 

Before I painted the borders, I sketched a little fox in the bottom corner in pencil. This took a LOT of trial and error, but I’m pretty happy with how the little guy turned out. 

Next, I added Jack’s name in blue. I wanted to use navy blue, but I couldn’t find a navy paint pen and I am no good with a brush, so I went for a bright primary blue instead. I think it turned out pretty cute. 

I also used a black paint pen to give the order a little more definition. 

To tie in the woodland animal theme, I needed the cute little fox in the bottom corner. I picked the easiest looking fox I could find online and and practiced on copy paper a couple times before drawing this little guy onto my canvas in pencil. Then I used paint pens to fill in the colors and do the outline.
For the section with the birth date, time, weight, and length, I started with a blank 5×7 canvas. 

I copied the grey border on this canvas so it would match the other one, then I wrote in the titles and blanks for us to fill in when Jack is born with a black paint pen. 

To hang the canvas, I attached some ribbon to the back with thumbtacks and tied a bow at the top.

I attached the smaller canvas to the big one with more ribbon. A similar door hanger on Etsy was $45. This one cost me around $15 to make and I have extra supplies for another project later, so I call that win! And I think Jack’s door hanger is pretty darn cute, even if I did make it. ūüėČ

Summer Plans

Summer is here! I forgot how hard it is to keep up with a blog and teach full-time, so it’s been a while since I’ve had a chance to post anything. We’ve had some major changes happening around here, and I can’t wait to catch you up and share some of them with you! 

School got out last Friday and we’ve already celebrated with a weekend beach trip. Now we’re back home and I’m settling into my summer routine, which is usually pretty laid back since I’m a teacher. 

This summer is going to be completely different, though, because we are only 8 weeks from the arrival of our first child and I’m slightly freaked out about all the things I still need to do. 

My to do list is about a mile long, but I end up running on empty around 2 in the afternoon and just can’t seem to get anything accomplished. (Is it normal to be completely exhausted during the third trimester? Because I feel like I’ve been hit by a bus pretty much all day.)

A couple of things I’m working on this summer (besides growing a human) are:

  1. Making the bed every morning (My morning might be noon right now since I’m not working, but whatever. Baby steps, people.)
  2. Cleaning the kitchen before bed. This is a habit that I really want to start. I feel so much better waking up to a clean kitchen. It makes the whole house look neater, and since I’m probably going to have a lot of drop in visitors once Baby Jack arrives, I want the place to look as nice as possible. 
  3. Reading. I set a goal for myself to read 24 books this year. That’s two a month. Shouldn’t be hard for an English teacher, right? Well, it’s June and I have only read 3 books. I need to majorly catch up here, and summer is usually the best time to do that for me. My list of books to read is growing and changing all the time, but here are a few of the ones I’m going to be diving into soon.
  4. Finishing the nursery. We are doing a woodland/mountain theme and I’m pretty pumped about it. There are a few more things we need for it to be complete, but it’s coming together s…l…o…w…l…y…
  5. Writing lesson plans for a new grade level. I made it through my first year at a new school and didn’t get pink slipped (yay!), but I did get assigned a new grade level for half of my classes next year, and since I’m going to be on maternity leave when school starts, I have a LOT of planning to get done over the summer.

I’m also hoping to do a lot more blogging this summer, but we’ll see how that goes. What are your plans for this summer? 

Teacher Talk – Independent Reading in My High School Classroom

I have a confession to make. I don’t really like to read anymore. Please don’t throw rotten tomatoes at me, not yet, anyway. I KNOW how bad that is. I’m an English teacher. I should LOVE to read.

I used to love it. I was almost always reading, finding new books to read, and talking about books I had read. Then college happened, and I took so many classes about literary analysis and teaching reading and understanding the Common Core standards that somewhere along the way, reading became a JOB to me. I no longer just curl up with a book to relax. I can’t read for fun anymore. It seems that every time I pick up a book, I feel like I’m working on an assignment and I need to analyze every part of it and compare and contrast it with other texts and every other thing that I teach my students to do every day in my high school classroom.

As an educator, I have a major problem with this. I use to LOVE reading, so much that I decided to study literature and make it my career. Reading and writing were at one time my passion, and the education system that I was trained by and that I work for has KILLED that passion. The part that frightens me the most is that I’m afraid that’s exactly what I (as a part of the education system) am doing to my students.

Almost all of my 9th and 11th grade students hate to read. They whine and complain and kick and scream and throw a fit when they’re forced to read something (I only wish that I was exaggerating).

It’s a major problem, and over Christmas break, I racked my brain for a way to combat this. I thought about books that I read when I was their age that I absolutely loved, books that changed the way I thought about things, or introduced new ideas into my life, or that I got so wrapped up in that I actually mourned for the characters in their tragic stories. But it doesn’t matter how great a book is if I can’t get them to have the desire to open the book and give it a chance.

So I started asking myself WHY they hate reading. And then I got pretty honest with myself. When was the last time I read a book for fun? It was at least two or three years ago, maybe longer. Why don’t I read anymore? Is it because I don’t have time? (That’s my favorite excuse for EVERYTHING.) Or is there another reason?

When I really thought about it, I realized that I actually don’t like reading anymore. I’m in the same boat as my students. I’m just as reluctant to crack open a book as they are, and when I realized this, I did some soul searching about why. I realized how much WORK reading has become in my life, and when I think about the way my students have been exposed to literature in the past, I imagine that they feel the same way.

They’ve never been allowed to just read for the enjoyment of it. Ever since they started school, books and reading have been linked to assessments and AR tests. Reading has been synonymous with WORK.

I want to change that mindset in my classroom. I don’t want reading to be work. I want it to be an enjoyable experience that my students actually look forward to. Just because I want it to be that way, doesn’t make it so. It is going to take a LOT of time to convince my students that they could actually enjoy books, and it starts with me finding my love for reading again.

One way that I am trying to make reading an enjoyable experience in my classroom is with our 2017 Independent Reading Challenge. I am giving the students free-range to CHOOSE what books they want to read. I think this is the first step in fostering a love for reading, because if you only read things that are required for your classes, you miss out on so many great books and authors and topics. I want my students to discover what they like, and hopefully begin to foster a long-time love of reading a particular genre or author. My ultimate goal is for them to become lifelong readers, and this is the best way I know to start. Figure out what you like, and it becomes less of a chore, right?

The second thing I am doing is hosting an Independent Reading Day in my classroom every other Friday. This day is JUST about reading. Students bring in the book of their choice, spend time reading, and will eventually be talking about the books they have read and hopefully recommending books to classmates and friends. In my head, this day was going to go perfectly. The kids would come in, sit in a comfy spot in the room, get out their books, and read quietly. I would do the same. Seeing me set an example by reading and seeing their classmates engrossed in books would encourage even the most reluctant readers to get engaged with the text and they would eventually see that reading can actually be fun. Every teacher has had that dream scenario when they write a lesson plan, and every teacher knows that it is NOTHING like reality.

We prepared for this all week. I started out on Monday by assigning our article of the week, which just so happened to be about the importance of reading (teachers are sneaky like that). Then, on Wednesday, we went to the library as a class and students had to do a scavenger hunt to find books that matched specific criteria. This was my way of getting them to see what books the library has to offer and hopefully spark their interest with a book they saw while they were there. I excitedly pumped up the Challenge all week, reminding students that our Independent Reading Challenge started on Friday and if we reached our goal of reading 250 books as a class by May that we would get an awesome class party. I talked about some of my favorite books. I brought new books from home to stock my classroom library.

And then it was finally Friday. Today was our first day of Independent Reading, and while it went well (most of the students did actually read for at least 30 minutes, and about  a third of them came into class with a book they had already picked out and knew they would enjoy), it was nothing compared to the dream classroom that was in my head when I planned all this out.

Stuff happened.

Some students came to class without a book and had to borrow one from the class library, which ate up a lot of time (because students are MASTERS at wasting time).

They wanted to talk about how much they hated reading.

They wanted to talk about ANYTHING to keep from getting started reading.

They had HUNDREDS of questions:

  1. What’s the point of this?
  2. What if I can’t find a book I like? Can I watch a movie on my phone? (Seriously, kid???)
  3. How am I going to be graded for this?
  4. How are you going to give us a test if we are all reading different books?
  5. Is this like AR for high school?
  6. Is the Principal making you do this?
  7. Did you just forget to write a lesson for us today? (Yes, my students are little smart-alecs. Gotta love them. At least, that’s what I tell myself.)

When I told them that they would not be tested on these books, I could literally see their minds being blown (which is actually one of the coolest things about being a teacher – you can almost hear it happen). They have no concept of doing ANYTHING unless they know how many points it is worth and how it will affect their grade. Then I got flooded with the “If I don’t have to take a test, then why do I have to read?” questions.

I had expected this question, and I was prepared for it. I assuring the students that I would be holding them accountable for their reading. There will be a few assignments for them to complete when they finish a book¬†(which I feel almost defeats the purpose, because that means reading is still being looked at as an assignment and as work rather than fun). However, the assignments are small, relatively easy, and mostly creative projects¬†that should be fun (I think my students think that I don’t know the meaning of the word FUN, but I still toss it around a lot – I’m kind of a nerd, so a lot of this stuff is fun to me).

They will also get participation grades (DING! DING! DING! – There’s your reason to read, kid!). If they are not reading, they will get a dreaded zero. A goose egg. They’ll “take an L,” as they like to say. That seemed to be enough to make most of them decide they would read after all, so after about 15 minutes of chaos and questions, they quieted down and we finally got started reading.

I modeled good reading behavior by reading my own book, one that has been in my “To Read” pile for what seems like forever – The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. My mother read it and highly recommended it, so I ahve been meaning to get to it and telling myself that I didn’t have time (hello – I just had a two week break from school for Christmas where I watched the ENTIRE series of FRIENDS for the 12th time, and I thought I didn’t have time to read a book…oy).

I actually got about half-way through the book today (all my classes are participating in the Challenge, so I got to read ALL DAY – which is basically a normal English teacher’s dream), and I must say, it has been great so far (despite me having to keep a watchful eye on my students and whisper, “Shhhh….” every 5 minutes. Is this what librarians feel like?). ¬†I’m really enjoying this book, and I’m happy about that. I made sure to come into this with the mindset that I used to have, which was always excited about reading and just enjoying the story without overanalyzing everything. This gives me hope that I might be able to rekindle my love for reading, and that will be the best way to spark a love for reading in my students, so I have high hopes.

As far as ¬†our Independent Reading Challenge… all I can say after day one is that this is a work in progress. I’m sure I will tweak it and change it as I see necessary, but I am determined that it is a worthy cause and I AM going to find a way to make it work.


Do you do Independent Reading in your high school classroom? How does it work? How do you keep students accountable for their reading without making it boring or seem like a chore? I’d LOVE to hear any comments or suggestions, so please leave a comment and let’s talk about it!


Discipline – My One Little Word for 2017

About a week ago, I wrote a post about how I chose my one little word for this year. It was a hard decision to make, but I think I am going to be happy with the word I picked.

A few days ago, my grandmother sent me this quote:

“Some people regard discipline as a chore. For me, it is the kind of order that sets me free to fly.” – Julie Andrews

I love that quote, and I think it perfectly encompasses the meaning of discipline that I want to capture in my daily life this year. (Plus, who doesn’t want to be more like Julie Andrews?) As much as I think I want to just do whatever whenever, I need structure and discipline in my life so that I can get the most out of each day. Trust me, this winter break from work has proven that I can waste a day on the couch with Netflix, and while sometimes that relaxation and rest is necessary, that’s no way to actually live on a daily basis.

I chose the word discipline because I want some order and structure in my days so that the little things are all taken care of. That way, when an opportunity presents itself, I can confidently say “Yes!” if is is something I want to do, because I know that all the other stuff is handled.

This month, I am starting by being more disciplined in my work life. My ultimate goal is to not have to bring papers home to grade. I want to be productive and efficient when I am at work so that when I am home, I can focus on my family and what really matters instead of dreading my 10 pound teacher-bag that’s constantly staring at me from the corner. This means I’m going to have to change some of my work habits, learn how to work smarter and not harder, and figure out what I can just let go (because, honestly, sometimes I just try to do way too much).

I’m excited to get back into a routine and start actually working on putting my one little word into practice in my life.


What word did you choose for this year and how are you planning to implement it into your daily life? I’d love to hear ¬†your feedback in the comments!

Welcoming the New Year

2016 has been a good year for Jeff and me. We got engaged (in January), got married (in March), adopted our cat, George (in April), bought our first house (in June), and adopted our cat, Pickles (in October).

I also marked a few items off my bucket list – like running in a 5k (which I ran with Jeff in February) and going to the Grand Canyon (on our honeymoon trip). I finished my first full year of teaching at West Point and was blessed with a new job in Tuscaloosa this fall. I started this blog in August and have made so many connections with friends from all over the country by sharing my family recipes with y’all. I even completely finished a round of the Whole30 in October with NO CHEATING – which is a pretty big thing for me. I celebrated turning thirty just a few weeks ago, and I must say, twenty nine was a very good year for me.

Even though 2016 was great, it’s the time of year when we turn our attention to what is to come. Jeff and I have already started prepping for our January Whole30 (this time, he’s going to join me in the challenge). I’ve been using this time off between Christmas and New Year’s to try to organize the house a little better and help us prepare for the next season of our lives.

And, of course, since I love making lists, I started working on my New Year’s Resolutions.
I make resolutions every year, and every year, I have completely abandoned them by February. I’m tired of setting goals only to let myself down, so this year, as I was creating my list of things I hoped to achieve in the new year, I realized that it was a pretty pointless list to make. It always seems like I have such great intentions, but then life happens and my resolutions end up tucked away, never to be accomplished and never to  be mentioned again. I don’t want to repeat that cycle in 2017, so I decided to try something different.

I’ve seen other blogger friends who choose a word of the year to focus on. It becomes their mantra – their goal for the year summed up in one simple word.

Unlike a huge list of extra things to do, a word of the year gives me a goal to strive for in the things I am already doing. I like the sound of that. A lot.

So I decided that 2017 is going to be different. Instead of beginning the year with a list of things I wish I could accomplish in the coming year, I’m going to come up with a word to define my year. This word will be my goal. I will study it, find out what Scripture says about it, and figure out how to apply it in all areas of my life.

Sounds much better and easier than a list, right?

That’s what I thought…until I started trying to choose a word. One blogger friend has chosen the word simplify as her word of the year. I really wanted to steal that one, but then I thought about it for a while and decided that my life is already (purposefully) pretty simple. I don’t really feel like that’s the word I need at this season of my life.

So I asked my husband. His word? Without even having to think about it, he blurted out “Adventure!” (This could probably be his word every single year and it describes him so perfectly that I can’t believe I even had to ask him what word he would choose.)

While I love going on adventures with my husband, I don’t really know if I want adventure to be my one word for 2017. I want to tag along on his adventures, but I feel like I need a different focus in my everyday life.

I tossed around different words for a few days, but it was hard to settle on one. I want to make sure that I choose a good word, especially since I’m going to be living with it for an entire year.

I finally settled on a word – one that will bring a much-needed change to many areas of my life and that I hope will help me stress less and get more out of life. My word for 2017 is DISCIPLINE.

I know. It seems like such a yucky word. I thought that at first, too. But I need discipline in my life. Do you know how many times I have left the towels in the washer until they soured because I was either too lazy or too distracted to go downstairs and move them to the dryer? My husband will tell you, it happens a LOT.

I need to be more disciplined in how I spend my time at work, in how I eat and take care of myself, and in how I spend money, in how I spend my free time at home (because, let’s be honest – binge watching Friends on Netflix for the 100th time is not really helping me accomplish anything). I want to be more disciplined in my writing, in my Bible study, and in my church life. As yucky as this word sounds, it is a word I desperately need.

I’m actually excited to dig deeper into discipline and apply this word to all areas of my life. It won’t be easy, but I think it is going to be worth it.

As great as 2016 was, I’m expecting even bigger and better things from 2017. It will be a year of discipline and adventure for the Wallaces! 

What would you choose as your one word for 2017?


You can learn more about choosing a word by visiting

December Goals

When I was younger, Christmas was my favorite time of year. I have always loved the music, the movies, the decorations, the parties, and of course celebrating the birth of Jesus. Christmas was my favorite holiday. I eagerly anticipated opening my presents on Christmas morning, was always in the play at church, and attended every Christmas event that I could. I had memorized Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas¬†(and can still quote every word of it). I looked forward to December all year long, and I loved every minute of this magical month.

By the time I was in college, Christmas had lost some of its magic. I blamed it on the fact that I worked in retail and had to deal with crazy Christmas shoppers and Christmas music on overload from mid-October until Christmas Eve. I was kind of like Cindy Lou Who in the movie version of The Grinch – I started wondering what all the fuss was about. Why were people running around like crazy, pushing other people around over a pair of $19.99 boots or a $10 Crockpot? What did all this craziness have to do with Christmas, anyway?

While I was working at the mall, I became quite the Grinch. I always thought that as soon as I quit my retail job and started my career, I would start loving Christmas just like I did when I was a little kid.

This is my second Christmas out of retail, and I must admit – I’m still feeling pretty Grinchy. I’m busy, tired, and going broke.

This is the first time I’ve had my own home to decorate, and Christmas decorations are expensive! There’s also a crazy pressure for my decorations to look like all the other perfect Christmas trees that I see on Facebook and Instagram. I did get our tree up and hung some stockings that I got at Hobby Lobby (for half off!), and that’s all the Christmas cheer we’re going to have in the Wallace household this year. I keep having to remind myself that my mother and grandmother have been collecting their Christmas decorations for years and that I can add to it year by year. This is our first Christmas together, and it’s okay for it not to be magazine worthy. The tree is small, and there aren’t many decorations on it, but I have to admit, it makes me smile. So it is good enough.

This is the “season of giving,” and it seems like everywhere I turn someone is expecting me to give them something. I like being generous, but I can barely afford to buy the gifts I want to get for the people on my list. Jeff and I love to give back to the community, and we try to do that on a regular basis, but in December it seems like our budget is stretched a little tighter than normal. We chose one charity to help, and we’re having to say no to the rest. It really makes me feel like a Scrooge to turn down worthy causes that I know are in need of funds to continue their good work in our community, but we had to draw the line somewhere. Again, I’m having to remind myself that it is okay. We’re doing our best, and the giving we are doing is done with joyful hearts, so that’s all that really matters. It’s good enough.

My list of gifts to buy for family and friends was grand until I looked at my actual Christmas budget. Now, they’re getting small, but thoughtful gifts. Part of me wants to feel guilty about that, because my friends and family are awesome and deserve so much more than I can give them. But, because they’re so awesome, they’re not going to care how much I spent. They will love the little things I got for each of them, because they love me.

I think my biggest problem is that Christmas has gotten so commercial and materialistic and competitive. Actually, I guess it always has been this way. Now, I’m just old enough to notice it.

I miss being a kid at Christmas, when everything seemed to be filled with magic. I wonder if I can ever capture that feeling again. I hope that I can.

This year, I want to enjoy the good parts of Christmas – spending time with family and friends and celebrating the birth of Jesus – and leave all that other commercial and competitive stuff behind. My number one goal for this month is to simplify my life and focus only on what is important.

December is always so busy and hectic, but this month, I want to slow down and enjoy every moment. I hope that you can find some time in your busy holiday schedule to do the same.

Merry Christmas!