Playoff Football Fiesta: What We Made and Devoured

Published 1/20/14 by:

Full disclosure: my family loves the New England Patriots. When my parents are in Florida for the winter and the games aren’t nationally televised, they head to a restaurant or bar for the entire Sunday afternoon to be able to see the game. So when the Patriots are taking on Peyton Manning and the Broncos in a playoff game that leads to the Superbowl, and it coincides with a Three-day weekend? Well, friends need to come over, and food needs to be devoured. So below you will see two fantastic recipes that I will be adding to my personal cookbook because they were a total hit. For recipe details please see the included links from the blogs I found these delicious treats on.


Tater Totchos

Do you like tater tots? Eggs? Cheese? Guacamole? Then these Tater Totchos are a home run. This is a hearty brunch item, best served in individual crockpots like the French onion soup crocks you see in this picture. I used my Dutch Oven to cook everything, and gave my guests heaping servings on plates. I let them salsa and guacamole at their own risk. I think the next time I make these, I will add some onions into the mix.


These are sinful. These are muffins that are doughnuts, or doughnuts that are muffins. You make them in a mini muffin tin, and no frying is necessary, and yet they taste like sugary doughnuts. My brother coined them “muffnuts”, but I also like “duffins”. These mini doughnut muffins will be a hit with kids and adults. Perhaps next time I’ll serve them with some vanilla ice cream and instead of doing a cinnamon and sugar roll, I may put brown sugar into the mix. Okay, I’m gaining weight just writing this post.

What do y’all make for the playoffs? Better yet, what are you making for the Superbowl?

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Florida Essentials Wish List 2014

Published 1/18/14 by:

Florida Essentials


My parents spend their winters in Florida, and as a teacher, I get week-long vacations in February and April. The flights are usually outrageously expensive to travel because families in the surrounding areas want to get the heck out of the snow. I managed to get a flight that wasn’t too out of control because I started looking very early. So, in 29 days I will be in sunny Florida, and as the flakes fall here in Massachusetts, I’m daydreaming about what my carry-on may be filled with.
Florida Essentials 

White sleeveless top – I have traveled to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Florida, and am a die-hard fan. This shirt is a must for my poolside wardrobe.

Tory Burch leather flat shoes – I own these thong flats in two different prints, and they’re terrific for dining out, or teaching all day.

Nixon plastic jewelry – I bought this watch (mine is two-tone: pink and navy blue) in a surf shop in Universal Studios a few years ago. I feel like a real boss when I wear it.

Elsa peretti jewelry – This necklace was given to me in sterling silver about ten years ago, but I love all the different colors they’ve come out with since then. Turquoise shouts Florida to me.

Michael Kors round frame sunglasses – I want these. Does anyone know if they’re a new style?

Lip treatment – grapefruit is so refreshing, and my lips get easily chapped in the sun, so I always keep this balm handy.

Essie nail polish -potential pedicure color?

Neutrogena beauty product – This is one of very few sunscreens that doesn’t make my skin break out. Plus I’m really fair, so I like 45 SPF or higher.

Vintage home accessory – I hope I find some postcards as cute as this vintage print.

Lacoste beach towel – I have an over-sized Lacoste beach towel that I bought at the Nordstrom Rack many moons ago. I’m so glad to see they’re continuing these prints!
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Quick Rant: Establishing A Culture of Effort

Published 1/15/14 by:

Calvin & Hobbes Butt Kicking Comic Strip


The school district I teach in uses the term “a culture of effort” on a regular basis. It was a major selling point for me when I started teaching there in September 2011, because I don’t consider myself one of these “naturally smart” people.  I worked hard for every grade I received, every school I got into, every degree I earned.  I can honestly say that my effort has been the deciding factor for every opportunity or rejection I’ve encountered. So how did my culture of effort get instilled in me?  I grew up in a household where effort grades were held in higher regard than actual academic grades. In middle school, my mom didn’t care if I got a C in science if my effort grade was A- or better. “Did you do your best?” was a phrase repeated at every meal, every bedtime tuck in, and during every trip to the softball field. The  middle school I teach in doesn’t have effort grades, because they’re not easily measurable. I’m not completely convinced of that because homework, notes taken, and participation could be indicators of daily effort. Some of my students (if I were to give homework grades) would be at a 10% for the trimester, which started immediately after Thanksgiving. It’s this general lack of commitment to academia that is holding quite a few of my students back. They listen to my lessons, my demonstrations, and my general instructions, but they don’t follow through with doing the daily practice. The most essential part of learning is practicing skills. I often tell my students, “I didn’t wake up one day and know my multiplication tables. It was a labor of love.” To which they say, “what do you mean by labor?” Herein lies my most difficult work: motivating students to complete the practice so that they can eventually master a skill. Everything is so instantaneous for them in their personal lives, that putting in leg-work day in and day out seems ridiculous to them, and I’m not sure how to begin fixing that.

Oftentimes when I give my students feedback on rough drafts of their writing they’ll actually moan and complain to their classmates about having to fix things. It’s a nuisance to them that I told them they needed to add, elaborate or completely follow the directions. I’ve actually had to say to students, “I could just collect it the way it is, but you wouldn’t like the grade you’d receive. I’m giving you a second chance here. Take advantage.” It’s pathetic. Part of effort is showing up with the right stuff, being responsible for your things, and taking ownership of your mistakes. All of those things exhibit good daily effort. My students, and probably a lot of the students of 2014, have no interest in progressing in their daily effort levels. While society’s instantaneous nature that I alluded to may play a factor in this lazy mindset, I think a lot of it is at home culture and environment. Making excuses for your kid, blaming the teacher for lack of motivation, and bailing your kid out when he/she leaves is unprepared does not cultivate a work ethic which is essential (in my opinion) for leading a successful life. Hold your kids, students, neighbors, relatives et. al. accountable. You’re not doing them any favors by teaching them that tenacity, persistence, and the good ol’ college try aren’t necessities.



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Review: Pretty Little Liars “Love ShAck, Baby”

Published 1/14/14 by:

Screen Shot 2014-01-14 at 8.40.24 PM


Emily’s midnight visit from the reaper – I mean, Ali- coincides with the her being the first person to research Allison’s old diary. Emily is only willing to dive back into the journal if it means she can get answers. Although Hanna assigning the journal to Spencer next (quite quickly) suggested that there are some things in there that she doesn’t want Aria to see, I think that Em is still going to suffer the most from  this resurrection of Ali.

Ezra watching the Liars delve into Ali’s journal was super creepy and very voyeuristic. Spencer’s “You like Jake; You love Ezra” proclamation to Aria was quite true, but all the more eerie because of Ezra’s new A team status. And how is it that he’s listening to Ali’s phone calls via his laptop? I’m starting to think that he’s not just part of the team, but maybe the origin.

Spencer’s dad and Ali’s mom uttering “Jason needs to know” is suspicious. I’m not buying that Mrs. DeLaurentis is getting a divorce. I’m also very suspect of Ali’s note to Emily at the cafe. I’m not convinced that Emily would be the most helpful in Ali’s quest to rejoin humanity, but perhaps Emily is the one that Ali trusts the most? It’s hard to say. Ali’s apparitions seem to appear to Hanna and Emily the most, but I don’t know what the significance of that is.

Spencer’s dad relaying that Toby’s mother’s death “wasn’t a suicide, but it wasn’t a murder either” is odd, and dragging out this annoying plot line even more. After Spencer tells Mrs. DeLaurentis off and essentially calls her a home-wrecker in the coffee shop, the girls head to The Bumble Bee Inn, based on one of Ali’s cryptic poems. In any other episode I feel as though Aria would’ve confessed to Ezra where she was headed, but in this one she conveniently dodged him. Flash to Ezra being at Hanna’s house for the first time ever. Since when does he make house calls? And Hanna’s mom doesn’t find this odd? And why is Ezra targeting Hanna and rifling through her room as well as her laptop? Does he know she took the journal from his lair, and if so, how?

Why do the Liars insist on not telling anyone where they’re going? They head out to an Inn that has been shut down, get caught in a thunderstorm, and even Spencer hasn’t let Toby in on her location? Aria sneakily leads the Liars to Ezra’s cabin saying that it’s her uncle’s. I have to admit, Hanna’s confession that the missing page was about her hooking up with Aria’s brother Mike (who was pretty young at the time) was very lackluster. I was expecting something way juicier, because, well, this is “Pretty Little Liars” for crying out-loud. The only way this could be an interesting turn in the A plot, is if Mike has been coerced by the A team, unbeknownst to us all these years. Maybe that’s why he’s done some of the crazy things he’s done, had that bout with hermit-like behavior in his room, and lashed out at his mom?

How did someone (A? Ezra?) pull the proverbial wool over the Liars’ eyes so easily and take Ali’s journal? And then Travis conveniently arrives with his tow-truck? Is Travis a hero with excellent timing, or is he fishy? His endurance of a crying Hanna after he wants to “just be a nice guy” suggests that he’s the former.

“We gave Ali to A.” Yup. That happened, with one color-coded sticky note system a la Emily. It’s always Emily’s fault.

Did anyone figure out anything that I didn’t? The answer is yes, so clue me in.


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Book Review: Robyn Schneider’s “The Beginning of Everything”

Published 1/12/14 by:

Beginning of Everything Book Cover

My high school didn’t have a Prom King or Queen. We didn’t have a homecoming weekend, or a valedictorian, and we most certainly did not have a cafe that sold lattes on campus. These are all driving forces at Eastwood High where (protagonist and narrator) Ezra Faulkner has just begun his senior year. It never occurred to me that it was odd that my alma mater didn’t succumb to these traditions until I got to college. Then, for whatever inexplicable reason, I decided to covet said traditions. I retroactively wanted to know what all of those things would’ve been like, and who would’ve secured those heavily anticipated social statuses. I honestly couldn’t tell you who would’ve won Prom King in my class, because frankly, I don’t know what the criteria is, or who would’ve even bothered to vote. I can tell you this: Ezra Faulkner sounds like the kind of guy who would’ve won over everyone at my school, even after his accident.

Yes, Robyn Schneider’s “The Beginning of Everything” starts with beloved tennis prodigy Ezra Faulkner getting into a car accident that shatters his knee. The accident takes place immediately after he finds out his potential Prom Queen girlfriend, Charlotte, has been cheating on him. Thus ensues Ezra’s demise back into the group of brainy friends he had in middle school. He reluctantly joins the debate team, falls for a girl who quotes Foucault, and rekindles his best friendship with the eccentric, bow-tie toting Toby. The high school milestones and social class divisions were originally what sucked me into this novel.  What kept me reading was Ezra’s realization that his accident could be the catalyst for something great, perhaps something even better than the jock table, and tennis scholarships. Additionally, Ezra Faulkner’s likability (as a narrator) stems from his earnestness and wit. He can banter about beer pong, but his Volvo is nicknamed Voldemort. When he shows up without a costume to a Halloween party, people assume he’s dressed as a teenage vampire, because unbeknownst to him, his leather jacket and dirty hair are exuding that “look”. Essentially he’s a teenage boy trying to figure it out, and I appreciated that as a reader.

While some of the plot twists, and character development leave something to be desired, for the most part “The Beginning of Everything” offers an interesting (and hopeful) perspective for current teenagers. For those of us that are over the age of eighteen, “The Beginning of Everything” presents an opportunity to reminisce on the restrictiveness of high school, while allowing us to revel in first love, and other teenage debauchery.


Book Grade: B


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