Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Recipe: The Best Blueberry Topping Ever

I know.  It's kind of an inflammatory title.  There is going to be someone out there who disagrees.  But Whatever.  This is my blog so I am calling the shots.  I made this topping to go on my white chocolate cheesecake that I am making for my big family thanksgiving.  Cheesecake is my specialty and I am fairly sure that failure to bring one to Thanksgiving would result in my removal from the family.  This topping would also be delicious on ice cream or yogurt or oatmeal or anything else that blueberry goes well with.  So here you go.

The Best Blueberry Topping Ever
Time:  20 minutes
Makes enough to top one cheesecake

1 bag frozen blueberries
1 lemon
3 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 cup water

1.  Pour half the bag of blueberries into a small saucepan.  Add all other ingredients, reserving the other half of the blueberries.  

Reserved about this much
2.  Stir over medium heat.  When mixture comes to a boil, reduce to medium low and simmer for 10 minutes.  

I love the way the lemon zest contrasts with the blueberries.  Not that you actually see the zest when it is fully cooked and ready to go.  

3.  Add the rest of the blueberries to the saucepan.  Stir.  Allow to warm over low heat for 5 minutes.  
4.  Remove from heat and enjoy.  

Jealous of my family for tomorrow?  This is one of three delicious desserts.  

In other news, sorry for not posting in so horribly long but you know  Life is life and I'm also writing a novel and getting ready to decorate for Christmas.  

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

An ode to butter

Hello Dear friends.  If you have been lurking for a while, reading my posts, you probably already realize that I am (more than) slightly off my rocker.  If you are visiting for the first time, you are soon to discover that...  To further prove that, I give to you...

So like 90% of American women, I am on a "diet."  By diet, I mean I am making a concerted effort to control the amount of calories I eat and eat healthy foods, not follow a particular "plan."  As you can imagine, regular consumption of butter is not part of keeping my waist line small(er).  That being said...


The other morning, I had a treat for breakfast:  whole wheat toast with butter.  In a previous life, that would just be a normal breakfast.  Now it is a delicious treat for special mornings.  We keep our butter in a glass dish on the counter so it stays soft and spreadable and oh so tempting.  On Saturday morning, I got up and toasted my whole wheat bread and spread each piece with a generous pat of butter.  Though the temptation to enjoy the deliciousness leaning up against the counter was great, I resisted and instead put the toast on my plate and sat down at the kitchen table with my toast and coffee.  Those few moments allowed the the melting butter to seep into the bed.

Man was it delicious.

I could just feel the saturated fats enveloping my heart in warmth and deliciousness... or alternatively hardening my arteries, but you know, same difference.  Butter is good... just not good for you.

My favorite way to enjoy butter is simply spread on toast or a biscuit but its also fabulous within a recipe... Like butter sugar cookies or in a garlic sauce.  Or melted and ready for my to dip my artichokes or snow crab claws into.  That's good too.

Leave a comment on how you enjoy butter :)  Do you do straight up butter or are you more of a margarine person?

PS.  Tune in Next Week for my Ode to Cheese

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Tutorial: Decorative Snowballs

Greetings my darling readers.  If you are reading for the first time, welcome to my crazy life.  All of you should feel free to follow me.  I have a fair number of tutorials coming up, a lot of which are for Christmas.  Today, I will start with my tutorial on making decorative Snowballs.

Materials Needed:

Epsom salts
Mod Podge 
3" Styrofoam balls (or whatever size you like)
Small paint brush 
Paper plate or other shallow dish 
Bamboo skewers 

Step One

Begin by covering your work surface with wax paper or some other waterproof guard.  I will explain why later.  

Step Two

Pour a cup or so of epsom salts onto your paper plate.

I added a few tablespoons of table salt to my epsom salts

Step Three

Skewer your Styrofoam balls onto your bamboo skewers so they are secure and you essentially have giant lollipops.

Step Four

Paint the outside of your ball in mod podge and roll in your epsom salts.  Helpful Hint: If you want to cover the whole ball in one shot, sprinkle pinches of the salt over the hard to cover areas and gently press.

sorry for the low Q.  Took all photos on my cell phone.  

Again, sorry for the low Q, but you get the idea, right?

A close up of my finished ball... 

Step Five

Put your skewers snowballs into a vase or other container and allow to dry over your protected surface.

I even put them in a nice festive vase...

Important Project Note

The reason it is so important that you cover your surface with something waterproof is because these balls will drip water while drying.  The epsom salts will leech some of the water from the glue and drip onto the table.  It will not affect the finish of the snowballs but it will cause a mess if you aren't careful.

See my drips on my wax paper?  Some how I don't think my Mom would be happy with that  on her antique hardwood table... 

Step Six

When your snowballs are completely dry, remove the skewers from the ball.  If the little holes in the balls bother you, add a small dab of glue and sprinkle on more epsom salts to hide the hole.  

See?  Doesn't the texture look like ice?  As the epsom salts are exposed to air, they will lose some sparkle but the texture still looks lovely and snow-like.  

I hope you enjoyed this tutorial.  It's pretty simple and I'm sure you could've figured it out yourselves but I thought I would share with you my latest projects.  :)  Tell me what you think in a comment!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Things To Come

This is a recent picture of my dining room table with most of the chaos just pushed off to the side to stage an image for my guest post at Sugarbee Crafts.  Beauty amidst chaos, I suppose.  The tutorial on my snowball centerpiece will be up tomorrow and my guest post on my table runner and placemats will be unveiled on December 7th.

Happy Monday everybody!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Substitute Teachers, Part Three: Suggestions for Regular Teachers to have good days with subs.

Hello my friends and welcome back to Songbird Takes Flight.  I am your resident substitute teacher Caitlin.  This is Day Three of my four-part series on Substitute teaching.  I have already outlined how to become and sub, and listed some of the pros and cons of the job.  Today's post is aimed at any teachers who read this blog and how you can prepare for a sub to come in.

Tip #1:  Give a lot of detail in your plans

Here's a rule of thumb:  Write your plans with enough detail that you think a toddler could understand it, and then double the amount of details you include.  A lot of things that are obvious to you are not necessarily obvious to a substitute coming in.  I once caused mass chaos because I was not informed that I should only allow two boys in the bathroom at a time on bathroom break.  The younger your kids are, the more details need to be included in the plans.

Tip #2:  Include your classroom rules and behavior expectations in your plans

Behavioral expectations vary between age groups.  I neither want to let things slide with a group of older kids nor be way too harsh with a group of kindergarteners.  If you don't allow kids out of your classroom for anything less than an absolute emergency, say so.  If you have a behavior chart system, five details on how that works.  Are kids given warnings before being told to flip their card/move their pin/whatever?

Tip #3:  Give details on how you expect discipline problems to be handled

Should I leave a list of names for when you return?  Should I call the teacher next door if I have a problem?  What is the number for the main office and the name of the principal?  Should I assign a detention that you will serve when you return?

Tip #4:  Prepare your kids ahead of time for the sub and/or write a letter to be read to the class

One of the BEST sub days I had happened when the regular teacher gave me a letter to read to the class at the beginning of the day to remind them what the expectations were.  Honestly, part of the reason this is effective is because it means the students know that I the sub know what the expectations are and they cannot take any advantage of my assumed ignorance.  Tell the kids what will happen if they misbehave.

Tip #5:  Leave more work than you think they will actually accomplish

I've had teachers leave work and be fully convinced it would take the entire class...only to have all the kids finish with twenty minutes to spare.  Leave an extra worksheet or a chapter to review or something to read or homework they can get started on.  Also, leave a list of acceptable activities if they finish that.  If the only thing you allow them to do is read, say so.  If you really don't care what they do as long as they are silent, say so.

Tip #6:  Leave the information you would want if you were working in an unfamiliar place

Tell subs where the bathroom is, where the teacher's lounge is, and how much lunch costs.  If you are lucky, you will have subs who have worked in the school a million times but sometimes you won't.  If the sub is responsible for taking the kids to the gym, tell them how to get to the gym.  When you only have twenty minutes for lunch, you don't want to spend five of them trying to figure out where the bathroom is.

These six will help your kids have a great day when you aren't able to be there.  There are premade sub folders that have places to fill in all this information.  I suggest filling in even the things you find painfully obvious.

I hope you enjoyed my series on substitute teaching.  If you have any questions, leave a comment and I will be happy to answer as best as I am able.  :)

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Substitute Teachers, Part Two: The Pros and Cons

Welcome back to another day in my life and my experiences as a substitute teacher.  On Thursday, I discussed how becoming a substitute teacher works and gave a few tips for preparing yourself to be a sub.  Today, I will discuss some of the pros and cons of working as a sub.

Pro #1:  Getting to work with children

For me, getting to hang out with a group of kids is really fun.  For others, this may be an exercise in torture.  I will say that if you absolutely HATE kids, don't be a sub.

Con #1:  Getting to work with Teenagers

I honestly do not know how the teachers who teach high school kids every single day do it.  They are snarky, rude, and usually think they know anything.  These days, getting them detached from their cell phones for the school day is very hard.  Administering discipline is also harder in the high school because a time out is no longer a threat to them.

Pro #2:  Never having to work a weekend

I can make plans for Saturdays and Sundays with confidence because I know that I will not be called in to work.  I am also off by 3:00 on Fridays that I work so I have plenty of time to travel if I need to.

Con #2:  Not having a regular, guaranteed schedule

My older brother works in retail and gets his schedule three weeks in advance.  I have found out I was working 20 minutes before I needed to be there.

Pro #3:  The Good Days

There are two kinds of good days, for me: the days when I have a lot to do but have fun doing it.  The kids are well behaved and friendly.  Most elementary days are like this.  You rarely meet meet a malicious six year old who calls you fat and threatens to sue you (true story...).

The second type of good days are the passive good days.  Those are the days when you basically don't have to do anything.  These mostly are days in high school when the kids are old enough to be given independent work for the entire class period and all you have to do is sit there, read a book and occasionally check to make sure no one is cheating/texting/going to kill each other.

Con #3:  The Bad Days

I wish I could say they were few and far between but they aren't.  These are the days when the kids won't listen, you hear nothing but back talk, one of the kids has a mental breakdown in your class, you have to call an administrator into the room, there is a fight you have to break up, you get ten minutes for lunch because there is a random duty they need you to cover, and the staff members around you are not helpful.  Ugh!!!!!!!!!!!!!! is all I can say.

Pro #4:  Getting of Early

The absolute latest I get off is 3:00.  Then I go home, drink my coffee, and do whatever I want.

Con #4:  Getting up Early

I am not a morning person and many days I am up and watching kids before I am ready to be out of bed, much less trying to keep a group of high schools from killing each other.

There are many more things I could say about what I do, about the things I enjoy and the things I hate.  I could give you stories of my triumphs and failures, the days I love it and the says I'm ready to give it up to work at McDonald's.  You should also know that every sub experience is unique and you may have lots and lots of good days with few bad days.  Good for you.

For tomorrow:  Substitute Teachers, Part Three:  Suggestions for Regular Teachers to have good days with subs.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Substitute Teachers, Part one: Preparing to be a Sub

So for those of you who are not aware, I am a substitute teacher in two different local school districts.  For the record (in case anyone from said school districts reads this), I will not be referencing the name of said schools, teachers, support staff members, or students.  I will be making generalizations about my experience as a substitute teacher.

Each state has different requirements for hiring substitute teachers.  Many states require that you be a certified educator in order to work as a sub.  That is not a requirement where I live, though there is a tiered pay system depending on the level of education you have achieved.  If you are interested in being a sub, check with your local school district to determine hiring requirements.

If you pass the education requirements of your local district, there are still more hoops to jump through.  The information you need will likely be at the school district office but call to make sure.  The application is often quite lengthy and includes many steps other than just filling out paperwork.  In order to work with children, I can virtually guarantee the following will be included:

1.  A physical and TB screening
2.  Fingerprinting and a background check through state and federal systems
3.  A Child Abuse registry check

Yes, this means your fingerprints are now in the system so if you are planning on pursuing a life of crime in substitute teaching doesn't work out, then this is not the career path for you.  My experience was that it took about a week to have all of the paperwork, background checks, and physical taken care of, as these things take a bit to process.  In my state, the background check cost $75 and the physical and TB screening were covered under my health insurance.  The child abuse registry check was as simple as providing my information to the school district who sent my information off to the state.

In the probably lengthy application packet you will get, there will usually be instructions about when and how to bring your materials in when everything is completed.  In most cases, you must schedule an appointment to meet with the sub coordinator.  Even if they don't require an appointment, it is advisable to call ahead, lest you arrive just as that person is stepping out to lunch.

As I'm sure most of you are smart enough to know, dress nicely when you go meet with the sub coordinator.  He or she is now your boss, and depending on the district, he or she may be fully in charge of how often you work and whether or not you get the good classes.  Always be nice to this person.  Also the secretary of each school you are subbing for.

So let's imagine you've filled in all your paperwork and have been hired.  Yay!  I work for two different school districts.  In one of them, the sub coordinator calls me to see if I am available on a given day.  In the other, it is an automated system that allows me to go online to look for jobs or call the phone system to look.  said phone system also has a robot call me if I am being called in last minute.

As much as humanly possible, districts will try to schedule you in advanced.  These kind of jobs happen when teachers have meetings or training or a dentist appointment they scheduled six months ago.  Keep a calendar of all of these.  I have three of them:  my phone calendar, my purse calendar, and my calendar on the automatic sub system.  Why three, you ask?  The automatic sub system allows me to black out days I know I am working else where.  The phone calendar will remind me in case I forgot I agreed to go in, and the pocket calendar allows me to check availability if I am out of the house when my boss calls me to ask if I can work.

Unfortunately, the majority of jobs will not come to you having been scheduled two weeks (or longer in advance).  The majority of calls come either the night before or the morning of the job they need you for.  I am always thankful when they call the night before because it gives me a chance to make my plans and ensure that I have all that I need.  Early mornings happen though and you can only pray the call comes at six and not 6:45, giving you ten minutes to get dressed and out the door.  So let me suggest a few things to help with the early mornings.

1.  If you, like me, are a creature of habit, try to go to bed and get up at around the same time, whether you're working or not.  Those 5:30am phone calls will feel like death if you're staying up until two in the morning.

2.  If you, like me, cannot think particularly well in the morning, pick out your clothes the night before.  I always have a work appropriate outfit hanging on the hook on the back of my bedroom door so that I don't have to think about it when I get up.

3.  Either start showering in the evening or invest in dry shampoo.  You may be thinking "it only takes me five minutes to shower in the morning.  I don't need to do that."  Trust me.  There will be a day that you get called fifteen minutes before you have to leave.  Can you shower, get dressed, put on make up, eat breakfast, and pack a lunch if you get called with that little time?  I can't.  If you can, you are super woman and I applaud you.

4.  Consider your lunch options.  I always pack because the lines in the cafeteria are often long.  On days I get called the morning I need to go in, I usually pack leftovers.  It is also worth it to have some prepacked snacks around the house so you can throw lunch together in record time.

5.  If you already have a lot of stuff planned for the day, don't be afraid to say no.  Seriously.  If you are incredibly busy that day, just say no.

Thanks for Reading :) Tune in tomorrow for Part Two:  The Pros and Cons of being a Substitute teacher.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Hobby Lobby is an addiction...

So happy 23rd birthday to me!  "How are you going to celebrate?" the 11 people who looked at my blog in October may ask.  Well let me tell you.

Unlike a lot of my wild and crazy peers, I am boring.  No, seriously.  Following Hurricane Sandy, my sub job yesterday was cancelled and I held my breath and prayed I wouldn't get called today (I didn't) so I could go to Hobby Lobby and Michael's in honor of surviving 23 years--which would've been a feat in the 17th century or so.  Granted, back then I also would be married and have several children by now...

So the birthday plans:

1.  Baked oatmeal muffins for breakfast (check)
2.  Drink copious amount of coffee (check)
3.  Read a lot on my kindle (check)
4.  Go to the craft stores and use those 40% off coupons
5.  Dinner at Olive Garden with my parents
6.  ...Go to bed at 10pm because I work tomorrow

The biggest debate now is what I should have for lunch...  hmmm...  what I really want is some chic-fil-a but that involves a) driving half an hour and b) paying money for it.  So I suppose I'll eat something from the massive quantity of food that is already in the house...

So, here is my question:  what do y'all do for your birthdays (especially the grown ups)?  Are you tame like me or crazy like Ke$ha?