October 31, 2011

Handful Bra Giveaway Winner!

THANK YOU to those of you who entered my Handful Bra giveaway!  I loved reading about all the things you guys *love* about your bodies.  So great!  The winner of the giveaway is...
Rachel from Running in Real Life!

Rachel, email me at juiceboxesandcrayolasATgmailDOTcom to claim your prize!

Thanks for participating, everyone!  Look for another fun giveaway soon. :)

Halloween should NEVER be on a Monday...

PHEW!  I don't mean to sound like the Halloween Grinch, but October 31st is NOT my favorite holiday!!!  It is especially not my favorite holiday when it lands on a MONDAY.  I mean come on.  Honestly.  Shouldn't Halloween by like Thanksgiving and on the last Friday (or even better...Saturday) of October or something like that every year?  Because if my kids were SQUIRRELS today, I don't even want to think about what they're going to be like tomorrow!!!!  I am just hopping I catch them in the post-sugar high comatose state, which is greatly preferred to the oh so wonderful I-ate-skittles-for-breakfast hyperactive state or the I-stayed-up-til-2am-eating-candy-and-watching-scary-movies-and-now-I-hate-everything cranky post-sugar high state...I can't believe I have to go back and teach 4 more days this week when every kid in America has probably convinced themselves that it's the weekend.  YIKES!!!
Okay enough complaining.  I promise I did have a small Halloween celebration. I'm not dead inside. ;)  Holidays are really low-key at my school.  Being a low-income school means that we don't have room moms planning elaborate holiday parties with games, crafts, and fancy food.  Parents send in a few treats and we play bingo.  Nothing too special, but for the kids it's a welcome break from our rigorous daily schedule!  Now cross your fingers for me for tomorrow...eek.

Anyways, this weekend was the first year in probably forever that I didn't at least SOMEWHAT celebrate Halloween.  This was largely due to the fact that I had a race Sunday morning, so I spent Saturday night relaxing and going to bed early!  More about the race later tho. :)  Let's get to the real highlight of the weekend...I spent the day Saturday doing something I love at least equally as much as teaching and running: shoe shopping, of course!   Teacher Mom (aka my actual mom) and I spent waaay too much money at Shoe Mecca (aka DSW) this weekend.  Oh goodness.  You guys, I love shopping.  But even more than I love shopping, I love a bargain.  Teacher Mom instilled this love in me practically at birth.  We stepped into Shoe Mecca with a mission: comfy teacher shoes for Mom and boots for me.  After trying on nearly every pair of shoes in the store, we settled on 2 pairs of teacher shoes for mom (that I gave the "not too ugly" stamp of approval) and one way too expensive pair of gorgeous boots for me (that didn't remind me too much of cowboy boots).
What's that?  You thought I said I love a good bargain, only to admit I spent more than is reasonable on a pair of boots around which I will likely end up buying full outfits because as of now they go with a total of 2 pairs of pants and 1 skirt in my closet?  Oh just wait.  After our successful venture through the main floor we entered...THE CLEARANCE SECTION.  Does anybody else's heart just start racing when they are faced with a rack of discount shoes all in their size?  No?  Just me?  Teacher Mom and I both fell in love with this unbelievable pair of heels that sadly weren't available in the right size for either of us...
Teacher Mom rocked these.  Too bad they were suicide-tight.
It was hard to say goodbye...but I did convince Teacher Mom to buy a fabulous pair of strappy sandals.  Of course, I picked up a few clearance pairs for myself...
Besides my shoe buying adventures and a cold and windy 10K race yesterday, my weekend also included a good 5 hour block of laying on the couch yesterday watching The Office since, you guessed it, I have another cold.  This time, though, I don't think I can blame the kids--my sniffly nose started up as soon as I started the race yesterday and hasn't let up since!  Ugh!!!
What did you do this weekend?

October 24, 2011

True Life: 5th Grade Writing (+ Handful Giveaway Reminder!!)

Have you entered my giveaway to win a Handful Bra?  What are you waiting for??? (Note: If you have MORE than just a handful, don't assume this bra won't work for you!  It is surprisingly supportive, but if it's not quite up to the challenge for you for running, it would still be a great bra for yoga, lounging, or low-impact sports!)

It's been awhile since I shared some of the epic, hysterical writing I get to read on a daily basis from my 5th graders. Seriously, while I despise grading and while grading writing can be time consuming, reading kids' writing can be pretty darn hilarious.  I haven't had anything quite as epic this year as the Ode to Justin Bieber or the amazing truth about boys song, "Big Big Lie," but these gems are pretty darn great...

Assignment: "Write a narrative about a problem you have solved."  This student wrote about when her dog, Julie, escaped.  Love the figurative language at the end of this paragraph...

Assignment: "Write about an animal that has a bad reputation, but who you think is really just misunderstood."
Worms!!! People think that words are nasty and slimy.  They are wrong.  Words are very helpful to your plants.  They eat all the little bugs that try to eat your plants.  Thanks to worms they protect them.  Worms also make great compost.  Their poop helps make compost.  Compost really helps your plants.  Worms are great helpers.  Worms are the best helper that help your plants grow.  Worms can not be used as a pet.  Only in your backyard and your garden.  Go worms!!
Another animal that has a bad reputation is an alligator.  Alligators are very misunderstood.  People think alligators want to kill them, but really alligators just want to go the opposite way and ignore people.  The only reason alligators bite is because they want to protect themselves from enemies or things that dislike them.  They have a reason to be upset with us.  We kill them for their skin to put on shoes and purses.  We kill them for fun, and we kill them for their meat.  I'm not trying to say that I'm on their side, but they have a reason to be viscid.  But to them we're the vicious ones.
"Aaaah!  A spider!  Kill it!"  That's what most people say when they see a spider because they think they are really dangerous.  Actually, some spiders help us a lot because they eat and kill insects that are pestful or harmful.  Not all spiders are dangerous because some spiders bite and put venom in, but not all spiders do.  Some spiders help us by protecting us from harmful things by eating them.  Did you know that we're actually invading their home?  From now on when you see a spider let it be or set it free and we'll all be okay."

This one isn't funny, but it melted my heart.  This is from one of my tougher kiddos who has a rough home life, struggles with a learning disability, and is prone to shutting down when things are tough.  I loved reading this.  Assignment: "What Native American 'true name' would you give yourself?"
And of course, what post about elementary student work would be complete without a teacher portrait...
The resemblance is uncanny...Sweater boots and all. :)

October 20, 2011

Finally Five + Handful Bra Review & GIVEAWAY!!!

Well you guys, I saw five miles tonight for the first time since this July, the peak of this constantly-injured madness.  It may not seem like much to many of you, but when I flip back through my training log and see that two months ago I could barely make it a mile and a half without tons of miscellaneous pain, I'm pretty excited.  Equally as exciting, though, was an amazing discovery I made about the treadmills in my apartment's miniature fitness center.  Despite the primitive appearance of most of the machines, I was pleasantly surprised to discover the treadmills were way more high tech than those at my fancy-schmancy gym!  In fact, they have a tiny built-in fan to blow cool air on your tummy.  UMM YES PLEASE??  Does everyone else already know about these sweet fan treadmills?  How did I miss the memo that these existed?  Amazing.

Besides the happy distance and epic fan discovery, another thing I loved about tonight's run was that I was wearing my new Handful Bra!  Have you heard about this bra yet?  I've only had it a week and I am already in love.  I'm so excited to have the opportunity to review this bra AND share it with one of you!  So I don't know about you, but I'm not exactly well-off in the...ahem...chest area.  And let me tell you, my drawer full of compression-style sports bras does nothing to help this situation.  For girls like me, sports bras really just mean one thing: flattenning.  It's really just no good.  I mean, they do the job, but there are times I pass the mirror at the gym and feel like I look about 12 years old.  (Not that my pink shorts and headbands do anything to help the situation...)  I know working out is not about looking cute, but let's be real here.  It helps.
The Handful Bra is completely different than any sports bra I've ever worn.  First, it's completely adorable.  I LOVE the v-front and the criss-cross straps in back.  It doesn't make me feel flatter than a board, but it doesn't feel like I'm wearing some high-impact sports bra clearly designed for someone with a lot more going on in that area than me!  The trick is that it has removable pads that are not only comfortable and supportive, but they add the perfect amount of shape.
This is totally me...ummm...or not...(source: handful.com)
I wore my Handful bra this week for yoga and running.  It felt great on my run tonight--comfortable, supportive, and the straps stayed put.  I even wore it all day Sunday while running errands and babysitting.  You definitely wouldn't catch me in a regular sports bra outside of workout clothes, but I felt like I could wear this bra anytime!  I am already thinking about which color I want next...
Oh, and did I mention how fabulously personable this company is?  They replied to my emails about sizing questions almost INSTANTLY, and when I was debating between sizes, they even sent me an email of all of the stores in my area that carry Handful Bras and their addresses so I could go try one on!  Now that's customer service.
The bra also comes in this cute little mesh bag for washing.  Love.
Here's the best part.  Because they are so fabulous and generous, Handful Bra is letting me give one of these amazing bras to a reader!  Here's how to enter...(Leave a separate comment for each entry)

  • Follow Juice Boxes and Crayolas! (Mandatory)
  • Become a fan of Handful on facebook and comment that Miss Teacher at Juice Boxes and Crayolas sent you! (Mandatory)
  • Visit the Handful website and leave a comment here telling me which color bra you would choose! (+1 additional entry)
  • Post about this giveaway on your blog, facebook, or twitter! (+1 additional entry)
  • Leave a comment telling me one thing you love about your body--while I didn't exactly love my flat chest in middle school, when it comes to running it certainly has its perks! (+1 additional entry)
That's a total of SEVEN possible entries.  I am so excited to share this fabulous bra with one of you, so hurry up and get going!  This giveaway will end at midnight on Sunday, October 30th. 

DISCLAIMER: Handful was kind enough to send me 1 bra to review and will send  an additional bra to 1 reader.  I received no additonal compensation for this review, and all thoughts and opinions expressed are my own.

October 17, 2011

Trying Out the Tablet!

I posted awhile back about the super snazzy new tablet computer that replaced my old school computer--an ancient laptop that moaned and groaned anytime I tried to do two things at once...ugh.  The tablet is awesome! I've had a lot of fun trying it out with the kids.  While it is infinitely better for day to day computer activity than the old computer, hands down the best part about it is using the tablet during math.  I used to feel chained to the overhead projector or the board when introducing math concepts.  Now, I turn on the projector and open up Word or Windows Journal.  I can write problems and take notes right on my tablet while walking around the room and checking in with kids.  The kids love writing answers on the tablet, too!
Last week, one of our lessons focused on understanding that the angles in a triangle add up to 180 degrees and finding the measurement of an angle given the other two angles.  Because engagement (or lack thereof...) has been something of an issue during math class lately, I gathered the kids on the carpet with their notebooks, sat on a little stool by the screen, and showed triangles and problems right there.  The kids used colored markers to copy the work into their notes (colored markers are pretty AND using color stimulates the brain!  Who knew?!), and I used different color "pens" on the tablet.  They were SO engaged, loved all of the color, and I loved that I could teach the whole lesson facing them almost at eye level without needing to turn my back to the board or hover by the overhead projector.  
I've also loved using the tablet in Writing Workshop.  Usually I do my mini-lessons on chart paper by my easel, but any time I'm planning on modeling revising or editing text, it's a BIG PAIN to write whole paragraphs on chart paper.  BLEH!  A few weeks ago, I typed up one of my students' first drafts of a narrative we're working on.  His work was GREAT, but it was all one paragraph!  I projected the typed version on the screen, and we worked together to edit it (using editing marks) on my tablet.  This week I wanted to work on basic editing, so I typed a quick letter to the kids about my weekend, and again we edited it together.  I've used transparencies in the past for editing practice, but I HATE making them, and again I reeeeally hate being chained to the overhead.
I. love. my. tablet.  I'm sure there are many more possibilities for using it in my classroom, and I can't wait to figure them out!

October 16, 2011

Corn Maze 5K Race Recap

Living in the midwest means hot summers, bitterly cold winters, zero-hill runs, wide open skies...oh, and corn.  Lots of corn.  My suburban town is hardly rural, but you don't have to drive very far south, west, or north before you start hitting corn fields.  When I heard about a 5K that actually takes place IN A CORN MAZE, I knew I had to be a part of it.  I mean honestly.  How could I miss this???
This morning teacher friend Miss R and I got up way too early only to be greeted by dark skies and cold rain.  Sweet.  Nevertheless, we headed about an hour north (picking up one of my fabulous book club friends on the way--yay for spectators!!) to the race site.  Thankfully, by the time we were lining up at the start, the sky had miraculously cleared and the sun was even shining.  Because this race was in a corn maze, it was obviously pretty unique.  No, we did not have to navigate our way through the maze--thank goodness, or I'm pretty sure we would have gone a lot further than 3 miles!  The maze was HUGE!  The course was clearly marked (for the most part...), and wrong turns were taped off so we didn't get lost.  Phew!  Also, because of the narrow course, runners were started one at a time every 3 seconds.  It's a good thing, too, because otherwise there would have been some SERIOUS congestion.  The course was SUPER winding with tons of SHARP turns.  Man, our ankles and IT bands definitely took a beating!  I could not believe how tough it was to run such a twisty-turny course.  We were exhausted almost immediately!
The course...
Oh the wonderful opportunities for corn-inspired humor...this was only the beginning...
Waiting in line for our single-file start...
Book Club Friend was an excellent spectator.  Since obviously there wasn't any way to spectate along the course, she climbed up in this AMAZING watch tower and took tons of awesome pictures. 
See that tiny speck of purple?  Yeah that's me.  At least I think it is!
There were 3 or 4 random stair bridge things that we had to run over...SURPRISE!  
Definitely a unique race to say the least!
^ This may be my favorite race picture of all time...
 Miss R and I were EXHAUSTED after this race!  I couldn't believe how much tougher it was to run on a winding path than a regular road!  Crazy!  At the end of my race, my garmin only registered a distance of 2.73 miles so either the course was crazy short or it just couldn't keep up with all of the twists and turns.  My guess it a little of both!  Our official finishing time was 32:14, but I really suspect it was a short course...we'll take it though! :)
This probably isn't a race I'll do again, but I'm definitely glad I did it this time.  It was a lot of fun and certainly DIFFERENT!  A great adventure overall!

What is the most unique race you've ever done?  The two Muddy Buddy races I've done were obviously unique, but I think running through a corn maze might even top those...

October 15, 2011

Guided Reading

One of the things I've been struggling with this year at school is that there have been significant changes in the expectations for literacy instruction every year that I've been teaching.  My first year we were told one thing.  Last year that was tweaked in a big way.  This year, it was tweaked again in a BIG way.  The difference between this year and that first year is incredibly drastic.  Basically this boils down to me continuously learning and relearning how to teach!  This is really frustrating for me as a newbie teacher because it seems like every time I feel I have a handle on something, it changes!  Needless to say, over the past month+ I have been focusing on updating my guided reading structure and practice to meet the current expectations in my district.
One change that was introduced last year is the way we are expected to distribute the time during a guided reading group.  Previously, I would have the kids preview the text, set the purpose for reading, then have the kids read anywhere from 1-3 pages at a time, followed by a short discussion, then more reading, more discussion.  Now, we spend 1-3 minutes on a preview of the text (which is hard!  I like to talk too much!), then set a purpose and have the kids start reading a bigger chunk of the text to themselves for about 12 minutes.  During this time, I listen to 1 or 2 students whisper read and take notes on their fluency.  I also ask questions of that particular student and take notes on their comprehension.  This is brand new for me.  Not only had I never taken a running record before this year (they're not as big of a thing in intermediate grades as primary), but I had also never taken notes during my guided reading.  I know that many teachers always take notes during their guided reading, but I always felt like it was more distracting to me and that I couldn't focus on the kids as well.

Here is a sample week of lesson plans for guided reading.  (Also new for me...)  These plans are for my approaching group, so we meet every day.  My other groups are met with by myself or an aide between 2-4 times a week, depending on the level.  (Highest group is only 2x/week.)

I've tried a few different methods for data collection and informal assessment during guided reading, but I think I have finally settled on something that works well for me.  I keep my Guided Reading lesson plans, group rotation schedule, and notes/assessments in this binder:
Each group has a tabbed section with notes pages for each student.  I copy sheets for the boys on blue and girls on pink so that I can find the students I'm looking for more quickly.  Initially I was using a very generic, non-detailed sheet and taking notes for the week all over it, but it was super disorganized.  NOT my style. :) This week, I used a couple examples from other teachers to create this template that is already working MUCH better for me:
Because we are reading leveled readers from our core literacy series, my fluency notes aren't traditional running records.  I don't really want to spend an hour every week xeroxing the books to mark words on, so I just record student errors in the "running record" section.  I use a combination between Fountas & Pinnell codes and codes that I've come up with on my own based on things I wanted to record.  In the comprehension section, I jot down the type of question I asked (inference, right there, summary, prediction, etc.) and record +, 1/2, or - depending on their answers.  Here's the key I use: 
After finishing the "conference," I make a quick note about their overall comprehension and anything I noticed we need to focus on in the future.  I try to conference with two students during every guided reading session.  I'm not sure I like the fact that this practice keeps me from interacting with all of the kids in each group during each session, but the kids I conference with definitely have my full attention...We then come back as a full group for the last 3 minutes and either discuss the "focus question" I gave before reading, fill out a graphic organizer based on our weekly skill, or write a short response, so I do get to check in quickly with even the kiddos whose reading I didn't listen to.  It has been a big adjustment for me this year, but I'm just glad to have figured out a system that works for me within the constraints of the school's expectations.  Hopefully in the long run these changes help me provide better instruction to my students and better meet their individual needs.  In any case, I feel more organized than I ever have before in terms of guided reading!  So at least there's that. :)

Many of the materials mentioned in this post are available as a free download on Teachers Pay Teachers--check it out!

Tell me about your guided reading structure! 
A lot of these changes feel brand new to me, but I'm sure that a lot of you already do some of these things, or have other good ideas for guided reading.

PS: I was pretty excited this week to find out that Juice Boxes & Crayolas is featured on this list of Top 50 Education Blogs

October 11, 2011

Fall Color 5K Race Recap & Upcoming Race Plans

So I'm a little late with this recap...oops.  Life got in the way. :)  Two Sundays ago I ran the Fall Color 5K at a nearby arboretum.  Last Spring Mrs. Literacy Coach and I had planned to run a 10K race at the arboretum, but bailed last minute because she felt under trained, my IT bands were a painfully knotty mess, and it was cold and rainy.  I was disappointed because I'd heard the arboretum is BEAUTIFUL, so when I heard about their fall 5K race I knew I didn't want to miss it.  This was the first race I have ever gone to completely on my own.  If I'm not running with someone, in the past I've convinced a buddy to go with me, but no such luck with this race!  It turned out for the best, though, because it was not a spectator-friendly course.
When I woke up the morning of the race, I wasn't too pleased to discover temperatures in the 30s (yes, the 30s...which seems so weird to write as I sit here on my balcony in a tank top and capris just a week and a half later...), complete with a frost-covered windshiled.  Oh ice scraper, I have NOT missed you...
My ice-covered windshield...
Since it's been awhile since I've run in colder temperatures, I found myself completely confused about what to wear.  Do high 30s temperatures mean I need 2 layers or 3?  Do I need to cover my ears?  Gloves?  I was a mess!  I ended up dressing a little too warmly for the race, but I think if I'd left off a layer I would have frozen waiting around beforehand!  I knew that the course was going to be on the more difficult side, with almost the entire first mile going uphill!  Yikes!  Hills are not really my friends.  Luckily, after that first mile the course had several more hills, but involved more downhill than up.  I found myself basing my run/walk pattern more on whether I was running up or downhill rather than on my watch intervals, which worked pretty well.

Between the hilly course and the fact that I was still getting over a cold, I went into this race expecting to just take it easy and enjoy the gorgeous fall trees surrounding the course, but I didn't do half bad.  I crossed the finish line in 33:06, my slowest 5K this year, but not so bad all things considered.  By the end I was exhausted, though!
Me stumbling to a walk after crossing the finish line...I think this picture perfectly captures how I felt afterwards--ready for a nap!

After my summer of injury debacles, it feels wonderful to race 5Ks this fall.  When I was crying hysterically convinced I had another tibial stress fracture back in July, I could care less about distance running.  All I wanted to be able to do was just plain run again, and a 5K distance sounded so good.  I have to say, I am loving me some 5Ks right now!  That being said, the longing for distance running is definitely still at the back of my mind!  My eyes are set on the Kentucky Derby 1/2 Marathon at the end of April, and I am determined to learn from my training mistakes and do the right thing for my body this time around.  After my talks with my PT this summer and my reflections on my past training, I now understand how important cross training, step-back weeks, and SLOW mileage increases are for me.

So, last month I created a training plan that should take me through fall and winter all the way to the spring half-marathon and beyond.  Instead of following a 12-week half marathon training plan that increases 1-2 miles a week, this plan focuses on building a solid mileage base this fall that includes 2 short (3 mile) runs during the week and 1 longer run on weekends.  The long run will gradually increase up to about 5 or 6 miles, and then stays there for a few weeks.  This winter I'll start half-training (the LONGEST TRAINING PROGRAM EVER! because I am just that cool...), and instead of upping the long run a mile every week, my new plan is to up it 1/2 mile 2 weeks in a row, then step back to an easy 3 mile run on the third week.  All of these ideas are based on what I worked on and talked about with my PT this summer, and what we figured out my body needs to stay strong and uninjured.  I'm also trying to keep up the cross-training weights, and yoga that helped me heal this summer and will help me keep from getting injured again!
Anyways, I'm sure you're bored to death by this point and/or stopped reading long ago!  Sorry for being boring.  I do have a few more races coming up this fall that I'm excited about, including a 10K at the end of October that will be my longest run since the 10 miler in July after which my body basically fell apart and beged for mercy!!!  I know I've put a lot more thought into this plan to "train smarter" this year, and I hope I am able to stick to it!

What races are you looking forward to?

What mistakes have you made and learned from since you started running?
I've always tried to follow all of the injury prevention rules (like increasing mileage only 10% a week), but the biggest thing I've learned is that those rules maybe aren't conservative enough for my body.  I've also learned that cross training and weights actually ARE important to become a better runner!  I definitely learned that one the hard way...

Read more of my race recaps here!

October 10, 2011

My First Week as a Vegan

Or, "What are the ingredients in this, please?"

I survived my first week (or 10 days to be exact) as a vegan!  And I'm happy to report that I'm not starving/dying/wasting away.  In fact, I'm feeling very full after eating a few spoonfuls of vegan chocolate chip cookie dough...oh come on, I know you ALL eat too much of the dough when baking cookies!!!  Anyways, I'm excited to fill you in on how the week has gone and give you a little background on why I decided to try out being vegan for 30 days.
The Why: 
(This is intended only to share my own thought processes, not to convince you to think or act the same way.)  When people ask why I'm a vegetarian, I tell them it's a combination of things--concerns about the environment, about my own health, and a general respect for life that makes me feel uncomfortable about the way animals are raised and slaughtered in our country.  In the past six months or so, the more I thought about it and the more I read, I realized that when it comes down to it, these same reasons are really reasons I should be a vegan.  Here's what I mean--I feel wrong about eating chicken because of the horrible factory farm conditions in which chickens are raised, but I eat eggs.  Not only are those chickens also raised in horrible conditions, but the egg industry ultimately results in just as many deaths as the poultry industry.  The same goes for dairy.  Not ready to make a shift to vegan (which is a big shift), I decided to commit to trying a vegan diet for 30 days during the month of October.

The What:
This month I will be abstaining from eating dairy, eggs, and honey in addition to fish, meat, and gelatin which I avoid at all times.  I will admit that I've made a few mistakes over the course of this first week!  I ate a whole wheat bagel after last weeked's 5K race, realizing afterward that it likely contained honey, and accidentally ate milk chocolate a few times without thinking about it.  It's a lot to remember!  But even just over the past few days, I've gotten more used to paying attention to what I'm eating and remembering to check ingredient labels.  I've also been, wait for it, COOKING!  Yes, me who eats oatmeal for dinner on a semi-regular basis.  I also wanted to try being vegan because I knew it would push me to cook and bake for myself more frequently.  So far, it definitely has!

The Eats:
Because I live alone, cooking one meal can mean that I end up eating it for a few days in a row, so I've only made a few different dinners so far.  Everything I've made, though, has been yummy!  Last weekend I made this delicious cashew-pineapple-veggie stirfry with quinoa, a recipe I modified from this recipe from Veganomicon.  I loved this dish and ate it at least 4 more times throughout the week it made so much!
Last Sunday one of my book club friends and I got together to continue the vegan joy with a baking day (oh and watching all three Twilight movies back to back...).  We made chocolate chip cookies using this recipe from Oh She Glows.  We substituted oats for the flax seeds and used all purpose flour instead of a WW/AP mix.  The cookies turned out DELICIOUS!  Nothing about them tasted "vegan," that's for sure.  I made another batch this morning because they were so good!
We also tried Mamma Pea's recipe for vegan pumpkin bars with dairy-free cream cheese icing.  Oh gosh.  So delicious.  The recipe made an entire tray full, and I've been devouring them all week long.  The texture was perfect--nice and moist (I hate that word but couldn't think of another one!)  I wouldn't mind a stronger pumpkin flavor, so I might put in a little extra next time.  Also loved the cream cheese frosting.  Again, you would never know these were vegan.
I also made some vegan pizza using a Trader Joe's WW pizza dough, marinara sauce, and some soy vegan cheese.  The cheese didn't melt very well, but it got soft in the oven at least and tasted great.

I also made a simple pasta dish this week with WW noodles, asparagus, snap peas, marinara sauce, and some fresh basil.  I sprinkled it with nutritional yeast for a cheesy-ish flavor.  I recently learned about nutritional yeast--it's not traditional baking yeast and is more like a seasoning.  It has a cheesy flavor, so it's used in vegan cooking sometimes to mimic a cheese taste.  I liked it!  Also, this weekend on my Michigan adventure, High School Friend and I cooked portabello mushroom caps, roasted cauliflower, and quinoa.  YUM!!!  Of course, for lunches and random snacks I've been eating my usual basic staples of hummus, pita, nuts, and veggies.  You just can't go wrong with that!
I'm looking forward to trying a few more recipes this week and will let you know how they go!

The Verdict:
It's easier being vegan than I expected!  Sure, it takes a LOT more thought and planning than being a regular veggie, but I imagine it only gets simpler with time.  After all, that's how it was for me when I transitioned to being a vegetarian.  A big reason I didn't try this out sooner was because I had a lot of reservations about the social effects of a vegan diet.  I worried about eating at others' houses, going out to dinner, and family holidays.  My diet is a personal choice, and I don't want it to be a burden on others, or annoying to others. So far I ahven't run into any real obstacles.  High School Friend M was a gracious host this weekend, cooking a quinoa and veggie dish for dinner my first night there and being open to trying some of the vegan food I brought with me.  We talked in advance about what she had in her pantry so I knew what to bring with--I packed a little cooler and a shopping bag with soy milk, Earth Balance "butter," hummus, almond butter, and dairy-free bread.  While visiting her, we went to one restaurant and it was as simple of checking the menu online before making our restaurant choice to make sure there was a vegan dish (or a dish that could be easily modified).  Simple!  When we worked up an appetite trekking around Grand Rapids all afternoon yesterday, I easily snagged a vegan snack at Starbucks--dried fruit and nuts mix + iced coffee with soy milk.
The to-die-for falafel wrap I found on the menu in Michigan.
Of course, there is a big difference between being a vegan every single day and being a vegan for the past 10 days.  It will be interesting to see how the rest of this month goes!

Any vegan recipe ideas for me?? I'll love you forever!

October 9, 2011

Pure Michigan.

Or, "The Weekend that Saved My Sanity."

School and life have been crazy lately, but I was fortunate enough this weekend to get a little reminder of just how lucky I am.  See, I have been blessed with some incredible girlfriends in my life.  But the best, and most miraculous, part is that not only have I made wonderful girlfriends during each big stage of my life--childhood, high school, college, career--I've been able to hang onto the ones that matter even as we've grown up and gone our separate ways.  See, once upon a time I met these four girls.  Not all in the same place or at the same time, but we just kind of stuck to one another and formed a pretty special friendship.  I can't tell you how many hours we've spent together over the years doing fabulous things or doing nothing at all.
This picture is not particularly flattering of any of us especially me (in the striped pants),
but for some reason I've always loved it. :)
Now, we all live in different states.  This makes me pretty sad, but I think sometimes being apart can make you realize just how special your friendships are.  This past summer, one of the girls, M, got married and we had our first "complete" reunion in years...

No reunion is complete without a group hug!
This weekend I got to visit M who moved to Michigan after her wedding!  You guys, I can't tell you how much I needed this trip.  Even though things have been running smoothly in my classroom, I've been feeling lately like school has been sucking the life out of me at a rapid pace.  So Friday afternoon I packed my bags (including a huge bag and cooler of vegan staples!) and hit the road.  I'm so glad I did  Highlights from the weekend include...
A much-needed evening of "relaxing" and heart to hearts after a loooong drive...
A drive down a gorgeous, twisty-turny-dirt road in the middle of nowhere... 
...to visit this adorable farm... 
...and, what else, pick apples!!!
The tree farm also featured a petting zoo...M and I were kind of obsessed with these tiny ponies and considered stealing one to bring home... 

...then we realized we are goofy enough on our own without being those crazy girls who steal tiny ponies from children's petting zoos...
We also heard about a little place holding free wine tastings and headed over at lightning speeds...

In my attempts to convince others that a vegan diet can actually involve yummy food, I actually did some cooking with M who is much more domestic than me.  We made pita chips... 

apple pie... 
and some other random vegan yummies.

This morning I started my day with a run down this gorgeous country road...
...loved every minute and saw 4miles again for the first time in months!

 We ended our trip with a visit to Grand Rapids, MI to check out Art Prize, an awesome display of art throughout the whole city.  I got a little camera happy, so I will attempt to select my favorite pieces to share. :)
Loved these decoupaged old ladies! 
...And this homage to Chicago Hot Dogs!!  Even if I'm a veggie, I still love anything Chicago. :)
This gigantic mixed-media piece was probably my favorite!
I was also THRILLED to see this piece--it's a "kid's lunch" made out of...wait for it...JUICE BOXES!!! AHHHH!!  Amazing. :)  
 Couldn't put my finger on what exactly I loved about this one, but I sure loved it.

What more can I say but that this weekend was good for my soul....
What have you done lately that's been good for your soul?
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