December Favorites

Hey there! December has zoomed by.  I'm enjoying my post Christmas laze around the house time before it's time to head back to school.  Before it's time to say hello to January and a new year, here are a few favorites from this month.
Personalized wall art, a new coffee cup, a freebie, and more.  Catch up on my favorites from the past month!
This post contains affiliate links which means Amazon tosses me some change whenever someone makes a purchase through one of these links.  Please know I only share items that I use and love.  I hope you'll find a new favorite this month! 


Is it still a "new" house if you've been in it for nine months?  I'm still not done making it my own, but I finally got around to addressing one of the big empty walls in our living room.

I didn't want to do anything too busy because we've got a lot going on with the fireplace wall, but it was just . . . blah.  And it needed to be BIG.  I found some inspiration one day while window shopping in a furniture store when I saw some simple but beautiful framed quotes.

I wanted something more personal and just the right size, so I made my own.  Each person in our family chose a quote.  I made a jpeg of it in Photoshop and ordered them from Canvas Print Factory.  They run sales pretty frequently.  The best part is you can choose your canvas size.  Each of our canvases is 20x48 inches.



My husband and I gave each other a trip for Christmas.  It was a fast trip, but so nice to be alone for a few days.  I grabbed this Las Vegas mug from the Starbucks You Are Here Series.  I love sipping my coffee from these mugs and remembering the trips I've been on.



I got a stripper.  That sounds bad, but it's a dog fur stripper.  We've had a few dog fur things, but this beats them all hands down.  After reading about different tools, I ordered this one from Amazon.
Murray's fur was looking pretty straggly, so I read up on grooming Wire Haired Dachshunds.  Since his fur doesn't grow long, I figured we were good with brushing every once in awhile.  Wrong!  Turns out he needs to be stripped.  Bonus? Our big dog LOVES it.  I can barely get his finished because she's trying to put herself between us the whole time.

He refused to cooperate with a picture to show you how handsome he is.  However, I have a really gross fur pile picture from the first time we used it, but I decided to not post it.  Didn't want to freak out the non-pet people.  You're welcome.



Since our trip was a leisurely one (read: sans kids and no bathroom sharing except for one low maintenance husband), I had time to use the vanity table in our hotel room to get ready at night.  I LOVED having an area to sit down to get ready.  After 20+ years of leaning over the counter, I was ready to move on to something more grown up.


Because I'm crazy once I get an idea in my head, I came home from Las Vegas and started rearranging my closet.  That night.  After an Ikea/Target/Bed Bath and Beyond run the next day, I was in business!  I used the Micke desk from Ikea for the table.  It was a steal at $50.  The mirror was more expensive, but I'm knocking on 40's door, so I need to see what's going on there.  I think this is the same one but the switch is a little different.


And finally, this break has given me a chance to relax big time.  I've slept in, read four books with plans for more, spent time with my family, gone to the movies, and just done anything that will relax the mind and heart.  Getting off warp speed for a little while has helped me realize how completely stressed I usually am.  Part of that is just a busy life, but a good chunk of it is my own doing.  I saw this message while scrolling through Pinterest, and it really spoke to me.


I'm hoping to be more mindful of this once we head back into the craziness of school and real life.  I'm busy enough without adding more to my plate that I can't control.

Making the Most of Your Minutes

Instructional minutes are more precious than gold to a teacher.   We might have hours in the day, but that time is quickly siphoned off by lunch, recess, PE, unpacking, packing up, etc.

How do you make the most of those minutes?  For most of my teacher years, I got my schedule and started slotting times in.  I needed 45 minutes for this, 35 minutes for that, 20 minutes for the next thing.  Because no one teaches in an ideal world, I always ran out of minutes before I squeezed everything in.

Instructional minutes are like gold! Make the most of your instructional minutes when planning your class schedule.

One year, after my minutes got cut, I had slotted everything in and somehow only had 5 minutes for independent reading by the time everything else was on paper.  Not cool.  Independent reading is hands down one of the most important instructional times for students.  (I wrote about that here if you want to read more.)  There was no way I was cutting independent reading.

Everything else seemed so set in stone though.  There was no way I could teach lesson X in less than 15 minutes, you know how that goes.  It was time to question everything.

Step 1

Started by adding up your minutes.  {Not the minutes your school says you have.  Those are completely inaccurate.  There is no way you can teach writing until 11:30, get lunch cards/lunch boxes, wash hands, and magically be in the cafeteria by 11:30. }  I added up my REAL minutes.  Take off pack up times, transition times, and get to your real minutes.  FYI-That small number is enough to make you want to cry.

Step 2

Subtract your nonnegotiables-for me it was 15 minutes of independent reading.  Now put minutes out of you mind and moved to percentages.  What percentage of the day should be independent reading? Guided Reading? Whole class mini lessons?  Conventions? Word Work?  Your first try will probably get you to 140%, but keep going until you've only assigned 100%.

Step 3

Once you get your percentages worked down, it's time to start assigning minutes.  When I taught just language arts, I had 125 minutes.  So, if I decided my writers workshop should be 35% of my minutes, that means I've got 38.5 minutes.  You may find that you're spending more time on something than you feel it brings value to your class, but in other areas you're not spending enough time.  Here's a peek at mine:
Instructional minutes are like gold! Make the most of your instructional minutes when planning your class schedule.
These minutes are not ideal.  You might have to start making changes with what you're teaching.  I found that once I worked out my percentages-->minutes I was spending waaaay too long on conventions.  While I really liked what I was doing, it wasn't worth short changing other areas.  (You can read about the big switch I made here.)


There's a story in the Not This But That Independent Reading book (affiliate link) about questioning the benches you're guarding.  The gist of it is, a bench had been guarded by soldiers for 30 years, but no one knew why they were doing it.  Once they started researching it, the order had been written because the bench had been painted and was wet.  Not one ever told them to stop doing it, so 30 years later it was still being guarded.

What benches are you guarding?  What are you hanging onto that is bringing as much instructional value as the time it is taking?  How can you get creative?

•Do you maybe want to spend longer on conventions or word study?  Maybe alternate days or weeks.

•Make a Monday-Thursday schedule.  Make Fridays look different with a longer lesson for some of those things you feel like you're cutting short.

•Structure your reading/writing units so one gets more time than the other, and then flip flop.

It's not ideal, but when you take an honest look at your minutes, it will take you closer to a reality that works.


This is a great exercise for any teacher at the beginning of the year and midyear when it may be time to make some tweaks.  There have also been years when I realized on a random Tuesday that life was just not working, and I needed to make some changes.

Wherever you are in your school year, I hope you'll take some time to do this.

December Desktop Calendar

Happy December to you! It's the first of the month which means it's time for a new background.  It's actually gotten cold, and I'm ready to play winter (even if this is probably as close as I'm going to get to snow.)

December 2016 Desktop Calendar Free Download

The graphics from White Heart Design are incredible.  I can't get over how detailed all the images are.  They're just beautiful.  You can click here to download the background, or click on the image below.

December 2016 Desktop Calendar Free Download

I hope you have a wonderful month!