Posted in Cookies, Teacher Life, Tips and Tricks

"I Got My Lunch Packed Up, My Boots Tied Tight, I Hope I Don’t Get In a Fight…Oh Back to School, Back to School…"

That’s right, it’s that time of year again. (and if you missed the reference in the title, click here!) Once again we’re all talking about how summer has faded away too quickly. If you’re a student, a teacher, or a parent, the past 2 weeks (or the upcoming week for those of you lucky enough to be in a place where school still opens after Labor Day) have been crazy ones. And even if you don’t fit into any of the categories above, you still know it’s Back to School time for one reason: traffic. Somehow it’s like hundreds of cars that were hibernating all summer have awakened and filled the roadways. And the school buses, ah yes, the school buses. I love them, they’re efficient…but I’ve been stuck behind one enough times to know that most drivers have a love-hate relationships that tends to lean more in the direction of hate. Just remember, if they didn’t exist, that would mean an extra car on the road for every kid on that bus. Perspective for the next time you’re stopping and starting your way down the street behind the big yellow bus 🙂

Despite the griping you’ve probably heard from many teacher friends, we really do love this time of year. At least I do. It’s a fresh new start; another chance to greet some smiling new faces and open their minds to new ideas and their hearts to love just a little more deeply (at least that’s the hope). And this year for me this new beginning has been startlingly more real as I began my new year at a new school. Which means there are not only 375 new student faces but more than 50 new faculty and staff members to meet…talk about brain overload. As any student and any teacher, even the most veteran, will tell you, back-to-school time is nervewracking. Somehow the confidence which we had in June is hiding somewhere beneath the layers of sunscreen we piled on this summer. We’re coming back to do exactly what we did day in and day out without hesitation for 10 months last year…and yet the butterflies that fill our stomachs for the week prior to Day 1 are merciless. It’s Year 7 for me and I can attest they’re just as strong as Year 1…and from the unofficial survey I did last week, it seems that’s the case for the next 4 decades at least. Honestly though, as a certain wise former colleague of mine said this week, I hope these first day jitters never get old…because if they ever do, I think it would be time to move on. You always get nervous about the things you care about, right??

My new office…slowly coming together.
And yes, that is a giant sink 🙂

All right, before I get to the informative portion of this post, I do have to get a bit nostalgic for a moment. It has been a great and exhausting two weeks for me for many, many reasons. I’ve had quite a few “pinch-me-because-this-can’t-be-real” moments and of course some totally “I’m-overwhelmed-and-must-be-close-to-drowning” moments too. However, I had one of those amazing moments this week too; you know the kind that stop you in your tracks and give you chills and make you want to just freeze time or bottle it up to save. Or at least to have dramatic background music and some kind of montage like your life is a TV show 🙂  I had a phone conversation with one of the saints I’ve mentioned before. He’s had a dream we’ve talked at length about for years now, one which until recently he shared with very few people. And this week it started to come true. Now the specifics don’t matter (well I suppose they do but they aren’t mine to share) but the point is the joy was palpable in his voice. Of course I shared my life updates too, relaying stories about my new school and my excitement for next week’s Expo and my foray into the world of Official Bloggers! In the course of the conversation, he pointed out that it is pretty amazing how far we’ve both come over the past three years. (Note: I spent Labor Day weekend 2011 in the ER. And actually 4th of July 2011 too…not a good year for me and national holidays) After I hung up, I sat for a moment and just let it all sink in and I realized how right he was. There were so many days, weeks, and months of darkness, confusion, and even some hopelessness…and yet now I am lucky enough to bring just a little ray of light to people in the midst of their own darkness. And next weekend I’ll get to spend 2 whole days getting to know even more people who have journeys just like mine. Yes, to say I feel blessed would be an understatement.

I’ve come a long way since my dazed and confused early-food-issue days 🙂

Now, sentimental reflection over, I promise. Time for the important information. Now last year, my back-to-school post was addressed to my fellow teachers. This year, it’s for food-allergy-ridden friends (or parents of food-allergy-ridden students); though to be honest many of these tips can apply to any student or teacher heading back to school!

1) Stockpile You-Safe Breakfast Items: Mornings are hard. Early mornings are even harder. And this is coming from a self-proclaimed morning person! After a summer of waking up naturally around 6:45 (that’s right, teachers really don’t sleep that late all summer. At least this one doesn’t), a 5:30 alarm is just not a welcome sound. Coffee helps of course but breakfast in a food-allergy world can be a challenge. No just grab a waffle and go for this girl anymore. And sadly, my Katie-safe cereal options have been rapidly dwindling as recipes change, machinery is shared, etc. so even that has become a challenge. So what’s the solution? Make You-safe breakfast foods the weekend before. I had a pancake-making extravaganza last Sunday and suddenly had a week’s worth of delicious breakfasts just a 90-second microwave trip away. Take it from me, you cannot underestimate the benefit of an easy, delicious breakfast…especially when you’re staring at a time on the clock that you haven’t seen in 9 weeks 🙂

My Katie-safe pancake-making party…
Seriously, a griddle is an amazing time-saver!

2) Empower your child (or yourself): As I mentioned above, new years are filled with new names, new faces, new classrooms, etc. While I wish I could say that every teacher will have your child’s unique allergies or issues in the forefront of their brain, I can honestly say I think that would be an unrealistic expectation. The reality is teachers are still trying to connect faces to the names which they’ve been dutifully writing on name tags/class lists for weeks. Now in elementary school it’s a little different. With a class of 20 or so (at least hopefully), the teacher is bound to know your child and their health issues by lunchtime of day 1, if not before. However, it gets trickier when your child reaches middle school or high school and only has face time with each teacher for 45 minutes on that first day. This is why I think it is SO important to empower kids with food allergies (or any health issues really). They should be equipped to handle their own situation, know what questions to ask, etc. If your child can’t do this by late elementary school, you may need to re-evaluate. I don’t have my own kids but even from my time with students, I can’t even imagine how difficult this must be for a parent to relinquish control; however, the reality is your child is going to be living with this allergy or condition FOREVER. Hence the sooner your child learns to advocate for him or herself, the better. However, if your child is young…or even if you’re just concerned…write a note, find the teacher, try to avoid puttig a bright yellow nut-allergy sticker on your child’s sweater (yes, it happens) but honestly, do what you have to do to keep your child safe. Allergies, despite the frequent articles or comedy sketches which poke fun, are actually life-or-death situations. Plan accordingly.

3) “Dinner Plan”:
The first week of school is exhausting. For everyone. There’s no way around it. As an article I read yesterday said, going back to school is like running a marathon after not walking more than a mile for 9 weeks. There is no easing back into school. It’s just full speed ahead into classes, grading, homework, sports practices, parent conferences, etc. There’s just no rest for the weary…well, unless you fall asleep in your school clothes by 8:15 one night and don’t wake up until morning. Yes, that happened…and no, I still didn’t feel rested. I learned last year that by the time I get home from school, dinner is the last thing I want to think about, let alone have energy to plan and make. Hence, the teacher in me won over and I started a tradition of Sunday afternoon “dinner planning”. You know, as a welcome break from my Sunday afternoon lesson planning. I survey my cabinets and add some meals to my weekly planner. Then to fill in the missing days, I consult my trusty weekly grocery circulars for what’s on sale. Within a matter of 45 minutes or so, I’m planned for the week. I recently added a shopping list corner too. AND I realized that if I take a picture of it, I can just pull it up on my phone when I’m about to head home from school and remind myself what I need to pick up. I tell you, I was not a fan of the Smartphone idea, but I must admit it has been an overwhelmingly positive experience for me. So go to the dollar store, buy a dry-erase weekly planner, and get to dinner planning. You won’t regret it!

Think easy meals…especially for Week 1!

4) Find a You-Safe Option for Dining Out (or Carrying Out): This is important for two reasons. 1) Because the first week of school deserves celebration and whether that means going out as a family for dinner or just celebrating by yourself, it needs to happen. 2) Because no matter how well you follow Step 3, there will be days when you just simply cannot make dinner. Whether it’s time or energy which is lacking, those nights are inevitable. So make sure you have a back-up option (cough, Chipotle or Five Guys, cough) and of course some money in your “I’m too tired to move so yes, this is considered an emergency” fund.

One of my go-to carry-out options!

5) Make Chocolate Chip Cookies: Need I say more? Chocolate chip cookies just make the world a better place. It’s that simple. Bake them, eat some, freeze some…and most importantly enjoy them.

Enjoy Life now makes dark chocolate morsels!
One word: life-changing.

“It’s Going to Be a Great Year!” Chocolate Chip Cookies
1 cup gluten-free flour blend (I used Bob’s Red Mill All-Purpose Flour)
1/2 cup Earth Balance Soy-free buttery spread
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup pure cane sugar
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/3 tsp. baking soda + 2/3 tsp. cream of tartar (or baking powder if you’re not corn-free)
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 Tbsp. flaxseed + 3 Tbsp. water (or 1 egg if you’re not egg-free)
salt to taste

1. Mix all ingredients (I did wet ingredients and dry ingredients separately first).
2. Bake for about 12 minutes at 350 degrees.
3. Enjoy!!

6) Have an AMAZING new school year! To echo what I said earlier, I really do believe every new year is a new opportunity to make new friends, to learn, to love, and to grow into an even better version of yourself. So sharpen those pencils, pack up those new books, put a smile on that face, and get out there! The world is waiting for you 🙂


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