I may or may not be a bit of a know it all! I knew it had probably gone too far when I was called by a co-worker in my classroom to request orthopedic advice! That being said, I try to be a resource for my friends and family about experiences I have had that I hope might help them. One of my friends suggested I write about #ASKBARBERIO…which made me laugh out loud. Then, I decided to once again take the suggestion and write some advice.
By now, most educators have gone back to school. We have endured setting up our rooms, endless professional development, those calls to parents to welcome their child to your room, open house, the first day with students, and much more. The excitement of seeing your colleagues and starting a fresh year may have worn off. Many of us have hit the phase of overwhelmed, overworked, and overtired. So, I want to offer some ideas of my favorite things to relax, rest, indulge, unwind, and hopefully rejuvenate myself for the long year ahead.
As educators, we are in a marathon not a sprint. Today’s teaching world expects more than any one person could accomplish in the regular work day. It is so essential that we keep ourselves balanced to allow for us to do the truly pivotal work with our students. Many teachers are Type A overachievers and this can lead to burnout. So, as we start the year, I want all of us to practice what I am going to preach below regarding my Top 10 favorite ways to take care of myself as an educator, mom, wife, friend, daughter, and several other hats I wear. I am going to preach and try to practice! Hope you will do the same!
- Be one thing at a time. I decided when I first had kids while teaching that when I was at school I was going to be 100% teacher and when I was at home I was going to be 100% mom as much as I could. So, I rarely take work home (unless grades are due). I participate in my kids school as a volunteer by taking a day off here and there. I leave work at a reasonable hour to be with my family. I try to keep answering emails to a minimum after school hours. It will all still be there when you get back and believe me you will get it done! Basically, whenever I can, I try to be present in the place I am at. It makes me a better teacher and hopefully, a better mom.
- Find your mental escape. I need something that takes me totally away from all my “hats”. So, every day, I look for an opportunity to escape with something I love. For me, it is a ridiculous fantasy novel series, Real Housewives of any city, or a binge worthy show on your streaming service or TV. (Stranger Things and Outlander were my summer binges. I began speaking in a Scottish accent for awhile…I was in that deep. ) The reality is that we are all capable of thinking, talking, breathing education at every minute of every day. You will bring more to the table, solve more problems, and just generally be happier if you intentionally give yourself a mental escape every day.
- Sleep enough and well. Teachers are early birds by necessity or design. Many of us continue to wear our “hats” well into the after-school and evening hours. This can make shutting off our brain and truly resting really hard. We care too much and it can impact our sleep. Every adult needs 8 solid hours of sleep daily….which sounds semi-impossible. I am working consciously to get as close to 8 hours of sleep nightly (which almost never happens – preaching not practicing yet). I have a consistent bedtime routine that involves prayer, meditation, gratitude, and reading to allow my brain to get the message to shut it all down. My electronic devices are plugged in for the night in another room. Work with your doctors if insomnia is an issue to ensure that you get true rest. Remember when you had a newborn baby, new puppy, or thought you were invincible in college? Exhausted people are more emotional, make less sound decisions, and have a host of physical repercussions. So, get some sleep!
- Ice Cream Yep, for me ice cream is a true piece of joy. Obviously, you are not able to eat it every day, but whenever I need a little gift to myself it is ice cream (or brownies, or salty chips, or the entire back the truck up appetizer menu at the local tavern…ok…focus….it is ice cream!) So, here are my favorite ice cream options – Ben and Jerry’s Chocolate Brownie, Market Pantry (Target brand) Peanut Butter Fudge, McDonald’s Oreo Mcflurry snack size, Shake Shack’s Pie oh my (they work with a local bakery and change up a specific pie flavor every month or so…they mush up the pie into the most luscious vanilla custard ice cream), and if you live, specifically, in Union County, NC Dollar Cone (a mom and pop ice cream shop IN THE MIDDLE OF A CORNFIELD with the best soft serve ice cream cones they dip in the chocolate shell that hardens and you can have a variety of toppings FOR A DOLLAR!!!!)
- Monitor and address your physical and mental health early! Educators are one the largest groups of people on anxiety and depression medication. We need to make mental health without stigma – it is just another chronic, chemically based health concern. This is because teaching is one of the most challenging jobs in the world – more decisions per minute than most other careers. If you are going to be a great teacher, you have to be physically well and mentally well. Plus, is there ANYTHING worse than making sub plans? Teachers are notorious for waiting too long to address a physical need or a mental health need. It is time for us to bravely and confidently take care of ourselves first so we can take care of others. You know…put on your oxygen mask first….
- Purposefully have gratitude every day. Due to some ongoing health issues, I decided a year ago to start a nightly health journal that covered everything (sleep, diet, stress, physical, reactions, etc.) It has helped me find all kinds of trends in my physical and mental well being. But, the last thing I do every night is list 3 things I am grateful for from that day. I have heard this suggestion for years, but until I faithfully did it I was unaware of its benefits. Literally, the last thing I think of every night is what I am thankful and happy for. It has changed my focus completely! I now can take any day ranging from horrible to amazing and remind myself of how lucky I am. That is a gift!
- Get back to nature. Did you know in Japan a prescribed treatment for depression is go sit in a forest for an hour daily? WHY? We are inter-connected with our world and on some primitive level we all crave nature. Now, I have a few friends who like nature to be the well-groomed shrubs they pass on the way into Nordstrom’s…and some who literally “go off the grid” for a week. Regardless of where you fall on the back to nature spectrum, find a way to connect with the natural world. Plants in your classroom, walks in the park/greenway, go sit by a body of water that makes your happy (pool, lake, ocean, etc.), find a local park that has a great gazebo to grade papers at, whatever works to get you back to nature. It is a big world out there and there are days I literally never walk outside my building. Being in the big world keeps my focus on more than the little world I inhabit and create each day.
- Keep your friendships strong. Banana Bread Bribery discussed the importance of developing relationships with your colleagues. I am so lucky to have friends from all phases of my life (some for over 25 years….yep…I am that old). I make it a conscious goal to be a good friend. I seek my friends out and foster time to be with people who make me laugh, hold my hand when I cry, and listen when needed. Your friends will make every aspect of your life better – so keep your friendships strong.
- Laugh. Period…just laugh! Life is absolutely absurd at times. There are times as a teacher or parent if you don’t laugh, you will cry. Teachers can get waaaayyyyy too serious about everything. My husband, who is an elementary teacher surrounded by women every where he goes, is often amazed by the things that I get worked up about at school. He regularly encourages me to keep my focus on what I need to do for the people in my classroom and to stop worrying about the other stuff. He also makes me laugh. My friends make me laugh uncontrollably. I watch TV shows and movies that make me laugh. I diffuse so many situations in my classroom and with my kids with humor and laughter. Remember, we should find joy in what we do and who we are with…so laugh!
- Bake something delicious that makes your house smell fantastic! Banana Bread Bribery was a popular column, so I am going to give you my second favorite, foolproof recipe below for scones. Did you know that smell is the strongest of all the senses in impacting memory and emotion? I promise these scones will make your house smell fantastic and if you don’t want to eat them yourself consider them “Sucking up Scones” and give them to your co-workers!
Basic Scone Recipe
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Get on a good apron or old clothes because it tends to get messy. Now – look in your fridge for some fruit that appears to be closing in on not that great. You can also make chocolate or cinnamon if you are not a fruit fan.
- 2 cups of Bisquick OR 2 cups of AP flour with 1 Tablespoon of baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon of salt
- 2 Tablespoons of sugar
- 5 Tablespoons of unsalted butter
- 1 – 1.5 cups of something (fruit, chocolate chips, nuts, some combo of something)
- 1 cup of some kind of milk (buttermilk is my favorite, but I have made it with everything from almond milk to heavy cream)
- Spices or zest that match your “something” above (apples and cinnamon, blueberry and lemon zest, strawberries and nutmeg, etc.)
- For the glaze – 1 cup of powdered sugar, 2 – 4 Tablespoons of some liquid (depending on how thick/thin you want it – fruit juice, milk, syrup, etc.), real vanilla extract, 1/2 teaspoon or so of zest or spices that match above, and a Tablespoon of butter.
- Look inside your fridge for that fruit (if you are going the fruit route). I have made this with apples, peaches, blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, mixed berries, you name it. Cut up the fruit into small, bite sized pieces. I like them about the size of your thumbnail. Get about a cup to a cup and half of this fruit. Now set it to the side. Skip this step if you are going with chocolate or some other flavor of chips. You will just measure those out and pour in. No chopping required. Side note – If I am using apple, I put sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and lemon juice/zest on the apples and toss before I set aside (like an apple pie filling).
- Put the 2 cups of bisquick or flour mixture into a bowl. With a fork (my favorite mixing tool) add in the sugar and briefly stir together. Now, I am NOT a sifter….I know…things are lighter and fluffier….so if you would rather sift them together it will probably make it better. Ain’t nobody got time for that….
- Your 5 Tablespoons of butter should be in the fridge or freezer so they are rock hard COLD. Take your trusty, regular sized cheese grater and grate the cold butter into the flour mixture. Use that fabulous fork and stir that around. Again, you can use a fancy pastry cutter tool and get the butter in chunks – but I promise the grating trick is AMAZING!
- Now decide what zest or spices or both goes well with what you plan to put in. My favorite combinations are apples with cinnamon, lemon, and nutmeg; blueberry and lemon zest; strawberry and nutmeg; or mixed berries with lemon zest. Stir this zest (use a microplane – buy one if you don’t have one…best tool ever!) or spices (again buy whole nutmeg and use the microplane – seriously, your life will be forever changed by grating in fresh, whole nutmeg…but if you don’t have it no worries!) Stir this in….
- Now take the fruit you cut up or measure out chocolate or other chips or nuts or do some combo… (apple, pecan, and chocolate would be delicious or peach and pecan) and make a well in your flour mixture (dig a hole like in the sand). Pour in the fruit/chip/nut and gently toss it around with your fork until each piece is coated with flour and spread throughout the mix.
- Next…even more gently to not smush up the fruit…dig another well. Pour in your 1 cup of milk product and stir until it forms a pretty dry ball of dough. If your batter is really wet and sticky – add in more bisquick or flour. If your dough is too dry and not coming together (lots of bits everywhere) add in more milk.
- Word of advice – I always skip this step and remember AFTER I do step 8. Believe me… you will get flour and dough EVERYWHERE! I know this from experience. So…get out 2 cookie sheets and line them with parchment paper, spray them with cooking spray, or the old fashioned butter and flour method. Have them RIGHT NEXT TO WHERE YOU PLAN TO ROLL OUT THE DOUGH!!! Seriously….
- Okay…at this point…MAKE SURE YOU ARE WEARING AN APRON OR OLD CLOTHES…put flour/bisquick all over your counter (clean it first) or a cutting board or your kitchen table. Somewhere you can spread out basically! Dump the bowl over onto the floured surface, put some flour on your hands, and lightly smush/form/pat the dough into a rectangle shaped, 1/2 inch thick even layer. Cut the dough down the middle like a hamburger fold (all the teachers know what I am talking about – if you are reading this and not a teacher…ask a teacher you know, what that is). Then, on each half begin cutting triangles. Take each triangle and place it onto that baking sheet you remembered to prepare and put next to you.
- Once you have cut them all out and they are on the baking sheet, I take cooking spray and spray the tops of each one. You could make an egg wash (one egg with some water or milk) or use milk or melted butter and brush it on – but I love the cooking spray method. Then I take some sort of sugar (regular old granulated, a coarser kind, etc.) and sprinkle with a spoon on top of each scone. This will give them a lovely, crunchy, sugary top!
- Watch until the scones are brown on the top and bottom and seem pretty firm (not hard). Start checking them around 10 minutes. They usually take 10 – 15 minutes. Take them out and let them cool as long as you can stand it. I generally leave them on the pan to cool, but you can put them on a cooling rack. Now, for our Step 10 of this article above remember to smell….isn’t it lovely????
- While they are cooling (this will stop you from eating them right away), make the glaze. Put 1 cup of powdered sugar in a microwave safe bowl. Pour in the 2 – 4 Tablespoons of liquid that matches the flavor of the scone. Try apple with maple syrup glaze…unbelievable. If you are going to add in zest or spices, put those in now. Pop this in the microwave for 30 seconds. Take it out and stir until it is smooth. If it is like water, add more powdered sugar. If it is a rock, add more liquid until you get it the way you want it. Once you like the texture pour in 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract and add in a softened or slightly melted tablespoon of butter. Stir until smooth and glossy. NOW HERE IS MY BEST ADVICE…. POUR THAT FABULOUS GLAZE IN A MASON JAR OR OTHER AIRTIGHT CONTAINER. Once you glaze those scones, their shelf life is going fast! They will be mushy and gross by the evening. Keep the glaze in the fridge and pull it out each time you plan to eat a scone or share a scone. You might have to shake it up if it has separated. Unglazed scones will last up to a week in the fridge. You can pop them in the toaster oven or regular oven – put on a little glaze and it is delicious. You can also freeze the scones once they have cooled and pull out individually to re-heat.
- Now…your house smells fabulous and is probably covered in flour. You are happy and calm. Decide if these are all for you scones, my secret treat in the freezer scones, my family can have a few scones, or if they are “Sucking up scones” and you are headed to school with them. Bring the scones in one container and that mason jar of glaze in the other and make some new friends or keep your old ones!