Things to Do List UPDATED {Free Printable}

Jen's Things to Do List

A few weeks ago, I shared a "Things to Do" printable list I liked here.  I still like that list, but I needed to tweak it just a touch to meet my current needs.


I added a "Mantra" box at the top of the list.  A weekly mantra will help me stay focused and intentional that week.  I also wanted the days of the week to begin with Monday (and not Sunday), so I retyped the to-do list and started with Monday, which allowed for Saturday and Sunday to be right next to each other at the bottom.  Lastly, I wanted just a little more space to write since my handwriting is slightly chubby.

If you'd like to use this updated to-do list (pictured above) or share it with a friend, please find it here. It is ready to print on standard 8.5 x 11 paper.

Happy to-doing until you're to-done,


Lessons From a Ski Bum

Ski Bumming It

When I graduated from Michigan State University with my undergraduate degree, I did exactly the opposite of what my parents wanted me to do.  I moved to Aspen, Colorado and became a ski bum. Yep. I made my parents un-proud and awakened their expletive vocabulary.   They had just spent thousands of dollars on my college education and I chose to forego a real job to follow my dream - living the life of a ski bum.

I moved to Aspen.  Worked the typical 2-4 jobs at a time.  Skied and snowboarded my winters away. And three and a half years later, I re-entered the real world by way of graduate school.

Now, before you weigh in, let me share the best lessons I took away from ski bumming.  In fact, maybe you will read this post and plan your ski bum experience (or encourage someone else to take one themselves).  Either way, email me.  I'll come ski with you.  Pinky swear.

Lessons From a Ski Bum

Lesson #1:  When you ski bum, you become a master at balancing work and play - a lesson that most of US America could stand to learn.  As a ski bum, you work your tail off doing whatever jobs you can to support your addiction - skiing (and/or snowboarding). You always make time for both - work and play - as you understand their symbiotic, essential relationship.

Lesson #2:  You understand the value of a dollar and how to stretch it.  When you ski bum, your thrifty-side awakens (if it hadn't already from undergraduate school).  You learn to live with so much less and know it's totally doable.  You live in a 150-square foot studio apartment with a roommate?  No problem!  At least you have a futon to share.  You consider a bowl of Stove Top stuffing a meal?  No problem!  Who knows, you might be eligible for a free employee meal when you arrive to your third job of the day.  This thriftiness translates well into the real world where you discover you don't need a slew of material items to be happy.

Lesson #3:  You meet the most interesting people from all over the world and all different industries. Most of the people who can afford to vacation in ski towns have money.  They have interesting jobs and lifestyles, which they often take for granted - sadly.  Getting to rub elbows with such a diverse, privileged crowd is a great way to jump start your entry into the real world when you decide to leave the ski bum womb.  Ski bumming is a great opportunity to network and meet influential people.

Lesson #4:  Life is people.  People are stories.  Living as a ski bum gives you thousands of stories to tell.  Being a storyteller is a gift.  For example, I once worked as the personal assistant to the personal assistant for a very wealthy family from Chicago.  A sheik from Saudi Arabia would call me weekly to see if anyone from said family needed a ride to LA or NY on his private jet.  "Oh, no...but, thank you.  The family is already on their private jet to London for the week."  Or the time Gary Busey wanted to be seated immediately in the very busy restaurant where I hosted.  "I'm sorry, we don't have a table available.  What did you say your name was again?  Could you spell it for me?  I'll add you to the waiting list."  My very favorite stories, though, involved seeing John Denver daily in his white, one-piece ski suit using my work's pay phone (JD, may you rest in peace).  I guess pay phones should rest in peace, too.

Now, trust me.  Go!  Be a ski bum.  Encourage others to do the same.  The real world will be waiting for you whenever you return.  Quite frankly, the real world would be a better place if more people had ski bum on their resume.



Thursday is Brought to You by Jedi

Jedi the dog collage

Today is brought to you by Jedi.  This dog is responsible for bringing immense joy to our family, getting me outside to hike (or run) on days where I have zero interest, and for making the start of my day meditative.  Petting him for 5-10 minutes when I wake up is the best way to start the day - peaceful, calm, and loving.

I am contemplating trying real meditation again.  Just about every public-figure-person I admire meditates on a daily basis.  Are you like me?  I'm so not good at meditation; my mind goes 101 places.  I hear Tara Brach has a great collection of guided mediations, so I'm going to give her a try. I'm starting with her Smile Mediation.

Smile + Mediation?!  Sounds like my kind of combo.

If you have any meditation tips, please share.


Teaching Gear

from ski to running shoes

I am a complete gearhead. I love gear.  Part of my obsession is I love the outdoors.  Many sports in the outdoors require specialized gear.  If you want to downhill ski, you need ski gear.  If you want to cross-country ski, you need another type of ski gear.  Whitewater kayak?  More gear.  Backpack? Still more gear. Bouldering?  Thankfully, very little gear.  Gear, gear, gear.  That is why Mr. UpCyclist wants the toy-hauling RV pictured here.  More room to store our family's collective gear.

Now, before you judge (or applaud), I like gear because it has a purpose.  It doesn't just take up space (although, I certainly have gear that gets used less often - like my ice crampons for climbing glaciers).   Typing that line makes me miss teaching in Ecuador.  Sigh.

Thankfully, my profession includes teaching gear!  My favorite two places to purchase teaching gear is Training Wheels and  Experiential Tools.  I'm serious when I say, I could forego just about any material item in exchange for gear from either of those online stores.  Not that I'm hinting around for my upcoming April birthday (ha!),  I'm just trying to save you time when you are looking for teaching gear to use with your students.  Both online storefronts offer the most creative teaching gear I've seen.  I own my fair share of items from both stores.  These miniature metaphors are too cute and useful.  How smart are these button conversation starters?  I just used this body parts debrief in my class; my students thought it was uber-creative and memorable.  I really cannot get enough of this deck of Chiji cards.  It is my go-to item.  Oh, and wait until you see the new teaching gear from Sue! She's brilliant and just created her own deck of curiosity cards.  After I buy a set, I'll review them right here on the ole' blog.

Now, it's your turn.  What is your favorite gear - teaching or not?  I'd love to hear.

All the best, fellow gearhead,

PS - I just noticed this!  Now, that's a creative piece of gear.

Skiing (Hashtag) Rocks

ski selfies

Back in 2008, Mr. U and I asked our employers if we could work from a distance for three months. We wanted to properly teach Miss O how to ski.  Sure, you can learn to ski going 1-2 days a week. But, we wanted her to be fully immersed in the sport.  Our employers thankfully agreed (do I have the coolest college ever?) and we left Maryland and lived in Lake Tahoe for seven weeks and Breckenridge for seven weeks.  Both resorts share the same ski pass, which made the three months more financially doable.  This is also when we feel madly in love with Breckenridge and had to buy a small place there two years later.

I have proof in the videos below of Miss O's improvement over the three month ski experience. Immersion is grand.

Video #1: Miss O is skiing off the Magic Carpet here (remember this video is 7 years old).  Notice how she only makes one turn at the end to stop and squeals with delight the entire way down.  We pretty much hung out on this Magic Carpet for a week straight.  In Week 2, we would ski the bunny hill when she started to get the hang of making turns and stopping on a dime.

Video #2:  Just three short weeks later, look out how much she improved here.  Isn't it crazy?  From doing zero turns and barreling down the bunny slope to skiing the entire mountain at Heavenly in Lake Tahoe on any of their blue runs.

Video #3:   This video is shot almost at the end of our three month ski experience.  She's in the halfpipe in Breckenridge!  This video cracks me up and truly shows what happens when you get to ski daily for three months.  So much growth.

To me, skiing is such a incredible activity - you get to spend immense amounts of time in the outdoors and visit many different places around the world to ski.  Skiing is also a fantastic sport that you can do for a lifetime. I love when I see older skiers.

It is now seven years later and we still love to ski.  Some days the three of us go out together.  Other days, just two of us.  This year, we've been skiing only locally in Pennsylvania, which I thought I wouldn't like, but it has totally surprised me.  The snow has been great.  The lift lines are OK for such a populated part of the country.  I love seeing all the local ski teams; kids that ski rock, in my opinion. Since Miss O qualifies for the free PA ski pass, she's been using that all season.  I just saw it is closed for this year, but if your child qualifies, mark your calendar for next fall when applications open again.

Really, I can't say more good things about skiing.  A chance to be outdoors, glide down mountains, push yourself to conquer new slopes, meet interesting people, see the world, and if you are like me, collect lift chair selfies of the people you adore.

#skiingrocks  - Just sayin,


Love. This. Quote.

Thich Nhat Hanh

My friend and owner of Ambika, Erica, recently emailed me.  She shared this gem for podcasts, which I wasn't familiar with before, but now love AND the quote above by Thich Nhat Hanh.

How did she know my mud is so deep right now?  I'm talking quicksand deep.

Thank you, Erica, for knowing I needed a change of perspective.

Here's to blooming lotus flowers,


Lessons from Woodberry

Woodberry Hall

This past weekend, we celebrated Mr. UpCyclist's birthday.  We made his special day a Yes Day, which means he had carte blanche to choose all the activities for the day and Miss O and I had to say YES.   Our family digs Yes Days.  You can read about our other Yes Days here, here, here, and here.

As part of his Yes Day, he picked "going out for dinner."  I knew this might be an interest of his, so I was holding an early reservation at Woodberry Kitchen in Baltimore.  We had heard of Woodberry Kitchen before, but had never been.  Boy, was it lovely.  In the photo above, you can see their Woodberry Hall.  They were setting up for a private party as we arrived, so I imagine it is a room you can reserve for special occasions.  I was ready to move into the whole place - the hall, the restaurant, the string-light laced outside seating area, the old steel mill buildings, you name it.  The look and vibe of Woodberry completely spoke to me.

Woodberry Kitchen  & Mr. UpCyclist
Miss O at Woodberry Kitchen
Upstairs at Woodberry Kitchen
Jen and Miss O at Woodberry Kitchen

It was more than the ambience, though, that inspired this blog post.  It was the whole experience. I left Woodberry thinking there were some important lessons an educator could adapt from Woodberry's thoughtfulness.  Lessons you could take back to a classroom (including an online classroom, too).

Lessons from Woodberry

1.  Environment plays a huge role.  No matter the situation, environment plays a tremendous role in how students feel and behave.  My family and I felt welcomed at Woodberry like we were guests in their home.  The staff and the vibe of the environment contributed to this.  Dr. Maria Montessori said 100 years ago the third participant in education after the child and teacher was the environment.  The same holds true today. An intentional environment has a major impact on how people feel and behave.  What are you intentionally doing to create a welcoming environment for your students?  What could you tweak or improve?  

2.  Make the people in your environment feel special.  Miss O, as you know, is on a special diet indefinitely.  Being gluten-free can be tricky when eating out.  At Woodberry, however, Miss O was treated like a rockstar.  She had her own special, gorgeous menu.  Her g-free bread arrived first and was delicious (instead of it being the waitstaff's after thought).  Since we were celebrating Mr. U's birthday, the waitstaff surprised him (and us) with a special dessert and candle.  I don't even remember telling anyone at Woodberry it was his birthday.  Maybe they asked when I made the reservation?  I can't recall.  But, I do know how special we all felt as we dined and now days later, how special each of us still feels.   How do you let your students know they are special to you? 

3. When your staff feels appreciated it shows.  I can't tell you how many times I've been to a school and have noticed the employees looking so sad and downtrodden.  It is heartbreaking to me.  At Woodberry, the staff was vibrant.  They each floated around the restaurant supporting each other while they kept up with the needs of the patrons.   I used to work in restaurants and bars all through my 20s and thought several times during the night at Woodberry, "If I were to work in a restaurant again, I would definitely want to work here."  The employees of Woodberry looked appreciated and you could feel it.  How do you show your appreciation to the people in your environment - your colleagues, support staff, class volunteers, and parents?

I left Woodberry wishing more people - teachers, parents, business owners, coaches - could be more Woodberry-like.  If we all would create more thoughtful, welcoming environments where others felt special, valued, and appreciated how might the people around us feel and behave differently?  What would the impact be?

Celebrating Woodberry and tipping my hat to them,

Gluten-free Pizza (A Winning Crust)

I almost titled this blog post, The Day This Blog Became a Cooking Blog.  But, then I remembered an article I had read about blogging and Google searches.  It is better not to be cute, but instead be practical when titling blog posts.  Practical therefore wins today.

Gluten-free pizza crust

You know I am not a cook as I explained here.  I don't claim to be.  However, I am on a roll and being much braver in the kitchen.  I have tried so many recipes lately that I am ready to write a cookbook myself.  The cookbook title will be Recipes That Really, Truly Work!  I'm pretty tired of recipes that do not work as written.  Recipes that I have to adjust the temperature, cooking time, ingredient list, or quantity.  Me!  I am not a cook.  Cooking doesn't come intuitive to me.  Yet, here I am tweaking away at recipes.


So, since I have zero time to write my Recipes That Really, Truly Work! cookbook, I thought I'd share the best recipes here when I discover them.  If anything it will be a great list of my family's favorites and perhaps inspire others to share their recipes that really work, too.  We can all grow our cooking skills together.

Gluten-free pizza crust

As I mentioned in my Brave Cooking blog post, Miss O is on a gluten-free, egg-free, etc.-free diet since November.  I've been looking for a pizza crust that would work for her - no gluten, no eggs, and no icky stuff.  This quinoa crust is the answer AND it really works!   I've now tried it twice and my only modification is I make two smaller crusts (instead of one larger one).  When I make the crusts smaller, the crust get crisper and the center pieces hold up super well.  In the photo below, look at that hold!  Amazing, right?  No floppy, soggy pizza crust here.

Gluten-free pizza crust

This gluten-free pizza crust also tastes great.  Since it is made from only quinoa, baking powder, salt and water (and a spray of oil on the parchment paper) it has more nutritional punch than a regular wheat-based crust.   Plus, now that I've made the batter a couple of times, I'm dreaming of others ways to use it.  Savory quinoa waffles?  Quinoa breakfast toasts?  Add some agave or honey and make it a sweet treat? More Brave cooking ahead!  You can find the quinoa crust recipe here (there's even a video to watch if you want to be taken through the crust recipe step-by-step).

OK, it's your turn.  What are your recipes that really, truly work?  Leave 'em below or email me, yes?

All the best - bon appetit,