Saturday, January 17, 2015

A Train Themed Birthday

My two year old loves his "choo choos", so when thinking about a theme to celebrate his birthday, trains were an easy sell. I started planning about a month in advance. Well, I started organizing ideas in my head. Fast forward four weeks, and you would see me frantically throwing things together, hoping for the best. This was (by far) not my most thought out party, nor was it the best organized, but I think it turned out pretty well. If I do say so myself. Here are my my long-planned, yet hastily executed results.


As guests arrived at the party, they were greeted with a railroad crossing sign, compete with neon, reflective "flashers". I love to welcome party goers in a festive, fun way. It may seem like a silly touch, but I think it helps to get everyone into party mode. It transforms my normal, everyday home into "Train World".

Next I worked on one of my favorite party-planning tricks, the picture frame sign. To go along with the train theme, gifts were left in the "Luggage Drop-Off" area and the party favors were located at the "Baggage Claim". As usual, this was one of the easiest things to do, but got tons of compliments. Everyone loved the simplistic idea and that it carried on the theme.

My next order of business was food. You can't have a good party, without good snacks. I love to bake, but I find it too stressful to try to organize food, bake it, wrap up all other party prep, and then socialize freely. Birthday parties are where I tend to take a foodie backseat. I still want to provide yummy treats for my guests, so I think long and hard about what to serve, but most likely, it won't be homemade.

The easiest place to begin was drinks. Simple. Water and coffee for adults, juice for kids. Everyone was happy. To add locomotive flair, I added tags that said "Chugga Chugga" to the drinks, then tags that said "Chew Chew" to the cookies (our treat of choice).

Speaking of cookies, we have a long-running tradition of having cookies instead of cake. We love that they are so versatile. No matter what the theme, cookies work. We also enjoy that they require no prep (before or during the party). I don't have to take time out of my visits to cut the cake, serve it, and clean up after it. I can pass around the basket full of cookies, guests can choose their favorite variation.

We have found a fantastic, local bakery that is creative, fun, and delicious. Year after year, they knock our socks off! This year was no exception. We talked into their bakery, less than two weeks ago, told them the theme would be trains and that the color scheme would be red and blue, and this is what they came up with. Amazing!

On to the snacks! I started with an idea. A snack train, where each "car" carries a snack representing something that would actually be transported on a train. Obviously, I also wanted the snacks to be tasty for kiddos and adults too. I also needed a way to store these snacks that could serve as train cars. Lastly, I wanted to find a fun way to share the food names with our guests. Here is the end result:


Rectangle-shaped containers stacked with animal crackers (livestock car), Veggie Straws (lumber car), chocolate covered peanuts (coal car), pretzel sticks (log car), and fruit snacks (produce car). The train was led by a toy engine and ran on tracks made with electrical tape stuck to the counter top.


The last task at hand, was to create the parting gifts of my Teddy Bear's buddies. I wanted to stick with the train theme, through and through, so I scoured the internet to find fun train-themed gifts. Luckily I did this part early on! I found and ordered conductor whistles, added a flashlight and a cute tag reading, "Thanks for making my Birthday Party a STOP on your trip!" and tied it all up with a bow.


It was a frantic, busy, amazing day and I wouldn't change a thing! My little man had the time of his life, we spent the day surrounded by those who love our Teddy Bear, we received a ton of compliments, and it really was quite easy to throw together, even if it was VERY last minute. I love throwing parties, planning for them, decorating, and hosting, but the very best part of hosting a birthday party, is the smiles I see on the little man pictured below. It's all for you Nolan!

My little conductor


Monday, December 29, 2014

No Need for Resolutions

Every year, I do what millions of others do. I make a promise to myself in hopes of making the coming year better than the last, one way or another. Several times my New Year's resolution has related to my weight, being happier, eating healthier, having a more positive attitude, being a better teacher, enjoying every moment with my boys........the list goes on and on. This year, there will be no promises, no resolutions.

Over the past few months, I have realized how lucky I am, how imperfectly perfect my life is, how much I love who I am, who my kiddos have become, and how much I appreciate the relationships I have with the people in my life. I have zero reason to promise myself that it will be "better" next year. This does not mean that I have everything that I want or that our life is easy. It just means that I am content with where we are, who we are, and the progress we are making. At this point in life, Joe and I have high hopes for the future and goals we hope to reach, but none of which require me to change me. I can continue to be exactly who I am.

Having no resolution, nothing to change, is so liberating. I feel no need to pep myself up or tear myself down. There is no fear of letting myself or my family down. My only hope for this year is that I end it with the same feelings about resolutions-not needed.


Friday, November 28, 2014

No More News in This House

I made a decision today. There will be no more news in this house.

It is a well known statement that "everything you see on the news is sad, depressing, negative". Currently, more than ever before, this is true. I have spent my life with the core belief that people need to be informed, educated, current. I teach middle school history, where I focus heavily on the mistakes of the past and how current events connect to them. I do still believe in these things, wholeheartedly.

The reason for my family's boycott of the news, is not that I don't care about the atrocities that plague the earth, it is quite the contrary. I am saying "no" to news because I care too much. For every hour of news viewed, I spend three lying in bed being sad, wishing I had the power to stop it, worrying about what the horrible news of the day could mean for my family and loved ones. It has gotten to the point where I sleep very little and I worry too much.

The truth is, I get one chance to be happy, to love and teach my boys, to live a life I am proud of, and I refuse to let the things I can not change take those things away from me. I don't want to know anymore. I want to focus on my family, encouraging my students, and make memories with my friends. I want to live my life with as much peace and happiness as possible.

If something that could threaten the health, safety, or happiness of my family arises, I am sure I will hear about it through the grapevine. The one that consists of the people who love me and my family, the one that has our best interests at heart. With the time I have used to worry and be sad, I will be happy, peaceful, encouraging, positive, and hopeful. I can only hope that our decision will bring the same for our boys.

There is so much beauty in this world. I want to see it.

Peace and Beauty

Sunday, November 23, 2014

How to be a Successful Parent of a Student

As teachers, we are constantly telling children how to be successful students; it's high-time that parents get their own list of ways to be successful parents of students. Here are six tips every teacher wishes their student's parents would use:

1. Communicate Professionally: When sending an email to a coworker, you make sure that what you say and how you say it is professional, appropriate, and respectful. Do the same when contacting your children's teacher. Remember, they are professionals, who deserve respectful interactions. Pointing fingers and blame, using language and tone that insinuates disrespect, and jumping to conclusions are not helpful, nor do they help to establish a positive partnership.

2. Communicate with your Child First: If you are confused about their progress, grades, homework, etc., start with the source. Ask your child before clicking the send button. Your child should know the answers to your questions, but if they don't, give them a chance to ask their teacher before you jump in. This helps them be responsible for their learning and teaches them communication and advocacy skills.

3. Let Them Struggle (Just a Bit): Many parents contact teachers at the very first sign of an issue. It's not a horrible idea to open the lines of communication and offer support early on, however, "saving" your child from the struggle is not always a benefit to them. Students who work for their grade, who have to put in a little extra effort, get far more out of earning the grade. I have seen the excitement and accomplishment in the eyes of my students, who (after months of hard work) have finally earned that "A", and it is a defining moment in their education. Let them have it.

4. Grades are NOT Everything: As times in education change, so does the purpose and meaning of letter grades. Earning an "A" used to mean you were a responsible, smart student who turned in their work on time, attended class daily, and participated. Now grades truly (or should) reflect what your child understands and can demonstrate according to the standards of the grade level and content of the class. Striving for a specific letter grade is not the point of education, instead we focus on progress. Gaining knowledge and being able to demonstrate that knowledge in a deeper, more thought-provoking way is the main goal and grades are made available to help teachers, students, and their parents see that progress. Long story, short....B's are not bad!

5. Support and Partner with Teachers: If your child is struggling, and you have given them time to work it out on their own, partner with the teacher in finding ways to help support your child and their learning. Ask what is being learned, ask specifically what your child is struggling with, ask what you could do at home to help support and reinforce what is being taught in the classroom. Remember to support your child, without undermining their teacher. If parents and teachers believe they are on opposing sides, the student's education is at risk. Working together and being on the same page, is what is best for all.

6. Give Teachers the Benefit of the Doubt: You love your child, you know they are smart, you want to help them be successful, but remember, they are children. They are not always honest, nor do they always know/remember the correct answers to your questions. If your child comes home from school with information that does not sit well with you, or you have questions and/or concerns, stay calm and contact the teacher using the same professional communication discussed in tip #1. Maybe your child was right and further action or discussion is warranted, but maybe their interpretation is not entirely accurate. The last thing, either the teacher or the parent wants to do is complicate a child's education by adding their own personal frustrations to the mix. Remember, trust but verify.

Parents and teachers want the same things for their children/students. We want to support them, teach them, prepare them for their future. If we have the same goals and end-game, doesn't it make sense that we should be on the same team, working together?
When I became the parent of a student




Sunday, September 14, 2014

Given' it a Go

For months, I have struggled with creating a healthier menu for our family. Since we have been so budget-conscious for the past three years, we have been living on foods that consist of the coupon-worthy/last until the end of time variety. Although I know we are trying to do the best we can with what we have, I think that there has got to be a way to do better! That is why Joe and I are giving a natural, non-processed, non-boxed meal plan a try. Due to our budget constraints, this will take some planning and preparation, but we are committed to giving it our best, beginning Oct.1st.

Our goal is not to be on a "diet", nor is it to put restrictions on our boys, it is to make sure that what we eat is the most simple, healthiest food available. Get back to the basics, as it were. We are a very active family, and we want our food to work with that lifestyle. We have always tried to instill a love of "real" food in our children. We have a garden, which we plant, water, harvest, and create meals from as a family. This has become a cherished part of our time together.

The gist of our game plan:
1. Cut out packaged foods
2. Focus on fruits, veggies, whole grains, and lean meats
3. Make and/or bake all our meals from the purest ingredients possible

Plantin' some corn
Based on our own family needs, there will be some exceptions to the rules:
1. Baking ingredients are fair game. I see them as essentials, and refuse to drop them from our diet.
2. If at a restaurant or are guests in someone's home, we eat what is offered. Our goal is not to be rude or impose our experiment on others, but if friends/family come our way, we will make the meal based on our new guidelines. GUESTS BEWARE!

I know this will not be easy, could be quite time-consuming, will probably be budget-strenuous, and could require a great deal of imagination, but I think it will be totally worth it!

Stay tuned for our weekly menus, the ups and downs of our foodie adventure, and how it all pans out (pun intended)!

Friday, July 11, 2014

Creating a Home We Love

My husband and I are always on the lookout for thrifty ways to make our home beautiful. When we were looking at our current home, we almost walked away from it, because it was so plain, whitish, and dingy, it made us think that it would need a lot of work to get it in tip top shape. I'm so glad we looked past our initial reactions, because after just a few short months of living in our new home, and minimal expenses, we have transformed it into the beautiful home we have always wanted.

We have big plans for actual renovations, updates, and personal touches, but for now, with the need for a budget-friendly fix, we are so happy with the changes we have made. When we moved it, our first order of business was to repaint the main living spaces to take care of the dingy feeling of a home that had not been lived in for over two years. This went a long way, but we had even bigger plans for a couple choice rooms.

First, we focused on our son's new bedroom. It was very hard for him to leave our first home. To help him get excited about the new house, we let him choose the colors/theme of his new bedroom, which we would have up and ready by the time we moved in. Little did we know, that he would choose two, lets say interesting, color choices. Red and golden (he also threw black in there, but that's where we drew the line). It took us weeks to figure out a way to give him what he wanted, while still making his room tasteful and doable for us. A friend made an awesome suggestion, and we went with it. We painted the top of the room white, the bottom red, and added a golden stripe between them. We all loved the outcome, especially our little man.
Before                                             After  
Next up was our spacious but blah loft. We have always planned for this area to be a playroom for our boys, but the whitish walls made the room seem boring and dirty. So, we found a kid friendly color pallet and chose two colors that would look well together. We painted the top two thirds of the room the lighter of the two, and the bottom third the darker. We then added a chair-rail to tie it all together. I LOVE this room! I have always wanted an older home with character, and I think that our remodel gives it just that. Character!
Before                                                After 
Last, was our half bath. Once again, the room was dirty and white. This time, we had to worry about it about the size of the room when considering colors. Since the bath is quite small, we wanted a light, neutral, yet interesting color. We chose a light blue/green. We also switched out the boring, plain mirror for one with lots of character. These two small fixes, have given the room a huge improvement.
Before                                             After
As I said earlier, we still have some BIG plans for the rest of the house, but these easy, inexpensive changes will help to tide us over until we are ready to make bigger updates. The fact that this will be our home for many years to come, makes each of the projects we complete, all that more satisfying and exciting. We can finally make our home, ours!

Happy Day

Pancake Picnic '13
It is extremely fitting that this post will be #200. Today, my boys and I had our second annual Pancake Picnic in our backyard. When comparing the pictures from our first P.P., I realized just how much our lives have changed. Obviously, we are all a year older.

Nolan has his own plate this time, he's using a fork, and sitting on his own. Where last year, he was pretty much an observer, who spent his time in my lap. Liam is the same silly, happy pancake muncher as he was last year, with one exception, he has grown into the greatest big brother Nolan could have ever asked for. I have changed too. I'm happier, healthier, and am feeling a sense of peace within our situation.

Pancake Picnic '14
Even the background of the pictures have changed. A year ago, we were living in our first home. This time around, we are enjoying a lovely meal in the shade of an Asian Pear tree that grows in the yard of our forever home. Life has changed so much in the past year. It's difficult to remember what life was like at the time that last year's picnic occurred.

 I love the changes that we have gone through, the progress we have made, the little men that my sons are becoming, and the love that is growing. Happy day!  

Silly boys!