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!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Crockpot Korean Fusion Pulled Pork Tacos with Spicy Slaw

Our family has been working on a pretty tight budget for the past couple years. As part of our budget, I do the grocery shopping with special focus on coupons and sales. One item that tends to go on sale often and has coupons in the Sunday paper regularly, is the Campbell's Crockpot sauce. Since we are not fans of eating the same three dinners, over and over again, we try very hard to come up with creative recipes that will use the items we have already purchased (based on sales and coupons). 

This is one of my proudest recipes to date. It is healthy, delicious, inexpensive, easy, our whole family loves it (even the 4 year old and the 18 month old), it makes a ton of food, and it even better as leftovers, which is HUGE for me to say. I HATE leftovers! 

The delicious outcome
Boneless Pork Shoulder
Korean BBQ Campbell's Crockpot Sauce
2 Cups Shredded Cabbage
1 Cup Red Onion
3/4 Cup Cilantro
Corn Tortillas

2 Tbls Soy Sauce
3 Tbls Vinegar
1 Tbls Sugar 
1/2 tsp Ginger
1/2 tsp Black Pepper

Optional (for spicy):
Diced Cyrano Pepper or Diced Jalapeno Pepper to taste

1. Put the Pork shoulder into a crockpot with the Korean BBQ sauce as directed on the package  (until the meat falls apart easily) 
2. Shred the pork.
3. Make the sauce, adding the pepper(s) if wanted.
4. Mix all remaining ingredients to make the slaw, then mix in the sauce.
5. Put the tacos together, adding as much of the slaw as you would like.
6. ENJOY!!

*My husband and I love spice, so we split the slaw into two batches and only add the peppers to one of them. That way we can have spice, and out boys can enjoy their meal without a burning tongue and watering eyes.

We hope you love this recipe as much as we do!!! Please, give it a try and leave a comment about how it turned out. I would love to hear about variations and/or issues that you come across.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Super Hero Party

My son is a huge super hero fan. He loves them all, but his favorites are Flash and Hulk. When it came time to choose a theme for his party, he couldn't decide between the two. So, he didn't! 

I love to be creative with parties. I find nothing but pleasure in planning and throwing them. I try to be creative with theme, decorations, party favors, food, etc. Once again, I scoured my brain for ways to make sure that this Super Hero party wouldn't be a generic, cookie cutter version. My first assignment, was the food. There is an amazing bakery, here in Sherwood, that creates beautiful, yummy treats. We used them a few years back for another one of Liam's birthday parties. We asked them to create Hulk hands and Flash lightening cookies. They turned out awesome, and were a huge hit!

The next order of business was themed (yet, not canned) decorations. I went simplistic this time around. Putting out colored table clothes, napkins, plates, and silverware and pairing them with a few of Liam's toys. I put together a themed table for each of the heroes, and moved on to more important favors!

I have to say, that this is one of my proudest party ideas. I'm a reading teacher. My boys love books. Normal party favors tend to be cheap toys, candy, and nick knacks that are thrown away. I wanted to make Liam's party favors useful, memorable, and worth taking home. So I went with books!

I searched local book stores, Facebook buy/sell pages, and garage sales, for new/like new children's books. I was able to come up with quite a stash for less money than the normal goodie bags would require. I displayed the book options in a decorative basket, near the front door, so as not to forget them. This also allowed the children, to flip through and choose the book that they wanted, while heading out.

To personalize the gift for Liam and his guests, I typed up and printed a little note on address labels and stuck them on the front cover of each book. Once again, our guests loved the idea! I have received more compliments on this idea, than any other. I'm so happy that everyone liked it, and I love that it promotes reading!

The last hurtle to get the party started, was an activity for the kiddos. I hate party games. Especially, for infant/toddler parties. Kids just want to play. Party games are complicated, can be difficult to organize, and they require that someone who is throwing the party, be taken away from their guests to facilitate. I'm just not a fan. In past parties, I set up a cookie decorating station, homemade playdough, Mr. Potato Head felt game, and created a punch for the prize game, You can check out these ideas at Teddy Bear Picnic Birthday Party and To Infinity and Beyond!

This time, I created bookmarks that went along with the Hulk/Flash theme. I printed them in black and white, and put markers and crayons on the same table. This way, each kiddo would leave the party with a book and bookmark that they colored, and would have a fun, calm activity to do, while at the party.

This was a super easy and simple way to throw a birthday party, and I got nothing but compliments for how it turned out. I learned that parties don't need to be fancy, expensive, and super-structured to be a hit. They just need to be well thought out and creative!