Thursday, July 23, 2015

Finding Friends on Instagram

Are you on Instagram? I post pictures of home life, my kids, family vacations, and school life on my Instagram account. Come join me! My user name is homeiswheremystorybegins. I'd love it if you would follow me.

I've been using hashtags, which my 14 year old reminds me that using hashtags does not make me cool. Ha! I was on Instagram before the teen crowd had even discovered it!

If you are a teacher or parent with kids at home, you might be interested in a few of my favorite hashtags for the teaching and learning crowd.  #CTInquiry is a great one that is inquiry based. #teachersofinstagram, #allaboutinquiry, and #makelearningvisible are all hashtags that I'm starting to use.

This summer I've been posting lots of pictures of my kids enjoying their leisure time, but I also like to post photos of our crafts, hobbies, recipes, and just pretty photos or interesting things.  

Come join me, friends! Help me prove to my 14 year old that I have followers who are old enough to drive.  I'd love to find other friends to follow who are my age!  Please introduce yourself in the comments so I can find you and follow you back!

Search for me on Instagram. homeiswheremystorybegins 

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Evolution of A Backyard Space

A few months ago, this was the back corner of our yard.

I took a picture of our old swingset and listed it for free on our neighborhood Facebook page.
Within an hour, a neighbor was coming to  take it apart and give it a new life in a new home. I have big plans for this space. We bought chairs and more wood chips and I started working on a new vision for how we would use this space.

I set out my new chairs and planted a few pots and it was just how I wanted it (in the beginning stages) for about 12 hours.  By the next morning, my kids had a new idea for the space.

They stacked the chairs, moved my planters out of the way, and started re-raking the wood chips so they could level out the space and make room for the pool.  I hung my head in sadness for the loss of my garden area and helped them level the ground.  Nothing makes me happier than seeing my kids work together on a project and I know they would LOVE to get the pool up!  We've tried this pool in several different spots, but nothing has been level and the pool needs a perfectly level space.  

Sadly, we spent about a week patching and re-patching small holes in the pool and eventually decided that it's just not going to work.  I was kind of sad because I really thought it was going to work and pictured the kids having hours of fun since this was a pretty large pool.  Oh, well.  Now, it's back to the drawing board again with this area!

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Homemade Lemonade

I'm not a huge fan of lemon, but my kids and hubby love lemonade.  During the school year, I did a cooking unit with my kindergartners and we made fresh squeezed lemonade.  (In all honesty, we squeezed some of the lemons and then used bottled lemon juice when we got tired of squeezing lemons.) Lemonade is really easy to make.  It's just lemon juice, sugar, and water.  I thought it might be a good recipe to share with my bloggy friends, since the summer days are here and we might need a little cooling off!

Oh, how I love cooking in the classroom with my kids!  They were jumping with joy when they walked in the room and saw lemons and a lemon press.  Of course a few kids yelled, "What are we making Teacher?" (Yes, they still call me Teacher, even at the end of the school year.) I asked them what they thought we should do, and it didn't take long for the suggestion of LEMONADE to come up!

I started by showing them an online book about lemonade that was on Reading Rainbow.  Our school has a subscription to the service, so I can't share the link.  Then, we started squeezing lemons.  We needed 2 cups of lemon juice and all of our lemons made about 1/2 of a cup.  At that point I pulled out the bottled lemon juice and told them that we'd take the easy way out to come up with the rest of the juice.  (Although I think they would have squeezed lemons all day if I would have let them.)

Here is the recipe we used:
2 cups sugar
1 cup hot water
2 cups lemon juice
1 gallon cold water

Dissolve the sugar in hot water.  Add lemon juice and then cold water.  Stir.

We made our lemonade on a very hot and sunny (by Pacific Northwest Standards) day.  The kids were thrilled with the cold treat and really loved sharing with the recess teachers who are outside for most of the day.  

If you are interested in more lemon activities, here is a post I wrote for LeapFrog Learning Path with more ideas.  Lemony Learning Activities

It might be a good time to break out the lemonade stand and share some lemonade with the neighbors!

Happy lemon squeezing!

Monday, July 20, 2015

Early Summer Dinner Group - How to Host a Dinner Party Without Cooking Ahead

Every few months I share photos from my dinner group and tell you all about how much fun we have.  For those of you who are new to my blog, here's how it works.  Every few months (we shoot for once a month) the hostess chooses four recipes that she has never tried before.  She purchases the ingredients for those recipes and sets up four cooking stations in her kitchen.  When the guests arrive, we each choose a recipe that we are interested in making and start cooking.  When you are at your own house, in your own kitchen, cooking alone, it can sometimes seem like a chore.  But, when you are cooking with friends, it is so much more fun!

This time, we had Dinner Group at my friend Dawn's house.  She has a beautiful backyard and the weather was sunny and warm.  We ate outside, after dinner was done.

(I usually bring my fancy camera, but I forgot this time.  It was a good chance to try out the quality of the iphone 6 camera.  I think the color/white balance was slightly off, but overall it took nice photos. Gotta love technology that you can take with you!)

I'm not a drinker, but we usually have some sort of cocktail along with dinner.  This one was called a Hula Girl.  I stuck with water, but this smelled really yummy!

Ooh, check out the bokeh (background blur) with my iphone picture.  Not bad, Apple!

We had salad, pasta, drinks, and dessert.  The pasta had chicken, tomato, spinach, and cheese.  You can't go wrong with that combination!

The salad was very interesting because it was a combination I would never have thought about putting together.  It had fruit, spinach, and quinoa.  It was really tasty and I was surprised that I liked it!

The recipe I made was the cheesecake puffs for dessert.  Um, I think you can tell just by looking that these were SUPER tasty.  It was a puffed pastry, stuffed with cream cheese filling and strawberries, topped with powdered sugar, chocolate, and almonds.  I could live on these!

I think I say this every time I post about my dinner group, but I will say it again.  This is really the perfect dinner party!  You don't have to do any cooking ahead of time and it's just a great way to spend quality time with friends.  I also love the fact that it gets me trying new foods, that I know I wouldn't try on my own, and trying new recipes too!  

Happy cooking!

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Growing Basil and A Pesto Recipe

We have had the warmest and sunniest Spring and Summer that I can ever remember!  It has been a true gift, since I don't have very many nice things to say about the Pacific Northwest during the rainy season (every month of the year except August).  Do you know which plant really, really, really loves hot and dry weather?


Sometimes I plant my basil in May or June and it literally rots right in the ground.  It's usually just too wet around here.  Since we had such a beautiful Spring, I decided to trust my luck and plant early again.  This time it paid off!

I have more basil than I know what to do with!  Ok, I'm actually having no problem using it... but you know what I mean.  Well, what do you do when your garden is overflowing with basil?

Make pesto, of course!

Last time I shared this recipe, it wasn't actually a recipe.  I threw in a little of this and a little of that and chopped it all up in the food processor until it was ready.  This time I measured everything for you!  So, here's what I did.

I put the following ingredients into the food processor:

2 cups packed basil
4 small cloves of garlic
3/4 cup of pine nuts
3/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
3/4 teaspoon natural sea salt

After a few second in the food processor, it's all done!

The first night I served this over this spaghetti noodles, as a side dish.  The second night I made my favorite, EASY, pesto appetizer.

Making this appetizer is SUPER easy.  I mixed a little pesto with a block of cream cheese and spread it on a platter.  Then I topped it with more pesto and some chopped sundried tomatoes, and served it with crackers.  Sometimes I buy the bottle of sundried tomatoes that are packed in oil and other times I buy the package that is packed dry.  The oil packed tomatoes are a bit harder to work with and chop, but my kids seem to like these better.  I think the dry tomatoes look prettier because it doesn't get oil all over your appetizer.  Either way, it's very yummy.

One last tip about making pesto:
Pine nuts are very expensive and that doesn't make me happy.  There is really no cheap substitute for pine nuts, so if you are making pesto, you just have to buy them.  That's the reason pesto is so expensive to purchase in the grocery store.  I just discovered that Costco sells pine nuts!  I bought a big package for $20.  The package holds 4 3/4 cups of nuts, which is a steal compared to the $7 you will pay at the grocery store for a tiny little container.  I know I will be making pesto all Summer long, so it was worth it for me!

 Pesto is so fresh and yummy!  I just love it!  Once my daughter got over the muddy green color, she fell in love.  My son loves any type of food you put in front of him, so it wasn't a hard sell for him. Me?  I love anything I can grow in my own garden, pick, and turn into dinner.  I can't imagine anything better!

Happy gardening!

Thursday, July 9, 2015

My New Best Friend and Kindness

Today I have a story for you that will warm your heart and renew your faith in the genuine kindness of strangers.

We were recently on vacation in Oregon and I was browsing in a bookstore, when I met a man who brightened the day of many future kindergarten students and their teacher. I was wandering through the children's book section when I heard someone saying something about buying books for everyone. Jokingly, I said, "Hey, I want in on that!" (My kids make fun of me and tell me that I make a new best friend everywhere I go because I talk to everyone.) Well, the man said, "Sure! Pick a book!" I laughed and kept browsing. He came over and said, "Go ahead! Pick a book." I laughed again thinking we were still joking. At that point he said, "I'm totally serious. I'm buying you a book."
I had been browsing for interesting books for my classroom and grabbed the ABC book about rocks that I was dying to purchase. I said, "Ya know what, I'll take you up on it!"

Here we are with my awesome new book and a renewed faith in the kindness of strangers. 

I told him that I am a kindergarten teacher and that I would share his kindness with my students for years to come. I started getting a little teary eyed and he said, "I've got to turn my back on you because you're getting me all emotional!"  I started chatting with his wife and she said, "Yep, I totally wouldn't put something like this past him." He just sounds like the type of guy who reaches out to people and has a giving heart.

This was the most amazing surprise for me. We had been exploring rocks during the day and I thought this would be a great book to add to our rock provocations in the classroom. I knew I wouldn't be buying the book because I didn't have a wallet.

***side story***

On our way to our destination in Central Oregon, we stopped at a gas station in Gresham. I accidentally left my wallet in the bathroom and didn't notice it was missing until I was 3 hours away. We called the gas station and they found it intact. Through Facebook I found many friends who were close to Gresham or passing through and offered to help. In the end, a relative of a friend picked up my wallet and mailed it home to me. Again, I'm amazed at the kindness of strangers.

Back to that book about rocks...

I can't wait to bring it into my classroom this year, but mostly I can't wait to share this story with 20 little people and help shape the way they perceive kindness. This man in the bookstore, my new BFF, bought something for me but I will certainly remind my students that kindness doesn't need to come in a monetary form. This man was showing kindness from the goodness of his heart, as we all should do.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

LeapPad Platinum Review

Oh, I can't even begin to describe my joy when a LeapFrog box arrives in the mail for me!  There are a few LeapFrog products that I absolutely can't live without in my classroom.

1.  The Letter Factory DVD
I've mentioned a time or 100 that this is the best product EVER made by any educational company.  I swear by this video and show it to my kindergarten class until they are singing the little songs that go along with every letter.

2.  The Letter Factory Board Game
Well, duh.  The game goes along with the DVD and it's just brilliant.  It is no longer made, but you can find them on ebay.

3.  The Tablets
I have now been the proud owner of every single tablet made by LeapFrog, and they just keep getting better.

I use the tablets in my classroom during several times of the day.  I have them available during our Center time for kids to play on, during our Literacy block when I want them using the ebooks, and during our Math Centers.  My favorite thing about the tablets is that even when kids are "just playing" and have no specific activities that I have selected for them, they are still learning all the time!  Kart racing is one of the favorite games for my kids because they can race against each other, while they are each on their own tablet.  Now, you would think that a car race isn't educational, but in order to power up their cars they have to solve math problems.  I'm telling you, learning is embedded everywhere!

The new LeapPad Platinum is one of the bigger tablets.  The LeapPad, LeapPad2, and LeapPad3 are not quite as large.  Personally, I really like the large screen and hefty feeling of the LeapPad Ultra and the LeapPad Platinum.  The LeapPads are super durable.  I can't even begin to tell you how many times they are dropped by my kindergartners each day!  My only complaint about the tablet itself is the sylus that is attached.  It has a squishy top on the stylus that is kind of cool, but it was torn up within the first month.  If the stylus is my only complaint, then I'm ok with that!

As for the content, here are a few of my favorite things:

*Kid-Safe Web - LeapSearch is a kid safe web browser that has age appropriate content picked by the LeapFrog Learning Experts.

*New Imagicard Learning Games - Ok, these are pretty cool.  The interactive trading cards come to life on the LeapFrog tablets.  Kids can use the camera to bring their characters to life and unlock more ways to play.

Some of the games include THE LETTER FACTORY (woo hoo!), PAW Patrol, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  Ummm, I can hardly wait to see how the kindergarten boys are going to fall in love with the Ninja Turtle game!

*E-books - During our Daily 5 time of our kindergarten literacy block,  I tell the kids that I want them reading or listening to reading.  If they are using the tablets, their only choice is to pick an ebook. Although, I think I will add in the Letter Factory games this year.  There are tons of different options for ebooks.  Frozen is the HUGE favorite, but I also have a space book that is a close second.  I was surprised that the fairy tales stories are not chosen too often and that the Pet Pals IS chosen.  Kids surprise me sometimes.  I often think they will love one thing and then they pick something that I think won't be a favorite. Here's a picture of the Sophia the First book.

I'm even able to customize the Ultra Ebooks to the level of the kids in the class.  Now, THAT is a cool feature!

Overall, I have to say this is the best tablet yet!  It's one of those MUST-HAVE items for young kids.  I use these in my classroom, but my daughter also used them when she was younger.  As I mentioned above, I love that learning is constantly embedded into every single activity.  If there are two things your young kids need, they are: 1) The Letter Factory DVD   2) A LeapPad Tablet - and spend the few extra dollars to buy the bigger one.  You won't be sorry!

Happy Learning!

**The opinions in this post are all my own.  I was provided a LeapPad Platinum in exchange for reviewing the product.**

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Easy 4th Of July Fruit Kabobs

Happy 4th of July Friends!  Here's a repost of a favorite 4th of July snack that I wrote from LeapFrog last year!

A few weeks ago my friends at LeapFrog asked for some 4th of July activities.  I've been busy, over the past few weeks, getting these ready.  I've been creating, writing, and photographing some really fun activities to do with kids.  The 4th of July Fruit Kabobs turned out very pretty.  It was SO easy and involved a trip to the Farmer's Market for fresh fruit.  What could be better?

Several of my 4th of July activities are now posted on Learning Path. If you are not familiar with Learning Path, it's a website (an an app if you have an ipad or iphone) that provides tons of different activities for kids of all ages.  You just click on the type of activity you are interested in or the age of your child and resources will be right there at your fingertips.  Honestly, I thought it was super-cool even before I was asked to start writing content for the website!

Speaking of writing content for the website, let me just spout off a bit about my happiness!  THIS IS THE COOLEST JOB EVER!  It is SOOOO much fun to get to combine all of the things I'm passionate about.  The activities, articles, and videos I've been making for LeapFrog are all about home, family, kids, literacy, artsy-craftsy stuff, early childhood, and trends in education.  I'm constantly reading teacher books, mainly about literacy, and I spend my down-time searching the web for articles about education, home and family, and photography.  I've taken a lot of classes too, in addition to my degrees and endorsements, and I'm surprised at how everything has all meshed together in the end.  I have a job (even if it's just a side job) that incorporates my B.A. in Family and Consumer Science, my M.A. in Reading and Literacy, my endorsements in Elementary Education and Early Childhood Education, AND all of the blogging courses and photography courses I've taken on my own.  Who knew that all of things I am passionate about could be rolled into one?  I feel so fortunate!

By the way, my kindergarten readiness videos and articles are starting to be rolled out on the Learning Path website too.  If you're interested, pop on over and check them out.  (I'm totally amazed that they can take 5 hours of video where I ramble on and on, and turn it into a 30 second video that sounds so carefully planned out and rehearsed.)  Like I said, it's a pretty cool job!

Happy Learning Path web browsing!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Teacher Life

Yay! School is out and it's the first full week of Summer Break!  What do you  think I'm doing with my time?

I'm spending a couple of days with a thousand-plus of my closest teacher-friends, learning about the research questions listed above. You might think I am dreading spending the sunshiny days inside a cold convention center, but I couldn't be more excited!

The following names will probably mean nothing to you, unless you are in the field of education, but they are BIG names in education.  Richard Allington spoke at the conference!  I've read many of his books, but have never heard him speak before.  He has some very strong opinions about literacy education and what teachers should and shouldn't be doing in the classroom.

Matt Glover and Katie Wood Ray changed my teaching life!  I began an entirely new approach to writing because of their books and Katie Wood Ray's workshop.  Teaching children to write is a huge challenge and there are so many different aspects that you just don't think about, until you are actually tasked with breaking them down into manageable steps for young authors.  Matt Glover shared some great writing samples and took his books to a new a level, in my mind.

At every teacher conference, there is always a book table.  Sometimes you'll find children's books and other times there will be professional development books.  It doesn't really matter which type of books. If there are teachers at the conference, the books will be purchased!  This time there were professional development books.  I purchased my fair share.  (This is where my husband usually reminds me that there is something called a public library and that I should check them out instead.  But, public libraries don't carry the most recent teacher-books!  It's my duty to stay up to date on current trends and best practices in education!)  I bought a few books and put a few others on my wish list.

I didn't purchase this one because I think I KNOW why I teach, but I think it sounds like a good read.

The conference room was so big that I couldn't get a picture with the whole room in the shot.  This was well before the conference began and hadn't really even started filling up.  I'm just floored with the realization that most of the people in this room paid $400 out of their own pockets to learn more about best practices in literacy education.  Sometimes, the school districts are able to pay but most of the people I chatted with had to pay their own fee to attend and many were from several states away, having to pay their own travel and hotel fees.  

Overall, it was a fabulous two day conference.  I feel very fortunate to have been able to attend and learn so much about research and trends in literacy education. I wish our legislature would realize the importance of professional development like this and FULLY FUND EDUCATION so more teachers could have the opportunity to learn and become the best possible teachers for their students!

Happy Summer Break!

Saturday, May 9, 2015

The Outgrown Swingset

Well, it's the end of an era. The swing set has been outgrown. Last weekend we took this picture and listed our swing set on our neighborhood Facebook page.

Within an hour, a neighbor was coming to  take it apart and give it a new life in a new home. I have big plans for this space. We bought chairs and more wood chips today. It's a work in progress. It's a project that will last most of the summer, but it will keep me busy with lots of planting, painting, and digging!

Happy dreaming!

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