Thursday, September 11, 2014

Classroom Chairs

I just realized that I never actually pushed the "post" button on this one!    We're heading way back to the lazy days of Summer when I had time to redo some old furniture!

What's the first thing you do when you get the keys to your classroom?  Spruce up the furniture with paint and fabric, and get ready to move in!  I've been waiting all Summer to get the keys to my classroom and now that I finally have them, I have to overcome my fear of the security system at the school and move in.  One more little project needs to get finished up before I take the plunge. My chairs need a makeover.  Today, I hit the fabric store, bought myself some chevron, and purchased a couple cans of black paint.  

My friend, Crystal, gave me these chairs a few years ago.  They needed paint and new seats.  They've been a perfect "homey" addition to my classroom, but the fabric finally gave out last year.  I'm always impressed with the difference paint and fabric can have on a chair.  

Happy chair sprucing!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

LeapFrog LeapBand Review

Most of you know that I've been lucky enough to work with LeapFrog in two ways over the past year or so.  I've been writing content and taking photos for their Learning Path site for several months now, which has been an absolute dream come true! I've also been part of their network of bloggers who review new products.  The first job, as a writer and photographer, is a paid position.  The second job, as a product review, is not paid.  They just send me products and I tell my readers what I think, coming from the perspective of a teacher and a mom.  So, the opinions you read here are completely my own.  I'm not paid for posting about the new LeapBand.  I was simply given the product to review and share my honest opinions.

Now that the legal stuff is out of the way, let's get to that "honest" part.  I was super excited to get the LeapBand in the mail.  I had heard a little about the concept of the LeapBand and couldn't wait to see what LeapFrog would do with the idea.  As you might know, I think LeapFrog is THE MOST brilliant company on the face of the Earth when it comes to educational toys for kids.  I was a HUGE fan even before I worked for them.  So, the LeapBand arrived and I let my daughter play around with it first. (She's 10, by the way, which is past the recommended age of 4-7 for this product.)  She opened it up, played around with it for about 3 minutes and said, "Hmmm.  I guess little kids might like it."  Usually, with any new LeapFrog toy, she will at least show some interest.  After she tossed it aside, I decided to play around with it and - honestly - I thought it was slightly better than ok, but not the coolest thing LeapFrog has ever come out with. (Keep reading because things do get better!)

I played around with the LeapBand for a few more days, and I'm glad I did.  Not only did I learn a few things by playing with it, but I learned a TON by watching a few different online video reviews.

Cool LeapBand Facts:

*It's the first activity tracker for kids!  I see people wearing activity trackers all the time and hear about how cool they are.  I've always kind of wanted one, but haven't actually bought one yet.  If you were a "fit band" type of family, and you had a young, 4-7 year old, child... wouldn't it be cool to have a an activity tracker just for the kids?  You can even connect it to the computer to track data and play with the settings.

*It visually shows activity done throughout the day. There is a little bar that colors itself in as you move.  The more you move, the more it lights up. It encourages kids to move and be active!

*The activity challenges are pretty cute.  I think I might need to put this band on the wrist of a few of my kindergarten students.  I can just see it now - sitting in Writer's Workshop and all of a sudden I hear, "Jump like a kangaroo!"  I can name a handful of my little friends who would LOVE (and need) one of these!

*It doubles as a watch.  I had trouble with this feature at first.  For some reason, it wouldn't let me set the time.  I finally noticed that I had checked a box on the computer setting that wasn't allowing me to set the time.  Not only is it an activity tracker, but it's also a watch, and it's a personal pet you can take along with you all day long!  How cute is that?

*There is a great app called Petathlon.  You download the app on your phone, sign in with your email and LeapFrog password and you unlock new games to play that connect with your LeapBand.  It gives you "fit" advice and tips along the way as well. It even connects with your LeapFrog Tablet!

(Screen shot from my phone)

To sum it up, at first I thought it was good product, but not great.  After playing around, I'm thinking this is a keeper!  For the price of $39.99, this is kind of awesome!  It does SO much more than I expected.  I really think I might try this out in my classroom with a few of my bouncy friends.  Nice job LeapFrog!  This new product is pretty cool. (And I'm sorry I doubted you momentarily!)

The Craziness of September

You know you're a teacher when your husband tells you, "You do this every June and every September."

Yep, it's that crazy time of year again - the time when I'm running around like a chicken with my head cut off, trying to figure out how I can possibly get my work done and still feel like a caring mother and wife. I tend to start questioning myself.  What on Earth made me think I could handle working full time as a teacher and part time for LeapFrog?  Will I ever have any time to do anything for myself again?  Will I ever make it home at a reasonable hour?  Will my kids look back on their childhood and wish I was home more during the school year? HAS ANYONE SEEN MY LABEL MAKER AND HOW COULD STAPLES POSSIBLY BE SOLD OUT OF LAMINATING POUCHES?

I'm usually very organized with my meal planning, but in June and September that all goes out the window.  Thankfully, my hubby has been saying things like, "I've already got the turkey burgers on the grill!"  That's an awesome statement to hear when you walk in the door 15 minutes before your kids need to walk out of the door.  Any other month of the year, and I would have had dinner in the crockpot by 7am and a salad ready in the fridge.  In September, on the other hand, it's all about school and all sense of home organization just feels buried beneath school work.  

Needless to say, the blogging has taken a back seat while I settle into my new school, new district, and get to know 34 little friends and all of their needs.  At least I have memories of Summer relaxation to fall back on when the going gets tough.

Happy September!

Friday, August 29, 2014

Moving... Again!!

As I shared a few months ago, I moved from the Edmonds School District (my home for the last 18 years) to the Snohomish School District. I was hired to teach a second grade classroom for the 2014-15 school year in a small school in Snohomish.  I spent many years in a second grade classroom in Edmonds, so I felt totally comfortable with the idea, but my passion is teaching kindergarten.  I hoped that, eventually, a kindergarten spot would open up and I'd be able to move back to teaching the little guys. 

The first day back, for teachers, was Wednesday.  There were meetings, time to work in our rooms, and time to do a little planning with grade level partners.  I didn't have too much to do in my room (organizing, moving furniture, or creating bulletin boards) because I had spent many, many, many hours over the past few weeks in my classroom.

If you are my friend on Facebook, you saw this picture that my friend Ceres posted about my gigantic mess.  You see, teachers hoard have a lot of stuff - 12 bookshelves and hundreds of boxes to be exact.

That pile wasn't even ALL of my teacher stuff. I'd already moved a ton of things to my three car garage, where it would wait patiently all summer long.  

Back to Wednesday...
We finished our meetings and I was just packing up for the day when our principal let me know that she was 99% sure that I would be able to make a move to kindergarten.  The previous teacher had moved to a new school.  We needed to hire a new 1st grade teacher to reduce class sizes.  The current first grade teacher (who formerly taught kindergarten) was ok staying in first grade, and this all meant that I could have my dream job!  My principal checked, again, with human resources, and by 6:30 on Wednesday night it was a done deal.

Here's the catch:
The kindergarten class had to be on the other side of the building.  Hours and hours of work setting up a second grade classroom, and I was going to need to magically transfer my things to a new room and set it up with the needs of kindergarten students in mind.  

Thursday consisted of meetings in the morning, a full half day of cleaning out the room I was planning to move into, Meet the Teacher at 4pm, and then moving an entire classroom after that.  I called in The Help (my family and my friend who totally gets "family status" now).  It took 6 kids and 6 (very strong and helpful) kids - between 4 and 5 hours to complete the move, but my kindergarten class is reading for learning! I can't even believe it!  I would have taken a picture of the new room, but I was too exhausted to even lift my phone.  My kids rolled into bed close to 11pm and they are really hoping that Mom never moves again. Moving and setting up a classroom is like moving and setting up a small home.  I can't even begin to tell you how much I appreciate all of the help.  I could NEVER have done it alone!

Happy Back To School Time!!! 

Thursday, August 14, 2014

60 Acres of Sunflowers

A few weeks ago we made a trip over to my cousin's farm in Kittitas. My cousin and uncle usually plant hay, wheat, corn, and the typical Eastern Washington crops.  This year, my cousin had a contract to plant 60 acres of sunflowers.

I really love our Farmcation every year, but I was absolutely giddy this year with the thought of taking pictures in the sunflower field.  I have over two hundred pictures to sort through and edit.  The kids were all great sports, posing for many photos.  I haven't had time to edit those yet- too many vacations and too little time!  Here are a few of my favorites that are straight out of the camera.  The sun and the field were so beautiful they really don't need editing or filters.

Seriously, is there anything happier than a field of sunflowers?  

Ok, one thing might be happier than a field of sunflowers... 

me - taking pictures in a field of sunflowers - and also having permission to pick a huge bucket of sunflowers to take home for my table!

Just happy.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Best Peach Cobbler I've Ever Made

When we were in Ellensburg, last week, we bought a box of local Regina peaches at a farm stand just off of the freeway.  We took them over to my cousin's house with us and just about devoured them in the the two days we were there.  On the way home, we figured that we should probably buy another box since they were so good.  The day after we got home, my hubby requested peach cobbler.  I'm not a huge fan of warm fruit, but I figured I'd give it a try.  This recipe is a combination of a peach cobbler recipe that I found on Pinterest and another cobbler recipe that is a Pioneer Woman recipe.  I took my favorite things about both recipes and combined them into one.  

Friends, when my hubby tasted it he told me it was hands-down the best thing I have ever made. Not just the best cobbler I've ever made, but the all-around BEST THING - out of anyting that I have ever made.  Now, you should know that I bake and cook A LOT.  So, saying that this recipe was the best thing ever is really saying something.  The topping tasted kind of like a warm cookie and the peaches were absolutely perfect.  I chose the least ripe peaches I could find in the box so they wouldn't be smooshy.  My hubby drizzled his ice cream and cobbler with caramel sauce, but I didn't think that sounded very good, so here's the picture without caramel.

Here's the recipe:

6 fresh peaches, sliced
1/4 cup sugar to sprinkle on peaches
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup self-rising flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Butter a large baking dish. (I used my large round Pampered Chef Stoneware.)  Place sliced and peeled peaches in the pan. Sprinkle the peaches with  1/4 cup sugar. Set aside.  Cream butter and 1 cup of sugar.  Add eggs and vanilla.  Add flour and salt. MIx well.  Drop by spoonfuls onto the peaches and spread it around.  Bake at 350 degrees for 45-50 minutes. Cool slightly and serve with ice cream.  Top with caramel sauce if you think that sounds good.

Honestly, I can't say it was the best thing I've ever made.  It was pretty tasty though, and you just can't beat fresh peaches!

Happy baking!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Dinner Group in August

Last night was my turn to host the dinner group that I do with a few friends.  I posted about this dinner group before, explaining how it is the best way ever to host a dinner party.  My friend, Krystal, came up with the plan.  She said a friend had done a dinner group like this one and loved it.  We started about a year ago, with the intention of getting together once a month.  Some months are crazier than others and we have to skip, but I was excited to host this month!  Everything is just easier in the summertime. 

For those of you who aren't regular readers of my blog, the whole idea behind our dinner group is that the host chooses the recipes and purchases the ingredients, but doesn't do any of the cooking ahead of time.  Each guest and the host cooks one of the dishes. The rule is, that you can't choose recipes that you've ever made before.  It has to be something new.  Now, those of you who know me know that I am NOT an adventurous eater.  Sometimes the recipes have really prompted me to venture out of my comfort zone!  

I decided we would have a honey themed party this time.  Each recipe I chose involved honey in some way.  We started off with a honey and cheese table. 

 I went down to my local Central Market, which has a lot of specialty items.  I told the people in the cheese section what my plan was and they got REALLY excited.  Honestly, I think I made their day!  They guided me in my cheese and honey pairings and explained way more about the flavors of cheese and honey together than I would really ever need to know. Williams-Sonoma also has a great blog post on honey tasting. One of the cheese blocks I bought (the one that practically made the cheese man jump up and down with joy) used crushed honey comb from bees outside of a monastery in France, around the edge of the cheese.  (At least I think that's how his story went.  I started hearing, "Wah, wah, wah.  Waaaah.  Wah. Wah."  It was a little overwhelming.) By the way, when you go to a fancy cheese store and they show you the cheese you should buy, look at the cheese but then ask for something less expensive.  Wow!  Who knew cheese could be so expensive!

We were all kind of shocked by different flavors that the different honey had.  We used Clover, Raspberry, and Blackberry honey.  Obviously, the cheese had different flavors too.  I should have kept track of the different types of cheese, but I forgot to write them down for later!  I tried to remember which honey was supposed to go with certain cheeses, but in the end, I couldn't remember.  We just snacked and enjoyed our cheese and honey pairings.

I'm not a drinker, but my friends usually serve some sort of yummy drink when they host the dinner group.  I found a recipe for a peach and honey drink that sounded good.  It called for Jack Daniels' Honey Whiskey.  Ummm.  That's a $32 bottle of alcohol that I will never use again!  My local Safeway had Jim Bean Honey Whiskey for $10, so that's the one I chose to use.  I forgot to take a picture of the drinks but they were very pretty.  The recipe called for equal amounts of whiskey, peach nectar, and sparkling water, with a little honey mixed into the drink.  Yes, I tried the drink!  I took a taste and it was very honey/peachy.   I had about half of the drink and then I promptly handed it over to my hubby.  I just don't like the alcohol flavor.  Bleck.

I set up a little table on my deck so we could eat dinner outside.  I love that tablecloth.  It's a pretty linen cloth that was my grandma's from many years ago.  The folding chairs were my grandparents' too.  I just love the antiquey feel.

On the menu tonight was grilled corn with honey basil butter, chicken with a honey Thai rub, and a pear and blue cheese salad with honey glazed walnuts.  Overall, I LOVED the salad and HATED the chicken.  I thought the grilled corn was really yummy.  I've never grilled corn right in the husks so that was something new for me.  

For dessert, we had a apple tart drizzled with honey.  

 I've never been a huge fan of honey, so this was something new for me.  I've used honey in recipes, but I don't usually put honey on anything and just eat it.  I have to say, I kind of like it, especially the honey and cheese pairings.  That was surprisingly yummy!

It was such a nice party and a perfectly relaxed evening.  Thanks for coming, friends!

Happy party planning!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

One More Foody Post

I just had to share one more foody post, since I've been having so much fun with food photography lately.  I took these on opening night of our friends' new restaurant in Snohomish.  

I'm kind of a clam connoisseur, and these were absolutely amazing!  I can't wait to go back for more.  

Check it out if you are down in Snohomish.  It's called Roger's Riverview Bistro.  They love it when people bring in bags and bags of camera equipment and set up tripods in their walkway.  It's not disruptive at all.  :)

Happy picture taking and clam eating!

Monday, July 28, 2014

Homemade Pesto

What do you do with a garden full of basil?

Make pesto, of course!

I made a big batch of pesto earlier in the week and I've been using it in recipes all week long.  We've been having pesto appetizers, pesto on sandwiches, and pesto on our pasta.  It's 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.

I'm sad to say, I can't even share my pesto recipe with you.  It was one of those - a little of this, a little of that - type things.  I put as much basil into the food processor as I could fit, added garlic, olive oil, pine nuts, and Parmesan cheese.  I added salt to taste and called it good.  How's that for a precise recipe?  Thankfully, we've had a pretty dry summer, so I'm sure there will be more basil to come!

Happy gardening!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Garden to Table

There are few things that make me quite as happy as harvesting food right from my garden and serving it to my family.  Tonight was Salad Night.  I ran out to the garden and picked a couple heads of lettuce.

My only problem with picking lettuce from my garden is the bugs.  We don't use any chemicals in the garden, which means bugs.  I wash the lettuce, leaf by leaf.  Then I lay it out on a towel, and inspect each leaf for bugs as I tear it up to put in the salad spinner.  Once in the salad spinner, I wash it again.  Did I mention that I'm not a fan of the bugs?

My daughter is getting a little tired of salad.  Tonight she asked, "Are you really picking lettuce for salad AGAIN?"  My son and hubby, on the other hand, LOVE Costco's Chinese Chicken Salad. (I never said it was a fancy homemade salad!)  

My son was so excited for the salad that he finished washing the lettuce and assembled the salads for us.  That's my kind of dinner - no running to the grocery store for lettuce and having someone else make my dinner.  It was all perfect until everyone took off just in time for clean up.  I knew it was too good to be true!

Happy gardening!


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