Friday, August 29, 2014

Coffee Break: Surviving The First Week Back To School

It's Friday and we're all still standing!  Well, breathing anyway.  Whether your kids are schooled outside the home or with you, that first week back with a new routine can be brutal. 

And thank the good Lord for a 3 day weekend to aid the recovery mode!

The week prior to kicking off our first week of homeschool, I stayed up late every night working on lesson plans.  We had been mulling and praying and researching the decision to homeschool for several months (even before school was out last year), and finally decided to go for it over the summer.  Since then, I've been driving myself insane with choosing a curriculum.  The options are endless and the choices are completely overwhelming.  Especially if you're new to this gig.

Long story short, I ordered the curriculum late in the game, had some late night cramming and planning to make up for it, and went into this first week on little sleep.  Mistake numero uno.

After the first day I could tell that some of my hesitations about the curriculum were in fact going to be a problem.  I wasn't completely sold on it from the beginning but hello, we had to study something.  I didn't listen to my gut because I felt like I didn't have a better option lined up.  And I'm a newbie, so I was scared to piece a curriculum together myself even though that's really what I wanted to do.  Mistake numero dos. 

Over the past four days, I've cut out half the books from our all inclusive curriculum, and ended up augmenting, supplementing or somehow tweaking the rest.  Which meant more late nights trying to make this curriculum work for me and the kids.  More lack of sleep: Mistake numero tres.

BUT this is not a Debbie Downer post.  Truly!

Despite the frustrations in trying to work with something that just wasn't working for us, we learned a lot this week.  We learned...

.....our kids are eager to learn.  They came down each day dressed, teeth brushed, beds made and asking to start the day. 

.....they want more.  They like to have fun with learning but they also like to be challenged.

.....Sully is turning five in a couple weeks and I didn't plan to do too much for Kinder this year, just focus on reading, a few math concepts, and handwriting.   But woah.  This kid is wicked smart.  He likes to pretend he doesn't know how to do things, but he's not fooling anyone any more.  Of all the kids, he asks for "more school" throughout the day.  So, I need to work in some more focused activities for him.

......Jack is the opposite and could care less.  He excels at disrupting. 

.....Mia is very bright and needs to be more challenged.  But she has trouble focusing.  Part of it is probably just being out of school mode from the summer, but I've found that if I don't have specific things set up for the boys to do/play with while she's working independently, things quickly go down hill.  See item above.

.....the kids learn best in different ways but they all enjoy a little bit of everything.  Book work, hands on activities, read alouds. And we're closer to finding the right balance.

....the resources I have ordered (in desperation) to supplement the curriculum this week have been great.  I feel much better about the new direction we're going for history and meeting Sully's needs. I'm still on the hunt for better math, science, and language arts programs though.

......I don't mind doing the work.  At first I was adamant about getting a full curriculum with lesson plans to HOLD MY HAND.  But this week has forced me to do more research and come up with my own things to augment the schedule.   I'm not as terrified to step out on my own and build the program I know my kids need.

So, even though this week has been frustrating in many ways, it's also been really good.  With every fail, we learn more about our kids and more about what's going to work for us.  It's going to be a continuous work in progress, but I feel hopeful. 

How was your first week back?  Is anyone else beating their head against a wall with curriculum?  Or buried in the paperwork coming home from your kids classrooms?  Hang in there!!

Thanks so much for reading! We would love to hang out!
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Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Ultrasound Has Spoken And It's A......

Sweet baby gender announcement

Bring. On. The. PINK!!!  Or the purple.  Or any color really.  

I know some love waiting to find out the baby's gender until the ole birthday, but we really love knowing that this little one due in Jan is another sweet girl.  It probably all boils down to lack of patience.  Or maybe control issues.  Either way, we've found out the gender for all our kids around that 20 week mark and each time it's strengthened that baby bond.  We love calling our baby by name and the kids do too.

Back when we first told the kids another bambino was joining the mix, their first response was "We're going to have a sister!?!?!"  Uhhhh.  Maybe?  And maybe not.  Guess they knew something we didn't.

We expected Mia to be thrilled (and she was), but we did not expect the boys undying affection over their baby sis they have not even met yet.  They talk to her in my belly all the time and when we stopped by a Gymboree sale to pick up a couple fun GIRL things, they were pulling clothes off the hanger faster than I could keep up..."She needs jammies!"  "These are SO cute!!"  "Wait, she needs shoes too!" "And this!"  "And this!"  And oh my goodness, stop we're just here for a couple things.

We weren't sure if more kids were in our family's future, so we gave away everything baby/maternity in the madness of our lightning quick cross country move.  The good news is when you have friends with kids somehow it all ends up coming full circle - more details on that here soon.  And since this isn't our first rodeo, we have a better idea of the things we really need.  So, among my nursery decor scheming (which is now taking over my every waking thought), we'll be sharing a few posts on baby essentials, tips for saving money on all those necessities, stretching (not literally) your maternity wardrobe, and of course some fun DIY's as we get ready for our newest resident.

Where do you fall on finding out the baby's gender?  Do consider it one of the best surprises to wait until delivery or are you knocking down the ultrasound tech's door as soon as they'll let you in?

Thanks so much for reading! We would love to hang out!
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Monday, August 25, 2014

First Day Of School!

It's our first day of school!!  And our first ever day of homeschooling - ACK!  This is the first year that I've had the back to school nerves in a loooong time.  I'm giving myself a break by keeping this first day fun and more of an intro to our curriculum, school setup, and new routine.  And hopefully, we manage to make some fun new "first day of school" traditions that will stay with us no matter our method of schooling down the road.

I'll do a full post on our first day traditions and our homeschool set up later this week, but for now, here's a few pics I snapped from this morning....

 I attempted to get some pics of normal/posed/smiling children but there were none to be found.  

This was the closest I got.  Maybe I'll try again later in the week....

They really are so excited to start!  So, you pressure or anything.  Wish us luck!  I hope any of you heading back to school today have an amazing start to the new school year!

Thanks so much for reading! We would love to hang out!
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Friday, August 22, 2014

Links For Hope

I'll be honest.  I've tried to post many times this week, but it just hasn't felt right.  There have been many projects and joys to share, but it's all been overshadowed by the stark reality of darkness in our world.  It feels silly, and almost insulting, to post about my fabric dilemma in the kitchen or how-oh-how I will decorate a nursery for our little one, when there are mother's that no longer have a kitchen to feed their family or even any mouths left to feed.

My heart is breaking for so many, abroad and here at home. I know yours is too.  It's easy to let fear and despair overwhelm my every thought. In a crippling way.  I have to be very careful about how much I read and allow to fill my mind.

Sometimes hope can seem so far away, but I KNOW that's not where God wants us to stay.  I know He calls us to much more, especially during times like this.  I was talking to a priest about this internal struggle and he reminded me that the darkness will never overpower the light.  And encouraged me not to grow weary or doubtful in being the light that our world needs.  Not in a wow-I-should-be-doing-something-big sort of way, but more of a keep-doing-the-little-things kind of way.

I read a couple of articles this week that not only helped to renew my hope, but helped restore some focus to our purpose.  I hope they encourage any of you that may be struggling too!

"We Are Still The Easter People" from Haley.  Breaking down one of my all-time favorite quotes by St. John Paul The Great.

"The World Is A Horrible Place & You're In It For A Reason" from The Matt Walsh Blog.  This especially hit on some of my fears about the kind of world my kids will grow up in.  Thanks, Matt.

I've tried to weed out my Facebook feed of too much fear mongering, but I have really loved following Humans Of New York's page, especially during his time in Iraq.  Brandon has uniquely captured the human all of it's frailty, beauty, and strength. He's currently on a world tour of sorts...he recently left Iraq and is now in the Dominican Republic of Congo.  I'm addicted to it.

Enjoy the weekend, Friends!

Thanks so much for reading! We would love to hang out!
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Monday, August 18, 2014

Lemon Pudding Bars

Happy Monday!  I hope you all had a great weekend!  

My cousin and her daughter were visiting from CA last week, so we've been soaking up the time with friends and family before summer comes to an end! 

We had dinner with friends last night and I needed to make something light for dessert.  Immediately I thought of my mom's Lemon Pudding Bars and wondered why on earth on hadn't made them yet this summer.  They're the perfect summer dessert - light, cool, satisfying and not too sweet.

This is one of those dishes that's been gracing the tables at potlucks forever.  My mom makes both a lemon version and a chocolate version, but the recipe is basically the same. For the chocolate version, just swap lemon pudding for chocolate and the flour for graham cracker crumbs or crushed Oreo's for the crust.

Lemon Pudding Bars

1 cup flour
1 stick of butter (room temp)
1/2 cup finely chopped nuts (optional – I use pecans or walnuts)

Cut butter into flour until well mixed.  Press into a 9 x 13 pan.  Bake 12-15 minutes at 375 degrees.  Place pan on a cooling rack and allow to cool completely.

1 cup powdered sugar
(1) 8 oz cream cheese (softened)
1 cup cool whip

Carefully mix powdered sugar and cream cheese.  Beat until creamy.  Fold in cool whip.  Spread on cooled rust.

Next filling: 
2 small boxes of instant lemon pudding
3 cups milk

Combine two packs of instant lemon pudding with 3 cups of milk.  Whisk for 2 minutes.  Spread over cream cheese mixture.  Cover and refrigerate. 

Once the pudding layer has set, top with a layer of cool whip.  Refrigerate for at least 1 hr before serving.  Top with chopped nuts, mini chocolate chips, or lemon zest, if desired.  

If you like a thicker crust, you can simply double the crust ingredients and add a few minutes to the cooking time.

Click HERE to download a printable version of the recipe. 

You better believe we'll be snacking on the leftovers here today!  Hope you're all savoring those last days of summer....or at least surviving the back to school prep!

Thanks so much for reading! We would love to hang out!
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Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Letter Writing Station For A Special Little Girl

We love our new state, but one of the hardest things about living in Ohio is having our extended family and many friends clear across the country.  Yet, one of the sweetest things to come from that distance, is an emerging pen-pal relationship between Mia and her cousin.

I'm not even sure how it started really....I think Ella included a little note to Mia when her mom sent a package of goodies and Mia wanted to write back. They've exchanged a few notes over the past few months and she recently started writing letters with a good friend of hers back in Albuquerque too.

In an age where we're attached to our gadgets (#guilty), I'm so happy that my sweet girl has a love and appreciation for the handwritten note.  It's something that started very young with her and I hope it's something she keeps with her for the long haul!

Even as a pre-schooler, Mia loved stealing cards from my stash and making pictures or notes for her family and friends.  Her desk drawers were stuffed full of them.  And this girl still loves sending special messages to the people she loves. 

So, when the folks at Tiny Prints reached out to us about a project collaboration, it didn't take long for us to land on a letter writing station for our little miss.
Letter writing station for a little correspondent

The credit for this idea actually goes to my mom.  Leave it to a Yiayia to pick up on her granddaughter's one of her visits awhile back my mom brought a desk caddy, some blank note cards, and some blank labels (to be printed with the addresses of her family and friends).

The idea was to create a spot with all the tools Mia needed to quickly whip up a note for a friend and mail it off....which may or may not have been in response to my admitted slacker-status when it comes to timely thank you notes.  Or any correspondence for that matter.

It was a great idea, but we never could seem to find the right spot for it or to maximize it's potential.   As I planned out my office makeover, I wanted a designated zone for crafting.  Both for me and the kids.  Mia often likes to be in the office with me during the boys' naptime, so it seemed the perfect spot to set up this little note writing area.
Letter writing station for a little correspondent

We had so much fun picking out these stationary essentials together!  I tried really hard to keep my mom-opinion to myself and let her choose.  Tiny Prints seriously has a TON of options, so I did a little perusing on my own first, saved a few choices by adding them to a favorites list, then had Mia come make her picks.

She started with this Blooming Bounty Return Address Label , which I completely adore, and it was our jumping off point for the rest of the writing station goodies.

Letter writing station for a little correspondent

With the stationary selected, we needed a spot to corral all that paper goodness.   The desk caddy from my mom was the perfect size, we just needed to spruce her up a bit.
Letter writing station for a little correspondent

A little hot glue, pom pom trim, and a label (using one of the sheets from her notepad), and we were in business.
Letter writing station for a little correspondent

Letter writing station for a little correspondent

Mia was all about the florals and the pinks for this project....  

These Petal Clusters cards are so cheerful and have plenty of space for longer notes.  
Letter writing station for a little correspondent

But if she prefers writing on a piece of paper, she can use her Lush Bouquet Notepad.  Or just for kicks, these Royal Fun Flat cute are those princesses!?

The Brushed Chevron Notebook is the perfect spot to jot down addresses...or notes...or doodles....or lists.  Because she really is my daughter and can bust out a list with the best of them.
Letter writing station for a little correspondent

We made sure she had stamps and plenty of colorful pens nearby.  A girl needs options...
Letter writing station for a little correspondent

 And some stickers and washi tape to jazz up those letters and envelopes...
Letter writing station for a little correspondent

Letter writing station for a little correspondent

I found the cutest mailbox for $3.00 at Joann's and it's helping us solve one of the biggest issues we had in responding to friends in a timely manner: keeping track of the letters and people awaiting a response!  Now when Mia receives a letter from a friend, she can put it right in her mailbox until she's ready to sit down and write back.  It's also a great place to hold lists of gifts received for birthdays/holidays, as she works through writing thank you cards.  We dolled it up with a little gold ribbon and a small chalkboard label (both found at the Target dollar bins).
Letter writing station for a little correspondent

It's right next to a pictures of her pen-pal cousin, who just happened to arrive for a visit this week!
Letter writing station for a little correspondent

Letter writing station for a little correspondent

I don't know if I was more excited to show her this special spot or if she was to see it.  She could not wait to jump in!
Letter writing station for a little correspondent

Letter writing station for a little correspondent

Letter writing station for a little correspondent

I have to admit...having that handy station right next to my own workspace has prompted me to write a few quick notes myself.  I can see Mia spending a lot of time creating here and I love watching her relationships continue to blossom - even from afar.  I truly hope this is an art she never loses!

And to all you mom's with kids resistant to handwriting, setting up a pen pal for your kiddo can be a great way to sneak in some unofficial practice ;)

A huge thanks to Tiny Prints for helping us create this adorable, personal space for our girl!  You can check out all their products and their amazing selection right here.  They have everything from stationary, to photo books, to home decor...I loved all the options for personalization and was really impressed with the quality of their products.

Does anyone else have a budding writer on their hands?  How do you encourage your children to keep in touch with their long-distance friends and family?

*Tiny Prints provided us with most of the stationary items (all linked to in the post) for this project.  All opinions and hot glue techniques are my own.

Thanks so much for reading! We would love to hang out!
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