Wednesday, February 23, 2011


Yes, I know it is now Wednesday, but I wanted to slip this in here anyway.

I'm grateful for getting a tax return instead of having to pay in.  We are using it to tackle some bills and to make some purchases we have been putting off.

I'm grateful for memory foam.  My bed has been making my back ache for some time.  In fact, I have been sleeping on the couch most nights.  I bought a memory foam pad to put on top of our mattress and so far I have slept in bed every night since.  The pad was over $100 (one of those purchases we'd been putting off) but much cheaper than a new mattress.

I'm grateful for good teachers and good conference reports.  It turns out our boys are doing pretty well in school.  Braedon had a rough year last year and I thought we might be headed for special education.  However having a teacher that is willing to bend a bit and work with his strengths has made a world of difference.  As has a diagnosis and meds for ADD.  Colby's reading skills have just blossomed over the last several months.  His teacher reports that he still needs to be reminded to stay on task and not visit so much (hmmm...not sure where he gets that) during work time.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Fairy Tales

When I was a kid I had very involved parents and grandparents.  Reading was a important part of our time together.  And reading then involved 'classics' like Dr. Seuss, Little Golden Book stories, and fairy tales.  As time goes by parents seem much more concerned about electronics and technology.  In my youth we had four channels on our antenna tv.  There were no dvds, computers, or even vcrs.  We played and used our imaginations (more on that in a future post) and we read books and told stories.  Technology is here to stay and it does have a place in the world of our kids, but sadly those true classics--fairy tales--have taken a back seat.

Yes, Disney has made sure that certain fairy tales are kept alive, but many others have fallen through the cracks.  Today we started our weeklong unit on fairy tales and nursery rhymes.  I love telling and retelling the stories of The Three Little Pigs, The Three Bears, The Three Billy Goats Gruff, Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk, and all those other gems using various books, flannel board props, puppets and, masks.  All of these stories require the storyteller to use voices for the characters (children are just delighted by this!) and have repetitive parts where the children can join in or retell.  These stories will be lost without being told in the oral tradition that has kept them alive for centuries.

Nursery rhymes used to create a foundation for reading skills like phrasing, rhyming, and alliteration.  Sadly, many of the children I work with are not able to recite more than a couple of nursery rhymes upon entering preschool.  I also tend to neglect them, which is why I include them in our fairy tale theme.  And we make sure to repeat them often and bring them to life with activities that they can move to or create with.

Today we did a simple, spur of the moment, activity with Jack Be Nimble.  Each child took turns jumping over a candlestick (toilet paper roll with a sliver of construction paper flame) as we recited the rhyme with their name inserted.  We stacked a small block or two under the candlestick to make it a bit more challenging as we went along.  It was interesting to see the various techniques used to jump nimbly over that candlestick.  Some took a running start.  Some stood near the candlestick and jumped (sometimes landing with one foot on either side of the candle).  The rest of us applauded each attempt while we waited our turns.

We also provided puppets and flannel board pieces so that the kids could retell stories.  We had lots of bear voices and naughty little Goldilocks pranks going on during free play.

And I always enjoy the kids' faces when they realize that The Little Red Hen is not going to share her bread with her lazy friends.  That is so unfair in the eyes of a four year old!

So parents, grandparents, and other folks here who love children, please share those stories with your kids.  Make it fun.  Use the voices.  Make it exciting, scary, funny, as appropriate.  And tell them again and again!  (PS It's okay and wonderful if the stories are different from time to time--that's how it has been generation to generation.)

An Eventful Weekend

Ron decided that we would have a family day at Incredible Pizza in Urbandale on Saturday.  We were slow to get started and didn't get there until 2 or so.  We paid $130 for the five of us.  That covered an all you can eat buffet (we had both lunch and dinner, plus snacks) and four twenty dollar swipe cards for arcade games.  We did go carts, bumper cars, mini golf, mini bowling, lots of arcade-style games, and some preschool games/rides.  It was lots of fun.  The food was decent.  We were there until after nine.  It was worth the cost.  Ron had to talk me into it.  I hate those kinds of places--too much noise, flashing lights, etc and I feel like we are just throwing money into a hole.  But the kids were surprisingly good and had a blast (that part was not a surprise).

Sunday was our first monthly freezer meal swap.  My friend Kim has been looking to do this for about a year or more.  We finally got it done and it was so simple the way she set it up.  There are various ways to go about doing a freezer meal swap.  Some groups decide on menus, purchase the ingredients, divvy the cost, and come together to cook for an afternoon in someone's home.  They make several family sized meals and divvy these out to the various families involved.  Other groups assign types of meals to each family and each family brings enough of that meal for the other families to take home.

Our swap was the simplest variety.  Each family brought in as many family sized servings as they wanted.  We then took turns picking out as many items as we brought to take home.  There were so many yummy items to choose from--mac and cheese, manicotti, tilapia, pulled pork, meatballs, just to name a few.  All of the items are freezer friendly and now we each have a few home cooked meals in our freezer for those short evenings we all have.  So much better than the tv dinner style frozen meals.  New foods for the family too!  I brought home a pan of homemade mac and cheese and one of manicotti.  I didn't have time to prepare more due to our impromptu trip on Saturday.  I did save some of the pulled pork I brought in my own freezer though.  I'm excited to make this a monthly tradition.

In other news, both older boys had great conference reports from their teachers.  Both have made great strides in reading and math.  Colby needs to talk less (he gets that from me...) and Braedon could use some flash card work on math facts.  I just love their teachers this year.  I feel like the boys are making great progress and the personalities of their teachers match with those of my boys, makes for a good year.

I'm hoping to get past this writer's block.  I'm a bit frustrated with some stuff at work that involves my kiddos and for confidentiality purposes I can't blog about it.  So whenever I try to think of something preschool-related to post I can't get past that stuff.  I have a post about ADD bouncing around (appropriately) in my head as well as some other reading and baking related posts.  I will try to post a bit more frequently, but I can't make any promises...

As a reward for reading to the bottom of this disjointed post, I'm posting here the pulled pork recipe I got off (love that site!).

Pulled Pork
Need--pork roast, root beer, bbq sauce, buns
1.  In the crock pot place the pork (I had a large tenderloin I cut into manageable pieces and cooked 4 lb at a time) and 2-3 cups of root beer.  Cook on low for ten hours.  Cool.
2.  Pull apart pork.  Mix in a bottle of bbq sauce.
3.  This is where I placed it into freezer baggies (approximately 8 servings per bag to go with the pkg of buns I bought) and labeled.
4.  The morning prior to serving, move the meat to the fridge to thaw.  Warm and serve on buns.  Yum!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011


Several of the blogs I follow have occasional gratitude themed posts.  In the interest of trying to make this a frequent theme here, I am calling it Gratituesday.  On this and future Gratituesday posts I will list some of the small (or big) things that I am grateful for.  I believe we all have positive things and negative things going on in our lives at all times, but the ones that you concentrate on will determine how you approach each day.  I strive for a positive demeanor whenever possible.

Today was our Valentine's Party at preschool.  I am so grateful for the terrific group our parents we have.  We have four holiday parties a year and turn the party responsibilities over to the parents for each party.  We suggest the committee plan a craft, game/activity, and a snack.  We have had a different set of parents plan each of the parties this year.  And each committee approaches the party in their own way.  Some are super planned with detailed lists and others offered just a general plan, but each party has been great.  This takes the stress off of the teaching staff and also makes the parents a bigger part of the program.

I am grateful for chocolate.  I've got to keep up enough of a sugar high to keep up with the kiddos around me.  One lovely family sent a bag of decent chocolate for the teachers to share.  

I'm grateful for the sunshine and warmer weather.  It feels so good to be able to step outside without a coat.  And even though the ground of a sloppy mix of mud and dirty snow right now, it is a reminder that spring will be here in about a month.

What are you grateful for today?

Monday, February 14, 2011

Valentine Bargains

As a teacher and bargain shopper, I can't help myself, I check out the shelves of leftover holiday goodies.  Things will be 50% off at most stores tomorrow.  By the end of the week it will go to 75% and then the beginning of next week it will be 90% off.  I try to stop by every other day or so, and keep an eye on the inventory.  Some things won't last until 75% and there won't be much left by 90%.  I got a boat-load of boxes of valentines last year for 25 cents each.  We should be set for years.  There should be valentines pencils, cookie cutters (great for baking, play dough, painting with, and other crafts), candy hearts for sorting, and more.  Check out all your local holiday stores.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011


Several of the blogs I follow have occasional gratitude themed posts.  In the interest of trying to make this a frequent theme here, I am calling it Gratituesday.  On this and future Gratituesday posts I will list some of the small (or big) things that I am grateful for.  I believe we all have positive things and negative things going on in our lives at all times, but the ones that you concentrate on will determine how you approach each day.  I strive for a positive demeanor whenever possible.

I am grateful for a husband who can and does take up the reins at home whenever he has to.  Tonight he had cooked supper, done some dishes, helped with homework, and vacuumed when I finally got home a little after six.  Plus he took Colby in to his Tiger Den meeting once I got home.

I am grateful for three boys here, and one I claim who is almost 20 and lives on his own, who are relatively healthy and pretty good kids.  Specifically, it was so sweet to see Braedon (my nine year old who receives reading help at school) reading to Brody (almost 4).  They were in the same pose, stretched out on the floor on their stomachs with their chins in their hands.  And by that time Colby was curled up falling asleep.

I am grateful for fun times with my preschoolers.  So fun to watch them accomplishing things that were once difficult for them.  I am fortunate to have a job I love and one that allows me to wear my pajamas to work tomorrow.  We are having a pajama party in celebration of the letter P.

What are you grateful for today?

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Frugality in a Blizzard

We are in the midst of a blizzard here.  We are drifted in at home, but we are warm and safe.  Overall we are getting the good end of the blizzard.  Our snowfall total is to remain in the single digits and we don't have the ice other areas are getting.  We have wind and lots of drifts, but we'll be fine.

A couple of years ago we replaced the windows in our house, so we don't have the drafts that we used to have.  We also got a corn stove around the same time.  We are in the country and before we had the corn stove we used propane to heat the house.  Propane would cost us over two thousand dollars each winter.  The corn stove cost two thousand up front and we spend about $400 to $600 per year for corn to fuel it, depending on corn prices and how much we need to run the corn stove.  We now have electric baseboard heat as a secondary source of heat to keep the insurance company happy, but they are set to come on at sixty degrees (read, we don't use them, but they will keep our house warm if the corn stove quit working).  They cost six hundred, but help us keep the house insurance and our peace of mind.

We live in a split foyer house and block off areas of the house we are not using.  We have a blanket covering the doorway to the basement right now.  We shut off the bedrooms during the day.  Actually last night we are camped in the living room and the bedrooms stayed shut.  The wind was blowing hard (40 mph gusts) and there was a chance we would lose power, so we wanted to make sure we were keeping the heat in the part of the house we were using.  The power stayed on and it looks like the wind has died down.

During the day yesterday I baked some cookies.  It was a fun activity that helped to heat up the house, make it smell good, and the end result was pretty good too.  I have some bananas thawing out for banana bread today for the same purpose.  I hang laundry inside in the winter and that helps keep the air moist.  We have extra food, batteries, and candles on hand.  The cell phones are fully charged.

Yesterday was a snow day from school.  So the three boys and I stayed home all day.  Today is also a snow day.  I'm going to have to get a bit more creative in keeping those very active boys entertained all day inside.  But we'll make it.  So far their dad hasn't made it in to work either, but the neighbor with the plow on his truck was just here.  (He tried at 4:30 this morning, but couldn't get down our road.)  So we may have to plan some board games or a WII tournament of sorts.  We will try to get some projects done around the house.  And we might cuddle on the couch and watch a movie.

Are you snowed in?  What do you do to ensure that your family is safe and secure in a weather emergency?

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

There's No Business Like Snow Business

Sometimes we have snow on the ground but either it's too cold, or not enough kids have proper winter gear, or there isn't enough time to get the winter clothes on and then back off again (20 minutes round trip...) so we don't get the opportunity to get out in it.  I believe that we need to offer kids opportunities to experience the world, so I try to bring some snow inside at least once each winter.

We have a sensory table (I call it a water table, even though it only has water in it occasionally) in the preschool, but this could also be done at home with a plastic tote.  Simply bring in some clean snow.  Provide scoops of various sizes (spoons, shovels, go through the kitchen drawers...) and some cups or bowls.  

I have the kids wear their mittens/gloves and their winter coat zipped up to play in the snow.  Not only does this protect them from the cold, wet snow (and sitting around in a wet shirt all day), but it provides for some practice with putting on and zipping up that winter gear.  Our hope is that everyone can get themselves dressed in winter gear by the end of the winter.  Independence is important when you have a dozen kiddos to get ready.  It's also an important skill for the kiddos to learn.

Usually the play starts out with simple sensory play.  Digging, feeling, sprinkling the snow through their fingers.  As the snow warms a bit, it becomes mold-able.  Those cups and bowls are great molds.  Or with a little help small snowmen can be made (might want to have some ideas for pieces to make the face, but let the kids lead you).  

I have the snow out over the course of 4 days.  By the third and fourth day the newness has worn off and I try to come up with something to add to the snow to make it fun and new again.  This year I used liquid watercolor in a spray bottle (food coloring and water would work just as well).  The spray bottles we have are not very child friendly, so I sprayed the snow prior to bringing it into the classroom.  It was blue one day and orange the other day.  (I opted not to use yellow...)  Only the top layer gets colored, but it was enough to spark some interest and revive the play.

I have also used eyedroppers and colored water for the kids to explore mixing colors in the snow.  The gloves have to come off for this.  

I just saw a post yesterday on one of the blogs I follow, Frugal Family Fun, that may call for a second round of snow in the water table this winter.  Valerie and her daughter made an ice cream shop with snow, an ice cream scoop, and cups.  We also have some cone shaped spools that were donated years ago that would make good ice cream cones.

We always allow the snow to melt and encourage the kids to talk about the changes they notice and make a hypothesis about why the changes occurred.  This year's group initially said it was because of the sun.  When I pointed out the water table did not get any sun where it sits in the classroom, and besides there is still snow on the ground outside, they thought the lights did it.  We noted the change before and after rest time (no lights, but still melting occurred) and then they did reach the conclusion that it was the fact that it was warmer inside than outside.  It is also interesting to see how dirty that snow gets and discourages the snow eating.

We are awaiting the arrival of this blizzard, and plenty of new snow.  We might just have to put snow in the water table again next week.

This post has been shared on No Time for Flashcards.

Using Coupons

I often hear people wondering if the time spent clipping coupons is worth the little bit of money the coupon saves you.  My answer is it is, if you can use the coupon in the most effective way.

I don't clip my coupons right away.  I save them in the inserts and write the date of the insert on the front in a black sharpie marker.  (The date is found on the spine of the insert.)

The website has a coupon database that I refer to as I make up my grocery list.

If you can match coupons to the store ads you get twice the benefit.  I also follow the blog Learning the Frugal Life as she works hard to match coupons to the HyVee and Fareway ads each week.  There are a lot of websites that will match coupons to ads, but I have found that I have to wade through the CVS, Walgreens, and Target match-ups.  I don't have any of those stores in town.

I stock up on deals when I can and have a shelving unit in the basement to store some of my deals.  I know I could do better if I worked harder at it.  But I find that I don't have the time to do much more than I am.  I'm glad to do something and I always strive to do more with coupons.  They can be worth much more than some change, if you use them to your advantage.