Archive | March, 2015

Another one for the books: A “Hollywood Premiere” birthday party

30 Mar
Our third tenth birthday in fifteen years. There's some math for you. OMG.

Our third tenth birthday in fifteen years. There’s some math for you.

It’s interesting having multiple children.

That’s probably the understatement of the year.

But more specifically, it’s interesting to us because as parents, although we try to be equal and equitable, things change, trends change, our kids get older and therefore, more involved, and so we must change along with them.

Take birthday parties, for example. We have house rules about when they can start to have “friend parties” and how many people can be invited, and where they can have them.

When our first two daughters turned ten, they both opted to have an “almost sleepover” birthday party where the kids come and stay late, but don’t actually sleep over. They both loved those parties, and we had a great time.

I was gearing up for the Almost Sleepover III this spring, as the next and final tenth birthday rolled around for child number three, when things suddenly changed. Our middle daughter had seen something about movie effects and presented an idea to her sister for her next birthday: A movie premiere party complete with blood and guts.

Movie premiere party, yes. Blood and guts, no. We parents still have veto rights.

She liked the idea. Bye-bye Almost Sleepover party, Hello Hollywood Premiere party.

In general, as a family we tend to be very project-obsessed, very creative and very budget-conscious. It’s a good combination because being obsessive can be costly. Being budget-conscious keeps our spending at bay. It’s our goal to spend less on an at home party than we do on the out of the house parties.

And so the planning began.

It was fun to personalize all the passes with the kids' names.

It was fun to personalize all of the invitations and the passes with the kids’ names and the party information. Doing it all on my phone though, blew me away.

I created invitations with the help of my oldest daughter, who taught me how to download images onto my phone and use an app to write in all of the information. I created all eight invitations How amazing is that? We were keeping the party small, a few kids from class and a few kids from out of school, based on our space limitations here at home. I also created VIP passes and golden Hollywood tickets to go along with each invitation. We sent the tickets to them in their invitations and kept the passes here, eventually printing out a schedule of events on the back side as well.

I shopped early for paper goods, putting a few things away as I came across them.

I shopped early for paper goods, putting a few things away as I came across them.

With the Oscars taking place in February, I was able to start putting things aside easily. I found a “Director’s Cut” line of party supplies offered at Party City near me. I picked up some wall decorations, some decorative tapes with cool sayings like “VIP Entrance” “Celebrity Zone” and “No Paparazzi” for the house.  Party City also had a backdrop that could be hung, along with a “red carpet” that could be used, so I picked those up as well. I found trophies there that weren’t Oscar himself, but rather little stars. I got two packs.

Trying out the frame and the accessories for the photo booth before the guests arrived.

Trying out the frame and the accessories for the photo booth before the guests arrived.

We tend to have lots of “stuff” and sometimes stuff can be bad, like if you’re bordering on being a hoarder, but sometimes stuff can be good, like if you’re planning to do a photo booth for your at home party. In our case, the stuff we were able to use included pieces of old Halloween costumes, old dance recital costumes, past party favors we’d received, and things like that. A wicker laundry basket was filled with lots of fun accessories and placed in the bedroom on the day of the party, which was now the Dressing Room of the Stars.

We easily determined that several faces fit in our gold frame. It was perfect.

We easily determined that several faces fit in our gold frame. It was perfect.

I picked up a couple of fun items at our local Dollar Tree for the photo booth too, including some post it note pads that spelled out OMG, LOL and BFF, as well as some colored hair extensions in blue, green, purple and red. My favorite find of all, however, was a $4 picture housed in a gold frame from Savers, from which I only needed the gold frame. I threw out the cardboard, the picture and the glass and pulled out all the hooks. It could easily fit two or three little faces in it.

I’d found a pack of bulletin board decorations the week before the party at Lakeshore Learning Store, thoroughly by accident. We’d gone in to use the bathroom and the set was on display right near the ladies’ room. It seemed meant to be that the set was perfect, and I got 15% off with my teacher discount card also. I had them laminated later that week so that we could use them over again if we ever needed to.

Bingo cards were easy to make online, just type in all the names for the squares and print!

Bingo cards were easy to make online, just type in all the names for the squares and print!

Between the Party City items I’d found, the Dollar Store items and the new Lakeshore Learning Store pack, we were in good shape. We’d determined ahead of time that the Kids’ Choice Awards were playing the night of the party and that would be the “premiere” we’d be showing. That gave us a great opportunity for voting for our favorites first, and I came up with Bingo cards that went along with the show so that as the kids heard the names of nominees called out on the show, they could mark them off on their Bingo cards. A $1 box of sidewalk chalk and two $1 packs of stickers at the Dollar Store provided me with prizes.

Eight prize were easily made with a couple of dollar store items broken up into smaller sets.

Eight prize were easily made with a couple of dollar store items broken up into smaller sets.

On the day of the party, everyone was involved in cleaning up and decorating. Having all three kids helping and giving input made it much easier for me than having to do it all myself. I loved that my older two wanted to help and that my youngest could have some ownership with this party. She completely took over the wall of “Hollywood Stars,” deciding where she wanted them hung, what she wanted to write on them and doing the hanging.

Just for fun, as a thanks for helping out, I created official passes for my older girls to use that night at the party.

Just for fun, as a thanks for helping out, I created official passes for my older girls to use that night at the party.

One daughter was going to be the photographer and one was going to be my event manager that night, so I used more of my old “stuff” from past events I’d attended, and created event passes for them, just for fun, to thank them for all their help and hard work that they’d be doing that night.

A space for placing our votes for some of the KCA categories.

A space for placing our votes for some of the KCA categories.

Although our house isn’t large, it has lots of wall space and we utilize our walls often, hanging things up all the time. This event utilized lots of our wall space and we had a perfect space for everything.

Now perfect! It hung right over the TV.

Now showing….how perfect! It hung right over the TV.

We loved using the “Now showing” and the “Starring” words on the walls too, and even put up a voting area for the kids to make some award show predictions for later on that night. In many cases they were right on!

All in all, it was a really fun party and I’d definitely do it again, especially since I now have all the items needed. The photo booth would be great for any event, and I intend to keep it in mind for the future. I loved seeing the kids all come in dressed “fancy” as their invites stated, and then seeing them kicked back in comfortable clothes they’d brought with them for when the show started. We played Bingo and Gestures, but the photo booth was probably the biggest hit of the night. In all we took over 200 photos that night and the majority of them were photo booth photos.

Below are some extra photos from the evening. I did not want to use any photo booth photos of anyone else’s children, but you can get the general idea of some of our props based on the photos I’ve already included here.

We utilized all of our available wall space that day!

We utilized all of our available wall space that day!

It was for everyone to have a part in decorating for the party, including the birthday girl who took on the Hollywood Stars wall.

It was fun for everyone to have a part in decorating for the party, including the birthday girl who took on the Hollywood Stars wall.

The items from Party City and from Lakeshore Learning Store looked like they'd been made to go together.

The items from Party City and from Lakeshore Learning Store looked like they’d been made to go together.

What’s for Dinner Wednesday: Chickpea and Tomato Salad with Fresh Basil by Green Lite Bites

25 Mar
A great side dish for your dinner or a light lunch idea.

A great side dish for your dinner or for a light and tasty lunch.

I’ve become addicted to Pinterest.

I’m probably the last person on earth to become addicted because for a long time, even though I knew it was there, I didn’t go on it very often.

I’m on it every day now.

If I’m sitting somewhere waiting, I click on the app on my phone and I just scroll and pin, scroll and pin.

I’ve found many wonderful ideas for many wonderful things, many of which I’ll probably never have the opportunity to try out. But, I’ve pinned them for future reference,

One such pin that I scrolled past actually did come to fruition, and it was a delicious success, so I thought I’d share it with you today for my WFDW post even though it’s not just for dinner.

This recipe for Chickpea and Tomato Salad with Fresh Basil came my way via the Green Lite Bites site, and I appreciate them sharing it because it’s a simple recipe with fresh ingredients, and I will definitely be making it again in the future.

Interestingly enough, on the day I saw this pin on Pinterest, I actually had a can of chick peas sitting on my kitchen counter. I’m not sure who put them there or why, or what the original intention for them was, but they’d been there a while and I’d been thinking of roasting them one afternoon for a snack, since I hadn’t done that in a while.

Additionally, we’d been babysitting my parents’ plants while they were away and one of them was a fresh Basil plant that they’d left us and told us to feel free to use it if we wanted to. So, I had fresh Basil, which I never do, I had chickpeas, which I often don’t, and I had tomatoes, which I always do. I had everything I needed for this recipe.

I also had two cucumbers that needed to be used, so I decided when making this recipe, to add one in as well.

This was going to be on our menu for lunch during the work and school week, so I decided to give my morning a break by making it ahead of time and putting it in the fridge overnight. I also felt that the flavors would have a good amount of time to blend together and everything would be perfectly chilled by morning.

Four out of five of us were having this for our lunches. For two of my daughters, having just this in a bowl was plenty, along with some pita bread cut into triangles on the side. For my husband, we opted to put this salad onto a bed of lettuce, (as I’ve shown here) with the same side of pita bread. There was just enough left for me to have a little bowl on the side with my lunch that day too.

Everyone loved their lunches and it was just enough for everyone’s desired portion sizes. I loved having my morning “off” from making all four lunches from scratch and I loved coming home to my own lunch partially decided for me, and waiting to be eaten. I don’t love lunches to begin with and I hate deciding what to have. This was a nice treat for us all.

The recipe is quick, can be modified to add in or take out ingredients based on your own tastes and what you have on hand. You could throw in some fresh mozzarella cheese balls (although that would make it a little less healthy if you did) and it’d be just as delicious.

Here is the recipe just as it’s shown on the Green Lite Bites site. I hope you’ll pay her site a visit, as there’s lots of other healthy options to try!


  • 1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • About 1 pint grape tomatoes, halved
  • 25 large basil leaves, chopped
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 1/2 tbsp honey (10g)
  • pinch of salt

Toss all ingredients together and chill for at least 20 minutes, allowing all the flavors to merge.

Happy St. Joseph’s Day!

19 Mar

Are you ready for some Zeppole?


Are you wearing your red today? I am!

It’s March 19 and that means it’s one of my most favorite dessert holidays ever!

Happy St. Joseph’s Day to you!!

I’d personally skip right over St. Patrick’s Day and go right to St. Joseph’s Day because if it’s St. Joseph’s Day then it means……zeppole!!!

You might ask: What on earth is a zeppole??

My answer is: It’s the most wonderful cream filled, fried dough dessert in the world; kind of a cross between a donut and a cream puff I guess, although from what I understand, they have changed in nature over the years. However, the way you see them here is the way I’ve always known them to be and the way that I love, love, love them.

More than a decade ago, when we were first married, we lived in another state for a few years. That first year we were there,  St. Joseph’s Day rolled around. We went out that day, searching for a zeppole, and had the hardest time finding them. When we did, they weren’t even all that great. I was so disappointed. We’d only been there three months and I already knew we were going to have to come back. There was no way I was going to live in a place where there weren’t any good zeppole to be had.

Near us you can get a zeppole almost any time of the year, but we never, ever do, except on St. Joseph’s Day. It just wouldn’t be the same. It probably wouldn’t even TASTE the same!

I’m sure it’s no coincidence either, that my daughter Alex was due to be born on St. Joseph’s Day. She wasn’t, but still, there’s something significant in that, I just know it.

Being in city where there are just zillions of Italians, it means that there are also zillions of fantastic Italian bakeries in the area, so you can take your pick as to where you want to get your zeppole from. Everyone seems to have their favorite spot where they go each year.

Our family has gotten their St. Joseph’s Day zeppole at Solitro’s for decades and it thrills me to share this tradition with my kids.

To me it’s a really big deal to go and get them. I go to the same bakery where my family has gone forever and ever to get them. The first time I took my children there with me, I almost cried, I was so overwhelmed with the emotion I felt. I remember waiting with them in a line that stretched from the bakery counter to the door. I remember lifting them up so they could see into the back where the zeppole were being made; it looked like what I’d imagine Italy itself to look like. I remember pointing to the shelves that held trays upon trays upon trays of zeppole, all lined up in rows. It’s even magical to me how they put them into the white bakery box and tie it with string. There’s nothing like it. The zeppole taste wonderful, but the tradition and memories that go with it are such a big part of the day for me as well.

The case was full, both baked and fried zeppole, and this was only the day *before* St. Joseph’s Day.

And so, today I will again have my zeppole. My family doesn’t love them as much as I do, and I have to say, I’m glad. It means all the more for me.

I hope you’re able to get a zeppole today too! If not, I’ll be thinking of you all as I indulge.

Happy St. Joseph’s Day!

I hope you get your zeppole fix today too!

Happy St. Patty’s Day: Irish Soda Bread

17 Mar

ORIGINALLY POSTED MARCH 16, 2012: Everyone loves a good Irish Soda Bread with their St. Patrick’s Day meal! This one was passed along to me by my father-in-law last winter and it was wonderful. I can’t wait to make it again this year. It’s probably the one and only recipe where I don’t think about subbing out the raisins for chocolate chips!!


4 c  flour

1 c white sugar

1 tsp baking soda

2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

3 eggs

1 pint sour cream

1 cup  raisins


Preheat oven to 325 degrees

Grease two 8×4″ loaf pans

Mix first five ingredients

Add eggs, sour cream and raisins

Mix until just combined

Distribute batter evenly between the two pans

Bake loaves 1 hour at 325 degrees

What’s for Dinner Wednesday: Honey Sesame Chicken

11 Mar
This was a great meal to come home to! Thanks My Soup for You!

This was a great meal to come home to! Thanks My Soup for You!

Last week, thanks to my local Macaroni Kid and their awesome giveaways, I won tickets to the Home Show that was taking place nearby. I was very excited, and we opted to go to the show on Sunday afternoon after church and after lunch. We’d be getting home just in time for dinner.

Nothing’s worse than coming home at dinner time and trying to decide what to make for dinner. On the flip side though, nothing’s better than coming home to dinner already cooked for you while you were out!

Therefore, when we planned our meal menu for the next two weeks, one of the slots was filled with a new recipe for Honey Sesame Chicken, thanks to a blog post I’d seen earlier that week on my friend Paula’s blog, My Soup for You. I knew when I saw it, that it was one I wanted to try too, and being a crock pot meal it fit in great with our Sunday afternoon schedule.

Paula had gotten the inspiration for her meal from the Kitchen Whisperer, and she tweaked it to fit her needs. I followed Paula’s recipe almost to a “T,” only changing a few things, which I note in the recipe below with asterisks. Thanks to Paula for sharing her variation of the Kitchen Whisperer’s recipe with us! It made our Sunday afternoon stress-free and relaxing, and we had a delicious dinner!

Here is Paula’s recipe, just as she has it on her blog, My Soup for You:

Honey Sesame Chicken
2 lbs chicken – I used thighs   ***We used two pounds of chicken tenderloins.***
1/2 cup honey – original called for a full cup but I didn’t have enough   ***We used a full cup.***
1/2 cup low sodium soy sauce
3 tbsp grated ginger or 1 tsp ground ginger
4 tbsp ketchup
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper  ***We were out of this.***
3 tbsp cornstarch
6 tbsp water
Green onions and sesame seeds to garnish  ***The grocery store didn’t have any green onions on Saturday.***

1. Place the chicken in a 5 quart slow cooker that you have sprayed with cooking spray.
2. Combine honey – cayenne (no water, cornstarch or garnishes yet!) and pour over the chicken.
3. Cook on high for 2-3 hours.
4. When done, take the chicken out and leave the sauce in the pan.
5. Combine corn starch and water and make a slurry.
6. Pour that in the slow cooker with the sauce and mix. Cook for another ten minutes on high until it thickens slightly.
7. Chop up your chicken and put it back in the sauce. I also added about two cups of broccoli florets.
8. Serve with rice and garnishes.


Monday Musings: What’s the objective?

9 Mar
Sometimes I assume everyone has a mental check list, but maybe it's just me?

Sometimes I assume everyone has a mental check list, but maybe it’s just me?

I had lunch with a friend a month or so ago, and we were talking about things in life, big and little, that we wanted to be sure we taught our kids while we had them here with us, life skills to impart on them before they venture out into the world as independent citizens.

The conversation reminded me of a blog post I’d read somewhere along the way where a mother was writing to her daughter at the “halfway point” of being about 10 years old. The writer talked about how so far, many of the things on her list of things to teach her daughter had been developmental, like how to tie her shoes, how to ride a bike, things like that, and how now that she was turning ten and beginning a new phase in her life, it was time to shift the list and be sure to teach her other important things.

It got me thinking of how I’m semi-obsessed with that concept myself. And, I say “semi,” but I might actually mean “totally and completely,” but take it as you will.

As a student teacher, we learned to write our lesson plans so that they always had an objective. As time went on, it became common practice to even post the student learning objectives in the classroom for each lesson, so that the students (and anyone visiting the room) knew what they should have learned by the end of the lesson: at the end of the lesson, all students will… able to write their first and last name… able to identify and sort the odd and even numbers…be able to understand and analyze the reasons for the American Revolution….. and so on and so forth. The student learning objectives change and get more difficult as the students move through their education. What they need to know gets harder and what they need to do with that learning in terms of studying and applying what they’ve learned to real life, gets harder too. Sometimes lessons are on-going and build on skills previously learned. They don’t learn it and leave it behind, they take what they’ve learned with them and use it for the next thing.

I think that life as a parent is just like that. Having objectives for your lessons gave you clarity in why you were doing what you were doing in the classroom, and I think that raising kids is the same way. I just naturally assume that everyone drives around and walks around thinking constantly about their objectives and whether or not they’ve been met, just as I do: at the end of 18 years, my children will know how to and understand the importance of:   choosing a healthy snack, utilizing appropriate portion sizes, making pancakes from scratch, creating a meal plan and grocery list, looking at unit prices to get the best deal, using coupons to extend their savings even further, sorting their own laundry and having a good system for how to put it away, doing dishes, budgeting their spending, having financial goals, making a hard decision (and having to say no to things they really want, at times, but feeling extra good when they’ve worked hard for something and can say yes), sacrificing something for the good of someone else, choosing a good fit for their spiritual community, volunteering their time for the good of the whole community…..and so on and so forth.

Sometimes our objectives are something minor and physical, like tying shoes, or making pancakes, and other times they’re really big, like some of the deep dinner table discussions we’ve had to have with our kids, the examples we try to set for them as role models, emphasizing for them our morals and values, but at the end, I always make a check mark on my mental list, as if to say, “Okay, she’s got that down. I’ve done my job, as parents we’ve done what we’re supposed to do by teaching this really hard lesson, by modeling this life skill. She’ll be okay when she’s on her own.”

And then I move on to the next thing. My list is ever-growing as life is ever-changing.

I’m constantly retrieving memories from the back of my brain as to things I had to know when I was on my own. I remember being the only one who knew how to make a ham and cheese omelet (thank you Grandpa Grello) and I remember not knowing that I had a flat tire, and driving all the way from home to work and getting that really angry phone call when I arrived there (sorry Dad), and I think in my head of all the wisdom both literal, practical, and the more big-picture, that we need to impart on our kids: Don’t be afraid to try something new, have good manners, love and respect the elderly, it’s okay to lose, always try again, you can do anything…and can they tell time on an analog clock, can they count back change, do they know to use different measuring cups for liquids and solids??

See what I mean? I’m constantly, constantly thinking and checking.

(And I still recently drove on a flat tire, having no idea it was flat, so I’m not sure how good a job I’m doing in teaching that skill to my kids.)

Recently our first-ever female governor announced an essay contest she was running, and only my middle daughter is eligible to enter it. She’s someone who’s always willing to put herself out there and take a risk. She enters things, tries for things, but doesn’t always see the success at the end that her other sisters who’ve entered and won various big deal things, have seen. At bedtime one night she said to me, “In the contest rules the governor wrote that she often tells her daughters that they can do anything, and that’s just like you always tell us.”

As I leaned over and kissed my middle girl goodnight, I made a mental check mark on my list.

Objective met.



We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming to bring you this important news

6 Mar
I think our students have reached their breaking points.

I think our students have reached their breaking points.

I had planned a different post for today, but when I looked at my blog’s editorial calendar, I decided to switch that post for another day, and share with you some of the stories I have in this week’s newspaper. I’m very proud of my work this week, and I think the three stories tie in so well together, each telling a different piece of the same story, and I also think our story here is not so different from many of my blog readers’ stories all over.

As an education reporter, and as a former educator who lives with three current students and one current educational administrator, I get probably more of my dose of education news and perspective than many. I see educational trends and their impact from all sides. I’m in and out of classrooms from preschool through high school all week long and I sit in on meetings of all kinds both as a parent and as a reporter.

I truly love my job and I love getting to see these many sides to one story as well as to help decipher the education news and share it out to others.

Often however, I notice that many of the people making the decisions about education aren’t teachers, sometimes have never actually even taught in a classroom or run a school and oftentimes have never had children of their own.

I’ve attended forums and heard the guest speakers who have equated knowing what students are going through as students, because they have extended family who have kids, that they know what it’s like in the trenches of the classroom because they have friends who teach.

It’s always struck me as odd, and what they say they’re seeing is completely different from what I know that I’m seeing, hearing and living.

I decided recently that although our kids are the ones who are bearing the brunt of all these educational trends and decisions, it’s rare that we get to hear from them, and oftentimes when I listen to my own kids speaking of their frustrations and experiences, I wonder, “Is it just them? Is it just us?”

It’s not.

I spent the day on February 21 listening to kids talk about school for five hours. It was one of my most favorite interview days ever. I loved meeting the kids I didn’t know previously and I loved hearing their perspectives. I was glad to be able to give them a voice and in turn give a lot of the teachers and administrators a voice as well, because much of what the the teachers and administrators have been saying about the current trends in education are well reflected in the students’ opinions and experiences.

Now clearly, 11 kids does not make a scientific study about education, and I don’t pretend that it does, but it’s enough of a peek into the lives of our students to know that there is much work to be done in the world of education, and I don’t think much more of it can be done by the students.

This week our newspaper published my story, The Voices Behind the Numbers, and the response to it has been outstanding, and a relief to many adults who have wondered the same as we did: Is it just us?

Again, it is not.

Coincidentally, after I’d written and submitted that story, I met with the head of our district’s data team. She’s been in charge of collecting, analyzing and reporting out all kinds of data for quite some time, but recently the big focus has been on chronic absenteeism and trying to determine what types of factors contribute to kids being out so much. A task force was assembled. I am on it representing the faith organizations in our city, but clearly I’m a parent and of course, a reporter, too, so I can give many perspectives in my role. Given the half year’s data explored thus far, the attendance task force has decided that student anxiety needs to be explored in depth, as an important contributing factor in chronic absenteeism, and our state’s department of health is on board to explore this important issue too.

I couldn’t agree more.

You can read that article here, and I do think it ties in well with our students’ perspectives from my own article. I also think that overall in our country there has been an increased concern with mental health, social and emotional wellness, and I think we need to consider that when we think about our students and the impact of the decisions being made when they trickle down to the classrooms.

And finally, I love good news in education, and I love a strong thematic unit that incorporates and encompasses good teaching and still hits all the standards. So often I am disappointed when I ask about some of my favorite classroom units and projects from past years, looking to cover them again in the new year, only to find out that they’ve been cut out of the teaching programs due to lack of time.

This article tells the story of a fabulous program for students that is taught in just one of our city’s 17 elementary schools’ fifth-grade classrooms. The classroom teacher has hung onto it for a decade, firmly believing that it’s an important foundation for his students’ learning, and I couldn’t agree more. I can guarantee you that the standards have been met by the end of this comprehensive math and writing unit, and I know that Mr. Gemma’s students will remember this learning forever and apply it to their real lives after they leave his classroom. I commend him for his continued efforts and congratulate him on this year’s latest success.