Monday, September 15, 2014

Fall Leaves and Firetrucks

If you teach, you understand that August and September are a very dizzying blur filled with excitement, to-do lists, and a little bit of nausea. The first few weeks of school are a swirl of lesson planning and acclimating to new classes and new goals! While I haven't had much time to capture pictures of all of our projects so far, I did (somehow) remember to snap a few of the most recent themes we've taught in our 4-year old classes. We have done 5 themes so far, including "Leaves and Trees" and "Fire Safety"; below are some art projects I did in my class that worked out very well. I had fun planning them, and the kids had even more fun putting them into action!

My favorite project from "Leaves and Trees" was when we made a tree using a "leaf painting" technique. For this project the kids had to trace their tree using a stencil (unfortunately most of them thought it was a mushroom, but come on-- they're four! I wanted to make the tracing and cutting simple.) After they cut out their tree they used brushes that had been fitted with faux leaves to paint their trees yellow, orange, and red.

Here are the brushes (I just attached the leaves with masking tape, and then threw them out after class):

My two favorite projects from "Fire Safety" were the firetruck we made, as well as the fire hose.

For the firetruck, the kids had to trace their truck and cut it out. We used bottle caps (from soda and water bottles) for the wheels, I cut and drew ladders beforehand, and they used large flat sequins for the lights. After all that they drew a window on the front of the truck.

For the fire hose (and this was a VERY fun project), we used toilet paper rolls, crepe streamers, scrap fabric, and duct tape! To start, the kids stuck small pieces of duct tape all over their TP rolls to make the nozzle. Then I had squares of red fabric for each hose; I helped them wrap long pieces of duct tape over the fabric to attach it to the nozzle. Last, they glued scraps of blue crepe streamers inside the other end of the nozzle to look like water spraying out. They loved, LOVED "spraying" their fire hoses all over the room to put out imaginary fires.

Hopefully these ideas are helpful additions to your Fall curriculum-- happy teaching!

Monday, September 1, 2014

(Early) Fall Food

Today is the first day of September, which means, to me, it's the first day of Fall! Now, I realize that Fall doesn't officially begin for another 20 days, and I also realize that Oklahoma weather does not care about my idea of Fall-- it will be in the mid-90's for the rest of the week. However, September is my birthday month, and Fall is my favorite season, so I have officially declared today the first day of my personal Fall.

In that spirit, I want to share a couple of recipes I have recently tried out that are full of flavor and Fall-ishness. These are both incredibly easy recipes, and the best part is how impressive and delicious they are.

The first incredible dish I want to share is my Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie recipe.

The first step in this recipe is to let go of the need to be fancy, and buy a pre-made pie crust. That's right, I said it. No need to put that much work into this pie-- it's delicious with even the simplest of crusts.

You'll also need:
3 cups of chopped fresh rhubarb
3 cups sliced strawberries
1 tbsp lemon juice
zest of 1 lemon
1/2 cup white sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup flour
pinch of salt
2 tbsp butter cut into small pieces

First, preheat your oven to 400. Place the first pre-made pie crust into your pie pan and prick with a fork all over. This is essential to having a crispy crust on the bottom.

Combine the fruit, sugar, lemon, zest, flour, and salt in a bowl. Fold well to combine. Pour the filling into the crust and top with the small pieces of butter. These will melt and create a savory mess of deliciousness once you eat the pie.

For your top crust, you can keep it simple and place the entire thing on top (just be sure to create some vents), or you can get a little fancy and use a pizza cutter to cut your crust into strips, and then layer them to make a lattice topping.

Once your pie is assembled, pop it in the oven for 20 minutes, then reduce your heat to 350 and bake for another 25 minutes. (If your crust starts to get too brown, top with foil.) Before serving, allow the pie to cool for at least 2 hours so the filling will thicken.

Now, for the second recipe: Pumpkin Breakfast Cake

This is a delicious and guilt-free treat for your crisp Fall mornings. The secret is that this is actually an Angel Food Cake that's just been taken higher into Heaven by adding a little pumpkin!

The recipe for this cake could not be any easier. All you need is:

1 box Angel Food Cake mix
1 can pureed pumpkin
2 tbsp ground cinnamon

To bake, you can either use a bundt cake pan, or a rectangular cake pan. I tend to use the rectangular pan because it's easier to cover and clean.

Simply follow the directions on the box of Angel Food Cake mix, and before you pour the batter into the pan, fold in the can of pumpkin and cinnamon. One step I definitely recommend is to whisk the batter for another minute or so after you have folded in your last two ingredients; this way your cake will stay fluffy, and it'll break up any stubborn clumps of cinnamon. Pour the batter into the pan and bake as the box says.

Allow the cake to cool for at least 2 hours before you cut and serve. Eric and I especially like to eat our pieces warmed up and topped with a small drizzle of honey.

Hopefully these recipes will get you just as excited for Fall as I am! Enjoy!

Monday, August 11, 2014

Dream Wedding (on a not-so-dreamy budget)

Eric and I were so lucky that our wedding ran pretty much perfectly. We had the setting we wanted, we had the decor and outfits we wanted, our families and friends were all in good spirits, the food was wonderful, and even the weather (finally) cleared up for the big event! But planning the wedding was certainly a bit of a challenge, considering he is a pilot on first-year pay and I'm a preschool teacher.

However, considering the average American wedding costs around $25,000 (someone get me a resuscitator!), I'm betting that many, MANY couples can relate to our plight. In that spirit, I am super excited to share a few ideas that we used to save a lot of money, and still create the wedding we had both imagined!

Before we started buying or committing to anything, Eric and I sat down and wrote up a list of our must-haves. I think this is absolutely a critical starting point for any couple planning a wedding, because the reality is you're just simply not going to be able to get or find everything you had in mind. For one thing, your wedding involves another person with their own specific ideas about what they want-- chances are, you two are not going to agree on absolutely everything! Eric went into our wedding planning with some very formal expectations; I went into it with visions of an outdoor party. Making a list of our must-haves helped us to find a happy middle ground. It also helped us prioritize the things we really wanted and were willing to pay top dollar for, and figure out the other areas where we could cut back or cut out completely.

Here is our list of money-saving ideas!
(Disclaimer: We were very lucky and very blessed to get a lot of help from our parents when it came to dinner, music, and flowers.)
  • We bought simple DIY invitations at Target. To dress them up, I downloaded a few free fonts (there are literally millions online) and combined them to make a customized layout.
  • I bought a pre-owned wedding dress for less than $250; my parents bought my veil new as a gift for the wedding. Instead of shelling out for Spanx, I bought off-brand shapewear at a discount store for about $10! My shoes were on sale at DSW-- I got a pair of heels and a pair of flats for about $60 total (and no one could tell the difference!)

  • The bridesmaids wore adorable Lauren Conrad dresses from Kohl's (about $30) and chose their own shoes and jewelry; the groomsmen wore ivory shirts from Kohl's (on sale for about $10) and we gave them ties to match the dresses that were also from a department store, on sale. Since our wedding was outdoors in May in Oklahoma, they only had to rent pants!

  • I stamped and filled small envelopes from the craft store and filled them with wildflower seeds as our wedding favor.
  • Our cake fed 100 people and it was gorgeous. By choosing a simple design and a classic filling, we spent less than $400 on the cake, including tax and delivery!

  • We got our flowers from the local grocery store; I chose wildflowers that were in season, and for all the bouquets, boutonnieres, flowers for the table, and flowers for the cake, we paid less than $600! We arranged the table flowers ourselves, using mismatched vases that I picked up from my mom's house (we cleaned out her cabinets), my school, and bought from the dollar store. I also saved pasta and jam jars and mixed those in for even more variety.
  • Instead of renting table cloths and worrying about cleaning fees, I bought large lengths of fabric at the craft store (ONLY when on sale or with a coupon) and cut it myself with pinking shears. We safety-pinned it to the plain white tablecloths the venue supplied and created plenty of color and pizazz; as an added bonus, we donated the fabric to the venue so we didn't have to worry about cleaning up! We topped the tables with the vases and some small votives from the craft store (again, bought with a coupon.)

  • One of the greatest money-saving blessings was that we had was on our photography. We had 2 (TWO!) photographers at our wedding-- both were family members who did impeccable work for free. We got the photos we wanted and we were able to include those family members in some moments they might have missed out on otherwise.
  • Another fun thing we did for the wedding was to create an activity book for the kids. In hindsight this was actually unnecessary because the kids had a blast dancing and running around the grounds, but we wanted to make sure that everyone who came would have a good time, or at least have something fun to stay occupied. I found several websites that offered free puzzle-makers, and I made a maze, a crossword, and a word search-- all customized for our wedding and family. I also found some coloring pages to add to the book. I just printed the books at home and stapled them together! We also made sure to ask every restaurant we went to if they wouldn't mind donating some crayons to our wedding-- every single place gave us handfuls! The books were totally free! I set them up in baskets from the dollar store, right next to the guest book.

  • The last thing I did before the wedding was make some fun t-shirts for our honeymoon flight the next day! Eric and I left the morning after the wedding for our honeymoon out to Hawaii, and I wanted to travel in style and embrace the cheesiness-- so we wore "Mr" and "Mrs" t-shirts with our wedding date. I designed and created the shirts myself! We got a lot of "congratulations!" at the airport, a few perks on the airplane (including free champagne), and even an upgrade on our rental car! It made our honeymoon experience even more fun and special, and of course, the best part was traveling with my "Mr." (And now, in a shameless plug, you can order a set of your own wedding/honeymoon shirts from me at my Esty shop, MadeInFlight. There is a link at the top of your screen!)

Hopefully these ideas have been helpful for those of you who are planning a wedding. We had a blast planning ours, and everyone had a great time that evening! Regardless of whether you're planning a laid-back celebration or an extravagant affair, keep in mind these two things:
1. Something WILL go wrong-- and you'll have an amazing night anyway.
2. This day is about your love with this one person, in this one life, forever. At the end of the night, that's all that matters!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

A Husband-Cooked Meal

One of my favorite things about Eric is that the man can cook. He knows how to make everything, and it's always good, always impressive, and I'm always asking him to cook me something else! A couple of weeks ago he made one of my favorites from the Eric Recipe Files-- Roasted Chicken.

This recipe is one of my favorites because it's easy, it's delicious, inexpensive, and it makes for terrific leftovers. We used the leftover chicken in our Chicken Spaghetti and it took it to a whole new level.

To make a roast chicken I recommend a few essentials: a large roasting pan lined with foil, more foil to cover the chicken to keep it from getting too crisp, and a beer can stand to set up the chicken-- EVEN if you don't use beer! It's just a very handy way to keep your chicken stable and keep the moisture in while it cooks.

To start, you'll need a whole chicken, cleaned out and patted dry (inside and out). Preheat your oven to 450.

Season the chicken to your liking; we use a mix of salt and pepper, BBQ dry rub, rosemary, and garlic powder.

Salt and pepper the inside of the chicken, and stuff with a few cloves of smashed garlic, an onion cut into small sections, a lemon, and a few sprigs of parsley and sage if you have them.

Tuck the wings under the breast so they don't burn, and get the legs as close together as you can; if you can tie them together, that's even better.

Roast the chicken at 450 for about 30 minutes. Then turn the temperature down to 425 and continue to roast for another 30-40 minutes until you get an internal temperature of 165 (this is a good time to add any white wine or lemon juice to the pan that you may want for extra flavor and juiciness.) Be sure to check the chicken toward the end of the roasting period and cover with foil if needed to prevent the skin from getting too brown.

After you pull the chicken, allow it to rest for at least 10-15 minutes before you serve.

And that's it! 

Serve with your favorite sides (we made sweet potatoes with extra butter and brown sugar) and a fresh salad, and you'll have a very easy meal that will impress just about anyone. Including your very high maintenance wife (thanks, honey!) Enjoy!

Saturday, July 5, 2014

First Married Fourth

It's been 2 1/2 months since my last post-- eek! In my defense, the last 2 1/2 months have been quite possibly the busiest in my life! Let's see if we can figure out what was eating up so much of my time...

I finished up my first year of teaching.
I got married.
I went on my honeymoon.
I came back to start up my second year of teaching.
I got the apartment cleaned up and updated with all of our new gifts.
I started up a side business on Etsy.
I can't get enough of my husband!

Yup, it's been busy! I am planning to post many pictures and ideas from our wonderful wedding as soon as I can; until then, I am going to share a totally unrelated, absolutely delicious recipe I just tried!

In honor of the holiday, I made a special breakfast for Eric and me. Of course, it had to be red, white, and blue. I made a delicious, sweet, and syrupy fruit crisp. Try the recipe below!

You'll need:
2 cups strawberries, hulled and cut into chunks
1 cup blueberries
1 cup blackberries
1 lemon, zested and juiced
1/4 cup sugar
1 cup flour
1/2 cup rolled oats or oat flour
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
1 stick butter, melted

First, preheat your oven to 350, and have a 2-quart baking dish ready.

To make the filling, combine all your fruit, the lemon zest and juice, and 1/4 cup sugar together in a bowl. Pour the filling into the baking dish and set it aside.

For the topping, combine the remaining ingredients in a bowl, making sure you stir well to mix the butter in evenly. Spoon the crumb mixture over the top of the crisp.

Bake the crisp for 35 minutes. You can serve it hot or cold, for breakfast, or with ice cream for dessert!

Go ahead and enjoy; I'll be posting more soon!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Eating on the Fly

Eric and I are always looking for new ideas for his lunchbox. Buying food at the airport is always expensive, and many times the options are limited, especially if he's flying late at night. Living on pilot and teacher salaries, we are constantly working to save money. Figuring out how to pack healthy, inexpensive, and filling foods for his trips has been challenging, but there are some tried and true standbys we have come to love over the last couple of years.

The two greatest challenges to overcome with Eric's lunchbox are space and heat (either the challenge is to pack foods that may not require a microwave, as not all hotels have one in the room, or to pack foods that don't necessarily need to be kept cold, as his days can be upwards of 14 hours long). I scoured the internet a few weeks ago looking for suggestions and ideas for healthy meals for pilots, but there was a remarkable silence on the subject. SO, I decided to offer up my tiny reservoir of ideas, especially to other women and men out there who are trying to feed hungry pilots!

There are some foods that are pretty obvious choices: crackers, nuts, snack/meal bars, fruit cups, chips, oatmeal and ramen (both can be cooked on the plane using hot water from the coffeemaker), muffins, breads (we love banana and zucchini-pumpkin), and cookies.

But let's face it, those foods get tiresome quickly, and they don't necessarily make up a filling meal. So we have come up with a list of other foods and ideas that work well:
  • leftover pastas and casseroles, which I freeze rock solid before a trip so they will keep cold during flight
  • cheese sticks, mini cheese wedges, individual guacamole cups and tortillas
  • sometimes Eric will carry a jar of peanut or almond butter and sandwich bread for a cheap lunch
  • individual microwave meals that don't need to be kept cold, such as Velveeta skillets mini-meals
  • chicken salad (frozen for travel) and tortillas, to make wraps
  • burritos (the possibilities here are endless!)
I want to share my recipes and ideas for burritos with you, as these come in handy for anyone who eats on the go, even if it means heating up your lunch at the office!

I have made two varieties of burritos so far, breakfast and chicken, but I plan to make some beef and even some pork burritos in the next batch. These work so well because you can pack many different flavors and food groups into a small package that travels and heats well, and they are so inexpensive to make!

For Eric's breakfast burritos, I diced and fried some potatoes, sauteed some onions, bell peppers, and jalapenos (he likes a lot of heat!), I cooked up some chorizo sausage, and scrambled some eggs. I put a spoonful of everything onto a tortilla and topped it with shredded cheddar cheese.

I was able to make a dozen burritos using only 6 eggs, 4 potatoes, 1 jalapeno, half each of an onion and bell pepper, and 1 cup of cheese. Like I said, these are inexpensive! Eric usually fills up on two of these burritos, and I just use the medium-sized tortillas.

To finish assembling the burritos, I wrapped each one in plastic wrap (to keep them from getting freezer burn, and to make them more transportable) and then stored them in the freezer in a gallon Ziplock. When he's packing his lunch, he just grabs a few and tosses them in the lunchbox.

I made a batch of chicken burritos, too, and the timing was perfect, as I had some leftover refried beans and some leftover fresh corn and salsa. To make the chicken burritos, I put some shredded chicken, beans, corn, salsa, cilantro, onions, jalapenos, and cheddar cheese in a tortilla and wrapped it up! Again, I was able to get about a dozen burritos out of 2 chicken breasts. That's 6 meals!

Knowing that Eric is eating real, healthy, whole food while he's away AND is not having to spend any money to do it is comforting to me. I may not be a traditional home-cooked housewife, but I do want to know that my almost-husband is being taken care of, even while he's working.

Hopefully this post has been helpful in providing some ideas for on-the-go lunches and snacks, especially for pilots!

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Spacing Out

We just finished a unit on Outer Space-- this is probably one of my favorites so far this year. It's pretty easy to keep the attention of 3-year olds when you're talking about spaceships and aliens!

This post will be short and sweet. It's all about the resources, people!

We kicked off the week with our alphabet craft; this week it was the letter X, so we made a xylophone. The kids cut out a construction paper strip, then covered it with foil to add some interesting texture. Then they were responsible for ordering the colored bars from largest to smallest and gluing them in place. Last, they attached the xylophone stick, made from a popsicle stick and a pom-pom. 

We made a spaceship as well. The kids cut out the body of the ship, then they glued on the triangle base pieces and the top. They colored the flames and glued those on as well. They finished the ship by sticking some shiny star stickers on it.

Next we made planet Earth. The kids cut out the circle and glued it to their “space” paper. Before we started, I cut out some continent-like shapes and laminated them so we could reuse them for each child. The last step was for the kids to sponge-paint around the shapes to create the ocean and the continents on the paper.

Last, we made the moon. The kids painted on the easel and glued “craters” to the surface.

Another fun activity I found online was a printable mini-book. The kids used their imaginations and created their own planet, complete with their own drawings. They named it and included details about the planet's happenings. This was a terrific way to work in some emergent literacy. You can find the book here.