Saturday, November 3, 2012

A Paper Chain of Gratitude

To start, this week has been an unbelievably difficult one for so many of us.  Whether we are experiencing for ourselves the devastation that is occurring as a result of Hurricane Sandy, supporting friends and family who are in the midst of the disaster, or looking for a way to help as we see image after painful image of the desperate situation unfolding in the Northeast - many of us are physically and emotionally exhausted.  Living in the Southern Tier of New York, we are very thankful that this area was spared from the wrath of Sandy - as many here are still trying to rebuild after the destruction caused by Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee.  Yet, like many of you, it has been difficult to bear the heartache that our friends and family are dealing with only a few hundred miles southeast of us.

For my husband and me, knowing the suffering of those directly affected results in much reflection on the blessings that we have been given.  We want to do something. We've offered support to our own family and friends who are trying to make sense of the chaos they are finding themselves in.  We have gathered items to donate and have contributed to the Red Cross.  We also feel that it is important, especially with Thanksgiving less than three weeks away, that we take time with our son to make sure that he appreciates the simple things that we have and can often take for they can so quickly and easily be lost.  It just feels like this is the best way to take the horrible images we've all been seeing and turn them into something that our little guy can start to understand - emphasizing the importance of being grateful for what we have.

With all of this on my mind, I decided to take a different approach to our Friday night routine.  I try to plan something special on Fridays for our version of Family Fun Night. It's our time to reconnect after crazy weekday schedules and start our weekends with a little silliness. Last night we made Buffalo Chicken Pizza...

and created a Thanksgiving paper chain to count down to Turkey Day. An idea often used as an Advent chain to count down to Christmas, I thought this might be a great way to share our appreciation for our blessings and to take time as a family to consciously give thanks.

As we ate, we counted the days left until Thanksgiving.  Then, after cutting the same number of paper strips, we each took turns writing down things for which we are thankful.  As you can imagine, Lil' Man's first responses were things like "my stuffed animals" and "the Hulk."  Just like in any good brainstorming session, all thoughts were good thoughts, so we included those in our list, but once he heard some of the things that Daddy and Mommy said, he came around with some things that were less extraneous material things and more simple, basic things that we all tend to take for granted.  Of course, my husband's first response was, "I'm so thankful for Family Fun Night," while giving me a sheepish grin.  Again, like in any good brainstorming session, all thoughts were good thoughts, so we included that in our list, too, and eventually both of my boys were on board. ;-)

Here are some pictures of the creation of our Thanksgiving chain:

"Our Home"

"Food to Eat"

Thanks, Honey!  I know you mean it! :)

Finishing touches

Once we were finished gluing our chain, we hung it in our dining room.  Our intention is to take one link off together each night before getting ready for bed.  We'll talk for a few minutes about why we are thankful for the idea of that day.  It also serves as a way for the kiddo to keep track of when he'll see my sister and her of the things that he said he was thankful for having. 

 It's nice to have a tangible reminder of the things we are grateful for - especially when reminded, as we have been once again this past week, of how quickly our lives can change.  I'm sure that this will become a Thanksgiving tradition for us.  Does your family have traditions for this time of year and the start of the holiday season?  Please share other ideas you may have for showing gratitude as a family in the comments below.  I look forward to learning about them!

I am also linking this post to Works for Me Wednesday on We Are THAT Family.  It's a great blog that I've just found!  Be sure to search there for a great read and fun ideas.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Heroing Up for Halloween

After weeks of anticipation, the big event finally took place yesterday!  Friends from our son's Pre-K class - many of whom have been together since they were less than a year old at the same daycare - had their first reunion since graduation this past June.  All geared up for Halloween, the new Kindergartners - all members of the Class of 2025 - gathered together, celebrated their friendship and had a preview of the Trick-or-Treating fun to come.  It was a great day!

Of course, the best part of any Halloween party is the dressing up!  And, of course, Lil' Man had a plan for all three of us.  I have to admit that usually his plans are pretty creative and I am always on board for trying different things he suggests.  I only live once, and he's 5.  How bad could it be?  So when our son said he knew what we were going to be for Halloween, I was all ears.

"Avengers!"  He shouted this inspired idea with such excitement and certainty that I instantly bought in.  My husband was thrilled to oblige as the world of superheroes has been a bond between my two favorite guys since our son could talk...or actually just point to pictures of Captain America or Iron Man.

"Great!  Who are we going to be?"  I am not as well-versed in all things Marvel as my kid or my husband.

"Well, I'm going to be Hulk!  Daddy can be lots of guys."  From here, he started naming hero after hero - many of whom I had never even heard of before.  My husband smiled and nodded enthusiastically to each suggestion.  I could just tell this was going to be great!

"Awesome!  And who can I be?"

"'ve got Black Widow.  She is the only girl Avenger."  I looked at my husband and he was in agreement.

"Oh.  OK.  That makes my choice easy, I guess.  Let's do it!"  Lil' Man was absolutely thrilled and he and his daddy began pouring over costume websites.  We had a plan.  And, it was a good plan.  It was a good plan until...I saw what I would have to wear.

It's not that I'm opposed to black leather.  I rather like my boots, gloves and a purse or two that I own.  But, I also have locked in my memory an interview that was done many years ago with Halle Berry as she was speaking about the preparation for her role as Catwoman.  She was insecure about her appearance in the famous black catsuit.

Huh.  Really.  Newsflash...I'm no Halle Berry.  And with weapons strapped to waist and look and my husband knew what I was thinking.  It was instantly clear to both of us that Black Widow was not going to make an appearance at this Halloween party...something for more of a Fifty Shades of Grey theme, maybe, but not for the 5 year old crowd.

So, I started looking at other costumes for female superheroes.  I looked...I laughed...I decided to just order the Hulk at that point and I would figure something out later.  I hadn't fit in costumes that tiny since I was prepubescent, for heaven's sake!  I wonder why male superheroes are all covered up from head-to-toe when saving the world, but the few female superheroes that have been created seem to need to be half-naked to use their superpowers.  I'm pretty sure this has something to do with Stan Lee being a guy.  I could be wrong, but I don't think so.

Anyway, the Hulk arrived, and after Lil' Man got over the fear of the mask (He's always disliked full masks on other people and actually spent the first few times wearing his costume trying to avoid his own reflection.  Not even kidding.  Hilarious!), he was all about the three of us embracing the Hulk theme.

Again...easy for my hubby!  He could be Dr. Bruce Banner in the middle of his transformation into the raging green monster.  And so he was...and it was fabulous!

 "Great!  What can I be?" I asked, this time with a little less enthusiasm.  Oh...silly Mama.  Of course Lil' Man had a plan!

"You can be what makes Bruce Banner angry."  Seriously?  That's it?  Yup.  Pretty much.

In all honesty, I did entertain wearing jeans and a shirt and sporting a sandwich board style sign that simply read, "I make Bruce Banner angry."   It was so easy, but I kinda felt like that was giving up.  Why couldn't I could be a superhero?  I am a mother.  I am a teacher.  I have faced challenges bigger than this. I could be a hero...wait a second.  I'm a mother!  Don't I do super things all of the time for my family...or at least try, anyway?

And this, my friends, is how a new superhero was born.  Out of the desperate flames of despair, much like a phoenix (albeit, with REALLY pink feathers) arose the amazingly powerful and, might I add incredibly heroic, Supermama!

Carrying all of the necessities for a mama to be super, this hero joined the ranks of the mighty least for a few hours.  Thankfully, my guys were pretty happy with my choice.  Lil' Man was happy because I fit into his original thematic plan...sort of.  My husband was happy because my other thought was that we could be Thing 1 and Thing 2 from Dr. Suess and he REALLY didn't want to wear the blue wig I bought him.

And so, this family heroed-up, piled their superselves into the car and set off on the Halloween celebration adventure of the year!  Truly, the best part of the day was that these kiddos (some of whom haven't seen each other since their Pre-K graduation) all played and danced and ran (There was LOTS of running!) together as though they had never been apart.  A great deal of thanks goes out to the hosts of this "spooktacular" event - it was fantastic!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Pumpkin Patch

The following was my Facebook post this morning as Lil' Man and I prepared for the adventure of the day:

(to the tune of "On a Jet Plane")

Our lunches are packed.
We're ready to go.
Awfully glad there is no snow!
We are so excited - my, oh my!

The Pumpkin Patch
Until after 1.
Stories and hayrides -
Gonna have some fun

With the Class of 2025!

We're leavin' on a big bus -
Sure hope they're ready for us!
We're leavin' on a big bus -
Sure hope they're ready for us! :)

Well, they were!  They were ready for all forty-six kids plus parents, too.  The first big field trip of this school year for our Kindergarten class was a success, and we had sleepy little nappers on the bus ride home to prove it! 

Before I share a bit about our day, I feel that it is more important to share how this trip came to fruition.  As I learned from speaking with one of the kindergarten teachers this morning, this trip has been a long standing tradition for our elementary building.  Yet, like in many school districts across the country, trips such as this have been cut from school programs due to budget issues.  At a time when teachers jobs are being lost and schools are being closed, it's difficult to justify the expense that extras like field trips incur.  It was because of the generosity of a family very close to our school community - a man whose legacy was to create a fund to provide the necessary monies for this trip, in particular, as an experience to be given to each incoming kindergarten class - that my child and his new friends were able to enjoy what is sure to become a treasured memory.  This gift is truly appreciated!

So, with everything paid for and attendance taken, a school bus filled with 4 and 5 year old kiddos made the forty-five minute trip to The Pumpkin Patch.  Once there, the children were able to explore around the farm a bit while we waited for story time.  The kids had fun playing with water pumps and looking at pumpkins and scarecrows that were decorated in nursery rhyme themes.  Then, everyone was eventually called together to hear about the Iroquois, who were native to our area of New York.  The children learned about the roles of women and men in the tribes, how food was hunted and harvested, and how families lived long ago on the very land on which we were walking.

One of my favorite parts of the day was during this story time when our presenter was explaining how the Iroquois women would plant and work the fields.  She then shared that the men also had an important role  in providing food for their tribe and showed the kids a photograph of wolves and deer.  She asked, "Can anyone tell us what the men had to do?"  One little voice confidently answered, "Take the pictures."  I love Kindergarten!

After stories, it was time to walk through the barn (That's my guy being a rooster.), check out a hay maze and then go on a wagon ride through the fields.

(View from the wagon as we traveled down to the pumpkin fields to explore and do some gathering of our own.  Each child was able to take a pumpkin, an ear of field corn and an ear of Indian corn home as souvenirs.)

Just before lunch and heading back to school, the kids witnessed what was perhaps the best part of the day, or at least the most attention-grabbing...


With that, and a little playtime in the farm's tree house/club house, the day ended with a bang!

It was so much fun to tag along on this adventure and learn along with my son.  He and his friends enjoyed every second, and though our fingers and noses may have been a little cold, our hearts were warm and happy today!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Let's Walk to School Today!

In recognition of International Walk to School Day, our son's elementary school - as well as the other elementary buildings in our school district- met at the various local parks in our area for a community breakfast, followed by a short stroll to their respective school buildings before starting the day.  The purpose of the event was to encourage the children to see the value in physical activity.  Parents were invited to participate in the walk, and as was immediately clear upon arrival, the kids were really excited!

Despite the gloomy weather, everyone enjoyed the adventure.  Many of the kids, including Little Man, were very impressed by the police escort we had leading us, controlling traffic and keeping us safe all the way to school.  Tonight at dinner the memory of congratulatory high-fives from a policeman as we reached the end of our journey was the biggest take-away from the day.  "You know, he's a hero, Mama, and he was with us.  It was the "awesomest" part.  Oh, and also his car."  I love that! :)

I saw on the news that many schools across the country did similar things. Did your family take part in a similar event?  If so, please consider sharing your experience today in the comments below.  


Thursday, September 27, 2012

Nothin' Like a Marshmallow Crispy Treat!

Today was our 1st half-day for K-12 students at our school district.  Little Man was bummed this morning because he realized he would be missing music (which he LOVES), but quickly forgot about it when he remembered this also meant one of his best buddies would be coming home with him today.  Yay!!

Of course, we needed something to do that would commemorate this next "1st" we were having in our Kindergarten adventure, so Ree Drummond to the rescue!  Some of you may know her as The Pioneer Woman - the writer, blogger, photographer and mother in a ranching family who is now featured weekly on Food TV.  This past weekend we happened to catch the tail end of her show as she was making her Marshmallow Crispy Treats, and Little Man went nuts!  "We have to make these, Mama!  They have sprinkles!"  How could I argue with that?

These were so fun to make with the boys, and the addition of mini marshmallows and sprinkles made these the perfect treat for our special day.  A step above the snack of a similar name that we've all had in our really have to try these!  Seriously.  They're that good.

 A pan full of changing, I tell ya!

Thank you, Pioneer Woman!  Click on the recipe above and give them a try. Tell me what you think.  Better yet, are there any snacks from your childhood that you remember as part of a tradition that just made you happy?  We would be thankful for more yummy ideas!

Monday, September 24, 2012

It's Library Day!!

Although many of us look to Monday mornings with a wee bit of apprehension and maybe an extra cup of coffee, I'm happy to say that - at least so far - Monday happens to be one of the favorite days of the week for my little Kinder.  His fondness for the start of the school week is directly related to his new school's library.  Monday is Library Day!  

It's not that a library is new to him.  We've taken Little Man to our town's library many times.  It's more the idea that there is this beautiful, colorful, bright space just for kids his age that is loaded with all kinds of books - and perfectly sized nooks for sitting and reading them - right down the hall from his classroom that, for him, is beyond exciting.  The last two Mondays he has signed out a book and brought it home.  Each book has been treated like treasure and enjoyed every night with others from his own collection until it has had to be returned.  Every visitor to our home has been shown his book of the week - and some lucky folks have been asked to read it.  Others have been told about the stories, or by the end of the week, have been a kind audience to Little Man reading the book himself.  He is happy, he is proud...and he is sharing his love of books with anyone who will listen.

We talked about this last night as we were reading his newest find, Interrupting Chicken, by David Ezra Stein.  This book has made us laugh all week for so many reasons.  When I asked him what made him choose the book, he told me that he liked the little red chicken on the cover and he knew it would be funny. (The whole idea about not judging a book by it's cover, at least for now, seems to be lost on him.)  Funnier to me was the fact that the little chicken constantly interrupts her papa while he's reading to her...something that happens quite frequently here.  Little Man didn't seem to notice that as quickly as I did.  Hmmm....

Anyway, as predicted, the book was hysterical!  My husband and I both looked forward to story time each night as much as our son did.  Last night, as we said good-bye to the little red chicken and tucked the book into Little Man's backpack for the next day, we were all a little sad.  Yet, remembering the magic of his library, it was Little Man who leaped from the melancholia first to say, "Hey, tomorrow we can start reading a new good book that I will find for us!"  Then he asked, "Will other people know how good this book is?"

Yes.  They will if we keep sharing.  So, here we are.  In honor of the little red chicken, Little Man and I are adding a page to our blog.  Our Favorite Reads is where you can click and find pictures and descriptions of the books he finds and would like to share with a much bigger audience than the small, captive one we have at home.  Feel free to check in there from time to time to get an idea for a book that might bring as much joy to your home as it will have to ours.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Our First Visitor From School

Last Friday when I picked up Little Man from school, his teacher informed me with a smile that there was a surprise waiting for me in our little scholar's backpack.  As we walked to the car he chattered about his friend  - one whom I had never met - but, nonetheless, one he insisted would be joining us on our weekend trip to visit family out of town.  Once in the car I started to explain that we would try a short visit at home with his friend first.  Instantly giggles erupted and out from the backpack came our weekend guest - Homer.  This fuzzy teddy bear was going to be Little Man's traveling companion, and once home, we would write about our weekend in a journal that he was also given.

Much like the Flat Stanley that I remember, little Homer will be the visitor of many families in Kindergarten, and our weekend was just the start of his adventures.  Here is how our weekend began:

Homer joins us in the car - bright and early.

"Oh, yeah...ready to roll!" 

Fast-forward 20 minutes..."Are we there yet?!"

Finally, 3 1/2 hours later...

"Yes!  Our exit!"

Once at my sister's, Homer was a welcomed participant in the making of good memories.  With a full, fun weekend had by all, I was curious to see how willing Little Man would be to work together on the journal entry that needed to be done.  By the time we arrived home late Sunday afternoon, we were all tired and maybe even a little punchy, so I was prepared to hold off until morning on reminding him about the task at hand.  To my surprise, as soon as we were unpacked, he was at the table ready to work!  He was excited about sharing his stories and his first experience with a real homework assignment was something that he really felt good about.

Building on this idea, and wanting to encourage his desire to draw and write about his thoughts and experiences, I had another "homework" assignment for my writer when he came home from school the next day.  I showed him a journal that I picked up just for him and asked if he would like to draw or write about just one thing that "made him happy today."  He was so excited because he knew right away what he wanted to write about - it was Library Day.  Below is his very first journal entry:

At this point, of course, we talked about his picture and what he chose to write in the space at the top of the page.  He then told me what he wanted to say under the picture.  When we were done, he read it to me - to make sure I had it right. :)

This 10 minute activity was something he and I both enjoyed, as he was proud of the page he created, and we were both able to see a snapshot of something positive from his day. Win - win! Thanks to Homer, and the wonderful student teacher in Little Man's class who introduced us, we now have a new part of our after school routine that will make us both happy every day.

Any other ways that you provide authentic writing practice for your little ones at home?  It would be great to see some more fun ideas shared in the comments below.


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