Sunday, February 26, 2012

Kiddo Cubby

It is my fervent belief that every kid needs a fort. I remember growing up, some of the most fun we had was tearing apart the living room, fashioning grand creations out of blankets, couch cushions, the coffee table, etc. I saw this great idea on Pinterest:
Click for original blogger's post.
I thought I could easily adapt this for my little one's bedroom with little cost. I was right! Luckily my mom is one trip to Joann's short of being on hoarder's, so I raided her stash of fabric instead of spending my own money. The old shower curtain I had wasn't adjustable to a short enough length, but she had an extra one of those too.

We moved a bookcase from one side of her crib to the other, opening up this space. I purchased the foam floor squares from Sam's a while ago (grr for the impulse buy), but we hadn't really had a place to use them yet. The play kitchen got moved up from our living room, which was beginning to look less like a space for entertaining and more like a daycare facility.

I added a pillow for comfort and a canvas crate for books and toys:

 I adjusted the tension rod to about 4 feet wide. The curtains are about 32 inches long. The flannel fabric is standard 42" wide and we had 2 yards, so 1 yard for each panel. We just did a simple roll hem on all four sides, then a 3 inch casing at the top. In the original blog, they made a full cube out of PVC pipe and used bed linens to fully encase the nook, but I didn't think all that was necessary. Maybe once she gets older I'll put a top on it, but I'll probably just use another tension rod along the back and use that to make a more tent-like atmosphere. I probably shouldn't add that my husband was all for putting up a white picket "fence" (i.e. cage) instead of the curtain.

 The finished product!


It feels good to be among the living again and working on Pinterest projects!

Hello?!? Is anyone home?

I know all my fervent followers (ahem) have been wondering where I've been all week. Well apparently the 1940s were as hard on me as my students. I wasn't feeling well toward the end of the Great Ration Experiment and over the holiday weekend, I spent 90% of my free time in bed. By Monday, I absolutely had to go to the doctor. Turns out I had pink eye, strep throat, an ear infection, and a sinus infection. Thank you, daycare.

My students are currently working on their self-reflections. I'm looking forward to reading their interpretation of the week's events and will share with you, my loyal readers, what they have to say.

I am pleased that other teachers have contacted me wanting to know more about our little project. Anyone who knows me well knows that I love to bounce ideas off others and especially appreciate when other dedicated teachers help me do my job better.

Keep Calm and Carry On!

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Great Ration Experiment

Day One

I had a few last minute tasks to complete before the kids arrived this morning. One was taping "Family" signs down on the floor. I have seven groups, so I looked up the top seven surnames of the decade (Smith, Jones, Williams, Johnson, Davis, Brown, Miller) as determined by the US Census. It was mostly a symbolic gesture, but I thought it would help them feel more connected as a family unit.

I had carline duty this morning, which didn't help me to feel calm and settled. I was adequately prepared, but something about running from one end of the school to the other just didn't help my mood. I needed to feel ready to conquer the chaos, or at least deal with it, and I didn't feel that way. I am VERY OCD, so this whole thing is really pushing my comfort zone.

Side note: I was really disappointed none of my coworkers recognized my costume.

The kids quickly realized something was amiss when they were directed to ONLY bring in their planner and ONE pencil or pen. The planner was a gimme because we record everything in there. Not just assignments, but their discipline log, bathroom passes, etc. I didn't want them thinking they got a free pass on all that this week just because of our little experiment. The pencil was because they needed something to write their assignments down. More on the pencil later.

Getting them to follow those simple instructions was a monumental task. No, you can't bring a book. No, you can't bring your phone or iPod. No, you can't bring two pencils. No, you can't bring boots AND shoes. ONLY your planner. ONLY one pencil. *sigh*

We got everyone settled into family units and I explained the task. I asked them to observe the sparse room and new artwork on the walls and think of one word that could describe it. I heard scarcity (good!), Great Depression, war, propaganda, and yes, ration.

I showed them my authentic ration books and explained how they would each get their own, and how it would be their ticket to everything they would need that week. We discussed sharing between family members and bartering between families. 

It was interesting to see the individual versus group dynamic. I had some students immediately come to me wanting to buy a locker or backpack or chair, all "expensive" items. I asked them if they had discussed it with their families first. Emphatic no. But they bought them anyway. In other families, they pooled all their ration stamps together and didn't pay attention to whose ration book it was. I'm REALLY interested to see what happens in those families when the person who used up all his stamps first, for the sake of the family of course, needs something for his own on Thursday. Will one of his family members buy it for him? What if they don't? Remains to be seen. :)

I saw those who caught onto the black market quickly. We use a certain template to do vocabulary words. I purposely assigned work this week that requires them. I had a boy very quickly try to buy all of my vocab sheets so he could resell them at 5 times their face value. I had already explained that those dealing in the black market would be dealt with most harshly- a loss of all rations and jail time (detention). But it's still encouraging to see them "get" the system so quickly.

I had some hoard their stamps compulsively, and discuss possible purchasing options several times before buying anything, and even then you could tell it was painful for them to part with their stamps. I had a couple spend all their stamps already. One realized as he was about to leave that he hadn't purchased a reading textbook and he had homework. But he already used all his stamps. Oops.

Note to self- I priced items in products of 5 because that's how we think. However, the ration books are 4 stamps across, making 5s inconvenient. Next time, do products of four. 
Decisions, decisions

Not everything could be planned. The kids asked great questions which led me to refine my ideas. In my second block they wanted to define their home space a little better. I told them they could have 16 square feet of space. See that math tie-in there? But I have to admit, it made my control freak self feel a little better. They also asked if they could "carpool" to the bathroom to ration their gas stamps better. Not usually allowed, but I liked their thinking, so I'm bending the bathroom rules this week.

So far, the parent feedback I've gotten has been really positive, but isn't it ridiculous that I'm worried? I'm just sure someone is going to demand that their child have all their stuff with no hardship because that's just not fair. It's sad, but that's the society we live in. 

(Let me go check work email and get back to you on that.)

Just one voicemail (Just from someone who was sick today and her mom wants her to come in early to get caught up. She's heard about the project and is super excited!) and one email from a mom who wondered if I had sent anything home to explain it. I didn't. Maybe a parent letter would have been a good idea. Hindsight...

And one last note, you may wonder what I'm rationing this week to show solidarity with my students. I am not using my SMARTBoard at all to teach. This is a first for me. But I know...


Day Two


I can't even really explain why I'm so tired, but this experiment is wearing me out. Or wearing me down, I'm not sure which. My best hypothesis is the more cat wrangling I have to do in a day, the more tired I am at the end, and this has been the most cat-wrangliest day ever!

If the word of the day Monday was "Buyers' Remorse" than the word of the day Tuesday was "frugality."

I did email the parents last night before I went to bed and I must say, the feedback I've gotten so far has been 100% positive, even from the parents of the kids who are absolutely freaking out about the whole thing. But in the email, I told them my goal is to get the kids to waste less, appreciate more, and develop camaraderie with their classmates.

Today, a glimmer of hope.

First, no one bought a desk yesterday. That was the single most purchased item today. Before, I would hear constant bickering about one person spreading their stuff all over everyone's desks. Four people couldn't share four desks without fighting. Today, four kids successfully shared one desk with nary a peep in complaint.

I have always been so frustrated with what little regard is given to the school supplies I purchase for my classroom. We live in a community where the majority of kids can buy their own supplies, but there's always stuff I furnish, like specific graph paper or poster board for certain projects, colored pencils, scissors, staplers, etc. Whenever a class leaves my room, I have to pick up dozens of pencils, bits of paper, textbooks, MY books, and whatever else is left behind. And if someone asks to borrow a hole-punch, calculator, ruler, or what have you, that will be left wherever it was used last. FRUSTRATES me to no end. Even if I can track down the culprit, I get an exaggerated sigh and eye-roll. There goes that crazy lady again, fussing about some stupid stapler. THE STAPLER I PAID $15 OF MY OWN MONEY FOR! DO YOU UNDERSTAND I COULD HAVE BOUGHT A MARGARITA WITH THAT $15? TWO, EVEN! (Ok, I don't sound exactly like that, but pretty close.)

And TISSUES. DON'T get me started on tissues or paper towels. They grab three tissues, barely wipe their nose, and in the trash it goes. 

But today, hope.

Glimmer #1
For Valentine's Day, I bought cutesy pencils for everyone. At the beginning of the year I bought math pencils for all my classes. Later that day, I found several on the floor, in desks, the hall, wherever. I maybe saw five in use after the first day. Well today, they hoarded those Valentine's pencils like they were gold. Some got bartered, but I was okay with that. It was an acknowledgement of their value.

Glimmer #2
One of my worst offenders (as far as lack of respect for my materials goes) gave me a good laugh. He was in another teacher's room, but I happened to be standing near my doorway when he made a find. 
"LOOK!" he called excitedly from across the hall. "Someone left this brand new piece of graph paper on the floor! And it's just a little crumpled!" he said as he tried to smooth it out. 
"What wonderful luck!" I grinned.

Glimmer #3
I had one student with a runny nose. I felt pity for him and gave him an individual packet of Kleenex without charging him for it. He asked if he could bring a handkerchief tomorrow. A HANDKERCHIEF! My dad uses a handkerchief! My grandpa uses a handkerchief!

Logistics lesson. I haven't properly explained how I'm keeping track of who bought what. I am employing stickers and "receipts" for all purchased items. Pencils, rulers and the like get a sticker. Textbooks or other items that I don't want stickers on get a receipt, just a post-it note with a stamp and description of the item purchased. Some of the other teachers are having fun asking them for proof of purchase for everything they have. 

My Math Team gets in on the action. I told them they'd have to buy a copy of the practice test, or they could just work the problems off the board. Yes, the SMARTBoard, but that's the first time I've used it this week!

In closing, here are some words from the parents about the conversations they're having with their kids at home. IMHO, this is of VITAL importance to the project:
On a personal note, it has provided some discussion fodder for why [name omitted] grandparents are the way they are.  I think Morris Massey said "who you are is what you were, when".  It's so true, and provides some rationale why my parents did certain things.  They are "savers" from this period, and these tendencies can go haywire, like hoarding.  I recall stories of my dad going to the grocery with his mom to get their 1 pound of coffee or sugar for the month cause they just got their stamp to be able to buy them.  Or making 1 can of tuna spread across a family of five (yes, we ate cream tuna on toast as a child, too, because of their upbringing). (side note- I made creamed tuna for the class during our Great Depression unit) 
[Name omitted] started talking about the experiment the moment he walked in the door this evening.  He said it's, "going to be a hard week since I'm out of money."  [He] is definitely learning what "black market" means :)  He was somewhat apprehensive this evening when he had to get lined paper from his room to do his language homework, and he assured me that he plans to tell you about it tomorrow since he "has no money to purchase paper" hardship that has already risen :)  I guess having a place to sit (he told me that he purchased a chair) is more important than purchasing paper!  Not only is he learning about resourcefulness, he is learning a nice lesson in prioritizing too! 
This was certainly an interesting topic of discussion last night at our dinner table.  [Name omitted] came home and shared all the details of his first day's experience.  I also have a teenager so it was that much more interesting to hear him come up with ways to try to "beat the system".  In any case, I think this is a wonderful idea.  This is a great way to teach the children about the hardships our parents/grandparents had to endure and the challenges we faced as a nation. 

Day Three

Fatigue is setting in. I could definitely tell I'm breaking their spirit. But totally in a good way. They thought sitting on the floor all week was going to be so cool, but now it's just cold, hard, and uncomfortable.

The word of the day is "appreciate." I think they are definitely starting to appreciate how good they have it. 

Notice the different ways they're getting around sitting directly on the floor? I got a chuckle out of the guy sitting ON his History book.

Everyone has pretty much come to the conclusion that they can't do this on their own. They have to share if they're going to make it through the week. Gas stamps are starting to come in short supply. No longer does anyone dawdle in the room when we leave to go to PE or lunch, because if they miss the "bus" they have to pay with their own stamps. But I also see kids paying others' way when they have extra. 

I have one student in particular who reads voraciously. She had already bought two books to read this week, then tried to buy a third. Her family went CRAZY, telling her she didn't need it. 

"But I do need it," she whined. "I have nothing left to read!"
"You don't need it! We NEED paper. You can read one of the books we already own!" argued a family member.

I think our next project will be learning to budget and manage expenses. 

His mom reads the blog, so I thought I'd throw this in here. :)
One. more. day.

Day Four

I'm standing in carline this morning, in the rain, when one of my students gets dropped off. His mom waves me over. As he's getting out, she said he's really glad it's finally Thursday, as he's been out of stamps since Monday. He grins sheeplishly and proceeds to drop his math homework, on half a sheet of paper I might add, in a puddle. The look of horror! His mom and I both got a laugh at his expense.

One of my groups that's been sharing a desk since Tuesday had a falling out, arguing over whether the desk belonged to all four of them, or to the one person whose book was used to buy it. You can guess who was aruging that point of view. The group won out over the individual, but they asked me when they got all their desks back.
"Tuesday," I said (Monday is a federal holiday).

"Oh good," she replied. "A week is too much time to spend with these people/"

Thought for today, "I'm so glad it's finally Thursday!"

If I had a ration stamp for every time I've heard that today, we wouldn't have a problem buying what we need.

I pulled everything out of the store this morning, so they have to make do with what they already have. They're definitely learning to share!

I did a debriefing at the end of each class. We talked about what kinds of things they learned. I was glad several of them said they had a better appreciation of how hard it must have been to live during that time period. Several said they understand why their parents fuss at them about saving money or being wasteful, or not appreciating how much they have. They all said they're sick of their "families" and can't wait to get new groups!

I would like to think they will be more respectful in the future and not so wasteful, but that seems foolishly optimistic. At least I know what to threaten them with if they forget!

One happy class

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Baby Trail Mix

My 9-month-old daughter's school doesn't celebrate Valentine's Day. "Friendship Week" is somehow more politically correct I guess? So her class doesn't swap Valentines (too bad I had already made the mailboxes before I found that out), instead they'll do a snack swap on Friday.

Favorite snack? She's a baby! She eats puffs!?!

I send in canisters of puffs all the time, so it felt kind of lame doing that for a special occasion. Instead, I created a baby trail mix of some of her favorite finger foods.

1 cup "yellow box" Cheerios
1 cup chocolate Cheerios
1 cup puffs
1/2 cup yogurt melts
This made just enough to fit into my empty puffs container!
So tell me, what would your little darling enjoy in his or her trail mix?

Use it up, Wear it out, Make it do, or Do without!

We just finished studying the Great Depression and are starting my favorite time period in history, World War II, tomorrow. I'm not sure what it is about this time period in world history that intrigues so many people. I know I'm drawn to the stories of individuals, just ordinary people who fought oppression, hatred, and evil. The Greatest Generation by Tom Brokaw is a wonderful compilation of many of those stories. I need to take that in and share it with my students.

Anyway, the kids have a short week this week because Friday is a teacher work day. I decided to seize the chance to maybe give them a glimpse into what scarcity really was like. 

Propaganda Posters are a lesson by themselves.

My buddy Nelson actually gave me this idea. I emailed him and asked him how exactly he worked the simulation, but he basically just laughed at me and implied he made it up as he went along. 

I could have done that on my own. I started brainstorming with my dream team colleagues last week. Luckily for me, they're really supportive and are all for playing along, even if it inconveniences them this week.

Step one: Remove all desks and chairs, stacking them wherever you can find space. (Hilarious side note- we have, like, NO janitorial staff, so one class is awarded a trophy each afternoon for leaving the room neat and tidy. Guess who won on Friday? :) )

Step two: Move all consumables out of reach of students. I have a little cubby hole area in my room that I placed my desk in front of to block the possible black market dealers.

Step three: Establish your general goods store and determine prices. In four days, my students will get two pages of ration stamps, 48 per page. I set the prices high purposely so they will have to be smart in their decision-making. I also have limited how many of each item I will have available each day. For example, for my first block I have 7 groups of four (each will be considered a "family" for the purposes of this simulation) but I only have 10 pencils available. I also planned activities during the course of the week that require certain items, like scissors, rulers, or calculators, that will force them to NEED the things I have for sale. Quite the opportunist, aren't I?

Step four: Create your ration booklets. I am incredibly lucky- I actually possess two ration booklets that belonged to my Great Grandfather. (Strangely, I discovered you can buy them on eBay if you really want an authentic artifact.) Print them at 4x6 inches and staple. I did a front, two pages of stamps, one page of gas rations (they must use one every time they want to go anywhere, like the library or bathroom. heehee) and then the back, which has the instructions.

Step five: Let's see how the kids react tomorrow. :) I'll continue to journal the logistics. I've put a lot more thought into it than I have listed here, but it makes more sense to talk about it chronologically.

(Go check out my "Great Ration Experiment" post for the day-to-day journal of how it worked)

Monday, February 6, 2012

Copycat Smart Ones recipes

In my quest to be healthier, I've done a pretty good job of cutting processed foods out of my diet- EXCEPT for Smart Ones. If I have a beef with Weight Watchers, it's that the foods with their logo on it are some of the worst processed foods on the shelves! Yes, they're low points, but at what cost? The reason I buy them is because I like to spend ZERO time in the morning packing my lunch.

But I know I could do better.

I am going to take my favorite Smart Ones meals and make them freezer meals so that I still have the convenience that I love, but much healthier. As an added bonus, right now I can't use them doing Simply Filling, but if I make my own, substituting the less appealing choices with better ones (such as brown rice instead of white), I don't have to count them toward my weekly points!

Take one, Santa Fe Style Rice and Beans. LOVE it. Eat it at least twice a week. I get fresh lettuce and tomato from the school cafeteria (I may be a school lunch critic, but they have a lovely salad bar) and bulk up the meal without bulking up the points.

Here's a copycat recipe I found at the Extraordinary Life blog, with some changes I made and points included.

Santa Fe Rice and Beans

^ 2 cups brown rice, uncooked (32 points)
*4 cups Water
^ 1 8-ounce can tomato sauce (0 points)
^1/2 cup salsa (usually 0 points, avoid fruity salsas with added sugar)
*2 tablespoons taco seasoning mix (see Pin here)
^ 1 can black beans, rinsed (4 points)
^ 1 can kidney beans, rinsed (5 points)
^ 1 can corn (4 points)
*1 teaspoon salt
* pepper to taste

To serve- optional:^ 1/2 cup fat-free grated cheese (2 points)
^ 1/2 cup fat-free sour cream (2 points)

*seasonings are typically 0 points, as is water^ indicates a Power Food 


  • Combine all of the ingredients (except dairy) in a large saucepan over medium-high heat.
  • Bring to a simmer and reduce heat to low.  
  • Cover and cook on low, stirring occasionally, for 15 to 20 minutes.
  • Optional- Add cheese and sour cream and mix well.

Serve immediately or from the freezer, reheating in the microwave, atop a bed of romaine lettuce and diced tomatoes if desired.

Total points for this recipe- 49 (with dairy), divided into seven servings is just 7 points a serving, one point less than the Smart Ones meal! 


I went to Weight Watchers confessional today. I admitted that since I started doing Simply Filling six weeks ago, I haven't tracked a thing. Since this week's theme was all about tracking, it seems like a good time to reinstate good habits.

I love how Lisa, our leader, keeps us motivated through her positive energy. This week she introduced the "Magic Tracker" (it's magic because if you use it, you lose weight. Ha!). One person per week will use it and report back the next Monday. I was nominated/volunteered to go first. I thought I was just volunteering to track for a day, not the whole week, but I need the kick in my rather large butt anyway. You may not know this about me, but I'm a tad bit competitive, so give me a task and I will complete it to a T.

I went back and tracked what I ate today. Pretty easy since I generally eat pretty much the same thing at work every day. Breakfast sandwich (Jimmy Dean's turkey sausage with egg white on whole wheat English muffin) this morning, Black cherry jello for a snack, Sante Fe rice and beans with lettuce and tomato on top, with a side carrots with roasted red pepper hummus for lunch.

Dinner. *sigh*

I had nothing planned, so I checked my stockpiles and decided to make a light stroganoff. I did a side of steamed baby carrots ($0.49 for a 2-lb bag at Aldi's. I'm STILL excited about that!) and leftover pineapple (in its own juice, no syrup!).

Here's my stroganoff recipe:

Cook 2 cups noodles according to package directions (I had something brown on hand. They look like egg noodles, but they must be whole grain. What did I buy?!?) while preparing stroganoff.

Brown about 1 pound ground turkey and drain any excess fat (if you have the extra lean like I did, you may not have any fat to drain.) Alternatively, you may use Boca crumbles to keep the points value low.

Add one can cream of mushroom soup and one cup of skim milk. Heat through.

When noodles are done, add to the mixture and stir thoroughly.

Stir in 1/2 cup light or fat free sour cream.

Four servings, 9 points each.

SUPER easy, less than 20 minutes from idea to table. I got my food mill out and mushed some up for Squirt. She LOVED it, had seconds and ate half the carrots off my plate too!

I used my juvenile divided plate (Have you seen it? Great idea if I do say so myself!) to keep my portions under control and made sure to fill up on the carrots and pineapple rather than go back for the creamy stroganoff.

At the end of the day, I have four points left over (I get 29 points a day) plus I took a walk with the family after work (2 Activity Points) and did the elliptical after dinner (2 more Activity Points).

And yes, I tracked it all.

Day 1 - Success

Thought for the Day: "You're not a dog- don't reward yourself with food."

I'm rewarding myself with a bubble bath. And perhaps a glass of wine. After all, I still have points left.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Hand and Heart

Squirt's school is having Teacher Appreciation Week soon and requested artwork from each of the students. Her first response when given a crayon is generally to eat it, and I really don't think Crayola poop is what they had in mind.

I came across a very cute pin recently and thought, aha!, as soon as I saw it. I knew I could replicate this very easily and it would suffice. As a teacher, I know that my favorite gifts from students are cards and letters. As a preschool teacher, I'm sure anything with the babies' handprints on it is cherished.

The first step was to trace her arm. Easier said than done, but I got a good enough outline to make it work. I made the mistake of tracing it on regular paper. Don't do that. Trace it on card stock, which will come in handy later.

The next step is to wait for nap time, because you can't get anything done when you have to stop every three seconds to say "stop chewing on the electrical cords."

Nap time has arrived.

"I may hold your hand for but a moment, but I'll hold you in my heart forever." Cute, right?

My next step and your next step will be different. I realized later on, while cutting and cutting and cutting red hearts, that I wanted some sort of cute poem on it. This was after I had already layered the paper. I had to take it apart so I could send just one sheet of paper through the printer. Well, actually I tried sending both sheets through the printer and was very lucky I didn't break the thing. The grass didn't feed through, but didn't jam the feed mechanism. That would have been hard to explain to tech support!

I wanted to do a more literal interpretation of an outdoorsy scene, so I went through my scrapbooking paper looking for just blue and green. I was surprised to find I actually had paper that looked like grass and clouds! I didn't have enough clouds for eight (4 teachers, plus extras for the other staff members), but I had other blues that would do. In the end, I liked the abstract blues better. The grass was pretty cute though. They requested that the end artwork be no larger than 8.5 x 11, so I cut down the scrapbooking paper to fit. The grass is 4 x 8.5, following the photography rule of thirds. 

Next I got some old magazines and tore out pages with browns for the arm (tree trunk) and reds for the hearts. I ended up needing more than I thought I would, so tear out plenty the first time around.

Now you will need to use your arm template to cut out tree trunks. I used the negative space so I could see what I was cutting out. As you see, I did the same thing with heart shapes, but I figured out pretty quickly that it was much easier to simply cut the hearts out of the red much like we did in elementary school- fold along the line of symmetry and cut. I was able to utilize more red space and they had cleaner edges.
Forget the heart cut-outs. Save time and improvise!
I used a small piece of scotch tape to help keep the template from shifting.

I ended up using mod podge to glue everything down because magazine print is hard to work with. If you choose to use scrapbooking paper (which I seriously considered halfway through - it's not a bad idea) you could probably use a glue stick. Still, if you're not going to frame or laminate the final product, mod podge is the way to go.

Working with the hearts was trial and error as well. What I finally decided worked the best is to have a large pile of hearts ready to go, put a thin layer of mod podge down, quickly place your hearts, then another thin layer on top of everything. Later, I went back and cut smaller hearts to fill in the gaps as needed. Lay flat to dry, and count on at least one hour to get fully dry. 

Look who's up from her nap! Good thing, she needed to "sign" the back. 

 See, crayon in the mouth.

Final product! I hope her teachers like them!