Killin’ it with Casseroles

So, we have been on a budget crunch this summer transitioning from one job to another (and possibly irrationally spending while on a short little getaway with my husband, if we are being totally honest). Earlier this year my goal was to value more and spend less, and while I have made some great strides in this area, I’m not completely where I would like to be.

While I have made decent attempts at getting financially organized… by decent I mean, I did some Pinterest research, read some online suggestions, and created really REALLY cute charts and budgeting sheets with super cute fonts, I then proceeded to do nothing with them. Ball. Dropped.

I have managed to develop a nice little collection of “Fall Foods” aka… the casserole. Yes, that 1980’s to 1990’s style dish that takes a whopping 15 minutes to assemble and 30 minutes or so to bake. It is the golden child of week night dishes and frankly the ultimate in comfort food. Between The Casserole and a slow cooker.. you could really feel like susie homemaker even if you aren’t home until 5 o’clock each night.

I have come across some excellent finds, along with some not so great ones we have ditched along the way. Each recipe I share has either been adapted from a Pinterest big ticket item, or is a family one, and has been taste-tested and approved by the Connoisseur of all things Dinner… my husband. I have already shared with you my spin on the Classic Lasagna with my Spinach and Sausage Lasagna | Gluten Free  and the one I have to share today isn’t exactly the healthiest either, but it really is delicious.

I originally found the recipe from Incredible Recipes from Heaven and just the pictures on Pinterest ALONE sold me on this little gem! Between the pictures and the main ingredients: Chicken, Bacon, & Ranch I was SOLD! I knew this was a way to tackle my constant battle with the Chicken Hater in the house… he knows who I’m talking about too… and so do all of you since there is only one person that can be referred to as “HE” in this household…. Bacon, Ranch, and Cheese would definitely be enough to get him to eat chicken.

And so I present you with the Gluten Free | Bacon Ranch Chicken Pasta Casserole. Um… yes please…! When I first came across this item, I thought to myself, “If I can’t get my husband to each chicken like this, he will never, ever, eat it. Period.” And let me tell you, he ate it, and he ate it again as left overs. That my friends, is saying something. There is nothing in the world my husband dislikes almost as much as chicken, but left-overs come in at a close second.

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But I digress… I began this dish with my chicken, diced and marinated in a bag of olive oil and delicious seasonings…! This made the chicken much more appealing to my anti-chicken husband. (The original recipe calls for Adobo but you can find this simple alternative HERE that I used in replace of the already mixed seasoning.)

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And then of course, frying up some bacon helped out his hesitancy towards any recipe involving chicken.

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If you do not have a double flip bacon screen, I strongly recommend getting one. I have two little crazies running around my kitchen the entire time I cook and the last thing I ever want is for one of my little balls of energy to get splashed with hot bacon grease.

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Once your bacon is nice and crispy, (I like to chop mine up before cooking, but feel free to approach this how ever you’d like – just make sure the bacon is nice and cold before chopping it) remove the pieces to a paper towel and drain most of the bacon fat, leaving just a tiny bit for the chicken to cook in.

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*FULL DISCLAIMER: As a person considering beginning a portion control diet… this is NOT diet food… which is why it is so delicious!

While your chicken cooks, boil your noodles to al dente, and by all means, PLEASE consider switching to Barilla Gluten Free Pasta, because it is AMAZING!

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Once you have cooked your noodles, toss them in the Newman’s Own Alfredo and Ranch dressing.

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I chose this specific brand of Alfredo, because it was the only one I could find guaranteed to be Gluten Free. I’m sure several brands are, but I really like this one. Of course you could make your own, and that would be wonderful; however, the purpose of casseroles our home are to be time efficient, and making an Alfredo sauce really puts a damper on time efficiency.

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Next comes the fun part: mixing and layering…!!

Start with your creamy pasta layer, and then add in your chicken and half of your crispy bacon.

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Give that bad boy a toss and then top it off with your shredded cheeses and remaining bacon pieces. Toss it in the oven for 20 – 30 minutes and ENJOY!

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I must admit, this one was a hit with ALL of the food critics in my house, and I will definitely be including this simple recipes into our week day rotations.

Speaking of rotations, have you ever found yourself getting caught up in the same 5-10 recipes for week nights? My husband complains that I make the same foods over and over… and that I make “plenty of good meals” I just don’t make them often enough. But when it comes to meal planning, and grocery list making, my mind goes BLANK. I have a heck of a time remembering what all of those dishes are. I know I pin some… I print some… and some I have on recipe cards, but I could REALLY use a good organizational system for keeping track of the recipes I love and don’t love.

Do you have any systems that work for you and your family? I would LOVE to hear about them! Reach out to me at shimmeringtwig@gmail.com and I’d love to feature your kitchen recipe organizational system on my blog!

I can’t decide if I need to take a digital approach, or if I need a good old-fashioned notebook LIST of the meals we like!

I will never forget when my sister lived in town years ago, opening up a kitchen drawer of hers and finding a list of “Jason’s Favorite Foods” it was hysterical! It was a list of all the foods he liked to eat! I seriously think I need to make my husband write a list similar to that! Just a reference point for those brain fart moments when you JUST. CAN’T. THINK. of a meal to make.

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Anyways, I hope you find a space in your weekly rotations for this Bacon Ranch Chicken Pasta Casserole! Link to original recipe is here:

Gluten Free Notes:

Cheers!

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  • Whitney
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Thoughts on a Thursday | Welcoming September

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I feel like my blog has taken a back seat since jumping full gear into the cyber world and it has been this quiet little whisper in the back of my mind just hanging there… reminding me how much I have been slacking in the writing department. I hate that this is happening and my new resolution is to prevent it from happening again. As I begin this post, I do not have a clear direction, but my “Thoughts on a Thursday” never really begin with a set goal, it just kind of develops as I reflect and take a sort of writer’s mental health moment.

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As a teacher, we all know the saying that “August is just one long Sunday for every teacher” which is true. Don’t let any teacher tell you otherwise. Change is intimidating, even for the most experienced and strong-willed people out there. When you are in the education field you know that every year brings a fresh start, new challenges, new students, and a new opportunity to view your year and your students as a chance to always bring your best self to work each day. September can bring on that New Years resolution feel for teachers, it is an opportunity to begin again, an opportunity to reflect on the reasons why you chose this profession. For some unexplained reasons this feeling

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of renewal seems to get lost over time, and teachers begin to lose that fire, the one that burned so strongly in the first few years of teaching. You know what I mean, back during the time when you’re really in the trenches… developing every single worksheet, test, unit, attempting to align standards to each word that comes out of your mouth… living in your classroom… investing in things like “Cricuts”, downloading “Fonts”, and losing hours of your life on Pinterest.

 

No, something happens after a few years… you become nostalgic of how things “used to be…” over everything, literally everything from how the faculty rooms “used to have better ink…” to “only getting 56 days off this summer…” I mean, really?? Say that one outloud to a non teacher and good luck NOT getting slapped. It happens to almost every teacher which makes me wonder… do things really change like we perceive them to? Or is there something hidden in those first few years of a job that really make them so memorable? Or is it that rose-colored glasses effect. It’s like we forget about the sleepless nights, the hours of time and planning. If anything you would think teachers would like their jobs more over time as they are able to make simple tweaks and fine tune lessons that have already been labored over. But it doesn’t work that way. 925cd84c43665f1f195515d740955014--teacher-quotes-funny-inspirational-teacher-quotes

For many, myself included, the entrance of a child changes everything, possibly causing this mental shift in our attitude along with our priorities. Prior to having children, you take your students in as if they were your own, learning every possible avenue into those brains and pulling at every ounce of potential possible from them. You stay after, come in early, whatever it takes to get these children where they need to be in life. No exceptions.

Then you have a baby. And your world. Stops.

Suddenly you become consumed with Mom guilt (or Dad guilt) and you panic as the hours, minutes, and seconds tick away of your maternity leave to the inevitable moment you have to return to work and figure out life with work, a family, and that precious little baby that utterly consumes your life. Regardless of what a go-getter, career minded person you were before that little tiny person took over your soul, your life has forever changed.

Perhaps you are one of the lucky few who figured this out early on and capitalized on these precious years sooner rather than later, finding ways to get home with that sweet baby for those few years before they too are consumed by the schedule of school and extra organized events. Or maybe you were like so many of us who fought the good fight a little longer until that second little miracle showed up in our lives and just pushed the scales a little too far. I was one of those, trying to balance it all, ultimately crashing after our second little lady arrived.

Which leads me to this NEW sense of renewal. This school year is going to be a TRUE fresh start, a chance to be the best Mom, Wife, and Teacher yet. I am going to put my kids first, reach those hard to reach kids, and make meals that please picky toddlers and taste-bud-expert husbands (huuuge eye roll over that part…ugh). This is MY year, the year where I have finally found a way to balance Motherhood and teaching eliminating some of that “Mom Guilt” that has been weighing on me for the past 3 1/2 years of my life.

If you haven’t heard of  One Funny Mother, check out her recent video while shopping for pencils… Here.

I will NOT complain about “staring at a computer most of my day…” using it as an excuse for slacking on this blog, I WILL keep up, because there is no reason NOT to keep it up. So if there is something pulling you in a slump… or a goal you’ve been thinking about tackling… but keep playing the “I don’t have the time..” card, FIND A WAY. Mom life is the best life. Period. There is a coach out there who I keep promising that I am going to jump on board and let her help me get to my fitness goal that I know I can get to, if I just commit.

September is my month Maegan. It’s happening. Ps… if you’re looking for someone to motivate you in to accomplishing a goal, add this Queen of the Entrepreneural Hat on Facebook, she is literally eating, breathing, and sweating motivation. It’s unreal, and exactly what I need in my newsfeed on a daily basis. She is the epitome of setting goals and achieving them.

And to all of my teacher friends out there, just remember: We have the best job! We spend every day shaping and changing kids lives, doing something we love, sharing information we are passionate about and helping kids who need us. Who WOULDN’T love doing that?!

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BRING IT SEPTEMBER, I’m ready!

Cheers!

Whitney

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Home Office Reveal | Making the Most of Extra Space

Now that I have been working from home for about 3 weeks, I’ve really begun to settle in to this new lifestyle. I love everything about working from home. I miss several of my former co-workers turned best friends, but the pros certainly out weigh the cons in this life change decision list. I began to set up my home office months before actually “working in it,” ending up guessing what I might need, what I might use, and how the day would play out based on my previous experiences working in a brick and mortar setting.

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I can say I didn’t do a terrible job guessing in these areas; however, I did discover a few extra things that I would need to fix. It’s interesting looking back at my original blog post, Designing a Home Office and see what I’ve changed just since this first post. My office was functional, and it gave me a sense of segregated space, even though the only extra space we found for my base camp was in our bedroom. This has actually worked out to my benefit. For some reason, a master bedroom never receives the same tender love and care in the decorating department as the rest of the house. Perhaps it is because we focus on those areas of the home where we spend the most time. Prior to this job, I simply spent the 6-8 hours of sleeping time in this room. There is no television in our bedroom, nor is there any additional furniture to sit on or read at. Ironically, this empty space is a significantly large space, and for the first 3 years living in this house, has always felt like an incredibly wasted space.

Originally I had long-term plans of expanding the tiny old bathroom that the girls and I share to create more of a master bath, and utilize the extra barren space in our bedroom. Creating a base camp work space would also never have been an option with my husband’s former work schedule. He works in one of those industries where you’re always on call, make your money in the ridiculous amounts of over time, and basically get sleep when you can. Fortunately, the stars have aligned in our favor over the past year, shifting him to an office, and home each night for dinner. This shift also opened up new possibilities in regards to repurposing the space that has done nothing more than collect dust bunnies for several years.

Our bedroom has also been the home to the, and I quote my husband, “most expensive clothes hanger we ever purchased,” a.k.a. my treadmill. Yes. The two plus years of dust that this little piece of equipment has collected over my time of pregnancy, anti-work-out phases, and frankly overwhelmed and unmotivated months, has since been removed. This little gem hidden in the corner of the room, calling out to me for months and months, while I continue to tell myself that if I don’t make eye contact with it, we can continue to play the “it’s not there and I have no possible way to really work out whenever it’s cold”, game I’ve been playing for about a year and a half.

Yes, all of these things were about to change drastically. Because while I am in this room for a significant portion of my day, my extra time is no longer filled with rethinking classroom layouts or unit decorations, remembering where I might have placed the most recent stack of writing samples or any of those extra thoughts I filled my days with in the classroom. Nope, all of that is gone, and alarmingly quickly. I really believed this would be a difficult transition, that working from home would take some time and self-motivation to really get used to. But I couldn’t have been more wrong. This change, this shift back to the home, came so naturally, so easily, that I have spent the past three weeks wondering why I ever doubted this decision for even a second.

Every morning, I wake up about an hour before my family, get ready for the day, go downstairs with a solid 15 minutes to myself to organize bags that might need to go to the sitter, put stray dishes away that were left on the counter to dry, place random toys back where they belong, and just mentally wake up. Once my oldest daughter is awake, I sneak through the first bedroom where our youngest is still soundly asleep and share a few moments of peace and morning snuggles with this little lady who is growing up all too quickly. We then pick out her outfit and braid her hair (she’s in a “braid my hair like Elsa, Mommy!” phase) all before her sister wakes up. I then repeat this routine with our youngest, and the three of us head downstairs just as my husband has finished getting ready himself.

It’s so strange what a difference a simple shift to your morning routine can make in your entire day. Once everyone has shoes on, the four of us head out to the car, my husband now present and able to assist in loading kids and just like that, we are off to work and the sitter’s house. Just the fact that I am the one dressing my girls and doing their hair, has made all the difference in my day. I no longer lug sleeping children to the car at 5:45 in the morning, racing to get dressed and do my make up in 20 to 25 minutes just to avoid having to get up any earlier than I already have to.

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Upon my return to the house, I have 10 to 15 minutes free to make breakfast, a REAL breakfast each day. That has also drastically improved my mood, and focus throughout the day. After this has all be completed, I head up to my office with a fresh cup of coffee and log in to my “classroom.” During the first week I had a significant amount of down time listening to trainings and feeling my way through things, so I began to really multi-task, analyzing my surroundings and trying to determine how my office could become more complete, and less like a corner of a bedroom. I already invested in several great items making my life all the more easy, but I knew I would need a few more pieces and some items rearranged to feel complete.

And so, after all of my ramblings I present to you, our finished Home Office and Master Bedroom.

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To begin, the desk is a piece I purchased from Target about a year and a half ago, needing some space for all my clutter, bills, and whatever else crossed my path to land on, especially heading into my post-graduate work accruing my administrative paperwork. You can find that desk HERE for White Desk on Target’s website. God I love Target. The filing cabinet is just your basic black two drawer with additional top storage, and I’ve also given you that link HERE for Black Filing Cabinet.

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And then of course my favorite part. I am in love with pink hanging file folders! I hate the green, which I left in the photograph just so you could see the difference they make in a bright white crate. You can find these Pink and Gold Hanging Files HERE. They also have the same files in Black and Gold, along with a Grey Marble Hanging File Folder. The Marble would go great with the UBrands Marble Dry Erase Board with Gold Frame hanging above my desk. Of course no hanging file folder is complete without some motivational 3-tab white and gold folders.

Now, lets talk about this lamp pictured below. The Desk Task Lamp with Touch On/Off in white. This lamp is actually part of the infamous Pillowfort line Target has strategically designed to make Moms swoon and children indulge in magical room themes. I must admit I am totally sucked in by the creativity this line brings to both of my girls’ bedrooms.

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Going back up to the planner and pens, I have always utilized a desk calendar in the brick and mortar setting, and felt the need to continue this with a book planner than can be neatly tucked into my drawer, saving space on my desk top since I typically have two laptops running at all times. The AT-A-GLANCE WorkStyle Monthly planner was the perfect thin, planner that gave me the monthly view I needed and was accustomed to. Now those darling pink and purple pens you see, are perfect for the thin paper in this planner, as I typically write with Paper Mate Flair Marker Pens, and you can see from my pen organizer, I’m a junkie for them. But these Paper Mate Ink Joy Gels were a parting gift from a newly acquired work friend. They write so nicely, that I might just have a new favorite pen! And the best part, the actually write in pink and purple! (Can you say… #teacherproblems ?!)

And of course, my desk wouldn’t be complete without my better halves. From my new found best friends, to my lifelong best friend, to my work friend/mom/inspiration to be the best at whatever I strive for in life. Yes these mounted photographs give me the friendly faces I need, and the motivation to continue to work my hardest.

You know you’re in love when you can’t fall asleep because reality is finally better than your dreams” – Dr. Seuss

That quote says it all. If you haven’t had the opportunity, I strongly recommend researching some of the information behind Dr. Seuss. What a brilliant man. I think I love this quote because it applies not only to my marriage and family, but now to my career as well. Such simple but powerful words. Finding a quote that reminds you daily how precious life really is, is so worth reading.

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Now, as we continue to travel around the room, I have added several new pieces to the space, because when you spend your entire day in a room, you want the whole thing to feel complete and pretty. At least, that’s what I need to function. Yes, yes, I am aware of my weird issues.

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Now I have to get very specific regarding our “night stands” because I was tricked once by this. The cubes you see in the night stands were purchased about a year ago, with the intention of using them in my cube shelves shared between my daughters rooms. One major problem: these cubes are not the same standard size as the Closet Maid Brand. These specific ones are Threshold Brand 4 Cub Organizer and are 13 inch cube spaces. Now the individual cube storage bins: I purchase two Fabric Cube Mint, turning one backwards so it was solely mint, and leaving one forward facing with the gold, mint, and coral pattern, and one Fabric Cube Coral.  I purchased a Threshold Brand 2 Cube Organizer to function as my husband’s night stand.

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On my night stand, I purchased this new lamp because the one I had before was the last remaining from one of those boxed “get every lamp for your house in one kit” sets we originally purchased for our very first dumpy apartment 8 years ago. While it held it’s own for a long time, the curvy silver base and tapered white shade really needed to exit the scene… like a few years ago. This sweet little Geometric Accent Lamp was also another excellent Target find, adding sense of warmth to the space. And the flowers were miscellaneous clippings from previous artificial blooms, and an older white vase, originally purchased at target, but no longer available so I have provided this link to a similar White Vase option.

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Our bedding is not a new purchase, but a re-organization of several other sets of bedding. I love when you can pull items from various placed around your house to create a new space. The Pinch Please Comforter Set from Threshold is by far my favorite comforter yet. It’s simple and can easily be updated through the various seasons by changing throw pillows and blankets, but ultimately keeping the same bed set. The current arrangement really pulls at the spring vibes with the hints of light minty blue in the Micromink Printed Blanket by Room Essentials and the soft mint throw pillows and ruffled white throw pillow for a little texture and character.

And of course, we cannot forget these Gallery Wrapped Canvas prints, hanging above the bed. I just love both of these photographers who have so meticulously documented milestones in our lives. Please take a moment to look at these stunning women’s portfolios and craft. Sonia Levy Photography, the photographer to the right of the sign, has documented our engagement, wedding, countless weddings of our bridal party members, the newborn session to both of our daughters our first family photoshoot, and our oldest daughters 6 month and 1 year photos. We will forever cherish these priceless moments she has captured in our lives.

 

And then of course, Vanessa Huey Photography, who began photographing photographing for us with our youngest daughter’s first day in the world, a follow-up updated family session after her birth, some gorgeous photographs of our oldest daughter in the snow, and then of course, the photo session that became the face of Shimmering Twig in it’s initial phase, our most recent family picture. Both of these women have given us irreplaceable gifts of time, art, and talent.

So here we are, 2,000 + words later and another completed room, in the on-going project I like to call my home. Please feel free to pin, share, and replicate anything you see here, because the best part about this digital world of inspiration is just that, inspiring each other to try new things, create new ideas, and refresh our lives whenever things get a little stale. Enjoy the week!

Cheers!

  • Whitney

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Rainy Day Activities for the Littles (and biggies) in your Life

So we have just entered into the second week of terrible weather in Western Pennsylvania with temperatures bouncing between the thirties and fifties, drizzly rain to torrential down pours, and just an overall lingering “blah” feel in the air. If you have toddlers in your life, particularly ones who got just a taste of those few warm, sunny, and beautiful days in April, then you know how frustrating it is to go from running in the yard, to being cooped up inside. The last thing I want is to drag out this cabin fever any longer that necessary.

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I’ve really been scouring the internet recently to come up with some less than average ways to bring that fun and excitement back for my cuties and combat the rainy weather blues. I was browsing through my Facebook memories, you know the daily reminders we get on exactly what we were doing on this very day over the past however many years we’ve had a Facebook account, (Eleven for me… disturbingly), and I came across one from exactly one year ago today. In this particular memory, my daughter was camping out in her teepee on a, you guessed it, Rainy Day. And just like that, I was inspired to begin my search again, for the perfect list of Rainy Day Activities, to help survive this next week of even more awful weather.

I have several options, from fun projects to cute little unusual toys you can find in my two most favorite places: Target, and Amazon (THANK YOU PRIME SHIPPING!!!) Each blue name link will take you directly to the product I am talking about.

So first up on the list:

  1. Teepee Tents

91HwifUKrcL._SL1500_This is the exact tent we ordered a year ago for our daughters to play in. Let me tell you, this was the BEST investment we have ever made. Neither of the girls ever got sick of it, and it folds up into one long skinny post we just put behind out couch so it’s always available at a moments notice. It was simple to assemble and both my husband (who is 6′ 2″) and I can comfortable sit in it with our girls. We usually fill it with blankets and the throw pillows from the room just to make it a little more fun. Spur of the moment blanket forts are awesome, but just don’t quite compare to your own TEEPEE.

The link takes you directly to Amazon, and below the item you’ll find tons of variations on this specific tent from sizes, to colors, to even different styled tents. You just can’t go wrong with this little fortress!

2. Pop-Open Tunnels

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My youngest was given a pop-open Caterpillar Tunnel, by my sister in law for her first birthday. These are the perfect rainy day activity because they open and close so easily and storage is super convenient with the little carrying case it comes with. Plus it’s CHEAP! This is the best inexpensive source of hours of entertainment! Don’t like the caterpillar? Try the super cute Ladybug Tunnel!

3. Wooden Paper Roll Dispenser

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There are TONS and TONS and TONS of art supplies on the market. As a former art teacher, it was super important to me that our girls be exposed to creativity and have access to supplies that support just that. For Christmas this past year, my Mother in Law and Father in Law got our oldest a beautiful White Easel by Kid Craft (and I’m sure every Pottery-Barn loving mother can relate when I say Kid Craft is the affordable alternative to the gorgeous Pottery Barn creative play ideas). While the White Easel is a high price item, there are several alternatives that are inexpensive for creative play. For example, this Melissa and Doug Wooden Paper Roll Dispenser. This is perfect for a kitchen table or play table with easy dispensing paper, kids can go from small wall art, to life size treasure maps of the living room, to human outlines of themselves to color and cut out. The possibilities are endless with roll paper.

4. Creative Play: Imagination Baking

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You have all seen my little assistants in action helping in the kitchen, especially whenever a dessert is involved, but those exciting baking moments transfer right into imaginative play. The BEST, BEST, BEST, investment we ever made for our girls, was the KidKraft Play Kitchen the girls received for Christmas a year and a half ago. It was a splurge, but the quality of KidKraft made it so worth it. My father-in-law put it best that year, “you can buy a cheap toy kitchen and it might last a year or two, or you can get one like this, and even an 8 year old will still want to play with it, some things are just worth it in the long run.” He reference my niece who was 8 at the time, and immediately goes to play with the girls at the kitchen whenever she comes over to our house. I even love playing with the girls with their kitchen. You can find kitchens from all price ranges. The specific Kitchen set we purchased can be found HERE. Melissa and Doug really support the imagination play by creating such high quality toys that withstand the brutality instilled upon them by toddlers. We have the Melissa and Doug Baking Set, Bake and Decorate Wooden Cupcake Set, and the Brew and Serve Wooden Coffee Maker Set. Personally, the little coffee maker set is my favorite…!

 

It's not always abouttrying to fix somethingthat's broken.

5. Creative Play: Household Accessories

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The research behind creative play is unreal. There are so many skills and developmental milestones in simply imagining real life tasks. Our girls LOVE playing with their matching Cabbage Patch baby dolls, carrying them around in car seats, pushing them in strollers, and even feeding them in sweet little high chairs. Our youngest’s current favorite task is “ironing” her blanket on this DARLING little Honestly Cute Ironing Board on Target’s website. They have an entire category for Pretend Play on their website. I mean, Honestly Cute even has a Dyson-look-alike VACUUM! Or try the Let’s Get Cleaning Broom and Duster set! My girls LOVE copying whatever chore or task I’m doing, so why not make it fun?! After all, I do get an awful lot of cleaning done on Rainy Days!

6. Creative Kitchen : Bake some Cupcakes!

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It’s no secret that I love to bake, or that my kids love helping me. On rainy and chilly days  like today I find myself drawn to the kitchen looking for an excuse to turn the stove on and shake the chill that never seems to leave. Plus, who doesn’t love sharing a goey cake batter spoon with their little loved ones? So here are some cute little inspiration photos to get you in the mood to make fun little cupcakes with your littles, or bigs, depending on what age you have running around your house on these chilly and rainy days.

Head over to my Pinterest Board: Cupcakes for more ideas!

7. Read some Cute New Books!

Whether your an e-reader, or a hard copy book guru, you can never have enough cute books for your kids! I always welcome new book suggestions for the 1-4 year old age. Another great way to get your hands on some new titles for your kiddos would be to find a family member or friend with similar aged children and do a “book exchange” trading your favorites for their favorites. It’s a win win! You find new books that have already been approved by people you care about, and you get to share the treasure you and your children love in return. Thanks to my sister, we love the Sandra Boynton books: Snuggle Puppy!, Hippos Go Berserk!, Pajama Time!, and Barnyard Dance!

LITTLE FREE LIBRARY
I’ve seen so many of the “Little Free Libraries” popping up all over the place. If you have never heard of this idea, a Little Free Library is a drop box located in a common area or a volunteering neighbor’s yard to donate books no longer used for others in a community to read. They are typically waterproof boxes that are unlocked and offer a spot to share, discuss, and build a stronger community simply by exchanging books.

8. Create a Day of Sunshine

Colors brighten our day, so why not try a cute spin off from sending a “Box of Sunshine” to having a Day of Sunshine to brighten those dreary days. Fill your day with as many sunny and brightly colored things from yellow table cloths, to colorful paper plates, yellow fruits and snacks, or yellow lemonade. Try to fill your whole date with everything bright and yellow! Make sparkly yellow suns, listen to “Yellow Submarine” just fill those dreary clouds outside with rays of fun and sun inside.  Check out my Day of Sunshine board on Pinterest to find more colorful inspirational ideas for a sun-filled day.

It's not always abouttrying to fix somethingthat's broken.

Hopefully this little list was able to inspire you to create some excitement for your kids in one way or another to weather the stormy days!

Cheers!

  • Whitney

Saying Goodbye | Looking Forward

Yesterday could only be described as similar to watching my own funeral. It was so similar to family and friends coming in and out of a deceased  loved one’s home to pay their last respects. Between emotional hugs, heartfelt words, funny memories, letters from students, videos of my classes of students saying goodbye, and even disagreements put aside, I spent my final day in a district I have been teaching with for 5 years. I was surrounded with students I’ve been responsible for their entire high school career, only a few weeks left themselves before they too will leave the district and head out into the real world. It is an incredibly surreal experience when you realize how much a small community of people can feel more like a life long family. But what is even crazier is how you don’t realize it until you are saying goodbye. That school has been a massive part of my world for my entire professional teaching career. I have so much emotionally invested inside those brick walls, picturing day to day life without entering that building feels like an impossible task. Prior to this district, I worked part time at my local district, but that doesn’t compare to the day in and day out responsibilities, personal connections, and extras, you put forth without even realizing it.

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I think the part that was undeniably mind blowing was the fact that all of these people went above and beyond to describe the impact I had made on them personally or with students they worked with. It was utterly overwhelming. I have a stack of 32 cards sitting beside me with intimate details of friendship, inspiration, and well wishes that I can’t even begin to read yet. The wound is too fresh, my heart still broken. I have learned so much from this family, this community, about sacrifice, looking at the bigger picture, realizing what is truly important, developing life long friendships, realizing when you’ve misjudged and learning from those mistakes, brushing aside the nonsense and staying focused on why we are here, and understanding the difference a relationship built with a student can make.

I have had the privilege to teach around 230 students in my short 5 years teaching with the district. Within those students I have seen the potential, the growth, the failures, the accomplishments, the future, and most importantly, the hope. Each child held the promise for a better future. If we could give each child the skills to prepare them for the struggles in life, the heart aches, the knock-you-down moments, then they would be ok. It wasn’t until my second year though, that I realized most of these students have experienced more “real life” more “struggle” and more “knock-you-down” in the short fifteen years of their lives than I may ever see in my entire life. It was at this turning point that I realized, these kids will teach me as much, if not more, than I could ever teach them.

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I began to empathize with them, to remember that while they might be frustrated or lashing out, it isn’t necessarily at me, but may very well be the only moment they have in their day to release the stress and anxiety of a life dealt to them, that is unfair and at times even down right cruel. I began to stack all of my emotional eggs in these fragile baskets, risking heart break when a student slipped back into old habits, or was taken from me from poor decision making, but every heart ache was worth it, because these kids needed to know they mattered.

So with the tearful goodbyes and life long friendship that I will carry with me, I can look forward to this new adventure, this new role in my life. What does this new career look like? I will find out in a matter of 36 hours. To say I am nervous would be an understatement. I feel this crazy mixture of emotions from lingering heartbreak and loss, to the unsettled nerves of a first year teacher, to the excitement of the potential to be more actively involved in my own children’s lives.

I have a Mom goal in my mind: to be that Mom. The Mom who packs lunches every morning with little notes tucked inside. The Mom who is there and present every morning before school, and anxiously waiting after to hear about her children’s day. The Mom who can assist with PTA events because she wants the best for her children. The Mom other Moms call to pick up their children from school and run them to practices in the evenings, because I am the Mom who is available and ready for anything.

While those events may be down the road a bit, I know that road will come all too quickly. On my last drive to work yesterday, my oldest asked me, “Mommy, after today, can we be home with you more?” I have never had any conversations with her about my job changing, about working from home, or anything even remotely close to this. But here she was, perceptive as ever, picking up on the change, feeding from my emotions. I answered her with a simple, “Absolutely girls, Mommy is going to be home much more after today.” And with that simple little question, I had the energy to pull through what I knew was going to be an incredibly difficult day.

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My work better half, and best friend shared this quote last night, and while it completely broke every barrier I had built up to get through the day, it was so perfect, because it was how I truly felt about her in return.

So here we are, two months after announcing the change and publishing Career Shift in the aftermath of it all, ready to start this new adventure. Today I woke up willing to say goodbye to the past and prepared to only look forward. So thank you, each any every one of you, who have inspired me to be empathetic, to promote achievement, to put my family first, to have the confidence to make a shift when it is necessary, to value my skill set, to leave you even when you didn’t want me to, to strive for greatness even when it’s a completely different path than I started out towards, and to always be myself. Thank you for shaping me into who I am today.

Tomorrow is a new day, a new challenge, and a new adventure.

Cheers!

  • Whitney