Brown Paper Packages – neighbor gifts

Each year, I enjoy giving small but thoughtful gifts to my neighbors. Last year we spent Christmas in Hawaii, so before we left we picked up a case of pineapples at Costco, tied each with a large ribbon bow and attached a gift card wishing our neighbors “Mele Kalikimaka”.

I’m a lover of brown paper packages tied up with string, and the sentiment of “My Favorite Things”. So when I saw the simple gift of wrapping paper and tape on Pinterest, I knew JUST how to make it my own!


Don’t you just love this little gift tag?


The brown mailing paper wrapping paper is from DollarTree, as were the rolls of Scotch tape (2-pack for $1). I found a skein of laundry line in red and white that looked like festive “string” to me! Then using my Cricut I cut gift tags that I decorated with a paper punch snowflake.


So there you have it! Perfect gift for neighbors, friends at the office, or an unexpected holiday time houseguest!

1 roll of mailing paper
1 roll of tape
Small pack of gift tags
A personal gift tag with handwritten note to neighbor


Cornbread Waffles

Yesterday, I found a pin for cornbread waffles — I couldn’t wait to try it, and OMG they are amazing!!


I simply followed the recipe directions on the box. My waffle iron took 1/3 recipe per waffle.


I used my regular waffle settings, for a lighter waffle.


Then I topped it with chili and cheese, and Wa-La!! The most amazing five minute dinner.

Classroom theme: Seize the Day


38 desks, inner/outer circles, ready for Socratic Seminars.
Three inch binder ready for lesson plans.
Desk pad calendars mounted on mailing paper (from the 99¢ store), posted on the wall, filled with dates to remember: SATs, ACTs, spring break, prom, graduation – and Hallmark holidays: ‘Talk Like A Pirate day’ or ‘Eat Outside day’ (every student wanted to know what ‘day’ their birthday fell on).
Meaningful quotes about time.
Photo-mat sized cardstock rectangles to be filled with photos of memories yet to be made.
A pile of pennants waiting to be hung.
“Seize the Day”







Colored Scotch tape to make lines on the whiteboard – stays up until you take it down, comes off clean. You can pick it up in many colors at Staples.


AVID & WICOR magnets along with how we used WICOR that week. Laminated the letters, then repurposed an old calendar magnet – just strong enough to stick to the whiteboard.

Raising Readers – book list for boys

I have the distinct honor of mothering young readers. My firstborn was a bit more sheltered than his little sister, watching only PBS Kids and Thomas the Tank Engine in his preschool and kindergarten days. By the time number two joined us, he had graduated to Disney Channel, so her TV watching contained more school-aged themes than Jay-Jay the Jetplane.

Anyhow, I give a bunch of credit to good ol’ Thomas videos (on VHS actually) — especially the episodes narrated by Ringo Starr because my son picked up the cutest British accent. You see, Thomas stories are narrated, as if someone is reading directly to you. When my two year old laid on his belly, his chubby hands pushing the wooden trains, he narrated his playtime.

He loved being read to, short books mostly, and the same book over and over and over and over. Once the story was memorized, the book would come to life in his play, extending out like a ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’.

In kindergarten, we read together. Another mom had started us on the Magic Treehouse series, with Jack & Annie and their marvelous discoveries. My sweet, obedient boy would tell the characters not to leave the house in the night, and say “no, you shouldn’t be in the woods.” He preferred Jack’s reasonable decision making to Annie’s whimsical choices. We learned about dinosaurs and ninjas and pirates. And if the next book didn’t interest him, we skipped it.

See, that’s the key – he picked the books that he knew he’d enjoy, even as a little guy.

In first grade I downloaded Mary Pope Osborne’s Tales from the Odyssey as an audiobook. We listened to it on many long drives, then would chat about the stories, often laughing. Reading is fun – even when someone else is doing the reading.

At some point around second grade, the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series was gaining popularity. He enjoyed the series, as new titles were released every year. More about Wimpy Kid here.


In the second and third grade years he consumed library books, but I made sure to include a few of my childhood favorites, including Ralph S. Mouse, The Mouse & The Motorcycle, and the Fudge series.

A lot of random titles passed through his hands.

When he was in fourth grade, I discovered the Who Was / Who Is…? series. Every trip to the bookseller, I’d check for new biographies in this fun series. I love reading them to learn more about famous people from history and today. When Who is JK Rowling? came out, I think he read it on the drive home from the bookshop.


Fourth and fifth grades were dominated by Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians, the Kane Chronicles, and The Heroes of Olympus. When Percy Jackson was made into a movie, my son was bitterly disappointed, “the books are better Mom.”

Right around this age, we downloaded Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist as an audiobook. We listened together on a roadtrip (I had read it prior and just knew he’d love the adventure and appreciate the lessons).

With long waits between new releases, my son finally decided it was time to read Harry Potter. During the month of December in his fifth grade year, he read the entire series. My husband on more than one occasion told him to “put down the book and watch a little TV.”

After Potter, he read The Chronicles of Narnia then watched the movies.


In fifth, sixth and even seventh grades, he was immersed in Ranger’s Apprentice. Books four through seven were so enjoyable he read them two or three times each.

I stopped in at our local Independent book shop and asked for recommendations… I thought for a minute there might not be anything left to read, but the sales lady managed to send me home with The Candy Shop War (still haven’t seen the sequel hit shelves), and The Hunger Games.

Having just completed the seventh grade, with thousands of pages read this year alone, he has diversified his interests, reading four series all outside of school. My favorites are the Theodoore Boone series by John Grisham. My son reads them because I keep buying them. His real interests were the LOTR series and the all new Brotherband Chronicles series.

You may have noticed how many of these are in hard cover editions – he wouldn’t wait for paperback (not that I ever discouraged new releases), and despite the Kindle he received for Christmas, he prefers to hold a real book.

I look forward to finding what interests him as he continues to mature. And I can’t help but smile when too late at night one of us has to march in to his room and remind him it’s time to sleep. Bigger problems are sure to come, but for now I’ll savor that one!

25 Manners Every Kid Needs by Age 9

I couldn’t help myself- after reading this I just HAD to re-blog! (from Parents, March 2011)


This post has generated a lot of buzz in the past year and I am so excited for all the traffic it has brought to my blog. I never imagined that so many people would not only read my blog, but find it and share it!

Please be kind in your replies to this post. You are totally (and I welcome!) allowed to write your honest opinion in comments, but let’s remember to be kind. Attacking me is not going to change my post or have me take it down. (trust me, I’ve gotten both demands!)

Finally, this article originally appeared in the March 2011 edition of Parents magazine. I do not own and did not create this list of manners (although I wish I had!)…I just merely posted them on my blog to share with the 5 followers I had at the time.

Please enjoy and comment if you’d…

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Quick & Easy Candy-coated Cookies

I just LOVE making treats that look like a lot of effort was required.

These wafer cookies, coated in Marshmallow flavored Candy Melts and sprinkled with festive toppings are easy-peasy and look pretty on a plate!

You could actually use any cookie, any complimenting flavored Candy Melts, and whichever sprinkles you like! I’m thinking Oreos with Chocolate Candy Melts, Lemon cookies with Key Lime Candy Melts, or even Shortbreads with Dark Chocolate!

One half cup of Candy Melts is enough for a dozen small cookies. Melt in the microwave according to the directions on the package.

Then rather than dipping the cookie into the Melts, carefully spoon the melted candy over the cookie. Gently shake off any excess, then add sprinkles. Lay the cookies on a Silpat or parchment paper and allow the candy to harden at room temperature. Then serve!

Since orange wafers were included in the package, and I have Halloween sprinkles in the cabinet, I cranked out a few of these fun ones with the excess Candy Melts from the first dozen.

Mint Brownies


Nearly every weekend I create a Paleo-cheat dessert. Partly because I want a treat, but also because I want my kids to have memories of home-baked goodies so that when they think about their crazy, old mom they can say, “yeah but she sure could whip up some amazing desserts!”

I’m self-disciplined enough to not eat the treats all week, and the kids enjoy them as an after-school snack.


These brownies started from a standard, family sized brownie mix. When preparing the batter I added 3/4 teaspoon of Mint Extract to the oil, then stirred in the water and eggs. Once all the wet ingredients were combined, I added in the brownie mix and continued to follow the box directions.


After allowing the brownies to cool completely, I frosted them with a doctored-up can of Cream Cheese flavored frosting. To make minty green frosting, add one drop of green food coloring and 1/4 teaspoon of Mint Extract directly to the frosting can and stir until the green color is consistent.


Top this delightful creation with some Mini semi-sweet chocolate chips and serve! I left about 1/2 the batch unfrosted, to please my frosting-free child and calorie counting husband.

C’mon kids, eat your brownies – Mommy’s making memories here!