1st Grade Author Study: Patricia Polacco

I adore Patricia Polacco’s books! I think the first one I every read (as an adult, anyway) was Thunder Cake. I remember thinking I couldn’t wait to read it to my children and then actually go through the process of making the cake ourselves. There are many things I love about homeschooling, but one of the biggest is that my kids and I get to experience things (books, in particular) together. We are not limited by such tight schedules and other constraints. So when a book has a recipe included or a fun activity, we can make it!

With this author study, I wanted to focus on the journal aspect of the unit. Most of Polacco’s books are about her own life. This gave me the opportunity to really highlight the skill of “making connections” while reading. (Fellow teachers, this unit is a “Text-to-Self”, “Text-to-Text”, and “Text-to-World” paradise!) So rather than do cross-curricular activities or “cutesie” crafts with each book, we simply journaled about the stories after we read them. The reflections in my author study journals have always been the same. But in our past units, we have glossed over some of the questions or didn’t do a journal response to every book because I didn’t want to bog Abby down with the weight of them. But now we’re near the end of 1st grade and she’s capable of more mature thinking and her writing stamina has increased greatly!

Some of Polacco’s books deal with more serious situations and many of them are suitable for upper elementary students. (The Lemonade Club is a good read and about two characters struggling with cancer, Thank You, Mr. Falker deals with some severe bullying.) But I liked that Abby and I could talk about these topics through the lens of story plot and literature. Some of the books we read and enjoyed include: My Rotten Red-Headed Older Brother, Chicken Sunday, The Lemonade Club, Babushka’s Doll, An “A” From Miss Keller, Thank You Mr. Falker, Thunder Cake, The Keeping Quilt, and more! Here is the link to the printable author study journal I created: Polacco Author Study Journal Pages

Of course we made a “thunder cake” according to the recipe in the book, but there was no thunder when we made it, so it wasn’t genuine. Ha! Abby also has plans to make a “keeping quilt” with her Mimi–we’ve already picked out the photos for it! This was a fun study and Polacco’s unique, auto-biographical style brought a fresh perspective to the the collection of authors we’ve studied thus far.

If you want to take a look at any of the author studies we’ve done this year and get free printable downloads, click the links: Eric Carle, Laura Numeroff, Jan Brett, Dr. Seuss

Mission Accomplished: Leftovers

 

I’ve never been one to eat leftovers. I don’t really enjoy microwaving old food, even if it “reheats well.” But I also have a propensity to cook way too much food for a meal! (I’m hoping this trait pays off when I have 4 teenagers in the house.) These two characteristics of mine don’t exactly “gel.” Luckily, my husband has always loved eating leftovers and will feed them to the kids, too. But now that our evenings are getting busier with extra curricular activities, leftovers are becoming a regular and essential part of our dinners. Sometimes the meal can just be reheated on its own (a big pan of baked sausage rigatoni needs only to be thrown back into the oven for a bit and maybe a little extra sauce added to the mix–delish!) but other times a little creativity is needed to “transform” the leftovers into something seemingly new and exciting. I was particularly proud of last night’s transformation…

IMG_2131Mondays have become one of our standard leftover nights since Abby has paint class at 5:00. Sundays I like to make a big after-church dinner so I can usually get away with serving those leftovers on Monday night and my week starts out with an easy dinner. So Sunday I made a marinated pork loin, rosemary-sweet potato risotto, and balsamic broccoli. As someone who doesn’t LOVE pork to begin with, I wasn’t too enthusiastic about these leftovers. There also wasn’t enough pork to go around a full second time.

IMG_2116
I applaud the leftovers eaters of this world, truly! We need you in order to stop the food waste! I just can’t seem to get excited about this scene…

Starting with the broccoli, I dumped it into a small baking dish and added some frozen corn. I sprinkled it with a little shredded cheese, crumbled crackers, and poured some melted butter on top–voila! Baked at 375* for about 15-20 minutes and we had a small broccoli casserole. For the kids, I served this with “Cap’n Crunch Chicken Fingers” from Ree Drummond’s new cookbook (thanks again, Kristen!). I made these once before and they are an instant hit! So the kids enjoyed some chicken and broccoli for their supper.

For Randy and myself, I got a little more fancy. Risotto is a very cheesy, creamy, sticky rice. To me, leftover risotto screams RICE BALLS! So I shredded the leftover pork in my food processor and mixed it in with the risotto. Using my melon baller, I formed little round balls, about the size of small meatballs and then stuck them in the fridge to firm up. You could also “flash-freeze” them for 10 minutes or so, but I knew I had time before Randy got home from work so they’d be in the fridge for a couple hours. Then I dipped the firm balls into an egg wash, then bread crumbs mixed with parmesan cheese (you can never have enough cheese, in my humble opinion). I fried the balls in the same oil I used for the chicken fingers, which was also leftover from our sweet potato fries we had Saturday night! See, it pays to not square away your leftover oil right after use. 😉 I actually attribute my quick change in dinner plans to said oil staring me in the face Monday afternoon. Ha!

I beamed with pride as I presented Randy–who was expecting microwaved pork, rice, and broccoli–with a dinner of fried risotto balls (dipped in Thousand Island dressing) and broccoli casserole. I, myself, opted for a salad with a few rice balls on the side. I needed that burst of freshness to balance out the density of the leftovers. Still wouldn’t call myself a “leftovers” person, but I’m thinking I might have a chance at “Chopped: Leftovers!” That’s all I’m saying. 😉

A Sense of Accomplishment

Do you ever put off a small task for so long that by the time you actually complete it such a big weight is lifted off your shoulders and your feeling of productivity is disproportionate to the rather small size of the job itself? No, just me? Okay. I can accept that.

Example: We have a very small dual fish bowl with a divider for our 2 betta fish. I HATE cleaning it. It takes all of 5 minutes, but I still don’t like doing it. So when I intend to clean it out, I move it to the counter by the sink. And there it sits. Just staring at me every time I go to the sink. Taunting me. And still I let it sit for a week or more before I finally clean it out. Then, I feel an immense amount of accomplishment and as if I don’t need to do anything else that day. That 5 minutes of cleaning really took a huge weight off my shoulders. I’ve done so much today! Cereal for dinner, everyone!

When I was a girl, my mother taught me how to cross-stitch. (She taught me many other crafty things as well.) I really enjoyed completing little embroidered pictures until the day I picked one that was way too tedious for my child-level of patience! I’m pretty sure she warned me that it would take too long, but I wanted it anyway. It was a picture of a little girl in a pink dress holding a pot of roses. And she had dark, curly hair. So much dark curly hair! And that’s where I started. After weeks of working with just brown tones and feeling no sense of nearing any kind of completion, I gave up. I put the piece aside and again, it taunted me every time I looked at it. It was a reminder that I had quit, I failed, I shouldn’t have picked it, my mother had wasted her money on it for me, and I couldn’t move on to a new project or I REALLY would have quit. It sat there all four years of high school. Then, when I was packing up to start my freshman year of college, I secretly packed it in my car. I was an adult now, gaining my independence. I wasn’t going to let this uncompleted task hang over me. I finished the piece that year and paid to have it custom framed and presented it to my mother for Mother’s Day, or her birthday, or a combination of the two! 😉 It now hangs on the wall in my parents’ bedroom and I’m pretty sure she changed the entire color scheme of the room to coordinate with the picture.

I love the feeling of accomplishing something–no matter how big or small! Don’t we all? I can’t stand to see a task truly go uncompleted and since the cross-stitch project, I can’t recall a single project I haven’t completed. Although, I also haven’t picked up any new cross-stitch since! Ha!

IMG_2052Last week I got to experience another sense of accomplishment when I completed Elijah’s baby blanket! He’s almost 6 months now and I started at the beginning of my pregnancy, but at least it didn’t take 4 years! It’s actually not the longest it’s taken me to do one of my children’s blankets, either. Noah was about 9 months when I finally finished his. Abby was 3 months. Emmalyn is the only one whose blanket was actually finished before she was born. And in the process of completing my own children’s blankets, I made 6 others for friends’ babies! We don’t plan to have any more children ourselves so in a way, I feel like this chapter in my life is closing, though I can’t say that I’ll never make another baby blanket or crochet anything ever again. And I still enjoy the process, thankfully! Or maybe I’ll pick up a new hobby soon…

 

Either way, I’m glad to have this particular blanket done because it was a brand new pattern for me and quite a challenge. “Why did you decide to pick something new to you for your FOURTH baby when you have way less time on your hands?!” my husband asked. “Because I like a challenge.” And even more, I LOVE completing a challenge–even if that challenge is 2 bettas staring at me from the countertop for over a week. 😉

A Fresh Start… (Reflections on the Whole30)

IMG_20180223_203954
Me: “Something’s been weighing on me. I need to change my diet and I’m thinking about doing the Whole30 again but I’m nervous it’ll make my milk dry up. I don’t know, maybe I should just give up sugar instead. Thinking about this is keeping me up at night.”
Randy: “If I were you, I’d give up whatever was keeping me up at night. Forget the Whole30! Do it later when you’re not nursing anymore.”
Me: “Yeah, you’re right.”

A few days later…

Me: “I bought the Whole30 book. I think I’m gonna do it. I’m going to start when Lent starts and I’ll continue giving up sugar for the entirety of Lent.”
Randy: “Ok.”
Me: “I’m hoping this just really helps me change my eating habits. I don’t feel like we eat healthy enough.”
Randy: “We eat healthy enough. Don’t ever kid yourself into thinking you don’t make healthy, well-balanced meals for this family. We eat healthy. You just got into bad habits for yourself because it’s hard to take care of yourself after taking care of 4 kids and everything else. So if you want to do the Whole30, I support you.”

So after that resounding vote of confidence (yes, I have an awesome husband) I did a lot of reading and planning, and jumped into the Whole30.

IMG_20180303_180132657My main goal in starting the program was to break my sugar addiction. It’s easy (and fun!) postpartum to start eating a lot of sweet, comforting, baked goods. People bring dinners and desserts, you snack on sweets to “ease” the burden of being so darn sleepy all the time. Feeling weary from tending to children all day long? Need a little escape? Chocolate in the bedroom. Or bathroom. Or in some corner where there are no children. I know, we all do it. But for me, it became a real problem that needed to be addressed!

I’m not the type of person who can easily say, “I’m just going to start eating less sugar” or “I”m going to start making better food choices.” I need a concrete plan with defined and measurable goals. How about 30 days with no sugar, grains, dairy, or legumes? Strict ground rules. I can follow that.

IMG_20180216_202926193So the Whole30 means absolutely no added sugar, no grains, no dairy, and no legumes. It means reading a lot of labels. And for me, it meant a pretty drastic change. Here’s what my “food” routine used to look like:

  • cereal (no matter how “healthy” you might think cereal is, it still usually contains quite a bit of sugar) and coffee with creamer for breakfast (or pancakes, eggs, or waffles)
  • sip my “sugary” coffee through the morning because I’m oh, so tired (if there are baked goods in the house, I’ll snack on one of those, too)
  • feed my kids lunch and inevitably nurse the baby at the same time and help feed the toddler, leaving nearly no time for my own lunch
  • pick at the kids’ lunches, and/or whatever is EASY to eat all afternoon because I’m starving–i.e. crackers, cheese, pretzels, cookies, processed, prepared foods
  • eat a well-balanced dinner, but probably over-indulge because I’m hungry from lack of “real” food all day long
  • glass of wine or dessert or evening snack (as a “treat” now that the kids are in bed)
  • sip water all day long, but not enough

Sound familiar to anyone? My guess is that it’s pretty relatable to those who have young kids they’re trying to take care of. And for me, it needed to change.

IMG_20180217_122754782Being on the Whole30 forced me to prioritize my diet. I took a long, hard look at the way I was eating before and it all changed.

Nursing mothers need 500 extra calories a day. If you’re eating junk, that’s not that hard to come by. That could be an afternoon venti latte! But it shouldn’t be. Before, I may have gotten those extra calories in an “empty” form. But going on the Whole30, I had to become very intentional about eating extra food to keep up my milk supply because my calories were automatically going to decrease by cutting out the junk food. I planned out 5 small meals a day for myself and worked hard to make sure they were prepared everyday. Long story short, all was well for myself and my little man and he’s still nursing great!

IMG_20180216_204247222Now let’s talk about the emotions of it. It’s hard for me to deprive myself of something without feeling sad or almost indignant… I’m an adult, after all! I should be able to eat what I want, when I want! So I decided to think of this experience instead as a food adventure. In purchasing the Whole30 book, I instantly had about 100 recipes at my fingertips of different foods I might not otherwise attempt to make or try. I ended up having so much fun trying out new recipes and making my own dips and dressings, although it was a lot of work. This way of thinking helped me not feel as “deprived” of the foods I love.

So I made it through the 30 days… the results? In addition to my milk supply INCREASING and feeling so much better about the quality milk I could feed my baby, I, myself started feeling much better overall. Not to mention, I lost 22 lbs! I learned that I CAN make the time to prepare a healthy lunch for myself and I need to; it prevents me from feeling hungry in the afternoon and snacking so much. I learned that I CAN make yummy treats for my family and friends without having to overindulge myself. (THAT was hard, believe me. But I did it!) I have rekindled my love of black coffee! I used to drink my coffee black until I started having kids and wimped out. I still love my creamer, but I don’t think I’ll be as dependent on it anymore. I can now whip up a morning egg for myself in no time and that can be a great alternative to cereal, even on a morning when I’m in a hurry. And instead of sipping coffee all morning long, I more quickly switch to water and then make myself a smoothie as a morning snack for an extra dose of fruit and spinach. And THAT’S a much better way of getting those extra nursing calories I IMG_20180218_131700198need!

And now that the 30 days are up, where do I go from here? While losing weight wasn’t my primary goal, it certainly is a pretty nice perk! I know I’ll probably gain some of it back once I start adding in my precious pasta, cheese, and the occasional sweet, but the goal is to maintain some level of what I accomplished these past 30 days. I’m still off sweets through the remainder of Lent, so that’s a start. I’m keeping my favorite Whole30 meals in my recipe rotation for weeknight meals, and going to continue making good lunches for myself. I’ll be cutting way back on sweets and evening snacks as I’ve come to appreciate a nice cup of tea, instead. And while a strict workout routine is hard to stick to with a baby in the house (because I love my sleep and already am not getting nearly enough), I am keeping at it as much as I can. And I’m totally stoked about a Fitbit Challenge coming up through Randy’s work which we can both participate in for a cash prize at the end of 60 days! We get to keep our Fitbits, too!

IMG_20180307_172910855Will I ever do the Whole30 again? Maybe! I’m certainly not intimidated by it anymore and I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished in retraining my thinking about food as a “reward” or “escape” from crazy kids. 😉 But now that it’s over, the real test begins… wish me luck!

Considering doing the Whole30 for yourself? Here are some of my tips:

  • Buy the book! I didn’t mention this above, but I attempted the Whole30 twice before and failed both times, for different reasons. And while both reasons were very valid and easily justified, I think not having the book to help guide me through was a contributing factor to making it easy to quit.
  • Make a plan! Plan out all your meals, and also have a plan for what you’ll do when you REALLY want a treat that you can’t have. For me, it was helpful to constantly have fresh fruits I love and nuts at my fingertips for snacking. 
  • Buy some “replacement” items for fats and seasonings you would otherwiseIMG_20180302_212403374 use but now can’t. I recommend: making your own mayonnaise and keeping it on hand, having balsamic vinegar, ghee or clarified butter, coconut aminos (replaces soy sauce and is a great flavor addition to many meals), and dry mustard (goes in many DIY dressings for salad). You’ll also want plenty of onions, garlic, ginger, lemons, limes, and herbs throughout the Whole30.
  • Be ready for the “yucky” feeling in the beginning if this will be a more drastic diet change for you. It will pass. You’ll get through it!
  • Pregnant or nursing and want to do the Whole30? Again, buy the book! If you’re pregnant, you need to be careful about eating too much protein, and the book has some great suggestions. Nursing? I planned out 5 meals a day to ensure that my calorie intake would be ample enough but about a week in, I gave up the extra two meals and found it sufficient to just snack on fruit and vegetables instead of having a full-on second lunch, etc. I had Fenugreek seed on-hand (helps milk supply) and started taking it around week 3, but only took it once a day instead of 3x a day and I found it helped enough. And now I don’t need to take it anymore. I also made sure to get my multi-vitamin daily as well as a fish oil supplement (Randy and I have always taken one anyway) which is really beneficial while nursing, too!

IMG_20180214_180651192

 

Centers! First grade & preschool

These centers are for first grade and preschool. Here’s the breakdown week by week.

Week 1: PRESCHOOL–color-matching with pom-poms and plates, puzzles, and number matching with unifix cubes. GRADE 1–long-vowel sentence matching, addition matching with unifix cubes, and word building

Week 2: PRESCHOOL–shape-tracing with yarn, dot art (painting only using dots and the primary colors), and letter-matching with foam puzzles (not pictured). GRADE 1–puzzles, beginning sounds matching, and Roll the Dice (addition).

Week 3: PRESCHOOL–letter-matching garage (so fun for a boy who loves cars!), color-shape wheel (matching, and then coloring), number identification. GRADE 1–pattern animals, reading/writing words with and without a silent E, free art center.

Week 4: PRESCHOOL–cut and paste art center, rhyming sound matching, letter/word identification (He must use the letters in the envelope to create the word written on the outside of the envelope.) GRADE 1–Roll the Dice (addition), ending sound identification, rainbow writing sight words.

Week 5: PRESCHOOL–Pattern matching (with colored apples), “Broken Hearts” number matching (can you tell it’s close to Valentine’s Day?), ABC garage (not pictured this week). GRADE 1–Domino Addition (using the Roll the Dice page), word families (using hearts), Valentine’s Day paper (answer the question).

Week 6: PRESCHOOL–forming letters with play dough, cut and paste rhyming strip (not pictured), shape matching with paper bags. GRADE 1–sentence matching, fact families, and ABC order practice.

Week 7: PRESCHOOL–more rhyming strips, number matching, word building (without the writing). GRADE 1–counting by 5s & 10s, word building, sight word reading. *For Abby I did a “cowgirl” theme this week!  She had a cowgirl hat which she used for word building and then her sight words were written on cowgirl boots. Her “badge” said “deputy reader”! She loved it!

Week 8: PRESCHOOL–milk cap name (followed by working in his dry-erase maze book once he finished his name), rhyming sound matching, color and number matching. GRADE 1–sentence matching, Roll the Dice (subtraction, this time!), silent E work.

Week 9: PRESCHOOL--salt tray letters, identifying numbers (and counting) to 20.     GRADE 1–fact families with dice, “Wonder, Draw, & Tell” papers on weather (not pictured). Both kids had a craft center based on the book, “Mouse’s First Spring.” Originally, I wanted to do this book for the first week of spring, but the weather was not very spring-like so I waited to do it until April.

Week 10: EASTER WEEKEND! I wanted to use these egg centers for the week before so they could enjoy them the entire week leading up to Easter, but it didn’t work out that way. We don’t do centers EVERY Friday. Sometimes it gets pushed off because we’re busy or I’m really not feeling up to it (darn pregnancy nausea!). When that’s the case, they still have an abundance of independent activities to choose from during school week–they just tap into previous centers they’ve done. So fun egg centers got pushed off and we did them on Good Friday. They’ll continue to use these centers during the upcoming week after Easter.

PRESCHOOL–letter egg hunt (Noah had to find the letter eggs I hid all over the room and then match them up with the letters on the alphabet chart), make a turtle (working on gluing skills), play dough cookie cutters (motor skills).  GRADE 1–compound words, rhyming words, word families (all egg centers).

 

Week 11: PRESCHOOL–ABC Truck Match-Up! (Match the letters on the truck “tires”.), Rhyming Game, Practice Gluing. GRADE 1–Place Value Game (create random numbers from number grid using unified cubes to show tens and ones), SPACE-themed worksheets on word families, PLANET word families (ew, ow, -ead).

 

Week 12: PRESCHOOL–Pig in a Puddle (center on the letter “P” including sound matching, salt tray practice, and tracing), Clothespin Match (numbers), Search for Bugs (hunt, match, color). GRADE 1Wonder, Draw, & Tell worksheets on bugs, Roll the Dice (free choice–addition, subtraction, or fact families), digraph “Bird Watch” match-up. **I like doing some themed centers, like last week Abby had some space themed work, and this week both Abby and Noah had to search for some cards around the room. Noah had to look for matching bug cards and Abby had to look for the cards that matched her bird digraphs. She also had some bug-themed worksheets. 

 

Frozen, Candyland, & Cakes!

I love parties!  I especially love hosting parties and small get togethers.  This is great for my children because it ensures that they’ll have fun birthday parties throughout their childhoods!  (That’s the plan, anyway.)

But I’m almost embarrassed to say, that it may not just be birthdays that offer reasons to go all out for a party around here.  One of my favorite themed parties so far was Abby’s “Frozen” party, which was in January of 2015, and it was… just because.  Just because, it’s “Frozen” and we all are or were obsessed with it, even if we publicly claim otherwise.

The other day my husband was asking how old Abby was turning for the “Frozen” party and when I reminded him that it wasn’t actually a birthday party, he told me I was crazy.  That might be true, but I like to think that others benefit from my craziness.  😉  Here are some ideas for themes and cakes from the parties we’ve had so far…

Abby’s “Frozen” Party, January 2015

Abby’s 5th Birthday: Candy Land!  September, 2016

Here are some party cakes I’m particularly proud of:

Almost Perfect

I have a wide variety of circumstances in my head which would all constitute as a “perfect” morning, day, afternoon, evening, what-have-you. One such afternoon involves a LONG time spent perusing books at Barnes & Noble (one of my all-time favorite stores) with a venti latte in one hand and the hand of my love in my other. Okay, maybe the hand-holding is a little too corny-romantic-cinema, but I’m sure you get the idea. And today I had that! Well, almost. As parents of young children, I know you can all relate to the fact that these perfect afternoons seem to only occur in our minds. 😉

You see, I can only longingly glance at the “grown-up” books in the bookstore because the reality is I have NO TIME to read any of them. So whenever I’m in this favorite store of mine, I tend to scurry into the kid section (which I love almost just as much, it’s true) and look for books I would like to read to my kids or books they can start reading themselves. It’s fun, but it’s not the same. My face says I’m happy to be shopping for (and often with) my children, but my heart says, “Dear Woman Sitting in the Comfy Chair casually flipping through that Magazine, you have no idea how jealous I am.” 

And today while I walked around the children’s section and even timidly genre-hopped through the grown-up books, I wasn’t holding a venti latte. I was holding a small cinnamon tea. No milk. No sugar. No fun. As far as tea goes, it was quite good. But it wasn’t my mocha latte. Today is Day 25 of my Whole30, so no fun coffee drinks for me. Just 5 more days. Sip. Just 5 more days…

Today we had our 5 month old with us. Let me back up and say that the reason my husband and I had this spontaneous “free” afternoon to begin with is because my wonderful cousin and her wonderful boyfriend WANTED to spend time with our wonderful children! What a gift! But as Elijah is a nursing baby, he tends to go a little nuts when he’s far from Mommy; so Randy and I decided to bring him along. And he was great! He didn’t cry or fuss once. But, (and parents, I know you feel me on this…) he was there. We weren’t alone.

Finally, the B word. That’s right. Ladies and gentlemen, the Dattolos are on a Budget. We are at a place where we’re aggressively paying down some (embarrassing) debts, and saving for projects, trips, and other big things like our second house someday. So while my husband browsed the theology, politics, and economics sections, (please believe me, he is much more fun than his current book taste would make it appear), I sat on the floor in the cookbook section, drinking my cinnamon tea, and reading word-for-word the new Ree Drummond cookbook which I desperately want but restrained from purchasing at this time. Sigh. Being on a budget is hard. Being a parent is hard. Being an adult is hard.

But you know what? Randy and I got away for the afternoon (almost alone). And we DID make some purchases for little projects and for pleasure, which thanks to coupons, gift cards, and returns, cost us almost nothing. And our kids, who have no idea how very blessed they are to have so many adults in their lives who really LOVE them and enjoy spending time with them, had a blast with their surprise visitors. I’m rockin’ this Whole30, and I’m actually really excited about where our fiscal responsibility will lead us. And at this stage in life, I really couldn’t ask for more.

So now I’ll finish my tea and hit the lights early because you know I don’t want to lose that hour of sleep tonight! Ahhhh, parenting.

IMG_20180310_204217238