T.O.O.T. = the best acronym ever

T.O.O.T is here!

Yes, I have a bit of a childish sense of humor. But I did not make up this acronym!

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Taste of our Towns is a yearly festival in the town we moved to. As a lover of festivals, I was excited. As a lover of food, so was Justin.

We set off with our umbrellas since the morning was drizzly, but by the time we parked and walked into the heart of the festival, the actually rain had passed and we didn’t get a single drop! Justin had to take blood pressures at a booth for his medical school for an hour, so after letting him take mine (102/78 baby!!) I scoped out the booths while I waited for him to finish.

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T.O.O.T. works by using a token system. You buy tokens (1 token = $1) and then trade in tokens for food at the various booths. There were 50+ booths from different local restaurants, bakeries, coffee shops, frozen yogurt stands, and food stores. Most of the food was sold in smaller portions than normal so you can sample many different types of food rather than fill up on just one or two things. And everything sold is the best of the best that the businesses offer so it is all delicious! 

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There were also different entertainers throughout. My personal favorite were the people on stilts. Scary!!

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Once Justin was done taking blood pressures, we met up with a group of our friends and got to work selecting foods to try! After a delicious pulled pork sandwich for lunch, my sweet tooth won out and I tried chocolate peanut butter fudge (seriously, how can you turn that down?!), a chocolate covered pretzel, and beautifully dipped chocolate covered strawberries. Notice the trend. I adore chocolate. It’s probably a good thing that I got my blood pressure taken before all this food!

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Justin had a bit more restraint and tried more “real” foods like a loaded bratwurst, a prime rib potato bowl, and bread pudding.

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We had such a great day hanging out with fantastic friends and sampling phenomenal foods! I already can’t wait for T.O.O.T. 2014!

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Simple, Creative Flower Pot Gift

Yesterday was a pretty long day at school, and I found myself really missing my kiddos from my last teaching job. Before I got married and relocated, I taught elementary-aged students with multiple disabilities and absolutely loved it!! Those students became so dear to me and they will forever have a place in my heart. And thanks to my thoughtful and creative teaching assistant, they will also always have a place on my back deck!

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At the end of last year, my class surprised me with the BEST gift ever! My teaching assistants chipped in and bought me a large flower pot. Then they painted the rim blue for the sky and a border of green grass at the bottom. They had each child stick their hand in green paint (great feeling for these children who love sensory activities!) and press it onto the pot for flower stems. The students all got to choose the color they wanted to paint the flower centers and petals. Since all of my students had communication needs, they indicated their color choices either by eye gaze or using gestures.

Each flower center and petal was carefully made using the child’s thumbprints. And the cutest finishing touch was the little critters! Each student made a little thumbprint critter (i.e. ladybug, butterfly, ant) next to their flower. Adorable!!

I liked that they also wrote each student’s name on their flower so I will always know whose is whose. I really really loved this idea and thought it was such a creative and thoughtful gift! I also loved that it actually involved my students, who have more limitations with fine motor skills. This was the perfect craft to get them really involved and now I always have a piece of them with me even though I moved far away!

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The gift also included a Lowe’s gift card so I could purchase a pre-potted flower arrangement (my assistants know full well my complete LACK of a green thumb!) which was also a very thoughtful gesture. I’m so thankful to have had the opportunity to work with such wonderful people!

“Bye Bye Bye” to my youth

Today, I aged 15 years.

Someone once told me that a “generation” is roughly 25 years. And something happened today that made me realize that though there are only about 10 chronological years between myself and the average eighth grader, I am really in a totally separate generation.

In the last block English class I co-teach in, the other teacher passed out a sheet detailing ways to “hook” your readers using different tactics. One of the tactics was to make a pop culture reference and the example sentence talked about N’Sync. LESS THAN HALF of the class knew who that was.

WHAT!?

I could almost feel the wrinkles form instantly.

After agonizing for roughly 30 minutes about how to re-work my budget to include all the anti-age creams and serums I would now have to buy, I realized how ridiculous I was being and decided to embrace my old goat status.  So tonight, I’m going to sit back with a nice glass of wine and crank up the “classic” Backstreet Boys (on my antiquated CDs no less).

And I will also need to tell my husband that he owes me a lot of missed  birthday gifts  for all the years that have just flashed before my eyes. 🙂

Backstreet’s Back ALRIGHT!!

Week started out a little . . . wet

Oh Monday. How I didn’t miss you.

I am actually normally a very positive person who really tries to make the best of a Monday. However, all that positivity went out the window (literally) when, at 7 am, I walked out to my car in the pouring rain only to realize I left all four windows rolled down after taking Macie to the park yesterday. I had to attempt to keep my bottom dry by sitting on my stash of re-usable grocery bags in the car.

Not exactly the best way to start out a week, but at least it made me thankful to get to work and get out of my car!

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In the spirit of fall, I thought I would share a simple fall craft that I did last year with my students. My first two years of teaching, I taught students with multiple disabilities in an elementary school. My students had little to no fine motor skills, so I had to get creative in order to make sure they could all still participate in making crafts.  This simple Indian corn craft is perfect for students with developing fine motor skills! It’s also a good sensory activity; my students love the feel of dipping their fingers into the paint!

Indian Corn

You will need:

-yellow construction paper

-green construction paper

-brown, orange, and red finger paint

-small bowls or a plate for the finger paint

-glue (or you could use a gold brad if you want to make the leaves moveable)

-scissors

Instructions:

1. Cut the orange construction paper into the shape of a large oval. If the child has the fine motor skills, you can have him or her cut this paper after you draw a simple outline. I made my oval “bumpy” to look like the edge of an ear of corn.

2. Cut out two green leaves. I free-handed this step but if you are not comfortable with that, I’d suggest finding an outline online to trace and use as a template.

3. Here’s the fun part! Have the child dip their fingers into different colors of paint. (For some of my students with more limited abilities, I used a paint brush to apply paint to their fingertips.) Then they can make kernels all over their yellow ear of corn. They can do a pattern or just dot away until the ear is full of kernels!

4. Allow time for the paint to dry. After it’s dry, attach the leaves to the ear. I used glue to keep mine in place; however, I wish I had used a brad to attach the leaves so the students could have practiced pulling back the husk to reveal the corn!

This would also be a good lesson around Thanksgiving to teach about the first Thanksgiving and the help that the Native Americans gave to the Pilgrims in planting maize.

Enjoy!

Fall: Reflect & Recharge!

There is something about the transition to fall that causes me to pause and reflect. The leaves burst into vibrant, warm colors seemingly overnight and the crispness of the air brings new life to my soul. I feel both refreshed and reflective.

While walking at the park today with Macie, I took extra care to step on every crunchy leaf I could find and to inhale extra deep breaths of the fresh air. The weather was perfect and it recharged all my batteries for the week ahead. Not to mention my park excursion wore Macie out so for once she is resting peacefully at my feet rather than racing around the living room. Success!

The weather also brought back memories of this time last year, when I was planning for my engagement shoots. I absolutely LOVED the idea of fall engagement photos and was so excited to get the chance to have two shoots! The first was with Steven Mark Stauffer, an up-and-coming photographer who is one of Justin’s childhood buddies (and an usher in our wedding). The second shoot a few weeks later was with Tim & Sasha Rothwell of Rothwell Photography. They were our wedding photographers and are also good friends of Justin’s family.   Getting to have two fall engagement sessions allowed me the chance to try out different things and see what I really loved, and I thought I would share some tips I discovered through these two sessions.

Fall Engagement; Photo Credit Steven Mark Stauffer

1. Find a meaningful location. Our first shoot took place outside my school, a place I dearly loved to work. I loved the view I got to see every day driving in to the parking lot, and it made the perfect backdrop for pictures! The second shoot took place at a local park where Justin and I had our first non-official “date” where we ran the path that circled the park, played frisbee, and ended up playing on the playground for an embarrassingly long time. It was the perfect start to our fun-loving relationship and the perfect place to take engagement pictures. Whenever I look at any of our pictures, I’m reminded of the special memories we have in each location and it warms my heart to think of the meaning those places have in my life.  Whether you take pictures in your hometown, at your college campus, at your favorite vacation spot, or in your backyard, I encourage you to make sure at least a few of them are taken in a meaningful location. Trust me, it makes looking back at the pictures even better!

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2. Embrace fall’s color scheme… I have a soft spot for bright colors. I have several pairs of hot pink shoes in my closet that I frequently wear. I love to punch up an outfit with pops of bright color, but a fall engagement shoot is not the time to bust those out. In my first shoot, I stuck with warm orange, yellow, gold, and brown tones to complement the surrounding landscape and loved the result! We did swap outfits in our first shoot to add a little variety.

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3. …but also be yourself! In the second shoot, I decided to still go with neutral colors, but I chose gray and ice blue as a contrast to the warm fall colors. I then could add a pop of color in my necklace and loved the result! The key to using different colors is to keep it subtle. Now is still not the time for those hot pink shoes.

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4. Explore! I firmly believe fall is the best time to discover beauty in unexpected places. In our first photo shoot, we did some wandering (with permission) on the property and found a small shed that made a nice backdrop for a few pics. At the second shoot, we wandered away from the playground area to a pond. We had never walked around the pond before, but when we did we found some beautiful spots for pics!

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5. Stay flexible with the weather. Our first shoot was supposed to happen on a Sunday; however, on Friday we looked ahead at the radar and saw it was supposed to POUR! We called Steven up and asked if we could bump up the time. He only had about an hour slot to squeeze us in later that same day but we made it work! I was nervous because it was so last minute and I worried about sunlight, but I LOVED the way the pictures turned out! If possible, try to keep a few time slots open to work around weather situations. This will depend on the schedule of your photographer as well.

5a) If it does rain, don’t panic! While I got lucky with two gorgeous days to shoot engagement pictures, it did completely pour on my wedding day (but that’s another post). Suffice to say, rain happens. We deal with it! If it does rain on your day and you can’t change the shoot, get creative! There are some super cute rain boots and umbrellas out there and I have seen some pictures turn out very well with them! Maybe you can even get a Notebook-worthy kiss-in-the-rain picture. 🙂

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6. Consider the fall lighting. When our photographers told us to head to this spot along a river at the park, we thought they were crazy. It looked like just a bunch of weeds to us. But their well-trained eye saw that the lighting was just right for a stunning set of pictures. Check out the ways that light is changing the look of seemingly unordinary things around you.

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7. Add personality in the details. Justin loves mullets. (Yes, you read that right). While he thankfully did not grow one out for the shoot, he did wear a belt buckle proclaiming his love for them. And that turned out to be one of my favorite pictures because it totally embraced the uniqueness of his mullet love. I also think the picture of our shoes is a cute way to some some personality. Find ways to get creative showing your true colors in the detail shots!

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8. Candid. Candid. Candid. Some posed pictures are fine. Having all your pictures in poses can look fake. Find photographers you are comfortable being yourself around, take a few formal/posed pictures, and then have them snap away! I love the pictures that capture Justin and I in a truly spontaneous moment because those pictures show us in our element. They capture our love for each other way better than a posed picture does.

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9. Have fun! I had SO much fun at both shoots! Make sure you are having a good time. It shouldn’t be stressful. It should be exciting and fun! Roll with the punches, don’t try to control everything, and just have a ball! Believe me, I am a Type-A personality and I sometimes have trouble following that advice but I’m so glad I let loose during these shoots. We found this random exercise equipment along a cross-country path on our first photo shoot and we just goofed around on it taking some pictures that now make me smile every time I see them. So choose JOY over perfection and have a great time!

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10. Don’t forget that sunset! Fall sunsets are truly the best. Need I say more?

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Switch-Access Links

As all my teacher friends can attest, there are a lot of websites that are great as learning resources. And I mean a LOT.

Many of my students access computer games and activities by using a switch, and in my years of teaching, I have accumulated quite the collection of websites for switch use, some for academic purposes and some just for fun when a student has free time. I hate filling up my bookmark bar with a million and five (okay, slight exaggeration) of these sites, and I didn’t like having to search through my chaotic “Teacher Things” Pinterest board to find them all, so in an effort to simplify, I’ve compiled a list of sites that I have found to be useful for varying levels of abilities and needs. I categorized them so I could easily find sites that would work for each student based on need. Some of the sites are repeated below because they fit more than one category of use.

Single-Press Cause & Effect Learning. These sites are for beginning switch users or users who are still working on learning that hitting the switch will produce a result or desired effect. They give the student 100% chance of success because they cannot hit a “wrong” answer.

  • SENSwitcher Students can work their way up to multi-press as they improve their skills.
  • Priory Woods A fun way for students to activate a short video. Lots of songs and variety of popular TV shows and movies to keep students interested.
  • HelpKidzLearn This website has a TON of great cause & effect games and stories for switch use. The free subscription gets you access to a few activities under each category, but you can choose to subscribe for less than $2 monthly and gain access to all the activities.
  • KneeBouncers Unfortunately, this site requires a paid membership for almost all activities (although you can sign-up for a one-month free trial). It has lots of games and activities for cause & effect learning and is even great for young children without disabilities.
  • Dartboard Hit the switch two times  (once for horizontal coordinate and once for vertical) in order to “throw” the dart. While it is easy to participate in this game, the concept may be better suited for higher-level users.
  • Papunet First Games Simple clicks allow different pictures to pop up around the screen. There are some simply-for-fun games and some are great for practicing vocabulary of fruits, vegetables, and animals.
  • Shiny Learning Very simple games that are lots of fun! Some single hit, some press and hold, and some multi-click  activities.

Academic Learning & Stories

  • Hiyah Slideshows This website allow your student to use a switch to click through a ready-made slideshow to learn about a concept such as colors, shapes, seasons, holidays and can also be used to increase learning with dolch words and basic math.  There are also stories they can read.
  • Papunet Games This site is FULL of learning activities. Puzzles, dominoes, memory games, games of precision, sudokus, word exercises, drawing exercises, first games, and more!
  • Storyline Online Short videos of famous actors talking about and reading their favorite children’s stories. The story illustrations are “brought to life” for the viewers to watch and all stories are read in around 5-7 minutes.
  • Tar Heel Reader Users create powerpoint books that students can read through by having their switch set to left and right arrows or by having the switch “click” the left arrow like a mouse. The cool thing about this website is you can search for a topic (i.e. “Halloween,” “Dr. Seuss,” etc) and find lots of books on that topic. All the books can be set to be read aloud. You can also upload your own books!
  • Online Talking Stories The title is pretty self-explanatory. Lots and lots of stories to choose from that are animated and read aloud.

Multi-Switch/Keyboard User Games. These games are for experienced switch users who have moved past the cause & effect understanding and are ready for a challenge. Some of these are pretty high level so make sure you experiment with them first to make sure they’re right for your student.

  • BBC Games These games are fairly complex and may be best for two players.
  • Dartboard This fun game allows a student to hit the spacebar twice in order to throw darts. Could be used as a cause & effect activity with two single-presses, but the strategy and game itself is probably best suited for a higher-level user.

Enjoy these sites! And please let me know if you have found other ones to be helpful and I will gladly add them to my list.

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Disclaimer: I received no compensation, monetary or otherwise, for endorsing any of these websites. I had no contact with the administration of any site and am recommending them only as sites that worked well and allowed success for my students in my classroom.