Friday, May 1, 2015

May 1st

image from here courtesy of PhotoPin

Happy first of May friends!

One year ago today, my husband and I were making the drive from Paris to Stuttgart… I think it's time for us to go back. :)

I hope you all have an enjoyable holiday (if you get it) and weekend!

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah: 2015 A-Z Review

One of my favorite rides at Walt Disney World in Florida is Splash Mountain. It's based loosely on the book by Joel Chandler Harris entitled Uncle Remus. At the beginning of the ride (as with most) everything is pleasant and happy. Absolutely nothing could go wrong! Until it does. You get caught and tossed into the briar patch! (Or take a nasty spill down a waterfall.) Ahhh! But y'know what? This is a children's story: at the end of the day everyone is singing and happy. :)

♫ "Zip-a-dee-doo-dah… zip-a-dee-a… My oh my, what a wonderful day! Plenty of sunshine heading my way! Zip-a-dee-doo-dah… zip-a-dee-a…!"

Isn't that pretty similar to life itself?

You have all of these ups and downs, a roller coaster of emotions, and, hopefully, at the end, everything ends up just as it should. Maybe it's not how you planned or what you expected, but, no matter, it works!

During the past month, participating in the A-Z blogging challenge has been that roller coaster ride for me. While I was already blogging 5 days a week, it was a little more challenging to try to find intentional words to fit into my blogging "scheme". As if that weren't enough of a challenge, I upped the ante for myself by visiting as many blogs as it took to get 5 comments written for other bloggers per day. Sometimes I visited more, sometimes less, but I'm fairly certain that in the past few weeks I have visited at least a few hundred blogs! I know that the hosts made an attempt to visit all of the blogs and comment at least once and I am so impressed at their agility in visiting nearly 2,000 other blogs involved as well as keeping up with their own blog writing! (Do you all have jobs and families too?!?!)

One of the biggest differences for me between this year and last is that last year my days were not planned at all AND my husband and I were leaving to go to Europe. I ended last year on V (for Victory!) and never looked back.

Well, today I'm looking back, at 2014's posts and 2015's. Before I get to the end of this blogpost I also plan on sharing 5 (more) of my favorite A-Z bloggers whom I hope I will continue to enjoy following long after the April A-Z 2015 is completed! 

• Beautiful Clothes – featuring Worn on TV and my favorite Anthropologie dress ever - the Geojacquard!
J is for Top Gun – I love 80s movies and Top Gun is definitely a favorite! Watching the the making of the movie on Youtube was really enlightening, and I love that I went against the grain and talked about something that didn't technically start with the letter J…
Now & Then: 5 Favorite 90's Movies – Children's movies were awesome in the 90s. :)
Post-Easter Cupcake Deliciousness – The images of these delectable treats make me so happy!
Scatterbrained & Stressed + So Much Candy! – Yum!

Absence – In this post I discussed the Germanwings crash as well as He Wanted the Moon by Mimi Baird. I feel like I was really able to pull the two topics together well, and I was grateful for all of the comments and feedback I received on the post!
Georgia A-Z – I had a lot of fun putting these posts together and really considering what all there is to do in my home state. While I think my writing could have been a bit better had I given myself more time to research and put together my blog posts, it was a fun series and I would love to do something like this again!
Impressive! Cookie Love – Reviewing cookbooks combines a few of my favorite things: getting new products to try for free (specifically books), making delicious treats, and spending time with my super-understanding husband. Yes, I would definitely do this again. :)
Delicious Recipes + review of Sweetapolita – This was another fun cookbook review that I got to do on behalf of Blogging For Books. :) Have you entered my giveaway yet?

5 More Blogs I Enjoyed Reading During the 2015 A-Z Challenge:
Reel Focus Pushing the Pen A Postcard A Day Life In German Internet Marketing & SEO

Now that I've shared about my experience with blogging A-Z, tell me about yours. I'd love to hear from you! Be sure to link-up your blog and perhaps share a bit about yourself in the comments! I'd love to meet more of you!

** Participate in the A-Z blogging challenge with me! You know you want to! :)

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Wordless Wednesday: Sunset

(climbing a mountain)
me: "Are we there yet?"

** Participate in the A-Z blogging challenge with me! You know you want to! :)

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Georgia A-Z Pt. 8

Dear Readers, I feel that the end is upon us. April A-Z ends in 3 days and today marks the end of my exploration of Georgia/Atlanta A-Z. Sad, right? What will I do next? :)

If you've missed any of my other Georgia A-Z posts, you can find them in the links below, listed by letter.

A-D • E-G • H-K • L-O • P-S • T • U-W

I've really enjoyed exploring and sharing tourist attractions in Georgia from A-Z and I've learned a lot from my experience, but I know I have missed plenty! If you have any that you think I should have included (or perhaps don't think I know about!), please share in the comments. As it is, with Museum week here in Atlanta this week I've already learned about a few museums I didn't even know existed! (If only I had more time to visit and take advantage of the 2 for 1 offer going on right now!)

Anyway, the following are the last 3 letters of the alphabet which, in my opinion, are the most difficult to find a location for:

X. SiX Flags Over Georgia

Opening in 1967, Six Flags Over Georgia is a 290 acre theme park just west of Atlanta featuring many of Warner Bros. Studios cartoon characters including Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Batman, and the Looney Tunes characters. The park was inspired by the six different flags that have flown over the state of Georgia: Spain, France, UK, USA, the Confederate States of America, and the Georgia state flag. That is the largest extent of historical themes found in the park, however.

Having been to the theme park multiple times in the past, I can't say that there is anything particularly memorable or striking about the park. Entrance is expensive at around $43 per person if you purchase online. Occasionally, in the past Publix grocery stores and Coca-Cola products carry coupons that can be used at the gate, but I haven't seen them in years. (Mainly because I don't go that often.) There are plenty of fun rides for kids and adults alike including lots of roller coasters, theatre shows, and carnival-like rides. If you go during the summer (and buy a separate pass) you can visit the sister theme park, White Water (which is more for kids than adults) that offers numerous water activities to keep the whole family both busy and cool during the hot Atlanta summers. (Don't forget sunscreen!!)

Y. Young Harris

A small town in north Georgia, this area offers fantastic views of the Appalachian mountains. It is the former hometown of Georgia Senator and Governor Zell Miller. It is also the location of the small, local private Young Harris College. You can visit the local Brasstown Valley Resort to hike, go horseback riding or play golf. It is also the perfect location to get away from the city/crowds and rent a cabin out in the woods. :)

While I attended college for a year in Young Harris, so much has changed that it's really hard for me to provide any recommendations for what to do there. One of my favorite restaurants up there was The Blue Otter which offered a view of a lake and mountains in the distance and they served some fantastic wings. (I don't even like wings if that says something!) Of course, the company I was with, my roommate in particular, may have tainted my memories of this place… Be sure to let me know if you ever go to Young Harris or this nearby restaurant in Hiawassee, GA to confirm whether or not it actually is good. :)

Z Zoo Atlanta!

Founded in 1889, when a businessman purchased a bankrupt circus and donated the animals to the city of Atlanta, the city opted to house the animals in Grant Park where they still exist today. The zoo continued to grow in the 1930s when another donate offered his private menagerie. By the 1970s many of the exhibits and attractions were looking outdated and in disrepair, so concerned citizens created the Atlanta Zoological Society raising funds to improve the zoo. In the 1980s, the zoo was privatized and went under aggressive restoration bringing in a pair of pandas as the star attraction.

As of today, the zoo offers a fantastic way to experience wildlife and provides many exciting events. Children can take advantage of the kiddie rides around the park (including a small train). If you are a public library pass holder in the state of Georgia, you can visit the zoo for free after requesting the pass from your local library. (It may be on hold or being used by another patron on the day you want, so be sure to stay flexible and ask in advance!) The zoo is open Monday through Friday from 9:30AM to 5:30PM and Saturday and Sunday until 6:30PM. The cost for an adult is $23 and children are $18. While, in my opinion, that's a bit high, if you stay for the day and perhaps leave the park to have a picnic lunch on benches outside of the park, it could be worth the cost in entertainment value. Do keep in mind, like other parks, drink and snack prices are also high.

So… what are your thoughts on my A-Z list? Do you have any other suggestions or recommendations? Have you been to any of these attractions?

X marks the spot. :)

** Participate in the A-Z blogging challenge with me! You know you want to! :)

Monday, April 27, 2015

5 ways to WIN!! when Teaching Kids Math Skills

image from here courtesy of PhotoPin

Over the past year, the third grader I watch has been sent home with a "bingo" sheet of activities she has to do for homework all related to math. She absolutely hates it because her big brothers have "real" homework with worksheets and such to do. Truthfully, I think the bingo sheet is awesome for third graders; they get to choose how they want to do their homework and it feels more like "play" than learning. Best of all, as I've seen when working with this girl we will call "M", is that she is entirely creative and imaginative when it comes to completing the homework. It's less about following the rules to a T and more about doing what works for her.

I won't go into what the bingo card entails, because 1) I don't have it with me and 2) the concepts are pretty simple – addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. Normally, when I work with M to complete these tasks, we can do them the easy, boring way – following the directions exactly like her teacher assigned – OR we can be imaginative and do them in a more complicated, thoughtful, creative way – which is how I prefer to do it. :)

While I can see how worksheets can be a simple, easy way to reinforce ideas learned in school, when working with M and other children, I've often found that fun games and real life actives are more successful and beneficial for children. The following are just some of the alternative ways I practice math skills with the children I watch:

1. Chutes and Ladders

Originally, Chutes and Ladders was a game intended for preschoolers to teach addition (or perhaps moreso: counting). The board game is comprised of a grid of squares listing numbers 1-100, going back and forth zig zagging across the board from left to right (then right to left), and from the bottom to the top. You spin the spinner receiving a number from 1-6 and move up the board however many spaces you spin. As you move across and up the board, however, you may find yourself landing on a ladder or chute (AKA slide). If you land on the ladder, you advance further up the board; if you land on a chute, you have to slide back down the board.

When M and I play, we change up the rules completely. One minute we are going up chutes an down ladders; the next we are starting at 100 and working our way back to 1. Oh - and the most important difference is that we use Star Wars figurines (very important!) and dice instead of a spinner. As we move up and down the board, I have M add/subtract numbers in her head before she makes a move. i.e. If she throws a 2 and a 3, she must add 5, and, for example, subtract from 100 before she moves her figurine to square #95. Sometimes it's super easy – we only change one rule, for instance. Other times, it can be quite complicated as you think through all of the changes you have made to the rules. One of the things I love about this method is that it gives new life to an old game and reinforces what kids are learning in school. The game becomes more interesting and fun to play then perhaps it would be otherwise.

2. Darts

In this game, the goal is to reach a specific number faster than the person you are playing against (basically, just like normal darts except with multiple turns). M came up with this game on her own, and I've found it to be a fantastic way for me to practice aim. The game moves along really fast, and even M's brothers are more than happy to practice "math skills" with her. :) As you play different rounds, it can be fun to change up the numbers on the dart board so that they are more difficult to add/subtract/multiply/divide. You can start with a goal number of reaching -say, for example- 1000 or you could work backwards from that number and try to reach 0. You can even make it more difficult for the player by indicating they can only be in a certain area of the room … or they have to throw the dart while facing backwards. No matter how you play, the kids are practicing essential math skills in a creative and interesting way.

3. Monopoly

I haven't played this for educational purposes with the kids I watch, but I still feel that it is a fantastic game to teach numbers, counting, and finance. You do have to be careful, though, because if a child isn't old enough yet, they can get bored pretty quickly. When I play with M and her brothers, M always wants to be the banker. While I know this is beneficial for her in learning to count and deal with money, about halfway through every game I want to inwardly scream at how long it takes her to deal the money. And all of the corrections that must be made! Nevertheless, playing games like this as well as practicing real life situations by taking children to stores and giving them a certain amount to spend is a really practical and educational way for children to learn about finances, handling their money, and counting it. It can be a bit bland and boring seeing the numbers printed in a word problem at school.

(Another idea I've seen used successfully is giving fake money as rewards and payment for chores that can be turned in for treats.)

4. Alton Brown, Cooking, Fractions

Breaking away from games altogether, Justin went a different route when showing another group of children I've babysat for about fractions. These kids were interested in making bread. They had seen it done in a bread maker, but to make it with their bare hands? It was a really fun experiment to do while the parents were away. For one, the kids didn't want to get their hands dirty when touching the gooey dough! Secondly, they had a ton of questions that only Alton Brown sock puppets could help them with. (And funnily enough, even the 3 year old was intrigued by the cooking show sock puppets!) Finally, I consider food to be a fantastic opportunity to talk about fractions. How much of a cup do you need? If you want to split a loaf of bread three ways, how much does each kid get? Etc… Etc… Now I can't guarantee that every child will take a personal interest in learning math skills this way, but it is definitely a fantastic, fun, edible alternative to intangible problem-solving worksheets.

5. BlackJack

I have to admit that before watching M and her brothers I knew very little about poker and most other card games. One week while their mom was out of town, their dad had to help M with her math homework. Apparently he got bored with the math games quickly too, so he settles on teaching his children BlackJack. With coins, no less! All of a sudden, I found myself babysitting for little gamblers! ;) It was fun, though. The kids taught me BlackJack which is where the dealer has two cards and deals each of the players two cards apiece. You turn your cards over so that the table can see them: If the numbers total over 21, you are out. If the numbers added together equal 21, you can't ask for more cards. And if the numbers total less than 21, you can ask for more cards until you reach 21 or go over. The person who is closest to 21 (or exactly on 21) wins. I have to admit it was fun for a little while, especially when you included betting, but after a while, it too lost it's charm. Perhaps there is a more interesting way to play this with kids? Or maybe I don't know all of the rules? Either way, this can be a fun way to practice math skills.

If you have kids, do you use any unique and alternative ways to reinforce math skills at home? If you don't have kids, what were some of your favorite games to play as a child? Did you mix any up and change the rules?

* Participate in the A-Z blogging challenge with me! You know you want to! :)
** Blog prompt thanks to 30 Days of Lists and Listers Gotta List.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Recalling High School Movie Favorites

My senior year of high school was absolutely my favorite year in school ever. I had been challenged to break away from my old group of friends (who were more interested in canoodling than spending time with me) and meet some new people. And meet new people, I did! For once in my life, I felt semi-popular. People would literally show up at my front door, without calling first, just to hang out… no matter what time of day or night.

While I can't remember all that we did, I will never forget how we crammed onto my queen-sized bed and watched movies together. Sitting so close gave us a feeling of comfort and made us feel like we weren't alone in the world. We had one another's backs … literally and figuratively … or at least for that year.

Even though my group of friends disbanded shortly after we went off to college, there are still a number of movies that I look back on in fond memory.

1. Mean Girls

A sarcastic look at high school culture from director Tina Fey made this movie a win in my book.

2. Win A Date With Tad Hamilton

This movie wasn't that great. The part that was great? When Justin and the main male character (Topher Grace) say the exact same things at the exact same time… "Wonder whose getting together in this movie?"

3. Ferris Bueller's Day Off

Justin and I recently watched this with a group of kids. We had a lot of fun even though the kids knew what was coming the whole time.

4. The Breakfast Club

What happens when five students who have nothing in common get detention for a day? Nothing good. ;)

5. Breakfast at Tiffany's

This was a movie I had been meaning to watch for years… I finally got my chance in high school and it quickly rose to one of my favorites. :)

6. The Princess Bride

We watched a lot of 80s movies… but at least this one isn't your average everyday ho-hum fairytale. :)

7. Mission: Impossible 2

I didn't have the chance to watch the original, but I definitely enjoyed the second one!

8. Memento

This was an intense movie that really made you think…

9. The Matrix

I was pretty late in seeing this for the first time, but I really enjoyed it when I did finally see it. 

10. Finding Nemo

Last but not least, this movie was really fun to see in theatres. As one of Pixar's first as well as featuring the amazing Ellen DeGenres, of course it was going to be amazing! Best of all: Finding Dory, the sequel is set to come out this year! Hooray!

What were some of your favorite movies from high school? Do seeing movies from that time in your life bring back any special memories?

* Participate in the A-Z blogging challenge with me! You know you want to! :)

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Delicious Recipes + Review of Sweetapolita

Over Easter break I discovered the fantastic blog of Rosie Alyea, author of Sweetapolita. Before ordering the book, Justin and I attempted the scrumptious Meringue Dream Cake – a cake that combines yummy meringues with a delicious dark chocolate cake. Aside from the rabbit, the cake was the highlight of our lunch that day!

When I received Sweetapolita last Friday, as with all cook books, I had to find the perfect recipe to make that night. Justin was tired from work, so if I wanted to make something, it had to be me doing it (for the most part, that is). While meringues, sprinkles, and milkshakes took the cake (haha) for being the easiest and requiring the fewest ingredients, I ended up settling on the Buttermilk Cake. With a total of eight ingredients and confectioner sugar topping, I assumed this would be one of the best (read: easiest) recipes for me to begin with without the need for grocery shopping. When going to the grocery stores takes a minimum of 20 minutes, at 7PM at night after a long day of work, you avoid getting back in the car even if it means cutting the recipe in half – which is exactly what we did. Using Justin's brain power (I trust his more than my own.), I basically managed to throw the recipe together in about 30 minutes. We then threw (yes, threw!) the cake in the oven for approximately 30 minutes (rather than the 20-22 minutes suggested) while we ate dinner. Given my baking skills and Justin's tiredness, the cake came out far from perfect. The center wasn't all the way done (we did one cake pan rather than the suggested 2 since we had cut the cake recipe in half to begin with), but the cake was fantastic when served with ice cream!

After messing up the Buttermilk Cake recipe and still getting good results, we moved to something a bit more difficult – the Pastel Vanilla Birthday Cake – feeling the desire to give the book another shot at glory. After having spent a month making delicious sweets beginning with the book Cookie Love, as well as making the Meringue Dream Cake, and the Buttermilk Cake, it was time for us to go shopping and stock up on baking ingredients. We spent $40 at the store on flour, milk, eggs, sugar, baking powder, etc, etc… It was quite the investment, but then again so was the cake we were about to make. It took us between one and two hours to put this confectionary dream together, but we did it! One step at a time… We began at 4PM and did not finish until 8PM with dinner included. The cake ended up being light and fluffy with a similar consistency to that of Angel Food Cake. And the icing? The icing was a kid's dream! Tons of sugar! None of the people who ate the cake with us (all adults) could finish simply because it was soooo sweet! (In the future, I would make the cake with a less sweet icing, but that's just my opinion.) The inside layers of the cake included an eggless sugar cookie dough which was a fun touch! My step-grandmother was so thrilled that she immediately began writing down the 4 page recipe! In fact, she wanted me to include in this review that this recipe is her very favorite cake recipe that she has ever had in her (more than) 70 years of living! (Quite an accomplishment!)

While I have really only shared about the experience in making Sweeapolita cakes, the book actually offers tons of other recipes that I can't wait to try in the future! The sweets are all very colorful and fun, and the author provides tons of information for getting the recipes just right. Justin loved that she used weight measurements in her recipes saying that this little detail made it far easier to get the recipe just right. He did comment that you need to read the recipe in full before attempting it though. Sometimes the recipes contain unexpected surprises (cookie dough in the icing?) and sometimes the pictures aren't accurate to what the authoress indicates in her recipe.

Just so that you can get an idea of what else to expect in the book, let me list off a few of my must-bake recipes for the future:

• Coney Island Cheesecake (NYC peeps: Is this really a thing? It looks delicious!)
• Edible Chalk and Chalkboards (Fun idea for kids!)
• Pink Candied Carnival Popcorn
• Campfire Deluxe Cake

FYI: Best Friends For Frosting shared the Pastel Vanilla Birthday Cake recipe if you want to check it out. :)

Have you seen this book or read Rosie Alyea's blog?

Now for the fun part.

I have some spatulas, measuring cups, and a $5 Amazon gift card to give away! Want a chance to win?  Share something food or baking related with me. It can be absolutely anything – a story of cooking with your children, a favorite recipe, a baking or cooking tip, or anything else you can think of! Then enter the rafflecopter below. You will have two weeks to enter and you can enter as many times as you want! There will be 7 winners in all with one winner receiving the Amazon gift card. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

* Participate in the A-Z blogging challenge with me! You know you want to! :)
** I received this book for free in exchange for a review. All opinions are my own.
*** Giveaway is sponsored by me and not Rosie Alyea, Swwetapolita, the publisher, or anyone else.