Confessions of a First Time Dance Mom…Surviving the Inaugural Recital

Unlike a majority of American women I never took dance lessons as a child. My parents offered up the opportunity but I was an extremely shy little girl and unless I had a BFF to go with me I refused to try anything new. So when my little one was three I asked her if she wanted to take dance lessons at a real dance studio. My daughter is brave and outgoing and only a wee bit shy, so unlike her mommy, she enthusiastically said “YES” and I became a “dance mom.”

The Studio- Fully unaware of the local dance scene I enrolled my daughter at the nearest studio, a mere two miles from our house! Little did I know that the Performing Arts Centre is a premiere dance studio in the Saint Louis area and has produced internationally known performers. My daughter was blessed to have Ms. Debbie Davenport (one of the owners) as her teacher and we had a drama free year of dance until the big recital edged near. That’s when I faced a wave of uncertainty as I navigated my new role as “dance mom.”

The Make Up- The thought of applying eye shadow and lipstick to a four year old scared the begeevees out of me! So I turned to my mommy mentor for make-up advice. She told me what she used for her daughter’s recent recital and explained in great detail how she applied it. I took copious notes and traveled to three different stores to get what we needed! But then my daughter flat out declared that she had no plans on wearing make-up. She would only wear strawberry flavored lip stick! So I decided to do a trial run with my dad by my side (he is an artist who is skilled at applying make-up) Simply suggesting that she put on make-up led my little one to a giant meltdown so I said, “Why don’t you watch while Pops applies make-up to mommy?” After the transformation I emerged with big red lips and dark purple eyelids. She still refused and I went to bed praying for a miracle.

img_9232-1
Pops applying make-up to our little dancer on the night of the recital.

 The Dress Rehearsal- On the morning of the dress rehearsal I had everything laid out (make-up, ponytail holder, hairspray) prior to greeting my little dancer. She awoke with snot dripping from her nose and I just didn’t know how we were going to make it through the morning! But to my surprise my daughter was cooperative and while she played a game on my phone I successfully applied foundation and eye shadow to her precious little face. Then came the lipstick and a bit of resistance but after bribing her with a stuffed pup she had her eye on at our local supermarket, the lips were done! Another $15.99 to unlock hidden ponies on the “My Little Pony” game she was playing on my phone and her hair was beautifully styled and sprayed with hairspray. I became “that mom” and made promises through sheer desperation, but learned if I was brave enough to become a dance mom I had to go all in and never look back!

The Dressing Room- My daughter’s Godmother came into town for the recital and she accompanied us behind stage. I was immediately overwhelmed as we navigated through a maze of mother’s doing hair, applying make-up and fixing costumes. While little girls, giddy with excitement, ran through a sea of sequins and hairspray in search of their instructors. “Jennifer, I think I’ll go out and sit with your family,” said my daughter’s Godmother. The thought of being left alone with all of the chaos and commotion made me nervous. As the blood drained from my face she saw the horror in her proposal. She gently laid a reassuring hand on my shoulder and said, “I’m sorry I didn’t prepare you for this. It’s ok, I’ll stay.” It was, perhaps, one of the greatest gifts she could have given me. As she applied red nail polish to my little hula baby’s toes, I was overcome with emotion. For at that moment I realized Aunt Kay Kay (what my daughter affectionately calls her Godmother) had traveled from Ohio to Missouri not only for my daughter but for me! My daughter’s Godmother applying polish to my daughter’s little toes backstage.

 The Performance- My daughter danced on the second recital night. Since the studio is bursting with talent the owners split the recital into five three-hour performances on various nights. The competition teams and dance company perform every night, giving the audience a nice sampling of dance styles and abilities through a variety of age groups. My daughter’s class were the “babies of the night” and when working with three and four year olds you never know what will happen! I was surprised how confident my daughter was on stage. She wasn’t born a dancer but she knew the routine and did every step without missing a beat! Her headpiece came off during the end of the dance (an epic beginner dance mom fail) but like a pro she didn’t stop and pick it up, instead she continued on as if nothing happened. She was one of the only girls who remembered to blow a kiss at the end and when I picked her up backstage I could tell she was proud of herself and her accomplishments!

Our little Hula Baby!

Let’s Hear it For the Boys and the Girls and the Adults!– If you’re reading this thinking “I’m a boy mom so I’ll never be a dance mom,” then Shame on You! Three of the seven graduating seniors at my daughter’s dance studio are boys! Dance doesn’t discriminate, it doesn’t require prerequisites or prior experience. Everyone is welcome! Boys, girls, even adults! A quality studio will have an appropriate class for everyone! In fact, there was an adult only number that highlighted an introductory tap class. Although far from professional, these men and women were filled with joy and radiated confidence, reminding me that life is filled with taking risks and we should all be open to new adventures!

Dancing Through Life!– I don’t know how long my daughter will continue dancing. She may never make the competitive team or dance professionally but in one short year dance has taught her lessons to last a lifetime. Dance has improved her focus, discipline, gross motor abilities and cooperation skills. She has learned to follow directions, watch her peers, wait her turn and most importantly, what it takes to be part of a team! She took her responsibility on stage seriously and was genuinely upset when one of her peers chose to “do her own thing” during the dance instead of following the practiced routine. Although not unusual at this age, my daughter called it “disappointing” and asked me, “Momma did you see the friend in my class who was not cooperating!” It was an important life lesson. But whether they followed the routine or not the girls all accomplished something many adults have never achieved. They fearlessly got up on a huge stage, faced the blinding lights and joyfully danced in front of a packed audience. And at that moment I was proud to call myself a “dance mom!”

 

 

 

 

The Tonys and the Stanley Cup…The Seasons Greatest Singers, Dancers and Hockey Players!

Everyone in St. Louis is wearing blue these days as we enthusiastically cheer on our hometown hockey team, the Saint Louis Blues, to what we hope will be a historic Stanley Cup victory! But on Sunday, June 9, this girl isn’t excited about game 6 of the championship along with the rest of the city. Instead, I’m wrapped up in my own game, my personal Super Bowl taking place on the Great White Way. A magical night filled with both victory and defeat that I look forward to all year long with great anticipation. I’ll be cheering on the best of Broadway as I watch the 73rd annual Tony Awards!

My Musical Theater Beginnings- My fascination with musical theater began at an early age. My dad was a high school art teacher who designed the sets, supplied the props and was in charge of the house (ticket sales, posters, program design, ushers) for the annual high school spring musical. Having an “in” with the house manager privileged me with front row seats to every performance! I must have been five or six when I saw my dad’s first show, “West Side Story”and I immediately became hooked. I remember sitting there completely mesmerized. I fell in love with everything… the music, the dancing, the emotion, the set, the costumes, the spot lights! A new world opened for me and I eagerly entered in by acting out the shows I saw in our backyard and critiquing the performances (I saw each show three times).

As a child, the high school productions introduced me to many of the classics like Rodger and Hammerstein’s “The Sound of Music” and “The King and I,” and Meredith Wilson’s “The Music Man” and “Guys and Dolls.” I also saw contemporary productions like “Pippin” and “Working” by Stephen Schwartz.

One of my favorites was “Grease” and to this day it remains in my top ten. I remember feeling like I was part of that production when I saw my mom’s makeup table and baby blue Samsonite carry-on cosmetic bag being used by Rizzo and Sandy on stage. As an impressionable preteen I related to Sandy, yet sympathized with Rizzo when she belted out, “There Are Worse Things I Could Do.”

Meeting My Broadway Tribe- The Tony Awards didn’t enter my life until high school. That’s when I met friends in marching band who were just like me… Broadway obsessed! It was the era of “Phantom of the Opera” and “Les Miserable” where musicals were mostly all sung through. We spent hours studying the CD liners, memorizing every, single, word! In concert band and in the pit orchestra for our own high school musicals we played music from the shows we were so passionate about. And on the night of the Tony Awards we gathered together, seeing numbers from nominated shows and cheering on our favorite performers.

The 60th Annual Tony Awards- In 2006 I checked a huge event off of my bucket list when I attended the 60th annual Tony Awards in person at Radio City Music Hall! Jersey Boys won best musical that year. My friend and I dressed in elegant evening gowns and experienced a once in a lifetime opportunity that we will never forget! Although legendary performers like Chita Rivera, James Earl Jones and Julie Andrews appeared tiny from our mile high seats, we were thrilled to simply be present.My story ends with the band geek marrying the captain of the football team (although he played in the orchestra during off season). And we are raising a well rounded little girl who is gaining an appreciation for live theater and live sporting events. So on Sunday, June 9, with an assist from a sophisticated remote and DVR, our family will avoid any interference and have a night choreographed with the seasons greatest singers, dancers and hockey players.

Fun With Silly McGilly, a New Saint Patrick’s Day Tradition

My maternal great great grandfather, James Beatty, was born in Ireland and immigrated to the United States when he was thirty years old. With an Irish ancestor on our family tree we have always celebrated Saint Patrick’s Day, the day when everyone is a wee bit Irish! This year we added a new tradition to our festivities…Silly McGilly!

In early March Silly McGilly arrived with a special picture book. We began by reading the book Silly McGilly, written in rhyme by Irish sisters Michelle Dougherty, Eileen Cowley and Victoria Coffey with whimsical illustrations by Charlotte Cheng. The book explains the story of Silly McGilly a lively leprechaun who plays tricks at night that are both fun and silly. In March, leprechauns leave Ireland and travel to faraway lands to play tricks both small and grand. The book kept my preschoolers attention and she immediately asked me to read it again. “Each night put your toy by a window in full view, this is my invitation to come visit you.” 

img_1655My daughter couldn’t wait to place Silly McGilly by her bedroom window; eagerly anticipating the fun tricks he would play. I kept some of the tricks simple like turning picture frames on their side, moving stuffed animals around, hiding her speech flash cards around the house and stacking the pillows on top of each other in the middle of the living room. There is a list of suggested tricks for both school and home at the end of the book. In our home, Silly McGilly turned our scrambled eggs green one morning and another day he left a trail of golden wrapped chocolate coins on the steps leading downstairs. My daughter squealed with delight upon this discovery and carefully collected each coin.

Parents and teachers can decide how often Silly McGilly will make a visit (every night, once a week, or just the night before Saint Patrick’s Day.) Children can play with Silly McGilly throughout the day and when he is placed by the window before bedtime it is a signal for the real Silly McGilly to come and play a trick. Although he plays his last trick on Saint Patrick’s Day Eve, before returning to Ireland, the book says Silly McGilly can return anytime children do a good deed or are extra kind. I look forward to having Silly McGilly visit us throughout the year! I thought it would be fun to have him bring doughnuts on National Doughnut Day (June 7) or brownies on National Brownie Day (December 8.)

The magic of Silly McGilly is perfect in the home or at school. As a former kindergarten teacher I would have loved introducing Silly McGilly to my students. His fun tricks would have brought excitement and light to the classroom in an otherwise gloomy time of year when the winter weather is lingering and everyone is dreaming of spring break and sunshine!

The Silly McGilly website provides further suggestions for tricks that can be played at home or at school. The website is filled with coloring pages and other exciting activities for children, parents and teachers. 

The book and doll set can be purchased on the Silly McGilly webiste or on Amazon. I know you can think of a little leprechaun or two who would love him as much as we do! Begin the St. Patrick’s Day tradition today!

My daughter loves Silly McGilly and looks forward to his funny tricks. Putting the Silly McGilly doll by her bedroom window has become part of her bedtime routine and the book is an instant favorite! As we get closer to Saint Patrick’s Day I wonder what shenanigans Silly McGilly has planned for our family?

img_7667

Selecting the Best Preschool For Your Family

In January of last year my husband and I made the difficult decision (maybe it was a bit more difficult for me) as to where we were going to send our daughter to preschool in August. Although the final decision was made in January we began researching possible schools a year or more before.

After visiting several schools, scouring over countless websites, reviews and brochures, I will never forget the emotion that quickly overtook me when we had found the perfect fit. There was child created work scattered around the room, evidence of project work in progress and a huge naturalist playground just outside the classroom door. Far from tidy and probably appearing a bit messy to some, there was evidence of learning and the room was a canvas for children to create and explore. The teacher was inviting, observant and child centered and when a parent asked her what questions he should ask, she quickly replied, “The teacher and the environment are two important things to look at.” (This is exactly what I told my husband to look for before we left the house) The room felt comfortable and oddly familiar. The space reminded me of my own classroom and it felt like home.

A year later we are extremely pleased with our choice. Our daughter is thriving, making new friends and learning everyday! To aid others I compiled a list for parents and caregivers who are beginning their “preschool search.”

Ask Other Families- The first thing I did was ask parents where their children go to preschool. I asked neighbors, moms at the library and parents at the park. I initiated the discussion during Little Gym classes and playgroups. I found many had done their own research and were happy to share with me. The list I compiled showed most of the options in my area. I viewed the schools websites and read reviews online. I began these conversations and web searches a few years before my daughter started preschool.

Location– Location, location, location! Although it might not be the first thing that comes to mind, location is an important factor when selecting a preschool. Some good questions to ask… How far is the school from your home and from your place of work? How early will you have to leave in the morning to drop your child off? If you work, how long will it take you to get to the school after work and then how long will it take to get home? What is the traffic flow? Will you be sitting in rush hour traffic or driving against it?

School Schedule- Are you looking for a full time preschool where you send your child to school five days a week or are you looking for a part time schedule? Do you want half day or full day attendance? Most preschool centers recommend a three year old attend a minimum of two days a week and a four year old three days a week. Does the school have flexibility on the days your child would attend?

Teachers and Staff– Perhaps the most important factor is finding a teacher, an assistant and an early childhood director that are child centered, caring and passionate about working with small children. The teacher and his or her commitment to the learning process and the overall well being of children is crucial in selecting a preschool for your child. Finding a teacher who is a skilled “kid watcher” and has a clear understanding of child development is important. A teacher who gets down on the childrens’ level and knows how to stretch children by asking questions that make them think and directing them to activities and projects that will expand their knowledge and creative thinking are positive things to look for. Other questions to ask… What kind of staff professional development does the center engage in? What is the teacher turnover rate at the school? Most schools have websites that briefly describe each teacher giving his or her experience, education and background. If you can’t find this information on the website don’t be afraid to ask.

Lillian with her teacher, Mrs. Stanglein, at Zion Lutheran Early Childhood Center.
Environment– Often considered a “second teacher,” the classroom environment is crucial to learning. Some things to look for… Is the classroom safe and child centered? Are materials and manipulatives easily accessible to every student? Look for safe shelving with rounded edges that are on the child’s eye level. Are there clearly defined areas in the classroom where children can work during choice time? (writing center, science area, art center, dramatic play, building/construction area, classroom library, sensory table) Is there a classroom library or quiet area with pillows, stuffed animals and soft chairs where children can read books and calm down? Does the room feel warm and inviting with child created work on display, touches of home (picture frames, plants and lamps), open ended toys like wooden blocks and dress up clothing or does it have a cold institutional feel with teacher created bulletin boards, commercialized toys, items stored on high shelves and undefined work spaces?

Pedagogy and Programs– When you enter a preschool classroom it may appear that the children are playing but play is a child’s work. Children learn through play especially when there are trained educators asking them about their work, guiding them to make connections, evaluating their progress and providing support and assistance. A good environment gives children the ability to construct knowledge from the world around them. Perhaps you are looking for an early childhood center that prescribes to a certain pedagogy? There are many being used today: Montessori, Reggio Emilia, The Project Approach, Waldorf, Highscope, just to name a few. Research shows that mixed age grouping is preferred, allowing children to learn from each other and providing teachers the opportunity to focus on the developmental needs of each child instead of their chronological age. Many preschools use a combination of several methods. Some lean towards the traditional with a strong academic emphasis while others are affiliated with a specific religion and incorporate religious studies into their day. No matter what methods are used, all preschools should practice developmentally appropriate practices that provide hands on learning, student choice and play. Before making a school visit it would be beneficial to define what attributes you and your family are looking for.

I hope this article provides some helpful tips as you and your family begin your preschool search. Please visit this NAEYC website (National Association for the Education or Young Children) for more assistance on selecting the perfect preschool for your family.

 

 

The Snowman… 40 Years of Snow Much Fun!

The mid-west just experienced a major snowstorm that dropped 11 inches of snow in our yard. My little one has never seen so much snow and we had fun exploring this winter wonderland! Our frosty fun included sledding, making footprints in the snow and building a snowman.

We continued our fun indoors by sipping hot chocolate and watching “The Snowman” and “The Snowman and the Snowdog” films, making “The Snowman” mini-book, being creative and making snow people and baking yummy snowman treats.

The Snowman– The book “The Snowman” written and illustrated by English author Raymond Briggs is a wordless book with beautiful illustrations that chronicles the adventures of a boy named James who builds a snowman that comes to life. The book was originally published in 1978 and just celebrated 40 years of making winter dreams come to life. The delightful book takes the reader on an adventure where James introduces the snowman to his world (with a few comical mishaps along the way) and continues with the snowman taking James on a magical journey of discovery to meet Father Christmas. Sadly, the story ends the way all winter tales do, with the sun appearing overhead, melting the snow and bringing this beloved friendship promptly to an end.

In 1982 a short animated film based on Raymond Briggs classic story, “The Snowman” was created and aired in the UK. The brilliant score was composed by Howard Blake. The wordless film relies on the animation and the music to tell the story.  I was first introduced to the film when my mom (a retired teacher) purchased it on VHS through a Scholastic Book order. When I taught kindergarten I looked forward to showing the classic film to my students after we completed a January unit of study on snow. Upon first seeing it I immediately fell in love with the music and often found myself listening to the score. So you can imagine my excitement when my husband and I performed “The Snowman Concert Version” with the Northwinds Concert Band a few years ago. Our performance played simultaneously with the projected film and included the song “Walking in the Air” performed by a young boy soprano.

The book and animated film quickly became Christmas classics and is as popular in the UK as “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” is in the United States! There was a sequel called “The Snowman and the Snowdog,” equally adored by my dog loving little girl, additional books and a variety of toys featuring the popular snowman. I just discovered a website dedicated entirely to “The Snowman” that contains on-line games, family friendly activities and information about a stage production currently playing in London and Birmingham.

“The Snowman” Mini-Book– We also made and read the mini book “The Snowman,” a reproducible book found in Student Made Thematic Mini Books and Extension Activities. Lillian loved the predictable text and read the book to her stuffed dogs. Click Here to download a copy of the mini- book, “The Snowman.”

Paper Plate Snow People- We used paper plates, construction paper and glue to make creative snow people. Lillian gave her snow person a carrot nose and a black hat. She free cut the decorations out of construction paper with some help from mommy and enjoyed gluing them on her snow person.

Snow People Snack This recipe from my book, Student Made Thematic Mini Books and Extension Activities, is the perfect winter snack! Lillian and I used chocolate chips, m&m’s and snowflake shaped sprinkles to decorate our snow people that were molded out of biscuit dough. The best part was eating them hot out of the oven! Click Here for the Snow People Snack recipe.

Roll-a-Snowman Game– Another fun activity from my book, Student Made Thematic Mini Books and Extension Activities is the Roll-a-Snowman Game. The game is played like Cooties where the players take turns rolling a die. For each number they roll they get to add a different item to the snowman they are drawing. The player who builds the snowman first is the winner. I assisted Lillian when it came time to draw her snowman. Another adaptation is drawing the parts of the snowman ahead of time, cutting out the pieces and then putting the pieces back together when you roll each number on the die. Click Here for a copy of the Roll-a-Snowman Game.

I will end with the words Raymond Briggs recites at the beginning of “The Snowman” animated film…. “I remember that winter because it had brought the heaviest snow I had ever seen. Snow had fallen steadily all night long and in the morning I woke in a room filled with light and silence, the whole world seemed to be held in a dream-like stillness. It was a magical day… and it was on that day I made the Snowman.”

Happy New Year… Hands On Fun in 2019!

Thank you for reading Noteworthy Mommy in 2018. We had many firsts in 2018: my first blog collaboration and giveaway and Lillian’s first days of preschool and Sunday school. I look to 2019 with great anticipation as I know it will be filled with opportunity and new experiences.

2019 Calendar- Lillian and I began 2019 with some “hands on fun” when we created the January page in our 2019 Handprint Calendar by Learning Good News.

This memorable calendar published by Learning Good News uses your little ones hand and foot prints to create engaging works of art for each month of the year! The calendar also includes a monthly bible verse that coordinates with each picture and makes the perfect gift for grandparents, Godparents and friends.

If giving the calendar as a gift, the author recommends creating the calendar over the course of several days as to not fatigue the child. We decided to have Lillian do one handprint a month so she wouldn’t feel overwhelmed. Over the months we can then compare her handprints and the calendar will become a childhood keepsake that chronicles Lillian’s growth throughout the year.

I used acrylic paint that easily washed off of Lillian’s hands. She loved creating the prints and enjoyed putting her hands in the paint. There was plenty of space on the paper for toddler sized hands. Tips and tricks for creating fabulous prints is included at the front of the calendar.

Learning Good News is giving my readers a 10% discount on all calendars purchased on the website with the code “save10.” Go to www.learninggoodnews.com and place your order today. Learning Good News is a website that offers free Christian resources for moms and their children. I am excited to explore the website for more “hands-on” fun in 2019!

Silent Night, Holy Night.. a Two Hundred Year Old Song of Love and Peace

Perhaps the most recognized Christmas carol of all time, the beautiful song “Silent Night” turns 200 this year. With its soothing melody and tranquil lyrics, the song brings hope to us all.

Silent Night the Book– The words “Silent Night” have also been used as the title for several picture books. We found this one at the library.

Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright. All the animals gather together, silent, harmonious, happy forever. The much-loved Christmas carol, “Silent Night,” comes alive in this beautiful story written by Juliet Groom and enchantingly illustrated by Tim Warens.

Lillian and I enjoyed reading this rhyming book based on the song, “Silent Night.” The story features a bear cub and its mother as they walk through the woods on a calm winter’s night. Along their path they encounter animals living in harmony with their natural surroundings while others are deep in their winter slumber. On the last page the mother and cub marvel at the awe-inspiring beauty of a bright star illuminating the night sky. The book is a beautiful story to read with your little one.

Silent Night the Song- Joseph Mohr, a priest from Salzburg, and Franz Xaver Gruber, a teacher from Upper Austria, sang the song for the very first time at the St. Nikola Church in Oberndorf near Salzburg in 1818. The original poem was authored by Joseph Mohr, whereas Franz Xaver Gruber added the melody on his request. Today, the song “Stille Nacht” is performed in over 300 languages and dialects and has been recorded by the likes of Elvis Presley, Bing Crosby and Justin Bieber!

As a musician I get the pleasure of performing the song multiple times every year with the various ensembles I perform in. But the greatest happiness comes when I sing the song at the conclusion of the candlelight service on Christmas Eve at church. It is something I anticipate every year. As the sanctuary’s overhead lights dim, the church illuminates with a warm glow from the small candles carefully held by the congregation. As the light from the candles illuminates my face and the words “Silent night, holy night,” flow freely from my lips, my heart overflows with radiant joy. For the song reminds us all of the greatest gift we will ever receive… Jesus!

“Silent Night, Holy Night! Son of God, love’s pure light. Radiant beams from Thy holy face with the dawn of redeeming grace,

Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth,

Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth.

Advent By Candlelight

The Christmas season can be stressful for a variety of reasons. For some it’s an overwhelming “to do list” that appears to have no end. Or it may be the pressure of feeling financially strapped and unable to give your family the Christmas of their dreams. You may be experiencing emptiness thinking about loved ones who will be missing from the dinner table this year. While others may feel loneliness, simply yearning for family and friends to spend Christmas with. I’m sure all of you can relate to one of these scenarios and I find comfort knowing that I am not alone. One of the things I did this year to help me focus on the true meaning of the Advent season is participate in “Advent By Candlelight.”

Advent By Candlelight– In early December I gathered with other women and participated in a beautiful evening called “Advent By Candlelight” at my church, Zion Lutheran. “Advent By Candlelight” was new to me but after signing up to be a table hostess I discovered that women from all denominations kick off the advent season by holding “Advent By Candlelight” events at their churches. A simple search of “Advent By Candlelight” on Pinterest yields hundreds of lavish table decorations, delectable desserts and meaningful programming suggestions. I quickly realized I had been missing out on something very special.

My Table– I enjoyed decorating my table for “Advent By Candlelight.” I used my Lenox Christmas China (Holly Berry Pattern) and placed the dessert plates on gold chargers. I borrowed festive gold flatware adorned with a sprig of holly from my parents. Matching tea cups and glasses completed my table setting. I used a cream table cloth and glittering gold napkins. Nuts, candy and a variety of tea bags were placed in candy dishes that match my china pattern. My centerpiece was simple with two cream candles sitting among a bed of evergreen and white flowers.

I found the perfect gold detailed porcelain ornament favors. They matched my dishes perfectly and the messages of Blessed and Believe were appropriately written across the angel and star design.

The evenings program, “A Personal Journey to the Nativity” set the tone of the Advent season. Through singing, scripture and fellowship, I left the event feeling renewed and exhilarated; ready to great the craziness of the season head on.

Advent Wreath– Christians all over the world have adopted the tradition of lighting candles during Advent to observe this as the time of the coming of Christ who is the light of the world. One tradition is lighting an Advent wreath at church and at home to mark each Sunday in Advent. This Advent tradition dates back to Germany and the Lutheran Church following the Reformation.

Today Advent wreaths are made out of evergreen and are shaped like a circle to represent eternal life. The Advent wreath we use at church has five candles with three of the candles being blue in color to match the liturgical colors. The candle lit on the first week is blue and represents hope. The candle lit on the second week is blue and represents peace. The candle lit on the third Sunday is pink and represents joy. On the last Sunday of Advent a blue candle representing love is lit. The candle in the center is white and is know as the Christ candle. It is lit on Christmas or Christmas Eve.

The Advent wreath we are using in our home was carefully molded out of clay by my daughter’s tiny hands. Plastered with green paint it is adorned with five skinny birthday candles. Mrs. Stanglein helped Lillian craft this Advent wreath in preschool and although simple in design it glows with radiant splendor.

Lillian and her class learned an Advent song to go along with their wreath and they have been singing a new verse every week. We also sing the simple song in church as a new candle on the Advent wreath is lit. Lillian learned the song quickly and she had enjoyed singing it at the top of her lungs every day this month!

Light one candle for hope,
One bright candle for hope.
He brings hope to everyone.
He comes. He comes.
**For verses 2-4, replace hope with peace, joy, and love.**

Jesus Joy– I was once again reminded of my focus this Advent season during a recent children’s sermon at church. Lillian’s preschool teacher gave this particular children’s sermon a few weeks ago.While talking to the children Mrs Stanglein declared she would rename Advent, “Jesus Joy.” Her words reminded me to focus on the joy that the season brings instead of becoming overwhelmed with stress and anxiety. We should be joyous during the season of Advent for it is a time of triumph, exultation and joy as we prepare for the celebration of the birth of Jesus, our Lord and Savior.

Lillian with her teacher after singing at the preschool Advent service.

A Perfect Puppy Dog Birthday Party

My daughter has been obsessed with dogs for the last year. She has an extensive stuffed dog collection, loves to play “doggie daycare” and says she wants to help dogs that don’t have homes when she grows up. So when it came time to choose a theme for this puppy lovers 4th birthday there was no second guessing that she was having a perfectly puppy party!

The Invitation- The Birthday girl was a puppy for Halloween so I used a photo of her in costume for the invitation. I always turn to Etsy for help in creating custom invitations and Jody Printing Shop had the perfect design for a reasonable price and a quick turn around time. I had the invitations printed on card stock at Walgreens.

The Decorations- My dad helped me make birthday banners in the party colors; red, white and black. I used the Cricut Machine to cut out bone, paw print and number 4 shapes and used them to decorate the banners. The banners were hung above the dessert table and throughout the house.

The center pieces consisted of dog bowls (purchased at The Dollar Tree) filled with puppy chow and graham cracker treats shaped like dog bones. We wrapped presents in paw print paper, used some stuffed pups from my daughter’s extensive collection and scattered some paw print cutouts on the table.

Our guests followed a paw print path as they made their way to the front door. On the front door was a dog bone banner announcing the birthday celebration.

The Cake- I found several dog cakes on Pinterest and the owner of Artistry on Cakes in Belleville, IL, captured my vision perfectly. The cake was white and filled with yummy raspberry filling and tasted moist and delicious!

Cupcakes and Cookies- Lillian and her Godmother made cupcakes the day before the party and we decorated them to look like puppy dog faces. Using Oreo cookies for ears, a red hot heart candy for a nose, a pink candy heart for the tongue and decorating eyes found in the cake decorating section of most stores, the cupcakes were too cute to eat! We also decorated some of the cupcakes to look like paw prints. We used a piece of baking chocolate for the center of the paw and brown m&ms for the small part of the paw. Nana used her yummy sugar cookie recipe and baked some delicious home made bone shaped cookies that she decorated with her Buttercream Frosting recipe! We served the cookies in dog bowls.

The Birthday Shirt- Whenever I need a custom shirt I run to Kim’s Boutique on Etsy. Kim worked with me to create this fabulous custom puppy shirt complete with the birthday girl’s name, age, birthday theme and color scheme. The birthday girl loved her shirt and wore it three days in a row! Kim is easy to work with, does quality work and the shirts arrive quickly.

Games & Activities- We played the game “Put the Dog Bone in the Bowl.” My dad drew a giant dog bowl and while blind folded the girls took turns trying to be the closest to place the dog bone in the bowl. We colored dog coloring pages and the girls enjoyed dancing to the song “Who Let the Dogs Out” and listening to a story about a dog named Perfectly Maggie. After the story I explained how they were going to adopt a dog to take come.

Adopt a Dog Stations

Each party guest got to “adopt a dog” to take home. After selecting a dog the girls went through the dog adoption stations. I purchased the stuffed dogs and most of the supplies for the various stations through Oriental Trading.

Dog Check Up- The littles gave their pup a medical exam using toy medical tools my daughter had in her toy chest.

Dog Bath- After a thorough check-up the girls gave their dog a bath in a doll bath tub and dried and brushed their dogs.

Dog Collar- The girls selected a collar for their dog. I found these cute dog themed bracelets at Oriental Trading and they were perfect for the dog collars.

Dog Toy- Each guest selected a colorful bouncy ball for their dog to play with. Another purchase from Oriental Trading.

Dog Food- I had a dog bowl filled with “dog food” (Reeses Cereal and pretzel sticks) and the girls scooped some into a bag for their dog to take home.

Dog Adoption Certificate- The adults helped the girls fill out an adoption certificate which included a place for the date, dog’s name and owner’s name. I found this certificate as a free download on the Oriental Trading website.

Dog Carrier- The last station was placing the dog in a dog carrier to take home. I found these adorable paper dog carriers at Oriental Trading.

Doggie Bag- Upon leaving, each guest took a “doggie bag” home filled with toys and treats. I purchased dog finger puppets and puppy party notepads from Oriental Trading. Other goodies included a sucker, dog stickers, a small Paw Patrol coloring book, Paw Patrol fruit snacks and dog bone shaped graham crackers.

The Gift of Giving- My sweet little girl decided to donate some of her birthday money to our local no kill animal shelter, Five Acres. On the day of her birthday we went to the shelter and met a dog named Clyde who suffers from allergies. The shelter was thrilled with Lillian’s generosity and gave us a list of shopping suggestions that ranged from office supplies to blankets to dog treats. Lillian had a blast shopping for the dogs and then delivering the items to the shelter. And the best gift was the realization that she doesn’t have to wait until she grows up to help dogs that don’t have homes!

An October Filled With Pumpkins, Pumpkins. Pumpkins!

It wouldn’t be fall without fun pumpkin activities, yummy pumpkin treats and a visit to the local pumpkin patch.

Roll a Pumpkin Game- This game is played like Cooties where you roll the die to build a pumpkin person. Everyone starts with a pumpkin body. With the youngest player going first you take turns rolling the die and building your pumpkin. The first player to build a pumpkin with a stem, eyes, nose, mouth, arms and legs is the winner!

Five Little Pumpkins- We enjoyed singing the classic song, “Five Little Pumpkins” and reading several different versions of the book. Using a fence and pumpkin play set found in my book Student Made Thematic Mini Books: With Extension Activities to Increase Language Literacy, my “Little Pumpkin” and I acted out the song and practiced our counting skills.

Pumpkin Bread- Nana helped us make yummy pumpkin bread. We added chocolate chips and enjoyed sharing our bread with others. Paired with Trader Joe’s Harvest Blend hot tea, pumpkin spiced coffee, or even pumpkin beer, it makes the perfect fall treat!

Jack-O-Faces Book- This is another fun rhyme found in my book Student Made Thematic Mini Books: With Extension Activities to Increase Language Literacy. We enjoyed coloring the book together and reading the fun rhyme about a pumpkin who shows us a variety of faces and emotions but ends up in a pumpkin pie! We acted out the story by making the faces along with the pumpkin. Lillian enjoyed looking at herself in the mirror as she made happy, sad, mad and sleepy faces.

Pumpkin Carving- Daddy helped Lillian carve a Jack-o-Lantern this year. Prior to creating her pumpkin, Lillian planned out her design on a large pumpkin shape. Daddy cut and we all helped clean out the “pumpkin guts,” making sure to save the seeds to roast later. We talked about how the pumpkin smelled, felt and looked. A great way to build vocabulary and to use the five senses.

Pumpkin BINGO- My dad helped me make this pumpkin themed BINGO game when I was teaching kindergarten. We dusted it off and played it at Lillian’s preschool Harvest Party and with our friends. One side has the letters of the alphabet, perfect for developing alphabetic knowledge. Flip the card over and you will find numbers, giving the BINGO players an opportunity to work on both letter and number identification. The children enjoyed using candy corn as cover ups and got to eat the candy corn at the end of the game.

Pumpkin Exploration- Lillian’s preschool teacher incorporated some wonderful pumpkin activities into center-time. An activity new to me was hammering golf tees into a pumpkin to work on fine motor skills. Pulling the golf tees out provided even more motor strength. They also did a pumpkin experiment where they tested a pumpkin to see if it floats or sinks. (It Floats!) Students worked on exploring the inside of a pumpkin, using tweezers to remove the seeds (another great fine motor activity), measured pumpkins, compared pumpkins and recorded their findings in their science journals.