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State of the Union, 2014

28 Jan

As we make our way through a steady stream of school cancellations and the brains of our students slowly turn to mush, I’m looking forward to tonight’s opportunity to sharpen our pencils and get out the clipboards. We’re really excited to watch the State of the Union Address, or as Martin will likely call it, “Another Thing You Make Me Watch”.

To help keep our focus, we’ve created the Unofficial State of the Union Worksheet. Using this sheet, we’re going to track the usage of the terms we think are likely to be included in the speech. We’re going to keep it very simple, leaving tally marks each time we hear a phrase used. Now in our second year of SOTU Worksheets, we’ve done through a major reorg. For the 2014 edition, we’re grouping terms under topics that are likely to be covered. We’re hopeful that this will make it easier to track as the President is speaking on each subject.

And, as a bonus, we’ve created a new section – SOTU BUZZ. This section is left blank and can be filled out in any way you’d like. Here are some ideas we’re considering:
– Track the number of times the camera shows The First Lady
– Add buzz words that are used A LOT
– Track how long it takes for the first person at our house to fall asleep
– Track the number of times that individual citizens are named and shown by the camera

State of the Union Worksheet 2014

As always, I have explained to my children that watching the State of the Union is required by all U.S. Citizens that have access to the address.  So, if you see them tomorrow, please don’t tell them otherwise.  And if you play along, show them your completed worksheet.  It will reinforce the other thing I’ve been telling them, which is that I am a woman of GREAT INFLUENCE.

Print it: State of the Union Worksheet 2014

Prefer last year’s edition?  Go ahead and use it!  Fortunately for me, the terms on last year’s list are likely contenders for this one as well.

Lunch Log, 2nd Edition

4 Apr

A few years ago, after a conversation between Sophie and her cousin Grace, we realized that when it comes to lunch, someone else’s always looks better.  To help the girls keep track of what they liked about their own lunch, and what they spied in someone else’s lunch that looked particularly tasty, we created The Lunch Log.  Like every great worksheet project, they used it for awhile until it lost its luster.  Over the past two years, we’ve pulled it out and used it occasionally, usually when the lunch whining became particularly strong.

Recently, we’ve been talking about tracking food again, but this time for a different purpose.  For quite some time, Sophie has had stomachaches, and we can’t quite figure out what is causing her trouble.  We’ve tried adding more of certain foods into her diet, cut back on other things, and encouraged her to drink lots of water.  Some days are definitely better than others, but we’re not seeing consistent results.  In conversations with friends, I know that there are lots of families who are having similar experiences.  It’s easy to spot the connection between what you eat and how you feel, but identifying foods that are causing trouble takes some time and diligence.  It is a slow and tedious process.

Fact: There may be a direct connection between stomachache reduction and worksheet completion.*

*Totally not a fact.

While no worksheet has been scientifically proven to cure stomachaches, tracking what you eat and noting how you feel after doing so can certainly help to make the connections between food and the way your body feels.  By writing it all down, we’re reducing some of the mystery and giving us the tools we’ll need to pay attention and find patterns.

Tracking is easy – simply complete the worksheet after each meal.  If your child is a pretty good reader and writer, let them do the writing and add details as needed.  At the end of the day, use the Recap section as a way to identify whether there was enough variety in the foods consumed to provide the nutrients needed for wellness and growth.  Overall, the goal is to create an awareness between what you eat and how you feel, so don’t worry too much about 100% accuracy.  Unless 100% accuracy is very important to you, in which case I apologize that I’m using LUNCH to represent ALL FOOD CONSUMED REGARDLESS OF THE TIME OF DAY.

lunch log_diagram_v2_Page_2

Items you will need:
• Mini binder (holds 5.5” x 8.5” sized pages)
• Adjustable 3-hole punch or hand-held paper punch
• Scissors or paper cutter
• Pencil
• Colored pencils, markers, or crayons
• Printed cover and inside pages (see links below)

Print it:
Lunch Log, 2nd Edition – Lunch Log Cover, Instructions, Inside Pages
Lunch Log, 2nd Edition – Inside Pages Only

Listen, Learn, Decide: 2012 Presidential Debate

3 Oct

It doesn’t happen very often that I declare absolute control over what we watch on TV, usually opting not to watch at all while the kids get their fill of all things DISNEY/NICK/CARTOON NETWORK.  But every once in awhile, there are events that I want to watch, requiring that I take temporary charge of the remote control.  When this happens, I’ve found that there are two things that make this abrupt change in behavior much more acceptable:

1. Snack trays.
2. Worksheets.

Tonight’s Presidential Debate is one of those TV watching occasions that I really don’t want to miss.  Taking a page from my experience with the Oscars and the Super Bowl, I’ve created a worksheet for the kids to use during the debate.  Armed with a pencil and clipboard, the worksheet will help to keep the kids engaged and listening as the debate happens.

Depending on their age and how much they understand, this may only last for a few minutes, but it gives me the chance to hear the candidates and the kids to start to understand the basics of civic responsibility.  As second and fourth graders, I don’t expect that they will fully grasp the content of the debate or the positions of the candidates, but by watching the process they can start to understand that it is the responsibility of every voter to LISTEN, LEARN and DECIDE.

In each of the worksheet fields, I’ll ask the kids to write a few words or sentences to capture their thoughts – what they heard, what they liked about it, and what they’d like to learn more about.  Lastly, I’ll ask them to make a decision based on what they know.  I’d like the kids to understand that it is equally important to be INFORMED and TO TAKE ACTION.

Want to join us?  Sharpen your pencil, grab a clipboard, and print your own chart below.

Print it: Debate Chart_2012

Healthy Summer Challenge

12 Jun

As an adult, the connection between food (what and how much) and exercise (how much and how often) and how I feel is something that I can clearly see.  The more I eat and the less I move, the worse I feel.  Sometimes those feelings are physical like an upset stomach or discomfort in clothing that does not fit as well as it used to.  Other times, those feelings come in the form about how I feel about myself.  It seems like common sense that by eating the right amounts of good foods and exercising regularly, you are giving yourself the best possible chances for feeling healthy, strong, and comfortable in your own body.  And while it is common sense, it doesn’t always come easily and it rarely happens without thought and effort.

As a parent, I struggle with how to talk to my kids about health and nutrition in a way that is both age appropriate and positive.  We started last year by using the Lunch Log as a way to help illustrate the different factors that go into a making and eating a healthy meal.  In a worksheet format, the Lunch Log can help a kid to make sure they are eating something from each of the major food groups and getting some variety along the way.  In our family, tracking meals helped the kids to understand that while they like apples and it is a healthy choice, mixing up the kids of foods and vegetables that you choose helps to give your body different nutrients.  Full disclosure: they were more interested in eating something from each of the color groups so that they could use more  markers, than they were with the nutrients that those foods provided.  And you know what?  I’m okay with that.  At this age, seeking and consuming variety is a lot more important than understanding the nutritional value that each option provides.

Lately I’ve noticed that we’ve gotten into a bit of a food rut, and this led to some interesting discussion about making healthy choices.  The more we talked about health and wellness, the more I realized that two of the hardest parts about living a healthy life are AWARENESS and CONSISTENCY.  While it is not that hard to plan out a healthy lunch, it is just one part of a day that is just one part of a week and so on.  And of course, when you start to look at the big picture, the focus moves off of just food and onto the other stuff you do for yourself that helps you to feel good.

To help us to take a look at what we’re doing to help ourselves be healthy and feel good, we’re putting into action the:

Healthy Summer Challenge

And because we’re nothing if not competitive, we’re making it into a game with prizes.  Here’s how it works:

  1. Fill out a Healthy Summer Challenge Form (example below, printable page at the bottom).
  2. Write down the basic information in each category to show what you ate, what you did for exercise, and how much water you consumed.
  3. Give each category a rating from 1-10 (10 is high) to show how you think you did that day.  Making pretty good food choices for a day could give you a 8 or a 9.  Eating a bunch of junk would warrant a low number.  These ratings are subjective.
  4. Add any Notes for Tomorrow to help you to identify things you might like to do differently.  This gives each person the chance to reflect on the day and determine if there is a positive change to make for the next day.
  5. Add the date and the person’s name to the bottom, then drop it in a bucket.
  6. Once a week, draw a slip from the bucket to select a winner.
  7. The winner gets to select a prize from the Healthy Summer Challenge Prize Pack.
  8. All remaining slips stay in the bucket, earning more chances to win.
  9. One entry per person, per day.

For our Prize Pack, I selected a few things that would encourage activities, stuff they’ve been begging for, and items I knew would catch their attention.  Also, I made an effort to choose items that did not use food or inactivity as the reward (except for the Mad Libs, they are on the sedentary side).

We’re one week into the Challenge and so far, they’re doing great.  I’ve set the Prize Pack up like a display so that they can stare down the options while they decide whether or not it is worth it to fill out the form.  And once they have the form in hand, they want to make choices that will give them a higher rating.  And although I won’t tell them, my plan to get them to be more aware of their choices is working.

As the summer progresses, I anticipate that their interest in filling out the slips will wane.  As that happens, I may throw bonus options into the mix:

  1. Bonus form for the person who has the most activity in a single week
  2. Bonus form for the person who plans and makes a healthy meal
  3. Super prize, like an afternoon at the water park
  4. Double-prize award

Want to have a Challenge at your house?  Download and print the form below.  Each sheet includes four slips – print and cut the sheet into quarters.

Print it: healthy summer challenge slips

If you participate, let us know!  We’d love to hear your ideas for bonus options, prizes, and how it works at your house.

Tiny, Wearable Art

18 Apr

If you have young kids, it’s a pretty safe bet that you have a LOT of artwork around the house.  At our house the space on the Refrigerator Gallery as at a premium, particularly great stuff is framed and on the walls, we’ve scanned it in and made cards, and there are STILL more stacks of special work all over the place.  We are LONG on art, which is exactly how I like it.  But, it seems like a shame not to share more of it.  So, with Mother’s Day in mind, consider turning some of that art into fine jewelry that any Grandmother would be proud to wear (at least in the presence of the artist).

Tiny, Wearable Art

Turning original artwork into an art pendant is super easy.  The artwork starts out at regular size (making the production/artistic process so much easier) and then with magic less dramatic than Honey I Shrunk the Kids (i.e. your computer and/or scanner), the artwork is brought down to a tiny size – perfect for art you can wear.  In this example, each of the kids created one drawing on letter-sized paper.  I scanned them in, shrunk them to size, and stacked them so that both drawings would fit in a single pendant.  You could create one pendant per person or string several pendants from different artists on a single chain.  It’s up to you and the art crew.

Items you will need:

  • Metal Pendant: found in the jewelry section of craft stores, there are tons of styles and shapes, be sure to pick one that has a raised edge so that it can be filled
  • 3D Crystal Lacquer: often found at craft stores, but also available online
  • Scanner and printer
  • Scissors
  • Rubber cement or spray adhesive
  • Toothpicks
  • Chain, ribbon, or necklace for stringing the pendant

Get to work:

  1. Select the best artwork ever, or have your artist create some new work designed with the recipient in mind
  2. Take a photo of the artwork or scan it so that you have a digital version
  3. Shrink the image to the match the size of the pendant. Depending on your computer skills, you could do this with photo editing software or use your printer to scan and reduce the size until it will fit.
  4. Using a scissors, cut out the artwork so that it will fit in the pendant. I had the best luck by creating a template with scrap paper so that I knew it would fit in the pendant, then placed it over the tiny artwork, traced it, then cut it out.  This way, all the fine tuning is done with scrap paper and not the art copy.
  5. Using rubber cement or spray adhesive, apply a fine layer to the back of the cut out artwork.  Let it dry (no one ever wants to do this, but it will work better if you do).
  6. When the adhesive is dry, apply it to the inside of the pendant and smooth it flat.
  7. Fill the pendant with the lacquer, careful not to overfill.  If the paper buckles or ripples in the first minute or so, use a toothpick to poke it back into place.
  8. Set the pendant somewhere out of reach where you will not be tempted to touch it to see if it is dry.  Let sit for 24 hours to fully dry.

From the Archives: Peeps

3 Apr

Digging through the archives today I unearthed one of my favorite videos of all time.  Enjoy.

P.S. I have GOT to start taking more videos.  I bet in another four years, I’ll feel just as nostalgic watching videos from 2012 as I do today, looking back at 2008.

What I Like About You

15 Feb

Most days, it isn’t hard to give someone a compliment that fits the situation – you look pretty today, I like the way you did your hair, you did a nice job clearing the dishes, thank you for getting ready so quickly, I appreciate your help.  They are easy to dispense because they are often in reaction to something that just happened.  The harder kind of compliments to give are those that are less specific, the kind that are more about the way that a person IS and how they go about living.  This year, we’re using birthdays as the time to dole out THE BIG COMPLIMENTS; the kind that acknowledge the wonderful and special qualities that we notice and appreciate about each other but seldom actually say.

Here’s how it works:
– We created a special jar to hold our kind words and observations, then labeled it “What I Like About You”
– Each person in our family wrote down a few things that they like about the person of honor
– One compliment per slip of paper, one slip for each year of the birthday being celebrated (once we get to adult birthdays, we may have to rethink this one)
– All of the slips are placed in the jar and sealed up until the designated time (in our case, throughout dinner)

I thought this was a very nice way to share our thoughts and let the birthday person know that the are special, loved, and appreciated.  What a way to feel on your birthday.

Want to do something like this at your house?  I’d recommend making a special container to hold your compliments – it lends an air of OFFICIAL BUSINESS to the idea.  Any container will do, I just happen to have a lot of jars around.  Decorate the container any way you’d like – creativity and hands-on work are an added bonus.  If you’d like to use a label like the one we added to our jar, download the printable below.  This printable includes four different versions of the jar label – each in a different color with various fonts.  Choose the one that you like the best, or design your own.  The size that worked best for my jar was 3″ wide x 3.5″ high.  After you create or print your own label, adhere it to the jar using glue or spray adhesive.

Print it: What I Like About You Jar Label

Crayon Hearts

10 Feb

In some ways, I’m very much like my parents.  Often, my mom and I will say the exact same thing at the same time.  For the most part it is alright, but when we’re in public it is rather embarrassing.  One person yelling, “Hey, nice hit!” sounds encouraging while two people shouting it in accidental unison sounds weird.  The similarity between dad and me is less obvious unless you happen to stumble upon it; when we think something is unnecessary, we would rather avoid it altogether than go along with the flow.  You only have to be with my dad when a waitress asks to see his ID to know that he’d rather die of thirst than show his driver’s license to prove that he’s over 21.  For me, it is the birthday party goody bags.  I can’t seem to get on board with the bags of treats and treasures that apparently everybody gives at the end of a birthday party.  I realize that admitting this pretty much makes me the parent scrooge – to you, and definitely to my children.  Each year, we go through a series of long-winded speeches to state our respective positions that would rival anything you hear on C-SPAN.  In the end, we usually land on a compromise that includes one item that we make, and a handful of candy.  After all, nothing says “thanks for coming to my party” like a bag full of sugar to take to your very own home.

Over the years we’ve made a few great items for the goody bag – mixed CD, customized temporary tattoos, and my very favorite – crayon hearts.  They were super easy to make and would be perfect for a goody bag or for Valentines.  Plus, it has the added bonus of using up all the crayons that no one wants to use once they have left their pristine, first-time-use state.

For this project, you’ll need the following:
– Silicone tray with heart shapes (any shape will do, but shapes with few pointy parts seem to work best)
– Crayon bits
– An oven, pre-heated to 200 degrees F
– Some children you can talk into doing the project with you

STEP 1:  Collect broken bits of crayons and peel off the wrappers.

STEP TWO: Break them into small pieces and place them into the tray.  We found that the best results were those that had some similar colors in the tray with one or two contrasting colors.

STEP THREE: Place the silicone tray on a baking sheet and put in the oven until they are good and melty.  We like the way they look when some of the crayon shapes are still visible on one side, smooth on the silicone side.

After they have completely cooled, pop them out of the tray.  Craft over.  Goody bag war over for one more year.

Saving the World

8 Aug

In this life, it is a real gift to find good friends.  But it is even luckier when those good friends are also part of your family.  Over the past few years, my cousin Jenine and I have developed a wonderful friendship.  This love and care has extended to our children, and they’ve built up friendships of their own.  They send each other packages, write letters, and share little bits of joy. 

Here they are two summers ago, hanging out at the lake.  They all look so small – Sophie, Grace, and Andra.

And here they are, that same summer, standing in front of the World’s Largest Ball of Twine (made by one man) – and you can practically see the joy reflected in their eyes (it’s possible that their eyes are actually glazed over by twine ball boredom, not reflective with joy).

And last summer, a long line of girls – the daughters and granddaughters of my own cousins – had so much fun following each other around.  It brought us all such joy to see our kids get along, the older ones very kindly letting the little ones tag along.

And then last fall, we received the saddest news.  That one of the dearest hearts in this bunch had passed away suddenly and unexpectedly.  Andra’s life was cut far too short, having suffered sudden cardiac death from a heart condition that she did not know she had.  Her sudden absence left behind family and friends that were shocked, and saddened, and lonesome for such a lovely girl. 

In the months that have followed I have watched her family work hard to find ways gather joy and help others, hoping to see good things come out of such sadness.  My cousin Jenine, a woman of action, vision, and determination, has put a few wonderful plans into place to help save the world in Andra’s name.  If you’d like to join in, there are three ways in which you and your children can help:

Visit Andra’s Garden, Tucson AZ:  Last week, we visited the garden dedicated to Andra, just outside of the Children’s Museum Tucson.   A lovely garden filled with plants, vegetables and herbs – harvested and used in dishes by the local restaurant DOWNTOWN Kitchen + Cocktails.  It is a beautiful spot, filled with personal things made for and by Andra’s friends and family.  The mosaic and tiles in this bench were made by the Santa Theresa Tile Works.  If you are in the area, stop by for a visit.

Do Good Deeds, Share the News: Andra had a goal to save the world by her 13th birthday.  Do what you can to save the world in your own neighborhood, across the globe, or anywhere that catches your eye.  Then, write about it on the back of a postcard and send them in.  Each good deed postcard is scanned in and shared on – visit the site for some wonderful examples of giving that happens every day.  More information on how and where to send the postcards is available on the site.  All good deeds are worth sharing, and is an excellent way to help kids start thinking about the impact they can have on the local and global communities.

Buy Jewelry: It’s not every day that you have jewelry purchasing justification handed to you on a platter – but here it is.  Jewelry artist Melissa Borrell has created the Andra Heart necklace, available for $40 in either red and silver.  For each necklace purchased, $20 will be donated to the Andra Heart Foundation, proceeds of which will be used to help conduct free EKG screenings for students in the Flowing Wells Junior High School this fall.  Necklaces are available for order through eBay, and more information is available here.

Love never ends.

Andra Heart Necklace: beautiful necklace designed by Melissa Borrell, available through eBay.  Proceeds to benefit AndraHeart Foundation.
AndraHeart Foundation:, learn more about the EKG screening program scheduled to start in Tucson in August 2011.
AndraHeart Postcard Project:, performing and documenting good deeds.

Lunch Log

5 Aug

This week, we had a conversation about packing school lunches that went something like this:

Grace: My mom packs peanut butter and jelly sandwiches every day.
Sophie: Mmmm, that sounds good.  My mom packs different stuff every day.
Grace:  Mmmm, I love different stuff.

The lesson to learn from this exchange is this: Someone else’s mother always makes the best lunch.  So, what’s a kid to do about it? Get a new mother?  Unlikely.  Hire a personal chef?  Fat chance.  Eat Lunchables every day?  Nice try.

Lunch Log
Write it down! Keeping track of what is packed and consumed can help kids to learn more about their own eating habits, the foods that appeal to them, and helps to them to start to understand what they need to consume in order to be strong and healthy.  It also gives them a way to tell you about the foods they love, the foods you should stop packing because they end up in the trash every day, and the good loot that other kids get in their lunchbags. 

The Lunch Log provides you and your child with a way summarize and talk about the contents of each day’s lunch.  The top section includes the very basics – the date, who packed the lunch, an area to list the contents, and a box for drawing/photos/diagrams.  Younger kids can focus on drawing the contents of their lunch and add words as they become more proficient writers.  Older kids might use this space to create food collages, write recipes used to create an item in the lunch bag, or to paste a photo.  Much older kids can leave this space blank in protest of having to bring a lunch in the first place.

The middle section of the page focuses on nutrition and balance by using two simple concepts – vary the colors of your fruits and vegetables each day as a way to mix up the kinds of nutrients you consume, and try to pack something from each of the major food groups in each day’s lunch. 

The bottom section is where the kids get to let loose and tell you how you’re doing, and how much better someone else’s parent is at doing the same job.  You can use or ignore any of the comments in this section, but pay close attention to the last bit – it might give you some new ideas for lunchbag items.

Items you will need:
• Mini binder (holds 5.5” x 8.5” sized pages)
• Adjustable 3-hole punch or hand-held paper punch
• Scissors or paper cutter
• Pencil
• Colored pencils, markers, or crayons
• Tape or glue (optional)
• Printed cover and inside pages (see links below)

Printable Pages:
Cover, directions, and inside pages
Inside pages only