Friday, June 28, 2013

Wedding & Wedding Anniversary

This past week we went to a beautiful wedding in Brooklyn, and also celebrated our 2nd wedding anniversary!  Being the guest at a wedding right around our anniversary helped us celebrate.  You can't help but feel the love and excitement that surrounds the newly married couple, and it brings back feelings from your own wedding day.  We had a great time.

The reception was at The Liberty Warehouse, which is actually where the first "Real World" T.V. show took place.  Remember them?! 

Anyways, it was a gorgeous reception venue.  The view was breathtaking, and cocktail hour took place outside overlooking the water.  

The weather was sunny, breezy, and the perfect temperature.  We spent a lot of time outside, before we were called in for the bride and groom's entrance.  When we got to our table, the centerpieces stole the show.  They were giant vases full of fresh flowers, surrounded by candles of varying heights.  

In between courses, we snuck outside for sunset.  I don't think I could have planned the picture below any better.  The ship cruised in between the setting sun and the Statue of Liberty at just the right moment.

After sunset, we spent the rest of the night celebrating, dancing, and enjoying delicious cake!  The bride and groom had a pizza truck drive up, and guests received a small box of pizza as their wedding favor.  What a great idea! 

A few days after the wedding in Brooklyn, M and I celebrated our 2nd wedding anniversary on June 26th.  He came home early from work, and we enjoyed some quality time.  I made him dinner, and we took a walk with Stella.  We exchanged little gifts (cotton is the theme for 2nd year anniversary gifts), and relived our special day! 

For those who might be as stumped as I was in the beginning, here are some cotton-themed ideas.

Second Year Wedding Anniversary Gift Ideas 
Traditional Gift- Cotton

* Personalized Cushion Cover from Etsy (with last name and coordinates of wedding reception or current home)

* Cotton Cuff Links from Etsy, there are different styles for whatever your love likes.
*Personalized Sweatshirt Blanket from Personalization Mall (use words and dates that are meaningful to you as a couple)

*Any type of jewelry, watch, trinket, etc. placed in this cotton pouch from Etsy, which can be personalized with name/nickname/wedding date 

*Any gift you wish, but attach a bag of this sweet treat with some ribbon to the top of your wrapped gift

Can you think of any other cotton themed gift ideas? 

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Blog Lovin' Test

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Historical Fiction Book Clubs

It's about time I get back into a post about teaching, especially since I'll be off for summer soon (although I do find myself creating and reading a lot for school in the summer, so I'll be sure to have things to share in July and August, too!).

We use Lucy Calkins Units in my school, although we supplement and create add-ons as needed to support these lessons.

We used MANY picture books to launch Historical Fiction, and walked through the key elements within each one that justified it's genre as Historical Fiction.  Posters and charts such as the one above were filled in to keep track, and were then hung all around the room.  Some books we used were:

     Henry's Freedom Box - By Ellen Levine
     The Butterfly - By Patricia Polacco
     Faithful Elephants - By Yukio Tsuchiya
     Pink and Say - By Patricia Polacco
     Freedom on the Menu - By Carole Boston Weatherford
     The Other Side - By Jacqueline Woodson

After creating many charts where we worked through key elements of historical fiction, we developed an overall chart that outlined what readers of historical fiction do:

We were then, ALMOST, ready for our book clubs (which students were so excited for).  We had done group discussions already this year during our short text unit, but I wanted a little something more to encourage discussion, so I thought up: 

We practiced logical stopping points to think (noted on the logs of the fire), and how to phrase fire starters that could be brought back to the group to encourage discussion (noted on the flames).  We did a series of them together with one of the picture books, and students were really into thinking of ways to "ignite" thinking in their group.

From here, students chose book options they were interested in, and groups were formed.  Students set guidelines for their group, using the overarching principles we set together:

(I apologize for this getting cut off, but you get the idea!)

The last step was for students to develop a reading schedule to ensure they all had the same stopping points.  I walked them through how to best do this by splitting their book into fourths, and making sure to stop at the end of a chapter.  I created a bookmark for each group, where they filled in their stopping points. I also made a classroom chart with all bookmarks so that I could be sure of all groups' progress.

We went through 2 sets of novels, and students LOVED it! For the 2nd set, I wanted to do something a bit different for their meetings, so they worked to create and add to a big chart of their own that outlined the important concepts of their book.  Before doing so, we brainstormed important elements of historical fiction books that could be noted on their chart. The list included: 

     *Setting (Time period/Location)
     *Main Characters
     *Fire Starters
     *Unfamiliar Words

Students chose which of these to include on their book's chart, and I noticed that their discussions even further improved with this task because the conversation surrounding what to add and what to not add become even more intense since the success of their chart was at stake! 

You can get free downloads to some of the items discussed on this post at my TPT store.

Happy Historical Fiction Reading! 

Monday, June 17, 2013

The Perfect Carrot Cake, Father's Day Style

Yesterday was Father's Day, and it was a darn good one! M and I had a tough time figuring out what to do, since his dad is in NJ, and mine is in CT. We often do a 3+ hour tour de Rt. 95 on holidays so that we can see both sets of families, but decided against that this year.  He went to take his dad to play golf, and I went to my family where my sister was throwing a Dad's Day cookout.

It was so great to see my dad, grandfather, and uncles and spend time with my family.  We are known to have a lot of family parties, but even always feels like it's been too long since I've seen them.

For Father's Day, we got my dad a gift certificate to go golfing with M and my sister's husband (whom we refer to as Mike 1, and yes...that means my Mike is referred to lovingly as M2 around my family).  We also made him a mug on Shutterfly to bring to work, which featured the newest member of our family whom he's a father too...Eli! 

It came out really cute, and my dad loved it.  We stuffed it with a couple of chocolate bars and the gift certificate, and it was a really nice addition to his day. 

I also made a carrot cake in honor of him, and to coincide with our gift.  It was my first time trying to make M's family's recipe, which I've taste tested plenty of times at parties.  It really is the perfect carrot cake. 

Actually, was MY 1st and 2nd time making it,  all in a matter of 12 hours! Let me explain- the recipe called for 2 teaspoons of baking soda, which seemed reasonable.  After tasting a sliver, I knew something was off.  Then I looked closer and saw green carrots! It actually didn't taste terrible, and the green carrots are (allegedly) perfectly safe, but I couldn't let my first try at this be mediocre.

I remade the cake (with an adjusted baking soda quantity), and then did this to it:

The pictures make it look a little more lime-green than it really was, but it turned out pretty cool.  I used green food coloring in the cream cheese frosting, then traced a putting green out of a paper plate to cover where I wanted the cake frosting to stay smooth. From there, I dusted green dyed (again just food coloring) coconut over the rest of the cake as grass.  I used a tee, golf ball, upside down chocolate chip, and flag (made out of a wooden skewer stick and red paper) to finish it. 

I used a mixture of walnuts and brown sugar, pulsed in the food processor, for the sand traps, and used the edge of a paper plate to keep them in place as I scatter them.

It came out great, and served a party of 15 adults, with a lot left over.  I think the addition of coconut, pineapple, and walnuts to the mix makes the cake dense, yet melt in your mouth smooth.  The cream cheese frosting is just an added decadence that takes it over the edge.  Second time's a charm! 

*Ingredients in gray reflect the change to avoid green carrots! 

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Summer Excitement!

With there only being 1 real week of school left (although I'm working an extra week for curriculum development), my summer feels right around the corner! Yes, I know I'm extremely lucky to have a month and a half off in the summer, and I appreciate all it allows me to do! Here are some things I'm looking forward to!

M and my 2nd wedding anniversary! We'll do something low key that night, and get dinner out.  I might try to make a cake that's one of the 2 flavors from our wedding (Double Chocolate- my choice  or Strawberry Shortcake- his choice).  We'll be heading up to the Cape the following week, which is where we got married...and will probably stop by our church and reception locations, just for fun!

Long walks with Stella! She definitely gets the short end of the stick during the school year, but in the summer I can spoil her with lots of outside time!

Mike's Birthday! It's a few days after the Fourth of July, so it's nice to get an extra day with him right around his birthday (he'll have a day off).  This year, we'll be up on the Cape for it, and I'll bring him some surprises for up there! 

Coaching soccer! This year is my will be my first time coaching a girls club for the month of July (I coached a freshman high school team for a year).  They practice 3 times a week, for 3 hours, and we take them to a few tournaments.  It's a really cool concept, and I'm super excited to get back into soccer (I played all through high school, college, and still play in adult leagues).  The summer is the perfect time to use my extra hours towards a fun, new venture.

Beach trips, and lots of 'em! I go to the beach with M, friends, my mom and sister, and solo all summer long.  Even if it's only for an hour or so, I love being at the beach and summer wouldn't feel quite the same without it. The beach by our house is 6 minutes away, so it's so convenient.  Bag below is packed to the brim with sunscreen and cool drinks.

This is silly, and it gets me in trouble with M sometimes, but on a totally hot and humid day, I love cranking the AC, getting under a blanket, and snuggling with Stella.  I'll usually do it after the beach when I'm waiting for him to get home. It's a total indulgence, and I know our electric bill takes a little hit each time I do it, but it's a guilty pleasure I just can't quit!

Naps and reading outside. My favorite! Anything outside really is, and I love trying to get every moment I can in the fresh air in the summer. 

Fishing with M, or waiting on the shore for him with Stella.  He'll go out on the boat or on the jetty, and  I usually just wait to see what he catches.  I don't actually do any of the fishing, but I do enjoy the fruits of his labor- fresh caught tuna and striped bass for dinner! 

Summer sunsets! I usually actually get bummed about sunset, the end of a me weird, but I much prefer sunrise.  In the summer, it's different.  The sunset is so much later, you feel like you got in a full and complete day before it, and we usually have something fun planned for after so our day goes on! They're also so pretty!

Hikes and dog park walks.  Again, this goes back to just wanting to be outside.  We try to vary what we do, and taking a trail walk gives us a change of scenery, and Stella loves being off leash.  

Golf! I recently started playing because M loves it, and he kept encouraging me.  I like playing in the afternoon, and only 9 holes (or I get too bored), but it's really a fun way to spend time with M and be outside.  

Saratoga! I went to my first horse race last year, and loved it (although I do get nervous and feel bad for the horses, but M assures me they have a pretty nice life).  This year we're going to Saratoga for a weekend, and I'm excited to explore a new place, and see the horse races.  I do like gambling, since you can spend a whole day and shell out a small amount, and I get really excited to go see the horses close up when they're in the stalls. 

Fire pit! There's nothing better than ending a fun day sitting around the fire and enjoying the evening.  I usually get some sort of treat to enjoy while lounging- ice cream is a favorite! 

Taking Stella swimming! She loves it soooo much, and it brings me so much joy to see how simply happy she is to be in the water.  That's M's family's dog, Tucker, in front of her.  She tries to keep up with him, and surprisingly does pretty well! 

All in all, my favorite thing about the summer is having so much extra time to be with M, my family, and my friends.  Being a teacher has it's perks, and I would say having bonus time to spend with the people I love is one of the biggest ones! 

What do you love doing in the summer the most? 

Any other ideas for easy, simple, and inexpensive things to do outside in the summer? 

Monday, June 10, 2013

Birthdays, Basil, and Beach Chairs!

Wow, how's that for a post title (random to the B-degree!). I love alliteration, hence my blog title, so I figured with a little creativity, I could make these random happenings fit together somehow.  

Let's start with the birthday: a special Cockapoo turned 4 this week! Four years old...I cannot even believe it.  It seems like only yesterday she was this tiny: 

Crawling on top of M's family's dog, Tucker (aka, the most patient Golden Retriever in the world!)
We got her a few new toys for her birthday, and a giant cupcake cookie from Chatham Beach Dog on the Cape.  If you're ever up there, and you have pups, you have to hit up this store.  It's super cute, and has unique leashes, toys, and treats.

That Tiffany's looking box was a stuffed pillow and labeled, "Sniffany's"...haha! She loves it and has been carrying it around with her all week.

Oh, and that cookie didn't stand a chance.  She scarfed it down in minutes.

Now, onto the 2nd "B" in this post's title...basil.  My grandfather is a wonderful gardener, and harvests herbs, tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, squash, and more all spring and summer.  He even started gardens in my aunt's yard and my sister's.  Since we live in an apartment, he can't dig us one...yet!  So the other day, he put together a mixed herb pot started by plants from his own garden.

I have the worst black thumb, but I'm determined to make this work. There's basil, rosemary, mint, and parsley in our pot.  Adding fresh herbs to dishes is my favorite, and I love the idea that this is a piece of my grandfather's garden on my front stoop.  So far, so good! 

Lastly, on to those beach chairs.  Being a teacher, I take great joy in the summer (as most people do).  I spend many days on the beach, if even for an hour or so.  I live about 7 minutes away, and it's free (with our resident's beach sticker), relaxing, and when I got with friends it's a perfect way to reconnect. I've been using the same beach chair since 2004.  It was from CVS, and is actually still in pretty good shape.  Since last summer, though, I've been eyeing an upgrade:

The Ostrich 3 in 1 beach chair, from  It has the potential to lean all the way back, pop up a foot rest, allow you to lay on your stomach, and even put your face through the "massage chair like" hole to read underneath the chair back, like so
I ordered it from after some research, and realized they had the best price, free shipping (I ordered 2 so M wouldn't be jealous of mine!), and came with a free towel per chair.  I tested it out at the beach yesterday, and it was comfortable and relatively simple to move around to its various positions.  My only concerns thus far is that they are a bit large to carry and fit in our car, and the cup holder is laughably small.  This is not a big deal to me, as I don't usually use cup holders on beach chairs, and prefer to keep my drink in my bag or cooler.  It had some reviews about structure and durability, so time will tell.  

Any random thoughts from your week? Extra points if it starts with a "B"!

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Paradisus Palma Real in the Dominican Republic

In February, M and I took a winter trip during my break from school to the Paradisus Palma Real in the Dominican Republic.  I know when we were looking, I did a ton of research and read reviews online, so I figured maybe my review could help someone else planning a trip. We chose the Paradisus based on weather, price, distance (and non-stop flight option), and golf/other activities.  We wanted a trip for 5 days, 4 nights (so Mike didn't miss too much work), and were able to get to the Dominican in a relatively short flight.  

When we arrived in the lobby, this is the view:

You can actually see the beach and ocean the moment you step foot into lobby area.  Getting our room situated took about 45 minutes, as there was some confusion about when it would be ready.  We were told to head down to the bar/buffet and grab something to eat while we waited (it's all inclusive).  It wasn't that big of a deal, but a little bit of a hiccup because all I wanted to do was change into my bathing suit and get to the beach.

When we got to our room, we were very impressed by the size, layout, decor, and amenities.  It had a sitting room and kitchenette area when you first walked in (excuse our bags everywhere, I should have snapped the picture before unloading everything on the table!).

Then an over sized bathroom with sink, shower, toilet...and then ANOTHER large bathroom with double sinks, a soaking tub, and closet.

The room worked out great, because we felt like even during moments back in the room, when we pulled ourselves off of the beautiful Bavaro Beach, we were still able to relax and enjoy feeling like we were in a tropical oasis.

The Paradisus had everything you would need on site, restaurants, bars, activities, pools, workout room, shopping, and more.  While walking around the property, everything seemed very clean and atheistically pleasant.  I loved the flamingos that perched in the pond, and watched them while working out in the exercise room too.

We are pretty active and knew we would want a little more, so we chose the Paradisus because they also have golf courses that are just a short shuttle ride away.  We visited the Cocotal Golf and Country Club two times together, and M went solo as well.

Mike also went to the Jack Nicklaus's Cap Cana, Punta Espada, which looked amazing based on the pictures he took during his round.

One thing that was a little less than stellar during our trip was dining.  The food was actually very good, but getting reservations in restaurants for dinner proved to be quite challenging.  It seemed that because there were different levels of "all inclusiveness", the color of your bracelet determined the amount of pull you had when making reservations.  We are pretty easy going and dealt with it, but if you were with a group, or were more concerned with nice dining, it could get pretty frustrating.  One great thing about the food, however, was all inclusive room service which we took full advantage of:

Throughout out our stay, we were pretty get up and go...seeing sunrises, eating breakfast insanely early, getting in golf or a workout, and getting to the beach or pool with plenty of time to enjoy the sunshine.  

We also took a trip to the shopping on site, and walked down the beach to see other resorts and local beach huts selling goods.  We ate lunches at the buffet mostly, and enjoyed dinner relatively early, which allowed us to get into restaurants even without a reservation.

All in all, it was a great trip, where we were able to relax and have fun doing the things we love to do.  The weather was perfect, and everything on site was relatively easy (aside from dinner reservations) and smooth.  I'm not sure that we would go back to this resort, only because we felt like we saw and did everything possible there, and if we went to the Dominican again, we might want a new resort to explore.

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