Pumpkin Poppers and Jack-O-Latern Cupcakes

Halloween Cupcakes? Heck Yeah! Who doesn’t need an excuse to break out the frosting and food coloring. :)I found these cute lil’ pumpkins in a magazine and knew the kids would love them. What convinced me to make these cuties was the fact that I could make both the jack-o-latern cupcakes AND the pumpkin poppers. How cool is that?

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I did one batch of cupcakes using regular food coloring but they just weren’t orange enough for me and trying to add more coloring was affecting the consistency of the batter. I learned my lesson and ran to Target for orange food coloring gel which proved to work very well.

You can use a white cake recipe and make cupcakes from scratch or use a white cake mix.

(After making my first batch from scratch I decided to cheat the second time around and used a white cake mix). Color the batter with the orange food coloring gel. It doesn’t take much and the color ‘pops’.

After letting the cupcakes cool using a serrated knife cut the rounded tops off of the cupcakes and put them in the freezer to prep them for frosting. While they are chillin’ mix up the frosting. You’ll need  a small amount of green and plenty of orange. Again the gel food coloring works much better than the regular liquid food coloring to allow the frosting to maintain a thicker consistency. Once your frosting is ready and the cupcakes are nice and cold you’ll frost!Image

Pumpkin Poppers

Frost  the bottoms of half of the the rounded tops. (This can be a pain to frost which is why putting them in the freezer helps.) Then place another rounded top. The stem is a Tootsie Roll and in order to make it stay up I used a Wilton filling tip to gently great a hole for the Tootsie Roll. Finally using the Wilton leaf tip and green frosting I made the leaves and ta da! Pumpkin poppers ready to eat!

ImageJack-O-Latern Cupcakes

These require a bit more work. This time you’ll frost the tops of half of the cupcakes and then place them together connecting tops to tops. There is no right way to connect them as the irregularity helps for creating cool faces. Use plenty of frosting to ensure the teeth have something to ‘stick’ to. 🙂 Once they are all frosted you can make fun faces using white mint Tic-Tacs for teeth, and Wilton candy eyes. Again, I made a hole using the Wilton filling tip to place the Tootsie Rolls for the stems and then finished it off with the Wilton leaf tip and green frosting to create the leaves.

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1 box White Cake Mix

(ingrediants listed on the box)

2 cans of white frosting

orange food coloring gel

green food coloring gel

1 pckg white mint Tic Tacs

1 small bag of Tootsie Rolls

1 pckg Wilton Candy Eyes

Tales from the Trenches: As the Charter World Turns…

As the charter world turnsI have heard that some folks refer to those of us in the charter world as a daytime soap; more specifically,  “As the charter world turns” because we have so much drama. I find that very interesting as we don’t seek out the drama but rather we are treated as second-rate school by many, (cough, Dept of Cough, cough). 😉

Case in point, charter schools are expected to keep our finances in the black. If we run in the red we would be shut down. I think we could really come up with a nice list of traditional schools are able to stay open while well in the hole. They just go to the tax payers and ask for more money when they want to balance their budgets…running in statutory operation debt isn’t all that uncommon…

Charters are constantly under attack whether it be finances, test scores or governance.

If one bad thing happens in a charter school all of the sudden we are all thrown out with the bath water and labeled as bad. If one bad thing happens at a traditional school people say, oh, that is just one person who made poor choices at that school. The others are just fine…you know…, “My kids school is better than that…” we’ve all hear it..

We report to our school board just as a traditional school does, we report to the state dept just like the traditional school does AND we report to our authorizer. We have 3 entities keeping CLOSE tabs on us. We are mandated to test our kids just like all of the other schools, we exchange some funding for flexibility on our focus, calendar, etc., but overall, we have plenty of oversight. Despite all of these oversight we are still put in the corner time and time again.

How is it that concept of charters (which by the way were born here in MN) has gone from a school for piloting new and innovative teaching, learning and professional development practices has come to this??

Why is it that so much in education is NOT about kids but rather about politics, money and power? Charter schools are schools too. Charter schools are filled with kids just like other schools. When talking about students with disabilities I always refer to it as students with disability NOT disabled student because the student comes first. Maybe rather than calling us charter schools we should be called schools with charters. Would that put the focus back on the school and less on the piece that makes a different? Who knows. But for now, it makes me feel better.

To those in traditional schools- I don’t mean to attack you, I just would like others to know how it feels when some groups treat us as ‘less than.’ I am sure you endure many of the same hardships as we do. To those in charters- You are not alone. Keep pressing on. The students and families you serve desperately need you. Remember it’s about the kids.

And now I’ll temporarily step down from my soap box 😀

Tales from the trenches: The testing debacle

I have no idea where this school is but I like their thinking....

I have no idea where this school is but I like their thinking….

It’s spring, the sun is shining, the birds are chirping, (it is snowing in MN) this means testing season is upon us. If you work in schools or are a parent you probably are with me when I say I dread this time of year.

I have dealt with testing in the schools for years and may not enjoy it but have managed to survive it. This year at the elementary level it just seemed to be absolutely horrific.

It started with all online testing. The system was up, then down. They said stop testing, then start testing. Then emails came in stating to test if you aren’t experiencing any problems….We had students who were not able to pause their tests and therefore where clicking just to fill in the bubbles to get to the bottom of the screen to pause the test. We had trouble getting the system to pause for days. We called the help desk, repeatedly (and then some more). Some people who answered seemed to be very empathetic to our situation, others referred it as ‘glitches’ in the system.

Regardless, I want to know how in the world these tests results would be considered valid. We had kids crying and others  so frustrated with the starting, stopping, and issues trying to pause for breaks I just can’t imagine they were in a frame of mind to actually perform on the tests.

To that end, how can it be right to attach funding to tests that should at the very least be considered compromised due to the many MANY technical errors or ‘glitches’ as they called them???

I have witnessed our students tested on the state assessments, the NWEA MAP’s and now the DRA’s all within the last few weeks. Our poor students are tested too much. If only we could put our trust in the educators who already use diagnostic assessments like the NWEA”s and the DRA’s &  not mandate additional tests (which they don’t’ receive the results from for months….)

Students don’t learn anything from tests. They learn from passionate educators who know them and can help guide them through the learning process. I say, step out of the way and let teachers do what they do best-Teach!

 

Things I used to do…

This morning while I was getting ready… (you know, putting my contact in while standing on one leg because the other leg is propping open a drawer of brushes and such which the 10 month old is playing in. If I move my leg he’d most certainly shut his little chubby fingers in the drawer). He decided to venture into another drawer and discovered my stash of fingernail polish which got me thinking. (After I put them all away of course) Painting my nails was something I used to do. Now they are ridiculously short and never painted unless it’s an event which involves a formal invitation.

Things I did BK (before kids)…in no particular order

  • Paint my nails
  • Fuss with my hair
  • Read for enjoyment ( I read but not very often and never finish a book)
  • Shower with out peeking out every few seconds like it’s a race
  • Sleep alone with my hubby (It’s inevitable that one of them will come crawl into our bed at night)
  • Sleep 8 hours
  • Go to work without baby spit up, goobers or other ‘token of appreciation’ I recieve from my babies
  • Wear a bikini proudly (not that ALL of my stretch marks are strips of honor I have earned 5 times over)
  • Train for the Tri’s I do every season (Yeah, I am an idiot not an athlete….pushing strollers, pulling the bike trailer…not real training)
  • Treat myself to mani’s and pedi’s
  • Get my hair cut regularly (scheduling such things is next to impossible…just too crazy for me I gave up so yes, my hair is getting long)
  • Buy salon products
  • Order food for myself when eating out (Now I just eat what the kids don’t finish…)
  • Carry a small purse
  • Watch TV/Movies
  • Date nights with my hubby
  • Enjoy shopping (I avoid the mall at all costs now)
  • spend $ on myself (I would much rather see the kids enjoy things or provide them with something they need than buy something I want)

It’s not to say that I will never do these things again. I will some day. Don’t get me wrong I am not complaining. I love being a Mommy and wouldn’t trade it for the world. They are little now and when they are older I’m sure I’ll do some of these things again. Who knows what the future holds…For now I’ll just laugh at the things I did when I had more time to myself and enjoy the giggles, grins and silly times with my 5 crazy kiddos.

What is on your list of things you did BK? 🙂

Keeping my LARGE family organized

As a working Mom of a large family there are a few things I do to keep my sanity. Often people ask how I do it all and honestly, I don’t know. I just do it. I usually reply with, “I don’t know,” or “I do what I can when I can.” I don’t claim to be supermom or anything like that. I just do the best I can with the time, tools, & talents and Lord has blessed me with. Could I be better? Of course! I try to improve all of the time and seem to find tricks here and there to help me out along the way.

A year ago a relative asked me for advice on how to balance work and home and although I was really excited to share and honored that she would think ask me I was a bit shy about admitting to some of the things I do to keep my big family organized. Running a house with 7 people is a tough job sometimes and I don’t as much sleep as I would like….but I wouldn’t have it any other way. 🙂

So, on with the confessions of a working Mom.

photo(9)  1. Locker System: This keeps everyone’s stuff’ in one spot. Assuming they each put their items away that is. Each child has their own locker with 1 shelf, 4 hooks, a drawer and a spot for their shoes. We keep their Bibles, lunch boxes, helmets, & diaper bags on the shelf. They hang backpacks, coats, etc. on the hooks. Their shoes, boots, and flip-flops on the ledge and their drawers are filled with hats, mittens, scarves, etc. We cut an outdoor rug to go on the ledge to keep the wet shoes and boots from ruining the wood. We also put a long roll of that same outdoor carpet in front of the drawers so they can walk into the house without making a big mess on the floors. photo(11)I’ll admit it took some training to get the kids to each put their stuff away but now they’ve got it.

2. Morning Message & Chore Chart: At school the kids get a morning message every day and they seemed to get accustomed to knowing the date, day of the week, and what’s for dinner type of things so upon their request I added this to the dry erase board which already included a chore chart. Every night I look at what the next day has in store and include that in the morning message so when the kids are going off to the bus they can see what to expect. (It also helps me to remember what is coming up as well). The chore chart came about after deciding making copies of a chore chart was wasting paper. The kids liked how visible the chore chart was as well as the ability to keep tabs on how well they were doing for the week. All it takes is a large dry erase board and some electrical tape and you can make one really easily.

3. Cork cork boardsBoards: Every child seems to have their own calendar of events, newsletters from school, & appointment cards. In order to keep it straight who has what and when I picked up these cork boards from Hobby Lobby so each child could have their own board. The younger kids boards are filled with well baby check ups, notes about when their teeth come in or where they should be developmentally based on their age. The older kids boards have their school lunch calendar, homework reminders, invitations for parties, etc. At times these have been a life-saver for my sanity.

4. Desk Space: With so many kids and some of them sharing room there isn’t a ton of deskspace in their bedrooms for a desk and frankly, we don’t like the idea of the kids working on homework in their rooms. We would much prefer they use computers and the internet in a common area where there are others around to help them when they need and keep them focused on the issue at hand. With so many people using the same desk we needed storage space for their paperwork, folders, pens, etc. Again-Ikea to the rescue. My hubby installed the shelf and other storage items allowing each child to have their own space. I love the chalk circles for notes & reminders as well. I am pretty sure we got those from Target. The giant desk calendar seems a bit much but works great to have a master calendar of our families events & appointments. (I would LOVE for it to be a giant computer monitor or digital frame to show our Google calendar or sync with it but I have yet to find such a product). We also added some plastic storage bins below for art supplies, craft supplies and play-doh. 🙂

5. Laundry: Doing laundry for 7 people can be overwhelming but thanks to the layout of our house the laundry room is on the second level slaundryo it’s much easier to keep up with it. The kids helped me label baskets (Found on clearance at Lowe’s)  so even if they can’t read, they know that the one with the picture of the light-bulb on it is ‘lights’ and so on so they help out by sorting their own laundry. Being the room is so close they frequently help me switch loads when I ask them. The biggest challenge is putting it all away. I have a nice long counter in the laundry room which is lined with bins (again-one for each child) and an equally long rod for hanging their clothes on. Once a week (or when the bins are full) the kids are each given their bins and clothes and we put them away together. I am working hard on getting the older ones trained to put theirs away without just stuffing it in their drawers all willy-nilly.

Yes, I am a control freak and crazy about organization but hey-it works for me. This is by no means the right answer for any other household. After getting over my embarrassment regarding these organizational quirks I decide it’s worth sharing if it might help someone else. I hope this post helps you in some way. 🙂

Kids and the Comments…

I haven’t had a chance to keep up on the cute and funny things my kids have been saying. Amazing how life gets in the way. 😉

My three-year-old sneezed recently aMy Kidsnd then in a panic waving his arms and stomping his feet began to yell and scream at whoever would listen as he demanded a ‘Bless you.’ I was kind of confused but I said, “bless you honey. Would you like a Kleenex?” He got upset and told me, “NO! I need a bless you!!” I explained to him I just gave him one after which he stomped off to the bathroom and got a Kleenex. After a bit of a discussion I figured out the tissue vs Kleenex debate combined with the common phrase of ‘bless you’ after sneezing had really got him confused. When someone sneezes we usually say “Bless you,” and then they get a Kleenex. Sometimes they are referLaurenred to as a tissue which he felt sounded the same as ‘Bless you.’ I got a good laugh out of that one! Too funny.

It must be something about that age because that is the same age my daughter was when she thought I was going to cut up pretty flowers and put them in my mixing bowl when we were baking cookies. I said we needed flour and she was terrified I was going to put a nice flower in there. Now that she is 7 I love to tell her that story.

Throwing out the baby with the bathwater….

It’s been some time since my blood as been boiling due to educational darts being thrown between the charter and traditional school supporters but I guess it’s time to step up on my soapbox to get a few things off my chest.

I am fairly sure I’ve said (or written) this before…for whatever reason it seems you have to pick a side; Charter or Traditional, there isn’t any middle of the road. I may work at a charter but that hasn’t always been the case and my kids currently attend a charter but again, that hasn’t always been the case. Having said that I am not ‘pro charter’ or ‘pro traditional’ I AM PRO STUDENT & pro choice in education.

Cap Family Photo

So, when I read a recent blog citing that choice is a terrible idea and how it is ruining public education I got more than irritated.

Another sentence I use very frequently is “If you have seen 1 charter school then you have seen 1 charter school.” The same goes for traditional schools. There may be some things that are similar or even the same about those schools but ultimately every school is different, has different students, families, and learning environment.  Putting out a blanket statement that all charters are bad/good or all traditional schools are bad/good is ludicrous.

Is there some form of competition with choice in public education? Yes.  It allows parents/guardians/families to select a school that best fits their family and works best for their child. A blog I read recently mentioned that just the idea of parents having to ‘shop’ for their child’s school is bad idea. I disagree, REALLY disagree. Just as we choose where to buy our groceries, gas, or coffee we should be free to shop (select, choose) where to send our kids to school. If I want to have someone else to bag my groceries I go to a grocery store that offers that service. If I prefer to purchase organically grown produce I would seek out a store that provides such produce. Similarly, not every school offers the same services, the same mission/vision/values, etc., & why should they? Students are people and are all so different. They are people-not products and need to be treated as such. Finding a school that ‘fits’ your child/family is freedom I feel very lucky to have. (Especially considering we live in a small rural area)

I don’t hold any ill will to those who prefer, attend, work at or support traditional public schools. (Although I do feel the factory system is flawed as you may have guessed by that last paragraph) I support everyone who is in the business of educating our youth. It is NOT an easy job and working with kids, prepping for school outside of school hours, etc., leaves little time to defend what we do for and with kids everyday.

So I plea with you not to see students as dollar signs to fight over between the charter and traditional ‘sides’ but rather children seeking a world-class education regardless of what type of school they attend. Lastly, if you see one school you don’t like (charter, traditional, or private) don’t write off that entire type of school because of that one experience. Teachers, administrators, paraprofessionals, etc., don’t go into education for the high salaries…we do it for the kids…we do it to try to make the world a better place……we do it because we want to help.…we do it to make a difference. If you think you can do better and solve all of the problems and or flaws in the US educational system-join us. We could use more good people. 🙂

Things my kids say 2.0

They never stop amazing me or quite frankly, making me laugh. Ok so I don’t laugh them, just smile and giggle when they walk away. My little girl is just so darn creative and funny. She says things like agent beetles & bathtisms and can even explain them.

Living in the midwest we have those lovely Asian Beetles which seem to take over buildings in the Fall. At first she thought they were lady bugs and was thrilled that they were around the doors, windows, etc. Then one ‘bit her’ and she was done with them. My husband and I have told her they are not lady bugs but Asian Beetles and although she seemed to understand she refers to them as agent beetles. Why? Well one could theorize she didn’t listen all that well but that is only half of it. She has decided they are just like agent P on Phineas and Ferb and they plot things like taking over our windows and biting 7 year old girls who try to play with them.

With the birth of our 5th child we are planning his baptism. Now this word alone is an interesting one but once again our daughter and 2 of our sons has created their own word from it, ‘bathtism.’ Why? Well because they get a bath in front of the church of course? There is a small ‘bath tub’ and water…so in their young minds they put that image and the word (as they heard it) together to make ‘bathtism.’

It’s truly amazing to see the world though the eyes of a child. They have such an interesting and innocent perspective.