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Intentional Christmas Planning (free template!)

Last year I did something I have never done before. I wrote down everything I did for Christmas on January 1st. Maybe it was because I was on maternity leave and had the time, or maybe it was because last Christmas felt so well executed that I had an epiphany that I should document it. Either way, I wanted to bottle up what I did last year and remember the details so I could easily recreate it each December. Last year we scaled back on Christmas because we had a 6 week old baby and I was unpaid at the time on maternity leave. I had also started a new job a few weeks before the baby was born so we were very conservative about spending with so many uncertainties ahead. On Christmas morning I was fulfilled and truly content. There is something so fulfilling about feeling like you did what was best for your family and not what society says is best. I felt like I bought the perfect amount of gifts, made really simple recipes, maintained meaningful traditions and was somewhat organized with decorating, shopping, cooking and crafting (about as organized as you can be when you’re nursing every 90 minutes).

Since I had a new baby, there were so many aspects of Christmas that I had to simplify. I couldn’t barnstorm Target every week night in December when I had a newborn baby. I couldn’t make 400 chocolate covered pretzels for the neighborhood at 2:00am between feedings. And to be clear, I’m not saying there is anything wrong with doing those things. I just learned last year that those things don’t align with the season of life that I am in right now.

Christmas is so overwhelming in this Pinterest world of motherhood and this year I am determined to be intentional about the traditions we sustain as a family. I don’t want to spend every December with my hair on fire trying to order things that are on a flash sale. I don’t want to pull all nighters on Christmas Eve trying to finalize the details of things I saw on Pinterest on December 23. Most importantly, I don’t want to go into debt once a year just to create a Christmas that looks good but doesn’t feel good.

A few days after Christmas I sat down and did a major brain dump into a Google doc. I wrote down everything that I did, bought, decorated and baked. I took detailed notes such as:

What was on sale? (Shutterfly’s best deal is NOT Black Friday or Cyber Monday)
How many Christmas cards do I usually order?
What traditions did we do?
What appetizers did we make on Christmas Eve?
When did I set the table for Christmas brunch?
What recipe did I use for cut outs?
What did I buy the nieces and nephews?
What was in my kids’ stockings?
When do I buy the fresh garland? (NOT until the week of Christmas or it will die and you will buy it twice and waste your money...)

At the time I was really proud of myself for getting it all down on paper, but it wasn’t until this November when I opened up the document again that I was actually thrilled. There is ZERO CHANCE that my mom brain would have remembered these details. Having everything written down also gave me a clear view to the finish line of Christmas. Instead of seeing the holidays as one Amazon order at a time, it helped me to think of ALL of the things we would be spending money on between November 1 and January 1. As a result, I made some decisions of what to cut out this year in order to stay on track with our other financial goals (I’m taking a year off from Christmas cards this year and we're not going on a Polar Express ride).

The lesson I am learning with Christmas is that like every other aspect of life, I have to be intentional and planned. Christmas is not an emergency and it’s not a surprise. It comes at the same time each year. Many people would say that having a Christmas planner in and of itself is “excessive” and Pinterest-y but I don’t care about the opinion of others. This works for me. I want to recreate the feeling that I had last year on Christmas morning when we did what worked for our family.

So why do you care? Well, like anything, I felt like I had figured something out that everyone else already knew. Don’t we always feel like that? Like everyone else has the secret sauce and we are still dipping in ketchup? I posted my Google doc one night on Instagram back in November (the night I reopened it and was thrilled). I received a ton of messages asking if I would share it. It turns out I wasn’t alone in feeling overwhelmed by the holidays. Many of you are young moms like me and figuring it out one day at a time. So I prettied it up (because it truly was a brain dump) and made it into a Google doc you can make a copy of. I am also going to share what my brain dump from last year looked like to inspire you to write down ALL THE THINGS this January even if you don't put them in a planner. Then once you write them down, delete the things you never want to do again or make a note of them.

Regardless of the season of life you are in,  may you have a holiday that works for YOU and your family, not what the world is telling you Christmas should look like.

Merry Christmas!

Lumberjack Themed Birthday Party

This post contains affiliate links.

It amazes me how fast time goes when you have kids. One of my favorite motherhood quotes is by Gretchen Rubin- "The days are long but the years are short." I feel like they get shorter with each kid. The past year has felt like a blink. Since my youngest has a November birthday, I knew I would be hard-pressed to find a birthday party theme that would also allow me to decorate for Christmas on November 1st (because YES, I do). Then a quick Pinterest search led me to the idea of a Lumberjack party, and we already had a fleece Buffalo plaid outfit so it was basically destiny. Not only did I already have the perfect little outfit for him to wear, I also had almost everything needed to decorate our house because CHRISTMAS.

I found most of the decorations at Target, Hobby Lobby and Amazon. I linked all of the items below, but I also created a page on my Amazon store with links to similar products here.

Candle is from TJ MAXX / Felt green banner is from Target seasonal dollar section

The make your own trail mix came by accident. I was filling the treat bags and hot cocoa station with marshmallows and M&Ms and I had extra, so I got creative with the extras and filled up my favorite serving dish with other items I had in the pantry- raisins, peanuts and some cereal. The kids loved it, even for some of them "make your own trail mix" really means fill a cup with marshmallows and M&Ms, but that's what parties are for...there were a lot of raisins left at the end of the night. :)

Copper mugs / red chalkboard sign from seasonal Target dollar section

Treat bags (I cut them in half)

Inside of each treat bag I put the ingredients to make a microwavable s'more, a hot chocolate packet and a granola bar. This was easy and inexpensive! The clothespins were to attach a tag with each child's name on it, and I found the clothespins in the dollar section at Target with the seasonal/Christmas items.

For dessert I opted to make cookie cakes because my nephew shares the same birthday and his favorite is cookie cake. It ended up being a great choice because it was easy to make egg-free (#foodallergylife) and then I served ice cream sundaes with them, which the kids were thrilled about.

Another thing my nieces were thrilled about was this little hot cocoa station I set up in the kitchen. Coincidentally, the day of the party was also the first real snow we got here in Buffalo this winter, so they were in the mood for a warm treat while the adults enjoyed cocktails (pro-tip: babies don't really care about their 1st birthday party so have it in the evening :) )

I do a little hot cocoa station like this every Christmas morning because we host brunch. It's easy to set up the night before and all you need to do is fill a Crockpot with milk and set it to "keep warm". I've done Crockpot hot cocoa before, but this time I just kept the milk warm and had the kids make their own with packets. These adorable coffee cups were found at TJ Maxx and the little hot sleeves that came with them were the perfect spot for the kids to write their names. The girls pretended they worked at Starbucks and were writing their orders on them.

This time around we only had family since our families are pretty large, and with the time of year we can really only invite as many people as we can fit into our house. It was a happy day for our family AND my house is now officially decorated for the holidays!

I linked all of the items above, but I also created a page on my Amazon store with links to similar products here.

Creating and Sharing YouTube Playlists

YouTube is a powerful tool in the classroom when it is used appropriately and with supervision. I have a lot of colleagues and friends who are still scared to use YouTube because of the reputation it got in the education world a few years ago. Although YouTube still can be dangerous and contain highly inappropriate content and ads, it still remains the number one video source for information and the top Google search result when you filter by videos. Many reputable sources use YouTube to stream their content, and for teachers trying to take their teaching to the next level, it can be a great supplement to a lesson or unit (keyword- supplement!)

For teachers using Google G Suite for Education, YouTube playlists are a great way to gather a bunch of videos into one spot for students to access. Instead of sending them on a hunt all over YouTube to find videos and risk them winding up where they don’t belong (yikes), you can create a playlist and share it directly to your class via Google Classroom or email. You can also share the link to a playlist to your classroom website or any other platform where students, parents and colleagues can view.

Here are a few other ways educators can use YouTube playlists:

  • Administrators sharing videos of instructional practices, ideas or inspiration
  • Administrators sharing videos of inspiration for meetings
  • Teacher leaders sharing videos for PLCs (professional learning communities)
  • Instructional coaches sharing videos with teachers about best practices, strategies and content area specific practices
  • Teachers sharing resources with colleagues

How to Create a Playlist from YouTube Search Results

Search for the topic or video you are looking for
On the upper right hand corner of your search results, hover over the video to make the 3 dots appear.
Click on the 3 dots and choose “Add to playlist”
Choose “+ Create a new playlist”

How to Create or Add to a Playlist from Within a YouTube Video

Below the video on the bottom left (under the channel name), click on the “+ Add to” button.
Choose “+Create a new playlist” or select the playlist you want to add the video to.
If you are creating a new playlist, you can change the settings to be public, unlisted or private.
If you choose public, anyone can find and comment on the playlist (not recommended for schools). If your playlist is unlisted it will be accessible by anyone but will not show up in public search results (this is usually what I use, especially if I am posting it on a classroom webpage where parents or students may be logging in from home). If you choose private, it will be viewable only to those individuals who you share it with.

Now that you’ve created your playlist, it’s time to share it!
Your playlists can be found on the left hand side of your YouTube account under “Library”.
Click on the playlist you want to share.

When you open the playlist, you will see this screen. Click on the “edit” pencil to the right of your name.

Click on the share button and copy and paste the link. Share this link on your website, in an email, in a Google Classroom or anywhere you communicate with students, teachers and parents.

If you are sharing the playlist to users within your G Suite domain, you can use the email tab to send it to an email list or to individual students or teachers. You can also check the “allow people with link to add videos” if you want the playlist to become collaborative. Be careful making your playlist collaborative with students. Depending on the age of your students, you will want to approve of videos before they are added, and there is currently not a feature to approve of videos before they are added to your collaborative playlists.  

There you have it!

There are so many ways that schools can use YouTube playlists to organize collections of videos for students, teachers and parents.

How to Schedule Time Slots Using Google Calendar

There are so many untapped features of Google Calendar for GSuite for Education users that can make your life as a teacher or administrator so much simpler. There are many reasons why you might be looking for an appointment scheduling feature.

  • Parent teacher conference sign up times
  • Parent volunteer sign up times
  • Meeting times for student led conferences
  • Office hours/drop in times for high school teachers
  • Office hours for guidance counselors to meet with older students
  • Office hours for administrators to meet with teachers for pre and post observation meetings
  • Appointment times for staff development specialists and instructional coaches to meet with teachers
  • Meeting times for building administrators to schedule time with teachers
  • Scheduling therapy times for related service providers
  • Student sign up time slots for stations or events

I have used Google Forms (plus the choice eliminator add on), Sign Up Genius, Doodle, and many others. While each of these stand alone websites or extensions are useful, they don’t integrate easily with your already existing Google calendar.

If you use a Google Calendar to communicate with parents or share important dates with parents and students, this feature is a no brainer.

Here are the steps to create an appointment slot calendar

  • Open your Google Calendar
  • Click on the date
  • Choose “appointment slots”
  • Set the time frame for the appointments
  • Choose the duration of each appointment (i.e. 30 minutes)
  • Click save

  • Once the event is created, you can click on it and you will see this preview.
  • Click on “This calendar’s appointment page”.
  • That will bring you to a new link. This is the link you will share with the people you want to sign up for appointments. 
  • You can copy and paste this link into a website, an email, anywhere where you are sharing information.

Thanks for stopping by and reading. Happy scheduling!

Chicken Souvlaki Lunch Bowls

Happy Monday!

What's in your lunchbox this week? I hate the amount of time I spend prepping lunches on Sunday but you know what I hate more? Being hangry, eating junk and spending a ton of money each week going out for lunch or ordering in. All of these places that deliver now (Chipotle, Panera...) make it even more tempting to order something on the fly.

This week I made these delicious chicken souvlaki lunch bowls which is a watered down version of a meal my family has all the time. We love making a big chicken souvlaki salad with Greek lemon rice and pita. This lunch bowl is basically a chicken salad, but the dressing and marinade make it yummy enough to eat a few days in a row so you won't be sick of it by Friday.

Chicken Souvlaki Lunch Bowls

Chicken Marinade 

(for 10 chicken tenderloin pieces, or 5 breasts)
  • juice from 2 lemons
  • 1/4 cup of olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon of oregano
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • salt and pepper
Add chicken and marinade to a Ziplock bag and let the chicken marinate for an hour or two. If you don't have time to let it sit, coat it well. The garlic and oregano will go a long way!

On a baking sheet, lay the chicken flat and broil at 500 degrees for 5-6 minutes (it will start to brown a bit). Turn the chicken over and broil for another 5 minutes.

Salad Fixings

  • romaine lettuce
  • tomato
  • cucumbers
  • red onion
  • feta cheese
  • kalamata or black olives

Free to do list from Clementine Creative / Make Today Awesome
Salad dressing containers / Sistema To Go Collection

Greek Vinaigrette Dressing

Makes 2 cups
  • 3/4 cup of olive oil
  • 1 cup red wine vinegar
  • 2 tsp garlic powder
  • 2 tsp oregano
  • 2 tsp basil
  • 1 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp onion powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp dijon mustard

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