Vanilla Cupcakes with Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

Everybody who knows me well knows I am a vanilla girl through and through. I would choose a vanilla cupcake or a golden Oreo over a brownie any day. This is a good (and bad) thing when you work in an elementary school because guess who else loves the vanilla-vanilla combo? Kids. I can never say no to a classic vanilla birthday cupcake (unless it's one of "those" cupcakes- teachers, you know what I'm saying). Vanilla cupcakes are always my go-to when I am in the mood to bake, but this week I was baking with a purpose. My sweet niece Emily turns 3 today! She picked out Doc McStuffins for her birthday theme so these cupcakes are Doc McStuffins colored- they are just missing their cupcake toppers!

For the cupcakes I always use Sweetapolita's fluffy vanilla cake recipe. I have used this recipe for cupcakes and cakes and it never disappoints. I have also used her vanilla bean frosting recipe before which is great. For most cupcakes I use my own vanilla buttercream recipe and I did for these funfetti looking treats.

Vanilla Buttercream Cupcake Frosting

  • 1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks)
  • 2 lb. bag confectioner sugar
  • 2 tablespoons vanilla extract (I use Nielsen-Massey
  • 2 teaspoons almond extract (for stronger almond flavor you can add more, or you can omit and add more vanilla if you don't personally like almond flavor in your desserts)
  • 1/4 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup of heavy cream, add one tablespoon at a time. 8 tablespoons are in a 1/2 cup (the amount you add can vary based on the desired thickness of your frosting)


Beat the butter with a whisk attachment on high for 3-4 minutes until light and fluffy.
Add the confectioner's sugar and beat for 4-5 minutes. Add lemon juice, flavor extracts and cream until you reach your desired thickness. Add coloring and pipe away! For these cupcakes I used my Wilton large round tip (#1A). 

A few tips for frosting cupcakes:

  • If you want a lighter, fluffier frosting, beat the frosting longer.
  • Add the cream 1 tablespoon at a time to control the thickness of your frosting.
  • If you are frosting a lot of cupcakes at once, store unused frosting in the refrigerator while you are decorating. Frosting will not pipe as well when it is sitting at room temperature. If it hardens in the fridge after a while simply beat it for a minute or two again in your stand mixer.
  • If you are topping with sprinkles, add the sprinkles immediately after frosting to ensure that they stick.
If you are new to piping cupcakes, I highly recommend reading this post from Glorious Treats. She is an extremely talented baker and she has a great "frosting for beginners" resource on her blog including videos. This picture from her blog is one of my favorite references when choosing a piping tip:



Shower the People You Love With Love

When you're in your late 20s, every spring and summer automatically becomes wedding season- am I right?! Since my husband is 5 years older than me, as soon as his friends were done getting married, all of my friends starting tying the knot. Therefore, every summer for the past 7 years have been wedding season for us and it doesn't look like it's letting up anytime soon. I personally don't mind all of the weddings, and one of my favorite parts (besides the open bar, new dresses and steaks) is getting creative, hosting showers and showering my girlfriends with gifts.

This winter we had our first Stock the Bar Party for one of my best friends who is getting married at the end of May. Have you been to or hosted a Stock the Bar party? It was a fun and different way to celebrate than a traditional shower or bachelorette party (thank you Pinterest and Etsy for all of the inspiration). Many people do Stock the Bars for housewarming parties or co-ed showers, but we made this a good old-fashioned girls' night.

Invitations from Wedding Paper Divas

I loved throwing a Stock the Bar party because a full bar is a great way to start a life together.

When it comes to bridal showers, bachelorettes and engagement parties, I love finding a theme to create a basket with (that must be the teacher in me!) Here are a couple of my favorite ways to shower my girlfriends on their special days.

An engagement gift themed around a favorite cookbook or culinary theme
This basket had Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking (a personal favorite and a classic for any new kitchen), a framed Julia Child quote (just printed on my computer and framed), some olive oil, pasta, french bread, a bread board and an issue of a wedding planning magazine.

Dressing up a Kitchen Aid mixer 
....or another appliance (all wrapped up) with all the fixin's for a baking frenzy wrapped up in a bakery box. TJ Maxx and Home Goods are great places to get inexpensive sprinkles, cupcake liners and aprons to add on to a gift!

Making chalkboard signs for the bride and groom to use on their big day

Wine Basket of Firsts
I've done this as a stand-alone gift and with a group of friends. We've all chipped in and purchased the wine glasses or barware off a couple's registry and then added on a basket of wine. This is also the best gift to give at a Stock the Bar party!

I received one of these for my bridal shower and I loved it so much that I had to recreate it. This is one of the cutest ideas that ever came from the rise of Pinterest. You can get creative and personal with it. Instead of going to the store with a list of wines, I shop around and when I find a wine that would work I grab it and create tags to go along with it. For any "firsts" that you can't find a good bottle for, I either get champagne or a personal favorite wine.

Here is what I have used..

First Fight
  • Mad Housewife
  • Tempra Tantrum
  • Ringside Cabernet

First Anniversary, Wedding Night or First New Year

  • Any champagne!

Stressed by Wedding or Life
  • Relax Riesling

Girls' Night
  • Skinny Girl Margarita mix
  • Girls' Night Out wine


Starting a Family
  • Mommy's Time Out
  • Simply Naked

First Baby

For first baby it's fun to add a bottle of liquor, beer or wine that the husband will like, along with a bottle of sparkling cider.

You can find a ton of ideas for these baskets on Pinterest and you can order labels on Etsy if you don't feel like making your own. You can download my labels for free by clicking here!

Happy wedding season!


Curried Carrot Soup with Ginger & Coconut Milk

I started my maternity leave last week which means I've entered full blown nesting mode. Although it's hard to nest when I only have about three good hours on my feet before I have to rest for the remainder of the day. Yesterday I started operation freezer meals. I am not so concerned with freezer dinners because my husband is actually our head chef when it comes to dinner. I am more concerned with having healthy lunches that are easy to prep and eat when I am home with the new baby. This soup is one of the best soups I have ever made! Sometimes I find a soup recipe that looks great but it requires a trip to the store for all sorts of complicated ingredients. I had everything I needed for this already in my kitchen. It was easy, healthy and delicious. I also found a new favorite food blog in the process..The Bojon Gourmet!

Curried Carrot Soup with Ginger & Coconut Milk
Recipe from The Bojon Gourmet

  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 1 large yellow onion, diced
  • 2 tablespoons peeled and finely chopped fresh ginger
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons curry powder
  • 4 cups of carrots, chopped
  • 2 cups of potatoes, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 5 cups water (or a mild, unsalted vegetable stock)
  • 1(13.5 ounce) can full-fat coconut milk

Heat coconut oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onions, ginger and curry powder. Saute until the onions are tender. Add the carrots, potatoes, water and salt and bring to a boil. Reduce to low and simmer, partially covered, until the vegetables are very soft. Remove from heat. Add in coconut milk. Puree using an immersion blender or standing blender.  

I modified a few things from the original recipe. I ended up using 2 cups of vegetable stock and 3 cups of water instead of the 5 cups of water. I also added a few extra potatoes and carrots just because I was trying to use up vegetables from our farm share. Since I added some extra potatoes and carrots I also used 2 teaspoons of curry powder. The original recipe also called for cilantro and lime juice at the end, which I did not have so I omitted and it was perfectly tasty without. I blended it all in my Vitamix and it made it a really nice puree. I was a little sad to freeze it all because I could have lived on it this week, but I had to keep the end game in mind..freezer meals!


Blog Hop FREEBIE Day!

It's finally my day for the special education blogger giveaway. Today I'm giving away my Call the COPS writing packet (normally $4.50) to everyone who has been following along with our giveaway this month! I am grateful for all of the special education teachers who participated because I have downloaded so many great resources. My Call the COPS freebie is my best selling product on Teachers Pay Teachers. 

This packet of materials is to be used to supplement your writing instruction. COPS stands for: Capitalization, Organization/Order, Punctuation and Spelling. It serves as an easy and understandable checklist for young writers who are learning to write and edit their writing. The theme of the packet is all police officers. The kids will LOVE the Get Out of Jail Free Cards and the Speeding Tickets! This is a great way to motivate your students to check their writing and encourage independence and accountability in their writing.

This packet includes:

  • COPS poster
  • Capitalization poster with examples of what to capitalize on it.
  • Organization poster with examples of transition words on it.
  • Punctuation poster with different punctuation marks on it.
  • Spelling poster with a checklist of questions for writers to ask themselves when they are checking their spelling.
  • COPS student bookmarks (3 to a page). These are great to staple into a writing folder as a reminder or to keep at a writing center and in desks.
  • Speeding Tickets- for teachers to distribute when a student is "caught" rushing through work! They can also be used for any content area- not just writing. They are a good classroom management tool for students who rush through work!
  • Get Out Of Jail Free certificates- much like the Speeding Tickets, these can be used in many ways. They can be earned for good behavior, good work and strong effort. It is at the teacher's discretion how to earn a Get Out of Jail Free Card and what the certificates can be redeemed for (depending on your classroom incentives, whether it be free time, a homework pass, etc.) These can also be used in other content areas, not just writing.

This is a great resource for writing. Click on the image to download this packet free from Google Drive- today only!


All About Penguins!

Today we wrapped up our penguins unit. I have to say I love the end of a unit because I love sending home all of the things that have been hanging in the hallway and starting fresh. Sometimes units take me a lot longer than planned and by the end I am so ready to never talk about it again. That's kinda how I was getting with penguins. The kids LOVE learning about penguins. They are so fascinated by them and I am amazed every year that they understand a lot of the vocabulary like regurgitate and toboggan. Here are some of the things we did this year! You can read about our penguin fun in last year's post. The group I have this year is more academic than my group last year, so we were able to do more writing and informational texts this year.

In January we kick our writing into gear. After reading the Penguin Who Wanted to Fly by Catherine Vase, we wrote three sentences about something that we wished we could do. This one hit home for me because we've had quite the winter here in Buffalo and I would give anything to have a fire breathing dragon to melt all the snow and make it hot "owt-side"! The writing response paper is a freebie from The First Grade Parade

We also made our penguin water bottles again this year. I don't know who loves these more- me or the kids! They are so easy and so adorable. 

We also did a little science with the blubber experiment! We used a blubber glove to learn how penguins stay warm in the cold. 

Every other Friday we cook so I decided to stick with the polar theme and make smoothies during our penguin unit. This was hands-down the most popular cooking recipe we've done (and probably the healthiest!) 

What themes and units do you do in February? We have a February break for a week so it's hard to do a full unit in February. We usually cover Valentine's Day, dental health and the 100th day of school. How about you? 


February Blog Hop with the Special Education Bloggers!

Happy February, everyone! I for one am thrilled to see a new month. The closer we get to spring, the sooner we get away from this snow and the sooner I meet my new bundle of joy! I'm learning that everything people say about the third trimester is true...

For the month of February I am joining some wonderful special education bloggers to bring you one goodie per day. Every day for the month of February one blogger will reveal one or more sweet treats to you. All you have to do is click on the date at the top of my blog! Enjoy!


Pets in the Classroom for Classroom Management

Hi there friends!

Today I'm sharing a great organization that you may or may not be familiar with. I love free stuff (what teacher doesn't?) and I love finding new ways to motivate my sometimes challenging kiddos. Last year my friend Jenn told me about Pets in the Classroom. I looked into it this summer and realized how easy it was to apply for a grant for a pet in my classroom. The application took all of five minutes to complete and within a few weeks I had a letter in the mail with a coupon for a free aquarium and fish at Pet Supplies Plus! It's totally worth it. Click here to read about the different grants and stores that participate. You can also apply for the sustainable grant each year which grants you $50 to maintain an existing animal in your classroom.

So how am I using it? I wanted it to be something that the students had to earn for good behavior. My idea was that when our Elf on the Shelf left after Christmas he would leave the aquarium with a note explaining that they earned the aquarium for being good in December. Well, guess who forgot to bring it to school the day after break? Oops. So instead I used the tank as a reward after we saved up a bunch of ClassDojo points in January. The nice thing about using a class pet as a reward is that you can gradually release the rewards (and with a grant it's a cheap system!). Take a look:

One month of good behavior
Earn the tank

One week of good behavior
Earn the rocks in the bottom

One week of good behavior
Earn some decorations for the tank (you can drag this out for many weeks)

One week of good behavior
Earn the water in the tank

One week of good behavior
Earn a fish!

Right now we are earning 1 fish per week. You can also mix it up and some weeks earn a fish or some weeks earn a new plant for the tank. The kids love that they are part of the process and they love the responsibility of caring for a pet. It's also motivating because I can use caring and feeding the fish as an incentive for good behavior. Erica Bohrer has a great packet in her Teachers Pay Teachers store that has resources for every kind of class pet! 

Our Aquarium

Our First Fish!

Some of my boys teaching the fish how to count by 5s with a hundreds chart :) How cute!


Welcome Letters for Parents

Seriously!? It's hard to believe August begins this week. Where does summer go?! The first few weeks of summer I couldn't even think about school. Then in the past week as I was on vacation (pathetic, I know) I started to get that itch. I'm not ready to go back yet, but I started to get the itch to get things ready. On our 9 hour drive to Maine, I worked on my laptop the whole time. I know I am not alone! August starting in my school means that letters with teacher placements will go out to families this week and kids are back-to-school shopping. Although my school sends home a letter to inform the families of teacher assignments, I always send home a welcome letter from me. It puts the families at ease to learn a little bit more about the teacher and to feel as if they've been reached out to before the school year begins. Here is a look at what I sent home!

My welcome letter includes:

  • A brief biography and background of me
  • A brief overview of my philosophy of teaching and parent communication
  • A request for a letter back from the parents (this wonderful portion of the letter comes from Beth Newingham's opening letter)
  • A supply list
  • One sheet of Avery labels with the student's name on them (I like everything labeled and this way I know it is labeled to my liking and it also helps the parents out!)
  • An invitation to Meet the Teacher Day (This is optional, but since I teach a K-1 self-contained room, it is helpful for the families and students to be able to come visit the classroom and meet me before the first day of school. This is also a good idea if you have students who have recently began receiving special education services or are transitioning to a new building or special education setting.)
In addition to welcome letters at the beginning of the school year, I have always sent home introduction letters to the families when I was in long-term substitute positions.


An Open Letter to a Teacher Basher

This week one of our local news stations posted an article "exposing" what a teacher's pension was. I came across the link to the article on Facebook because one of my friends had commented on it. Like any news story that goes through Facebook, there were over 40 comments from people putting in their two cents about the article. Most were teachers saying, "Hey leave us alone for once!" Some comments were from people that were seemingly pleased that this news station "exposed" this public information, as it added fuel to the ever-burning fire that people have against teachers. As I read through the comments, I started getting angry as this person continued to bash teachers, calling us babysitters, overpaid, ungrateful and "simple". Teachers continued writing back to him, defending what we do and correcting his grammar, as to prove a point that it is ignorant people that must hate teachers or disagree with our pay scale and pensions. I attempted to write a response to this internet troll, but found myself not being able to find the right words to explain to him why he was wrong. I kept typing then erasing, editing, typing, erasing. I wanted him to so badly understand that we earn our summer vacations and pensions and incomes just as much as anybody else. My blood was boiling. I wanted to teach him a lesson (no pun intended).


My Favorite eBook App- and a Giveaway!

Last summer while I was setting up my new classroom, I wrote this blog post, searching for input on a great program or app that has audiobooks for kids. I used Storia from Scholastic, but it was expensive and I couldn't justify buying books after a while. I loaded up iPods with audiobooks from the library, but my kids got sick of the same twenty books. My school subscribes to Raz Kids, which my kids loved this year. Raz Kids is nice because it is from Reading A-Z, so I can print the books and resources for my kids for guided reading, and they can read the books on the computer on their own. I still didn't have an app that I loved for centers/Daily Five on the iPad though, because I liked to reserve Raz Kids for my direct instruction and guided reading only. I wanted my kids to have an app they could go on and just explore books with no assignment or guidelines. I also wanted them to feel like it was a game or a reward. Then I found FarFaria! You guys know how much I love a good app and bringing technology into my classroom.

FarFaria is an app for Apple and Android devices. It's $3.99/month and it is TOTALLY worth every penny. I use the iPad app and it's amazing. FarFaria has over 600 books for kids ages 2-9. They add five new books each week. Here are some of my favorite things about it!