On the 8th Day, I Gave Photo Gifts

I try not to give a picture of my kids in a silver frame to the grandparents every year, but it is hard to avoid. To be honest, someone in my family is getting something that is photo related at Christmas. First of all, I love photos. Secondly, it is just too hard to bypass once there are grandkids and family get togethers and new babies. However, you do not have to give a photo in a frame. There are many cool photo related gifts available. Here are some I like. What unique photo gifts have you found?

Idea 1: Easy123Art will take your digital photo and turn it into a paint by number. I gave my brother and sister-in-law a paint by number of one of their wedding photos the year they got married. These are not a child’s paint by number. One of my Atlanta friends completed two of these of her children, and they looked like professional paintings. She did say they take time and work.

Idea 2: Kolo 5×7 Vineyard albums are paper photo albums that hold 12 photos.. They come in a variety of colors. If there has been a special family trip or event, I will complete an album for a gift. When I went with my husband’s family to Yellowstone, I made albums for his parents and sister to remember the trip. When my whole family came to New Orleans for Mardi Gras, I made albums for everybody with fun family pictures from the parades. The albums are little “best of” collections. I keep a huge basket of them in my living room, and guests browse through them– or I browse through them when I need a little pick me up.

Idea 3: Have a photo turned into a postage stamp. There is a surcharge, but these are actual USPS postage stamps. If you do not mind paying a little extra, these are fun for baby announcements, holiday cards, or wedding thank you notes.

Idea 4: Smartphone covers or e-reader covers can be made with a special photo. My husband had one made as a Mother’s Day gift for my iPhone. He used Zagg.

Idea 5: Have photos inserted into a set of Tervis Tumblers. A good friend saved invitations from parties she hosted and mailed them to Tervis. She has a set of “party cups” with all of her party invitations sealed inside. There are some size limitations.


More Tailgate Food

This dip has all of the basic ingredients required for good football watching food– bacon and cheese. I love our family recipe because it can be doubled (or tripled) easily. I recommend serving this dip with Red Oval Farms Stoned Wheat Thin crackers, which I believe are the perfect vehicle for getting the cheesy bacon goodness into your mouth. It can also be served with Triscuits, or Fritos Scoops. I have even served it with Snyder’s Dipping Sticks pretzels. Many people I know have a favorite bacon and cheese dip of some kind. What is your best bacon and cheese dip recipe?


  • 1/4 c. slivered almonds
  • 2 strips crisp bacon, crumbled
  • 1 c. grated sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1 T. green onions, chopped
  • 1/2 c. mayonnaise


  • Blend all ingredients together thoroughly.

Spooky Votives

We have 45 minutes for scary snacks and spooky activities at my daughter’s kindergarten Halloween party next week. I offered to provide the super speedy activity for the kids. This is a Halloween activity I have used before. It does not require a whole lot of precision and works well for nursery school or kindergarten children. What are other short and simple Halloween activities that will work at school parties?


  • One wide-mouthed glass jar for each child in the class, no lid (Mason jelly jars, Beach-Nut baby food jars, or any glass jar)
  • Tissue paper cut into small squares (orange, black, yellow, white…)
  • Elmer’s glue
  • Paper plates
  • Paint brushes
  • One tealight candle for each child in the class


  1. Mix Elmer’s glue with a little water on the paper plates.
  2. Children paint a portion of the side of the jar with the diluted glue.
  3. Press pieces of tissue onto the jar and smooth down. If needed, paint a little glue on top of the tissue pieces.
  4. Repeat until the whole jar is covered.
  5. Let dry and place tealight inside jar and light for a spooky votive.


  1. You can use any size glass jar. I really like the Beach-Nut baby food jars, but I did not know any families this year who might be buying baby food on a regular basis and would have a supply of 20+ jars for the class.
  2. If you want these to look more professional, I think you could use Mod Podge or Diamond Glaze to give the jars a more finished look.
  3. Use this activity at Christmas or Valentine’s Day as well. Just change out the tissue paper colors.

Two Gifts in One (Day 7)

My mom discovered the Scribble Press Store in New York City and picked up an Author’s Tool Kit ($28.95) as a Christmas present for my son a few years back. He LOVES writing stories, and this was an awesome gift idea. It is a design your own book kit. There are a variety of page layouts included in the kit, and the child writes a story and illustrates it. The kit also includes templates for a cover page, dedication page, and an about the author page. Once the pages are completed, you mail them back to Scribble Press, and they professionally bind the book. The book binding fee was included with our gift, but you have the option to order extra copies. Wrap the extra copies and give the finished books as a gift at the next holiday. It is the gift that gives back!

If you happen to live in New York City, you should look at the class and party options at their store. I also noticed an app and online book functions on the website that would be great for teachers (or parents).

The Write Way

I have not cracked the code, but I am coming close to a grammar system that (almost) guarantees students will write in complete sentences. When I started a 6th grade teaching job about 15 years ago, my teammate handed me a binder called Sentence Writing Strategies**. I attended the training for it at University of Georgia, and it has changed my grammar world. Teachers, if you can attend a training session in your area, run– don’t walk!

I am able to adapt the key elements of the Sentence Writing Strategies and fold it into whatever grammar textbook my school has at whatever grade level I am teaching. Basically, I use my grammar textbook in the Sentence Writing Strategies order.

Step 1: Teach some basic parts of speech and then begin introducing each sentence type (simple, compound, complex, and compound-complex). The steps in My Grammar Plan take me about 6-8 weeks with 4th graders. The order is the key!

Students mark prepositional phrases, infinitives, verbs/helping verbs, and subjects in every sentence– IN THAT ORDER– every time. If students can do this well, they can more easily identify all of the other “stuff”. Parents, if you are working with a child at home who struggles with complete sentences or identifying parts of sentences, following these steps will help.

Step 2: Begin simple sentences. Writing Strategies gives you formulas for simple sentences. Each simple sentence (independent clause) must meet 3 criteria. A sentence must have a subject, a verb, and make sense on its own.

Step 3: Build the folders. Is anyone familiar with magnetic poetry? I had a set of the little word magnets on my refrigerator for a long time and thought my students could move word pieces a la magnetic poetry around to create sentences. My students know the definition of a simple sentence and can identify the parts of a simple sentence, but actually executing the simple sentence was proving to be a bit of a challenge.

I sealed white mailing envelopes and cut them in half to make pockets. You could use coin envelopes or library card pockets too. You will need to cut the height down some, so little fingers can reach into the pockets. My pockets are about 2 1/2 in. tall. I glued the pockets to the left side of a manila folder and labeled them. I created a sentence building space with directions on the right side of the folder. In each pocket are small cardstock chips with the word choices for each part of the sentence we know to date.


I put the students in groups of 2 or 3 and gave them each a folder. The students used the word chips in the folders to build simple sentences. After they created a sentence, they transferred the words to a piece of notebook paper and marked the sentence to check for any errors.

My next plan for grammar domination is to expand the folders. I thought I could add pockets for adjectives and adverbs. I can keep adding to the sentence types, so students can build compound and complex sentences… then I will need coordinating and subordinating conjunctions. The possibilities are endless. What else can I do with my folders?

** For more information about the University of Kansas Center for Research on Learning,  Strategic Instruction Model®, search Learning Strategies: Sentence Writing – Fundamentals in the Sentence Writing Strategy and Proficiency in the Sentence Writing Strategy or click on the link above.