Personalized Christmas Gifts

I kicked off the holiday shopping season with the personalized rubber stamps for Miss Priss’ and Mr. Star Wars’ teachers. Personalized seems to be the theme for me this year. I usually keep a list going all year (yes, I am that OCD) and jot down ideas as people mention things. When holiday shopping season officially starts, I review the list and try to come up with ideas that might apply to several people, so I can order more than one of the same thing. I have a brother and two sisters who all have kids plus TheRoomDad’s family. We try to do a little something for each family group, so the list gets pretty long.

Here are some gift ideas on my “to buy” list this year, and most of them are personalized in some way. That usually means a longer ship time, so I better get on the stick!

Monogrammed Jewelry: I know my tween nieces would love necklaces like this because they keep pinning these types of things. I also think they are great gifts for my mom, sisters, and sisters-in law.

gold-small-discs-double-layer  moon_lola_script_monogram_in_orange_large   4-letter-necklace_20

Monogrammed Scarves: I love all of the color choices for these scarves. I would also do something like this with a pashmina. Find pashminas at a local store and take them to a monogrammer. FYI– This would make a great teacher gift. Classroom temperatures can be difficult to regulate!

monogram-scarf-scarves

Personalized Wrapping Paper: One thing I like about this gift is that it is consumable, so it does not have to be stored for very long.

wrapping paper initials wrapping paper recipe wrapping paper

Mini Photo Books: These books are set up like board books. I think they make great personalized gifts for little people and grandparents to share when visiting.

mini board bookspinhole-press-mini-book-names-faces-photo-baby-toddler

Custom Ornament: My parents have a collection of paintings of all of the houses where they have lived. We moved a lot, so the collection is large. These ornaments reminded me of the paintings. It would be fun to order ornaments with a different house every year.

custom ornament

Fort Kit: This one is not a personalized gift but a DIY gift. Fill a drawstring bag with supplies to build a fort like plain sheets and clothespins. I think this is so clever.

for kit

Anyone else have a successful shopping strategy or great ideas that will work for several people? You could also return to last year’s gift list for a little inspiration.

Thanksgiving Stuffing

sausage stuffing

Growing up, I always had a pretty traditional Thanksgiving meal that included a cornbread stuffing with chopped hard boiled eggs. I am not sure what region or style that sort of stuffing (dressing?) is, but it was never my favorite part of our Thanksgiving meal (sorry TheRoomMomMom). My parents are from a small town in Kansas, and I know it is the recipe TheRoomMomGrandmom always made. After spending Thanksgiving with TheRoomDad’s family, I found a new stuffing that I love. Thankfully, TheRoomDadMom shared her recipe with me many years ago. It is now my favorite part of the meal.

I know I am posting this stuffing recipe too late for you to enjoy at this Thanksgiving, but I couldn’t get pictures for you before today. Be sure to file it for Christmas dinner and have a great Thanksgiving with your family, friends, and other loved ones!

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 c. chopped onion
  • 1 c. chopped celery, leaves included
  • 1/2 c. butter
  • 1/2 lb. ground pork sausage meat (I like Jimmy Dean)
  • 1/2 c. coarsely chopped mushrooms
  • 8 c. unseasoned bread crumbs (from 1-2 loaves of pre-sliced Italian or other crusty bread)
  • 1 T. kosher salt
  • 1/2 t. ground pepper
  • 1 t. rubbed dried sage
  • 1/2 t. dried thyme
  • 1/2 t. dried rosemary
  • 1/2 t. nutmeg
  • 1/2 c. chicken stock (plus more– at least 1 c.)
  • 1/2 c. dry white wine
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 c. chopped dried apricots

Directions

  • A day or two before you need the stuffing, cut sliced Italian bread into 1/4 in. chunks and spread in one layer on a jelly roll pan. Bake at 350 degrees until lightly browned and toasted. It usually takes about 15 minutes or so. Move the bread around the pan several times during baking. Let cool and store in an airtight container or a Ziploc bag.

bread crumbs

  • In a skillet, saute onion and celery in butter until tender. Set aside in a large mixing bowl.
  • In the same skillet, cook sausage and mushrooms. Pour off any fat and add celery and onion mixture back into the sausage and mushrooms.

sausage and mushrooms add onions celery

  • Put bread crumbs in the large mixing bowl you used to hold the celery and onions. Pour sausage mixture on top and add all of the seasonings.

mix bread crumbs with ingredients

  • Moisten bread crumb mix with 1/2 c. white wine and 1/2 c. chicken stock. Mix thoroughly.
  • Add a little chicken stock to the beaten egg to thin. Add the egg and apricots to the sausage bread crumb mix. Stir well.

sausage stuffing mix thoroughly

  • Add more chicken stock if the mix seems dry. All of the crouton pieces should be moistened, but there should not be liquid in the bottom of the bowl. Do not over saturate.
  • Pour mix into a greased casserole dish. Bake uncovered at 325 degrees for 30 to 45 minutes. When the top is browned, remove from the oven.

Notes

  • If you can find pre-made unseasoned bread cubes, you can use those instead of making your own bread cubes/croutons.
  • White wine can be eliminated and replaced with chicken stock.
  • You can use fresh herbs or a combination of fresh and dried. Increase the amount if using fresh to taste.
  • I pour a little chicken stock on the top after the mix is in the casserole dish before baking.
  • I usually use 1/2 c. white wine plus one 15-oz can of chicken stock total by the time I finish prepping it all.
  • I like a round casserole dish with high sides like a 3-quart with a lid.

onions celery mushrooms

Holiday Teacher Gift 2013

teacher rubber stamp

After completing a thorough search for the perfect holiday teacher gift, I finally selected this year’s sirsee for my children’s homeroom teachers. This is a big decision for me. I contribute to a group gift for the teachers, but I always want to add a little extra from our family. This year, I ordered personalized rubber stamps and will be giving the stamp along with some blank notecards.

a note from teacher stamp

There are several reasons a personalized stamp makes a good teacher gift. Teachers need to add their name to all kinds of items throughout the day. We write notes to a variety of people for hand delivery (even if it is just to the school office), and we need an identifier on it. You might think we could just use e-mail, but it is pretty difficult for a teacher to send and receive e-mails (or get to the computer) during the day and handwritten notes sent by “student post” often work better.

this belongs to stamp

We have all kinds of classroom supplies that need to be labeled. Pretty much anything in my classroom is fair game for student hands. If I don’t stamp my name on it, there is a good chance it is walking out the door. My classroom library alone requires constant monitoring. Even if a student doesn’t walk away with my classroom supplies, I loan materials to other classrooms all the time. Without my name stamped all over, I would not get the materials back.

this book belongs to

I considered several rubber stamp options, and I think all of them would make a great teacher gift any time of the year. I ended up choosing a Paperwink rubber stamp with a checkbox option. I personalized the stamps with my children’s teachers’ names and checkboxes for desk, class, and library. I received a proof within 24 hours of ordering. Delivery did take a full two weeks after approving the proof, so if you use Paperwink, order early– like today.

checkbox rubber stamp

What teacher gifts are you considering this holiday season? If you need additional ideas, take a look at my Good Teacher Gifts Pinterest board. I also started a Crappy Teacher Gifts Pinterest board as a public service to parents. Pretty much any scented candle, lotion, or apple related item is out (in my opinion). Punny notes are bad too.

As a final note, holiday teacher gifts are not required, and we really do appreciate anything a student and/or student family might choose to give. But, there are definitely gift ideas that work better than others, and remember, a student can always write a thoughtful note that will be more meaningful than gift cards and chocolate.

Other Teacher Gift Links:

Middle School Teacher Giveaway

Middle School Giveaway

I donated a literature unit to a middle school giveaway for teachers. If any of my teacher followers are interested in some new teaching resources, please click the links below to enter. I contributed my In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson literature unit, but if you win the ELA product pack, you can choose any literature unit from my teacher store.

Thanks to Krystal from Lessons From The Middle and Kate from Kate’s Classroom Cafe for organizing this giveaway just for middle school teachers.

middle school giveawayA Rafflecopter Giveaway

Middle School Giveaway A Rafflecopter Giveaway

Middle School GiveawayA Rafflecopter Giveaway

Middle School Giveaway A Rafflecopter Giveaway

Middle School GiveawayA Rafflecopter Giveaway

Middle School Giveaway A Rafflecopter Giveaway

Middle School GiveawayA Rafflecopter Giveaway

Improving Reading Fluency

boy reading aloud

As a child, were you in the blue bird reading group, the red bird reading group, or the yellow birds? In case you did not figure it out at the time, the color coding was for the low, middle, and high readers in your class. I am pretty sure the main distinguishing factor was your ability to read aloud fluently. I know my reading group had mostly decent readers and a few halting readers; I was probably the middle level.

Reading aloud fluently is an indicator of comprehension and word attack skills. It is harder to comprehend a story while reading aloud because your brain is doing two jobs– decoding letters in order to pronounce the letters as words and synthesizing ideas that the words relay. When a child reads silently, he can skip the pronunciation part– in fact he can skip entire blocks of words that look unfamiliar, which will impact comprehension. So, while it might seem easier to let your child read alone once he is a (mostly) independent reader, you should still listen to your child read aloud from time to time.

Classroom teachers do not have time to perfect the oral reading skills of each child. This is a skill that has to be practiced at home in conjunction with the reading instruction happening at school. Here are some guidelines I recently gave to the parents of the students in my classroom.

  • Sit where you can see the words on the page as your child reads.
  • Correct any mispronounced words and have the child say the word correctly. This reinforces correct letter patterns in English and will improve spelling and word recognition in the future. Breaking words into syllables will help a child pronounce unfamiliar words.
  • Correct any skipped or changed words and have your child read the words that appear on the page EXACTLY as they are written. This part is important. It may not seem like a big deal when kids paraphrase and adjust words while reading, but if they get in the habit of skipping, inserting or changing words, it will affect a child’s overall reading at some point.
  • Emphasize expression—students should pause appropriately for end punctuation. The voice should go up for excitement, questions, etc. If the reading is monotone or flat, practice reading with emotion. This will help you assess comprehension as well. If a reader does not pause or change his voice appropriately, he probably does not know what is really happening. Move to an easier book for practice.
  • After reading a few pages, pause and ask for a recap to check for comprehension. If the reader is confused or can not recall key facts, find an easier book.
  • If a page is particularly slow, the adult can re-read the page to the child to demonstrate fluent reading.
  • End the reading session by modeling for your child. The adult reads a few pages aloud to the child. Make sure the child is in a place where he/she sees the words on the page.
  • Enjoy this time with your son or daughter!

Print my Parent Note About Reading Aloud with the list of suggestions and a chart for tracking reading time. I know there are times when you would rather hear nails on a chalkboard than listen to a slow, choppy reader, but it will improve and is worth the time!

girl reading aloud