Monday, December 8, 2014

Teacher Gifts: Are You Naughty or Nice?

Disclaimer:  Tellin' it like it is, y'all.  Don't get ugly about it.

I've been a mom of a kid who has been in a school of some form for 10 years.  I've been a preschool teacher for 4 years.  I've been a giver and a receiver in this annual teacher gift trauma and I'd like to help make things easier... for ALL of  us.

Yes - we should all be happy for what we get and it's the thought that counts.  Amen and right on.  But if you're reading this, chances are that you are truly interested in what teachers really do and do not want.  You don't want to waste your time and money doing things or giving things that won't be appreciated as you intended.

Our school is brilliant and keeps a book in the front entryway that holds a survey all the teachers filled out at the beginning of the year of their likes - favorite stores, snacks, colors, restaurants, et cetera - and "wish list" items.  Ask if your school has anything like that and you are golden.

I asked teachers, and here are their actual responses when I asked them what they DON'T want:
  • Mugs.  Overwhelming, number 1 response.  In the name of all that is coffee-related, please don't give us any more mugs.  
  • Teacher-related picture frames.  We don't really keep pictures of past classes in our homes (that seems a little creepy) and we don't have space in our classrooms to display years' worth of class pictures.  Ditto to apple and school bus related items.
  • Baked goods.  I was surprised by this one.  I'll eat pretty much anything you give me.  But in talking with others, I realize that some folks are pretty picky about eating food that was prepared in the home of someone they don't know very well.  Also, your teacher may be dieting and this is already a difficult time of year for that.  Others said no chocolate, which I do not get, AT ALL.  You show me a bag with the words "Ghirardelli" or "Godiva" peeking out, and I am all good.  
  • "No-name" lotions or body sprays.  If your teacher specifically asks for lotion, then okay, but make sure it's the good stuff.  Picking scents for other people is always tricky, and I've gotten more than my fair share of bath products that I turn around and put in some donation basket somewhere.
  • Jewelry.  I rarely wear it.  If I've learned anything about people who DO love jewelry is that they are very meticulous about picking out their own stuff.  As a friend of mine mentioned, no rhinestone encrusted Christmas tree brooches, please.  
  • Crap.  Just... stuff.  It is clear when you are giving somebody something just to give them something.  Just to fulfill what you feel is an obligation.  I know for a fact that a teacher would rather receive a $5 gift card somewhere than another thing to dust or clutter up their house.  When in doubt, "Golden Rule" it - would you want to receive this item?  
  • Items of a religious nature.  Unless you know - KNOW - your teacher's religious preference, steer clear.  A Jewish friend had someone give her an Easter Bunny figurine at Easter one year.  An avowed atheist is not going to have the same take on "the reason for the season" as you.

What DO teachers want?

  • Not to be crass, but gift cards.  These people work hard.  As I mentioned before, if all you can do is spend $5 on a teacher present, that teacher will think of you fondly when they purchase that latte on their way into work that morning.  
  • Replenish their supplies.  I think we all know that most teachers spend a lot out of pocket for their classrooms.  At this point in the year, supplies are run through or badly abused.  As a preschool teacher, I would be thrilled if someone sent in a 12 pack of paper towels or a case of baby wipes.  Teachers of older children will appreciate pre-sharpened pencils, dry erase markers, Sharpies, hand sanitizer and the like.  Want to be a hero?  Find out from your school how much a roll of laminating plastic is and spring for that, or go in with some other parents.  That stuff is gold in our school.
  • Buy them lunch one day.  This was big among teacher friends.  Set a date with them where you will pick up a meal from their favorite restaurant and bring it to them at school.  Can you imagine what a treat that would be?
  • Find out what their favorite healthy snacks are and make them a basket to keep in their classroom.  Emphasis on "healthy".  Protein bars, water bottles, dried fruit... things that will not add on pounds or make their blood sugar spike through an already busy day.  
  • Mani / Pedi gift certificates.  Several said this would be great, but know your teacher.  This gift would be completely lost on me and I would probably end up passing this off on a friend.  Also, some people are picky about where they get their service from - see if you can find out where they like to go and get the gift certificate from there.

  • Granted - your teacher may go against everything I've written here.  If your teacher welcomes an ever-growing mug collection and is all rhinestone blinged out every holiday season, good on ya.  

    Did I miss anything?  If you are a teacher, let us know of any really thoughtful gifts that you truly appreciated!  

    Friday, December 5, 2014

    Does Your December Need Some New Traditions?

    Our family enjoys some traditions that are fairly unique - I think that's why I like them!

    Celebrate St. Nicholas Day
    Posting this a little late in the game for you to adopt this year, but perhaps you can tuck this idea away for next year?  My dad's German family always had their stockings filled on St. Nicholas Day, December 6th.  I practically had it written in my marriage vows that my family would continue this tradition.  It's a fun way to focus on the saint himself.  It also makes the wait for Christmas much more bearable for kids.  It's like "pre-Christmas", y'all!  Just enough of a hit to take the edge off until The Big Show.  Don't want to do stockings that day?  Maybe follow the Dutch tradition by having each child put a shoe outside of their bedroom and wake up to a small treat or some candy inside.

    Move Beyond The Night Before Christmas (affiliate link included)
    I discovered Jeff Guinn's book in a clearance bin at the grocery store a few years ago.  I read the first part -The Autobiography of Santa Claus - and loved it.  It's Santa Claus' own story "as told to" the author.  It includes lots of great historical figures and stories of Santa's experiences that shaped how he gives gifts today.  Guess what - 24 chapters!  We generally start on Dec. 1st and read a chapter a night.  You could jump in and start now, doubling up on some of the chapters until you get back on track.  My kids love it and get excited when I pull this out each year! The book pictured above contains all three Santa books by the author.

    Elf, Schmelf
    I was NOT drinking the elf kool aid.  I could not fathom spending almost $30 on that thing just to be doing something that everyone else was doing.  I did, however, appreciate the fun and creativity of the posts I was seeing involving that elf.  I went to Hobby Lobby and spent $2.50 on... a Bumble.  You know, from the classic Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer cartoon?  Our Bumble has returned from wherever he goes after Christmas and immediately got into the hot chocolate.  The enthusiastic look on his face is much less creepy than that smirky"I might actually move when you are not looking" elf.

    Do you have any fun December traditions that your family had adopted?  

    Smoothie King is Bringin' The Chocolate - The Healthy Way!

    Disclosure:  I received a gift card to Smoothie King to facilitate purchase of one of their new flavors of smoothies for purposes of review.  All opinions are my own.

    I have long been a fan of Ghirardelli© chocolate.  When they opened a shop in a new outlet mall near me, I was kind of scared that it would test the limits of my self control!

    I got notification that Smoothie King was introducing Dark Chocolate Smoothies during the holiday season and I wanted in.  I would have rushed over regardless of the gift card.  There are three new flavors:  Dark Chocolate Mint, Dark Chocolate Strawberry and Dark Chocolate Orange.

    I grabbed two of my men and we stopped on the way to the park.  We determined to each get one of the new flavors.  I knew, knew, KNEW that although my youngest said he wanted the orange flavor, that I would end up with it.  One sip and I was proven correct.

      The other young man very much enjoyed his mint smoothie, while I handed my strawberry over to Little Man and he was very happy with it. My dad had a fondness for the chocolate orange flavor when I was growing up so I was familiar with it.    I liked the orange flavor just fine, but it wasn't my favorite.   I tasted both of the other flavors and they were great!

    Let's get to the best part - the nutrition facts!

    • All under 300 calories for a 20 oz serving
    • Have 0 trans fat
    • Made with 100% Ghirardelli© cocoa
    • Are blended with strawberries, bananas and orange juice
    • Are rich in vitamin C, vitamin A, calcium and iron
    • Protein is blended in - each smoothie has 14-15g of protein
    I'm in the ugly throes of training for my first marathon and I can't think of a better way to treat myself post-run than to get my vitamins and protein in via a yummy smoothie with Ghirardelli© chocolate!  

    At my Smoothie King there were coupons by the register for a free smoothie when you buy a dark chocolate smoothie and a small dark chocolate smoothie for $3.49, so be sure to look for those when you go in to pick yours up!

    What flavor will you try?

    Tuesday, December 2, 2014

    Atlanta History Center December Happenings

    December is a great month to visit the Atlanta History Center!

    Experience Candlelight Nights on December 4th and December 18th from 6:00pm - 10:00pm.  The trails will be beautifully lit with candles and each of the historic houses will be decorated for Christmas.  At each house, you will find costumed interpreters and activities that will help you get a better feel for how Christmas was celebrated during the Civil War era at the Smith Family Farm and during the 1930's at the beautiful Swan House.  There will be carolers, story readings and live performances.  Of course, the Big Man himself will be there - Santa!

    This program is $10 for members, $15 for non-members and $8 for children.

    Photo Courtesy of the Atlanta History Center

    If you are an AHC member, you will have access to a Members Only lounge from 6:00pm - 8:30pm during Candlelight Nights on the December 18th program.  There will be activities for kids such as ornament making and cookie decorating, plus a special visit from Santa from 6:00pm - 7:00pm!

    Homeschool Day is December 5th from 1:00pm - 4:00pm and will feature Holidays in History.  For those with toddlers to five year olds, Magic Monday on December 8th from 10:00am to 1:00pm will offer a O' Christmas Tree program.

    Finally, be sure to check out their current temporary exhibit - American Sabor: Latinos in U.S. Popular Music.  There are film screenings every Saturday and other programs related to Latin music in America.  Here's a hint - December 13th and 14th is the Ford Free Weekend where all guests are admitted to the Atlanta History Center FREE!  What better way to spend some time with the family this holiday than to view a fun exhibit and tour the historic homes decorated for Christmas!

    Tuesday, November 25, 2014

    The Day After Thanksgiving at Atlanta's High Museum of Art

    Disclosure:  I will receive two free tickets to this event in exchange for promotion.  All opinions are my own!  

    On Black Friday, you will NOT find me fighting crowds and shopping at indecent hours.  Any savings I may incur is totally not worth the drama to me, especially when I have such a better alternative!

    I'll be sleeping in and then hanging out with my guys at the High Museum of Art's Day After Thanksgiving event!  The High will be open from 10:00am - 9:00am that day, with special festivities for the family beginning at 1:00p.m.  View the new Cézanne And the Modern exhibit while you are there!

    Best part?  Kids receive FREE admission all day!

    What kinds of activities are planned?

    • Watercolor Workshop - paint just like Cézanne!  
    • Kids yoga
    • Hold a pose while your family attempts to draw you as a still-life!
    • View the George Washington portrait by Gilbert Stuart and draw your own portrait on a High Museum $1 bill!  
    • Live music
    • Family Scavenger Hunt
    There is also special programming for teens, including a Bookbinding Workshop, a linocut Workshop and the Reel Riot Film Festival which includes over 20 short films submitted by teens from all over the country!

    I'm planning to make sure my kids see the Gordon Parks : Segregation Story exhibit.  The exhibit includes moving photographs that provide an insight into the daily life of a Birmingham, Alabama family in the 1950's.  

    If you will have family in town for Thanksgiving, what better way to spend time together than to explore the arts and exercise your creativity?  

    What are your post-Thanksgiving traditions?

    Monday, November 24, 2014

    Main Event Entertainment - Atlanta's Newest Venue for Family Fun! Giveaway

    Disclosure:  I was invited to a private "grand opening" event that included complimentary food, drinks and games.  All opinions are my own.

    Y'all, my boys are gonna be jealous.  I was invited to a preview of Main Event Entertainment off Cobb Parkway in Atlanta.  Main Event has everything kids (and adults who want to act like kids) could want - laser tag, arcade games, billiards, bowling....  I was gonna be the super cool mom and check my middle school boys out of school early to attend this and be able to give you a kid's review of this location.  Then I checked their grades online the night before.

    They did not attend.

    You are left with my impressions, but as a mom of 3 boys, I can assure you that Main Event would have been a huge hit.

    First, though, let's talk about the fun for the grown-ups!  I walked in and was immediately impressed with a sleek dining area.

    One note of surprise - I ordered a Diet Coke.  I was asked if Pepsi products were okay.  No.  No they are not.  So I asked for sweet tea.  No sweet tea, either - just unsweetened.  I understand they are a chain that probably has a contract with Pepsi.  But no sweet tea?  Y'all.  It's Atlanta.  Unsweet tea with a container of sugar packets is not going to get the job done.

    For those who want something stronger than soda or iced tea, this bar should get you set up nicely.  Note the big screen tv's inside and outside the bar frame, so you can catch whatever game is on no matter where you are sitting.

    Nearby, plenty of billiard tables for those so inclined.

    On the other side of the building is the bowling area.

    This place looked fabulous!  No hard plastic chairs - check out this seating area in front of the lane.

    My kids would have enjoyed both billiards and bowling, but let's get to the stuff that the under-18 crowd is gonna really get off on!

    First stop, laser tag.

    Y'all, there is a ropes course.  ABOVE the arcade games.  Crazy.

    Speaking of arcade games - there are tons, for all ages and interests!

    Of course Main Event has packages for group events, birthday parties, and any other reason you can think of to grab some friends to go play!

    Follow Main Event on Facebook and Twitter to be kept up to date on special promotions!

    Please note:  Google maps was not my friend in finding the Cobb Pkwy location.  It kept sending me to Akers Mill, when the location is actually further down in the AMC theatre building.

    Alpharetta:  10700 Davis Dr., Alpharetta, GA 30009 (near Sam's Club)
    Atlanta:  3101 Cobb Pkwy SE, Atlanta, GA 30339

    Now - who wants to win a $25 FUNcard and give Main Event a try?
    Giveaway runs November 24 through November 28th.  U.S. Residents only.

    a Rafflecopter giveaway

    Saturday, November 22, 2014

    Leap Into Gaming with LeapTV!

    Disclosure:  I received free products in order to host the LeapFrog sponsored MommyParty.  The opinions expressed here are my own.

    I have weird spacing in the ages of my boys.  The older two are 12 and 11; eighteen months apart, and that was on purpose, y'all.  Enter Bonus Baby #3 - he's 6.  That five year age gap was NOT on purpose.  He's gotten all kinds of "education" from his older brothers regarding video games.  He actually schooled his 11 year old brother on MineCraft last night.

    Sometimes, though, it's hard for him to keep up with his brothers when they are gaming - the games are too difficult for him to understand or manipulate.  Sometimes, the games just aren't appropriate. My youngest gets creeped out by a certain game pitting horticultural specimens against the walking dead.

    LeapTV to the rescue!  LeapTV is specifically designed for kids ages 3-8.  It's very similar to the Wii gaming system, but specially designed for little hands and minds.  There is a motion-sensing camera that allows kids to jump in and move with their game, getting off the couch.  LeapTV also designs their video games to provide an educational experience while your kids are having fun.

    My youngest was so excited to try this out!  The system does require an HD tv for set up.  Make sure you have plenty of room for your child to MOVE!

    In our LeapTV kit we received 2 games:  Sports! which focused on mathematics and Dance & Learn which focused on reading.

    I loved how much the games incorporated movement.  Instead of just typing in an answer, or clicking on a button on screen, my child had to jump, reach and dance for these games!

    When you are doing set-up, helpful tips are given onscreen.  Your child is instructed to stand in front of the camera for it to gauge the child's size so the games can be specifically tailored to the youngest of players!

    We've had Leap Frog products in our house for around 10 years now.  When my older children first started to be interested in interactive games, we initially turned to the LeapPad games.  This was before the current edition of tablet-based games - it had the book and interactive pen.  When they got a little older, we moved them to the Leapster handheld gaming system.  I loved their educational games and the boys felt "big" even though they weren't quite ready for other handheld gaming systems.

    I'm so grateful that we can continue our relationship with the Leap Frog brand and continue a love of learning with my youngest child.  Leap Frog continues to make quality products that this momma can feel good about giving to her children!

    Disclosure: I received a LeapTV gaming kit for purposes of review and promotion. All opinions are my own!