Friday, June 21, 2013

On the Road Again...

It's that time of year again.

We'll be heading up to Alabama in a few days. We haven't taken this trip in a year. Gabe is a whole year older which I'm hoping will make for a fairly carefree car ride. I have his activity bags packed and ready to go. I searched a bit online & got a few ideas from FB friends before I just decided to wing it. I headed to the Dollar Tree for some cheapies. Of course I also perused the dollar section at Target and since I was there for some groceries, also picked up his Color Wonder markers for the Jake and the Neverland Pirates Color Wonder pad I bought from Walmart last week. 

I really didn't spend too much which was the goal - - - get as much as I can for as little as I can. We also have the portable DVD player from hubby's parents so I'm sure that will prove entertaining as well. We have to be really strategic about the way we pack this time around. All 3 of us (hubby, Gabe, & me) ride with my mom and she is having a 31 Gifts party hosted by my Grandma so she has to be able to take a lot of her inventory to show. But, I also have Gabe's clothes packed, each day's outfit in a ziploc bag which makes it super organized and easy to find whatever I'm looking for. 

Below are pictures of his activity bags. My mom got him a cute duffel with his name on it so we're using that for his entertainment bag. I'd like to say there is some strategy behind how I packed each bag - but there really isn't. I just threw different items in the bags and hopefully because it is all new, it will provide more fun. I didn't let him come with me to the store when I was buying the stuff because I want him to be surprised by it all when we're on the road. 

Here's his Thirty-One duffel bag - super cute!

I could call this his Crayola bag and pretend I purposely put those items in there but that would be a lie - it just happened that way. It includes his Jake Color Wonder book and the markers and a new little book.

This bag includes a small wooden puzzle with Jake on it and a memory matching game. 

Here's his bag of wild animals and cars (those go together right?) and after this picture I also put some little containers of play dough in this bag.

This is just a bag of some lego style blocks and some number flash cards.

This is the whole lot together...I'm taking the baking sheet as well as his magnetic letters from the fridge so he can play with that. Baking sheet may also serve as a flat surface for his puzzle too. 

I'm really hoping these work to keep him happy. I know we'll stop every few hours to get out and let him run around. Now I'm just back and forth about where to put his car seat. We've always had him in the middle because I know that's the safest place but everyone will be more comfortable if he is on one side and we could get some window clings to let him play with on the window. I see kids on the side all the time and if you have two kids in car seats, they have to be. It just makes me nervous. I know my mom tends to like to drive in the right lane so perhaps I'll put him on the right side. We'll see. Hubby usually sits in the back so I guess I'll leave it up to him. 

I'm more excited to be there this year since he is older and seemingly more manageable. He'll have a ton of space to run and play and I'm not as uptight about everything like I used to be. I think overall it will be a great trip and he'll have loads of fun!

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Growing Gabe

My husband and I had a conversation a while back about still considering ourselves "new parents." It sounds odd to call yourself a new parent when your child is going on three. But, when it is your first child and your only, every stage is new. Every challenge requires new thought to maneuver through and every joy is insurmountably exciting. So, teaching a 2.5 year old new things is a different ball game for us. Now that I'm off for the summer, I've actually had time to really research different activities and actually do some with him.

I know that he really needs to start learning his letters. Through the use of flash cards and his magnetic letters on the fridge, he has come to recognize some letters but I want him to know his entire alphabet and be able to associate the letters with certain things with which he is familiar. I'd seen letter of the week crafts on Pinterest and decided to go with a set from the blog No Time for Flashcards. You can find all her letter of the week curriculum HERE. I'm not doing it all. I decided to pick and choose one craft that he would be most likely to associate with that letter because he's familiar with it. She has 2 or 3 crafts for each letter from which to choose. I also wasn't going to print out all her pages so I copied and pasted each photo of the finished craft into Word and then typed next to it what materials I would need and then made an ultimate list from that. 

My super sensitive self started to come out on Monday when at first he didn't seem at all interested. Like, I seriously almost started to cry. I know - I have issues. Why a two year old's disinterest would have so much power over me is beyond my comprehension. Anyway, he ended up getting really into it. We did "A is for Alligator" since he is very familiar with alligators. It was super simple and he had fun coloring and gluing. Then he was so excited about the finished product that we had to go outside and show daddy. I'm only doing one letter a week and while we will continue to address the other letters during that week, we focus a bit more on that week's letter in a number of ways. He can also pick out the letter 'A' from his hodgepodge of magnetic letters on the fridge. I'll admit - I'm one proud mama that he can do that! 

Here are a few pictures of our exciting "A is for Alligator" craft! I will continue to post as we complete more crafts and keep you updated on how he is doing learning his letters! 

Here are the supplies we needed (not the pipe cleaners or pom poms but there were googly eyes in that package that were vital to this operation). I bought toddler scissors and really do plan on letting him learn with those but I shoved my big adult hands in there and used them myself...more difficult than you might think.

Coloring the A! He was really excited about this!

The A is all finished!

Had to sneak a little shot in there...he's definitely giving me the "Mom, you're scaring me" look.

We glued the A onto blue paper after I cut it out.

I cut out triangles from the foam paper and he helped glue each one of those on too.

Proud artist holding the finished product! (No, he is not wearing pants - we are also mid-potty training here).

Oh, that face! I love my little man!

Monday, June 17, 2013

Call Me a Nerd

I am fully and completely aware that it's only been little more than a week since I've been out of school. 

But for the first time in...the history of EVER...I am fully motivated to accomplish things for next school year. I used to call those crazy teachers who worked like mad in the summer to prepare for the following year "teacher nerds." Well, folks, I think it's time to admit that I may have turned in to one. 

I want to be super organized next year. For the last few years I've had a large orange binder with several dividers that I used for lesson plans, parent contact sheets, behavior documentation, student IEP's & 504's, and any other miscellaneous information I deemed important. Did I keep it up like I planned? The answer would be NO. Plus, I have a million other things I have to keep up with now so things had to change. 

So I am revamping the way I do things. I went out and purchased 6 white 1" binders from Walmart. I wanted some really cute binder covers so I went on a search. I'm really liking this new trendy Chevron pattern that seems to be on just about everything but I didn't want to pay for pre-made covers...especially since I wanted to be able to choose what I label each binder. 

I ended up coming across an exciting freebie from Teachers Pay Teachers - my favorite place to browse teacher stuff  (behind Pinterest of course). You can download her covers for free HERE. It is a powerpoint document with 6 different colored covers, fully editable. So I went to work. Since I don't have color ink in my printer and don't feel like paying $30+ for some right now, I took my flash drive up to Staples and printed my covers from there for about $6. Not bad for this bargain searching teacher. 

Again, with the off chance that I seem like a huge nerd, here are pictures of my new binder covers:
Here's the whole group of them just so you can see how pretty they!

My binder for Guided Reading documentation, plans, notes, etc. as well as notes on Writing Workshop conferences and information for each student. 

Finally, a specific binder for subs. It will include schedules, seating charts, lesson plans, copies, etc. 

A binder for keeping anything and everything data related: FCAT scores, FAIR data, progress graphs, etc. 

My binder for all of the Common Core standards for Reading and Writing as well as any important/helpful resources I can use. 

Parent Contact information will finally get its own binder. All the info, documentation for contact (phone calls, emails, conferences, etc.) and notes re: certain parental issues will be stored here. 

And of course, a binder for my lesson plans. Going to keep the year's curriculum plan plus monthly, weekly, and daily plans in this binder and also start attaching lesson reflection sheets so I know what worked well and what didn't. 

So, there you have it. The super-organized, slightly nerdy Mrs. Elliott. Now, the real task will be keeping this up. I'll just keep chanting the Little Engine That Could's mantra: "I think I can. I think I can."

There's No Excuse

That's the conclusion we've come to: There. Is. No. Excuse.

No excuse for what you ask?

For a lot of things really. Seriously, I could sit here and name a plethora of situations for which there is no excuse. But, I know you're busy. So I'll try to keep it short. Ha!

In light of the recent people we've met and been able to bless with a meal or other things, as well as the "Not a Fan" study we've gone through with our small group, my Hubby and I have come to the realization that honestly, there is no excuse for the poverty, the hunger, and the homelessness so prevalent in our nation today. Period.

If the global church- no, scratch that - if just the church in America would be as concerned about outside people as they are about the color of the carpet or the volume of the music or the fact someone is sitting in their pew, then poverty would diminish, hunger would cease to exist, and homelessness would be eradicated. 

I'm thankful to be a small part of a church showing that they care MORE for people than anything else. While the floors in our sanctuary and bathrooms are finished, the floor in the foyer (the first floor you walk on when you come in) remains concrete. You can see the stains of the paint and drywall mud - but you know what? I actually love the fact that it remains unfinished. To me, it is symbolic of us. We carry stains around with us and we are always a work in progress but God can use us in mighty ways, just as He is using Fuel Community Church in mighty ways. What you see on the outside is not always a reflection of who we are on the inside. It's true of that unfinished concrete floor and it's absolutely true of us. 

If the Church could just get it right. If it we could just focus on what's important - knowing God, loving people, and being a unified body of believers - then everything else would fall into place. People, we could change the world - just like the disciples when they first started the church. They knew what was truly important...and they changed the world. 

So what excuse are you using? I can tell you we were full of them for some time. But God has done a work in our hearts and we're not using the same lame excuses anymore. God doesn't want excuses. He wants commitment. He wants willingness. He wants world changers. 

An excerpt from "Not a Fan" and part of my inspiration behind this post. 

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Opening the Door

I'm still in awe of what God did Saturday.
If you're a facebook friend of mine, you probably saw my insanely long "status update" about the guy we met. But, I felt like going a little deeper into the story and how amazing God works.

There are several women at my church that hold very special places in my heart. These are women I consider mentors or maybe what you would call "spiritual mothers." They each add something unique and special to my life and my walk with Christ. One of these amazing women happens to clean the church with her husband each Saturday. Without pay. Or complaint. With a smile. All for the glory of God. I've been saying for months that we should do some sort of rotation but it seemed every time they needed help, we were busy. But we made ourselves available Saturday so that she and her husband could enjoy their baby girl's wedding and not have to worry about cleaning the church. We were happy to help out such a wonderful couple and serve our church in the process.

And may I just pause here and say that cleaning a church is no easy task...especially if you do it right. I think we got there around 9:30 and didn't actually leave until around 2:00. But it was all perfectly laid out timing. 

As I was wiping down the counter in the foyer and holding my son on my hip, I heard someone try to get in the locked door. When I heard the sound, I thought, "Please, be someone from the church." I turned my head enough to see a poorly dressed man standing at the window peering in. Okay, now I was freaked out. And this is where I'm not proud of myself. I immediately judged him. Seriously? I'm inside a CHURCH, God's house, and I'm judging the man on the outside. Classy...

Now here's where I have to say that I almost told my husband to stay home that morning. He was in some obvious pain and I thought for a moment that maybe I should just head up there myself and get it all done. But I didn't and God knew why. Left up to me, I would have never opened that door.

Proud moment #2 - I tried my best to ignore him. Oh, wow. Writing that out actually hurts. It's not easy to admit that. Thank God for grace. I finally went over to my husband who was vacuuming one of the side halls and I think my exact words went something like, "Hey, some guy tried to get in the door and now he's lurking outside and peeking in the window and it's starting to freak me out."

Proud moment #3 - As hubby went to check it out, I ducked into the bathroom (*ahem, the men's bathroom*) to "clean." Escapist? Yes. Yep, 0 for 3 at this point. I could hear him talking and then my hero husband comes around the corner and says, "He just wants to talk." Okay. I can handle that. (Wait, who cares what I can handle?) That's one thing about my quiet and reserved man - he is a very good listener to those that just need someone to talk to. So, he grabbed a chair and sat down with him. 

As my lil man and I continued to clean, I overheard snippets of conversation and was slowly piecing this scenario together in my mind. Words like "needs," "tent," "shoes," stood out to me. And as I walked in and out of the bathroom retrieving other items, I briefly saw my husband standing with this man having him write out a list of his immediate needs. He actually (and I didn't mention this on facebook) tried to give the man the shoes off of his own feet. This man, this guy that I judged and was quick to dismiss, has a name. It's Mike and he's gone through some tough stuff but he refused to take my husband's shoes. 

After their conversation the guy left and my man of God came to me declaring the items this man needed. A tent, a blanket, shoes, some clothing, and some food. He'd been staying in the homeless camp in the woods not far from the church and Tropical Storm Andrea destroyed what little he had. So hubby drove home to get some stuff together while I stayed behind and continued to clean...with a repentant and heavy heart. 

This amazing man I married cleared off the top shelf of his side of the closet, full of the clothes he was saving and hoping to fit into again one day, and threw everything in a bag. He switched shoes because he was determined to give him the ones on his feet. He washed a nice blanket that smelled like the dog (because she lays on anything that's soft) because he wasn't about to give this man a nasty smelling blanket, he cleared our cabinets out of any canned goods he knew we probably wouldn't eat, and put together a food bag along with a banana, some crackers, and he cut a big slice of homemade veggie lasagna and put it in a container. He grabbed a rain poncho and our extra tent and headed back. 

A little while later, right before I finished up the last minute things, he showed up again and hubby was able to let him pick through the clothes to find some he could wear, he switched shoes (which happened to fit Mike's feet perfectly), threw on the poncho (it had started to rain), grabbed the tent, the food bag, and set off. He had mentioned to hubby that he would like to stay at Lighthouse Ministries because he doesn't really want to be on the street. After I finished and locked up, we headed home in the rain. Only, we were driving and had a home to go to...Mike didn't. When we turned at the next light, hubby turned into the shopping center parking lot, drove through to the opposite side where Mike was walking toward, got out and met him to tell him that if he hung out at the Checkers, then he would come pick him up later and take him to Lighthouse and pay for a few nights. I mean, it's only $7. Before we drove away again, we watched him as he sat down at one of the tables and dove into the lasagna (which he later expressed was delicious). An hour or so later, hubby drove back to get him and took him to Lighthouse. He learned about some of his story and the rough break this man had. He invited him back to church and later that night we prayed for him. 

The next morning, on our way to church, we saw him walking. He had walked all the way from Downtown where Lighthouse is located to the north side of Lakeland where we are least 5 miles (more, I'm sure). When we saw him at church, he thanked my hubby for his kindness and told him that he probably saved his life. I shook his hand for the first time after the service and he thanked us again, for being there and for opening the door. I cringed inside...because I knew that had nothing to do with me. It was God working through my husband to bless this man. But that whole story made me realize one important thing: I don't ever want to miss an opportunity to show God's love to anyone. My prayer each and every day before I set foot outside my door should be that I take any opportunity given to me, that I open any door available to show God's love and grace. It also made me love my church even more. I knew, without a doubt, that if and when he showed up on Sunday, he would be greeted and treated just as well as some well-kept millionaire and I didn't have to worry whether he would be welcomed or not. Because the people I call my Fuel family don't judge. They love. Oh, that I would learn to love without hesitation, reservation, or limitation. 

I don't know if we'll see him again. I hope so. I hope he'll come back and we'll get to know him and build a friendship with him. But even if that doesn't happen, I will be eternally grateful that my husband listened to the voice of God and opened the door. 

Friday, June 7, 2013

A Look Back at the Year

Today I will say goodbye to the best group of students I have ever taught.

I knew this year would be different. I tried not to come in with too many expectations but I came in expecting I would have a better year than in the past. I certainly did.

Being where I am with these students has revitalized my love of what I do. Don't get me wrong. There were days where the kids drove me nuts and I wanted to rip my hair out. There were days that I was so overwhelmed by the seeming impossibility of teaching some things that I just wanted to bury my head in the sand. But despite the many changes and challenges of being some place completely new and vastly different, I have grown to love this profession unlike the previous three years.

Sure, I have some students that test my patience daily. I've lost my temper, raised my voice more often than I  like or should, and sat for several minutes waiting on students to get quiet because I just didn't have it in me to yell over the sheer noise in the room. I learned a lot about myself, my students, and how I do and don't want to do certain things in the future.

In years past I have been chomping at the bit for summer vacation for the simple fact that I would not have to see those students. This year, while I'm excited for summer vacation and ready for the welcome break, the feeling is different. I'm partly excited because I have so many ideas for next year that I want to be able to work on this summer. I've never been this excited about a new year before the current one is even over. I'll be teaching 5th grade again next year and I have to say this is my favorite grade. The kids are still young enough that they want to please (most of them) and they are sweet but they are old enough to be self-sufficient (most of them).

I'm ready to see some of them go (seriously!) but I am also going to honestly miss many of them. They have such fun personalities and make me laugh daily. Some of them have really great futures ahead of them. I'm so grateful God placed me here with such wonderful teachers, the greatest team I could ask for, fantastic students, and supportive parents. I have a lot on which I need to improve and plan to really work hard this summer to be ready for my group next year. I will be organized next year and I have already told my hubby that I will stay late Monday-Thursday to grade, plan, organize, etc. so that on Fridays I can comp out early, come home, and be fully devoted to my family on the weekend and not have to be concerned with plans for the upcoming week because it will be done.

Throughout the summer, I will try to post some of the projects I'm working on. Of course, I'm not original so most of the ideas I've gotten have come from Pinterest. There are few things that I would like to find really cheap or even free so if you know where I can find any of these items, let me know:
-milk crates
-plastic tubs
-filing cabinet
-large exercise balls
-wooden pallets

This summer is going to be great! I will get things done around the house and for school. I will spend time with my family. I plan to take some trips to the beach with my hubby and son. I want to start training for my 5k that will be in October. There is so much I want to accomplish this summer. I just need to stay motivated and on track.

Here's to a great year this year and a fabulous year come August!

So blessed to work where I do...working to make a difference in the lives of my students.