Monday, August 14, 2017

Holiday Party Idea for Students and Scouts

During the Reader Retreat I attended this weekend, author Becky Wade used M&Ms to illustrate the steps required in the creation of a novel. In this super fun activity, participants passed a bag of the colorful candies around the room. We each took one piece, and the bag was passed around four different times.

In Round 1, the color of our M&M determined the genre of our novel. We learned the setting of our story in Round 2. The professions of our heroine and hero were discovered in Rounds 3 and 4. We then spent a couple of minutes brainstorming different events that could bring our heroine and hero together. In the next step, we listed her story goal as well as his. Then we wrote and revised the first sentence of our story.

I woke up this morning with the thought that this activity could be fun to try with students during a classroom party or with Scout troops during a holiday party. I spent a few minutes jotting down possible characters and settings for Halloween and Christmas stories. I do realize the Halloween jobs are stereotypical, and I included a couple of faith-based ideas. These can be modified to fit the needs of your group.


                Setting                     Heroine's Role                   Hero's Role

Red           Castle                        Cheerleader                        Cowboy
Orange  Haunted House                   Nurse                              Pirate
Yellow    Graveyard                      Princess                            Fireman
Green     Pumpkin Patch                   Witch                        Football Player
Blue       on the Moon                       Baby                         Superhero/Jedi
Brown  Deep in the Woods                Cat                                Soldier


                Setting                     Heroine's Role                   Hero's Role

Red      in Santa's Sleigh               Nutcracker                         Scrooge
Orange  under the tree                    Angel                              Santa
Yellow      Toyland                         Caroler                             Grinch          
Green     in a manger                        Elf                                Rudolph
Blue        on the roof                     Mrs. Claus                          Frosty
Brown on the Polar Express      Gingerbread Man                       Elf

Depending on the party agenda, you could have the kids stop after the first sentence has been written and ask for volunteers to read them aloud to the group. Or additional time could be given to allow the kids to write a short story. They could illustrate the paper as well, and then this exercise could be considered both a game and a craft. Not only will they be practicing their writing skills, it's free, and there's no clean up. Sounds great to me!

I hope your kids have a great start to the school year. Before we know it, teachers will be asking for classroom party volunteers, and the planning will begin. I wish you the best as you settle into a new routine this fall. As always, thank you for reading.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Service Project: United Through Reading

With Memorial Day memories fresh in my mind, I look ahead and begin preparations for our family's 4th of July festivities. In addition to cookouts, parades, and sparklers, we will make our annual Independence Day donation to the United Service Organizations (USO). We receive USO mailings on a regular basis, and through one of these packets, I learned about United Through Reading.

United Through Reading (UTR) is "dedicated to uniting U.S. military families who face physical separation by facilitating the bonding experience of reading aloud together. UTR creates emotional connections between parents and their children, encourages literacy, and makes homecomings easier."

How does it work?  A service member stops by a United Through Reading recording area near his or her duty station. A book is chosen from the UTR library provided, and a video of the service member reading the story is recorded and sent home to the family. The organization's website details the impact of UTR on the families they serve:
  • 81% of participants report a decrease in their children’s anxiety about the deployment
  • 88% of participants report an increase in connectedness with deployed service members
  • 90% of participants report that participation reduced their own stress during deployment
  • 78% of participants report increases in their child’s interest in reading and books
  • 83% of UTR recordings are watched nearly every day or more often.
More than 80% of participants report that recordings are enjoyed every day or even several times a day. It’s not unusual for children to watch a recorded story 250 times during a ten-month deployment.
How can you help? 
  • Donations are accepted online, by phone, or by mail. United Through Reading is made possible by generous sponsors and donors. Your gift matters!
  • Volunteer. Become part of the United Through Reading Team:  event and communications volunteers are needed.
As we encourage kids to participate in a Summer Reading Program at a local library or bookstore, and as we guide our Scout troops toward various ways to use the money earned during the Cookie Sale, let's remember our service members and their families and give them a gift they will treasure.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

The Kindness Diaries

Earlier this spring, our daughters discovered The Kindness Diaries as they scrolled through recommended show selections on Netflix. For readers who may be unfamiliar with this adventurous documentary, here is a description of the series:

"Host Leon Logothetis travels the world with only a vintage motorbike and the kindness of strangers, which he pays back in unexpected, inspiring ways."

As we watched each excursion, I was inspired to incorporate his vision in various ways while traveling with our family this summer. I then decided to share my thoughts in this blog post, hoping to encourage other families and even Scout troops to do the same.

When planning a vacation or road trip, people may set aside a discretionary budget for souvenirs. What if your family or Scout troop decided not to buy a t-shirt, cinch sack, fridge magnet, or postcard from the gift shop at your destination, but instead, chose to spend this money to brighten someone's day or make a stranger more comfortable?

Here are some pocketbook-friendly ideas:
Buy someone a cup of coffee
Deliver a doughnut to an unsuspecting recipient
Treat a stranger to lunch
Fill a person's tank with gas
Cover another's campsite costs for a night
Pool your money and purchase a blanket for a homeless person

*If the timing and circumstances are right, consider learning more about the person's story.

As I watched Leon travel around the world, my thoughts drifted to Thinking Day. If your troop is making plans for their Thinking Day booth, host an overnight for the girls and watch an episode or two of this series for ideas and inspiration on a featured destination. While the show is rated TV-G, I would recommend adults preview the show before viewing with children and asses the appropriateness for your kiddos.  Side note:  If your troop chooses to learn more about Uganda, consider watching Queen Of Katwe (rated PG). If the girls wish to discover more about India, I recommend Million Dollar Arm (also rated PG).  Both are great stories that provide a glimpse of the respective countries and cultures. Again, I recommend adults preview these movies before showing them to the Scouts.

Whether you're heading across the country, setting out on a short road trip, or driving across town to the local pool this summer, remember Leon and his quest. With small acts of kindness, we can make this world a better place. As always, thank you for reading.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Cupcake Club: March and April

This spring, the Cupcake Club at my daughter's school experimented with buttercream and flower tips as well as fondant. I'm sharing here in case troop leaders are hosting a spring event for the troop - a craft, snack, and service project in one!

Club members used Wilton Round Tip #3, Petal Tip #102, and Petal Tip #104, and Leaf Tip #352 to decorate these strawberry cupcakes. Prior to the meeting, I made and colored buttercream before filling various piping bags. Since most of the kids have been introduced to a piping bag at home, I didn't provide instruction unless someone was struggling. Instead, I let them test it out and try different techniques on their own. These cupcakes were donated to a local senior center.


As Easter approached, we invited my incredibly talented sister-in-law to be a guest instructor. My daughter chose Lynlee's popular Pinterest design for this month's meeting. Club members first iced the carrot cake cupcakes and then dipped them in crushed chocolate graham crackers. Our guest instructor showed them how to make the bunny, and club members worked with her individually to make their rose "cabbages." Huge thanks to Danielle for spending time with us that afternoon. It was their favorite meeting of the year.

 Danielle's example.

 I love how a couple girls made brown bunnies with spots.

In addition to the Bunny Garden cupcakes, the girls used the Wilton Grass Tip #233 to pipe green grass on the remaining carrot cake cupcakes before decorating them with mini jelly bean "eggs." The cupcakes were donated to a local women's shelter. I'm sure the women and children seeking safety there enjoyed a sweet taste of home.

We're planning a field trip for our last meeting of the year. I invite you to check back soon. Thank you for reading.


While driving around town this morning, I heard a story on the radio about the #DuffleShuffle and felt inspired to share the movement with readers. 

The number of children in out-of-home care in Northern Kentucky and Hamilton County (Ohio) due to child abuse and neglect is staggering and still on the rise. But this is not just a significant issue in the Cincinnati tri-state area - it's an alarming trend across our nation and the globe. As these children are shuffled from one home to another, they often shove their belongings in garbage bags. They deserve better. When you think about the statistics, it's safe to say our children and teens know someone who is living in transition.

The Children's Home of Northern Kentucky is collecting NEW duffle bags for kids and teens in out-of-home care (e.g., foster care, kinship care, residential treatment) around the Northern Kentucky/Greater Cincinnati area. Please note:  There are countless organizations around the world who help abused and neglected children. Donations to those organizations are a blessing to the children they serve.

Around this time of year, troops are counting their profits from the Cookie Sale. While we all want to (and should) do something fun with the money, the Scouts are also encouraged to use a portion of their earnings to serve others. 

How can your troop help?
1.  Buy a NEW duffle.  If you'd like to stuff the duffle, check out this link for a list of useful items. They also accept monetary donations.
2.  Shuffle and Share.* Record your best shuffling dance moves and share on social media, using #DuffleShuffle  
3.  Duffle Drop.  Drop off the duffles at an official Duffle Drop location between now and June 30, 2017.

*By participating in this movement, Scouts can complete various petals badge steps. Think along the lines of being considerate and caring or friendly and helpful. Are your girls earning a badge with dance requirements? Or do they have to make a video or learn about online safety and use of social media? Some may be learning about budgets. Maybe they could write or draw about the experience to satisfy an additional badge step. There are many creative ways they could with such a project.

"The combination of your donations, dancing, and duffle bags will both encourage awareness for the kids and their struggles in our area and provide them with a renewed sense of connection and community. We know our efforts are not a solution to ending child abuse and neglect, but our hope is that the Duffle Shuffle moves people to open their hearts and homes to kids in out-of-home care." - Children's Home of Northern Kentucky

As always, thank you for reading.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Cupcake Club: February

The February Cupcake Club meeting happened to fall on Valentine's Day.  We  baked red velvet cupcakes, and members decorated them with three different designs:

1.  Sweet Heart Cupcakes 
While I don't have a picture to share, there are beautiful examples provided in this link.  The kids were instructed to slice off the top of the cupcake.  They set it on a piece of wax paper at the work station.  We didn't have heart-shaped cookie cutters in the right size, so the kids used a knife to cut a small heart from the center of the top. After discarding (or eating) the heart, they dusted the top with powdered sugar.  They were then asked to spread frosting on the cupcake (the cake in the paper liner) before replacing the top on the cupcake.  Once the cupcake had been reassembled, the pink frosting peeked through the heart.

2.  For the second cupcake, they spread cream cheese frosting on the top and used Wilton sugar hearts in various shades of pink as decorations.  Pretty and simple.

3.  Love Cupcakes 
Prior to the meeting, I melted a bag of dark chocolate candy melts in the microwave.  Once smooth and creamy, I poured the melted candy into a piping bag that was fitted with a small round piping tip.  (Caution: bag was quite warm, and the candy dripped from the tip).  I wrote the word love on a sheet of wax paper I had taped to the kitchen counter.  I then drew hearts and drizzled chocolate through the center. 

If you wish to create beautiful filigree hearts, I would suggest you follow the instructions provided by Martha Stewart here

Before heading over to the school, I filled three piping bags with cream cheese frosting I had tinted pink.  Club members used large round, closed star, and open star tips (Wilton piping tips 2D and 1M) to frost these cupcakes before adding the chocolate embellishments. The Club's faculty advisor and I were impressed with the improvement in their skills!

During each meeting, the kids get to enjoy a cupcake, and they donate the rest.  Last month, one parent suggested we recognize the school district's bus drivers.  After the classroom had been cleaned up, we walked across the parking lot to the bus garage and delivered two trays of holiday cupcakes.  The gesture was greatly appreciated, and I thank Emily for the wonderful idea!

Additional Valentine's Day Party Ideas for Your Troop or Classroom

In the days leading up to yesterday's Valentine's Day party, I had mixed emotions, knowing this was the last time I would get to plan a grade school classroom holiday party.  But as they say, when a chapter ends, a new one begins.  I'm excited to discover what the future has in store.  Since the party was a success, I thought I'd share the agenda.  Please note:  a couple of the activities listed below are also described in a previous Valentine's Day post.

A couple weeks before the party, the students voted to decorate card boxes at home. When the party started, we handed out numbered post-it notes to be placed on the desks by each box.  The kids formed a line and snaked through the desks, recording the number of their favorite box for each category on a small scrap of paper.  There were four categories:  cutest, funniest, prettiest, and most creative.  They were asked not to vote for themselves, and they were allowed to write the same number for multiple categories.  Votes were tallied by an adult while the students began the next activity.

Game:  Find Your Match.   
This game is a variation of the Guess Me Icebreaker Game that we played during our troop Christmas Party in 2013I love this game because it is inexpensive and requires little, if any, preparation.  It's similar to HedBanz in the sense that a piece of paper labeled with the name of a well-known character or person is pinned to the back of each participant.  Players walk around the room, asking other players "yes" or "no" questions to try to determine his or her identity.  Once the player's identity is discovered, the player needs to find his or her match to win the game.  This activity works well with larger groups of participants.  Here are some suggestions of couples (or male and female characters who are often associated together):
      Santa and Mrs. Claus                        Mickey and Minnie Mouse
      Barbie and Ken                                Cinderella and Prince Charming
      Belle and Beast                                Anna and Kristoff
      Donald and Daisy Duck                     Kermit and Miss Piggy
      Mario and Peach                               Superman & Wonder Woman             

      Harry Potter and Hermione

I printed copies of the game instructions--one for each cluster of desks in the classroom.  There were four students in each group, and I let them play for fifteen minutes.  Huge thanks to the creator of this printable game at!  The kids had a blast, and a couple groups played the game twice in the allotted time. 

As students enjoyed their snacks, we allowed small groups of kids to pass out their valentines.  By combining these two activities, we had more time for games.

During the final ten minutes of the party, we played Pictionary (girls versus boys).  I chose a boy and girl with February birthdays to draw.  I gave each team three minutes.  Here are the words I selected from an online list of Valentine-related words:
gift          flowers          candy         kiss         
card        hug               cupid          heart       
jewelry    mailbox         diamond     teddy bear

When I left the party, I headed over to the middle school for the February Cupcake Club meeting.  I invite you to check back soon to see the cupcakes they decorated this month--a perfect snack for your next Valentine's Day party!  Thank you for reading.