One Winter’s Night: DIY Dinner Dance Decor!

I’ve coordinated a couple of high school dances over the past few years, and I always have a lot of fun with the creative ideas my creative students come up with for decorations and details! Each year, I am fortunate to have have a couple of truly fantastic students who volunteer to be on the planning committee, and 2014 was no exception! After polling the student body for ideas, we met up and settled upon our Winter Ball theme:

One Winter’s Night

Keeping our plans simple and elegant, we set out to provide thoughtful details that might enhance students’ experiences of the evening in question. Some of the things that we organized as part of this year’s festivities included . . .

Setting the Menu & Enjoying the Venue

Winter Ball FOodWe have the delightful opportunity of enjoying the delicious menu of italian cuisine provided by our venue of quality! The spread was delicious and everyone ranted about the chicken parm in particular. The food, however, was just a small organizational detail of the rest of the planning, which was far more hands-on!

Warm & Cozy Favors

What better to give as a favor for a Winter Ball than Hot Cocoa? Inspired by some adorable winter wedding favors on pinterest, we decided that it would be a fun direction to go, and we were not mistaken. We designed our own label, used some of the same cardstock we used for the leaf-creation, and put them together one chilly Wednesday afternoon. They turned out adorable!

Favors - Winter Ball 2013

They looked so pretty on the tables, as did our second focus of decor:

Twinkling Centerpieces!

centerpieces and tabletops

For several weeks before the dance, we brainstormed ideas for the centerpieces. In years past we’ve done everything from live fish to traditional floral arrangements to elaborate candy jars, and we’ve come to the conclusion that non-living centerpieces can render the set-up far less stressful! After doing some scouting and brainstorming, one of my students remembered that I had made some paper-leaf branches at one point. We looked at the paperstock available online, and decided to make our own silvery foliage, just for the occasion.

centerpieces 1

Making these branches  was a cinch, actually. First, we gathered up some sticks from the trail around the school. Then we made two different sizes for leaves and cut them all out by hand before attaching them with hot glue to the branches we had collected. The result looked quite lovely!
centerpieces in action

 After making the branches, we purchased some beautiful twinkly lights (via Amazon.com) to twine through them and the result was like something out of a fairy-tale!

Centerpiece - silver leaves

To these leafy, twinkly, not-quite-floral arrangements, we added a cut-crystal dish of navy-blue, white, and silver m&ms as well as a small glass to hold those lovely, snow-flakey pens pictured above. What might theeeeey be for, you ask? Well, I’m so glad you brought it up, because that brings us to our next element of themed fun . . .

Wintry Mad-Libs
madlibs - winter style

Mad libs are something that we make a point to include every year, at every dance. For one thing, they help break the ice and fill those occasionally stilted social moments before dinner or dancing commence. But, for another thing, who doesn’t like mad-libs? We used a paper punch to make this batch particularly dainty and then placed them at each place setting on the big night. madlibs in action

After that, as students found their way to tables and seats, all that remained was to watch as they took their snow-flakey pens in hand and general hilarity ensued! Let’s face it:

There is no better atmosphere than laughter.

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Sick of the Frozen Hype? GIVE UP!

Okay, if you are tired of people endlessly talking about how much they love Frozen and posting videos and comments about it . . . well, I’m sorry. You should probably not read on.  Because the longer we obsessed creative fans have ahold on something, the more incredible the results, and the more inspired I feel to share them. I’ve already posted how my sister and I got her little child who can’t even talk to imitate Oaken’s Yoo-Hoo, and I’ve already shared my adorable neice’s rendition of “Let it Go”, not to mention the one by the Cincinnati weather guy. TODAY, I’m sharing another. This is a video of what happens to the song Let it Go when the lyrics are put through google translate language filters a multitude of times before translating back into English and sung to the original score. It is HILARIOUS. Major kudos to Malinda Reese for making and recording this:

My Extended Foster Family

Bethany and Julie

When my sister Bethany and her partner Julie decided to become foster parents, I wasn’t sure what to expect any more than they really were. I mean, I knew they would be great parents – it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to deduce that two people willing to wholeheartedly pursue careers serving kids with severe special needs would be excellent at loving and caring for children. No, the unknown element of the foster-parent-journey had nothing to do with the parents, as far as I was concerned, but everything to do with these unknown little people about to enter all our lives. Little did I realize what little heart-thieves they would all turn out to be, and that being a foster Aunt would wind up being probably one of the coolest things to ever happen to me.

Note to self: I should probably thank my sisters for that at some point. 

I live about 20 minutes away from my sister, her fiancée, and their beautiful family, and their collective love and humility never ceases to amaze me. If I were to say something complimentary to them, they would brush it off (and have on many occasions done so), but they truly inspire me on a regular basis. I kind of understand their humility, actually. I mean, when you’re surrounded by rabid toddlers, inundated with poopy-diapers, and listening to the Frozen Soundtrack for the fifty-billionth time, I’m sure you don’t feel like a hero. Nonetheless, heroism has never been so concretely made visible in my surroundings as when I am with my wonderfully-extended foster family.

Today, about three and one half years after their first foster child set foot in their home, their family has expanded and retracted many times, fluctuating from one child to five and holding about seventeen different children throughout those few years. Watching my loved ones go through the process of fostering has taught me a lot about what loving children looks like. Love is letting your heart break into a million pieces when your beloved child is sent back into the full custody of a broken situation, but not regretting the time you shared with her in your family. Love is crying in the kitchen when the baby you have watched since birth is leaving to join a new family. Love is setting stern limits for a little boy whose angry outbursts could, unchecked, easily spiral him downhill to follow in the footsteps of verbally abusive birth-parents; Love is showering him with affection, regardless of the number of frustrations he provides; refusing to believe the worst of him. Love is wishing for more room in your home so that you could take more children. Love is hours upon hours of doctors appointments, early intervention, and holding your shrieking two-year-olds down while you nebulize them so that they will breathe better through the night. Love is keeping in touch with families whenever possible and developing friendships with birth-parents so that – even after their children have left your home- there is a strong relationship ready and waiting to support and care, whenever it is appropriate to do so. Love is being willing to lay down in front of a truck for any child under your protection, even knowing that you won’t have the opportunity to protect them once they leave. Love is searching high and low for enough car-seats (not to mention a large enough car!) to accommodate 6 children at once. Love is making sure that there are a few extra outfits and some spare diapers packed and ready to go with kids who are headed for homes where they will have less material comforts. Love is accepting a new child into your home because they need a placement, even though you lost a child just yesterday and your heart is still scattered in painful pieces at the bottom of your soul. Love is laughing through your tears. This is the kind of love I have witnessed in Bethany and Julie. Fostering is different from regular parenting. When you have your own children, most of the horrifically painful labor ends when you leave the delivery room.

Not that parenting, in any form, is easy. I am neither so naïve, nor so experienced that I could ever even think such a thing! Good parenting is a herculean undertaking on the best of days . . . but foster-parenting is revealing a whole new brand of beautiful. It makes me want to talk in the terminology of gemstones, however unbelievably cliché; how diamonds are only formed under obscene amounts of pressure, and how these women who I observe are truly jewels of the highest order in our society. 

Someday, when I have better software and a faster computer and more skill, I will make a movie that might do this family justice, but for now, here’s a peek into the lives I get to observe:

Bethany recently started to chronicle some of her fostering adventures in a blog of her own, which everyone should probably read. It’s a great glimpse into some truly great lives.

Divergent & Detergent ~ Unexpected Parallel Universes

Divergent-series-by-Veronica-Rothvia

Lots of people have now read Veronica Roth‘s rapidly circulating trio of novels: The Divergent Series.  They are a gripping trilogy that follow in the footsteps of The Hunger Games Trilogy (by Suzanne Collins) as worldwide bestsellers in the realm of Young Adult Fiction. Like Collins’ trilogy, I’ve heard a lot of people poo-poo-ing book 3 of this series, but I recommend them regardless of what you may hear/read. The full trilogy snagged my attention, built well-developed characters, and  mesmerized me from start to finish. There’s also a Divergent movie coming out, which looks pretty awesome. So, if you haven’t read them, close this window and go do so, you’re not going to get any of the jokes I’m about to make anyways!

My enjoyment of these books now established, I have decided that they definitely call for a GENIUS parody, which clearly, I plan on writing myself (not). I’m calling it:

 The Detergent Trilogy 

In a dysfunctional, post-apocalyptic society that bears the seemingly permanent stains of human failings, young adults are sorted into factions that determine their futures. Obviously, these factions will have really cool names like: Tide, Bounty, Cheer, Hypoallergenic, and Store Brand.

Living in an oppressive society, rife with societal limitations as a result of the high-efficiency cycles they are born into, our young protagonists find themselves tossed into a machine where they have no choice but to react. Thrown into a spin-cycle which lathers them into full-scale rebellion, our heroes must work outside the parameters of the system settings to uncover the hidden stains on the seemingly-pristine government. Will they succeed, or will their efforts all just be a wash? 

The Detergent Trilogy

via: x, x, x

The Detergent Series 

[probably not actually coming to bookstores near you, 2014]

The Aunt Donna Legacy: Making Pizza!

At the end of a long day, when I am too tired for creative meal preparation and too cheap for takeout, there is one perennial favorite recipe that resurfaces, coming to my rescue time and time again.

Aunt Donna’s Pizza CrustMy Recipe Book

Seriously, in my ever-growing Family Recipe Compilation Notebook, this is by far my most turned-to recipe. Take a closer look:

recipe 2Could this get any easier? I think not. Six ingredients, one of which is WATER. If you don’t have these in your cupboard, it’s time to go shopping. Once you follow the recipe process, the assembly is a cinch!

Step 1: Choose what you will use as toppings (think outside the box, here, people).

Screen Shot 2014-02-12 at 9.41.47 PM

Step 2: Prepare your work Area.

step 1

Step 3: Spread the dough onto your (greased) Pizza pan.

step 2

Step 4: Select your sauce of choice. I’m obsessed with using barbecue sauce, and Trader Joe’s Carolina Gold is my hands-down favorite. When your dough is saucy, sprinkle it with onions, peppers cherry tomatoes, whatever you happen to have handy of the vegetable persuasion.

step 5

Step 5: Add more than you think you want. Pizza with stuff is always better. Balance the amount of bread out with obscene amounts of vegetables.

step 6

Step 6: Cheese.

step 7

Step 7: Bake in the oven for about 20 minutes at 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Remove from oven and resist the urge to eat immediately, as studies show that this will result in a burnt tongue.

finished pizza

Step 8: Slice and ENJOY YOUR PIZZA!

sliced pizza