Summer vacation is officially over, so a back-to-school theme seemed fitting for our latest edition of Favorite Things － but there’s no need to be in school to appreciate this list! ✏️📚✂️🚌
Remember the excitement of a new school year?
Inching up a grade meant a new teacher, some new fall clothes and pair of shoes, and a fresh batch of school supplies. (I remember the year I got my first Trapper Keeper notebook. I chose fire engine red and thought the Velcro closure was so cool!)
When I entered middle school, our teachers made us protect our text books. We’d cut and fold brown paper grocery bags to fashion a cover, and then put our artistic stamp on them with colored markers. Did anyone else do this?
This year, my younger son began his senior year of high school and my younger niece entered kindergarten. (She was most excited to ride the bus with her big sister and reported that it is, in fact, awesome!)
Watching these two embark on opposite ends of their school experiences led to a stroll down memory lane. I love looking through first-day-of-school photos from years gone by and seeing just how much the kids and their friends have changed. Coincidentally, one of my childhood friends happened to find a VERY old photo of my first day at the bus stop! (See below－and thank you, Liza!)
So in addition to my monthly favorites list, which loosely ties into a new school year, I’ve included some of my favorite first-day-of-school photos from years past. And if you have a favorite memory from your school days (Favorite after-school snack or lunch item…perhaps packed in a Hardy Boys or Wonder Woman lunchbox?), please do share!
So here we go!
Favorite daily email: Word Genius
Back to school means quizzes, of course. Who remembers studying word lists for weekly spelling tests, which often included definitions as we got older? Recently I started getting a daily email with a “word of the day.” Funny enough, I did not sign up for this email, but I’ve been enjoying it!
Sometimes I email the word of the day to my kids and they appreciate it more than I originally imagined. For example, the following example brought back memories of when my older son qualified for the Scripp’s National Spelling Bee in 7th grade. He said he would save the word and consider it if he ever has the opportunity to name his own production company. 😎
For anyone who’d like to learn a new word each day, click here for the link, and see below for an example.
Movie of the month: Without Limits
Do you like to watch the occasional movie at home but sometimes struggle with what to watch? This summer, we discovered a few movies from several years back that were easy to watch and liked by all. In order not to forget, I’ve taken to keeping an ongoing list: when I hear or read of a good suggestion, be it a documentary, drama or comedy, I jot down the title. I thought some of you may enjoy an occasional movie mention along with the books and podcasts.
This month’s pick is a 1998 film titled Without Limits, starring Billy Crudup, Donald Sutherland and Monica Potter. It tells the life story of renowned University of Oregon and Olympic runner Steve Prefontaine and his relationship with legendary coach Bill Bowerman. You don’t have to be a runner (or even an occasional jogger) to appreciate the complexities of Pre’s (the main character’s nickname) personality and the way he approached the things that mattered to him in life.
🍅For those who use Rotten Tomatoes as a guide, this movie scored a pretty impressive 79%.
And what movie night doesn’t need a little popcorn? 🍿
Snack of the month: Tiny But Mighty Heirloom Popcorn
My husband is a true popcorn connoisseur and his favorite pick (and I concur) is a brand I discovered several years ago at a national food expo. Tiny But Mighty Heirloom Popcorn contains no artificial ingredients, flavors or preservatives－and here’s the biggest plus－it doesn’t get stuck in your teeth!
Of course, you may think that popping these kernels is a little more cumbersome that microwaving a bag of popcorn, but not with an inexpensive microwave air popper.
This leads into the Kitchen Gadget of the month: Nordic Ware Microwave Corn Popper
We’ve had the bowl pictured below for too many years to count (my mother-in-law gave it to us for Christmas when we were newly married). You can pop the corn without butter, or you can add some to the bottom of the bowl before popping. When you do the latter, the butter becomes perfectly distributed over the popper corn, and then you can simply season to taste.
Are you, by chance, wondering why the photo, below, has broccoli in it? With it’s vented lid, the popper doubles as a vegetable steamer, and I often use it when I want to quickly cook broccoli or wilt spinach!
If interested, the model we use is the widely available Nordic Ware Microwave Corn Popper, which retails between $12 and $15 at stores like Target and Walmart as well as online. The high-heat plastic is BPA-free and Melamine-free. The capacity is 12 cups and there’s a 5-year warranty. (For all you early shoppers, this could be a great holiday gift!)
Tip of the month: Accordion File for K-12 organization
When my older son John was in preschool, I read a tip in a magazine that proved to be very helpful over many years. The simple idea was to purchase an accordion file and label each pocket, starting with kindergarten and ending with 12th grade. There happens to be the perfect number of pockets－13－which are ideal for all the important papers and mementos kids bring home over the course of the year. I always slipped an extra school photo in each pocket, as well as report cards, sports and academic certificates and favorite art projects.
Over the years, these files became something that I could reference as needed, and they also turned into unique keepsakes for my sons. Throughout the course of the year, there were inevitably a smattering of special items that would have otherwise ended up in a pile and eventually the trash. The files also proved to be the perfect place to drop an occasional photo that I knew the boys would enjoy looking back on.
Even if you’re late to the game, I highly recommend this organizational system. I made the boys pose with their files the other day, and if you zoom in, you can see some priceless toddler pictures in the first pocket!
Pro tip: Look for plastic files as they hold up better over time than the paper ones.
I saw this photo several years ago－too late to do it myself, but I figured it well worth passing along to parents of younger children and newer grandparents. The idea is to frame the previous year’s school photo and have your child hold the frame for the following year’s photo. Over the course of years, you end up with a photo within a photo within a photo… Such a good way to track the physical changes － and so darn cute!
Craft of the Month: Homemade Playdough
When my boys were in pre-school, I was the class playdough maker. I made a lot of playdough. A colorful, squishy glob of this perennial favorite would keep my kids entertained long enough for me to make dinner or fold a few loads of laundry－although I often played along.
Making the playdough is as much fun as playing with it. As an added bonus, the consistency and texture of the homemade version is less dry than store-bought, so there are fewer play dough “crumbs” to clean up. (Any parent of a play dough-loving toddler knows what I mean!)
Regular liquid food coloring works fine to color the dough, but my favorite tip is to use gel food coloring, which is sold at most larger craft stores. Available in an extensive palette of colors, the food-safe shades are much more concentrated than the liquid drops. Think pumpkin orange (and even jet black!) for Halloween or fire truck red.
Click HERE for the easy recipe.
Reader favorite kitchen of the month:
It was too close to call this month, as readers were equally enamored with the following two kitchens. The first photo depicts the “after” in a before and after kitchen remodel. The latter opens to a delightful outdoor space. (A photo of that can be seen in the comments of this post.)
For those readers who might not visit my Facebook page, I post a “featured kitchen” every Friday morning and welcome all thoughts and opinions. To view previous featured kitchens, simply click on my Facebook “Photos” and then on “Timeline Photos.”