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Sunday, February 24, 2013

Welcome to the Jungle!

The Jacksonville Jaguars!
That was the first thing that I thought of when I saw that we were doing the letter "J".

Let's just jump right in!  On Monday I like to do a craft that is in the shape of the letter, or reinforces the letter.
There are a lot of cute ideas on for jaguars, and the letter "J".  I kind of combined them, and also incorporated the number of the week.
Yes, I'm showing you mine, because my kids  didn't quite get the idea of the spots.  They were all in one place.
Like I've said before, I love hands-on learning.  So, I decided what's more fun than juicing!?  And we're in Florida, so what on earth could we juice?  Oh, so many things!
So, I got together every citrus I could get my hands on.
I got:
1 Lemon
1 Lime
1 Grapefruit
2 (organic, home-grown by a colleague) Oranges
2 Clementines

One of the other teachers had this great antique juicer, where instead of twisting, you squeeze down on two arms.  It was perfect, because the kids each got to take turns squeezing one of the fruit.

After all the fruit was squeezed out into different containers, we placed them in order of lightest to darkest.
After that, they got to taste each one, and then we put them in order of most sour to sweetest.
I wish you could've seen their faces!  So very cute!

Another craft that we did that week was making "jewelry" (bracelets).  It was perfect for fine motor skills, as well as creating/recognizing patterns. produces wonderful books for the children of Jacksonville on a regular basis.  I love them, because they always have to do with things that Jacksonville is known for, or proud of.  One morning, I put some of their books out as inspiration, and asked the kids to draw pictures of their favorite thing about Jacksonville.  Please let me share with you some of their art work.
This is the River City CLock Tower

This is Th Dames Point Bridge.

This is a Jaguar throwing a football.

Naturally, the beach!

Jaguars' Stadium.  (There's even a blimp!)
I was so impressed with their detailed work!  There are so many extraordinary and fun things to do and see in Jacksonville, so if you're reading and you've never been, you should make your way down (or up) here!

Finally, on Friday we had a letter "J" party.  I asked all the kids to wear something that started with the letter "J".  Such as: jeans, jumper, jewelry, jaguars jersey, any kind of jersey, jeggings (although, I was keeping my fingers crossed that none of my 4 year-old would show up in jeggings, and thank God they didn't.)
Then, we had snacks that started with "J"!  Jelly beans, Jello, juice, PB&Js, and we had it all on jungle themed paper plates!

There are so many fun "J" things to do out there, and all my kiddos seemed to have a great time!

Flowers, and Fish and Flamingos, Oh My!!!

For this week, our focus letter was "F".  
Now, I knew I wanted to do something with fish, because we do live in Florida, and my kids are familiar with fish.  Also, one of my favorite children's books is the Rainbow Fish.

On Monday morning, I read The Rainbow Fish to my kiddos, and incase you're not familiar with this book, here's it is.

This is a wonderful story about a beautiful but proud fish, who learns that sharing with his friends is what really makes a person happy.  Something my kids have been dealing with anyway.

So, after that we made our very own Rainbow Fish.
The week before, in my newsletter, I asked all the parents to bring in any used, never to be used again CDs.  I figured this was pretty safe, because most people I know have a bunch of their CDs laying around, from which they've already uploaded the songs onto iTunes.  
Turns out, I was right.  One mom even said "Don't judge me..." haha.  She brought in some New Kids On The Block Cds.

Here's what you will need.
1 CD
1 Googley eye
Rhine stone stickers (we used 13, because that was our number for the week)
Construction paper cut to be the tail and fins
Little piece of construction paper cut to be the mouth

So, I gave each child a CD, then they got to stick the googley eye, lips and 13 rhine stone stickers on in, any way they liked.  This part needed a little supervision, because they really liked the stickers, and lost count, and just kept "decorating".  In a small class like mine, it was pretty easy to keep an eye on them, but just a quick FYI.
After that, they cut out the tail and fins, and glued those on.  I also had them cut out a black circle, the size of the CD to glue on the back, just in case they wanted to hang it, it would just look a little more "finished".
This project was great for many reasons.  With the rhinestones, they were constantly counting (after each sticker they recounted them), it tied in with the story they'd just heard, and the googley eye taught them perception, because each of them was like "he needs two eyes!", and then I could show them, that if they look at someone from the side, they can only see one eye.  Plus, of course fine motor practice.
So, here is the finished product:

On this week, we also started focusing on Valentine's Day.  I needed to come up with a bulletin board idea, but I wanted one that wasn't just "pink and read sparkly hearts".
I found this idea through on
It's really simple and inexpensive, and looks SUPER cute!

What you'll need is:
Celery Stalk (use as many as how many different colors you want to you use)

Firstly, you'll need to cut the celery stalk, but make sure you leave enough to where each stem is defined.  Then, dip it in the paint, and you're ready to start stamping!

I bought 2 celery stalks, one for pink paint, and one for red paint.  Then, I also used a celery stem for the stem of the flower.

Our last craft that week was another fun one.  I got the idea for this from our principle.  Flamingos!
Pink flamingos!  Or, are they!?  What color are flamingos?  All kinds of shades of pink and peach.  
So, how do you come up with that?  Paint is always something that kids are a little hesitant to use, because it's messy, so they aren't usually allowed near it.  But I love hands-on learning!

For the fabulous flamingos, here's what you're going to need:
Pink paint
Orange paint
White paint

To start, I put out a cup of pink, a cup of orange, and a cup of white paint, and let the kids pour the three colors (however much they wanted of each) onto a paper plate.  

Then, I painted their hand with the paint, which they pressed down on the paper.  I gave the flamingo a neck, and then they pressed their thumb down for the head.  They also gave it some legs.  
AND, ta-ta-ta-daaa!!!

Floridian Flamingos, ladies and gents!

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Gum Ball Machines and Guitars!

Ah, the letter G.  And the number 11.
There are many fun things that could go with the letter G.  As Dan and I were shopping at Wal Mart, I saw some Chinet plates, and the wheels in my head started turning.
I bought enough for two for each of my kids.  At school, I had each of them count out 11 pom poms into the one (one to one correspondence and fine motor).  Then they cut out the construction paper pieces.  While they were doing that, I taped the two plates together.  After they had cut them out, I hot glued them to the plates.  They turned out very cute.  Take a look for yourself.

Hmmm... what else could we make with the letter G... oh, I know!
A guitar!
Here's what you'll need:

A tissue box/shoe box/cereal box
4 rubber bands
1 paper towel roll
Duct tape

I thought the tissue boxes would works the best, because they already had a hole, but actually, the show boxes worked best.  Also, some of them had cute patterns!
First, I had them cut an oval shape on the face of the box.  Then, I had them cut a circle on the top, the size of the paper towel roll.  Then, they put the four rubber bands on it long-wise, stuck the paper towel roll through the hole, and secured it all with some duct tape.  They are very cute, and do make little "ping"-ing sounds!  That same day, I brought in my husband's guitar, they got to try it, and we talked about how the thinner strings have higher notes, and the thicker ones have deeper notes.  
It was a very fun day, and I think they learned lots of new things, and had a couple new experiences.

Check out how precious these are.

Now go and have a "G"reat day! :)

Preschool Winter Theme

It's winter.  But it's Florida.  But it's winter.  But it's Florida.
This is the dilemma I was faced with when we were in our "Winter" theme at school.  It took a little to get into it, but once I did, you know there was no stopping me.
The first week, we reviewed the vowels.  We made these cute penguin crafts, where we cut "U"s out of black paper, and colored scrapbook paper.  We also cut out the little wings, eyes, beaks and feet.  They were super cute.
One of my kids, Andrey, always draws a smiley face after his name.  It makes my day every time!

That same week, I read them "The Mitten" by Jan Brett.  I love that book!

I just bought the 20th edition of it, and I am thrilled to have kids to read it to!

So, in honor of the book, we laced mittens.  
What you'll need:
Foam paper
Hole Punch

I made a mitten form, and then traced it twice on the foam paper.  They cut them out.  Then, punched holes around the edges,  I tied off the yarn, showed them how to do it, and then let them lace up their mittens.
In the meantime, I made a bulletin board.  Started with blue paper, painted some wintery, bare trees and some snow- tada!!!

So, that's how we do winter in Florida.

A Cold Budapest Morning - Family Christmas Photo Shoot

I have been looking forward to this post since I started working on the actual project.
I love family pictures, but for some reason, my family never seems to get organized enough to get good ones.   Our last family picture was at our wedding, and although it's a beautiful picture, it's not particularly versatile, because- well let's face it, it's a wedding picture.  It's pretty obvious why the one girl is wearing a big (although stunning, if I might say so myself) white dress.
So, when my mom told me that her neighbor, who is a photographer, was giving my mom a family photo session as a Christmas gift, a bigger fire couldn't have been lit under my butt to get things going.  AND, she told me I could come up with the color scheme.  Pictures, clothes, style and a theme!?  And I get to tell my family what to do?  All the things I'm best at!
My mom told me, that we were taking the pictures in downtown Budapest, which 
(I know I'm biased, but)
is the most beautiful backdrop a person could ask for!  Only drawback?  It's freezing in December.  Correction, it's below freezing.

So, I started googling, and looking for cold weather, outdoor family pictures.  And let me tell you, it's slim pickins.  

So, I resorted to to create my own "family picture".
(Here's a link to the actual sets:

I chose the color scheme red/black/white/gray, because the red made it Christmasy, but not in an uber-obvious way, it's my mom's favorite color, and it's classic.  I read everywhere, not to try to make it too matchy-matchy, but rather to go with a color scheme, and have everyone mix and match.  Even with patterns.  So I did...

Dad:  For my dad, I picked a handsome argyle sweater, because it's a basic, staple item, which honestly I thought he already had in his wardrobe.  I chose black/dark wash jeans for him, because I'm keeping my fingers crossed that one day he'll let us convince him to buy a pair. :)

Mom:  For my mom, I picked a black sheath dress, because I know it's what she feels most comfortable in, and she always rocks it.  She also has a pair of these amazing black shoes that have the signature Louboutin red sole.  Then, I gave her some red touches here and there, because my mom is all about detail.

Daughter:  For myself, I picked a cute Liz Claiborne dress my parents had just bought me (even though I ended up wearing the other one they got me), a jacket that looked like one I already had (jacket story to follow), boots, and cute red accents.

Daughter-in-law:  For my brother's girlfriend I chose a red coat, because I knew she already had one, and because she is so petite, she really could've worn anything, but I really liked the sweater dress with the skinny jeans.

Son-in-law:  For my husband, I picked a plaid shirt, because some days I think that's all he owns (but of course he had to buy a new one for the pictures), a black peacoat (he had just bought a charcoal one), Converse All Stars, some nice dark wash jeans, and a scarf, because deep down he's European.

Son:  For my middle brother, I picked a red button down shirt, because the boy likes a little flare, a black vest, because I know he loves vests, especially pairing them with signature shirts, and a euro tie, because that's just how he rolls.

Son:  For my youngest brother I picked red pants, because of all of us, he was probably the only one who could pull them off.  He's the kind of guy that saves up his money, and then buys a whole outfit, all the pieces from really nice stores I usually look in the windows of.  Also, the boy can rock a fedora, and is really classy in all his accents.

So, my family (wisely, I might add) did just about exactly as I said, ha! :)
Sort of.
Well, they did!

And THEN my parents surprised me with a gorgeous red peacoat that I'd been wishing for ever since the Lake House came out.

So, on a cold December Saturday, we all got up, Moni, my parents wonderful neighbor came over and did the ladies' make up, we got dressed, and all went downtown for our family photo session.

My gorgeous parents.

My handsome brother, and his beautiful leading lady.

My hot husband and I.

Our family. This is love.

Everyone.  I am in love with is picture.

She's as stunning as ever!

The city of love! (Ours, at least)

All I can say is, awwwwwww.

They won the hottest couple's picture though.  Seriously, look at those sparks!

The Gracza family.

The original Gracza family


The boys

We had an amazing time, and finally have the family pictures to show for it!

I'd like to say a special thanks to Monika Melczer for her incredible work, and for the beautiful memories.

DIY Clay Ornament

I love family.  I love MY family.  So, I can't even tell you how excited I was when my crazy generous uncle told me, that for Christmas he was sending Dan and I home for to see my family.  I hadn't spent Christmas with my family for 2 years, and we hadn't all been together since our wedding.  So this was huge!  I've always loved (giving and receiving) hand-made gifts, and I wanted something that would remind us of our Christmas together.
I had seen this recipe on for home-made clay, that sounded promising.  I followed the link to  Here is her recipe:

1/2 cup cornstarch
1 cup baking soda
3/4 cup water

For my specific ornament, you'll also need:
Cookie cutter(s)
Exacto knife
Heart stamp (small)
Red paint
Sealant spray
Chopstick- to make a hole for the ribbon to go through
(Nail file- for getting clean definition around the edges)

I also needed to add a little extra cornstarch.

This craft was a little messy, and I don't have a lot of counter space in my apartment, so the rolling it out part was a little tricky.  The rest of it worked just like the post said.

I wanted to make something really special, so I wanted to make it in the shape of Hungary.  I looked everywhere online, and couldn't find a cookie cutter in the shape of Hungary (go figure), so I tried to come up with an alternative.  Dan to the rescue!  He said if I printed out an outline of Hungary, he could figure the rest out.  So I did, and my brilliant husband bought foam board, and an exacto knife, and cut out a "cookie cutter".  So, I made the dough, and cut it out, then pressed the heart stamp over the spot where Budapest (capital city/hometown) would be, punched a whole through it, and let it bake at 175 F for about 45 minutes.  The length of baking time depends a lot on the thickness of your clay.  I tuned it over a couple times to make sure it baked all the way through.
Once they were cooled off, I painted the stamped heart area red, let that dry, and then strung a ribbon through the top.  Dan had found the perfect ribbon at Michael's, it was red white and green, just like the  Hungarian flag.  
I also write with a thin Sharpie on the back "Gracza Family Christmas 2012".

Pre-baked ornament

Baked ornament

With the pretty red heart
Four, for the four "units".  Mom and Dad, Jonathan and Katie, Stephen and Dan and I.

See the perfect flag ribbon?!

Here's my handsome brother with his ornament.

And, my other good looking brother and his girlfriend, Katie.

The original website for this ornament has lots of tips from people who tried it out, and I would recommend reading over those before you make yours for the best results.  This would be cute to make with kids, and I even made one with/for Bella out of the leftover clay: