Monday, October 5, 2015

9 Tips for Asking Parents to Donate to the Classroom

This year I've taken on a role that is new for me. I'm one of the Room Parents for my first grader along with two other moms. I'm looking forward to being involved more this year. Last year I was teaching 3 days a week at a charter school and had my baby sign language classes and story time programs the other two days of the week so there really wasn't room in my schedule to dedicate to being a Room Mom last year... and before that I still had a preschooler and was balancing growing my business. So this year, I finally get to do it! Yay!

And then came all the responsibilities.... nah, it's really not that bad.

One of the roles of the Room Parent is to make donation requests of the parents. It can be one of the uncomfortable parts, but only if you make it that way!

I wanted the request to be colorful. There's something subliminal about having bright happy colors when making a request. PLUS if the envelope is a hot pink or bright orange, it is not going to get lost in the mix. I happened to find these at Michael's for a whopping $1.66 for a set of 25. Of course it had to be 5 shy of what I needed, but seriously for this bargain price I ended up buying all 6 packs in stock. I plan to see if my other two kids' classrooms want help with their donation requests.

We decided as a threesome that parents probably prefer to give their money up front and not be bombarded with donation request at every turn. I think if this message is conveyed in the donation request letter that parents will appreciate that sentiment. Plus as Room Parents, we don't really want to make multiple requests throughout the year! Here's the letter we came up with... it's nothing fancy.... I was going to do some searching online for something clever, but this totally sufficed.

We also thought it would be well received if the kids were making a request with a hand written note. So I did come up with a short rhyme for that. The bonus is that it was an extra writing practice for them, and they could pick out the rhyming words. Plus copying something off the board is good practice as well. Feel free to steal this idea and call it your own! I think the parents enjoyed reading these hand written cards from their kids.

I know my son was especially excited to give me the card and prompted me to put money in the envelope right away so he could bring it back to his teacher... which ironically would be put in his folder and delivered back to me... but that's beside the point.

(Psst! Pin this!)

This is helping our kids become part of the process. Today was just the first day that money started to be returned but I think with the two week time frame provided we might just get 100% participation. At the end of our time frame I will report back to share if we got all the families to participate.

1. Make it direct - parents appreciate that
2. Make it short - all parents are busy
3. Explain what the money will be used for - parents want to know
4. Make it colorful - the envelope will be easy to spot & less likely to get lost
5. Make one request for the whole year - makes everyone's lives easier
6. Give a dollar range - everyone is on a different budget
7. Give a deadline - 1 to 2 weeks so the request does not get forgotten
8. Get the kids involved - pulls at parents heart strings
9. Thank the parents - I know - this goes without saying

Well, there you have it! I'd love to know if you borrow some of these ideas and how it goes for you.

If you've been a Room Parent before and you have some tried and true tips in regards to requesting monetary donations from parents please share in the comments. Just like with the money we're asking parents to donate, "every little bit helps"!

The teacher let the kids decorate their cards how they saw fit. Owen had been to an assembly where the guy did yo-yo tricks to tell a story giving kids advice on being successful. I thought it was kinda cool that he incorporated the assembly into his note.

Most Accommodating and Beautiful Stay at Marriott Manhattan Beach

As I was looking forward to ShiftCon in Manhattan Beach, I really had not given much thought to the wonderful accommodations that we would have by staying onsite at the Marriott. And I was impressed every step of the way with our weekend stay.

First, from booking our reservation, I have to say that it was easy breezy. Especially given that I decided to stay an extra night and needed to call back and change our reservation. Because I used to work in customer service I especially appreciate when I have a seamless call for service that is both friendly and efficient.

My roommate for the weekend was my good friend, Nichole from So Cal Savvy Mom.  It was at the very first ShiftCon that we really connected and bonded over wine. We lucked out with near front row parking and as we walked in to the hotel for check in we couldn't help but admire the welcoming view that made us feel like we were on a mini vacation.

This is right near the pool and the palm trees paired with sounds of water falling create that total relaxation experience that anyone desires when they head out of town. We made a pact right there that we would be sure to come outside and kick our feet up to enjoy the view at least a little bit during the conference. I wish I had brought my swim suit though because these cabanas were calling my name!

Photo courtesy of Marriott Manhattan Beach 

At the check in counter we were greeted with a smile and someone with a great sense of hospitality. ShiftCon was not the only private event going on that weekend and we were advised we would be switching rooms from two double beds to a King bed for our third night. I was kind of bothered by this because I've never had to switch rooms during a hotel stay before and shared my concern at check in. It takes finesse to explain to someone that there is a little bit of a hiccup in their arranged stay, but even with finesse sometimes it is necessary to offer a perk to make up for said hiccup. I was very grateful for being offered a room overlooking the golf course and free wi-fi to make up for the inconvenience of having to switch rooms. To be honest I don't know what those upgrades cost, but it comes down to making your customer smile and feeling well taken care of, which we did.

Our room had little touches of comfort from room service menu easily spotted on the pillow, a coffee maker in case we needed help waking up, shower essentials and something I think all hotels should do in this day and age, a "care for our planet" message hanging next to the towels that helps us all conserve water. When we are on vacation or on a business trip we ought to continue to care about our water use and how our actions affect the planet and our community at large. Kudos to the Marriott for being green and delivering this message!

After some mingling at one of the evening receptions we wanted to channel our inner wolves and headed outside to enjoy the beautiful moon underneath the enchanting lights. So Cal Savvy Mom got a much better photo than I did and I think it was her photo posting to the twitter wall in the reception that drew some of our new found friends out to enjoy the evening sky with us. It was lovely to chat with fellow bloggers on the same green journey, share some tips and just get to know one another in a casual, yet remarkable setting.

Photo courtesy of So Cal Savvy Mom

Then one of the Marriott rock stars came over to light our fire pit and that's when it got really cozy! Talk about comforts of home... this reminded me of hanging out with friends around our own backyard fire pit clinking glasses and bonding. This touch of ambiance is what I think set the mood for a weekend of growing new friendships, one of the goals of ShiftCon.

Upon turning in for the night I realized I had inadvertently left my booth brush and toothpaste on my dresser at home and the gift shop had closed. Lucky for me, the Marriott staff aims to please and came to the rescue. 

The next morning the marine layer resting on the golf course provided for this beautiful view. I used to live just next door to a golf course and this reminded me of their mesmerizing influence. I gave thanks for the opportunity to be here and learn more about this food movement and the role I play in sharing that information with new moms.

I had encouraged a group of San Diego Mom Bloggers that were represented at the conference to gather for lunch. The restaurant on-site was not officially open and the hostess advised me that our group could order from the same menu at the bar upstairs. Because we had a group that planned to lunch together, she was happy to make arrangements for us. We chose to eat outdoors because of the beautiful backdrop and several umbrellas were moved to make sure we wouldn't melt in the sun. As I mentioned before there's just incredible serenity that begs for you to delight in the sounds of the water and views of the palm trees.

There were so many items on the menu that sounded good and ultimately I went with the Grilled Apple and Feta Salad w/ Chicken. I was thrilled to see the plate show up with plenty because I was starving.... in fact it was probably enough to feed two people. When I make it back I would order this again!

Photo courtesy of Marriott Manhattan Beach

The lobby and bar area are equally welcoming. The decor reminds me something I'd see while touring brand new model homes. Being in an upscale environment gives you a boost in confidence. Maybe that's what pushed me to take the leap and become a red head during our stay.

And this might seem odd to mention, but I told Nichole that the carpet on our floor made me happy. It may be the yellow, or the fun pattern, I'm not sure. This is what I mean about the attention to detail at the Manhattan Beach Marriott Hotel. They've just got you smiling and you may not even know why.

When it was time to switch rooms on Saturday they made it as easy as possible on us and gave us the option to have our bags moved while we attended our conference sessions, or we could have a bell hop assist us with the transfer. And the view from our new room made the room change worthwhile. 

I heard the beach was not too far from the hotel and while we didn't partake in this, I love that this Bike and a Bite at the Beach is offered to guests as a way to explore the nearby restaurants and enjoy the sand between your toes. It would be something on my bucket list for a future stay. I wonder if they have kid bikes too? I could just imagine all five of us pedaling along with the ocean breeze and relishing in the joy of short getaway.

I also have to say that the setup for the conference was ideal because none of the workshop sessions seemed too far away and the hospitality suites were altogether and the open space for the Expo was very inviting. Everything was easy to find. Our conference registration desk was spacious and again easily accessible. Clearly this place knows how to set things up for a conference and has a staff that is well trained in making things run smoothly so everyone enjoys their time at the hotel. 

I tell ya, I'm looking forward to a future time that I can have an excuse to escape to enjoy these sights and sounds again, a little slice of paradise in Southern California that is Manhattan Beach Marriott.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Quick and Healthy Southwest Chicken

Fall is really here. You know how I know? Not just that school is in full swing and homework riddles abound and books and binders are on every surface of the kitchen and living room…. Nope. It’s the daily hectic sports schedule. Someone has a practice, a clinic or a game Every. Single. Day… of the week. This is why I have to have a few quick go to meals that are still balanced and healthy ready to go. If you have a busy family schedule too, you’ll want to add this Quick and Healthy Southwest Chicken to your bag of tricks. Even if your schedule allows you to spend an hour or more in the kitchen preparing a meal and you love cooking, this is a meal that has all kinds of color and flavor for those nights you do want something simple, yet delicious.

This post is sponsored by Foster Farms® Simply Raised, which is locally grown in California and 
the Pacific Northwest. The opinions expressed are my own.


Foster Farms Simply Raised Thin Sliced Breast Fillets
¾ cup of your favorite salsa (I prefer organic salsa)
¾ cup organic frozen corn
1 cup shredded mild cheddar cheese
1 avocado, sliced
¼ cup sour cream


Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Take the thin sliced breast filets and lay flat in an oven dish prepared with either avocado oil or grapeseed oil. Spoon ¼ cup salsa on each filet. Next, layer ¼ cup frozen organic corn on top of the chicken and salsa. Put dish in oven for approximately 30 minutes. At the last 5 to 10 minutes, sprinkle some of that mild cheddar cheese on top of each filet. Continue to bake for the remaining minutes. This is what you want it to look like when you pull it out of the oven:

Top each fillet with your favorite southwest flavors. I personally like to add avocado whenever and wherever I can! The flavors of fresh, locally grown chicken, salsa, sweet corn, cheese and avocado come together like one big happy family.

I like to keep it simple when determining what sides we will have, remember we’ve been running around getting kids to soccer practice and such. A can of refried beans and some organic tortilla chips and fresh made guacamole is what we opted for this time around. If you’re making your own guacamole and you really want to hit a home run, be sure to get locally grown produce, and organic if at all possible. The flavors are more vibrant and you will taste the difference. Buying local 
supports your local farmer and it’s a good lesson for our kids in how we support our community! Did you know that Foster Farms chickens are delivered from local ranches in 48 hours or less?

This meal takes just 35 minutes start to finish, including prep. The trick is the Thin-Sliced Breast Fillets. If your family is like mine and likes the tender and juicy white meat, you know it can take a bit longer to cook the breasts compared to other chicken parts…. Which is why I look for the Thin-Sliced Breast Fillets from Foster Farms. I prefer to get the Foster Farms Simply Raised, with no antibiotics, hormones or steroids. AND if you live in California or the Pacific Northwest, you’ll be glad to know that these chickens are always raised locally! I think feeding my kids food that is free of hormones and antibiotics is a worthwhile thing to champion. Buying products that are local cuts down on your carbon footprint which means I’m teaching my kids about being environmentally responsible. While we’ve been on a mission to choose healthier foods at the grocer, I’ve also been keeping my eye out for items that are local. To me local means fresh and fresh is always better. 
All Foster Farms fresh chicken products are American Humane Certified.

Do you have a busy after school schedule that has pushed you to come up with some quick and healthy meals? I’d love it if you share in the comments below because I’ll be putting together a roundup post for just that sort of thing and I want to include your awesome quick and healthy meals.

In the meantime PIN THIS one so you have it for those nights you need to pull a good meal together quickly!

This post is sponsored by Foster Farms®, the opinions expressed are my own.

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Monday, September 21, 2015

21 DIY Baby Halloween Costumes

Baby's first Halloween dressing up is so much fun and picking out their costume can be really tough given the wide array of uber cute choices. Some of my favorite baby and toddler costumes are the DIY ones because a lot of love goes into it and they've each got their own special flare. It can take as little or as much time as you want to create something unique and fun. There are a lot of awesome crafty mamas out there that I admire, but when it comes to a costume, I need some direction. Here are 21 inspirations for DIY Baby Halloween Costumes:

1. Manion Amor's Boo from Monsters Inc makes an excellent choice for a little girl.

2. A sweet Tinkerbell by The DIY Mommy will create beautiful photo keepsakes!

4. This  Olaf costume by Peek-a-boo Pages is to die for cute, right?

3. Simmworks Family aced simplicity with this Charlie Brown DIY costume.

5. Imagine your little guy in this awesome Batman ensemble shared by Haberdashery Fun!

6. Who can resist this charming Harry Potter costume shared by Love & Lion?

More baby character costumes.....

Baby Yoda


Peter Pan

Baby Minion

Wonder Woman

Where's Waldo

And for all you foodies out there.... or if you ever catch yourself saying "you're so cute I could eat you!" here are some fun food costume ideas!

Got a thing for sea creatures? Here are a few ideas....

I love seeing babies dressed up as animals because babies LOVE animals and it is even more fun when you teach them the sound the animals makes and they can mimic the sound.

Baby Owl


Lady Bug

For the sports fanatics.....

Rockford Peach (A League of their Own)

And for the TWINS here are a few adorable ideas!

Cabbage Patch Dolls

Thing One and Thing Two

Raggedy Ann and Andy

SUPER SIMPLE ONESIE ideas for the very last minute types!


It can be hard to decide what to dress you baby as for Halloween but don't let it become a paralysis by analysis situation! Just have fun with it. An you know what? If you decide not to make a costume for your baby, that''s totally fine. What's important is that you have fun and create memories!

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Farm Fresh to You Brings Goodness to Your Door

This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of Farm Fresh to You as part of 
the Mom it Forward Blogger Network. All opinions
and writing are my own. I only share things I believe to be of value.

Organic goodness in a box as fresh as it can get was delivered to my door before 8 a.m. last Friday. I was so excited to send the kids off to school and have fresh produce on my doorstep to put away without having even gotten out of my pajamas! "This is going to be a good day" I thought.

Just look at all the beautiful bright produce that came in this box...

Later when I decided to slice up one of the heirloom tomatoes that was so bright and plump, making it hard to resits, I could hardly believe how excited my mouth was about the simplicity of a tomato. It is true what they say, after having true fresh heirloom tomatoes, you just never want to go back to conventional tomatoes. My daughter has a thing for tomatoes too... but she usually likes to sprinkle a little salt on hers. When I told her to try a slice of the tomato from our Farm Fresh to You box she wasn't even thinking about reaching for the salt.

The only thing bad about these heirloom tomatoes was how juicy they were.... you know cuz that just makes a mess! But that's when you know it's good... you know what I'm talking about. I hope our next box has more heirloom tomatoes because Amberly and I will just sit at the table and savor bite after bite. I laugh when I think that I didn't like tomatoes as a kid!

Before I forget, and while you're equally excited about these luscious tomatoes, I want to share the Refer a Friend program at Farm Fresh to You. When you set up an account with them and share your code with a friend, your friend saves $10 off their first order and YOU get $25 credited to your account. Pretty sweet, right? So of course I am sharing my refer a friend code with you knowing you'll enjoy it just as much as I have. JZAN4279

I used their easy to use website to customize my box, opting for the No Cooking Box. I know myself well enough and our busy family schedule that I'm not in the mindset to be cooking up a bunch of vegetables to add to the dinner table right now. And it was the perfect option for us because we had things to make a nice dinner salad, a healthy after school snack and even some fresh mango for dessert!

Truly Fresh Dinner Salad:


1 head of romaine lettuce, leaves torn into bite size pieces
1 large heirloom tomato, sliced
1/2 cucumber, sliced
1 avocado, pitted and diced
Your favorite salad dressing  (I need to experiment with making my own)

Enough for all 5 of us to get a good serving size.

I have to tell you that we've been growing accustomed to salad in a bag from the grocery store and I had forgotten how with just a few ingredients, count them, there are 4, you can make something that is so good, good for you and adds color to your plate! The cucumber was better than any cucumber I've purchased from the store and it didn't have that wax finish. Organic is the way to go, and Farm Fresh to You gets it to you when it still has that "just picked" goodness.

I've been browsing their YouTube channel and love hearing what other customers have shared, which made me dig further into the website and find all the amazing resources Farm Fresh to You offers. They've really thought of everything to make it super easy, especially for us busy moms who want to feed our kids the very best.

Another reason this works so well for me is that I can select items that I do NOT want in my box. For example, I'm not too keen on papaya so I simply mark that I don't want it in my box. And I can update this any time! Like I'm always teaching my kids "taste buds change every 10-14 days!"

To say we've had a bit of a heat wave here in San Diego would be an understatement.  One day after school when it was particularly warm I was excited about the cantaloupe I had put in the fridge and was ready to be cut open. But they weren't going to have just cantaloupe by itself... although they wouldn't mind that in the least, it is one of their favorite foods. Over the summer we've created a variety of parfaits which got me thinking about using our new parfait glasses.

Sweet Melon Surprise!


1 medium size cantaloupe, diced
3/4 cup organic vanilla yogurt
1/2 cup organic granola


In the bottom of your dish place your diced cantaloupe. Top with a dollop of the vanilla yogurt. Sprinkle with your favorite granola.

Yields 8 servings. Pictured you see 4. We enjoyed it so much we all had seconds!

We still have some of the bell peppers and cauliflower and carrots which I plan to just cut up and add to the table as a veggie platter that will double as a bright colorful centerpiece!

Remember, Farm Fresh to You has an amazing refer a friend program and I'd love for you to use my code  JZAN4279so you can save $10 on your first box. Full disclosure, they will kindly credit me with $25 after you place your first order for helping you get hooked up to them. And you can then refer a friend and get exactly the same benefit! Nope, you don't have to be a blogger to enjoy this refer a friend program. I feel good about referring you to give then a try and know you'll be excited about the difference in the freshness and flavor. They've named it perfectly, it really is "FARM FRESH TO YOU".

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Disney on Ice - Dare to Dream - Giveaway

Do you love Disney? Do you love watching ice skating? Do you love winning tickets?

Then this is for you! 

Disclosure: Tickets have been provided to me in exchange for sharing the upcoming event.

Disney on Ice Presents Dare to Dream presented by Stonyfield YoKids Organic Yogurt.  I pretty much love it when two of my favorites partner up to bring something magical to kids! The show is coming to town (San Diego) Oct 1st-4th.  Enjoy reliving some of your favorite moments from Disney's most popular features with our favorite princesses, Rapunzel, Snow White, Cinderella and Tiana. Of course some of their side kicks will be skating alongside them and dazzling us with their moves on the ice. My kids love Tangled because there's a character for everyone to identify with!


What's your favorite Disney movie?

Here's a little preview to show the kids and get them excited about going to watch their favorite characters take the ice.

I have a family 4 pack of tickets to giveaway for opening night, Thursday Oct 1st 2015! Be sure to scroll down and enter for your chance to win.

The place to be is Valley View Casino Center on Sports Arena Blvd. Kid tickets are just $10 (excluding VIP and Front Row) making it a great family affair! Adult ticket prices range from $15 to $25 and there's VIP seating ($45) and Front Row seating ($60) THOSE tickets go very quickly!

Over a 4 day period there are just 7 shows, and the day time shows go quickly so if you want to buy tickets do it now.

o   Thursday, Oct. 1             7:00 PM
o   Friday, Oct. 2                 7:00 PM
o   Saturday, Oct. 3             11:00 AM3:00 PM & 7:00 PM
o   Sunday, Oct. 4               1:00 PM & 5:00 PM

There's so much sparkle and imagination throughout their shows, it's such a great way to share a little magic as a family and create those lifelong memories. I'm looking forward to taking my kids and making it an evening to remember!

Here's your chance to enter the giveaway...

Disney On Ice Dare to Dream Family 4 Pack

Be sure to check their website for the entire tour schedule. There are plenty of stops and likely to be one near you very soon!

Friday, September 11, 2015

Work with me!


I love working with brands and organizations when it is a fit. What is a fit you ask? Well, let me tell you what I enjoy sharing....

1. Events, both local (San Diego) and away. Whether your event is celebrating family, health, the arts or entertainment I would love to hear about it. Events that showcase a fun date night idea or perfect Mom's Night Out soiree or fun things to do with kids all inspire me to share.




2. Travel, who doesn't love it? Our kids are at the perfect age to showcase family destinations.

3. Eating. We are on a healthy journey and making strides towards better eating. I like to share organic and wholesome food. But I also have a sweet tooth. We practice eating a rainbow, support the notion of "half a plate" of fruits and veggies and hope to start our own garden in the near future. The kids have started a healthy snack review segment on my YouTube channel. Restaurant reviews, products to showcase in a recipe, a healthy snack to throw in the kids' lunchboxes all make great examples of what I'd be excited about writing and sharing.




4. Family. Whether it be outings or tools to help us live more harmoniously or entertainment, we love staying active! All 3 of my kids are in sports year round and we love exploring what helps us keep things organized or improve  My children are 6, 8 and 9 and while they're not babies anymore, I teach baby sign language classes and have a great group of primarily moms that can either review the product or I can share with both my select small classes or large library programs.




5. Education. I am a lifelong learner. It is a cornerstone passion. Anything that helps parents learn how to better aid their kids in their learning journey or even helps parents in their own learning path. Books, learning tools, programs and classes and especially anything that helps schools fundraise hits a sweet spot for me as I'm involved in our school's parent foundation.




6. Going Green! We may not be the greenest, but I think everything we change to be more green is a step in the right direction. The more I talk to parents the more I realize that we need to take baby steps because it is more attainable than making a 180 degree change.

7. Health and Wellness. From food to exercise to conscious living, it is important to me and my readers.