High Five for Friday! 2-13-15

::spooky voice:: OOoOOoOoooH, Friday the 13th! ::knockonwood:: nothing goes wrong today! I don’t really believe in superstitions, though. I hope the students are well-behaved today! Here are 5 highlights from this week:

Book Signing Flyer copy

1. Author Visit – First, my best news – we are honored to have a visit from Trudy Krisher! She will be visiting our school in just 10 days. We are so excited! I can’t believe how lucky we are! More to come on that later!


2. Would you? Our students are doing their own self-designed Science Experiments, which is a fantastic, student-centered, inquiry-based lesson. So a student came up to me and handed me 2 cups of water, asking, “Would you please take a sip from both of these and tell me which one is tap water and which one is bottled water?” I can’t believe it, but I did it. I had so many questions (Are these new cups? How did you get the tap water? Did you DO anything to this water?!?), but I took a leap of faith and gave it a shot. Turns out, I was wrong! I thought the more metallic tasting water would have been tap water, but it was actually the bottled water. Hmm!


3. Coloring Book – I’m working on my next coloring book on – you guessed it – dinosaurs! It will be a gift for all of my little nieces and nephews as well as a new product up on TpT. If you are interested in any of my other coloring books, they are Zoo Animals, Rainforest Animals, and My Animal Coloring Book.

Paleo Foods (c) Kristen Dembroski

4. Cooking – I got back into cooking this weekend. I had really fallen off the wagon this winter, eating lots of soups, fried eggs, and pasta, because I had been hit with one virus after another and I went for the easy/quick fix foods. Well I had forgotten how meditative, relaxing, and fulfilling it is to make your own foods from scratch. This weekend I made Bacon-Topped Spinach Meatloaf and Broccoli Egg Bake, two of my favorites. Lots of protein and vegetables for the win!

Stir Crazy (c) Kristen Dembroski5. Stir Crazy – Okay, we are all going a little nuts around here. Me, my students, even my dogs. Winters are HARD! I feel so bad for this toy monkey, but then I realize he is pretty much a metaphor for my life. We are in the heart of winter and in for at least another 2 and a half weeks of freezing temperatures. I miss sun! At least I have little dogs who can get a lot of exercise just playing inside. For my students, on the other hand, indoor recess isn’t cutting it. We need an outlet for all our energy! Maybe a roller skating field trip?


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Handmade Christmas Presents 2014

I’m so embarrassed that it has taken me so long to put up this post! I have been very excited to share with you all of this year’s homemade Christmas presents. I start working on them right away in January/February because it means so much to me to be able to give from the heart. It’s a trait I’m sure I inherited from my grandmother, who loved to make things to give to others. As each of her 5 children went off to college, she knitted us a special afghan that I treasure (and can’t even bring myself to take out of the drawer!).

This past year, I began working on my sister’s Christmas present just a few days after last year’s Christmas. It took a looooong time, but it is totally worth it to have a family treasure that can be passed down and enjoyed for many years. I made this advent calendar by combining ideas from  several different blogs (like here and here) as well as etsy (like this). Jenn just LOVED it! I made one for myself at the same time 🙂 Advent Calendar (c) Kristen Dembroski

Advent Calendar (c) Kristen Dembroski


Another project I finished over the summer was a book of my grandmother’s recipes. When she passed away, I asked for her recipe box and books. I spent countless hours pouring over the recipes, cherry-picking her favorites, separating them into categories, and typing them up. I spent the rest of the summer cooking many of the favorites to have pictures to include in the book. I also wrote a forward that attempts to capture what made her, and her cooking, so special. The final product was printed for brothers and sisters, each of her children, and grandchildren. I wrapped each book with love and hand delivered them on Christmas, and there were many, many tears.

Grandma's Favorite Recipes (c) Kristen Dembroski

Grandma's Favorite Recipes (c) Kristen Dembroski


It wouldn’t be Christmas if it weren’t for our lovingly handmade treats, as well. My mother, sister, and I spent an afternoon making Krumkake. The plate of cookies below were made by yours truly, including chocolate-dipped shortbread, chocolate cakeballs, and peanut-butter cup cookies (are you sensing that I LOVE chocolate?). The final result is the gorgeous display of our family’s cookie haul. YUM!

Krumkake (c) Kristen Dembroski

Christmas Cookies (c) Kristen Dembroski

Christmas Cookie Display


Last, but not least, I got a wonderful handmade surprise from my aunt on Christmas. She had found the pattern for my grandmother’s famous House Slippers. When you visited Grandma’s house, she always wanted to make sure you were warm enough. She insisted that you put on a pair of hand-knitted house slippers. I used to fight her on this and think they were big, clunky, and hideous. Then, over time, I grew to love them. I’d remind her if she forgot to have me put them on. When she passed away and we cleaned out her home, we all imagined we’d find a pair hidden in every nook and cranny of the house. Unfortunately, for unexplained reasons, we couldn’t find a single pair in the house. Had they walked off on their own? Well my aunt surprised us (all grand- and great-grand children) all by knitting us a personalized pair for Christmas – over 9 pair in total. More tears, for certain. House Slippers (c) Kristen Dembroski


I’m already hard at work on Christmas presents for next year. No, I will not give away my secrets and tell you what I’m up to! I guess you’ll just have to wait….

Cross stitch (c) Kristen Dembroski

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High Five for Friday! 2-6-15

Week 22, and that number is HIGHER than the temperature these days! It’s -15 with windchill right now…Brrrr!!! Below are the highlights of this never-ending week:


1. Friendship 9 – Did you hear the fantastic news about the Friendship 9? This week we read a Newsela article about their expunged records from the 1961 lunch counter sit-ins. Then, we viewed the wordlessnews.com entry on the topic to discuss the use of symbolism and imagery. What a powerful image! Justice is served! This fit in perfectly with our current unit on Spite Fences.

Kahoot (c) Kristen Dembroski

2. Kahoot – I’ve mentioned on this blog before how we like to use Kahoot with the student iPads or laptops as a fun review game. It’s always a hoot! The kids get SO excited and into it that I have to stop and calm them down after each question. If you haven’t tried it out, what are you waiting for? 🙂 This week, we used the game to review our Social Studies chapter on Reconstruction after the Civil War.

Bobblehead (c) Kristen Dembroski

3. Bobblehead – So how cool is this? A student made a bobble head of me! I guess my head is too big and the mattress spring doesn’t really keep it up, but that’s fine by me. That hair! Those eyes and lips! I’m GORGEOUS! LOL. I hope I get to keep it in my room after the art show!

Froyo (c) Kristen Dembroski

4. Sister Day – I am so blessed and lucky to have a superhero I mean sister. She is very busy being amazing as a pediatric oral surgeon, and I’m very busy being a kick-ass educator, and there is never enough sister time. So this past weekend, we scheduled some. She took me out for a pedicure and froyo, and lemme tell you, that is my idea of Heaven. I can think of nothing better.

Cross stitch (c) Kristen Dembroski5. Projects – I gotta tell you something: Winters in Wisconsin are HARD. Like really hard. I suffer from seasonal depression, and there’s not much you can do besides try to keep your spirits up and wait it out. One thing I like to do to keep my mind and hands occupied is to find little projects like making Christmas presents. I’ve started a few this week, and it feels so good!

How was your week? I’d love to hear how you ward off the Winter Blues. And aren’t you just loving these longer days?

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High Five For Friday! 1-30-15

Week 21 is donezo! These winter months are so hard; it feels like the weeks just drag on and on. I miss the sun. And temperatures above 20 degrees. But there are a lot of fun things going on inside the classroom that help keep us all going (and keeping an eye on Spring Break, only 9 weeks away, but who’s counting?!). Below are the 5 highlights from Week 21!

Themes (c) Kristen Dembroski

1. Theme – We have been working on and discussing theme all year. This is one of the hardest concepts for 8th graders to grasp. In general, they want to come up with morals or how they think things should be (i.e. Never tell a lie), and not how things really are (i.e. Lies create big messes). We spend a lot of time on this. Plus, I think limited exposure and life experience makes this a difficult task for adolescents as well. So I found a few themes from some popular movies on Pinterest, and I hung them up in the classroom as inspiration. I need to add a few less ‘Disney’ or rose-colored themes to my board as well, so that shall be forthcoming (i.e. “All Summer in a Day” – sometimes, people are just terrible to each other out of jealousy). Any tips or suggestions will be gladly accepted!

Discussion Groups (c) Kristen Dembroski

2. Discussion Groups – as we are making our way through our current novel unit, Spite Fences, we are trying a new thing this year with Book Chat Groups. I have grouped my students into 4s, and for each chapter they rotate their role. The roles are: Discussion Director, Illustrator, Vocabulary Recorder, and Summarizer. This way, they are in charge of building meaning from the chapter and not waiting for the teacher to tell them what was important. So far, this is going quite well!

Wordless News (c) Kristen Dembroski

3. Wordless News – In Social Studies, we have been exploring Wordlessnews.com by Maria Fabrizio. Each day, she selects a current event to illustrate in one powerful image. We discuss the following questions for each image:
* What is shown (list elements)
* What current event or topic is this referencing, and how do you know?
* What role does color/size/shape/etc. have in making this image have meaning?
* What message might this be communicating? Can you tell where the artist stands?
* What are some positions or responses other people might have about this topic?
In the collage above, you can see the assignment my students completed after perusing Wordlessnews.com. They had to find their own current event and illustrate it. I think they did a fantastic job with this! (Bonus, they really enjoyed it, too. Illustrating is not too simplistic a task for an 8th grader).

Shrek Jr (c) Kristen Dembroski4. Musical Auditions – We have finished auditioning and created a cast list for our 2015 Musical, Shrek Jr.! I am always blown away by the amazing talent and guts of middle school students. I am very excited for this production, my 4th production at WMS (including: Music Man, Seussical, and Honk!). The cast list goes up today, and I know everyone is very excited!


5. Atlantia – I am now on Chapter 8, finally to a point where I don’t want to put the book down. I had to hang in there and wait a long time for the plot to pick up. I think that’s an important lesson for our students – books don’t always start with a bang. Sometimes, a slow exposition makes it even more interesting. We’ll see how the rest of the book goes!

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High Five for Friday! 1-23-15

Week 20 – Officially halfway!!! It is the end of Quarter 2, which means grading, grading, graaaaaading. But there were SO many highlights this week! My favorite 5 are below:

ReadBox Kristen Dembroski

1. Readbox – Time for the big reveal – I finally finished my newest bulletin board! My 8th graders have been working on writing book reviews, which I have posted on my classroom wiki. Our school is one-to-one with iPads, so anyone can simply scan the QR code, which directly links to a student-written review. My students were SO excited to have their work posted like this, for anyone to appreciate. 

Donuts (c) Kristen Dembroski

2. Celebrating Success – More good news – we are done with MAP testing! Of my 8 intervention students, 6 of them made a 10-point gain which is the equivalent of gaining a whole grade level. I get goosebumps just thinking about it! Their confidence is soaring. We have been using MobyMax and Newsela to practice reading informational text and looking for text-based evidence. To celebrate, I brought in donuts for everyone. Yippee!!! 

Decide Now App (c) Kristen Dembroski Decide Now App (c) Kristen Dembroski

3. Decide Now App – Found a new app I love. There is a free version, but I opted for the paid version which has more editing capabilities. I made a wheel for each of my classes and filled in the names of all my students. Now, whenever I need help picking a random student, I just roll the wheel! This can be great when I have a lot of volunteers and want to be fair. Here is a link to the app if you are interested. The students really enjoy the anticipation of seeing who will be picked next! 


4. A Time for Justice – To kick off our unit on Spite Fences, we watched “A Time for Justice” this week. It is a great documentary that includes primary sources from the Civil Rights Era. Since we have just finished studying the Civil War and the 15th Amendment in Social Studies, it is fascinating to bring the students 100 years into the future and let them see how things simply didn’t just ‘fix’ or get better overnight like they thought they might. We learned that in one town, 50% of the eligible voting population was black, but only 1% of them voted for fear of retribution. The students are absolutely silent during this film, which I know shocks and engages them on a deeply emotional level. Teachers can order a kit including this video for free from the Teaching Tolerance Organization – just click here


5. NAEP – We had a professional development day for teachers on Monday, during which we explored the NAEP test. Information and sample test questions can be found here. I thought the questions were thoughtfully designed to engage students in deeper-levels of analysis. I just kept wondering – who is gonna grade all this?!? I think this will be a useful piece of data going forward when we do finally adopt the NAEP, but this is in addition to many other forms of assessment we already use in our school. I am always concerned about over-testing our kids – how much data (and what kinds) is enough? 

So how was your week? I’d love to hear about it! 


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High Five for Friday! 1-16-14

Yay for Week 19! Pretty soon it will be the end of the first semester. My, how time flies! This week was filled with MAP Reading Testing, which is exhausting on everyone. It’s been absolutely bitter cold in Milwaukee, but we are finding ways to have fun and stay warm!

Hardtack (c) Kristen Dembroski

1. Hardtack – We are studying the Civil War in Social Studies right now, and I wanted my students to try hardtack to appreciate and understand part of what soldiers experienced every day. Do you know, those stinkers actually said they liked it? I had them imagine what it might be like to eat it all day every day, soggy, covered in mold or bugs. But, no, they assured me it would still be good!


2. Atlantia – I’m currently reading this book by Ally Condie. It begins with two characters, Rio and Bay, who are twin teens living in the underwater city of Atlantia. Rio desperately wants to escape to the world above, but a plot twist keeps her in Atlantia. I’m at Chapter 4 of the story, and I’m really itching for some more plot development. It’s been a lot of description of Atlantia and background events, but I feel like it’s all set up for something big that I am craving to unfold.

Newsela (c) Kristen Dembroski

3. Newsela – We have been reading a new Newsela article every day in my Language Arts class to prepare for the MAP Reading test. Some articles come with 4-question quizzes, but I assigned my students non-quiz articles with comprehension questions that were teacher-developed. The categories of questions included: vocabulary in context, reading for detail, summarizing, and author’s purpose. Of all these skills, summarizing is definitely the most difficult for my students. We have been working very hard on improving this skill, especially dropping unnecessary words like, “This article is about…” They are improving slowly but surely!

(c) Kristen Dembroski

4. Flu – last week, I had the stomach flu. I was so very sick and unhappy. The silver lining, which I always look for, was that I had two cuddly dogs to snuggle and keep me happy and warm. Ruffy is especially wonderful and loves to spoon, swoon 🙂

Winter (c) Kristen Dembroski

5. Snow Days! We had TWO Snow Days at the end of last week! It was an impromptu 4-day weekend. I came back to work on Monday panicked and totally unprepared, but we’ve made the best of it. The Snow Days, or Cold Days actually, were due to the fact that windchill was -25+, in addition to several inches of snow falling right during rush hour. We are now at our maximum, and any additional snow days will need to be made up ::knockonwood:: Still, it’s so exhilarating to see your school’s name on the Closings list!


How was your week? I’d love to hear about it!

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HAPPY 2015!!

Screen Shot 2014-12-31 at 8.12.55 AM

On this day last year, I made 14 New Year’s Resolutions to myself. It’s time to see how I did!

2014 GOALS

1. Finish my dissertation DONE
2. Potty-train Ruffy (our dog) DONE
3. Clean out / Organize the basement DONE
4. Remodel the upstairs and get a new tenant …half done (no new tenant)
5. Save up and purchase an elliptical …nope
6. Stick with the Paleo diet 90/10 Well, for 10 months! 
7. Make a big dent in my student loans Big? A dent, anyway
8. Plant and eat my own vegetables / herbs DONE
9. Create a family recipe book DONE
10. Finish my handmade Christmas gifts by November DONE
11. Use our wedding china DONE
12. Go on at least one vacation DONE
13. Go parasailing (I mean… why not?) …nope
14. Cook an entire dinner for my family DONE

So 9 and 3 halves out of 14 isn’t bad, is it? We did remodel the upstairs, but we decided not to get a tenant because we are moving. I didn’t purchase an elliptical for the same reason. And the Paleo diet? I kept up for 10 months but needed to stop for medical reasons. Parasailing would have been great, but I guess I just need to move that to my 2015 list! All in all, I am very pleased with my progress. I knew I was shooting for the stars with such an ambitious list, but if you don’t raise the bar, you never know what you can achieve! Speaking of 2015, it’s time to make a new list! This one will be very different.


2015 GOALS:

1. Commit 10 random acts of kindness
2. Move into our new home
3. Work out regularly (~3 times per week) and stay in shape
4. Keep an even keel – no stress meltdowns
5. Give more compliments – make people smile!
6. Unplug (no screens) for a day
7. Go on at least one date night per month
8. Get my bed back – no dogs!
9. Conquer my fear of waxing
10. Go on a vacation
11. Make a big dent in my student loans
12. Spend less, save more (at least 3 month’s salary)

So there they are, my 2015 goals! They look so daunting and huge right now, but I hope I can conquer them by year’s end. Baby steps are the key to success (and writing down your goals, check!)

I’d love to hear about your goals, too! Anything scary? exciting? fun? challenging? important?

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High Five for…. Tuesday?! 12/23/14

I know, I know – It’s supposed to be “High Five for Friday,” but our last day of 2014 this year is on a Tuesday! We go right up to the 23rd. Hey, some people complain, but I like it for several reasons. It gets us out earlier in the summer, it keeps us busy, it forces me to be more prepared and organized for the holidays, and I know some kiddos are getting the warmth and food they need as close to the holidays as possible. So I don’t mind a bit!

Here are some highlights from our last week(s) of school:

Reading Turning Into Fun (c) Kristen Dembroski

1. Reading Turning Into Fun! – One of my 8 intervention students decided to make this game – ALL BY HERSELF! She asked if we could play it during our intervention class. I got everyone a game piece and one die for the group. Then, we read a Newsela article. After we finished each section, I asked the students a reading comprehension question (ranging from simple recall to inference and analysis). They enjoyed this, and I will definitely bring it out again.

Grammar Rules (c) Kristen Dembroski

2. Grammar Posters – I just made up a few random sentences and hung them on my bulletin board. We’ll see if they help!

Paper Wig (c) Kristen Dembroski 3. Paper Wig Fashion Show – In art class, my students made a series of paper wigs. They look phenomenal, in my opinion! They asked the teachers to each model a wig and do a ‘runway fashion show’ for the school. I had such a blast! I really wish I could keep the wig, too – it’s really neat!

Krumkake (c) Kristen Dembroski

4. Krumkake – My mother, sister, and I got together for an afternoon to make Norwegian Krumkake. They are made on a hot press and then rolled onto a wooden dowel until they cool into this conical shape. You can eat them as is, or fill them with whipped cream. YUM.

Ruffy (c) Kristen Dembroski

5. Ready for Christmas! Here is Ruffy (one of my two dogs) in his Christmas best! Such a sweetie. We have all our gifts purchased, wrapped, packed, and ready to go! I just love Christmas 🙂


How were your last few days of school before Winter Break? I hope they were filled with good memories to last you until the New Year!


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High Five for Friday! 12-12-14

12/12 – a Lucky Day! And only 13 Days Until Christmas! The excitement is surely palpable. I finished Christmas shopping and wrapping last weekend (please refrain from hurling things at me), because I am just that Type A person. I don’t like surprises or putting things off until the last minute – this means I can enjoy myself and worry less (a good goal all around).

We had a really productive, great week and I have many exciting highlights to share!

Newsela progress (c) Kristen Dembroski

1. Newsela – I’ve been using Newsela with my intervention groups (2 small groups of 4 students each) for the past month. We have seen steady progress. I can’t say enough great things about this website! They translate high-interest current events topics into leveled articles with Common Core aligned quizzes. I select an article, choose a Lexile level, and we read and discuss the article together as a group. I give my students highlighting or annotating tasks as we engage in text-based discussion. Then, they take the quiz on their own. They are building skills and confidence – love it!

Compromises Manipulatives Activity (c) Kristen Dembroski

2. Manipulatives for Adolescents – When I asked my students to bring scissors and glue to class on Tuesday, their quizzical expressions slowly turned into a smile. They hadn’t been asked to cut or glue for many, many years. In Social Studies class on Tuesday, however, I had them cut apart and sort facts into the correct pre-Civil War Compromise we had learned about that week. They practiced several times, then glued down the correct answers. Not only was this engaging, but it was also a great review activity that tapped into several different learning styles. (You can purchase this activity as part of a mini-unit here).

Pre-revision Personal Narrative Example copy Personal Narrative Example Hour 6 copy

3. Personal Narrative Revision – In Language Arts class this week, we are working on revising our Personal Narratives (which I have called “Small Moment Assignment”). To practice revision, I gave my students a model paper that needed a lot of elbow grease. I split up the model into 5 color-coded sections, and I assigned each section to a small group. The group was tasked with revising their section based on everything we have learned in class about what makes a great personal narrative (sensory language, metaphors, descriptive words and details, specific adjectives, suspense, foreshadowing, higher level vocabulary, adding a hook, sentence variety, etc.).

The left picture is the original, and the right picture is their revised version (you can click to enlarge and read). It is SOoooOOoo much better now! I was very proud of the work they were able to do. Each small group read their part and presented to the class the techniques they used/added. Then, students had a model/plan for how to attack revision successfully, and they went off to revise their own papers with a partner. I would do this again in a heartbeat!


4. Uncle Tom’s Cabin – In Social Studies class, I often try to work in Art History and art criticism techniques. We ‘read’ images and look for deeper meaning within the context of history. This week, we viewed this illustration from Uncle Tom’s Cabin as part of our unit on The Civil War. I had my students first identify what they see (just take inventory of what is here), then begin to comment on what the illustration might be trying to communicate about the different characters. The slave is depicted as old, feeble, weak, and on all fours like an animal. The slaveholder is standing, powerful, wealthy, ‘looking down on’ the slave, and about to kick the slave. We then discussed the impact of this image on various groups within society at that time – how the image would be viewed and interpreted. I think it is very important to discuss images with students to practice the power of inference.

Rocket & Ruffy (c) Kristen Dembroski

5. Snuggle Time – Only 6.5 more work days, and this will become my life for a whole 12 day Winter Break! Yes, to them I am nothing but a treat-dispensing, door-opening, warm human dog pillow, but it’s the best job and someone’s gotta do it!



Only 13 days until Christmas, and the countdown continues….!
How was your week?


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High Five for Friday! 12-5-14

Howdy all Week 14 survivors! It’s that exciting time of year between Thanksgiving and Christmas when classroom management requires some … creativity on my part. I think this meme sums it up quite well:


I do love this time of year, though. The ‘Holidays’ feel like magic, like home. I am excited to share some of this week’s highlights with you!

Revenge Game (c) Kristen Dembroski

1. Revenge Review Game – To review for our assessment on the Constitution, my Social Studies class played the Revenge Review game. I split the class up into 8 groups and gave each group 8 Xs. When a team was ‘up,’ I gave them one review question; if they got it correct, they could erase 2 X’s from other teams (no suicide). The winner has the most Xs at the end of the game. I also allowed teams to earn back Xs when they ran out; if they answered a question correctly and rolled an even number on the die, they could earn back one X. The students had a LOT of fun with this! I think it’s going to be the new most requested review game!

Compromise Maps (c) Kristen Dembroski

2. Compromise Maps – As we are learning about the failed compromises that lead up to the Civil War, my students are completing maps to show the changes in the political boundaries within the U.S. These are from a new product in my store. Click here if you are interested.

Joe (c) Kristen Dembroski

3. The world’s best custodian – We really do have the world’s best custodian at our school. Joe is one of the nicest, hardest working, role-model men you will ever meet. The kids just love him. We left a bright, fun note on my board for him to see over the break. The students knew he would be lonely with the school empty, so they wanted to cheer him up. Isn’t that sweet?

Christmas Countdown

4. Countdown – I officially began a Christmas countdown. If you are a fellow teacher, you know this is a dangerous thing (just like an end-of-the-year countdown). I told all of my students that they have X amount of days to think of a very thoughtful, homemade ‘gift from the heart’ for their parents. Think that’ll work on my 13-year-olds? 😛

Pumpkin Chiffon Pie (c) Kristen Dembroski5. Grandma’s Pumpkin Chiffon Pie – Last week, as you know, was Thanksgiving. It was our first Thanksgiving without my grandmother, who passed away last November. I miss her and think about her every day. This year, I attempted her famous Pumpkin Chiffon Pie. It tasted like my childhood and I felt like she was there with us.

I’d love to hear about your Thanksgiving and your week!

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