Thursday, June 22, 2017

Tips to Keep Your Kid's Brain In Top Shape During The Summer

School has been out for a few weeks (or even a month) now and kids have slipped into their new summer routine - sleeping in, playing outside, staying up late and just relaxing. School is a past memory they would rather not think about but how do you as a parent keep them from becoming victim to the SUMMER SLIDE?

What is the summer slide you ask? It is the loss of learning/remembering what they had learned during their previous year of school. For example, let's say your 3rd grader worked super hard all school year memorizing their multiplication facts and by the last day of school was able to rattle them off without any prompting or help from you or their teacher. Fast forward 6 to 8 weeks into the summer and you happen to ask little Sally what 4 x 6 is and all you get in return is a blank stare - that is the summer slide.

So how do you keep your kid's mind just as active during the summer break as their little bodies seem to be? Reading! Reading and more Reading. Exercising those brain cells all year round is so important to their continued educational development. Like a muscle that has atrophied due to lack of use their little brains need the year round stimulation to keep it strong and sharp.

But how do you keep them interested or motivated to read during the summer? Most kids love a challenge so how about joining a summer reading book club! A lot of summer book clubs encourage kids to track their reading each day and if they attain the set goal the child gets a prize or an award. Kids love this kind of motivation!

This summer my kids are participating in 4 separate reading club challenges. Even my 4 year old is able to participate! During the summer I allow them to choose their own books rather than follow the school year curriculum book choices. They love to explore new genres - some of which they find they like and others they find aren't their "thing".

So where do you look to find these summer reading club challenges you ask? The first place we go is to our local library. Most libraries host a summer reading challenge for kids and some even have a fun kick-off event like a carnival or craft to get the summer reading program started.

Local book stores or even the big box bookstores host summer reading programs. The most challenging summer reading club my kids are participating in this summer is with a local bookstore that challenges kids to read a certain number of hours in order to earn their reward. The top reward after a child reads 150 hours during the summer is a $40 gift card to use in the bookstore. It is a tiered challenge so if you reach the minimum 20 hours of reading the child still gets a $5 gift card.

Barnes & Noble offers a summer reading program encouraging kids to read this summer too! The reward is a choice of books to choose from (by age/grade) when they complete the challenge.

Our last book club is through our local homeschool building bookstore. Kids can earn a $5 gift card to spend in the bookstore and PARENTS get a 5% discount card to use too.

Now you might be asking about those lost math facts and how does reading help your child retain those memorized facts. Reading will help your child keep their brain in tip top shape making it easier for them to remember their math facts or reduce the time they need for a refresher at the beginning of the new school year.

Can't find a reading club challenge for your child in your area? Don't worry! How about creating your own family reading club summer challenge. Here is a bunch of ideas (and links) you can use to help keep your kids reading this summer

#1 - Summer Reading Challenge Bookmarks
via: thirty handmade days

#2 - Color Your Own Reading Logs

via: 123 Homeschool 4 me
#3 - Reading & Reward Chart
via: pretty providence

#4 Summer Reading Chart Bingo Game

via: simply kierste

#5 - Summer Reading Challenge Chart

via: a teachable teacher

Looking for a great list of age appropriate books for your child to read? Check out my post -   Top Ten Books for Children Ages 8 - 13

Here are some other great summer reads for your kids:



Just remember - make it FUN for your children to read this summer! Exercise those brain cells and enjoy a good book. 

Thursday, June 15, 2017

The 10 Best Father's Day Dinner Ideas to Make For Dad


This post may contain affiliate links. See my disclosure here.

What's a better way to tell dad how much you appreciate him than with a tasty home cooked meal on Father's Day. A hearty meal to top off a day filled with relaxing, watching the game or maybe even a round of 18 holes is sure to make this Father's Day unforgettable.

I've rounded up ten of the best dinner ideas for you to consider as you prepare the menu for this year's Father's Day feast. If this list doesn't get you inspired (or maybe drooling) I don't know what else will!

#1 - Honey Ginger Soy Surf and Turf

via: rock recipes
The marinade is what really makes this dish top notch! A mixture of sweet, spicy and salty flavors for both the steak and shrimp make this dish a winner for dad!

#2 - BBQ Ribs

via: six sisters stuff

Treat dad like the king he deserves to be for the day with a platter of fall off the bone BBQ ribs plus sides. Easy to prepare with just a few ingredients - no one will believe the main cooking is done in the crockpot! 

# 3 - Philly Cheesesteak Burger

via: snappy gourmet
Melted cheese sauce drizzled over a pile of onion, bell peppers and mushrooms on top of a burger patty make for a memorable burger for dear old dad (and anyone else enjoying this burger!). Yummy!

#4 - Cedar Plank Grilled Salmon 

via: 4 the love of food blog

Amazing looking right? Wow, just Wow! Spice rubbed salmon grilled on a cedar plan sends this meal to the top of my list. My hubby loves salmon and so do my kids so I'm sure this would be a hit for us to serve on Father's Day.

#5 - Tuscan Roast Chicken

via: simply-delicious-food
Roast chicken flavored with rosemary, garlic and lemon and cooked in white wine make for the perfect Father's Day dinner. Don't forget a good crusty bread to accompany this meal.

#6 - Creamy Broccoli, Chicken and Bacon Pasta

via: julia's album
Creamy Broccoli, Chicken Breast, and Bacon Fettuccine Pasta in homemade Alfredo sauce. Easy, delicious pasta dinner!

#7 - Pan Seared Steak in a Balsamic Herb Cream Sauce

via: Carlsbad cravings
A juicy pan seared steak topped with a delicious balsamic herb cream sauce will impress dad like no other dish you have ever served!

#8 - Shrimp Pasta with Tomato and Spinach

via: eat well 101
Bold flavors come together in one pot to create this beautiful dish. Fill dad up with this tasty meal!

#9 - Salsa Verde Chicken Enchiladas

via: isabel eats
Covered in an easy Homemade Tomatillo Salsa Verde, these baked Mexican Salsa Verde Chicken Enchiladas are great for dinner.

#10 - Honey Lime Ginger Pork Tenderloin

via: the recipe critic
The flavors of this dish are amazing! I made this for Easter for a big crowd and it was a total HIT! Make Father's Day special for dad with this (crock pot) dish - which is easy for you and good for all.

Happy Father's Day to all you dads, grandpas and other special men in your life. I hope you feel loved and well cared for on this one special day set aside especially to honor dads.

Don't forget a special gift for dad this year - check out this great 10 Awesome Photo Gift Ideas For Father's Day.


Tuesday, June 13, 2017

The Ultimate Summer Bucket List for Kids


This post may contain affiliate links. See my disclosure here.

Summer vacation is finally here! Schedules are more relaxed, days seem longer and the fun seems endless. Well, that is until you hear the first exasperated "I'm BORED" spew forth from one of the kids.

AAHHH! Bored, really? Isn't this the same child who was just complaining and asking how much longer before school is done? Wasn't that only 3 days ago?

OK, mom let go of the clump of hair you are about to pull out from your head and take a deep breath! Boredom is a good thing, an inspiring moment for little Sally to start really digging deep to find out what she wants to get out of her summer break, right? Let her just stew a little in this boredom - it will bear good fruit!

Remember mom you are not an entertainment director (or maid, or waitress, or gofer), you are not responsible for providing the entertainment 24/7 for these school free kiddos. Your job is to help inspire these kids so that they can create their own inventions, adventures and summer fun.

Sometimes the best way to inspire your kids is to sit down with them and create a summer "Bucket List" - a list of ideas that they help come up with of things they want to do or accomplish during their summer break. Allowing the kids to come up with the ideas is empowering for them and allows the child to have a say in what they want to do. This list can also be a source of boredom busting for you mom - just whip out this list when you see the first signs of the "I'm BORED" beginning to surface on your child's face.

If you have never created a list like this before here is the Ultimate Summer Bucket List you can use as inspiration for creating your own list with your kids.

I'd love to hear what is on your summer bucket list - leave a comment with your great bucket list ideas! 


Wednesday, June 7, 2017

10 Awesome DIY Photo Gifts for Father's Day

This post may contain affiliate links. See my disclosure here.

Homemade gifts aren't just a treat for moms - dads also love getting these one of a kids creations from their kids too!

I find that if I provide my kids with a little inspiration, supplies and some encouragement they can come up with the most amazing homemade gifts. Father's Day is no exception!

Quite a few years ago, when we had 3 kids I had our kids each made one letter of the word DAD on a big piece of paper. The each colored the huge letter in or made designs all over it. After they were done I took each of their pictures separately holding their "letter". I printed of the photos and put them in a three way frame that we gave to my husband for father's day. He loved it!

My kids love having their pictures taken and especially if they know it is going to become a gift for their dad. This year I've been working hard at finding some new inspiration for the upcoming Father's Day gift ideas for them to do. I thought I'd share the ideas I've found so far to help you with your Father's Day photo gifts.

10 Awesome DIY Photo  Gifts for Father's Day

#1 - Superhero's are all the rage right now so why not give your favorite superhero, your DAD, a superhero photo collage for Father's Day. The link above provides a great step by step tutorial on how to create the sign to go along with the cute pics. 

via: homestories A to Z

#2 - Mason Jar Vase Photo Frame - Here is a super simple, budget friendly and totally adorable Father's Day gift you and your children can make together.

via: life your way

#3 - Photo Key Chain - Here is a great way to let your dad show off pictures of his kids while he is out and about (work, gym, church, etc.) Personalized key chain with kids pics is a great gift idea for dads this Father's Day! The link below the picture will take you to a great blog with a detailed tutorial for the key chain photo project.

via: all parenting

#4 - Wood Block Photo Cube - Simple project that can be completed in an afternoon. Dad can display his photo cube at the office, next to his bed or anywhere he wants to show off his kids smiling faces.

via: elementary art fun

#5 - Photo Trophy - Show dad who is number one by creating a one of a kind trophy with a photo glued to the middle of the cup. A great tutorial can be found here.

via: eighteen 25

#6 - Popsicle Stick Photo Frame - Let your creativity lead the way as you decorate Popsicle sticks with paint or washi tape (whatever you have on hand will work!).

via: tempojunto

#7 - Sidewalk Chalk Photo Prop - Sky is the limit for this photo creation. Chalk and a clear section of cement are all you need to make a really amazing picture for dad. Write a special message or draw his favorite things to include in your picture.

via: sweetgrace 

#8 - Personalized LOVE Picture - Grab four sheets of blank white paper, write each letter to the word LOVE on one piece of paper (make it BIG). Then pose the kid(s) holding each letter individually or as a group. To unify the picture turn it into black and white so the letters stand out.

#9 - Scrabble Tile Picture Frame - All it takes is a shadow box frame, a good photo and Scrabble tiles to spell out your message.

via: come together kids

#10 - Photo Bookmark - Silly poses caught on film start this project off on the right foot. After the pictures are printed and cut out around the child make sure to laminate them, hole punch a small circle at the top and attach a ribbon or tassel. For Fathers who love to read this is the perfect photo gift!

There are so many simple and affordable ways to celebrate Dad this Father's Day! I hope you enjoy creating that one of a kind gift for the special Dad/Grandfathers in your life.

How do you make your dad feel special for Father's Day? I would love to see your ideas and finished photo projects - post a picture or comment here to share.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Memorial Day How to Honor Those Who Serve

Memorial Day is a national holiday celebrated every year throughout our country. It is a time to really honor those who have sacrificially served our country.

I remember when I was in Middle School having the honor to be the drummer for the veterans in our local parade. At the time I didn't know what a privilege it was to be asked to march with them - in fact I was pretty sure these old guys chose me because I was the only female drummer in our band at the time and they got a kick out of having me join their group. I LOVED it! These memories are some of my favorite from Memorial Day.

Marching with the veterans, tapping out a cadence and enjoying their company along the parade route was amazing - until we came to the local cemetery. I remember how their faces, posture and a sense of serious respect flooded over them as soon as we got within sight of the cemetery. As a kid I didn't know what was happening and was a little frightened at this sudden change. I just marched on drumming out the cadence until we halted.

Their service and the memories they carried so selflessly became once again so real as we stood among the gravestones and small American flags. These "old guys" stood rigidly at attention waiting to fire off their salutes to their fallen soldiers. As they presented their arms, firing off in joined succession I remember having tears stream down my face as the emotion of this ceremony hit me full on.

Fast forward to the present - and this is where I ask myself - how can I pass along to my kids the meaning of Memorial Day? They love going to our annual parade, especially since they know there will be candy thrown towards them by those marching in the parade. I still get choked up every time the Veterans march by. It feels just like yesterday when I was playing my drum, marching along with these heroes.

Here are some ideas to help you as a parent teach your kids how to honor our veterans and pass along the meaning of why we celebrate Memorial Day.

Read Stories of American History To Your Kids

Find stories documenting the experience our soldiers had while serving. Hearing about the danger, sacrifice and the reality of being a soldier through stories can help your child gain a better understanding of Memorial Day and why we as a country celebrate it. 

Talk to Veterans

My guess is that there is someone in your family, church or circle of friends who is a veteran. Learning first hand from someone a child knows is a great way to teach kids how to respect and honor Veterans. 

My grandpa, a fighter pilot in the Korean war used to tell us grand kids that his hair became wavy on top from flying under and over bridges in the war. He had a great sense of humor and as kids we loved to hear this story (over and over and over....). Later as we got older and began to learn more about the war in Korea, and heard small conversations from aunts/uncles about grandpa's tour(s) in the war I realized how dangerous it was for him and how hard he fought. He dropped bombs, he dodged bullets and he survived to come home and raise his family. 

Listening to the oral history straight from the mouths of those who walked those steps can be a way our kids (and us) honor our vets.

Learn About the American Flag

The history of our American Flag is fascinating. Exposing kids to how all those stars got there, why there are red and white stripes and what each star and stripe symbolizes is a great way to start teaching why we should honor our veterans.

Kids love to craft so why not help them make their own American Flag that they can proudly display at your local parade or in the house. 

Here are some ideas to get you started:

via: Crafty Morning

Via: Housing a Forest

Show Your Thankfulness to A Vet

Monkey see monkey do - your kids are watching your every move, right? Why not show them how they can be thankful. It can be as simple as just telling a veteran (or police officer, firefighter or member of the coast guard) "thank you for your service". As a parent you will have to take the lead in teaching how to vocalize thankfulness but I guarantee this small act will stick with your kids forever. 

How about paying for their meal at a restaurant? Make sure you tell your kids what you are doing and why. Make cards and deliver them to your local Veteran's Home. The ideas of showing thankfulness are endless - it just takes some effort on your part to get it started.

However you celebrate Memorial Day don't forget to use this day as a way to teach your kids how to honor our current and past veterans. It is truly what it is all about! 

Thank you Veterans & Happy Memorial Day 

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

10 Ways to Throw a Bridal Shower That Won't Break The Bank

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My sister in law is getting married in a few months and I volunteered along with another sister in law and my mother in law to help host a bridal shower for her. She comes from a fairly large family so I knew this would be a well attended and semi-large gathering - the "kicker" is that the budget for the shower is tight but we still wanted it to be a classy party.

So with the challenge before us to throw an epic family bridal shower and stay within budget I sat down and let the creative juices start to flow (with the help of Pinterest of course!).

It costs more than you think to be part of a wedding even if you aren't an actual bridesmaid. As a close family member you have to consider the costs of a shower(s), gifts, attire, get the point! Here are some great ways to throw a bridal shower on a small budget that is still memorable, fun and classy.

10 Ways to Throw a Bridal Shower That Won't Break The Bank

Party Venue
1. Be creative when considering a venue for the shower. If the budget doesn't allow for something like a restaurant or hall think about other options like a state or local park with a pavilion. Also consider asking one of the guests to "borrow" their home as the shower venue. All you need is a big living room or if the season is right, a big porch to throw a great shower.


2. Sending out custom paper invitations can be quite costly. The options to send out free invitations online are endless so why not try doing this to save a few bucks. For those guests who aren't very tech savvy and aren't able to receive and "e-vite", grab a package of pre-printed invites to send to them.

Here are a few free electronic invitation sites you should check out:

EVITE - easy to use, customizable invites for any type of gathering you need to send invitations.

PAPERLESS - not only do they provide online invitations but they can track RSVP's and link directly to a gift registry.


 Party Planner

3. Skip hiring a party planner to do the work of setting up a party - you can do this with the help of a few friends or family members all by yourself. Assign each person a task like setting up the shower space, decorating, plating food and organizing games. 


4. Party decorations do not have to be brand new or extravagant. Use what you have around the house like a small mason jar with jute twine wrapped around the center as a vase - add a few sprigs of baby's breath and prest-o chang-o - you have a simple and elegant floral arrangement. Also, spray painting mismatched vases the same color will give your decorations a sense of unity and style. Gold or silver are great wedding themed colors to stick with. Pull out those twinkling white Christmas lights from storage you already have and string a few strands around to decorate. Balloons and even streamers in the wedding party colors can be great party decor.


5. Food is a big budget item for any party especially if it is wedding related. If catering is out of the question consider asking a few guests to help prepare food ahead of time. Depending on the time of day that the shower is being held you could serve finger foods versus a full meal. A brunch or late afternoon shower where you only serve appetizer style foods could really help keep cost down. If the shower is in the winter serving soup can really help you stretch your budget without sacrificing quality.

Here are some simple finger food ideas you might like to try at your next shower:

Festive Fiesta Bites via: Kraft Recipes

Pinwheel Sandwich
Mojo Pork Kabobs - via:


6. Keeping the drinks simple can help keep the cost of a bridal shower down. Boxed wine or pre-mixed pitchers of cocktails in a punch bowl are much cheaper than hiring a bartender. Coffee, tea, water and soda are also acceptable drinks to serve if you want to stay away from the more expensive alcoholic beverages.

Need a simple punch recipe? Here you go:

  • 2 quarts of cranberry juice
  • 2 quarts of ginger ale
  • 46 ounces of pineapple juice
  • 1 cup of lemon juice
  • 1 container orange sherbet
Mix together in a punch bowl, add ice and it is ready to serve.


7. Everyone looks forward to dessert at a bridal shower but you don't have to break the bank with a custom bakery cake. Whipping together homemade alternatives like fruit pizza cookies, brownie/marshmallow/strawberry kabobs or chocolate dipped pretzels rods can keep you within budget while still offering guests a sweet treat. Still want cake - how about dressing up a grocery store cake with your own decorations and frosting accents.

Here are two ideas we used at the shower for my sister in law

Strawberry, Marshmallow & Brownie Kabobs via: clipzine

Fruit Pizza Sugar Cookies via: cookingclassy

Shower Games

8. Shower games don't have to cost a lot (if anything) and can still be quite a hoot! Here are a few that have a high fun factor but low to no cost:

  • What's In Your Purse - have a list of items with point values and ask guests to tally up how many points they have based on what is in their purse from items on the list.
  • Mad libs Wedding Themed- there are lots of examples on Pinterest that you can use for the mad lib game. Ask the bride to select her favorite of the completed mad lib vows to select a winner. Click here for a bunch of free mad lib ideas.
  • Toilet Paper Wedding Dress - divide guests up into groups and give them a few rolls of toilet paper. One guest per group is the "bride" and the rest have to create a wedding dress with the toilet paper to display on the "bridge". The real bride votes for the best toilet paper gown.

Prizes & Party Favors

9. The Dollar Store is your best friend when it comes to gifts for prizes. You can really find some great items for cheap! Think candles, bath soaps, oven mitts, spa items - the Dollar Store has it all, If you aren't into giving store bought prizes how about whipping up a batch of homemade chocolate chip cookies and packaging them in a cute gift bag to give as prizes. (Need a good chocolate chip cookie recipe? Click HERE for my Ultimate Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe)

10. Individual party favors for your guests can really add up so why not turn it into a make-n-take activity for the guests and bride to do together. Small terra cotta pots and colorful sharpie markers passed around for all to sign make a great memorable party favor that won't break the bank.

* * *

No matter what your budget - using your creativity and enlisting a few friends to help is always a good idea when it comes to throwing a party or a shower. Have fun with it!