Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Literacy, Cereal, and Books {Oh, My!}

A couple months ago I was presented with the opportunity to partner with Post Alpha-Bits cereal and The Little Free Library to promote literacy. I was pretty excited to be a part of bringing a fun, easy and FREE option to find and share books in our community!


I'll fill you in on more information about the library in an upcoming post once I have all the final details in place. Today, though, I wanted to share about how you can incorporate learning, spelling, and literacy into your breakfast or snack routine!

Recently, Kaydin and I started our Sunday morning with a bowl of Alpha-Bits cereal and a fun game. I gave her a bowl of dry cereal and told her to create as many words as she could.

She was busy creating and building for quite some time! When she couldn't find the letter she was searching for she improvised and created her own using her little teeth and eating the scraps!  :)

There are lots of fun ways you can add a learning component to your mealtime using these fun little letters!

Other Literacy Ideas:
1. Separate consonants and vowels into different piles

2. Find the same letters and words as in the book you are currently reading

3. Make a craft! Make a picture using the cereal and names of your family members to hang in your home.

4. Have your child pick out a category of words (foods, colors, animals, things in the home, etc.)

5. Take turns  finding and creating words and then create a story using other improv filler words.

6. For younger kids, simply call out which letter you want them to pick out.

Literacy is such an important part of a child's development. If you can find fun ways to sneak in learning, especially with a small snack they will love and can eat during the lesson, it makes it that much more enjoyable for them.
  • 26 percent of children who were read to three or four times in the last week by a family member recognized all letters of the alphabet. This is compared to 14 percent of children who were read to less frequently.
  • The Educational Testing Services reported that students who do more reading at home are better readers and have higher math scores.
  • The National Center for Education Statistics reported that children who were read to frequently are also more likely to:
    • Read (77% vs. 57%)
    • Count to 20, or higher than those who were not (60% vs. 44%)
    • Write their own names (54% vs. 40%)

Children's Book Week is May 12-18 this year. Celebrate by reading to those little ones in your life!

To find some great recipes using Alpha-Bits cereal visit here!

To learn more about Little Free Library, visit or connect on Facebook and Twitter.

Disclosure: I was provided with two boxes of cereal and a library structure and books to fill the library. I was not compensated in any other way. All opinions are my own.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Quick Check-in

Hi Friends!!

It's a crazy week up in here! I'm bogged down with lists, lists, to-do's, activities, and more lists! But all are for fun things! I just need more hours in a day!

Here's what our week is looking like:

Full of rain and dull clouds :( We've had days full of rain since Sunday and the forecast doesn't show it letting up until Friday. I'll take it as long as that means Friday and Saturday will be dry!

So, lots of activities going on this week!

Monday- gymnastics
Tuesday- softball practice
Wednesday- hip-hop class
Thursday- softball game
Friday- Blogger meet-up in Ames
Friday night- drive to Mom and Dad's
Saturday- Mom and Dad's 50th birthday party!

On top of those activities is a four day work week and LOTS of to-do's, final grocery shopping, food prep, and packing up stuff for the weekend!!

Plus, I still owe you a few posts (Easter recap in May this year!! :-/ ), and I'm working on some bringing some great information your way with a couple fun things thrown in, too! Stay tuned!!

Weekly Meal Plan
Whatever the heck we can find in the fridge and pantry!!

We did have a really good meal Sunday though at least! Tim went to the grocery store and came home with bags full of fruit, vegetables, and tilapia!

How do keep sane during a stressful week?
For me, I scribble lists like it's my job!

Friday, April 25, 2014

5 Things Friday 4.25.14

Hi Everyone!

SO excited it's Friday! SO excited it's the weekend! And SO excited for the things I have planned this weekend! My family is coming down and we're accomplishing a few things and have some fun planned, too!

Let me tell ya a little more about what's been going on lately! :)

1. Day after Tax Day Celebration!
 My friend Kristyn is a tax accountant so I never see her too much from February 1- April 15. We both always get excited for April 16 to roll around because she takes the day off and I try to meet up with her at some point for something fun. This year it was lunch at a local sushi place and then facials! Neither of us had ever had one, but after our first experience I bet it won't be our last. It was so nice and relaxing!

2. Garden planning/building
My little seedlings are doing great, but now I need a place to put them in the ground. Because of some city codes and how our lot falls, I recently found out I can't use lumber to make boxes {huge disappointment!}, but I did find a cute steel garden fence/border that should work. My brother and I are gonna do some looking at Menard's and find all our needed supplies. So excited to finally have my own garden to grow some of our own food and give my little sprouts a nice home! I bought a tumbling compost bin last week so I'm excited to get that up and running this weekend, too!

3. Easter
We were home for Easter last weekend! We found the Easter bunny and his many, many hidden eggs. Hopefully, I'll get to full re-cap soon.

4. Party planning 
 Josh and his fiance, Kerstin, are coming to town tonight and we're gonna hit up Costco to finish some party planning! Josh and I are throwing Mom and Dad a 50th birthday party with their friends and family next weekend! We've got lots of things on our list and still a bunch to accomplish. Who wants to gift me some of their extra free time?? Oh, wait- that's not a thing? We can't do that? Oh, damn, cuz I could sure use more hours in a day lately!

5. Hiking
On our way home from Pocahontas last weekend Kaydin and I stopped at Ledges State Park near Boone. I don't know why we've never visited before, but we've been missing out! The weather was great for some climbing and walking out in nature. We both had a great time and can't wait to go back!

We'll also be playing some softball this weekend! It's our second game and I'm on pitching duty since the other team coach is out of town. Wish me luck that I can toss some perfect pitches for the little girls to knock it outta the park!
Pic from our first game on April 15, 2014

Linking up with Clare for her 5 Things Friday link-up!

What do you have planned this weekend?

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

How We Use Essential Oils in Our Household

Last fall, Kerry from My Wise Mom, started talking more about essentials oils. I had heard of them but really had no idea what they were or what they did. When she offered an in-person workshop, I RSVP'ed right away. I was intrigued and so interested in learning more.


Hearing all of the presenter's stories didn't have me "drinking the kool-aid" but it did definitely have me so interested in trying them out myself and learning even more. I ordered the Premium Starter Kit that included the Everyday Essential Oils (9 oils + 1 bonus oil), a diffuser and much more!

I wanted to share a glimpse into how we are using them in our household, but first let's answer one basic question:

What are essential oils?
Essential oils are natural aromatic compounds found in the seeds, bark, stems, roots, flowers, and other parts of plants. They can be both beautifully and powerfully fragrant. If you have ever enjoyed the gift of a rose, a walk by a field of lavender, or the smell of fresh cut mint, you have experienced the aromatic qualities of essential oils. In addition to giving plants their distinctive smells, essential oils provide plants with protection against predators and disease and play a role in plant pollination. 

Essential oils are non water-based phytochemicals made up of volatile aromatic compounds. Although they are fat soluble, they do not include fatty lipids or acids found in vegetable and animal oils. Essential oils are very clean, almost crisp, to the touch and are immediately absorbed by the skin. Pure, unadulterated essential oils are translucent and range in color from crystal clear to deep blue. (source)

How we use the Everyday Essential Collection

1. Purification

Diffuse- takes odor out of the air, cleans and purifies the air when sicknesses have invaded the household and family members.

Topical- Put a small drop on your finger or Q-tip and rub on acne or blemishes. It can also be used to calm bug bites.

2. Lavender

Diffuse- Diffusing lavender not only makes your house smell nice, but it's really calming and helps to unwind after a long day.

Topical- This is a really gentle oil that even kids can tolerate directly on the skin. Lavender can help with relaxation and calming. Kaydin likes to have a drop on her pillow at night. I've even used this on Ciara, our dog, when she was itching a lot. My parents have a dog that suffers from skin allergies. This helped her a little bit, also.

When I was in the Dominican I used a little lavender oil to help calm my sunburn. Tim recently burned himself on his motorcycle exhaust so I dadded on a drop to calm the burn.

Aromatic- Breathing in lavender oil produces the same effect as diffusing, just more concentrated. :)

3. Lemon

Diffuse- Lemon is also a good oil to use to eliminate odors and clean the air.

Ingestion- Add a drop or two to your water to ward off sicknesses

Aromatic- I love the smell of lemon oil (orange too!) and it's a good energizer to take a big smell of it. Just rub a drop or two on your hands, cup them around your nose and inhale! Smells so good!

4. Peppermint

Topical- I absolutely love rubbing this on sore muscles. It was really really helpful when I was going though back and leg pain this winter. It really helps to take the painful edge off and feels like Icy Hot. It's also a good option for indigestion or upset stomach. Rub some on the tummy and it will help to calm it down and work out those knots. For kids though, peppermint can be pretty powerful and create a burning feeling. This is a good one to mix with a carrier oil (olive or coconut). Just add a drop or two of carrier oil to the peppermint and rub into the skin.

Aromatic- Taking a deep breath of peppermint oil really helps to clear up the sinuses. Just don't do it too much at night as it's an energizer, too!

5. Joy 

Topical- I rub a drop or two of this on my neck in the morning sometimes. More than once I've found myself just so smiley and alert in my office. It takes me a minute to realize why but then I remember I rubbed on a little Joy! :)

Aromatic- This is a great oil to inhale when you are feeling stressed or cranky.

6. Peace & Calming

Diffuse- We ran out of this oil first! It's a great one to diffuse at night to relax, calm, and bring on a sleepy feeling. I diffused this three nights in a row right after we got them and on the third night I was sleepy and turning my TV and lights off at 9:37 to go to bed. I did the same thing the night before. I thought to myself, geez, why am I so tired the last couple nights?? {Lightbulb!} The oils!

Both Kaydin and Tim are a big fan of this one, too. I bought Tim a diffuser and Peace and Calming oil for Valentine's Day this year and he loves it!

Topical- You can rub on the feet or tummy for the same effects as diffusing. I've heard stories of parents rubbing this on their hyperactive children and they see a great improvement both at home and at school.

7. Frankincense

Topical- This winter I was having lots of back and leg pain due to a pinched sciatic nerve because of an inflamed piriformis muscle. One day it was so bad I was home from work pretty much unable to walk or stand for more than 30 seconds. I rubbed Frankincense followed by peppermint on my hip and down the outside of my thigh every half an hour to an hour or so and when it came time to get Kaydin from school I was walking again!

8. Thieves

Diffuse- Diffuse Thieves to kill of those germy bugs during the winter or anytime a family member is feeling under the weather.

Topical- I rubbed this on Kaydin's an my feet all winter when we felt a cold coming on. I also rubbed it on my throat when I could feel a sore throat or swollen glands coming.

Aromatic- Kaydin has a terracotta pendant that she wears sometimes to school. I put a drop or two of Thieves on it to help combat all those germs that get transferred around from kid to kid while at school.

9. Valor

Topical- Valor is a good oil for sore, swollen muscles. It acts as an anti-inflammatory. Valor is also said to help calm nervousness and bring on confidence.

Aromatic- I gave a friend of mine at work my bottle of Valor to smell and inhale before giving a big presentation on campus. She did great! I guess it worked ;)

10. Pan Away

Topical- This is a great one to use for sore muscles, too. Although, I do prefer peppermint over Pan Away, it still does the job!

Since learning about and using the basic oils in our house for a few months, I've started ordering more and adding to the collection. It's been fun to dive in more and learn about all the ways they can help in our everyday lives and not have to turn to over-the-counter drugs all the time. All the uses for them is so fascinating!

If you are interested in learning more about these oils email me or reach out and let me know! Over time I'll be creating some more posts on this subject. Let me know what you'd like to know!

Do you use essential oils in your home?

Monday, April 21, 2014

Whole Wheat Lemon Poppy Seed Pancakes

Honestly, I'm not a huge fan of pancakes. Unless we're talking about the pancakes from Mimi's Cafe, then I'm definitely in! Those are the best pancakes I've ever had.

Or if there are extra add-in's to the batter. A plain pancake I can do without but add chocolate chips or blueberries and you've piqued my interest!

Another variation that I love, and that's perfect for spring, is lemon poppy seed pancakes. The burst of real lemon flavor mixed with the fun texture of poppy seeds is a favorite combination of mine. And the ricotta cheese in the batter adds an even creamier texture and taste. Dust with powdered sugar and syrup isn't even a requirement. I actually prefer it without! 

Lemon Poppy Seed Pancakes
Adapted from Iowa Girl Eats

Makes about 6-8 small pancakes

1 cup white whole wheat flour
1 tbsp sugar
dash of salt
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 egg
1 cup skim milk or almond milk
1 1/2 tsp poppy seeds
1 tsp vanilla extract
Juice from 1 lemon
1/2 tsp lemon peel, dried or fresh
1/2 cup ricotta cheese

Mix all ingredients. Pour 1/2 cup batter onto a heated and greased pan. Flip pancake over then bubbles appear in batter. Cook for 1-2 minutes longer. Serve with a small amount of maple syrup and a sprinkling of powdered sugar.

What's your favorite pancake flavor?

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

What I Ate Wednesday {the collection of cell phone pics}

Another week or so of eats have accumulated on my phone. What better way to share them than a What I Ate Wednesday post!

I'm linking up with Jenn from Peas and Crayons. Be sure to check out some other bloggers' eats this week at the link-up.

When in Trader Joe's last week, I noticed a mix of greens that looked good in another family's cart. I pointed out the bag to Kaydin and sent her to the lettuce section to retrieve it. She succeeded! I ate this for my lunch multiple times with some Bolthouse Balsamic Vinaigrette, sliced almonds, and dried cranberries. Oh, and some baby carrots thrown in for good measure. The mix contains green and red cabbage, kale, and shredded brussel sprouts. My only complaint is that they didn't have an organic version of the mix. :(

Tim bought a new grill a few weeks ago. One that better last a loooong, long time. As long as the weather brings warmth and sunshine, we've been grilling!

When I learned of the sale on Nuttzo at their website, I jumped on it. $5 jars of organic nut and seed butter?!? Yes, please!

Last weekend I tried a new variation of meatloaf, Greek Turkey Meatloaf. Besides it falling apart, it was so good! Ground turkey mixed with chopped spinach, feta cheese, and oregano is a winning flavor combination! Try it! I paired it with a green salad and baked sweet and Yukon gold potatoes.

Last Saturday, my friend Summer hosted a wine tasting/brunch party. I never turn down a reason to hang out with the girls and her spread was delicious!

My friend Traci gave me a couple sample of greens that she is really happy with. Mixed with some green juice, they are the perfect pair.

Last night was our first softball game. A little too chilly since our hands were pretty frozen by the end of the game, but it was a lot of fun! Before we headed out to the field I put together this easy spread. Organic cornmeal crusted pollack fillets pan-fried in coconut oil with roasted green beans, cottage cheese, and rosemary garlic bread.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Seitan Gyros and Pizza Quinoa Bites {Taft Tastemakers Seitan Review}

Who out there has tried seitan?

I had always been intrigued and interested in the non-meat protein. A few months back Taft Tastmakers sent me two different flavors to try out, one a Gyro Mediterranean and the other a sausage flavor.

I went with the typical option for the gyro flavor. I have to say, it's not a dead-on substitute for lamb meat in a gyro, but it really was pretty good!

Greek Seitan Gyros

Makes 2 full pita pockets

8-10 strips of gyro seitan
1/2 cucumber, sliced
1 cup spring greens
1/4 of a red onion, sliced
1 small tomato, sliced
2 tbsp feta cheese
2 tbsp tzaztiki sauce
2 whole wheat pita pockets

1. Heat the strips of seitan in a pan until warm.
2. Fill the pita pockets with greens, tomato, cucumber, onion and seitan.
3. Top with tzatziki sauce and feta cheese.

Once I saw Kristin from Iowa Girls Eats publish a new post featuring the pizza quinoa bites, I knew the sausage seitan would be a great recipe to try it in. The sausage flavor was really good and a dead ringer for typical pork sausage in a pizza recipe.

Pizza Quinoa Bites with Sausage Seitan 
Adapted from Iowa Girl Eats

Makes 24-32 mini cups

2 cups cooked quinoa
2 whole eggs
2 egg whites
1/4 cup chopped white onion
1/2 cup sliced black olives
1/2 cup chopped Taft Tastemakers Seitan
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup mozzarella cheese
1 tsp Italian seasoning
pizza sauce, for dipping

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray 24 cup mini muffin tin with nonstick cooking spray.
2. Mix all ingredients except the pizza sauce in a bowl and stir until combined well.
3. Fill the muffin tins to the top with the quinoa mixture.
4. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until tops are golden brown.
5. Serve with warmed pizza sauce.

Have you tried seitan before? I need some more ideas of how to use the non-meat option. Leave them for me in the comments!

Friday, April 11, 2014

10 Ways to Get Your Kids Active this Spring

I believe it's so important for children to be active. It's so important to instill in them an active lifestyle when they are young. And there are so many ways they can be up and moving, so many options all around us! Winter can be a time for hibernation, but now that those cold months are behind us (hopefully), it's time to get moving!

1. Play some music and have a dance party.
What kid doesn't enjoy rockin' out to some tunes?! You might even realize you have a graceful ballet artist or bada** break dancer in the family!

2. Turn off the TV
Kids can't be sedentary in front of the TV if it isn't even turned on. That simple!


3. Enroll them in a community sport
Kaydin has been pretty active participating in soccer, softball, dance, and gymnastics. Exposing children to community activities brings many more benefits than just the competition aspect. They learn new athletic skills, they become part of team and learn to work with others, and they most likely have lots of fun participating. Not every sport may be for them (Kaydin wasn't a big fan of soccer) but at least she learned about it, got out there and tried!


4. Take a family walk around the neighborhood after dinner
A relaxing stroll around the neighborhood is a great way to wind down after a busy day. You get some quality family time in and also exercise for the whole group.

5. Limit the amount of time on the TV, Ipad, smartphone, or home computer
We have a rule in our house of 30 minutes TV time on weekdays and 60 minutes on weekends. We had to enforce that after Kaydin was becoming too interested and involved in a few Disney channel shows. Some kids wouldn't move an inch away from that video console and couch for hours if you let them. Set time limits for these devices and when that limit is up, it's time to get moving and be active!

6. Walk the dog
We have a Husky and Malamute at home. Two large dogs that have tons of energy to burn off everyday. Have kids with energy to burn off, too? A perfect pair!

7. Play catch in the yard
Or kick the soccer ball, get out the volleyball, volley a badminton birdie, etc. Playing these games in the yard isn't too strenuous, requires only minimal equipment and you don't even have to leave home. It's not a hard activity but it gets you both off the couch, away from the screens, and having fun!

8. Pull the bikes out and go for a ride
Most kids are always up for a bike ride. Strap on their helmet, hop on and let the wind blow through their hair! :)

9. Volunteer. Get out there and be involved in a service project in your community.
Kaydin and I have recently become involved with a local women and children's homeless shelter, New Directions Shelter. Here Kaydin can play with some of the kids, we can help with yard work outside, and help with any other things that need accomplished. There are always organizations looking for volunteers to help and make an impact with others that really need it. Do some research in your community, see what you can find out!

10. Explore the fun activities in your community. 
We have so many fun things to partake in when the weather gets nice. The farmers markets will be starting again soon, mini golf courses will be opening up, Sky Zone is always a fun place to go and you are guaranteed the kids will burn off tons of energy, the zoo is always popular this time of year, and parks and lake areas can keep kids busy with hours of activity. Really take the time to learn about all the offerings your own community has. The options are endless!

Check out this infograph on one of my past posts. The stats are crazy! Change is far overdue. Play your part in our kids' healthy habits and good health!

How will you or your family be getting active this spring season?

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Paint Sample Easter Egg Garland

I have a quick and easy Easter craft that you can whip up in about 30 minutes. Plenty of time to still make it and get it displayed this season!

I've had this project pinned to my Spring Pinterest board for awhile now and when browsing some pins I noticed it again. Perfect timing! 

All it takes are a few supplies and you're set. Pick out some multi-color paint samples from your local home improvement store and head to Google to find an Easter egg template. I used this one.

Also needed, are a pen or pencil, scissors, hole punch and something to string all the eggs together. I used jute twine for this part.

Use the egg template to stencil the pattern onto all the paint samples. Use the back of the sample so there are no pencil marks on the colored side. Also, pay special attention to make sure you choose the side of the sample with no words to stencil on. Next, cut out of the eggs using your scissors.

After all of your eggs are cut, use the hole punch to make the holes near the top to string them all together. Don't put them too close to the top or close together to keep an even, sturdy pattern when it hangs.

Next, string the eggs onto the twine making sure they are evenly spaced.

About 30 minutes later you have yourself a new spring mantle decoration!

I chose to string the eggs by in order of similar color, but you could mix all the colors up, follow the colors of the rainbow, light to dark... how ever you would like!

Original source of project. Unfortunately, I can't find the exact post, just the blog it originated from.