Friday, August 4, 2017

Rainbow Unicorn Birthday Party

We received free product to facilitate this post. No other compensation was received. 
All opinions expressed are our own.

My oldest daughter just turned seven and threw the most amazing Rainbow Unicorn birthday party to celebrate! This is actually the second time we've had a rainbow themed birthday. If you met her you wouldn't be surprised! Summer birthdays are always a little tricky because we love to plan outdoor shindigs. Thankfully the weather cooperated this year and even though we woke to chilly air and cloudy skies, we ended up with a hot summer day which was exactly what we hoped for.

We swam in rainbow pools with rainbow banners hung in the yard.

We decorated with rainbow balloons.

We served our favorite snacks in an assortment of rainbow colored bowls. Of course we even served up rainbow cookies and cake!

We created water bottle labels to go with our rainbow theme. If you've never done this before, it's such an easy way to add something special to your party. You can find a tutorial here. The rainbow birthday labels we used can be downloaded free from Catch My Party and the polka dots from Piggy Bank Parties. The stickers we used on the polka dot labels came from Oriental Trading.

We served up our foods on rainbow plates, with colorful plastic utensils. Aren't these rainbow straw cups the cutest? They were such a big hit with all of our guests!

My creative daughter loved customizing her cake picks by decorating clear picks with sharpies. She drew rainbows, flowers, hearts, sunshines, etc. and they added a fun personal touch.

We customized these colorful chevron party favor boxes with rainbow unicorn stickers which perfectly matched our theme, and we filled the boxes with an assortment of colorful treats!

I love ordering party favors and supplies from Oriental Trading because they come in sets of a dozen which tends to be perfect for parties. I'm always impressed with the number of options we have to choose from no matter what theme we decide upon. They are always fun and high quality. I prefer novelty toy favors over candies. After studying the website, we chose Rainbow Cake Necklaces, Rainbow Mechanical Pencils, Fish-Shaped Ring Toss Water Games, Rainbow Heart Rubber Bracelets, and Plush Tie-Dyed Dogs. The adorable dogs are my favorite and I started getting texts asking about where to buy these ring toss water games within an hour of the party ending!

Planning parties for my littles is one of my favorite things to do! My daughter has such fun participating and coming up with the plan she knows will be just perfect for her friends. This year was no exception. Our Rainbow Unicorn Birthday Party was a huge success and I'm looking forward to next year already.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

New Play Sets for Outdoor and Indoor Summer Fun

We received free product to facilitate this post. No other compensation was received. 
All opinions expressed are our own.

This summer has been the first in a long time that I've been free of out-of-the-home work so the kids skipped camp and we've been enjoying our summer off with lots of stay-at-home days!

I don't shy away from some extra screen time in the summer - tv, iPad, iPod, etc. are okay with me within reason, but getting outdoors and moving our bodies takes the priority. 

I pulled together a list of some of our favorite outdoor activities on the blog a couple of years ago which I encourage you to check out if you're looking for some new ideas.

We are so thankful to have a big yard and a refreshing pool but even with those treats, summer days can get monotonous so we were excited to get a few new play sets for the yard this year to add to the fun.

Here's what we chose...

We are big fans of ladder ball but our old set broke, so we picked out this new one (with LED lights that are super cool for nighttime play) online from Oriental Trading. Ladder Ball is a great two player game in which players take turns tossing balls, connected to strings, and try to land them hanging on the horizontal ladder rungs. It takes some practice to get just the right toss but it's fun for kids and adults alike!

We also found some good old fashioned Lawn Darts because those are fun for all ages! Another great game for two players who take turns tossing their "darts" through the air and try to land them in their ring. This is tricky! I haven't figured out the special touch with these yet. They always bounce out of their ring when I throw them. My husband, on the other hand, has mastered it!

Bean bag toss games and some good whiffle ball never disappoint. I think we go through a whiffle ball and bat set each summer. My daughter is notorious for breaking balls when she hits to hard and my husband is notorious for breaking the bats when he hits too hard! This one is holding up so far this year and it's certainly gotten a lot of use!

Perhaps the highlight of the summer has been this Inflatable Water Slide! I'll be honest, the anxious mom in me cringed at the idea of it, but truly that has been so fun and we've avoided injury thus far!

New England summers always come with their fair share of thundering, rainy afternoons, so we thought it would be good to add a little something new to our indoor play sets as well. 

All kids love to play house - at least my two do! With this super cute, amazing quality play set from Melissa & Doug, they can play house, and help with chores all at once. 

My big girl is a big helper - she loves to help with housework. My one year old has recently started to look for chores she can do. She helps empty the dishwasher, throws every little crumb on the carpet into the trash, and puts away laundry without being asked (I find her Daddy's socks in her sock bin all the time!). Both of them adore this new set and it's been perfect for our days inside.

It's hard to believe we'll all be back to school in just a month's time! I'm glad we've had the opportunity to make a lot of fun memories this summer - both inside and out!

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Road Trip Must-Haves

We received free product to facilitate this post. No other compensation was received. 
All opinions expressed are our own.

This summer, my husband and I did something we said we'd never do. We took two kids, one age 7 and one age 1 on a road trip! Don't get me wrong. We actually love road trips and have taken more than we can count. Before kids, we would leave for our trips late at night, stop for coffee, and drive through the night until we reached our destination. Who were we?! 

We road tripped (is that a verb?) twice with our first daughter and knew we'd have to start breaking up our trips into two days and staying overnight in a hotel. And then we flew to our destination once... and it was sooooo easy! And we said NEVER AGAIN will we do a road trip. 

And then we saw the outrageous price of airline tickets to our intended destination and planned a road trip again. 12 hours. With two kids. With a 16 month old. And we knew we were crazy. But WE DID IT! And actually, it went so well that we'd do it again for sure. 

We split our 12 hour trip into two days again and stayed overnight in a hotel in between. We made sure the hotel had cribs available and thankfully our daughter slept - probably even better than we did!

We packed well - and we packed a lot. I think my husband thought I was a little nuts for packing as much as I did but I was so intentional about making our travel time work. It's hard to occupy kids for 6 hours at home, in their house, with all their toys. I needed to find a way to do it in a car, with them strapped in, and confined. They did so well that we did not have to stop even ONCE on our first leg. We drove 6 hours with no stopping and only minimal fussing.  

The two things that saved our travel sanity were...


We went to the store and got all sorts of special snacks. I know my snack packing technique will make some of you cringe because I used approximately one million disposable zipper lock bags, but it worked like a charm. I promise that I actually use reusable snack bags during the school year but I don't have one million of them so I had to break all green-living rules to make this work. 

Each snack was separated into small serving sizes in the baggies. All those baggies were then packed into a large bag. And all the different large bags filled with small bags were packed into a small carry-on size suitcase which was stowed, unzipped, between the two car seats in the back seat. GENIUS. The 7 year old served up snacks to the whole family throughout the drive. 

New toys are a must for both road trips and plane rides. Their newness is intriguing and they don't tend to get bored quite as quickly. I surprised the girls with some new travel-friendly toys and activities that were perfect for the trip. Oriental Trading had a lot to choose from.

We love these Farm Friends Hand Puppets from Melissa & Doug. They are so cute, soft, and fun! They made for a lot of silly interactive play, especially with our youngest daughter. I'm pretty sure I sang "Baa, Baa, Black Sheep" no less than 100 times during one particularly traffic-y part of our trip. Every time I stopped, she started baa-ing and we'd sing it again with our puppet friends dancing to the beat!

The Oomee cube (pictured on the left below) is a fantastic invention - a puzzle with pieces attached so nothing gets lost! It's rubbery so no one gets hurt when it's thrown. It's made of 100% food-grade silicone so it's safe for teething too. And of course it encourages shape learning. It's a win on all levels and was well loved by our toddler.

The Find It! Seek & Find Game, travel-sized Perplexus, and Extreme Dot to Dot book were enjoyed by our 7 year old. We also had crayons, colored pencils, and coloring books. 

Another big hit were Water Wow! books from Melissa & Doug. I've been eyeing these little books online and in stores for a couple of years. I finally took the plunge, purchased a few, and we're all hooked. I've purchased two more since this road trip for another vacation this summer. They are an amazing invention! Simply fill the little paint brush with water, and colors show up as you paint the cardboard pages of the book. When they dry, the color disappears, and you do it again! These are so fun. Both girls (and even I!) enjoyed them.

Our road trip was a huge success, but lest you think it was all hearts and butterflies, this is how it culminated...

Real life, my friends, this is real life. My boisterous toddler has, just since school got out in June, lost a fingernail, had eye surgery, and broke her leg. I won't list all the things she did during the months between her birth and then! She keeps us on our toes... even when she can't be on her own!

Thankfully these travel-friendly toys are not only perfect for carseat-confined kiddos, but ones who are confined in other ways as well!

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Save 25% on Customized Labels from Label Daddy!

We were provided with free product for featuring this brand. No other compensation was received. 
All opinions expressed are our own.

We're trying to work our way into back-to-school mode over here. School supply and new clothes shopping has begun and now it's time to order labels so that none of that new stuff gets lost! We've used Label Daddy for our custom name labels in the past and love them. Label clothing, supplies, toys, lunch containers, and more. They don't even come off in the washing machine! 

Right now, you can save 25% on Label Daddy peel and stick custom name labels! No ironing or sewing... just peel and stick. Their exclusive laminated coating gives labels an extra layer of protection. They are super durable, peel-and-stick, washer/dryer safe, microwave safe, dishwasher safe and UV resistant! Label Daddy labels are also super fun with tons of personalized options - choose the colors, sizes, logos, and icons you love. These labels are made in the USA and shipped directly to you worldwide.

Save 25% on your entire Label Daddy order by using code USFAMILY25 at checkout. 

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Homemade Taco Seasoning Mix

This sign was hanging in my kitchen yesterday from my daughter as a reminder that it was Taco Tuesday! We love tacos in our house. It's one meal everyone will eat and it's super fast and easy, so it has made its way into a weekly rotation and earned itself a dedicated day!

I've been making my own taco seasoning mix for quite a while. I started one day when I went to grab a packet of store bought seasoning and realized we were all out. I found a recipe online and have tweaked it to our liking over time. We try to limit salt intake when we can and I love that I can do this with my homemade taco seasoning - there's no salt at all! I feel better about serving this to my family,  and honestly, it tastes better. I've tried to use packaged mix once since using this recipe and I didn't enjoy it! Taco mix isn't expensive but I'm all about saving even a dime and I'm doing that by making this at home.

So this homemade taco seasoning mix fits the categories of healthier, yummier, and cheaper. Actually, it fits the category of funner too because little kids love to help with cooking and this recipe provides lots of opportunity for measuring, mixing, and sniffing. Win, win, win, win!

  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper

  • Mix all ingredients together in a small bowl
  • Sprinkle over 1 to 1 1/2 pounds cooked ground beef (already drained of fat)
  • Add 1/3 to 1/2 cup water
  • Simmer 5 to 10 minutes until beef is coated and heated through
  • Serve on your tacos!

Saturday, June 24, 2017

We Love July... We've Gone Red, White & Blue Already!

We received free product to facilitate this post. No other compensation was received. 
All opinions expressed are our own.

I cannot believe it's almost July! This is my first summer off from work in a long time and I am living it up. We are doing our best to venture out of our own backyard at least a couple times a week for some new adventures such as the playground, or our favorite children's garden. We are loving lazy days too, though, and are enjoying the sunshine right outside our own door.

We've had a great month, but the countdown to July has already begun! One week from today we enter our favorite month of the year! July is always an exciting time for us - multiple family birthdays and parties, tons of day trips, a road trip, cookouts at least every weekend, and of course (because we would never miss a reason to celebrate...) the 4th of July!

We are in 4th of July mode already around here! A quick online Oriental Trading order (I avoid shopping in stores if I can help it!) had us all ready to go.

We have a super fun Large Patriotic Bean Bag Toss Game, some Patriotic Traffic Cones to be sure we're playing fair, and a Patriotic Ball & Bat Set to replace the two whiffle ball sets that my husband and daughter destroyed last summer by hitting balls too hard.

For the littlest family member, we have an adorable Inflatable Patriotic Pool full of Patriotic Mini Rubber Duckies.

Because you really can't celebrate right without candy, we've got some of that too... some Patriotic Candy Corn Fun Packs and some Red, White & Blue Tootsie Pops!

And to get us ready for actual 4th of July Festivities like fireworks, we got some Mini Star Premium Glow Wands, in red, white, and blue. They will be perfect for the big night!

Oriental Trading is having a great sale on patriotic goodies right now - up to 50% off! Order in the next two days and you're guaranteed to get it by July 4th! Woohoo!

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Fidget Spinner Counseling Games

We received free product to facilitate this post. No other compensation was received. 
All opinions expressed are our own.

Being a mom to a 6 year old and working in a school, I've experienced the fidget spinner craze in a very real way. When I initially heard of fidget spinners and their use to help ease anxiety and increase focus, I was all in. These are the things I believe in! Sadly, it wasn't long before I found myself banning them during structured social skills groups, and asking students to put them away until free time. I'm not sure if they were more of a distraction for me or for them, but they weren't working the way I envisioned and I was ready for them to go!

Well... I've given the helpfulness of fidget spinners some thought and I've come to the conclusion that with fidget spinners - as with most things - appropriate and structured use is, in fact, a good thing. So, my students will be excited to know that I'm welcoming these little gadgets back into the counseling office with excitement. I have some new games up my sleeve and I can't wait to put them to the test!

* * Fidget Spinner Feelings * *

Fidget Spinner Feelings is a game in which we'll spin the fidget spinner, and use an I-statement to describe a time we've felt a certain way. For instance, if the sticker on the end of the fidget spinner lands on "happy", one might say, "I feel happy when I'm playing games with friends in the counseling office." You could customize this by using a blank pie chart, laminating, and allowing the student to choose some emotions they experience most often and writing them in with a dry erase marker. I've included links to download this game as well as a blank game board below.

* * Fidget Spinner Friend Chat * *

When I have social skills groups with students, I often like to offer some structured conversation starters to our time together. It gives the opportunity to students to get to know each other (and me!) and to practice appropriate social skills such as taking turns, listening, and speaking with peers. Fidget Spinner Friend Chat is perfect for this. Again, we'll place the fidget spinner in the center of the circle, spin, see where it stops, and respond accordingly! You can customize this with questions or sentence starters appropriate for your group. I've included links to download this game as well as a blank game board below.

We received our fidget spinners from Oriental Trading. You'll find several fidget spinner options and other fidget toys in stock on their website right now. My favorite are the emoji ones! They are perfect for all the emotions we explore in the school counseling office. 

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

School Counseling Resources from Oriental Trading

We received free product to facilitate this review. No other compensation was received. 
All opinions expressed are our own.

In October of last year I was presented with the opportunity to take on the role of School Counselor at the school that both my daughters attend. My response came easily! I have a graduate degree in counseling and have worked in numerous different, fairly intense, capacities within the field. I had most recently taken a break from direct care to give my mind and heart a break, but the opportunity to work with students in a setting so important to our family was so exciting!

The role of School Counselor is new in our small private school. Having taken a break from direct care for several years and having never done counseling in a school setting before, I had to do some quick work to remind myself of all my favorite child and adolescent interventions and group activities. I had what I needed to get myself started but was on the lookout for new and fun ways of incorporating mental wellness into a school setting. I was in the market for products that I could add to my new school counseling toolkit!

I guess I'd say I'm pretty creative when it comes to my work with children. My students would tell you that I can turn any game into a counseling or therapeutic game... and they would tell you that my favorite are games with colors!

Take these blocks for example. They are different colors and shapes. As we build with them in the counseling office, we have each color or shape represent a different emotion. For instance maybe blue represents sadness, yellow represents happiness, and so on. Each time we choose that color to build with we share about a time that we've experienced that feeling. I got this set Geometric Connecting Shapes online from Oriental Trading. It was one of several options of building toys. These high quality, plastic shapes connect to each other and you can build every which way with them - up, down and all around. I have several creations displayed in my office right now!

Oriental Trading has more resources for school counselors than you may realize. I was very pleasantly surprised to look online and find a plethora of games, activities, and supplies that would fit perfectly into my work with students.

For group work with students, I love, love, love, love, any type of conversation starter activity. Creative questions or sentence starters are perfect for engaging groups of all ages. Whether I'm meeting with just a couple of students, a lunch group, or an entire classroom, everyone is always well engaged in these activities which include fun, thought-provoking, often outside-the-box ideas!

I've used this Icebreaker Owl Box and Question Card Set with middle schoolers, early elementary students, and everyone in between. It is perfect as a lunch bunch activity but I've used it in the classroom setting as well. There is truly a question for everyone and I love having a cute storage box to keep them all contained. This is much more visually appealing than the handwritten scraps of paper I had been using and I love the creative questions!

These Get to Know Your Class Pocket Dice Cards have sentence starters on them and this fun Pocket Dice with clear sleeves allows you to insert the cards and roll for added fun! This set comes with just the right combination of silly and serious - and there are 100 of them included!

Both students and teachers need brain breaks every now and then. This Classroom Brain Break Activity Dice set is perfect for a rainy day, a standardized testing break, or really any time that something active and different from the mundane might help clear the air. We used this set with first graders this week when it became clear that the task of end of year assessments - on a rainy day with indoor recess - was getting the best of them. Each student had a turn to pick a block and roll it to share an activity that everyone would do together. My favorite was clapping Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, instead of singing it! Some of these activities have a time listed on them so I got a package of 30, 60, 90, 120 Second Sand Timers to go along with this game.

Stress balls are a great addition to the counseling office. They are perfect for those times when students need to refocus their brains. Sometimes they will use them as they talk with me and other times they will use them as they complete their classwork or homework. Oriental Trading has tons of good stress ball options - all different colors, shapes, sizes, and themes. These Mini Neon Smile Face Stress Balls were perfect for us!

I adore these Emotions Dice. How could I not snatch up something so feeling-related?! The set comes with dice with different faces on some and feeling words on the other. It doesn't come with formal game instructions but the possibilities for using these are endless! The facial expressions are fun and relatable and the feeling words are familiar. Perhaps roll the word dice and share about a time you've felt that way - then find the matching face to go with the feeling.

My students were so excited to see these new additions to the school counseling office! I love the quality and creativity of these products and are proud to be able to include them in my work. Tomorrow's our last day of school but I'm already excited for next year's fun!

And by the way - don't you love the little baskets I'm using to organize?! These Round Classroom Storage Baskets come in a set of 12. They are the perfect shape and size for pretty much everything. I highly recommend!

You can find all sorts of school counseling and classroom supplies on the Oriental Trading website. Stock up now for next year!

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Bunnies, Chicks, Candy, and More... Easter with Oriental Trading

We received free product to facilitate this review. No other compensation was received. 
All opinions expressed are our own.

There's another holiday coming up, and Oriental Trading is again my one stop shop! Without ever leaving my house and braving a crowded store, we're ready for Easter.

For our family, Easter is a fun time to celebrate the start of spring, the gift of Jesus’ resurrection, AND all things cute and cuddly like chicks and bunnies! My six year old daughter, who recently wrote in her school journal that her greatest temptation is candy, also sees every holiday as an opportunity for some new candy treats! Oriental Trading has you covered no matter what you’re celebrating this spring!

I love that when I’m shopping online with Oriental Trading, I can get everything I need for crafting, snacking, decorating, and gift giving all in one place. In fact, I’m often surprised at what we can find! My daughter was in charge of our most recent Oriental Trading order. She loves to browse through the different sections of the Oriental Trading website and come up with her list of must-haves. Not surprisingly, sweet snacks were on the list. We were able to do a complete stock-up on name brand candies - there’s a huge variety, bulk packaging, and reasonable prices. We have so much candy this Easter that I’m pretty sure the Easter Bunny just may borrow some when he fills eggs for our kiddos this year!

We love crafting anytime, but especially at holiday times. It’s a great way to get our house decorated and ready for entertaining family and friends. We love hosting holiday meals at our home and part of that is just making the space special for the occasion. We will use our Sand Art Easter Shapes and Self-Inflating Easter Mylar Balloons to do just that. Both of these come in a set of 12 - an assortment of 4 different Easter themed designs in each.

Because it feels good to give to friends, gift-giving is always a part of our holiday celebrations. I think my daughter would make it a part of every single day if she could! She chose some adorable Mini Easter Cameras and Jumping Bunnies to gift to her classmates for Easter this year. The Mini Easter Cameras remind me of the old viewfinder toys we had when I was a kid. Each click of the camera reveals a sweet Easter image. These little cameras are sold in a package of 24 so we have plenty to enjoy and plenty to share! The Jumping Bunnies are super cute and very fun! Just press down on their backs and they hop across the floor! We are having so much fun racing them and challenging them to see who jumps the furthest! This set comes with tons of bunnies - 144 to be exact! These are a hit in our home so we know for sure they’ll be a hit with our friends as well.

We love a lot of things but there are three things we REALLY love. Well… way more than three… but this next item was the perfect compilation of three current favorites: stickers, bunnies, and emojis! Seriously?! YES! Are these not the best? This roll of 100 stickers is almost too cute for me to handle. We adore them. They are individually perforated so easy to share too!

My bunny obsessed six year old could not have been more excited to find that although Oriental Trading does not sell LIVE bunnies, they do sell bunny ears. This Plush Bunny Ears Headband is the perfect way to let the world know her love for bunnies and let the Easter Bunny know her desire to get one soon. 

We can’t wait to celebrate Easter this year, largely in part to this huge assortment of goodies from Oriental Trading to help us get ready! If you’re looking for supplies to celebrate Easter this year - at church, home, school, or anywhere - Oriental Trading has what you need! Crafts, supplies, snacks, toys… you name it. As always, there’s a huge variety at an affordable cost. The only issue you might have is narrowing down your list! Oriental Trading is offering FREE SHIPPING on all orders through April 6 - just enter the promotion code EASTER17 at checkout. Happy Easter!
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