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!
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