Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Favorite Finds

Be sure to enter to win my current giveaway: a Shutterfly photo book with free shipping!

Here are some of my favorite things from the past week.

I made this crunchy, clumpy granola last week for the first time and it was top notch! I've made several different granola recipes and this one was by far the best I've ever had (homemade or store bought!). Check out The Frugal Girl's detailed instructions of this America's Test Kitchen recipe.

A while back I bought a few boxes of orzo on a big sale and I've had trouble using them up. Then I found a recipe for Cheesy Broccoli Orzo...I'm going to have to buy more orzo! Here is the recipe via Iowa Girl Eats.

One of my favorite ways to use up bananas is making Tammy's Chocolate Bottom Banana squares. These are a hit with everyone and since they are technically banana bread, I totally eat 3 with my coffee and call it breakfast! I made a pan for Bible study this past week and made it home with just the crumbs. Now that I've made them so many times I can have them ready to go in the oven by the time it is finished pre-heating...now that is a recipe to love!

If you have small kids (or maybe bigger ones too) you probably have tons of arts and crafts getting made each week. What to do with it all? I made an art gallery to display some of the best things and we rotate the pictures through. A few weeks ago I found an app called ArtKive that is fantastic!
I can take a picture of the artwork, can assign the child's name (I have separate sections for each kid!), and then can share with Daddy or anyone else I add quickly and easily! Plus it saves the date for me, along with your child's grade in school. This app is FREE for a limited time, so hurry and download it!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Shutterfly Yearbooks + A Giveaway!

It's a month into the school year, can you believe it? School photos are just around the corner too. Are any of your schools using Shutterfly yearbooks this year?

When Shutterfly first announced their new Yearbook option they asked me to take a look and do a review. You can read that post here. I really enjoyed checking out all different options for the Shutterfly Yearbooks, though I'm still not in a position to use the Yearbook feature for my kids; they are not yet to school-age and are still young for special sports teams or group activities.

If you are helping with a yearbook at your child's school or have a child on a travel sports team, you may want to take another look at these beautiful yearbooks. They run a little expensive if you are only ordering a few, but there are discounts as you order more!

I love Shutterfly photo books as well, and I've made several of them through the years. They make special, personalized gifts and are great for family members. I keep our family blog pretty well up to date, but I am hoping to document our year using photo books more so that we have something easier for our kids to look through.

I really want to do better at having a photo book always in the works so that it's easy to take advantage of those free photo book offers that come through my email on the Shutterfly mailing list. Shutterfly sends out lots of great offers via email. I don't take advantage of all of them, but I did order some free note cards recently :-) Connect with Shutterfly socially on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google+, or check out their blog.

Win it!
I'm excited to be able to give away a Shutterfly photo book! This is not one of the Yearbooks, but a regular photo book (8x8 hardcover 20-page photo book including shipping, a $38 value). To enter, all you need to do is leave a comment on this post telling me how you plan to use your free photo book. Please remember to enable your your blogger profile to include your email, or leave your email in your comment. I need to be able to get in touch if you win!

The contest will be open until Wednesday, Sept 26 at midnight, and which point a random winner will be chosen.

This post was sponsored by Shutterfly. I was compensated for my review, but as always, all opinions are my own. 

Friday, September 21, 2012

Be Excellent! (Loving books, part 2)

I feel like I've learned a lot about how to encourage my kids to love books, especially great books, and I wanted to take a few posts to share some of my thoughts. Any time you delve into parental advice-giving it has the potential to be a nasty can of worms. So, I hope the book recommendations and thoughts on encouraging a love a reading are helpful. I'm not trying to make out like my way of doing this will work for everyone.

Not all books are great, and I strongly believe that there are too many excellent books out there to waste time re-reading lousy ones. We refer to these mediocre books as “twaddle.” 

Twaddle is a term often used to describe books that are dumbed down, especially for children. (For more great information about twaddle, check out this post on Simple Charlotte Mason.) These kinds of books lack strong characters, a meaningful storyline, and often even good writing – you know, the ones with no author and based on a TV show. J 

But a great book stands out above others because it creates feelings in you, even as an adult reading a children’s story.  A great book makes you want to read more great books.

Many times children will ask to re-read a book just because it is about a popular character.  The content of the book is insignificant to them because they like the character. When we surround our kids with twaddle-free books, the simplistic books with weak plots and cartoon characters will naturally end up less appealing.

Great books – especially great children’s books – should be able to be read over and over again.  Repetition is great for children, so be picky and choose books that are excellent to read multiple times. I am a firm believer that it is ok to say ‘no’ to bad books, as long as you are able to offer a better alternative! We always end up with a few “busts” in our bag of library books that looked better than they were.  But I’ve found that these times present a great opportunity for me to talk with my kids about the difference between twaddle and excellence.

Now that we've been doing this for a while, we often chat a little after reading a new book. It's usually a simple "I liked that book, it was great!" or "well, that was a little lame/boring/ect." It cracks me up to hear my kids commenting like this. When we finished a 5th or 6th re-read of The Rainbow Fish my son piped up, "I like that book!" And my daughter likes to grab a "bust" from our library basket and explain to guests that "this book was twaddle so we're probably not going to read it again." They really learn so much from us!

Favorite (non-Thomas) Train Books:
In order from simplest to more challenging, all picture books.
Freight Train
  Few words and minimalist illustrations, which captured my children's attention instantly. I added some sound effects and changed speeds of my reading in this one.
Two Little Trains

  The two trains are doing the same things, but one is a real train and one is a toy. Superb.
My Little Train
  My son has been quoting this one a lot lately. Animals ride the train around and over furniture.
I'm Taking a Trip on My Train
  All of Neitzel's books have building repetition that is great for kids, but sometimes gets old for reading. Her endings make each book.
I'm Fast!
  A car and train race across the country. What's not to love?
C Is for Caboose: Riding the Rails from A to Z
  For the train lover, lots of technical terms to correspond to each letter of the alphabet. 


Part 1: Readers Are Made

Monday, September 17, 2012

Favorite Finds

We are loving this cooler September weather! It's been perfect for baking bread again and we had a delicious sausage, ravioli and veggie (tomatoes, carrots, and green peppers from our CSA) soup this past week.

We've also been eating oatmeal for breakfast a lot more frequently. It's the perfect way to warm up on these chilly mornings. I have not been on my game enough to get Baked Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal in the oven yet one morning, but I have been adding craisens, apples, and brown sugar to our regular oatmeal to liven things up!

I haven't bought any pumpkin yet, but when I do the first thing I'll be making is our favorite pumpkin chocolate chip cookies. These cake-y cookies are moist and delicious!

I am also getting ready to pull out our fall tot school and preschool activities. I love having seasonal things saved from last year, and I'm looking forward to some fun activities with my kids. We are also going to make these fantastic sugar cookies!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Readers Are Made

I love to read, and one of my favorite parts of being a parent is the opportunity I have to pass that love of reading on to my kids! My daughter naturally loved books and has always been willing to sit pretty much as long as we would keep reading to her.

My son was a totally different story. He started walking running at 10 months and could not be bothered to sit for a book. We had to teach him how to love books, and a great tool for that was the Baby Einstein Alphabooks. This is my go-to gift for one-year-olds!

As I’ve thought more about helping kids learn to love books, I have identified four attributes that are important to foster a love of reading in children.

A book-loving parent should be selective. Not all books are great and there are too many great books out there to waste time re-reading mediocre books.

Secondly, a book-loving parent should be critical. Take the time to figure out what makes a good book.

A book-loving parent should also be consistent. Young children thrive on routine, and a routine for reading is no exception.

And lastly, a book-loving parent should be fun. Reading is one of the most exciting and fun activities you can do with a child because it is so easily personalized. And the fun starts with the parent – be a lover of books yourself, and don’t wait to read until the kids are in bed. Let them see you reading your books.

Over the next few weeks, I'll be going into further depth about these four attributes, as well as introducing some of our favorite books.

(Both kids enjoying the Baby Einstein Alphabooks at about 12 months old)

Favorite Picks for Making Readers: Baby Einstein Alphabooks
  A box that holds 26 books, one for each letter. Each books has pictures and words that start with that letter. Both my children learned to recognize letters using these books.
Mr. Brown Can Moo! Can You?
  We like the board book version so much better than the full. Other Dr. Seuss are great too, but this is perfect for the smallest children.
Tickle One Baby
  Sweet rhymes and easy for children to identify with "baby". Also set up to use for identifying objects, playing I Spy, etc.
  A Scholastic touch-and-feel book that grew with my kids. Lots of fun things to feel, plus colors, shapes, and animals.

All Amazon links are affiliate. I get a small percentage of the purchase price if you buy through them.

Monday, September 10, 2012

And suddenly, life sped up!

Well, I completely fell behind over these last few weeks. Not only did I miss the Stuart Little book club meeting, I had several other posts planned that never were finished, and I have even been MIA from posting on my family blog as well. We've been in the midst of our foster care classes, traveling, and much more, but this week I'm hoping things will final slow down a little.

I hope you enjoyed Stuart Little! My daughter loved it, and especially loved getting to do the activities that went along with the book. I can only find this one photo of her with her cat mask right now, but hopefully I will find the others soon and be able to post as well.

We've read several chapter books since finishing Stuart Little: Ninja's at Night, the next Magic Tree house book, and The Doll People, which was fantastic! Right now we are reading Harriet's Hare, by the man who also wrote Babe. It's been cute so far, and is a lot shorter than the Doll People, which is a nice break.

We will be finishing Harriet's Hare this week and moving on to the next book club selection - The Littles, by John Peterson. This is the first book in a series about a little family that lives in the walls of the big people's house. I remember reading these when I was little and loving them. They are short books, which will make for a quick read. Books about little people and animals seem to capture a child's imagination in a way that is special, so I hope you and your child will enjoy!

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