Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Hands on Learning

Many of you know that I was an elementary school teacher for 9 years before I had kids.  I love teaching and am loving teaching my own kids.  We have a lot of fun learning together.  I'm excited to share some fun learning games we play with you today.  They're simple, fun and my kids love playing them over and over again.


supplies: kid tweezers, spatulas, spoons, set of Backyard Bugs, ice trays

This set of bugs is so much fun!  They're a great size and they're perfect for sorting colors, sorting bugs, counting, patterns, science units, and so much more.

I just picked up our kid tweezers from The Dollar Tree!!  They're such nice quality and perfectly made for little hands to use.  They're in the school supply section hanging up in a clear package.  If your Dollar Tree doesn't carry them, they're also on amazon.

Pick up bugs with tweezers, spatula, spoon or with your toes.

We'd call out colors to pick up, types of bugs to pick out, fill the ice trays one at a time, pick them up one at a time and line them up in a pattern.  This gives you plenty of time to talk about colors, repeating patterns, count and sort.

Both kids really enjoyed it. 

These are a fun way to practice lower case letters.  The cards and spinner that come with the set are really fun.  We'll do rhyming word families, make the patterns that are on the cards, practice the letter sounds, sort by color and line them up in ABC order.

These alligators have been so much fun!  Our favorite game to play with them is Red Rover.  "Red Rover, Red Rover send capital R right over." or "Red Rover, Red Rover, send all the lower case letters right over"  We trade letters.  I mix up the heads and tails and Olive fixes them.  Even our one year old enjoys matching heads and tails.  He's not old enough to work with the letters yet, but he loves assembling the alligators.

supplies: pipe cleaners // colanders

Give your kids these two supplies and see what they come up with.
almost 2 year old: poked them in
4 year old: weaved her pipe cleaners through several holes

Both loved this and played with this activity for a week straight.

These rainbow pipe cleaners would be a lot of fun!

Easter Love Letters from God by Glenys Nellist
We just added this sweet Easter book to our home library.  We are familiar with this series and all really enjoyed the story.  I love that there are Bible verses and passages noted throughout and that the real Easter story is written in such a compelling way.  I teared up as I was reading this to my children.  It captures the heavy emotions in a way that is interesting and relatable to kids.  The pages are filled with beautiful illustrations that perfectly help tell the Easter story.  The book can be personalized for your children and each letter has a line where you can add a child's name.  Easter Love Letters would be great for young and older children.  There is so much to talk about and discuss on every page.  The letters are securely attached to the book and seem like they will be very durable.  This book would be the perfect addition to any Easter basket or gift for children around Easter time.  We highly recommend it!  *This book was a gift from BookLook in exchange for our honest review.

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Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Entertaining Doesn't Have to Be Expensive

Do you host friends at your house very often??

We set a goal this year to host friends or family at our house at least once a month.  We made a list of friends, coworkers, etc at the start of the year and are working through it.  There are good friends, new friends we'd like to get to know better, Olive's school friends, neighbors, and more on that list.  It's been fun.

We've also spent a large chunk of our married life living in apartments so it feels exciting to be in a home with plenty of room to entertain.  Being in a home we love is definitely a blessing!  I will say that we hosted things when we lived in much smaller spaces - book club, dinners with friends and family.  It was fun and we made it work.  So don't less your space or lack thereof prevent you from hosting in your home. 

I wanted to share 6 tips with you today to help you save money when you host!  We had some friends in town for the day on Saturday and here's what I put together for our dinner.  Aren't the dishes and serving pieces pretty??  I just love this combo.

// 1 // FOOD
There are lots of ways to save on food:
- Use coupons to order pizzas or ask for speicals
- Ask everyone to bring something to share and you take care of the main dish (side dishes, salads, beer, paper products, etc)
- Make your own desserts
- Serve lemonade and fruit infused water
- Buy alcohol at Sams
- Plan your menu around what is on sale that week at your grocery store

Keep an eye out for clearance party supplies or bulk party supplies at Sams and stock up.
The Dollar Tree, Target, TJ Maxx and Walmart are my favorite spots to gather party supplies.  I also love to buy holiday clearance after the holidays that will work for other events. 

See the polka-dot napkins in the picture above??  They were on SUPER clearance at Walmart after Valentine's Day last year.  I loved them because I knew they'd work great for Easter, Olive's bday and other events.  The straws above are from The Dollar Tree.  I just pick out the colors that work best and they feel a little fancier.  The floral paper plates are from Sams and I'm tempted to pick up another pack at that price!

I keep an eye out for things that will work with my dishes, holidays or pretty patterns.

I have a fun collection of green and white dishes.  Our everyday dishes are all white.  Over the years I've collected white and green cake stands and serving platters.  This way I know I'll be set when we host a bigger gathering because all of my pieces go together.  Mix and match to get a lovely spread.

// 4 // ASK FOR HELP
Make a to do list and divide up the tasks.  Have your husband stop to get ingredients, ask your kids to help tidy up the house, clean during nap time and give yourself plenty of time to pull it all together so you don't feel stressed.  If you plan ahead you won't have to spend a lot of time and money at the last minute getting things ready.

// 5 // HOMEMADE
Are there things you enjoy making that could save you money??  A party banner?  A dessert??  A box of brownies or a batch of cookies costs just a couple of dollars.  It's much cheaper than buying a fancy dessert.  I'm not great at making bread so I'll usually buy an artisan bread and then make other things homemade.  Figure out what you love doing and then add in premade things to save you time.

// 6 // HOME
Host things at your home.  Dinners in your backyard or dining room will be cheaper than going out to eat and I bet everyone will enjoy themselves more in the comfort of your home.  We host more things when the weather is nice.  Kevin can grill and we can all hang out outside.  Less clean up.  Less fuss. 

How do you save money when you're hosting people in your home??

Monday, February 26, 2018

Favorites: Aldi, Kroger, Sams & Walmart

Happy Monday!  Hope you had a great weekend.  It was RAINY in Indiana so went spent a lot of time inside.  We had friends over for dinner and worked on some things around the house.  It was the perfect ending to a busy week.

Today I'm going to talk to you about my favorite products from my favorite stores.  I'm not loyal to one grocery store.  I just tend to buy things my family loves wherever we find a good deal.  You know that I love a good deal and I love sharing them with you!  I'm excited to tell you about some of our favorite products at stores we frequent in the hopes you'll find something you love, too.  Enjoy!!

I am always finding new products I love at Aldi.  It's easy.  The only thing I rarely buy is their meat.  I'll buy chicken or turkey sausages, but have yet to try their red meats or lunch meats.

Tortilla Chips and Pretzel sticks are staples at our house.  My family goes through a ton of them.  These Restaurant style chips are $0.89 and the pretzels are $0.79 a bag.  That's an amazing savings from the name brands.  My family loves them.

We enjoy all of these products and they're cheap!
Southwest Guac $2.99
Frozen Pizza $2.29
Fruit pouches $1.89 for four (they have really fun flavors)
Granola $1.99 (tons of different varieties)
Cheese Cubes $1.99
This was such a yummy guacamole!!

Aldi diapers are amazing!  They run small so size up.  A whole box only costs $10.89.  I love how well they wear, how absorbent they are and the price is amazing.

Their holiday plates & napkins are just $1.79 each.  I stocked up on football plates and napkins for the Superbowl and am saving the extras for tailgating this fall.

Toilet paper is just $6.99 for this big pack and it's really great!

Hummus is $1.79 and yummy!  They offer a lots of different flavors.

We love their string cheese for $2.79 and block of cheese for $1.79

Chicken sausages are $2.99 and delicious.

The chicken sausage is great with this jambalaya mix.  We've also grilled them, fried them and added them to mixes.  They're delicious.

We love their flax seed for smoothies and for those Protein balls I mentioned last week.  It's just $2.19 a bag!  Fletcher loves the cereal bars and they're under $2 a box.

Any store:
My kids love lemonade so this is a fun, cheap option on the go.  This Crystal Light flavor is really good.  It was $3.99 and they just use a tiny bit in their water.  That means one bottle lasts for a very long time!

A friend recently had us over for dinner and I complimented her delicious bread.  I thought it was homemade.  She said it was a Kroger treasure!  You buy the loaves like this, bake it and add butter.  Tastes just like a fancy, homemade bread and it's around $3 a loaf.  I buy it for us to eat at home and add it to any meal I'm delivering to friends.  Both of these were delicious.  You find them in the bakery section and can freeze them.  They were on sale 2 for $6 so I stocked up.

I always look for clearance spinach when I'm at the store.  My kids love it in smoothies and I love it for my salads.  I bag it up and freeze it for smoothies.  One handful per bag.  It freezes great and lasts longer than any other fresh lettuce.

We love their chicken meatballs.  They had a cranberry version around Christmas time and have this Teriyaki Pineapple one right now.  They come in two separate packages for around $12.  It's easily two dinners with leftovers.  We serve this with rice and grilled pineapple.  They're delicious!  They are also fully cooked so you just have to heat them or brown them on the stove top.  They'd be a great appetizer or a full dinner.

These wire baskets are still on clearance and are great!  I've currently got them in my pantry for chocolate chips, bags of sugar, in my linen closet with make up and lotions, on my desk with note pads and pens, etc.  What a deal!

Walmart has some great frame options for cheap.  They have a whole section for $0.98 and bigger frames for $6 or less.  I got both of these ornate gold frames for $4 and $6.  They hang on the wall or sit on a table.  They are not super tough quality so they're best for sitting on a shelf or hanging on wall.  If the frame is going to be handled a lot, these may not be the best option.

Now tell me what are you favorite things to buy at these stores!!

Thursday, February 22, 2018

February JOY

February is flying by!!  We've had a fun month with more highs than lows.  We've enjoyed seeing family and friends, watching the olympics, celebrated holidays and events and are looking forward to a joy filled March. 

Here are the highlights of our month:

1. Floral Paper Plates - Sams is selling these gorgeous plates - 80 plates for $7.96!!  I could not pass them up.  If you come to my house for dinner anytime this Spring you'll be eating off these.  They also had a floral oval plate.  I love their plates because they're sturdy and a great deal.  I have purchased Christmas plates, regular plate and now these floral ones.  I'd highly recommend them.

2. Disney Brunch - My kids are still talking about brunch with Mickey & his crew.  Such a fun morning!!

3. Visitors - My parents came in town for a quick visit.  We got to go out to eat, work on some projects around the house and hang out.  It was a fun day!

4. Little Blue Truck party - my friend Whitney threw the cutest Little Blue Truck birthday party for her son this month.  She thought of everything!!  She's my friend who threw the amazing 4th of July party, too.  The kids had the best time with all of the party stations and we came home with two sheep.  She also painted this Little Blue Truck photo prop.  My kids are huge fans of the Little Blue Truck series so they were in heaven.
Little Blue Truck Lap Board Book

5. Fresh air - it is amazing how some fresh air will really boost your mood!  The weather was unseasonabley nice for February in the Midwest.  We got outside as much as possible.  Gorgeous backyard sunsets, long walks and playing were good for all of us.  

This Contours Options Elite Tandem Stroller in Sand has been one of the best baby purchases ever!!  We use it nearly every day when the weather is nice.  It's comfy for big and little kids, has a great basket underneath, amazing sunshades with vents and I recommend it to anyone who asks about a double stroller.  It's easy to push and holds up so well.
Contours Options Elite Tandem Double Stroller, Carbon

Funny story: When we play outside, Fletcher always pulls out two chairs, plops down, demands that sissy join in and yells LEMONADE!!! until I bring them some.  It's hilarious.

6. Cars - My kids are OBSESSED with the Cars movies.  They love them all so I surprised them with "cars" of their own to watch Cars this week.  They thought it was the greatest thing ever.

7. GROW - Remember my word of the year: GROW??  I checked on my landscaping this week with all of the nice weather and things are GROWING!!  We planned mostly perennials last year and crossed our fingers that they'd come back this year.  They are and I couldn't be more proud.

8. Dance Class - Olive started dance class this week and she told me it's the best thing she ever did.

9. Best buds - these two are so funny together.  They love to play together and he wants to do everything she is doing.  This week it was sunglasses.  Where do you buy cute kid sunglasses??  I'm on the hunt for some!

10. Book Club of One
I've been making more time to read each week.  My goal is to come up with non technology related things to do for me time.  More doing, less scrolling through my phone.  Topher approves.

Girl, Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis was a good read.  I was not familiar with her before this book.  She is a fun writer and her book is a quick read.  Her message of self care will stick with you and really make you think about your own life.  I loved her focus on lies we tell ourselves because they were so easy to relate to.  She puts words to the lies many of us are guilty of believing and you find yourself nodding throughout.  Hollis addresses nearly everything women deal with at different points in their lives - childhood, trauma, dating woes, career drama, having kids, marriage, parenting, weight issues, eating habits, foster care, self care and so much more.  There are a ton of topics in this book.  Her stories are compelling.  You'll find your heart racing, eyes welling with tears and a smile come to your face as you read.  She doesn't shy away from hard topics and really puts herself out there in the hopes of encouraging other women.  She does this well.  There is a section at the end of each chapter called "things that helped me..." where Hollis gives bullet points to help you apply the concept to your own life.  The bullet points would make great discussion points with a book club or small group.  I'd only change one thing about this book - the title.  I worry that people will skip over the book not knowing all of the self care goodness that's inside.  I'd recommend this book to anyone that is struggling to take the time to take care of themselves or needs a good pep talk to be the person God created you to be.
*I was gifted this book in exchange for an honest review of it from BookLook.
Girl, Wash Your Face: Stop Believing the Lies About Who You Are so You Can Become Who You Were Meant to Be

In case you missed it on Polka-Dotty Place:

Monday: Winter Wardrobe Inspiration
Tuesday: Dreams Do Come True
Wednesday: Protein Balls & Packed Lunches

 Linking up with

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Protein Balls & Packed Lunches

I have a protein packed recipe and lots of lunch ideas to share with you today!

I've always wanted to give protein balls a try.  I probably have ten different recipes pinned waiting for me to make them.  I came across a super easy version on instagram that @victoriastrader shared back in January.  It looked really easy and really delicious.  I gathered the ingredients and only made a couple of changes to her recipe (more peanut butter and mini m&ms)

I've made them twice already.  I seriously had to HIDE them from my kids because they wanted more and more.  They're deserty, have lots of healthy ingredients and I love that they're bite sized.

I have made two different versions - one with mini m&ms and one without.  Both were delicious.  The m&ms upped the cute factor, so I'd suggest going with that version.

1 c quick cook oatmeal dry
3/4 c peanut butter (I always use Peter Pan PB)
1/2 c ground flax seed (Aldi has a really affordable option)
1/4 c chocolate chips
1/4 c mini m&ms
1/3 c honey
1 t vanilla

Combine all ingredients adding the chocolate in last.  Refrigerate about an hour.  Scoop out with a cookie scoop and roll into balls.  Store in an airtight container in the fridge.

Wouldn't these be delicious with dried cherries or craisins??


I've mentioned before that I really enjoy packing lunches.  Yes, it requires extra work at night and planning to make it happen, but I love doing it for my family.

I think of it as a MIDDAY HUG FROM HOME for both my daughter and my husband.

I know their favorite foods and make sure to go to the store frequently to ensure they have good lunches.  It makes me happy to know that they're eating something delicious.  And Olive regularly tells me how great her lunch was or how excited she was to see her favorite food in her lunch.

My biggest selling point for Yumboxes is this:
Every time I serve my kids lunches in their yumboxes - they practically lick them clean!  They really seem to eat better when their lunch is packed this way.  Win!!

Most ingredients are obvious so I'll just point out a few foods in each box.

Hummus, Almond Thins & fun shaped sandwiches

Banana Bread & peanut butter filled pretzels

Protein Cookie Ball

Fully cooked turkey sausage & turkey pepperoni

My husband's lunch - I put a note in the treat spot for him :)

I always send in a mini water bottle that I've already opened and resealed so she won't have any trouble opening it at lunch.  Then I'll add in a squeeze pouch from time to time.

Lunch making SUPPLIES:
We have a couple of yumboxes.  They are seriously THE BEST lunch boxes.  They hold a TON of food - plenty for my husband and my daughter.  They come in different sizes and set ups so figure out which one works best for you.  We've been using ours since school started in August.  They hold up so well, are easy for the kids to take care of and wash up great.  I can't recommend them enough.

Olive loves lots of little snacks so the Yumbox with more compartments works best for her. -->

Kevin loves sandwiches so this option works best for him. -->

I have my eye on this one for Fletcher.  Maybe for his Easter basket -->

I also love these reusable cupcake liners to put in the yumboxes -->

These slim freezer packs are my favorite.  They fit easily in a lunch box with the yumboxes -->

Now tell me what do your kids love in their lunchboxes???

 PS Affiliate links included.  Thanks for reading & supporting Polka-Dotty Place!

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