5 Tips for Making Easter Entertaining Easier

It is hard to host a holiday celebration, and to be honest, it’s a lot of stress that can be hard to handle, especially if you’re a perfectionist. But I’ve got five great tips to help you make your Easter celebration a little easier for everyone, especially you.

In advance of the dinner, you’re going to want to make some decisions. Rather than competing with trying to get in dinner, an egg hunt, or whatever else you need to do in the post-church lunch, why not consider switching your Easter dinner to Saturday instead of the traditional Sunday? Or, postpone it by a week and celebrate the following Saturday. This will allow you plenty of time to enjoy Easter dinner with your family, and will open Sunday open to put your focus on what Easter is really all about, beyond the bunny and the eggs. Plus, you’re not worrying about running home after church to cook before everyone gets there. Just one simple date switch can help change the entire mood of the celebration, and gives you more time to prepare.

Once you have your date figured out, it’s time to trim and polish your guest list. By only inviting as many guests as you personally can handle, you’ll make it easier on yourself. If you’re one of those people who doesn’t mind hosting a 40-guest feast, then open yourself up to a large party. But if a larger party stresses you out, trim the guest list until it’s more manageable for you. If you’re afraid of hurting feelings by not inviting someone, then just go with the “We just don’t have as much space as we’d like, so we’re going with a more intimate celebration this year.” When paring the guest list, if there’s anyone that causes a lot of stress for you that you can remove from the guest list tactfully, now is the time to make that cut, again, using the space excuse if you must. Sometimes, trimming a few negative nellies is a good way to make Easter a more enjoyable experience for everyone.

As you start planning your menu, consider how you want dinner to be served. Rather than building a whole sit down dinner, why not consider a buffet-style serving method? This will allow you less job serving everyone, and more time enjoying the meal with your family and friends. Plus, if you have multiple tables (like a kid’s table and an adult table, or a dining table and a kitchen table, to accommodate more guests), you’re not having to worry about doing things like providing rolls and food to every table. Instead, everyone can dip their food and come back for more if they need to.

Once you’ve figured out your Easter menu, you can start looking at what foods can be prepared early. The earlier you can prepare some of your foods, the less you need to do the day of the meal. For example, you can hardboil eggs up to 7 days in advance, and devil them later, to cut down on boiling needs the day of. Consider making as many foods ahead as possible. The Rustic Carrot Cookies I shared can keep for several days in an airtight container in the freezer. Plus, if you find a really good type of roll the day before, is anyone really going to miss the ones that take you all day to make? For dinner, some store-bought stuff can work just as well as the real-deal. The best part is that you can even decorate the day before– the night before your celebration, go ahead and decorate the table, set up the buffet centerpiece, and more so you can have it all ready in advance of the actual meal. Then, at meal time, you can just set the food out and everyone will be impressed with how hard you worked! Even better, if you know your kids are old enough to know not to touch it, or if you’re using a dining room that can be closed off, and you won’t be using it for a few days in advance of Easter, you can always set up even days in advance. It’s one less thing to do the day of the main event!

Finally, the day of, while you can control most factors, it seems that kids are the wild card. Consider providing activities or games for the kids to do that will entertain them. Aside from the traditional egg hunt, you could consider offering coloring pages, or a small craft. Alternately, you could see about asking/bribing/blackmailing one of the older kids/younger teens to do some fun egg dyeing techniques for them (but no, really, consider asking families with kids for a small donation to pay for the teen to play with and entertain the kiddos– the kids get fun and attention, the teen gets a little pocket money, and the adults get a stress-free dinner without worrying that it’s their kid who is going to leave sharpie on the dining room table). Both the Easy Marble Egg Dye (link) and Volcano Egg Dye (link) are popular at the moment, have a big wow factor, and can keep kids entertained and your life much less stressful. Looking for something even the younger set can really enjoy safely? Try the Edible Peeps PlayDough recipe that’s been floating around the web (link)!

 

 

What are your tips for keeping Easter entertaining stress-free? Share them in the comments below!

Dental Care Tips for Kids– WITH GIVEAWAY!

It can be really hard to encourage good dental care habits in kids. For far too many, teeth brushing time becomes a fight. I have 7 great tips to help keep teeth clean and shiny without fuss or fight. Don’t forget to keep scrolling to the bottom of this post for a chance to win the entire product line from Tanner’s Tasty Paste, a great-tasting toothpaste for little giggles and grown-up grins!

Brushing your teeth with your child is a great way to promote healthy brushing habits! When you brush together, you’re showing them the proper way to brush, spit, and rinse, and open the door for conversation about good dental care being a lifelong process. If you and your child use separate bathrooms, try moving your dental care items into their bathroom so you can join in on their brushing fun. It’s a great way to start good dental care habits early.

Find time to add brushing into a certain part of your routine in the morning, for example, getting dressed, eating breakfast, brushing teeth, putting on shoes, and then going about the rest of your day, to be sure you never miss a brushing! Do the same before bed, such as picking up toys, taking a bath, having a night snack, brushing teeth, and then reading a story together. When you do this routine on a regular basis, it becomes a can’t-miss habit and children will look forward to that part of their routine. Additionally, find a fun brushing song that lasts about two minutes, or set a timer. The one that we love is part of the Daniel Tiger Day and Night app, available from PBS kids, in the Amazon and iTunes app stores. You can set it for 2 minutes and it’ll play a catchy tune. However, any egg timer or 2-minute-ish song will work!

Never make dentists a source of fear by creating threats (like “If you don’t brush your teeth, the dentist will have to fix your cavities with a drill!”) When you make dentists a source of fear, dental visits will start causing some anxiety. Instead, praise your child for a good set of brushing habits, and try a reward for cavity-free dental checkups!

Play pretend with stuffed animals or baby dolls, acting out brushing their teeth with an old toothbrush used for play to encourage more healthy toothbrushing habits. In the same way that you demonstrate healthy brushing habits to your child, they can demonstrate healthy dental care to their stuffed animals. By picking up a worn out toothbrush or a cheap one at a dollar store, they can introduce dental play into their play routine, too.

It is never too early to start discussing the tooth fairy, even though most kids don’t start losing teeth until they’re around 6, and share that the tooth fairy likes clean teeth. You can check out a great book like No Tooth, No Quarter, or a fun movie like the Tooth Fairy, to encourage this conversation, depending on your child’s age and stage. By sharing that the tooth fairy likes clean teeth, and helping kids learn about the process of losing teeth, it encourages an exciting dialogue about dental care!

Start cleaning teeth as soon as teeth start coming in, using a baby-friendly paste and a baby-friendly brush. Early dental care will prevent problems down the road, and establish a pattern of good dental care. Even before teeth come to the surface, it’s good to wipe gums with a clean washcloth or gauze pad to clear off plaque that builds up on the gums.

Help kids anticipate tooth brushing time by letting your child pick out their own toothbrush. Let them choose a color or character they love and have them select a brush they’ll look forward to using.

Also choose a really yummy toothpaste, like Tanner’s Tasty Paste. With flavors like Cha Cha Chocolate, you’ll never have a toothbrushing fight on your hands again. In fact, you might end up trying to use your kids’ toothpaste, too, it’s that tasty! I’ll be honest, when Tanner’s Tasty Paste approached me about trying out their line of toothpaste, I was really skeptical as to whether or not the flavors would be any good, and if they were any good, if they’d taste even remotely like chocolate or vanilla ice cream. Now, my son and I use Tanner’s Toothpaste every day. It really does taste spot-on to chocolate and vanilla flavors and is a great way to get Zach excited about dental care.

One thing I especially love about Tanner’s Tasty Paste is that, beyond listing the ingredients on their website, they tell you what each ingredient does for the paste, so you know exactly what you and your child are putting in your mouth– it’s a great way to feel a little safer about the product you’re using.

Check out the Tanner’s Tasty Paste website here, and see the three flavors they have available! Click Here

Don’t forget to connect with Tanner’s Tasty Paste on Facebook and Twitter!

 

Now, here’s the big part… a giveaway! Tanner’s Tasty Paste wants to give one of my lucky readers all three of their products: the Cha Cha Chocolate Tasty Paste, the Banilla Bling Tasty Paste, and finally, the Baby Bling tooth paste that is swallow-safe and fluoride free for even the littlest smiles. Would you like to win the product lineup? It’s incredibly easy to enter! Just leave a comment below sharing your top tip for getting kids to brush their teeth, OR let me know which of the Tanner’s Tasty Paste toothpastes you or your kids would most like to try!

The giveaway is open until 4/18/14 at 11:59pm CDT. After that, I’ll email the randomly selected winner!

 

 

Disclaimer: Tanner’s Tasty Paste sent me product to try, which is featured in this post. However, all opinions are my own honest views.

 

The Educational Importance of Planting with Kids

Kids learn so many things without realizing it. Or really, without us realizing it. Every word spoken, every activity done together, every book read, it all adds up to experiences, educational opportunities, and memories for a child. But when you take time to be intentional about what you’re teaching and really focus on the educational benefits, you’ll be amazed at how much the “little stuff” is really BIG stuff when it comes to teaching children, regardless of their age.

Growing plants together is a big educational opportunity that is very carefully disguised as fun. I can guarantee that if you’re planting with your child, they’ll have no clue that they’re learning, but they’ll be gaining valuable skills, whether they’re 3 or 13 or somewhere in between. And the best part is that now, anyone can grow things. Even if you don’t have a big garden, there are many kits and container gardening options that allow you to grow your own plants, indoors or out, and they’re generally available at a pretty affordable price. We picked up this grow kit for our big kid, featuring sweet basil and parsley, from Buzzy Seeds.

But you can think even smaller with these mini greenhouses that are perfect vegetable starters, available from the Miracle Grow kids product line. Both options are perfect for getting kids (and teens!) involved in the gardening process.

One of the big benefits that is present in gardening, especially with kits, is the thought of following directions. An older student can read the directions themselves and test their reading comprehension as they measure the right amount of water in the right temperature and do the steps in the proper order. A younger child can test their listening skills by listening to when to pour the dirt, when to pour water, when to stir, and how to plant seeds.

Fine motor skills are really worked to their limit when it comes to smaller children and planting. From accurately pouring from one container to another, to pressing the seeds in gently, there’s a lot of fine motor work going on during the gardening process. It is a great opportunity to get those fingers flexing and allow those smaller muscles to get a workout.

Observation plays a huge role throughout the gardening process. When you consider soil factors (young kids can watch the soil pellets in a kit expand, older kids can consider the aspects of the soil that make it viable for plants, and how it undergoes the change from pellet to soil), how light and weather impact plant growth, and the finished plant product as it sprouts, grows, and possibly gets transplanted, there is a lot to be observed. Even during the planting process, it’s a great time to whip out the magnifying glass and take a closer look at the things going on, from the seeds to the soil, and see how all of these parts play a vital role in the plant’s life.

Volume is a lesson that young kids learn but don’t realize they are learning. Anytime a small child pours water from one container to another, scoops rice from a bowl to a cup, or fills a cup with the contents of another cup until it overflows, kids are learning about volume and how it works. This is no different. In the same way that kids should have plenty of time to explore and experience the kitchen, it’s also good to give kids a chance to focus on gardening and how liquid plays a part in the gardening process. If nothing else, the small children are getting the hang of pouring.

Planting is also great for math and logic skills. A younger child can count seeds and consider where to place them. An older student can use spatial reasoning– how far apart is an inch? Can I imagine where to place the next one without getting a ruler, or use knowledge I already have on what an inch looks like to figure out where to place my next seed? How can I use those determinations and measurements to determine how deep to plant my seed?

Planting is an amazing sensory experience for younger children and older students alike. Sometimes, it’s important just to take a step back and really dig into the soil and dirt, feel the texture of it, enjoy the scent of it, and really get your hands dirty. Sensory experiences like that can’t be measured, but they’re infinitely important to a child’s growth and development. By introducing kids to different textures, you’re allowing them to better understand the world around them.

Plus, planting is about long-term responsibility as well as long-term results. By making sure to water and tend to the plants, you’ll reap great rewards of food, flowers, or other plant life in the process. When you make sure you’re watering the plant and caring for it regularly, giving it the long-term maintenance it needs, it’s a great way to learn about how living things take care, whether you’re applying it to how a pet also needs constant care and attention, or helping a child understand that they, as a living thing, need their own care and attention, such as inspiring grooming habits. It’s a really great way to explain that living things need that extra loving care. The best part is the benefit you’ll reap from long-term plant care. When growing food especially, it’s a great opportunity to then include it in a meal. For example, sweet basil is a great ingredient for a pizza or pasta! The hard effort that goes into growing the ingredients instills a sense of pride, and that pride makes the food taste even better.

Finally, planting is a great way to start other discussions. Whether you’re taking it as a good start to jump into books about planting, using it as inspiration to start a compost bin or other green activities, or even launching into a discussion about God’s creation, you’re able to use planting and gardening as a great starting point to many different conversations to come, which makes it an activity you just can’t pass up.

Whether you’re using a grow kit like we did, or you’re getting dirty outside, you’re going to find that planting together is a fantastic way to spend time together, a great way to relax, and just a fun experience all-around that will stick with kids in lifelong ways.

Happy spring… now get planting!

 

Do you tend a garden at home? And do your kids ever join you in the planting? Let me know in the comments below!

Rustic Carrot Cake Cookies

I might be part rabbit. I love all things fresh veggies, especially carrots. And, well, of course carrot cake is included in that. But sometimes a carrot cake is just too… fussy for me around the Easter season. With all of the other cooking to do for Easter dinner, I just can’t imagine adding a full from-scratch cake to the list. Plus, between getting crazy full during dinner, and the Easter egg hunting going on, it’s just no fun to have to sit down at the table again for dessert.

Cue these cookies. No muss, no fuss, and no need for a plate and a fork… just simple, delicious, and packed with all of the flavor of a carrot cake.

But is it difficult you ask? Tons of crazy ingredients just like a real carrot cake? No, and no. Let me show you…

This is all you need. Yup, really. Well, I mean, you’ll need a little water, but that hardly counts, right? Other than the mix, you’ll need 1 egg, 3 egg yolks (save the whites for an omelette!), a tablespoon of butter, the Whipped cream cheese frosting, and of course, the water.

For this recipe, you’ll want to be sure you’re buying the Duncan Hines Classic Carrot cake from their Decadent line. It’s important because you want the raisins and carrots to be separate, like they come here, in a pouch of their own. If you were making the cake, you’d stir them into the batter, but we’re not making cake, are we? Start by setting the cake mix aside.

The carrots and raisins come dehydrated, so the first thing you’ll want to do is re-hydrate them. You’ll do this by pouring the pouch and 1 1/4 cup of HOT water into a bowl. Just let it sit while you prepare the rest of the cookies, and they’ll do their thing.

For the cookie part, pour your cake mix, your egg, 3 egg yolks, and the tablespoon of butter into a bowl, combining them. I’ll tell you a little secret here… these cookies are actually modified from a cake mix pie crust recipe that Chef Joe from Duncan Hines gave me! So, if you want, you can always stop here and use this as a crust for a pie… but let’s keep going. If you find that it’s a little too dry to work with, add no more than 2 Tablespoons of water to the mixture, a teaspoon at a time, until it’s moist enough to work with, but not too sticky.

Roll your dough out to pie crust thickness and cut into circles using a round cutter or a class or another round object about the right size. I used my trusty round cutter that I use for just about any round cutting I have to do in the kitchen. You’ll bake these for 7-10 minutes at 350.

When they’re removed from the oven, immediately transfer them to a wire rack to cool. You’ll want them cooled completely before you add the frosting between them.

Whoa! Check out what happened to those carrots and raisins when we weren’t looking! They’ve tripled in size, at least! But there still might be a little more water in them, and we do NOT want that water thinning out our icing!

Strain the carrots and raisins completely…

Then use a towel to pat off all of the remaining excess water.

Take your Duncan Hines cream cheese frosting and the carrots and raisins, and mix them together until well blended.

Then, pipe it onto half of your cookies. Don’t make the mistake of piping too many cookies like I did… and then having to scrape it off. Ha! You can spread it with a spoon, but I’ve found I cover it more evenly if I pipe it. Your choice.

Finish by sandwiching the frosting with another delicious cookie, then chilling for awhile in the fridge. Or, enjoy them the way my family prefers, frozen like an ice cream sandwich!

Send some home with your Easter guests as a treat, put them in pretty bags to leave on a neighbor’s porch with a sweet note telling them to have a wonderful Easter, or enjoy them all yourself. There is no wrong way to handle these cookies.

I love that they’re very rustic, like something you’d find in your grandmother’s kitchen (provided your grandmother doesn’t severely dislike raisins, like mine does!), but at the same time, they’re incredibly simple. No one will ever believe that you made them from a mix.

 

What’s your favorite Spring dessert? Tell me in the comments below!

 

Preserving Flowers Easily and Affordably

It’s prom season. Can you believe it? It seems like just yesterday was Christmas, then Valentine’s Day, but now, it’s the season of puffy, glittery dresses, limousines, and flowers. I remember my own prom like it was just days ago, and then suddenly realized that it’s been nearly a decade. I find it so hard to believe that I’m closer to my ten year reunion than I am to my high school prom… what’s even more amazing is that I still have the corsage from my senior prom tucked away in a box.

How did the corsage survive almost a decade? With careful preservation. But you don’t need a lot of expensive materials or a difficult process… it’s actually quite simple to preserve flowers from a special occasion like prom in the comfort of your own home.

You only need 3 things: your flowers you’d like to preserve, a shoebox (great opportunity to recycle the box from those pretty prom heels!), and Borax, which you can find at retailers like Walmart in the laundry section. Borax has many great uses around the house, and it’s often in the homemade laundry soap recipes floating around the internet. Borax can be used to unclog drains, deodorize garbage pails, and more. The great thing is that it’s about $0.08-$0.12 per oz, which is incredibly affordable.

Grab your shoebox, pour a nice layer of Borax in the bottom, and gently nest your flower, corsage, or other floral piece onto the Borax. Carefully pour Borax over the flower, covering it. Make sure you’re gentle to not distort the flower.

Close the box (and optionally, tape it to ensure it won’t spill), and mark the date. Let it sit undisturbed for two weeks.

Now, it’s time to unseal the box and see if it worked!

On the left is an unpreserved pink carnation, and on the right, the preserved pink carnation. As you can see, the vibrant color was preserved, the shape and size was preserved, and each fold of the flower was carefully preserved. It looks pretty true to the unpreserved carnation, which you can tell is starting to experience a little bit of wilt.

 

Now, you never have to worry about a treasured memory going to waste, because preserving a flower at home is easy and affordable.

What memories do you have of your prom? Did you save your corsage? Talk about it in the comments below!

Top 10 Can’t Miss Books for Spring

It’s spring! Finally. As Easter approaches, I’m sure many of you are looking for a great book to start the conversation about spring, or perhaps a treasure to ask the Easter Bunny to bring. All of these books on my top ten are perfect choices for your children. I’ve made sure to list the age range for books so you’ll know you’re getting the perfect picks whether you have a toddler, a teen, or something in between. I also have provided an affiliate link to the product on Amazon. While you should never feel obligated to purchase from one of my affiliate links, doing so is a great way to support DigitalEraMom.com!

Without further ado, here are 10 books you don’t want to miss this spring!

10. It’s Spring by Linda Glaser

This book is perfect for preschool through the middle elementary years.

This book is worth buying for the illustrations alone, which use hand painting and paper sculpture to convey the message. The lovely part is that this book is just one of a four-book season series, so if it becomes a favorite, of course, as spring dwindles, you can always switch to the summer book as well. This is a story about a child observing how spring arrives, and shows the animals, plants, and changes that occur during the spring months. The pictures bring the season to live, and it’s a great jump start to the season.

Purchase it here: It’s Spring

9. Little Seeds by Charles Ghigna

This book is a great pick for 2-4 year olds!

A beautiful springy book with bright colors and beautiful images, it’s a great way to teach all about planting flowers and the importance to them. It’s filled with beautiful colors that are perfect after cold and sad winter time, and it’s a fun poem, too! Definitely worth a read!

Get it here: Little Seeds (My Little Planet)

8. The Tiny Seed by Eric Carle

This book is a perfect book for preschoolers on up!

I think Eric Carle is really one of the first authors that readers grow up knowing. He’s an amazing author with very fun illustrations, and it’s always nice to see something special from him besides the Very Hungry Caterpillar we all know and love. This sweet book is a great tale about the life cycle of a flower, and the best part is that it comes with a piece of paper embedded with seeds that can be planted, so you can watch it grow into wildflowers, really helping ingrain the principles taught in the book! What better way to learn hands-on than to read this book and plant the paper inside? The book starts talking about how things happen to seeds, like being trampled on or eaten by birds, so it might be a little sensitive for some young readers, but otherwise, you’ll find yourself cheering for the Tiny Seed as he makes his journey to flowerhood!

Get it here: The Tiny Seed (The World of Eric Carle)

7. The Listening Walk by Paul Showers

This book would be good to introduce in preschool, but has great messages that even early elementary kids can grow with.

This book is a fantastic story all about listening to the sounds of nature. Revised from a 1961 classic, this story is all about a father and child listening to the sounds of what nature has to hold while going on a walk. It’s a great book to inspire a listening walk of your own! The value of this book extends far beyond the actual pages, because it helps kids tune into the sounds around them, be more aware of the subtle things in their surroundings, and listen to the amazing things that they encounter on the way.

You can buy it here: The Listening Walk

6. The Best Bike Ride Ever by James Proimos

This book is good for ages 3 and up, but especially perfect for a beginning bike rider!

This is a newer book that is definitely perfect for spring. Bonnie, the main character, begs and begs for a bike, and her parents finally surprise her with one! She
goes on an epic bike ride, over mountains, under animals, past major landmarks like the Statue of Liberty and the Grand Canyon. However, Bonnie realizes she never learned one important bike riding lesson– how to stop! When she takes a big tumble and learns a great lesson from her parents, Bonnie is back on the bike and ready for more adventure.

Find it here: The Best Bike Ride Ever

5. Compost Stew: An A to Z Recipe for the Earth by Mary McKenna Sidals

This book is great for ages 3 and up!

This is a fantastic (and rhyming) way to teach kids great things to add to a compost pile! Suggestions include eggshells, grass clippings, insects, and more, which will easily get kids learning more about Composting and creating very rich soil for a garden. What better book for springtime than one that rhymes AND acts as a recipe to create a perfect batch of compost!

You can purchase a copy here: Compost Stew

4. Duck and Goose: Here Comes the Easter Bunny by Tad Hills

This book is my top pick for toddlers and preschoolers.

What list of mine would be complete without a touch of Duck and Goose, right? I love these delightful, colorful, very silly board books that are so simple but very educational and happy. It’s so fun to watch Duck and Goose hide and wait for the Easter Bunny to arrive, and perhaps an inspiration to play a hiding game of your own. It’s a great pick for toddlers during the Easter season!

Buy it here: Duck & Goose, Here Comes the Easter Bunny!

3. Ducks In Muck by Lori Haskins

This is perfect for babies and older, and a great pick for a new reader.

Starting as an easy read to even the youngest children, it’s a great first-reader that will grow with them. I remember this book being a favorite of my little brother when he was young, and I enjoy reading it because it’s just so catchy– ducks in trucks, trucks stuck in muck, and you find yourself wondering if the ducks, and the trucks, will ever get out of being stuck in the muck! It’s a fun read with rhyming words that really helps motivate young readers to step into reading. A fun bedtime story, this is a great springtime story that turns into a year-round favorite.

You can get this title here: Ducks in Muck (Step into Reading, Step 1)

2. Seedfolks by Paul Fleischman

This is a good pick for 4th-7th graders, but even adults will get a lot out of it.

Another favorite from my childhood, this book is best geared at a slightly older crowd. A chapter book that would be a quick read for advanced readers, it may take a few days to get through, but it’s a great book about diversity, gardening, and the love that even strangers can grow for each other through a common interest. This book weaves together short stories, each narrated by a different character but with all of the characters woven through the book, of people living near each other and turning a vacant lot filled with garbage into a thriving community garden. People from so many different cultures, backgrounds, and stages in life all come together over a common interest, and that’s something worth reading.

You can snag this one here: Seedfolks

1. Thunder Cake by Patricia Polacco

This is a good pick for kindergartners and older.

This is easily one of my favorite books from my own childhood and ranks in my top ten. As thunder starts to boom nearby, a grandmother comforts her granddaughter by helping her gather the ingredients for a special cake called Thunder Cake. Living in the great plains, storms were a part of Spring every year of my childhood, and they still are. While I still long to make an actual Thunder Cake just like the one described in the book (and yes, the recipe is given!), the story itself is rich and helps quell fears of storms. I look forward to when Zach is old enough to enjoy this treasure with me, whether or not he has a fear of storms.

You can buy a copy here: Thunder Cake

 

Obviously, some of my favorite picks on this list are the books that inspire more than just a story time together, but instead, give practical applications that extend past the story once the book is over. Books like Compost Stew, Thunder Cake, and the Listening Walk can get you engaged to do activities of your very own, getting kids active, exploring, and learning this spring and for many spring seasons to come.

 

What is your favorite book for the spring season, for any age group? Do you think the Easter bunny will bring a book for your little one this year?

Ten Great Phone Apps You Won’t Want to Live Without

I’ll admit it. I never understood the smart phone craze. I mean, I was doing just fine with my old-school phone, and who really needed to access their Facebook constantly? What was the point? Sure, there were a few things I really wished I had access to, like Instagram, but did I really need a smartphone? I mean, I could do the basics from the web, like facebook and twitter, and I had a laptop. So who needed one of those fancy (and expensive) phones?

Then my mobile service provider started making it cheaper and easier to switch to a smartphone, and it started to become apparent that, in time, I wouldn’t have a choice. Smartphones were everywhere, and there was no escaping them. So, I finally buckled down and got my Samsung Galaxy SIII. And seriously? I’d never go back to the dark ages again.

This phone does everything. I’ve shared a few apps I love in the past, or apps that I simply wouldn’t want to be without, but as I’ve explored, I’ve discovered more and more utilities that make my life easier. So, I’ve selected 10 apps that I can’t live without. Because I’m sure a lot of you are aware of the basics, like how to access email, or facebook, or the ever-popular Instagram, as well as the utilities like Google Calendar, I’ve decided to leave those basics off the list. Instead, this is a list of 10 apps you might not realize you’re living without, and apps that are so amazing, you shouldn’t have to live without them anymore.

I love the Bible App from YouVersion, powered by Lifechurch.tv. The app is great because it has the Bible, in tons of different versions, as well as reading plans and Bible studies from big names like Joyce Meyers. Highlighting, and even sharing favorite verses to social media, is made easy by this app. I love it because I always have my phone with me, so carrying a Bible everywhere is as easy as pulling out my phone. Because it comes in over 35 languages (app interface) and 200 languages (actual Bible translations), it’s easy for anyone who has a smart-phone, Kindle, or other device to get the Word right there.
I tend to be forgetful, especially when life gets busy, so another feature I love is that I can get a notification to do my daily Bible study if I’ve forgotten. I have mine set to notify me around 10:30 pm, so I’m reminded around the time Zach winds down for sleep each night. It’s my favorite Bible study time each day, and I love that I’m notified for those times I just happen not to remember to study that day. Finally, it’s FREE. Like totally Free. Which means if you’re not currently reading the Bible or have a study plan, there’s really no excuse not to give the Youversion Bible app a try. Just search “Bible” in your app store of choice and find the Bible App.

Here’s a little closer look at the main screen of the app, which shows me a verse of the day, let’s me carry on from where I was last reading, tells me where I’m at in plans I’m studying, and basically keeps me on track and in the Word every single day.

Speaking of great apps that help keep me close to God, I love the K-Love App so much! The K-Love app is awesome for any fan of the radio station. It’s great because you can stream the station anywhere! I don’t have a radio in my bedroom, but sometimes Zach and I will listen to the K-Love app before bed, and I love having it right there on my phone. If you’re out and about (but not driving! That’d be bad!) and hear a song on the station, you can check into the app and see what’s now playing, see tracks recently played, and even view lyrics from all of them. You can see the latest K-Love news and also view (and share) the Encouraging Word for the day, directly inside of the app! How easy, and perfect, for listening and keeping up to date with the station.

I think the Last 5 feature is my favorite feature within the K-Love App, because I always love adding new tracks to my Spotify playlist or buying them on Amazon, but I can never seem to remember the name of a song. I love being able to look it up from the app when a song I love plays, find out the name and artist, and download it or add it to a playlist later.

It’s no secret that I’m a die-hard soccer fan, so this app is a lifesaver. I’m able to check scores, get notifications when my favorite team, Sporting KC, adds a video, and get information about the teams we’re playing and some stats about their team and mine before the game. I can also follow along with a play-by-play for those times that the game is on a channel I don’t get, and tells me when upcoming games are and what channel they’ll air on. While MLS is the only league I have the app for, it appears to be available for other sports, like an NFL Mobile app, the NHL GameCenter app, MLB.com At Bat, and more, which means no matter what sport you’re a fan of, there’s an app for that. If you love soccer, but the MLS isn’t your thing, you can get an EPL News app, among others, all free. It’s a great option is you’re a sporty mama who has a favorite team to keep up with.

My favorite feature is being able to see, at a glance, when everyone is playing, and check scores on the teams while games are in progress. Sometimes, it’s nice to see where everyone else stands when I’m busy watching a game Sporting KC is playing. After all, that all comes into play when we go to defend our championship this year!

I’ve mentioned the Walgreens app in detail before, especially the photo part, so I’ll keep this review a little shorter. My favorite feature of the app is that I can log into my Instagram account and print directly from Instagram. I can also order more than just prints, but I love that I can get affordable photo products from my phone, and have most of them ready and waiting for me within the hour. I think the quality is really good, especially for a one-hour print. I’m a huge fan of how quick and affordable it is to get hard copies of my favorite photos.

If you happen to get your prescriptions from Walgreens you can also get refills and check on your prescription within the app! You can also set a medication reminder, double-check price information, and see the weekly ad from the app.

Postagram is SUCH a cool app, and everyone I use it with seems so impressed by the results. Basically, you purchase credits (99 cents for cards sent in the US, with an additional fee for international cards, and a discount for buying credits in bulk). You design a postcard by adding an image from your phone gallery, then personalize it with a message, choose your recipient, and send!

I love it because I can’t always get to the store, but want to send a card. It also makes a great thank you note or just a fun message to send. I love to send a postagram to my grandmother every one in awhile. Recently, we went and stayed at her house, so as a thank you, I sent a postagram with a picture of us while we were there and a message thanking her for letting us stay. I’ve also sent out thank you cards to family this way… when Zach celebrated his birthday, a few out of town relatives sent cash. I sent them a photo of him celebrating his birthday, with a quick thank you message saying how he planned to spend (or save!) his gift. It’s so easy and I can have a postcard on it’s way in just a few minutes. The best part is that the photo portion will pop out of the postcard, and has the message printed on the back so it gets saved, too!

While the credits aren’t free, the app itself is, so you can download it and see if you’re a fan. The postcards are of really high quality, thick and glossy.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve driven over to the Redbox kiosk nearest me, only to find the movie I was hoping to see wasn’t in stock. I’ve also had times where I’ve driven to the Redbox Kiosk and had to wait in line behind someone who took forEVER to decide the movie they wanted… to the point that they even called home “Do you want this movie? No? Okay, what about this one?” Oh, yeah, and I could also mention I’ve been that person… (but I try not to be when someone is behind me!)

The Redbox app eliminates those issues. I can see what movies are available and even check other local kiosks if the one I use most doesn’t have what I’m looking for. I can plan the movie I want to get at home and talk to the family, rather than calling from the Kiosk line and reading off what’s at the box. It saves me a trip if they don’t have what I want, and also allows me to reserve movies on my phone so they’re ready when I get to the box (and no sneaky person in front of me gets the last copy before I get to the front of the line! ….first world problems). I also love that I can watch the trailer inside the app, so if I’m undecided about a flick, or if I’m trying to convince the family that this is the one to see, we can just watch the trailer and decide.

The Cartwheel app by Target is a must-have for Target shoppers. It’s a great way to earn savings at Target and get some money back on the essentials you can’t live without. You start out with a certain number of spots to add offers, and as you save money, unlock challenges (like adding friends or saving a certain amount), you earn more spots to add with the offers you’d like. You go through and add the offers you’d like most, everything from name brands to off brands, food to clothing. Certain offers (like underwear, pregnancy tests, and medication) are locked so your friends won’t see you making those sensitive purchases, but some offers you select will be visible to friends– call it “social savings” if you will. When you get to the checkout, show your smartphone (or print out your personal savings barcode on the website) and the cashier will scan it. All Cartwheel coupons are done by percentages, 5-25% off specific items. This means that you can use manufacturer’s coupons and Target coupons in addition to Cartwheel (but the percentage taken off will be off of the price AFTER coupons and discounts).

The savings are pretty nice, and even 5% off of certain items adds up over time!

Ibotta isn’t just a free app, it’s an app that you MAKE money while using. If you’re not familiar with the app, it’s an app that literally rewards you for shopping and buying the stuff you probably already purchase, including toilet paper, diapers, milk, and more. In the time that I’ve had the app, I’ve earned almost $100 in cash back! And there’s no coupon clipping (though, I pair Ibotta with clipped coupons to save even more).
Ibotta is great because you earn cash back so easily. Sometimes you have to tweet or facebook something, but you’ll earn $0.25, $1.00, or even more when you buy the product! Other times, you watch a short commercial to earn your money, or something else. Plus, they have bonuses at times that give you EXTRA money for buying certain listed items (one time, I earned $3.00 extra for buying Huggies Diapers and Huggies Wipes in one transcation– in addition to the money I was already earning for the individual products!)


When you go shopping, you take a note of the sizes and types of items to buy in the app. If you get confused, you can scan the barcode in store before buying and make sure you’re buying the right product. You then redeem the cash by photographing your receipt in the app, then scanning the product barcode. With some places, you don’t even have to do that! Just connect your store savings card and it’ll track it automatically. Within 24 hours (and a lot of times, within the hour!) I have the money in my account, ready to be withdrawn for me to use!

Plus, the app recently had a major overhaul, so it’s better than ever. There are now some restaurant offers and offers for hardware stores, so you can earn cash back on more than just groceries! And, while you used to just get to cash out to PayPal, you can now ALSO cash out for Redbox movie rentals, Starbucks gift cards, and ITunes cards!

If you’re not sure about how well Ibotta works, well, the numbers don’t lie. I earned over $100 in my first year of using the app. With the money I saved, I was able to use to give Zach an amazing second birthday celebration.

My Fitness Pal is an awesome app. It’s so easy to use, and it’s a great way to keep up with tracking what I eat. Though I often post recipes on the blog that are a little higher in calorie, and definitely enjoy them in moderation, I still like watching my weight, and MyFitnessPal is an amazing, and free, way to be mindful of what’s going in my body. By putting in my weight goals, it helps me making a plan of how many calories to consume, and allows me to consider how many calories my workout burned. Plus, I can get a look at whether or not I’m getting enough protein. One great feature of the MyFitnessPal app is the ability to save recipes I make and figure out exact calorie counts by recording them in the phone. Plus, it’s easy to add foods; with over a million foods, I’ve never found anything I wanted to add that wasn’t added, and with a barcode scanner, it’s easy to find a product. The best part is, even if you aren’t a smartphone user, you can access MyFitnessPal from the website and use it there! I’ll sometimes use the website and the app interchangeably, and both sync with each other. Plus, now that I’ve started using MapMyRun to track my walks around the neighborhood with the nice weather, I’ve been able to sync my calories burned on my walk (mapped using GPS) with MyFitnessPal! It’s a great way to be sure that I’m getting an adequate workout, and the two apps used in conjunction with each other work so well!

To give you a quick overview, MyFitnessPal lets me look at how many calories I need to eat that day (my goal of losing 2 lbs a week requires a 1,350 calorie diet), as well as how many calories I’ve burned by working out. I set certain targets for myself on how much I’d like to “spend” on breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks, and then try to “earn” calories back– just like a financial budget, it’s my diet budget. I know personally, my most snacky time is at night, so if I haven’t eaten to allow for a light night snack, then I need to work out to earn enough to spend on that snack. It’s a great way to stay on track and motivated. The app does feature some ads, but they’re barely noticeable, and I don’t mind, because the app is otherwise 100% free– the ads help monetize the app to keep it free for us to use!

Finally, every person needs a good flashlight utility. Now, some phones are built with a flashlight utility already in them, but I’ve found that none seem quite as bright as this combo of phone flash and screen brightness. This one may not look like much, but I promise you, if you get it, you’ll use it all the time. It’s kept me from stubbing my toe, helped me locate precious toys that slipped behind the bed, and even kept Zach entertained. It’s a free flashlight app, and it’s very no-frills. However, the no-frills are great, because it takes up very little space on the phone and is just really a good simple utility.

While, of course, there are tons of applications out there that I can’t live without, and while I’m surprised at how many things there ARE apps for, I love the fact that these ten apps make my life a little bit easier by just being in my pocket.

What app do YOU have trouble living without? Tell me in the comments below!