Saturday, December 27, 2014

Easy Pickings with Pick-Ease

This past October, I came across a local inventor mom, Melissa Desrochers, thanks to social media.  Her idea was simple and intriguing: a food pick inspired by necessity.  Her son was a picky eater.  Toothpicks worked, but she didn't like the idea of handing over a splinter of wood to her toddler.  With that, Pick Ease was born.  Once we connected, Melissa sent me a few Pick Ease to try.  I was very eager to use them with my own picky eater.
From an occupational therapist's view point, this product has a lot of great features including a fun and friendly sticker design and a 1" by 3/16" circular area to promote developing grasp patterns.  The unique design has a stopper for the tips of the fingers to help remind children not to use a fisted grasp around the utensil.  For children with typical cognitive development, Pick Ease could be a great transition tool from finger feeding to pierced food utensil feeding.  However, even though the tip is considered rounded, mine was still pretty sharp.  Because of it's small (and sharp) conical end, children, but especially those with developmental delays, need to be closely supervised with this product.  Impulsive or ataxic movements could cause accidental injury when self feeding.  With that being said, the tip can pierce a variety of soft and firm foods, especially those that have been cut into small pieces.   Crispy foods do not work, they crumble beneath the force.  Pick Ease could also be used to help with pacing.  One can only get so much food onto the Pick Ease. When only given a little bit of food at a time on the plate, a child may learn to take his or her time.
From a mom's perspective: it's really unique.  It's dishwasher safe, though the decals are starting to come off.  And it's BPA free.  My Mudge is a relatively picky eater.  He thought these were fun to use.  And though he wouldn't try the nugget with it, he enjoyed poking at his plated meal.  Combined with his Fun with Food Fred Plate, (another local RI distributor) and the old school mini Tupperware pitcher with 1 ounce cups (available on eBay and Amazon), the Pick Ease added another option to encourage new foods, along with his "Trying Something New Star" on his Star Chart.
Melissa is always posting creative ways to present tasty, healthy foods for the finicky kid on social media.   She has also shared a free, downloadable eBook "29 Healthy Kids Snacks" through her website since fun presentations can help increase the picky eater's edible repertoire.  So if you are looking to try something new because you have been struggling with a picky eater in the house, the $8.95 cost for a set of two may be an option for you, without breaking the plate.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Rehabilitating Santa's Elves

Everyday is not Christmas Eve, as most would like to believe, up in the North Pole.  The other 364 days of the year are very strenuous to every "body" in the North Pole which is why, in fact, Santa had called upon an occupational therapist to evaluate and treat the millions of elves that reside and work at his workshop.

Try as they might, workplace injuries do occur in the workshop.  So when the percentage of worker's compensation claims became statistically overwhelming last year, Santa contacted an OT to assess ergonomics, develop workplace hardening programs, and evaluate for any assistive technology needs.

Needless to say, when the Big Guy calls, you get on a sleigh and head up due North.  What I, I mean the OT, found was astounding.  No one had thought to do this before.  Though much of the technology was up to date, the layout of the mechanics left more to be desired.  The heights of the conveyer belts were much too high causing unnecessary strain at the shoulders and back.  There were no stools or chairs to use as support during the long hours of standing at the toy building stations.  Many of the tools which had been used for hundreds of years had handles that had been whittled down to nearly the width of a reindeer's hair.  And the work schedule?  Well, the OT was quite concerned about the work/leisure balance.  The Workshop Gym was so dusty from disuse, you could build a snowman with it.

So with the detailed evaluation in hand, the OT presented her results as jolly as she could.  Santa, his wife (and co-owner of the shop) and his top elf listened intently.  He tapped his pipe (which I later informed him of some Smoking Cessation Programs), adjusted his spectacles and with a Ho, Ho, Oh.... asked what he should do.

The OT suggested to revamp the Workshop with joy all around, including the recreation program.  She had used an online survey program, like, to assess the hours of work, desired leisure activities, and pain scales to get a rough idea of what was needed.  The OT suggested to incorporate stretching and yoga programs periodically throughout the day.  And since many of the elves desired to dance more, scheduled dance aerobics including Zumba, Jazz, and Waltzing into the gym program.  The gym was rearranged to make easier-to-use circuit program for whole body strengthening; but for those in need of more specific therapeutic treatment, the OT declared she would evaluate on a as-needed basis. And since the commute would be quite, um, extensive, she decided to incorporate telehealth programming quarterly to check in on the overall health of the Workshop Employees.

To address the height differential of the equipment to the workers, it was noticed that the conveyer belts and tables were ADJUSTABLE!  With just a few clicks, the positioning of the work surface was more conducive to proper posture.  The elves made their own stools, all decorated to fit the decor, and were relieved to be able to sit, half stand or half kneel during the work day.  The workers would be more comfortable.  Tool handles were adapted with Sugru, clay, and foam to improve grasp comfort.

The Naughty and Nice computer stations were also assessed.  Just moving the monitors and keyboards, adjusting the brightness and contrast,  and providing some speech to text software, like Dragon Dictation, the Naughty Nice Brigade was up and running.   A variety of mice and headphones were recommended to decrease the repetitive stress disorders.

Overall, Santa was very jolly to hear that with minimal expense and redistribution of funds and energy, the Workshop Employees would be healthier and happier.  One year later, it is with a joyous heart that Santa declared worker's compensation claims have decreased by 50% already.  The elves are happier and healthier and have added even more activities into the gym and leisure programming. Santa, too, appeared to have stopped smoking his pipe and looked a little leaner this Christmas after realizing he had an affinity to Zumba.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

What's on Your List?

Ah, yes.  The holiday season is upon us now, with just a FEW WEEKS to get all of that shopping done.  Thanksgiving is late this year. which leaves even less time to focus on the candy canes and latkes.  So, I figured to get a head start on the hustle and bustle of the mistletoes and menorahs.  Disclaimer: I live in a world of boys. If I didn't quite hit on "girly" things, well I am just thankful that I am not immersed in the world of Elsa and Anna this year.  Here are my top  Chrismakkah gifts (in no particular order).

Spot It!
I love this game for so many reasons!  First, Spot It! is super portable. I always throw it in the soccer bags or pocket books because it can help pass the time during appointments, practices, and restaurant waits.  And now that they have expanded their already extensive line to include Disney themes like Frozen, Planes, Doc McStuffins, Jake and Neverland Pirates and Pixar, there is truly something for everyone. It makes a great stocking stuffer or Hanukkah gift!  And the kids don't know that they are building amazing visual perceptual and language skills. BlueOrange flat out, just knows how to play!

Well, this is a given. Besides the home security factor of stepping on loose bricks causing immense pain to any intruder, the Lego family of products provides hours of entertainment.  From Duplos for the little hands to the Lego Architecture sets for the over-achiever enthusiast, Lego has something for EVERYONE!  Add in-hand manipulation skills, attention, and direction following to the play, and the result is a classic therapeutic and engaging activity.  And look on November 15th for the release of new Minecraft additions!

Maybe it's because we are a house of readers, but books are definitely on the list this year.  Between the Minecraft Handbooks, the new Diary of a Wimpy Kid The Long Haul (scheduled to release on today, November 4th) the Fly Guy series for the younger reader, and the The Book with No Pictures, there are amazing choices available to foster the love of the written word.  And if you have older kids to buy for, then consider an eReader.  Not only is it electronic, and inevitably awesome, it still provides access to books.

Subscription Craft Kits
I've written before on how much our family loves the Kiwi Crate.  We strayed off for a month just to try something new, the Happy Trunk, but it just wasn't the same; the quality and engagement just wasn't there.  Luckily we are back and with a renewed love.  Kiwi recently introduced the Tinker Crate, which is a STEM based build and play activity kit.  Targeted for 9-14+, the kits are phenomenal.  This month, the kit was focused on building a motor.  How freakin' cool?!  If you are interested in the gift that keeps on giving, a monthly to yearly subscription to one the Kiwi Crate clubs is the way to go.

Under $15 Stocking Stuffers:
Basically, anything from ThinkFun!  Math Dice, Swish, Word Around.  You can't go wrong. These are quick and easy games that are engaging, practical, and fun.  Rory's Story Cubes are another fun stuffer for the kids and speech therapists in your life.  Let the picture dice guide your imagination to create the next Super Stuffed Animal adventure or the fairy tale of Princess Penelope Pickle Pants.

Hope you have received a little inspiration.  Please add to the list if you want to share some of your faves this year!

Sunday, October 26, 2014

OT's Role in a Zombie Apocalypse

It dawned on me the other day, with the impending doom and end-of-days, occupational therapists have the untapped potential to address the needs of a new population: Zombies.

With the unique training and ability to look at the whole person, an occupational therapist should remember to address all occupational areas when providing treatment during the Zombie Apocalypse:

Environmental Modifications:
A zombie's ataxic gait and poor safety awareness puts it at greater risks for falls in the home and community.  Recommending the removal of scatter rugs, improved lighting in hallways, and instructing them in the correct use of adaptive mobility equipment such as a walker or cane (in coordination with a Zombie-Certified Physical Therapist of course), can help decrease the risks of a fall in the home.

Self Help Skills:
Having observed functional deficits in Zombie eating habits such as open mouth posture,  poor tool use and hygiene issues, an OT practitioner should consider meal time adaptations. A Nosey Cup or weighted utensils could provide the difference between certain messiness and spillage to a more socially acceptable behavior.  Pacing eating by encouraging small amounts at a time can hamper pocketing or stuffing.

Social Skills- Supporting Functional Communication:
If only the Zombie could tell you, "I WANT BRAINS PLEASE."  But it appears from countless Zombie observations that oral communication is limited.  Incorporating a picture support system, gestures and sign (in coordination with a Zombie-Certified Speech and Language Pathologist) may mean the difference from an impulsive and frustrating attack on you or a loved one and the happy exchange of pleasantries.  And if the Zombie client demonstrates efficiency with low-tech supports, then an assistive technology assessment should be completed to identify other high-tech options that may be indicated.

Workforce Reentry:
Even a Zombie needs to participate to the best of his or her ability in a vocational outlet.  Looking at interests and skills with a Zombie-Certified Vocational Counsellor and an occupational interest inventory, your Zombie client may find a meaningful position.  Don't forget to evaluate the needs for  assistive technology or environmental modifications such as work from home, standing stations, a quiet brain-free office versus a cubicle to inhibit any distractions.

Leisure Balance:
When looking at the Work-Leisure balance of your Zombie client, it may be clearly out of whack.  Exploring creative outlets including music, exercise and arts and crafts could mean the difference between an overstressed Zombie to one with meaningful play.  And if reading is something your Zombie client is interested in but the visual attention and perception has caused a print disability, Screen reader software or audio books are a great option.

So if you are an entrepreneur or enjoy a challenge, the Zombie Apocalypse may be a great opportunity for you to put the step back into the walking dead.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

These are a few of my favorite things for Back to School- btw I know you are singing just like Julie Andrews

With just one week to go before the start of school, I was perusing some of my older posts and decided to do a little best-of products and ideas summation.

Favorite Lunch Box:Planet Box
We are now on our third year of using Planet Boxes.  These are stainless steel meal boxes that might remind you of an old-school frozen dinner plate.  But it is much more than that.  Using the Planet Boxes has made making lunches sooo much easier and quicker.  It helps to create a balanced tray that doesn't look visually cluttered or overwhelming.  Since their inception into our daily routine, my picky eaters come home with empty lunch boxes; which did not happen before.  Though expensive initially, the Planet Box has probably saved me more money in food waste and a gave me a priceless peace of mind that I am making my kids balanced eaters.  Not only that, I have not had to purchase another lunch box for school.  I just purchase new magnets for $3.95 for the beginning of school and the boys are thrilled. Since my first post about this lifestyle change, they have added another version, the Shuttle, which is slightly smaller and would be perfect for preschool and daycare.  I have the Launch, and the boys have the Rover. I get lots of comments at work while I am eating (and logging my treatments).   These are truly an investment for building solid eating habits and organization.  Bonus factor, kiddos with fine motor challenges or sensory challenges can easily access these boxes to open and shut them.

Favorite App:Writing Wizard
L'escapadou hit the ball out of the park with this app.  It is still my favorite app to support good handwriting habits.  The customizability of this app is outstanding.  Many of the teachers that I have introduced to it have incorporated it into independent work stations and vocabulary lessons.  Because you can easily input words and record the pronunciation, it provides a multi sensory learning experience for those with learning challenges.  But because it is visually fun without being nauseating, kids enjoy using the app.  What I especially love about the app is that during the tracing activity, it prompts correct letter starting points and formation.  Though I use Handwriting without Tears formation, the app has D'Nealian and Zane-Bloser formation too so you can choose what works for your classroom.  Overall, this app is well worth the $2.99

Favorite Office Supply:3M Post Its.
I put them on my forehead, my shirt, my IEPS, my computer, basically anywhere I need the cue to remember to do something.  But I also came across Avery See Through sticky notes which are so convenient to have around to help visually highlight reading words or math problems so that homework doesn't seem so overwhelming.

Favorite Math Game: Think Fun! Math Dice
Any version of this game is a great go to for independent or group stations. It is easily differentiated for all levels of learners and abilities. From Math Dice Jr. to Math Dice Tournament Kit, students will be immersed with skills from number recognition to exponents.

Favorite Reading/Language Game- Think Fun! Zingo
Zingo! is bingo with an (educational) twist.  Early readers can benefit and begin to associate words and pictures as they match the tiles to the boards. Or for emergent readers, and even for small group resource time, use Sight Word Zingo to increase and fluency with sight words.

Favorite Mom Item- True Lemon, Lime and Orange
Nope, not coffee. But these True Lemon packets make me drink.  I have to be motivated to drink water. So when I finally added these little packets of bliss into my Thermos, my hydration levels improved. I don't need it sweet; I just need a little essence of citrus to make me suck it down. So not only is a caffeinated mommy a happy mommy, so is a hydrated one.

What are your favorites back to school things?

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Back to School Tried and True

By this time of year, I am prepping to return to work and have found something that I cannot wait to use.  But honestly, this year, I can't wait to go back to my tried and true, my go-tos, my faves.

1. Music
People think I am nuts, but I sing everything. EVERYTHING becomes a song. Working with 3-5 years olds all day long will do that to you.  Almost each session incorporates something from Handwriting Without Tears Get Set for School album.  Kids love it.  I love it.  The songs address so many things from socialization, left/right discrimination, body awareness, language, pre-math concepts, I could go on and on.  In fact, the students even when they leave preschool, still expect to sing the Hello Song and do Tap, Tap, Tap.

My other top music pick incorporates technology.  Inclusive Technology's apps have such catchy tunes that I'll incorporate an app for my kiddos that need to work on cause and effect, assistive technology access learning, turn taking or counting.  The activities are great one on one or in groups.  I often will connect my iDevice to the Smartboard in the classrooms after our music and movement activity and before we move to the fine motor fun.  They just released two multi-songs apps that I might just splurge on, because I know I'll use them.

2. Scissors
I love cutting.  Put a tool in a child's hands and you can see their eyes and bodies hone in on the activity.  Snipping the paper strips or theraputty is, well, therapeutic.  Snipping through the resistance of the putty builds strength of the intrinsic hand muscles, while forcing bilateral hand skill development.  Adaptive scissors help to make it accessible to most, if not, all students, with the just-right assistance level.  And I started downloading or making play mats from Teachers Pay Teachers to support early math skills like one to one correspondence, number recognition and counting.
Scissor Assessment Kits from Achievement Products
Scissor Assessment Kit from Achievement has a great variety of left and right adaptive scissors for just about any need or ability.

3. The Peanut Ball
I think I need to order about 5 more this year.  The peanut ball is such a great tool for core strengthening, balance, attention, and upper body strengthening, that its versatility equals its weight in gold.  Sit on it. Straddle it. Lay on your belly. Lay on your back. Throw it. Kick it. Carry it. Roll it. Do any of those while participating in an activity and the session gets even more bang for the buck.

4.  Theraputty
I  have been having so much fun adapting and creating activities using Fun and Function's variety of putties.  I heart the Animal Rescue Discovery Putty.  But over the year, the kiddos have lost most of my animals.  So I purchased the Emotions Putty which are totally cool.  It comes in Calm which is labeled as Soft. When cool, it is blue. When warmed up, it turns purple, like the old school mood rings.  It also comes in Energize which is labeled Firm.  It's this metallic glob of fun that reminds me of Terminator 2 when Robert Patrick oozes and molds into forms.  It is so mesmerizing that kids and adults alike will choose it.  The Putty Elements packs are a great addition. Because they are named Earth (green/ medium), Desert (red/ extra soft). Sun (yellow/soft ) and Sky (blue/extra firm) that along with science, it can support persistence and strength.  Note, it felt like their resistance did not match their labels; but that was ok.  For the ages with whom I work, I am less concerned with the resistance level than I am with engagement with a substance that will either challenge their sensory or fine motor needs.
Calm Emotions Putty
5. Dice
I am not just talking about the standard dot dice from the board games; I am talking about turning a couple of those random blocks you have laying around and creating new activities.  Roll picture/word dice to create silly sentence that not only address writing skills such as spacing, formation, and capitalization, but also supports language development and awareness.  Roll a move, dance a groove.  Easy way to add a movement break into an activity or the order to which a student completes an obstacle course.  Changing the way a learning center or activity is built, such as adding the playful component of dice, can change the attitude and engagement of a student learning a novel skill.
Foam Dice with Who? Where? Verbs? When? Boardmaker Pictures to prompt sentence expansion
Now that I have shared some of mine, what's in your back to school tool box?

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Got Zucc? Double Chocolate Zucchini Muffins

Even if your kids don’t like veggies, they cannot resist these insanely moist and chocolaty muffins.  Mudge said, “These taste like brownies, but they're healthy.”  Plus, the added bonus of cinnamon gives it a little Mexican hot chocolate flare.

Preheat Oven 325 degrees.

Bowl 1- Dry Goods
2 ½ cups whole wheat flour
4 tbsp Dutch cocoa powder
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
 Bowl 2
½ cup milk
¼ tsp white vinegar

Bowl 3- wet ingredients- Blend until smooth and airy; it looked like frosting!
½ cup butter
½ cup canola oil
1 ½ cups white sugar
2 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
Now add Bowl 2’s milk mixture until well combined.  
Then slowly add the dry ingredients from Bowl 1 to the wet mix.  Last fold in:
2 cups grated zucchini
1 cup chocolate chips
Scoop into paper lined (I prefer parchment liners) mini muffin tins.  Bake 18-20 minutes until the tooth pick comes out clean (unless of course you pierce a chocolate chip).  This batch will make 72 mini muffins.  My kids will eat 5-10 in a sitting depending on how hungry they are.  If you use a standard-sized muffin tin expect approximately 20-25 minutes for cooking.

Now I have to tell you that I didn’t make them as muffins this morning. I had to try them in the waffle maker.  But because this is such a moist product, getting the waffles out was a giant pain in the arse.  Spraying the waffle iron with non-stick worked but many of them broke apart during the removal process.  They cooled on the cookie rack and are now set in the freezer for easy breakfast pickings.  The flavor still rocked, but I wouldn’t do it again.  Okay.  I guess everything is not better as a waffle. Regardless, this recipe still makes killer muffins.  Give it try and let me know what you think….

Monday, August 11, 2014

Lemon Zucchini Waffle Bread or Everything is better as a waffle series

Lately I have been in a baking mood, especially after seeing so many great recipes on Facebook.  My most recent flavor expedition was the Lilluna for the Lemon ZucchiniBread.   I found it a little too sweet for my taste, and the cooking time and directions for the loaf size ended up being quite off, and I  had to cook for nearly 90 minutes while it oozed over the size.  But I REALLY liked the flavor combination.  So, I modified to my liking, and hope you like it too!
Bowl 1, combine below ingredients and set aside.
2 cups whole wheat white flour
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt

In a mixer or second bowl, beat time smooth and creamy
½ cup canola oil
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk + 1/4 tsp of white vinegar

Next, add
The juice and zest of ½ large lemon (or a whole small)
1 cup shredded zucchini

Finally, add bowl 1 slowly to the wet ingredients. Mix gently till well incorporated.
Usually I would have made muffins, baking them at 350 for 20-25 minutes.   But I have been on a waffle kick. So I decided to try cooking the batter via Belgian waffle maker. 
Well, it worked and they came out quite tasty.  Almost like having the end piece in each bite.  Best thing was the speed at which they cooked.  2-5 minutes.  Spray with non-stick between each batch.  
That’s it.  For an added bonus, a drizzle of standard icing, made by mixing ½ cup confectioner’s sugar and 2 tbsp of lemon juice; it gave a little extra sweetness.

Overall, these were really good.  It’s a great way to use (not my) garden zucchini. Or save a little summer goodness by freezing them.  Then instead of the kids asking for the store bought frozen waffles, there is a tastier and healthier version waiting for them in the freezer.  Each batch used approximately 1 cup of batter, equating to 4 1/2 full waffles, but that may vary depending on the type of waffle maker you have.  You don't think that is a lot, but because they are a little heavier than your standard waffle, they can be great for breakfast, brunch, snack or dessert.
Try them out and let me know how it goes!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Fun Products to Get You Back to School the Joyful Organizer Way!

It's crazy to think back to school has hit us.  I have the pleasure of sharing  another guest post from the Joyful Organizer herself,  Bonnie Joy Dewkett, a Certified Professional Organizer.  She has a innate knack for organizing whatever life throws at you.  Her tips have been featured in Good Housekeeping and Family Circle (to name just a few). Below are great product reviews that may add a little sanity to your crazy day.

Please note I received samples of some of these items to test out and write the reviews.  My opinions are my own were not influenced in any way.
Summer is fully upon us and while it's not so fun to think about, school is just around the corner.  So, this month I figured I'd bring you some products designed to help you start the school year off on the right foot, and, of course, ORGANIZED!

The Sigg Thermos is something I'm not sure how I lived without previously.  It's not just any thermos.  First of all, its sleek design makes it look amazing on your table or desk.  It's available in a few colors and all models are BPA and Phthalates free.  The model I tried had an attached cup, making packing a lunch SO much easier!  What I love the most is the tea filter.  Finally a thermos that makes it easy to drink loose leaf tea!  The thermos keeps things hot for up to 8 hours.  I tried it and it's true!  I work from home but I still love to gill this with tea in the morning and sip throughout the day!  It's made with stainless and doesn't add any taste to your beverage.  You might want more than one of these.

Not all lunch boxes are created equal.  This metal lunch box is not only stylish (it comes in pink and blue), it's super functional.  Take your snacks in this container and you'll keep them fresh. The top opens up so you can easily grab its contents.  I like that it's not too big and not too small-perfect to avoid container eating.  The contents stay fresh and when you get home, the whole container is easily washable.  This is also for grade school kids who might drop their lunch box.  It's also awesome for older kids who want something cool to carry their lunch in.  I love it for the office because it's sophisticated and just plain cute.  If you don't want to use it for food, it also makes a great container for office supplies!

Okay, this is the year you're going to stop wasting plastic bags.  You just needed the right tool.  It's the (re)zip bags by Blue Avocado.  They are side just like traditional snack and sandwich bags.  However, they are reusable.  They are made of food safe, FDA approved PEVA material.  A pack of two sandwich sized bags is $8.99.  Use these more than a month and you'll be saving money.  They are freezer safe and have a secure "zipper" at the top to keep your food fresh.  They are LEAD, PVC and BPA free too!  I will tell you these are AWESOME for any small item you want to keep organized.  I love them when I travel to snacks on the plane, cosmetics, or even office supplies.  You'll find a million uses for these!

Sigg has some of the CUTEST water bottles out there.  Adults love them too of course, but they offer some adorable and unique kids' patterns.  Not only are they durable to stand up to school's wear and tear, they are unique enough to stand out from their peer's water bottles.  I love the travel series in particular.  They come in a number of countries with both girls and boys featured.  It holds about .4 liters…not too big and not too small.  The cap even has a protective covering to keep it dirt and germ free.  (A much needed feature for little kids!)

If your child is a little too grown up for these bottles, Sigg has a design series, perfect for young adults.  Check them out here.  Don't forget the cleaning tablets and Sigg brush!  Just drop a tablet in and let it do the cleaning for you.  Your bottles are sparkling queen, fresh smelling and the fear of germs is gone!  I tried cleaning my Sigg bottles for years without these tools.  When I got them, they rocked my world and I wonder why I struggled with inferior cleaning products for so long!

If you are going to be washing water bottles, lunch boxes and other food storage conners after sending them to school with your child, you need Name Bubble's water proof labels.  The small rectangular labels are easily affixed to just about any surface. I thought they would have trouble sticking to silicone or the bottom of a coffee cup, but they stick firmly and stay in place even with washing (both hand and dishwasher).  These are awesome to know what belong to you among the other kids and even in the break room refrigerator. Protect your investments and label things!  They come in adorable colors, and can even be customized with designs!

This next product has to be the cutest way of reminding someone to do something that I've ever seen.  It's a customizable wrist band from Knock Knock that boasts a small prewritten message and a spot to record your reminder.  Some of the messages on the bands are; friendly reminder, you got this, checkboxes for to do or to don't and even one that says pssst..  These are great for husbands and kids alike.  They can be put around a wrist but they also work for the handle of a purse or work bag.  They come in sets of 25 and are just $6!  You'll love these!

The first item is inexpensive, adorable and will keep your water bottle (or anything else you stick it to) safe all year through.  It's a customized sticker from Etsy seller, MNWMonograms.  The sticker includes your choice of initials and your choice of color.  It's 4.5" by 4.5" and it won't come off in the dishwasher or if your water bottle condenses. It's a pretty awesome way to customize your great while looking cute doing it.  And, it's just $5!

For packing lunches to head to school or the office, do it the healthy way with Frego.  While plastic is durable, glass is the least toxic and an old reliable friend.  Frego takes it one step further and protects the glass with a  silicone casing.  It's colorful and fun, but it adds a level of durability.  It won't slide out of your hands and when you want to heat up its contents, you can put the silicone sleeve on to protect your hands.  I love these for snacks, road trips, lunches or even leftovers.  I want a whole set of them!  Oh and all pieces are dishwasher safe :)

School means germs.  And germs mean lots of hand washing.  I'm in love with Beesential's All Natural Grapefruit and Lemongrass Foaming Hand Soap. Made from coconut, hemp and olive oils, it's an all natural alternative to detergent based soaps made from petroleum products.  This kills germs and is gentle to your hands!

Speaking of germs, save yourself a trip out later and stock up on Kleenex when buying school supplies.  Not only do they have anti viral tissues, they even have speciality boxes designed with patterns that will make you smile.  I personally love their travel pouches. They come in so many pretty designs, they look cute when you pull them out.  They are small and thin enough to fit into a pocket, a purse and of course, a school bag.  Stock up, you'll be glad you did!

 If you take your computer, iPad, or phone chargers with you anywhere, there is a good chance you can get them mixed up with someone else's.  Whooz is a fun line of charger decals that help you identify your charger.  They come in various sizes to fit all of your chargers.  The designs are whimsical and will make you smile every time you use your charger.  My favorite designs?  Mr. T and Rufus the dog.  Kids and adults alike will love these!

Sustainability meets cuteness with spbang's lunch bags.  These bags are better than any sandwich bag you have ever used.  Made of durable materials with adorable patterns and available in a wide array of colors, these will save you money and save the Earth.  They are made in the US and are about 7 inches by 7 inches.  They are lead free, Phthalate free and BPA free.  They are waterproof too.  They close with a tab closure.  It takes a moment to get used to but it creates a real seal to keep your food fresh.  If you want an extra bonus, pop it in the freezer before use and your food will stay cool and fresh.  In my opinion, here's the best part-they are dishwasher safe!  No more fishing crumbs out!

These are something that will help you get organized, but Wacky Winderz are just too cute not to include.  Make back to school l(or a day at the office) a little more fun with these four unique wind up pencil toppers.  These will also make great stocking stuffers!
They also make a great pick me up for someone having a bad day :)

 This lunch box by Laptop Lunches is going to change the way you pack lunch.  Not only is there plenty of space to pack things (two compartments which I love for utensils, a juice box and of course a note :) It's fully insulated and contains no lead, BPA, phthalates or PVC.  It has a handle AND a removable shoulder strap (awesome in case your lunch box doesn't fit into your backpack).  The bento box on the bottom is awesome.  It's made of 100% post-consumer PET and printed with soy ink so you can feel great about these bags.  The bento box that fits into the bottom of the lunch bag is also just as safe and is dishwasher and microwave safe.  It keeps all of your kid's food separate and safe so it's just as tasty and pretty as when you packed it in the morning.  These are awesome lunch bags that make packing lunch easy, and look good!

Okay this isn't a back to school item specifically.  However, it's a great treat for the end of the day, or to sneak in a lunch box.   (IF gum is allowed at your child's school.)  Tree Hugger Bubble Gum is the best gum you'll ever taste.  Their all natural flavors are long lasting and the pieces are generous in size.  There are no artificial colors either!  It's also gluten free, all natural, vegan, non gmo and comes in a variety of flavors and packages. From individually wrapped pieces of gum to the traditional bubble gum "strip" there is a package that meets your size needs.  There are traditional flavors like classic bubble gum, but some of the most delicious are  the fun ones, like Wildberry.

Connect with Bonnie through a variety of media outlets: 
The Joyful Organizer®, LLC

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The Joyful Organizer Says Preparation is Key for Successful Back to School

It's crazy to think back to school has hit us.  I have the pleasure of sharing this guest post from the Joyful Organizer herself,  Bonnie Joy Dewkett, a Certified Professional Organizer.  She has a innate knack for organizing whatever life throws at you.  Her tips have been featured in Good Housekeeping and Family Circle (just to name a few). Below are great life tips that may add a little sanity to your crazy day.

Going from summer break to a school routine isn’t easy on anyone.  The summer months bring a lot of fun, beautiful weather, and a lackadaisical routine that is just not easy to break when school starts again.  However, this year you can make the necessary changes gradually, and avoid the stress that normally comes with the arrival of the yellow school bus.  By making the transition slowly, and with a positive attitude, the school year can get started off on the right foot!
Back to school shopping can be fun, if you are not under stress to get it done.  Start by having your child go through their closet and determine what clothes are still in good condition and still fit.  Depending on their age, you may want to assist them with this task.  Remember, the weather in September is usually warm enough to wear shorts, skirts, and tee shirts.  So there is no need to run our and buy winter clothes.  However, if you want to start shopping early, start in July when the back to school sales start to appear in stores.  The back to school season hosts the second largest sales of the year (second to Christmas).
Second, take inventory of your child’s school supplies from the year before.  If they have tons of pencils, crayons, etc, there is no need to buy more.  Save yourself time, money, and clutter by checking first.
If your school does not supply a local store with the necessary supply list, call your child’s teacher for it.  This will also allow you an opportunity to introduce yourself and become acquainted before the academic year begins.  If your school accepts donations, this may also be a good time to ask the teacher if there are any supplies they would like for their classroom for the coming year.  Keep in mind that some supplies, such as lunch boxes, are hard to find during other times of the year.  Consider purchasing two if your child is rough on these items.
Start buying your child’s school supplies on your weekly trips to the grocery store, or super stores.  Involve your child in the process.  Have them calculate the amount they have spent on supplies, have them pick colors they enjoy, and have them pick a planner that will fit their academic needs and their personal style.  If your child feels invested with their supplies they will be more likely to take care of them, not lose them, and most importantly to use them effectively.
One of the most important supplies that you will buy your child is their planner/organizer.  It is very important that they like the planner they are using.  Keep in mind that some districts require students to use their school’s planner, or a particular brand.  Make sure that your child understands how to use their planner, and they have a system for the following: writing down tests, quizzes, homework, reading, and long term projects.  Starting these good habits at the beginning of the year will ensure that they are followed throughout the school year.
One of the easiest, and most effective planners, to use is a teacher’s planning book.  These have open weeks so you can put the dates in yourself, and you can quickly switch between weeks.  The pages are large, and therefore give you a great visual of the work your child has to do.  I recommend using different colored inks or highlighters for different subjects.  Or if you child is older, you can consider using different colors of highlighter for different academic significance.  For example, quizzes are highlighted in yellow, projects in green, tests in pink, and long term papers in blue.
Morning Routine:
The morning routine is one of the most stressful parts of the day for most families.  Start developing good routines and habits during the summer months, and they will naturally take effect during the school year.
Develop a place in your home for your child’s backpack.  This should be a place by the door, such as the entryway, or a hallway.  This is where they should keep their backpack at all times.  Your child can remove their homework, books, and other necessary supplies to complete their assigned schoolwork.   When they are done with these items, they should be returned to the backpack to be grabbed on the way out the door in the morning.
Develop a place for permission slips and other items that need to be read, signed, or need attention.  This too can be in the entryway or hallway.  Purchase a small wall mounted file, or magazine rack.  (Insert product suggestion here.)  Have one slot for incoming, where your child can put anything that needs your attention.  It is very important you check this slot daily, take any required action, and then place them in a second slot for outgoing items.  Your child must check this slot daily and take any applicable papers back to school.  Many teachers require students to have a designated folder for items of this nature.
Get your child into the habit of taking their lunch box out of the backpack every night and bringing to the kitchen for a refill.  Have them pick it up from the kitchen in the morning and place it back into their backpack.
If your kids sleep later in the summer months, start getting them back on a normal schedule slowly.  Get them up 10 minutes earlier each morning until you have comfortably reached your morning wake up time.
If your kids have a hard time getting dressed in the morning, have them plan and lay out their clothes the night before.  Purchase an organizer that has the days of the week printed on it.  (Insert product suggestion here.)  Have your child assist you in picking out the week’s worth of clothing at the beginning of the week.  This ensures the clothing your child wants to wear is clean and avoids unnecessary loads of laundry mid-week.
If your child is a little older and wishes for more independence, consider having a fashion show night at your house.  Set up holiday lights as runway light, play music and have your child try on lots of different outfits.  Take pictures and have them printed.  Mount them on a bulletin board near the closet.  This will help make quick outfits during the week, and it will help inspire creativity.
Even with clothes and outfits laid out of the week, your child can use their creativity.  Place boxes full of scarves, sunglasses, hair accessories, and jewelry close by.  Your child can chose from these in the morning, as long as they do not take too long to do it.
Some website even offer wardrobe planners where you can track the clothing you have, its color, and size.  This may help you track what you have and what will need to be replaced soon.  It will also give you an idea of what your child has too much of at any one time.  The trick with these lists, however is to keep them up-to-date.
If your child is small and or often loses clothes and accessories, now is the time to write their name in everything to give it a fighting chance of coming back home.
Daily Maintenance:
It is important that you maintain your daily routines with consistency and an upbeat attitude.  Nothing makes a tough morning worse than complaining and being negative.
In the evenings, do your homework while they do theirs. While your kids are studying, sign their permission slips, pay bills, clean, etc.  This will help designate the time as serious and necessary.  Kids learn by example and if they see you working hard, they will follow suit.
If your kids need help with their homework, it is helpful if you are in the area.  If your kids cannot do homework in their rooms or need your assistance, designate a place in the house where homework will always be done, such as the kitchen table.  In order avoid running for supplies, purchase your child a shower caddy and fill it with all necessary supplies, such as a ruler, calculator, pencils, glue sticks etc.  Check the supply level regularly and make sure it is clean and organized.
Maintain a family calendar with everyone’s schedules, appointments, field trips, sporting events, etc.  A wipe off magnetic one works great and can be stored on the fridge in plain sight.  (Insert product example here.)
Instead of leaving all of the laundry for the weekend, consider doing loads every day during the week.  Putting the laundry in or switching it to the dryer are both small chores your children can do for you while you cook dinner.
Consider maintaining a meal plan and calendar.  This will help you with grocery shopping, and more importantly, deciding what is for dinner after a long day.
If meal preparation is a challenge for you, consider researching meal preparation businesses in your area.  These businesses allow you to prepare and freeze multiple portion meals for your family that are then stored in your freezer, and accessed when you need them.
Having a stress free and successful school year starts with preparation.  Get started the right away this year.  Avoid the back to school rush and the stress of transitioning from summer frolicking to academic routines.  Just by changing a few habits you can make your academic year a successful, happy one!
If you’re looking for adorable and functional back to school products, visit Office Candy.
And if you are looking for a great resource for Back to School with Special Needs, check out Carolyn Dalgiesh's guest post on the Joyful Orgnaziers blog!

Connect with Bonnie through a variety of media outlets: 
The Joyful Organizer®, LLC

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Recipe Review: 3 Ingredient Lemon Cookies AKA Facebook Fail

When I saw this post on Facebook for the 3 Ingredient Lemon Cookies from Somewhat Simple, I was like "Sign Me Up!"  I love lemon.   So do the kids.  The next time I went food shopping I picked up the Lemon Supreme Cake Mix, an 8 oz container of Whipped Topping, and the 1 egg (Ok, I had the egg).
The directions were simple.  Mix the three ingredients in the mixer and blend until smooth.  Bake for 10 minutes in a preheated 350 degree oven.  And let cool 10 minutes before enjoying.
I have to say, it was a great way to get my older son, Boog, to bake with me.  Often he just likes to reap the benefits, like the story of the Little Red Hen ~ Who will help me grind the wheat? Not I, said the dog…
Unfortunately, the cookies themselves were a little disappointing.  They LOOKED beautiful.  The batter looked so smooth, it reminded me of a meringue drop cookie.  But they were SO STICKY.  My KitchenAid was actually suffering as it churned the lemony concoction.
Once baked, I couldn't get them off the parchment paper.  To salvage them, I either folded them in half or stuck two together so I could at least store them without it becoming one giant sticky mess.  I also checked at the 10 minute mark, and decided they needed more time in the oven (but that may have just been my oven).  Also, they are very sweet.  I know, you might be saying, DUH! They are made with Cool Whip and cake batter.  But in my mind, I guess I expected something else.
So, I just wanted to share my experience of this Facebook Fail, so that you can be prepared in case you attempt these cookies. Super grease your cookie sheet.  Monitor your KitchenAid so it doesn't blow up.  But have fun making them.