Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Kids Summer Reading Ideas

Another school year is over and done!  Unbelievable!

Tim and I got into a good routine of reading to the girls during the school year, but I always find that routines are harder to keep in the summer.  Here are some ideas I had to remind us to read more often:

1. Participate in a summer reading club

Kids who read any 8 titles from the Pottery Barn Kids recommended book list by July 31st will receive a free book at participating stores (while supplies last).

Barnes & Noble has a summer reading program and kids can pick out a free book from the book store after completing the required reading (while supplies last).

Slyvan Book Adventure is a fun, free way to motivate your child to read.  Kids can search for books, read them offline, come back to quiz on what they’ve read, and earn prizes for their reading success.

Visit the Junie B. Jones Kids Reading Club online to download the Reading Log and Activity Brochure.  

Chuck E. Cheese offers 10 free tokens to kids who complete their Reading Reward Calendar.

Pizza Hut's Book It! Summer Reading Challenge incorporates reading with fun activities, exciting games and a chance to win prizes!

The Half Price Books Feed Your Brain Summer Reading Program awards one child per age group a $20 gift card to Half Priced Books in June and July.  A new Half Price Books is opening in Chesterfield, MO in June! 

Join your local library's summer reading program.  The St. Louis County Library has a program for babies, kids, teens and adults.  Prizes are awarded at the end of the summer.

2. Find fun book lists
While searching around on Pinterest I came across this pin from No Time For Flash Cards.  I immediately logged onto my library account and saved these books on to "Kids Books" list. Pinterest has lots of great summer reading lists.  Click here for more.

3.  Make a Reading Reward Chart
Check out my "Summer Reading" Pinterest board for more reading chart ideas!  There are lots of free printables or you could get ideas to make your own chart tailored for your kids!

4.  Make regular trips to the library

Whenever I hear about a good children's book, I look it up on my library's website and save it to my "Kids Books" list.  A few days before we plan to go to the library I request a bunch of the books that I've saved so that they're waiting for us when we get to the library.  We try to go on a day when they have activities or story time so the kids look forward to going.

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Wednesday, May 21, 2014


Not exactly the fun last day of school we'd planned.  My poor baby.

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Monday, May 19, 2014

Last Day of School

The last day of school sneaked up on me this year!  I have been rushing all weekend to finish all of my projects.  Here's what I have planned:

Last Day of School Signs
I made new signs for the girls' last day of school.  I am reusing the same frame I've used in previous years that I bought at Hobby Lobby.  I wrote with a Magnum Sharpie on poster board and will tape it to the inside of the frame.
Last year I took the sign to school to get a class picture with it.  My kids are still young and don't know to be embarrassed by me yet!  Although Ava is showing signs...this may be my last year I can pull off the class picture with her.  Click here to see more ideas for last day of school signs.

Graduation Day Certificates
I got the girls' Graduation Day certificates ready.  Now all I need is their last day of school photo.
Click here for a PDF link to the Graduation Day template.  Click here for an Excel copy of the template.

Car Decorations
I bought Window Markers from Dollar Tree again.  
Click here to see what my car looked like last year.

Dr. Seuss Books
This year I decided to buy the Dr. Seuss book "Oh, The Places You'll Go!" and have Sidney and Ava's teachers sign the books.  Barnes & Noble now sells books with 8 extra pages to personalize with signatures and memories.  There is also a pocket in the back inside cover for keepsakes.
If I can remember to do this every year I'll surprise them with the books at their 8th grade or high school graduation.

Teachers' Gifts
I'm reusing an idea from a couple years ago.  Click here to see the gifts.
I'm planning on sticking with basil again this year.  Instead of using a pencil, I bought Sharpie pens to stick the thank you signs to.

What are you're favorite "Last Day of School" traditions?

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Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The BEST Cookie EVER: Levain Chocolate Chip Walnut Cookie

Here is #2 on my Top 5 Favorite Treats:

When Tim and I lived in NYC we discovered a little bakery on the Upper West Side called Levain Bakery

For a girl who loves treats, discovering this bakery was life changing. Whenever I bake cookies, I enjoy them but I can't help but think about how much better the Levain cookies are. What is the secret???

I decided to look online and see if anyone had tried to re-create the Levain cookies. Apparently, I am late to the party.  Soooooo many people have already tried to figure out the recipe for these cookies! I spent a good number of days researching their attempts and the differences in their ingredients and baking time until I decided on the perfect copy cat recipe.

It's been a couple of years since I've had a Levain cookie and my memory is not perfect.  
While I don't think I've created a perfect match, I think what I created is DAMN close!  I brought them over to my mom's house for my brother's birthday party and my niece begged me to make them again!  Don't worry, E!  I can hardly wait to bake them again!

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup cake flour (do not substitute)
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. table salt
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1 Tbsp. corn starch
1 cup (2 sticks) "cold and cubed" European style unsalted butter (I used Plugra)
1/2 cup white granulated sugar
1 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup dark brown
2 large cold eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup toasted chopped walnuts

Yield: 14 cookies

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Place whole walnuts on an ungreased baking sheet in a single layer.  Bake for 5-10 minutes until golden brown.  Check on the walnuts periodically to make sure they don't burn.  Place walnuts on a cutting board and let cool.  Chop coarsely after cooled.

2.  In a medium-sized bowl, combine flours, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and corn starch.  Whisk for 1 to 2 minutes until all dry ingredients are well mixed and there are no lumps in the flour mixture.

3.  Put white and brown sugars in a stand mixer bowl and mix until well combined and almost all lumps have disappeared.  Cube 1 cup (2 sticks) of chilled butter into 1” pieces.  Add cold cubed butter and continue to mix at medium speed.  I didn't think you could mix cold butter into sugar but if you mix long enough it will combine.

4.  Add eggs, one at a time, continuing mixing until well incorporated.  Add vanilla and mix in.

5.  Add flour mixture to sugar/egg mixture in increments until fully incorporated.  

6.  Remove bowl from stand mixer and mix in chocolate chips and walnuts by hand.

7.  Form cookie dough balls weighing approximately 4 ounces each.  If you don’t have a kitchen scale, form 14 cookie dough balls trying to keep them all around the same size so that they will bake uniformly.  {Can to show scale.}

8.  I put all of the cookie dough balls in a bowl, covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated overnight.

9.  After the cookie dough has refrigerated overnight, adjust oven rack to the middle position and preheat oven to 375 degrees F.  Line large baking pans with parchment paper.

10.  Place cookie dough balls on parchment paper lined baking pan.  Do not flatten!  I wouldn't put more than 6 cookie dough balls on a baking pan.  I baked four at a time.

11.  Bake for 15 minutes.  I tried baking a few cookies at 12 minutes, a few cookies at 15 minutes and a few cookies at 17 minutes.  The cookies that were baked for 15 minutes turned out the best.  They were slightly browned on the top and mostly cooked through, but still a little bit of doughiness to them.  Everyone's oven cooks different though, so keep an eye on them.

12.  Let them cool on the cookie sheet for approximately 5 minutes before removing them from the pan.

These cookies are so huge and chunky they could be a meal replacement!

My mom and I are taking a trip to NYC this summer.  We will definitely go to Levain.  I am going to be extra observant and see if any of the employees will share tips with me!  I'll post an updated recipe if I get any information!  If you have any tips to share with me, please post in the comments.  Thanks!

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Wednesday, May 7, 2014

St. Louis Summer Camps

If you are still looking for summer camps for your kids, I found these websites were the most helpful:

KSDK Summer Camp Guide
KSDK has a huge listing of summer camps in Missouri and Illinois as well as some out of state camps.  Unfortunately, they didn't include links to the camp's website, but you could probably search for the website easily.

Kids Out and About: St. Louis
This website has a great listing of summer camps by week as well as by theme!

STL Parent Summer Camp Guide
The STL Parent website allows you to filter your search by age, day camp or sleep away, and location in St. Louis.

STL Magazine Sports and Learning Camps
STL Magazine has a list of camps on their website.  It's not the longest list but it has a few camps that I didn't see on the other lists.

If you're looking for some fun ideas of things to do with your kids this summer when they're not in camp, check out my 2014 St. Louis Summer Fun Guide.  Also, I'm going to be featuring my summer Family Field Trips on my blog so be sure to check back to see some of the fun spots around St. Louis.

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Monday, May 5, 2014

My Top 5 Favorite Treats

A while back I took the "Day of No Sugar Challenge" and it has made a pretty big impact on what I eat and how I feel (BONUS: I lost 9 pounds without working out!).  While most days I don't eat foods with added sugar, I allow myself to eat sugar-filled treats in moderation.  I love love love treats!  I love treats so much I made a list of my top 5 and will attempt to make them in the upcoming months.  Check back to see how they turn out!

#5 - Chocolate mousse with berries from Il Postale

#4 -  Chocolate Bread Pudding from the Ritz-Carlton

#3 - Banana Pudding from Magnolia Bakery

#2 - Chocolate Chip Walnut Cookie from Levain Bakery 

#1 - Oreo concrete from Ted Drewes

I am making it my mission to replicate my favorite treats (except for the Ted Drewes Oreo Concrete because you can't beat the real thing and I can get it any time I want!!!).  

Check back to see how they turn out!

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