Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Valentine's Day Party Ideas for Kids: Games, Food and Fun!

Looking for some fun Valentine's Day games and food? What do you think about throwing an impromptu Valentine's Day party? I'm sure the thought is causing collective gripes and sighs from moms everywhere, but hear me out. What if the games were quick and easy? What if the food was simple? Let's give it a try! And if you don't want to throw a party, these games and snacks are great on their own, too. They're perfect for the classroom or just plain indoor fun.


The Basics

An impromptu Valentine's Day party means that not much planning is involved, so although you are free to invite the neighborhood, the idea is really simplicity. Have it just for your kids, or for a few family members (we had Grammy and Poppy come over). You can make paper invitations for your guests (yes, even for your own kids- think how fun it will be to stick them under their bedroom doors or leave them at the breakfast table). Or you can email invitations (I prefer the site PunchBowl, which works a lot like evites).


Games

You're going to need some games, so here are a bunch of suggestions. And before you think I'm crazy, I didn't do ALL of these in one party (although you can). These photos are from two years worth of parties at our house, so you can choose accordingly!

You'll want to set up a few stations, but make everything simple and fun. I had one station of coloring/crafts (I printed coloring sheets from NickJr). And hey, this is a great place to add some adult coloring books of your own!


Then I made a sensory table as a center. I used simple things I could find around the house (mine was Berry Kix cereal, conversation hearts, construction vehicles and decorative hearts). You can use cotton balls, rice, corn, seeds, beans, etc.

Valentine Sensory Bin with Kix, conversation hearts and bulldozers, of course!
Valentine Sensory Bins are meant to be shared!
Valentine Sensory Bin

This was a stretch, but I found a Pin the Tail on the Donkey game in my party box in the basement, so I stuck a Valentine's Day sign on it and used paper hearts for the tail!

Valentine's Day pin the tail on the donkey!

That basement party box is a lifesaver, since I found balloons in there, too. I blew up all of the red, pink and white ones. I taped plastic spoons to heavy paper plates and we played Balloon Pong.  

Balloon Pong is a great way to beat the winter blues, too!

Another really simple game is 'Cupid's Arrow.' Take straws and blow Q-tips through them, trying to hit your target (our target was a bowl on the floor, which is a lot harder than it looks). We wound up just tossing the Q-tips, too, since that was a little easier.

Cupid's Arrow is not as easy as it looks!

And finally, this was our favorite game of all. I had bought a few bags of conversation hearts for Valentine's Day anyway, so we used them to have a Heart Stacking Contest. I used chocolates for prizes (since I had plenty of those lying around, too-- Kit Kats, Reeses hearts, you name it!).



And if you don't want to make it a competition, it's actually just fun to build towers with them, too.


The Menu

Another fun part of planning an impromptu Valentine's Day party is planning the menu. I bought some of those Mamma Mary's pre-made pizza shells and cut them into heart shapes, but you can use Pillsbury dough, english muffins, bagels, or whatever you have lying around. Everyone decorated their own pizza (I even cut the pepperoni into heart shapes!).

Heart-shaped pizza for Valentine's Day!

Dessert was even more fun.  I cut Twinkies into heart shapes. They looked adorable, but The Jersey Momma's Boy wasn't a big fan of the taste.

Cut Twinkies in half at an angle to form a heart shape!

You can also serve cookies, rice krispie treats, or have everyone decorate their own cupcake or sugar cookie. We made these cookies using different three bowls of dyed dough and then swirling them together in a pinwheel shape before we baked them!


Clean-Up

Most of the things from your improptu Valentine's Day party can be thrown away. Almost all of it! So when the day is through, grab a garbage bag and dump everything (or put it back in that 'Party Box' if you have one of those!)

Milo said, 'I'd be happy to eat some of that sensory bin for you, as a form of clean-up, of course...'

All of these games are fun just by themselves, too, so you can pass the time without throwing a big party if you really wanted to.













Saturday, February 6, 2016

More Minecraft Books for Kids - Diary of a Minecraft Zombie Review

Diary of a Minecraft Zombie is one of our favorite book series. I once posted an entry about Minecraft books for kids and inspiring boys to read (I also posted a fun craft called Make Your Own Minecraft Shrinky Dinks). Since then, many people have asked me for more recommendations and titles of other Minecraft books on the market. So it's time to share the Diary of a Minecraft Zombie series by Herobrine Books, so you can see just why we love it so much.


First thing to note is that Minecraft doesn't have too many of its own books (as of the publication date of this entry anyway). Other than a few guide books from Scholastic, you won't find much to entertain young minds (they want you playing, not reading, after all). Luckily, a handful of independent authors have come forth and created their own fan fiction, based on the popular game (they are in no way affiliated with Mojang or the Minecraft company). The last entry I wrote focused on the Winter Morgan series and the Mark Cheverton series. This latest post is dedicated to the Herobrine Books collection.


What is Diary of a Minecraft Zombie About?

If you've ever read the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series by Jeff Kinney, you'll get the general idea of these books. They are written from Zombie's point of view (from his actual diary, in fact). You'll get a peek into his everyday life, and meet some of his good friends, too, like Skelee, Slimey, and Creepy. You'll find that a Zombie's life isn't at all what you thought it would be. He's actually just a regular kid- well, aside from the pungent odor and green skin. He's even friends with a human, Steve, who lives on a farm (hey, you know him, right?).


What Age Group is Diary of a Minecraft Zombie for?

This series is recommended for ages 7 and up. The Jersey Momma's Boy is 6 (almost 7, he's quick to point out) and he did just fine reading them on his own (he is a strong reader). If your little one is not confident enough to read chapter books on his/her own, these make great read alouds, too. And you know what? You might think your child can't read these on their own, but you'd be surprised. When our book came in the mail, I handed it to The Jersey Momma's Boy in the backseat of the car. 'Look! Our book is here!' I exclaimed. I drove halfway down the road and realized he was reading the whole time. By the time we got to the store he said, 'I need a bookmark!' He had already finished the first two chapters!


Is There Anything Scary or Gross in These Books?

If your child is already used to playing Minecraft, then they know about all of the monsters who exist there- zombies, slime cubes, creepers, skeletons, spiders and more. But they are portrayed as funny and kind of cute in this series, so I highly doubt anyone could be frightened by them. Just like any kids' book, every now and then they'll mention boogers or butts, but nothing inappropriate and nothing more than to generate a giggle. And there is one little section in Book 3 where Zombie talks about puberty with his dad, and how his voice is growing deeper. I kind of glossed over that with The Jersey Momma's Boy. I didn't want to explain to him what puberty was yet, so I just changed the wording around while I was reading it out loud. Don't judge.


What Sets These Apart from Other Minecraft Series?

Okay, so there are a few positives that I have to highlight here. One is that this book series is cute and funny. We were reading these out loud and actually laughing. A few times I stopped and even said to my son, 'You know, these are really funny!'  Even The Jersey Grandpa picked up the book and read a few pages and started laughing. I was pleasantly surprised, to say the least. I also liked that they were in diary form. That means Zombie writes in short sentences and the chapters are quick reads. This series also has pictures! We were so happy to see little pictures throughout the pages- nothing fancy, just black and white images- but enough for my son to take notice and to break up the monotony of words.


What's Not So Great About This Series?

Some reviewers on Amazon complained that they didn't like the short sentences. But this is a diary, remember, so it's written like one (and honestly, some of the reviewers on Amazon are kids, so I'm reviewing this from a parent's perspective). Zombie tells you about his day and all of the things he's going through. I kind of liked that. It made the whole thing seem more personal, and it made Zombie really likable as a character. Another complaint that Amazon reviewers mentioned was the lack of editing. Sorry to say, they're right about that one for the first two books. But I can tell you this GREATLY improves as the book series goes on. I didn't have too many complaints about editing/spelling in the rest of the series. Remember, Herobrine Books is an independent author (that means they published the book themselves through Amazon), so they might be their own editor, too.


How Many Books are in the Series?

Right now (as of the publication date of this entry), there are nine books in the Diary of a Minecraft Zombie series, with more to come. Herobrine also wrote some cool comic books based on Minecraft, too, which you can read about here. Two new series followed this one- Steve Potter and the Enderman's Stone and The Mobbit (which we haven't tackled yet, but they're on our must-read list).


Where Can I Find Them?

All of Herobrine Books are available on Amazon.  This post contains affiliate links to Amazon. You can read more about my affiliate links on my disclosure page.

BIG NEWS!! Diary of a Minecraft Zombie has been nominated for a Nickelodeon Kids' Choice Award for 2016! Don't forget to cast your vote and help our friend Zombie win the prize!


Disclaimer:  Herobrine Books approached me and asked me if I wanted to review Diary of a Minecraft Zombie.  I was so excited by this prospect that I went ahead and purchased my own copy. Herobrine then sent me the first three books in the series in exchange for an honest review. And since I wound up with two copies of Book 1, I decided to raffle one off to a lucky reader.  Did you miss the contest? Then be sure to 'like' me on Facebook so you don't miss the next one! You can find Herobrine Books on Facebook, too, so be sure to stop by and tell them how much you love their series.













Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Easy Three Ingredient Chili Cheese Dip Recipe

If you're looking for a quick and easy dip for Super Bowl or any time of year, check out this yummy three ingredient chili cheese dip! It is one of the best dip recipes around, and SO SIMPLE to make. You need three (yes, three!) key ingredients, and some Tostitos.  That's IT!! I try to always keep these ingredients on hand in case I need a dip for guests or parties. So here it is...behold! The Chili Cheese Dip Recipe! 


3 INGREDIENT CHILI CHEESE DIP

You will need:

-8oz. package of cream cheese (softened)
-2 cups (one 8oz. package) of shredded cheddar cheese
-15oz can of chili with beans (or without, but I think it tastes better with the beans)
-Tostitos Scoops or any other kind of tortilla chip for dipping


1.  Preheat oven to 325 degrees if you are baking right away (this dip can also be refrigerated until ready to use, if needed). Spread the cream cheese in the bottom of an ungreased pie plate. It's easier if the cream cheese is softened, but honestly, there have been moments where I'm pressed for time and I just smashed the unsoftened cheese down with a spoon, so no biggie.


2.  Dump the chili out on top of the cream cheese layer and spread it around.


3.  Dump the whole package of cheese on top of the chili layer and spread it around.


4. Now you have a choice here. You can put it in the oven at 325 degrees until cheese is melted and dip is heated through, OR you can put saran wrap on it and stick it in the fridge until you're ready to heat it up and serve it.



You can serve this with any kind of tortilla chip but I think Scoops work best because you can literally scoop the delicious goodness into each bite.

People say you can heat this up by microwaving it, but I don't really recommend that if you want a nice, even melt all the way through. It also reheats really well if you have leftover. Just refrigerate and pop it back in the oven till you see the cheese start to melt again. Or you can easily microwave small bowls of it for yourself if you are reheating the next day (that's the only time I recommend microwaving).

Healthy Alternatives

If you feel the need to make this dip a tad bit healthier, you can use low-fat cream cheese, low-fat cheddar cheese (although it does not melt quite as nicely) and low-sodium chili with beans (or try vegetarian chili). Cut out the Tostitos and serve with celery sticks. Okay, so I don't really recommend that, but you know, you can do that if you want to.


Many thanks to Mr. Jersey Momma's awesome Auntie Cheryl for introducing me to this recipe so many years ago! Enjoy!

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

What to Send Besides Flowers: Reviewing Gardenia's Fire

Gardenia's Fire is certainly in a class by itself! Because what do you send someone as a gift besides flowers these days?  Have you noticed that choices are limited? It's either flowers, fruit, gift baskets or cookies. Sigh. If only there was something unique out there to send someone as a birthday gift, a thank you present, a Valentine's Day surprise...well, now there is!


If you've seen my Local Links section on this website, then you know I'm always on the look-out for great local businesses to support.  I'm just one gal, you know. This blog isn't run by a team of Moms or a panel of experts (well, maybe one expert). If I like something, or I visit somewhere great, I'm going to share the truth with you. That's just how I roll. So check out what I experienced from this amazing local New Jersey business called Gardenia's Fire.


I was so excited when Gardenia's Fire contacted me and asked if I'd be interested in trying one of their arrangements (uh, of course!  Do you know who I am?  Desserts are my thing!!).  But these aren't your ordinary edible arrangements. Oh no, this falls into a category all by itself. How do I describe the arrangements from Gardenia's Fire? Let's see, they are elegant like a flower arrangement, but they are edible, composed of fine pastries like cupcakes, macarons, brownies and more. Each delicious dessert actually looks like a flower arrangement.  See?


This arrangement was from their Red, White and You line.  It contained swiss buttercream cupcakes, macarons, and Gardenia's Berries (like chocolate brownie bites). Their arrangements range in size and price, but just to give you an idea, this was a regular sized arrangement, contained 10 cupcakes, 5 macaron sticks, and 5 brownie berries and cost around $99.00 as of the publication date of this entry (but don't sweat, there are plenty of other arrangements to choose from that range in price from $65-$169 (for delivery items), and their shippable line starts at $34.99. They come in different colors, shapes, and varieties (check out some of their selection here). But I can tell you, the presentation was nothing short of awesome and caused some jaw dropping upon delivery.

The arrangement from Gardenia's Fire came packaged like this.  It makes quite a statement!

The arrangement I chose was delivered to my husband's office.  He said everyone was in awe of the creation and it really made quite an impression when it arrived. I am a dessert fanatic, you know. I have been to hundreds of bakeries in the Garden State and beyond. I was a proud ambassador of the NJ Dessert Tasting Expo, and I can honestly tell you that I've never seen anything quite like these arrangements.


Gardenia's Fire is not part of a chain or franchise.  It's a unique creation from its owners, who have backgrounds in the floral industry. The arrangement was hand-delivered in this incredibly secure package. It made it home in my husband's pick-up truck without a scratch.


As of now, Gardenia's Fire delivers to four counties:  Bergen, Essex, Hudson and Passaic. They are a fairly new business, and hope to expand their delivery areas once they become a little more established. If you are not in one of counties mentioned, you can still order from Gardenia's Fire. Their macarons and Gardenia's Berries (like little brownie bites) are available for shipment throughout all of New Jersey and the East coast. I highly recommend the chocolate Gardenia's Berries! They were heavenly. If you are a fan of macarons, they were delicious, too. Here's a close-up of the ones that came in my arrangement, but you can order them boxed.

Isn't it cute how the macarons ranged in size, too?

I do not live in one of the mentioned counties but I found a way to make it work by having the arrangement delivered to my husband's office. See, there's always a way if you really want something! Especially when it involves delicious cupcakes.  


You can order from Gardenia's Fire through their website or by calling 1-844-273-3642. You can also find them on Twitter and Facebook.  

Look how beautiful this cupcake is!  The swiss buttercream was amazing- I thought it was whipped cream at first.

*Disclaimer:  I was given a complimentary arrangement from Gardenia's Fire in exchange for an honest review.  But I wouldn't steer you wrong on this one, folks, I assure you!

Let's Visit Chick-fil-A Flemington!

It's about time! Chick-fil-A has opened in Flemington, NJ! I have loved Chick-fil-A for years, ever since visiting them on family vacations to Florida. The food was always good, and I was sad that we didn't have them here in New Jersey.Well, times they are a changin', and Chick-fil-A's have finally made their way further north! The latest addition to our community can be found in Flemington, New Jersey. Take a look!


I was so excited to receive passes for the Premiere Night of Chick-fil-A Flemington. My dinner date for the evening was none other than The Jersey Momma's Boy, who was just as excited as excited can be (dare I say, a little too excited?).



Where is Chick-fil-A Flemington?

Chick-fil-A Flemington is located just past the circle on Rt 202S. Their exact address is 287 USHwy 202/31S in Flemington.  If you're on the run, they even have a drive-thru window.




What is Chick-fil-A Flemington like?

Chick-fil-A Flemington is clean, bright and family friendly. Super family friendly, in fact, since there is a brand new play area for the kiddos, and plenty of happy little cows all over the place, proclaiming you should 'eat more chikin.'


Kids can climb in this little car! Hangin' out in the Chick-fil-A Flemington Playground

Chick-fil-A Flemington is family owned and operated.  The owner is a Flemington resident with young children of his own. His whole family attended the premiere event, and his oldest daughter was even dressed in a little cow-inspired outfit with a white tutu. Does this matter?  Why, yes it does, in this mom's opinion.  I like supporting local businesses of local residents, and my hope is that a family-oriented owner would keep his establishment in tip-top shape.  It matters to him, too, after all.



What is the food like at Chick-fil-A Flemington?

The premiere night was totally amazing and we were presented with an array of items from the Chick-fil-A menu.  My date happens to be the pickiest eater on the planet (if there was a trophy for this, he'd have it in his possession, I assure you) and he loved just about everything they served us.  Here's what we sampled:

Chick-fil-A Classic Sandwich (my favorite- it's my go-to at Chick-fil-A. If you've never been to Chick-fil-A and don't know what to order, I suggest this!)
Chick-fil-A Chicken Breakfast Biscuit (Chick-fil-A is open for breakfast, and I must say the biscuit sandwich was delicious. Our server said it was her favorite, too)
Chick-fil-A Grilled Chicken Sandwich (very fresh tomatoes and lettuce, great flavor)
Chick-fil-A Spicy Chicken Sandwich (would you believe this was the Jersey Momma's Boy's favorite?)
Chick-fil-A Market Salad (it is no secret that I am not a salad lover, but this salad was amazing! I would definitely order it again, and I can't say I've ever had a salad quite like it)
Chick-fil-A Waffle Fries (need I say more?)

Lemonade: freshly squeezed, yummy
Iced Coffee: I am not usually an iced coffee drinker, either, but I liked this, too, and would definitely order again!
Fruit Cup (very fresh- manadarin oranges, apples, blueberries, strawberries)

Cookies and Cream Oreo Milkshake: Chick-fil-A's milkshakes are amazing! Be sure to try these if you haven't before. You won't be sorry.
Chocolate Chunk Cookie: they gave us each one of these to take home, and it was still warm. I ate it right before I went to bed and I couldn't sleep after that, so I don't recommend it as a night time treat! Ha! It tasted like it was home-made, though.

photo courtesy of M. Ramachandran, since I ate all of my food before I could photograph it.

Premiere Night at Chick-fil-A Flemington

At Premiere Night, we were able to visit and dine a few days before Chick-fil-A Flemington had its grand opening.  All of the employees were super friendly and helpful. Many corporate employees and team builders from across the country were there to welcome us and assist with the opening of this new location.


We were treated to food sampling, a raffle, and tours of their spotless kitchen. Spotless, I tell you! I was also psyched to see all of the fresh ingredients that they use with my own two eyes.


We didn't win anything in the raffle (boo hoo) but we were allowed to take home these sweet little cows and a travel mug each (The Jersey Momma's Boy presented his to Mr. Jersey Momma, since he was not in attendance), as well as some cute Chick-fil-A paper hats. So we were all winners in my book! They also gave us some coupons to share! YEAH!!  Read on to find out how you can get one!


The play area is super clean and features a slide, a climb-through area, hands-on play items and a little Chick-fil-A car to climb in.  The whole area is enclosed with its own door and glass viewing area. Parents can sit inside or right outside the door.  There is a hand-sanitizer dispenser at the door, as well.

The Chick-fil-A mini car for kids in the Chick-fil-A Flemington playground

I was impressed with the attention to detail at premiere night and the freshness of the food. I was equally impressed with the helpful, friendly staff. The owner, Ryan, spoke to all of us personally, and one of the things he said was, 'I want people to say [after visiting Chick-fil-A Flemington] 'that place is nice and their food is great, but those people who work there are awesome.'  I agree with this one-hundred percent! Poor service can destroy a business. So if you can keep up the combination of good food, cleanliness, and great staff, then you've got a good thing going!


What You Need to Know

*Want to win a Chick-fil-A coupon for free a free signature sandwich or breakfast item? Head over to my Facebook page for a chance to win! Did you miss the contest? Then be sure to like my page for future giveaways!

*Chick-fil-A Flemington also offers a 'Free Little Library' to its customers, and it's stock full o' books from donations the guests brought to premiere night. Patrons can borrow a book and leave a book for others to enjoy.

*Chick-fil-A Flemington opened to the public on Thursday, February 4, 2016, so get on out there and support this new local business! You can also check them out on Facebook, and like their page for updates, coupons and other information.

*Disclaimer: I received passes to the premiere evening at Chick-fil-A Flemington, but all of the opinions expressed here are my own. And what do I always say, people? I would never recommend something to you that I didn't love myself. That's not how I roll!