LEGOLAND Discovery Center Chicago Annual Passes Sale (Giveaway)

This is a sponsored post but all thoughts are my own.

Attention all parents of LEGO® loving kids! If you have not been to LEGOLAND® Discovery Center Chicago yet you are missing out! LEGOLAND® Discovery Center Chicago is an indoor family entertainment destination with over two million LEGO® bricks and nine attractions, including rides and a 4D movie theater, located in Schaumburg by Woodfield Mall. Our family has had such a fun time there in the past. Take a look inside here:

Right now through March 6, 2020, Annual Passes are on sale at their lowest price – just $35! At this great discounted price the pass pays for itself in less than two visits. Families will get unlimited access all year to attractions, including the 3 new events, plus the popular Brick or Treat and Bricktacular holiday events. Annual pass holders receive the following:

  • Unlimited admission for one year after your first visit – no restrictions!
  • 40% off admission for friends and family that visit with you (up to 6 additional guests)
  • Invitations to special preview events
  • 20% off in our Coffee Shop & Café
  • 10% off select items in our LEGO Shop
  • 10% off on Birthday Parties

You’ll want an annual pass because 2020 is the year of awesome and they have a lot of exciting new things coming. I’m looking forward to the Trolls World Tour but see below for all the events that annual passholders will have unlimited acccess to:

2020 LEGOLAND Discovery Center Chicago Events:

  • LEGO® Trolls World Tour (March 21st-May 3rd): Join us in a celebration of the new Trolls World Tour movie!
  • Pirates Ahoy! (May 9th-June 28th): Join Captain Brickbeard’s crew to search for buried treasure throughout and tackle fun challenges along your journey.
  • DC Super Heroes vs Super Villains (July 11th-August 30th): Build your super-skills and choose to fight for good or evil.
  • Brick or Treat (October 3rd-31st): Enjoy spooky fun, monstrous builds, and Halloween characters in this spooktacular experience.
  • Holiday Bricktacular (November 21st – January 3rd): Celebrate the most wonderful time of the year with festive builds and activities.

Want a chance to win free annual passes? I’m giving away a family four pack of passes. This giveaway will end the 28th of February so if you don’t win you’ll have plenty of time to still grab your passes at a discount. You do not have to complete all entries to be entered to win but the more you do the more chances to win you have. Good luck!

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How To Send A Valentine To A Hospitalized Child

No child deserves to spend Valentine’s Day in the hospital but you can make their time in there brighter by sending them a valentine. Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago is running their annual Handfuls of Love campaign and it’s easy to participate and show them that you’re on their team.

The hospital’s goal is to get 15,000 valentines so every child in their care can feel the love on this special day. Your personalized card will be hand-delivered to a patient on Valentine’s Day and bring smiles all around.

Make a child’s day by sending one of four cards along with a sweet note of encouragement this Valentine’s Day. You can send a card here.

Design Your Own Locket For Your Valentine (Giveaway)

Thanks to Pictures on Gold for sponsoring this post and giveaway.

Valentine’s Day is next week and I have the perfect gift for your valentine or “gal”entine. Pictures on Gold has beautiful locket necklaces that can be personalized with your loved ones in mind. They normally ship within a day as well so you can even give a personalized gift if you are a last minute shopper! (Hint hint hubbies….)

I shared about these lockets before Christmas when I made one for myself and was very impressed with the quality. Remember how lockets used to hold cutout photos of our loved ones that would get all tattered around the edges if not cut out perfectly? And how you used to have to find a photo with the faces tiny enough to fit inside your locket? Well all that is a thing of the past because Pictures on Gold can take most images and resize them before they laser them into the locket.

These are the images I chose to be in the locket I made for my mom:

As you can see, these photos would not fit in an old style photo locket because all the kids are spaced apart so much. I could use these photos in a Pictures on Gold locket though because they enhance photos to bring people closer together if they are spaced too far apart. They’ll even remove cluttered backgrounds if you’d like them to! I was very please with the color laser images they put in the locket as seen below:

Along with adding photos you can get messages engraved which they do with a high definition laser engraver. I added text on the front and back of my locket. When designing the locket you can see the preview of what the locket will look like to make sure everything is perfect. This is my locket’s preview of the text that’s on the back of my mom’s locket from her grandkids:

I can’t wait until they give Nana her gift because she will love it. What mom or grandma wouldn’t? Here’s a better look at the locket I made:

Want to win one for yourself? Enter below to win a Build Your Own Sterling Silver 2 Photo Heart Locket on 18 inch Sterling Silver Box Chain (valued at $140.90). The giveaway ends on Valentine’s Day. Good luck!

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Apple Walnut Muffin Recipe

Long winter days call for something delicious baking in the oven! And bonus points that these fresh fruit and nut filled apple muffins will make your home smell amazing until they come out nice and warm from the oven. The muffins are flavored further with honey and whole wheat flour for a healthy breakfast or afternoon snack. Moist yet crumbly, these muffins are a one bowl recipe for a brunch staple that is perfect with a pat of butter or some nutty cheese.

Total time: 45 minutes

  • Prep time: 10 minutes
  • Active time: 10 minutes
  • Baking time: 25 minutes

Ingredients to make 12 muffins:

  • 1 1/3 c/160g all-purpose flour
  • 2/3 c/75g whole wheat flour
  • ½ c/100g granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp/4g baking powder
  • 1 tsp/6g baking soda
  • ½ tsp/1g ground ginger
  • ½ tsp/1g ground cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp/1g sea salt
  • ¾ c/175ml half and half
  • ½ c/120ml vegetable oil
  • 2 large eggs
  • ¼ c/60ml honey
  • 1 tbs/15ml lemon juice
  • 3 small/350g apples
  • 1 c/110g chopped walnuts

Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 350° F.
  • Line 12 cups in a ½ c capacity muffin pan with paper liners.
  • Peel and core apples and chop into ½” cube or rectangular pieces. Make sure walnuts are coarsely chopped into ¼” pieces.
  • Combine all dry ingredients (flours, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, spices, salt) in a large bowl. Whisk to evenly distribute everything. 
  • Make a well in the center of the flour mixture. Add eggs and oil to well. Whisk eggs into oil incorporating as little of flour as possible.
  • Add half and half, lemon juice, and honey to oil and eggs. Whisk to mix, slowly incorporating in the flour. 
  • Mix only until everything is incorporated, some lumps may remain. Over mixing will result in tough muffins.
  • Gently fold in apple and walnut pieces. 
  • Scoop batter into paper liners, filling nearly to top.
  • Bake at 350° F for 25 minutes until a cake tester comes out clean and the muffins are lightly browned.
  • Best served warm and the same day. If storing, keep in an airtight container in the fridge for no more than 2 days.

Enjoy!

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The Summer Soccer Camp We Love

This is a sponsored post but all thoughts are my own.

Calling all parents of soccer players! If you are looking for an opportunity to build your child’s soccer skills look no further than Challenger Sports Soccer Camp. One of the best sport related things I’ve done for my oldest, who plays recreational soccer half of the year, is enroll him in Challenger Sports’ soccer camp every summer. He has enjoyed making new friends and playing this sport that he loves while I’ve noticed his skills develop a lot these last several years and I attribute much of that growth to these week long, half-day intensive camps.

Challenger Sports, the largest soccer camp company in North America is coming to a community near you, and bringing over 30 years of coaching experience. Their international staff will work with your players to teach a fun, technical and tactical curriculum that’s filled with training sessions from five of the world’s leading soccer nations.

Challenger’s International Soccer Camp offers instructional camp programs for all age and ability levels! The TinyTykes program, ages 2-5, provides fundamental soccer activities, games, and stories; designed to enhance technical skills along with physical and social development. The Half-Day Camp, ages 5-16, is the most popular program and will provide 3 hours of skill development, games, challenges and competitions each day. The Full-Day Camp, ages 8-18, is a 6 hour program filled with developmental practices, games, competitions and challenges.

Register now for Challenger’s International Soccer camp and get a free international soccer ball, t-shirt, poster, player evaluation and access to TopYa!’s Juggling Club sampler. Register 30 days before camp and qualify for a free International Game Jersey.

Register here–> https://www.challengersports.com/international_soccer/ 

Valentine’s Day DIY Sugar Scrub

This post contains affiliate links.

With February around the corner I wanted to share this easy Valentine’s Day DIY tutorial. Whether you want soft skin for your Valentine’s date night or want to treat yourself to a little me time, this pretty pink sugar scrub sprinkled with tiny hearts (and scented to smell like strawberries!) is perfect for Valentine’s Day. It makes a great gift idea for all your GALentine’s as well! The best part? It’s simple to make, because busy moms have enough on their plate without adding complicated DIYs to the to-do list!

Here’s how you can make this Valentine’s Day sugar scrub for yourself or a friend:

Supplies:

Directions:

  1. Mix the sugar and olive oil in a small bowl. Stir well.

  2. Add the soap colorant. Mix well.

  3. Add fragrance oil. Mix well.

  4. Add the heart sprinkles. Give it a quick stir.

  5. Pour into an airtight container such as a mason jar.

If you are gifting the sugar scrub you can add a gift tag to the mason jar. Here are some cute ones that I found:

Looking for other Valentine’s Day gift ideas? Here are some fun date night gift baskets that are perfect to give a loved one for a romantic evening in (which seems to often be the only way my husband and I actually have date nights). My favorite is this “dinner for two” gift basket I put together a few years ago and it’s one of my most popular Valentine’s Day posts!

What are you gifting this Valentine’s Day? Chat with me on social media and let me know!

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A Resolution To Keep My Home Company Ready (Giveaway)

Thanks to The CLEAN-X® Family for sponsoring this post.

I’m not what you would call a “suzy homemaker”. With three kids, including a newly turned toddler, living in a small home plus my time taken up by this blog, my three other part-time jobs  and my various other commitments in addition to parenting, most of the time my home cleaning task list ends up low priority on the to-do list. It’s not that I don’t want a clean home, but more so that I’m trying to squeeze all that I do into the limited hours I have each day.

Being that it’s the New Year I thought about resolutions and goals and decided to set a few simple ones: to spend more time with my family, to make my physical & mental well-being more important, and to keep my home company ready. And by company ready I don’t mean that it’s going to be spotless because I’ve accepted that’s not realistic. Instead, I want to be able to invite a friend over when they are having a hard day, to be able to host more family events, and to be able to be the mom that says, “yes, have your friends over” whenever my kids ask (and not just after we’ve spent hours cleaning!) I want to be that home that is always open and welcoming when our friends and family need a place to go instead of vowing to have people over “when the house is cleaner and looks nicer”.

I know I’m not alone in feeling this way. I recently read an article in praise of scruffy hospitality and not waiting until our homes and furnishings were looking Pinterest-perfect to have guests over and it really resonated with me. So that’s something I’m focusing on in 2020. Here’s how I plan to attain a company ready home so I can welcome people into my home without reservation or embarrassment:

Do a quick cleanup before bed & use Invisible Shield® Products by CLEAN-X for a wipe down of the hard surfaces  (Read the Clean-X Story)

Waking up to a mess is the worst! We live in a small home and my daughter doesn’t have her own bedroom so all the toys are in the living room. We’ve been making it a point to pick up all the toys before bed so I can have a few minutes of toy free bliss before she inevitably pulls all the toys out again. We also try to do a quick bathroom and kitchen pickup daily. We can’t seem to keep up with the dishes (how many families with multiple kids can?) but a few dishes in the sink is a lot better than an overflowing sink-full of dishes. 

Use cleaners that protect surfaces, making them easier to clean in the future

Last year I wrote a post about Invisible Shield®, a cleaning line I’d just been introduced to and started using (see the post here). I was so impressed with this line because, not only did the products work amazingly well, but they minimize cleaning time in half… (yes!) by protecting against re-soiling and stains without the use of harsh chemicals and  with its unique “Shielding” benefit. It’s “2 in 1” technology products both clean & shield surfaces in 1 step! Surfaces stay cleaner longer which means less time cleaning for me! My favorites in the line were the Invisible Shield® Water Spot & Stain Remover and the Invisible Shield® Protective Glass & Surface Coating that let me tackle one of the most difficult and time consuming areas to clean- the bathroom- with ease. They specifically help with the shower, removing stains and protecting the build up from coming back. Just look at the difference in the post above… it only took minutes to clean! When you go back to clean the next time, you’ll notice far less soiling and spotting and once protected, a simple wipe with a damp cloth is all I need (I’m all about saving time when it comes to cleaning the grossest room in the house!)

Invisible Shield® had new products come out recently that I was excited to try. The new products in their line are:

  • Invisible Shield® Toilet Spray Cleaner & Protectant- 
    • Clean & protect toilets, urinals & bidets
    • Maintains an “invisible shield” against the buildup of hard water minerals, fecal matter, urine and stains without dulling the surface
    • Prevents the growth of odor causing bacteria, mold & mildew stains with the power of hydrogen peroxide
    • Automatically renews the invisible water, soil & stain repellent barrier coating for easier cleaning… with just a simple flush or occasional brushing
  • Invisible Shield® Refrigerator Cleaner & Protectant-
    • Keeps refrigerators sparkling clean and smelling fresh inside and out
    • Cleans with the oxidizing power of hydrogen peroxide
    • Maintains a protective barrier with each cleaning to prevent odor causing bacteria, mold and mildew stains
  • Invisible Shield® Cooktop Cleaner and Protectant-
    • New- dual-action cream cleanser formula removes stuck-on food spills without scratching cooktop surfaces
    • Deep cleans glass ceramic and metal cooktop ranges & protects with a water, soil & stain repellent coating

I was really looking forward to trying the kitchen products. I already love using their Marble & Granite Cleaner and Protector because it makes my kitchen counters shine so I knew their refrigerator and cooktop cleaners would work to clean and protect my appliances just as well. A while ago my oldest and I spent a good couple hours scrubbing down every nook and cranny of our fridge and I wish I would have had this Invisible Shield® Refrigerator Cleaner & Protectant then because I think the process would have went a lot quicker! I used it now though- and wow! Just a couple wipes and the sticky juice spots are gone. Plus, just a little of the cleaner makes my fridge smell fresher when we open it hours later.

Invisible Shield Products are Patented user-friendly surface care-green compliant and free of harsh chemicals! The CLEAN-X family is offering one winner up to a $75 value in Invisible Shield Products for 1 full year! Enter below. 

To purchase product click here and receive 10% off your order – Use Promo Code: MTFM 10% off entire order -Active from today until Feb 29. The CLEAN-X Invisible Shield cleaning products are also available on Amazon

Have a home for everything (and -this is important- make sure everyone knows where it is)

So many times a new item has come into our house and I have made a home for it but neglected to tell my family members exactly where that home was. You can probably guess what happened….that item got used and then was left on a counter, on the table, on a book shelf, or whatever flat surface that was nearby. Now do my husband and kids always put things away after they use them? Of course not! BUT they surely aren’t going to put something away if they have no clue where it goes! I find once I show them they are a bit more likely to put it back in the future and it’s one less thing cluttering up the counters.

Make a list of what’s really important to clean and do those essential things first

Sometimes I have this idea in my head about what a clean house should look like and, if I know people are going to be coming over, I want everything deep cleaned but it’s unlikely that anyone that comes into my home (or your home) is going to be looking at our baseboards or opening up our kitchen cabinets to see if they are organized. I am really trying to focus most of my attention -and time- on the three places people spend the most time in- our living room, our kitchen, and the main bathroom.

How do you keep your home company ready? Chat with me on social and help me make this 2020 resolution of maintaining a company ready house a reality! Also, make sure to enter the giveaway below to win a year of Invisible Shield cleaning products (a $75 value!)

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Family Time During The NFL Football Season (Giveaway)

Thanks to NFL Style for sponsoring this post.

If you’ve read this blog or followed me on social media for a while, you know that I love football. I love watching it anytime it’s on, cheering on my favorite NFL team (the Chicago Bears of course), and showing my fan spirit in my Bears gear. Most of all, I love the family time that football brings.

I thought we’d celebrate football Sunday this past weekend with a little Chicago Bears themed fun as we watched our rivals compete in the playoffs on tv. I’m notorious for wearing my Bears gear when the cheeseheads play because I always have to represent!

Though I had plenty of Bears clothes to choose from I went on a bit of a shopping spree on NFLshop.com to get everything our family would need for a cozy afternoon of lounging while we watched the game. My favorite item? This reversible Sherpa Hoodeez I’m wearing in the photo above. It’s so warm and perfect for cuddling up in.

I also might have gotten myself some other gifts including a big Bears blanket and a pretty shiny draft tumbler that’s perfect for taking iced coffee on the go. And of course I picked up shirts for the whole family so I didn’t just treat myself :) Jacob, who only asked for football jerseys this Christmas season, was really excited to get the Khalil Mack jersey. Doesn’t he look so grown up in it?

Luke’s long-sleeved Bears shirt is perfect for this cold weather we’ve been having and who could resist Emma in her adorable tiny Bears t-shirt!? Forget pink…Emma’s colors are definitely blue and orange. I can’t wait to have her ‘tutus and touchdowns’ party because I’m all about pint-sized Bears gear on my little baby girl!

And of course Daddy needed some Bears gear, too. This trapper hat is perfect for our Chicago weather and the snow we had this past weekend!

So once everyone was all decked out in their Bears shirts we pulled out the games and snacks. The boys played an electronic football game and NFL-OPOLY while snacking on pretzels and popcorn held in their giant bowl mugs.

While they played games I went into the kitchen to make some easy appetizers before the game started. I am all about simple football food because I want to be watching the game, not stuck in the kitchen! For this last game I made ham and cheese sliders (topped with a buttery dijon mustard sauce that baked right in to the sweet rolls) and wonton taco cups. Each had very few ingredients and everything came together in less than 20 minutes from start to finish.

Lucas (my pickiest eater) said the sliders were even better than brownies! With as easy as they were to make, and how quick they cooked in our air fryer oven, they will be on the menu again soon! Paired with a side of fruit and cucumber slices they’d even make a delicious lunch or dinner one night.

To make half a dozen, just layer sliced ham and provolone cheese (or any cheese of your choice) in hawaiian rolls or similar type rolls. To make the sauce for the top I melted half a stick of butter and mixed in several spoonfuls of dijon mustard and a sprinkle of garlic salt. If you have poppy seeds or diced onions in your spice cabinet you can add those in as well! Once the sauce was ready I spooned it on to the top of the rolls and put them in my air fryer oven at 350 degrees for 10 minutes. They came out with perfectly crisped tops and gooey cheese and I set them out for my family on a Chicago Bears 3-tiered serving ladder.

Family. Football. Food. Fun. What could be better than all that?! How about an amazing giveaway courtesy of NFLShop.com? Enter below for a chance to win a $100 gift card! You don’t have to complete all entries to be entered to win but the more entries you have the better your chances to win :) Good luck!

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Last Minute Christmas Gift Ideas

This post contains affiliate links and most of the items have been received for consideration.

Typically around this time of December many people are done (or almost done) Christmas shopping. This year though, probably because of how late Thanksgiving was, most people I’ve talked to haven’t finished Christmas shopping yet (myself included!) Some people haven’t even started, or have just picked up a couple items. I’ve bought some things for my oldest and my youngest but I haven’t even started buying anything for my middle child yet (those poor middle children!)

If you are still looking for great gift ideas I have some and, best of all, most of them will arrive before Christmas Day :)

For the gamers…

Any child, tween, or teen that plays video games (which would be most of them) would be appreciative of a new game for their favorite system. Jacob’s top pick of the year is Madden NFL 20 and he loves playing it with his friends. Lucas and I were excited to check out Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 which is exclusively for the Nintendo Switch. These iconic characters bring back nostalgia for us ’80s kids but the game is also fun for kids of all ages who get to compete in more than 30 different events. Then there’s Mario Maker 2, a game that the boys first got a sneak peak at this summer when we went to the Nintendo Switch Road Trip Tour. This game, again made exclusively for the Switch, lets kids play, create, and share the side-scrolling Super Mario courses of their dreams. All these games are sure to bring hours of fun!

For moms, grandmas, and anyone else who loves personalized gifts…

There is nothing much better to receive, as a mom, than something my children have made or something with their picture on it (okay well maybe a self-cleaning house would be preferred but that doesn’t exist yet so….). One of my favorite things I own is my Photospring Digital Frame. I love that I can showcase my favorite photos, relive special memories, and look at pictures of my kids while they are at school or sleeping anytime I want! The new one holds 15,000 photos (WOW!) and it’s easy to upload pictures to wirelessly, directly from your phone. Another item that would make a nice gift is a personalized photo locket and it just so happens I’m giving one away so you can learn more about it and enter to win here.

For little ones…

Anyone with a little one in their life knows that sometimes the best gifts for them are the simplest (which is why they often seem to love the gift box more than the actual gift that came in the box) so I shared over 20 experience gift ideas for toddlers here. Gift-wise I searched Facebook Marketplace for used toys because small kids don’t know the difference between new and used toys so it’s worth it to save some money. My favorite find for Emma was this Little People Disney Princess Magic Wand Castle for $12 and when my boys were younger I got a whole box of Thomas trains for the cost of a couple new ones (that find was such a blessing at a time when our budget was really tight)! I also got a great deal on this Laugh & Learn Food Truck (that has wonderful reviews) and hope that it will lead to hours of imaginative play!

Looking for infant gift ideas? I got you covered with these great gifts for new moms and newborns – a simple but sweet suggestion is putting together a bath time gift basket and diapers/wipes are always appreciated as well since new moms go through those so quickly! I also love Infantino’s baby gear like their 3-in-1 Grow with me Activity Gym (that turns into a fun ball pit when they start crawling and walking) and the Sit, Spin & Stand Entertainer 360 Seat for older babies (that turns into an activity table for toddlers).

Gifts for men…

If you are looking to buy something other than socks and ties for your husband or dad this year I have some suggestions! Hubby will love a romantic date night gift basket because it means he will get to spend some alone time with the woman he loves. I particularly love this romantic “dinner for 2” gift basket but I have a whole bunch more ideas here.

Have a man who loves to cook? The Magic Chef Air Fryer Oven is amazing! It is an airfryer, convection toaster, dehydrator, and rotisserie all in one! We use it several times a week since our oven is on the fritz and I love that it cooks a large amount at a time so it’s perfect for families. We’ve used it to bake cookies, make our own french fries, cook perfectly toasted cheese on our zucchini pizza bites, and make chicken with amazingly crispy seasoned skin.   

Know a guy who spends most of his free time rooting for his favorite football team and playing fantasty football? NFL Shop has hundreds of ideas from holiday pajamas to draft tumblers to throw blankets. You could also gift him a subscription to ESPN+ (while you gift your family Hulu and Disney+ through their great bundle deal).

Then again, if dad asks for socks (like my dad did almost every year when I was growing up), get the man some nice wool ones!

For kids in elementary school…

Out of all the toys my boys have ever owned, none were played with more than their Imaginext toys. My youngest son played with them daily for about four to five years so they were definetely a worthwhile investment! Another great gift idea is to gift board games for a fun family game night. I share 10 of my family’s favorite games here and some more great games here. Football fans will love NFL-opoly Junior and there’s also a new game for Rubik’s Cube lovers called Rubik Tilt that looks pretty cool! (BTW I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to solve a Rubik’s Cube. I had a child show me how “easy” it is to solve them and I’m more confused than ever lol). I also have dozens more ideas on this blog! Here’s last year’s gift guide for kids and 2017’s gift guide for children.

What gifts are you giving this year? Chat with me on social media and let me know!

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Our Favorite Place To See Santa

Thanks to HGTV’s Santa HQ for sponsoring this post.

Christmas is right around the corner which means if you haven’t taken your kids to see the big guy in red yet, you better hurry! We did our annual Santa visit this weekend and went to HGTV’s Santa HQ in the Fashion Outlets of Chicago where we have gone the past three years. Today’s families are always connected, and the innovative Santa HQ guides visitors through an immersive, interactive holiday experience with the use of state-of-the-art digital technology that incorporates special mobile apps, social-media-ready opportunities, and even augmented reality. They really revolutionized the traditional Santa Claus visit!

My favorite part of the Santa HQ experience though? Not having to wait in long lines to see Santa! I don’t remember much about my family’s Santa visits when I was younger other than having to wear matching outfits and, worst of all, standing in lines with my parents for what seemed like hours.

Instead of standing in lines, children will enjoy a visit to Santa HQ’s Elf Academy. The Elf Academy is a family-friendly experience that features interactive technology to make the wait fun. It includes the following:

  • Magic Mirror where guests can transform into one of Santa’s elves and virtually try on various elf outfits
  • Elf-ID where guests can create their very own customized Elf-ID card using the new Elf-ID app and a “selfie”.
  • Elf-Ray Vision where guests can explore Santa’s Observatory through the use of tablets. Areas within Santa HQ trigger an augmented reality experience for guests.
  • Naughty or Nice Meter where visitors can stand next to an interactive board to find out which of Santa’s lists – Naughty or Nice – they made.

My favorite area – and I think the kid’s favorite- is the “naughty or nice” meter. Somehow my kids always end up on the nice list… lol. They are lucky because after they make it through the academy it’s time to see Santa Claus and you know he always asks if you’ve been naughty or nice!

Santa HQ offers the traditional Santa visit exprience and a variety of photo packages. My favorite package is the one that gives prints (because, let’s be honest, I never actually take the time to get my digital images printed on my own) and also the digital images that are perfect for sharing on social media. I love that you get three digital photos with Package A and you can pick which images you get.

I remember last year the best one of my two boys featured a pasted-on smile on my oldest’s face. The second photo I chose had him with a genuinely happy smile which is something every parent of tweens and teens wants to see! And this year? I was just trying to get a picture where my 11 month old wasn’t crying…

Crying.

Emma realizing she’s not on Santa’s lap anymore and maybe this big guy in red isn’t so scary…

This last expression can kind of pass as a smile, right? At least she’s not crying! #WINNING It definitely helped when we had big brother hold her!

Check out my video of the fun at Santa HQ below!

Want to take your kids to HGTV’s Santa HQ? They have 15 locations around the U.S. so hopefully you can find a location near you! Limited on time this holiday season? Visit http://bit.ly/32vmTQ1 to secure a Fast Pass and pre-purchase a photo package to make your visit to Santa even quicker! You can select the date, a 30-minute window of time to use the Fast Pass, pre-pay online, upgrade your package by adding a family photo weeks/days in advance, and opt-in to receive text reminders about your Fast Pass window.

Chocolates Make The Holiday Season Sweeter (Giveaway)

Thanks to Ritter Sport Chocolates for sponsoring this post.

One thing you’ll always find in our home is chocolate. Really it should come as no surprise that chocolate is basically a food group around here since I’m married to someone from Europe and I recently learned that Europeans consume nearly half of all the chocolate the whole world eats (according to the International Cocoa Organization). One of my husband’s favorites is German-based Ritter Sport. He loves the sweet and bold flavors and always says they “taste like memories” to him. Every bite reminds him of his childhood growing up in Croatia, from the fond memories of opening Christmas presents at midnight and finding some in his stocking to thoughts of his parents returning home from long trips to Germany and gifting him and his sister the chocolates. His favorite flavor is the Marzipan but he’s truly not picky when it comes to the chocolatey squares of Ritter Sport.

One thing my husband loves doing is introducing our kids (and me!) to the flavors of his childhood and making sure we knew how delicious Ritter Sport Chocolates are was definetely on his to-do list as our two boys were growing up. We’ve tried, and love, a variety of their flavored chocolates so we were excited to learn that they have a new line of single origin chocolates produced from fine, sustainably farmed cacao. The new line includes:

  • The 55% Cacao Selection – deliciously smooth milky chocolate with a dark chocolate twist made with single origin cacao from Ghana.
  • The 61% Cacao Selection is a scrumptious dark chocolate made from single origin cacao from Nicaragua offering nutty notes.
  • The 74% Cacao Selection is intensely delicious with fine, fruity, spicy notes. Produced from single origin Peruvian cacao.

This chocolate is so rich and delicious that even just one small piece of the square bar is such a treat. These chocolates, when melted, would make amazing mugs of hot chocolate to enjoy as we watch Christmas movies over winter break. Definetely need to save a couple bars to do that this year!

Since I’m doing a giveaway for Ritter Sport I thought I’d be helpful and share a few other uses for chocolate this holiday season since 3 winners are each going to receive 100 mixed mini samples of Ritter Sport Chocolates. Yes, I said ONE HUNDRED chocolates. (Insert drooling face emoji here!)

  • Have a misunderstanding with a friend, family member, or coworker recently? Write a nice note apologizing and enclose some chocolate. Since Ritter Sport is square in shape, the chocolates are the perfect choice to “square up” (which means to settle a misunderstanding!)
  • Make a boring wrapping session more fun with a friend! Invite a friend over for a gift wrapping (and gabbing!) session and reward yourselves with some coffee and a bit of chocolate when all the gifts are all wrapped.
  • Have a friend who is not feeling well? Make them a get well basket and include some Ritter Sport Chocolates. (I had to mention this one because when my husband and I had just started dating this is something I did for him!)
  • Kids fighting with each other? Have them share three things they like about their sibling and then let them sit down a share the chocolate treat together. (Parent tip… with Ritter Sport there is no fighting over who got the larger piece because they are easy to split fairly!)
  • What do you get the person who is hard to shop for? Chocolates and gift cards of course! Gift cards are so impersonal so pair it with a chocolate bar that reminds you of their personality (like Ritter Sport Cornflakes for your yoga-loving crunchy mom friend.)

Want a chance to win Ritter Sport chocolate? Three people will each win 100 sample sized chocolates in a variety of flavors! Enter below and make sure to share this post with your friends!

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20+ Experience Gifts For Toddlers

This post contains affiliate links.

The holidays are here and I’m so excited to be celebrating Emma’s first Christmas this year! Since my other two are older, and were born so close together, I don’t remember much from this stage because it was all a blur and honestly I was just trying to survive with two under two. It’s been fun watching my daughter as she takes in the lights and everything else this holiday season holds. As we get closer to Christmas though I’ve been on the hunt for Christmas gifts for my kids. For Emma (who has a birthday several days after Christmas) I have things I’d like to get her but I’m hoping to find everything I want used from online garage sale sites and thrift stores or at the store if I can find great deals (like I did with this food truck that I got for just a third of the advertised store price using gift cards and a coupon). I’m also adding some experience gifts to the list because a kid can only have so many toys! Some of these are places you can take the kids but some of these experience gift ideas are things you can do at home with your child.

As much as experience gifts are for the child, I think they are just as great for mom, dad, or grandma who gets to join in on the fun with the little one! Here are ten great experience gift ideas for toddlers:

Baking Kit

What toddler wouldn’t want to spend time with his or her favorite adult baking cookies, decorating them with an overload of frosting and sprinkles (like Luke’s gingerbread man above), and then – best of all- getting to eat their creation?! Cookie making will be messy but what fun toddler activity isn’t? A baking kit for a toddler can include a child-sized apron, kid-friendly kitchen tools, a cookie mix, sprinkles in their favorite color, and a tub of frosting.

Zoo Membership

We love going to the zoo and the great thing about zoo memberships is children can enjoy the zoo through all the seasons. Brookfield Zoo here in the Chicago suburbs has many fun events throughout the year including Summer Nights with live music and family fun in the summer, Boo at the Zoo for Halloween costume fun, and Zoo Lights during the holidays.

Craft Supplies

When my oldest was about 18 months old I made him a toddler art station. On the easel there were papers and large chunky crayons to color with (we used Crayola jumbo crayons and crayons I made out of old recycled crayons but now a decade later we have more choices like these 100% natural Honeysticks made from beeswax which won’t harm toddlers when ingested and are almost impossible for them to break). I also put together a craft kit full of toddler friendly craft supplies he could use to create open-ended art projects with adult supervision. I included finger paints, cotton balls, feathers, foam stamps, safety scissors, dot markers, a long sleeved art smock, and more. You can make your own DIY kit or buy a premade one like this kit from Alex.

Tinkergarten Classes

Tinkergarten is a national program that offers children a chance to learn through well-designed, outdoor play-based activities. They help kids develop a number of important capabilities, including empathy, collaboration, creativity, persistence and problem solving. Their expert-designed classes and activities help kids ages 6 months—8 years develop core life skills while enjoying healthy, fun, engaging experiences in the physical freedom of local outdoor spaces. If you are in the Chicago suburbs I’d love to introduce you to some local Tinkergarten leaders I know or you can look for classes nearby you here.

“Snow Much Fun” Kit

Winter means snow here in Chicago so gifting some fun items your toddler can use during the winter months just makes sense. Giving them a sled like this infant boggan could make for a fun afternoon on a snowy day. The Snow Much Fun Kit you put together could also include a snowsuit, waterproof mittens (with strings), and some little shovels, buckets, and shape forms (bonus- the beach toys can then be used in the summer, too). Too cold to go outside? Bring the snow inside and put it in giant plastic tub or the kitchen sink.

Children’s Museum Membership

When my boys were young I loved taking them to our local children’s museum. There they could learn new concepts, be creative, and explore the world around them in a safe environment that was made just for them. Gifting a membership to a children’s museum will give the toddler in your life a place to go on rainy days, chilly winter days, and any time their caregiver wants to get out of the house. In the Chicago area we love the Chicago Children’s Museum and the DuPage Children’s Museum in Naperville!

Science Subscription Box

Children ages 2 and up would love to receive a subscription box every month filled with fun science experiments that they can do with their mom or dad. Science concepts for children this young are kept simple, like learning about the colors that make up the rainbox and different animals. For toddlers, the KiwiCo Koala Crate is a good choice along with the Green Kids Crafts Junior Boxes that are made to “deliver discovery, learning and fun to children”.

More ideas….

  • Music Lessons
  • Dance Class
  • Sports Lesson
  • Sensory table or tub (like this hot cocoa sensory tub I made)
  • Membership to a local children’s garden
  • Swim Lessons
  • Water table and other items for backyard fun
  • Nature kit with magnafying glass, bug catcher, and a book about bugs
  • Gymnastics Class
  • Membership to an indoor children’s play attraction
  • Sports sets (like this tball set or this basketball hoop)
  • Musical Instruments (like a classic xylophone or a drum)
  • Trip to an indoor waterpark
  • Gardening kit with seeds to plant, cute rain boots, toddler sized gardening tools, and this cute gardening board book

Then there’s always the greatest gift of all time….a big box that can be turned into anything your little toddler can imagine!

What’s your favorite experience gift? Chat with me on social and let me know!

 

My Ideal Christmas Vacation

Thanks to Beaches Resorts for sponsoring this post.

It’s cold and wet here in the suburbs of Chicago and I’m dreaming of warmer weather. I love the holiday season but as soon as Christmas passes I’m ready for it to be summer. I’m just not a cold weather girl!

If I were to list my vacation destinations they would definitely all be warm weather places. Several years ago I was able to escape to Jamaica in December (read about my experience here and here) and it was amazing. We stayed at Beaches Resorts in Negril and enjoyed a few days of water, sand, sun, and- best of all- warm weather!

My husband and I have also had the chance to stay at the all-inclusive Beaches Resort in Turks & Caicos (read my post here). It was the most relaxing vacation I’ve ever taken! There’s just something about sitting on the beach- without any worries or agenda- that makes Beaches resorts the best place to visit in the winter.

Another thing I love about Beaches Resorts is that they are kid-friendly. As much as I enjoy taking a couples only vacation, it’s not really something we are able to do often (in fact our oldest is 11 and we’ve only taken two of those!) so our vacations have to include our children. Having both an infant and tweens has made finding the ideal travel destination more difficult but Beaches Resorts perfectly cater to each person in our family.

Parents of infants and toddlers will appreciate the nursery with it’s 3:1 ratio and professionally certified nannies included at no additional cost for daytime excursions, meals, or just a bit of adult time. Kids will enjoy character meals, parades, kid’s camp programs, the water park, and of course time at the beach. There’s plenty for tweens and teens to do as well, like scuba diving classes, fashion shows, a teen nightclub, and even an XBox lounge (which would probably be the place my two tween boys would want to spend most of their time!)

Where will your family be spending Christmas vacation? This year we are staying home to celebrate Emma’s first birthday (which is a few days after Christmas) but reliving all these memories of vacations at the beach makes me want to book our next Beaches Resort vacation! Perhaps this time we will check out Beaches Ocho Rios all-inclusive resort (which was voted among the Top 10 Best Beach Resorts by Parents magazine.) If you are still looking for Christmas vacation ideas, Beaches Resorts has put together this great infographic with ideas:

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Slow Cooker Jambalaya Stuffed Peppers Recipe

Thanks to Caputo’s for sponsoring this post. Read on for an exclusive coupon code and a delicious recipe!

I am all about simplifying life, especially during the busy holiday season. One way I like to do so is ordering online, which I do for everything from my Christmas gifts to my groceries. Besides avoiding the crowds, less time walking around the grocery store and standing in lines means more time doing things like cuddling with my kiddos while we watch Christmas movies. With my kids getting older and quickly outgrowing cuddle time, this precious time together is a priority this season!

My husband on the other hand, loves going to the grocery store and wandering up and down the aisles. His favorite one is Caputo’s Fresh Markets, a family owned and operated grocery store with locations in the Chicago area. When we lived closer, our family would shop at the Naperville Caputo’s location often. My husband, a European immigrant, loves Caputo’s variety of imported specialties that remind him of home. He enjoys coming up with creative recipes to make from all of the new items he finds and he also likes to introduce the kids and I to all of the foods he loves and the recipes he grew up eating when he lived in Croatia as a boy.

I recently had a chance to meet a few of the Caputo’s family members and tour their Carol Stream location while I learned more about the history of the stores. I was surprised to find out just how much of their food is made in their on-site facility and then shipped fresh to all their stores daily. They make their own sausage, bakery items, deli items, and more! I also heard about how involved the whole family is in the day-to-day operations of the company and the time they spend choosing each of the items that they sell in their stores. They even have their own line of exclusive products named after the matriarch of their family.

There is really nothing like Caputo’s where we moved to but thankfully we are only an hour or so from their closest store and head out to the Naperville area often for various things so we can stop by when we are out there. I placed a click-and-collect online order Tuesday evening and we went together on Wednesday afternoon to pick it up. My husband wanted to walk around the store a bit before we grabbed the groceries I’d ordered for our special dinner but I think he soon discovered that
“wandering the aisles” with an infant isn’t as enjoyable as shopping solo and could see why ordering online is my preferred way to shop with kids in tow!

ShopCaputos.com makes online grocery shopping easy. You can search by item, by aisle or by the weekly sales and even quickly shop your past orders. I love how well-priced everything is at Caputo’s, too! You can check out my video below to see everything we ordered and I’m sharing the Slow Cooker Jambalaya Stuffed Peppers recipe my husband made as well! It’s the perfect meal to stick in the crockpot while you go about your evening!

Slow Cooker Jambalaya Stuffed Peppers

Ingredients:

  • 6 orange or yellow peppers
  • 1 cup of uncooked rice
  • 1 pound of sausage
  • 1/2 pound of shrimp, thawed and shells removed
  • 1/2 cup of cherry tomatoes
  • 1 small can of tomato paste
  • 1 cup of water
  • 1 cup of shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1 tsp. black pepper
  • 1 tsp. minced onion
  • 1 tsp. parsley flakes

Directions:

  • Stir rice, sausage, shrimp, tomatoes, and seasonings together in a large bowl
  • Cut the tops off of the peppers and take the seeds out
  • Stuff the rice and sausage mixture into the peppers, dividing evenly
  • Put the peppers in the crockpot, stuffed side up
  • Whisk the tomato paste and water together and pour the liquid on top of and around the peppers
  • Top each pepper with shredded cheese
  • Cook 3 hours on high (or until temperature inside each pepper reaches at least 165 degrees)

Want to try Caputo’s Click-and-Collect or grocery delivery? Use the code ‘SAVEMOMMYMONEY’ for $20 off your first order ($60 order minimum) at shopcaputos.com.

Give A Personalized Photo Locket This Holiday Season (Giveaway)

Thanks to Pictures on Gold for sponsoring this post.

If you are shopping for a gift, and the recepient is a mom or grandma, it’s a pretty safe bet that she will LOVE anything with her child or grandchild’s face on it. And what woman doesn’t love jewelry? That’s what makes a locket, personalized just for mom or grandma, the perfect unique gift this holiday season. I’m excited to share about lockets from Pictures on Gold and give one away to a lucky reader this Christmas.

Pictures on Gold offers a variety of personalized jewelry that can be created online (via mobile or desktop). They make it simple to create custom jewelry pieces and to design your own locket with their step-by-step instructions that guide you through the process. They offer a lifetime guarantee on their laser engraving and the quick shipping turnaround time makes it the perfect last-minute gift. Check out the custom locket I designed in the video below!

When I was growing up I had a locket with my parent’s photos in it. I loved it but I remember how the pictures enclosed inside of it were all curled up and torn around the edges. Technology has come a long ways since then in the past couple of decades and now Pictures on Gold has images put into the lockets with a laser, making the images 100% waterproof and scratch-proof.

Another thing I love about the images on the lockets from Pictures on Gold is that the company makes it easier than ever to include your favorite photo even if it doesn’t fit perfectly or you don’t like the background of it. I had a picture of all my kids with a busy background and their digital artists cut out the images of my three kids and placed them on a white background so their faces really stood out. They also can enhance photos to bring people closer together if they are too spaced apart to fit in the locket. They will color in any white space as well so it’s okay if the photograph you want doesn’t fit perfectly.

Who do you know that would love a locket like this? You can use the promo code HOLIDAY to save 10% off your order at PicturesOnGold.com. Also, enter the giveaway below for a chance to win a locket you design! You can share this giveaway on social media more than once for extra chances to win. The giveaway ends December 24th. Good luck!

 

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National Letter Writing Campaign To Thank Veterans And Deployed Service Members

Since today is Veteran’s Day (thank you to all who have served!!) I thought it was the perfect time to share a way to brighten the day of Veterans and those currently serving our country. America’s Adopt A Soldier® is holding their national letter writing campaign for the 9th year to thank the nation’s service members who are deployed and veterans who are in state veteran’s homes and hospitals.

In 2018, over 200,000 letters were shared and this year the organization is hoping to receive over 300,000 letters. Hitting this goal would allow them to send at least four letters to every veteran in a veteran’s home or veteran’s hospital as well as to all those who are deployed this holiday season.

Mary Keeser, America’s Adopt A Soldier® Founder says, “The cards and letters we receive are drawn or written by a diverse group of individuals, from 3 years-old to the over 100 years- old. From kitchen tables to classrooms, to businesses, to college dorms to faith-based establishments, the pens, pencils, crayons and pieces of paper used to create messages of hope, appreciation, unity and support will have a positive impact.”

This is a simple, meaningful activity you can do with your family tonight or even sometime this month. To participate in the 2019 National Care Letter Campaign, mail your personal written and designed letter or greeting card to America’s Adopt A Soldier, 5400 Shawnee Road, Suite #300, Alexandria, Va. 22312. Please note that the deadline for letters is December 18th.

Want to learn more about this organization? Visit: www.americasadoptasoldier.org

Why Every Parent Of A Teen Needs A Network Of Little Birdies

This is a sponsored post but all thoughts are my own.

When our kids are little we know everything that they do. We know what toys they play with, what they had for breakfast, what they watch, and who their friends are. Once they start school though, and aren’t with us all day long, we don’t know as much about every tiny detail of their day. Then, as they head off to middle school and high school, we are privvy to even less. This is the natural progression of things as their peers take on a more important role in their lives.

During those teen years we have to give our children some independence and hope that all those lessons we’ve taught them help direct them in their decision making. Will they mess up and not always make the best choices? Absolutely. That’s just a part of growing up. (I’m sure we can all look back and remember things we wish we could have a do-over of!)

And though they need independence, I think that parent involvement and guidance is still so important. Especially nowadays, with social media and everything else, we have to be actively monitoring our children. As a mom of two tweens I can acknowledge that this is difficult and something I struggle with often. Working, taking care of an infant, the laundry, and all the other things I do on a daily basis means I can’t constantly be looking over my kids’ shoulders. And since we can’t physically be around our teens every secondit’s nice to have a network of friends looking out for our kids- from the parents of their classmates to those friends who see our children out and about in the community at their various activities.

This is where the Little Birdy Community comes in. It’s a web app that helps parents stay informed of their older children’s behaviors through a network of trusted friends, or ‘birdies’ keeping an eye out for their children. A huge part of a parent’s ability to help and guide their children through their teenage years is having the knowledge of the issues they are going through and incidents they are a part of and this app helps parents identify things their children are struggling with so they can have a conversation about them before it’s too late.

A great feature of the app is that it lets trusted friends, who care about the wellbeing of the teens in their lives, anonymously share things with a fellow parent. This anonymity gives them peace of mind to report incidents without fear of delivering hurtful information, a confrontation, or losing a friend. And everything is on a one-on-one basis so birdies do not know of each other’s existence, nor do they see messages sent from other birdies. 

Here’s how it works: Parents select from 10 behaviors they want to monitor (from bullying to drinking to depression) and then they choose at least 5 trusted friends to be a part of their network. If a parent (birdy) in your network hears or sees something going on with your child they can send a private message to you anonymously without having to worry about how to broach the conversation and what you might think of them.

The app costs $29.99 yearly for the parent who signs up and there is no cost to the birdies they add to their network. Parents can add 5 birdies as part of their plan and it’s an additional 99 cents for each birdy added after the initial five. Parents are not charged until they completely set up their network of trusted birdies.

You can visit LittleBirdyCommunity.com to learn more and use the code: Mybirdy to try the app free for 30 days. I’d love to hear what you think about this app and any other ways you have discovered to keep your tweens and teens safe as they walk into adolescence and experience the world around them. You can chat with me on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook.

2019 Advent Calendars For Kids

It’s November 1st which means two things…. one, we made it through October! Whew. That is always an insane month with Halloween festivities, school events, and meetings galore! The second thing it means is that the holidays are just around the corner. I enjoy Thanksgiving but Christmas is my favorite holiday so I start planning for it as soon as Halloween is done.

I think what I love most about the holidays, other than spending time with family of course, is that it’s full of traditions. One of my children’s favorite holiday traditions is finding a special Advent calendar each year that they can open throughout the month of December. This year is special because I get to find an Advent calendar for my daughter who will be turning one right after Christmas. Here are some fun Advent calendars I’ve found for 2019. (Please note: This post contains affiliate links.)

Paw Patrol Advent Calendar

Hatchimals Colleggtibles Advent Calendar

Charm Bracelet Advent Calendar

 

PJ Masks Advent Calendar

Disney Jr. Advent Calendar

LEGO Harry Potter Advent Calendar

Thomas & Friends Minis Advent Calendar

Schleich Horse Club Advent Calendar

L.O.L Surprise! OOTD Advent Calendar

Playmobil 1.2.3 Christmas In The Forest Advent Calendar

 

Fortnite Advent Calendar

Super Mario Advent Calendar

 

Disney Pixar Toy Story 4 Advent Calendar

VTech Go! Go! Smart Wheels Advent Calendar

 

Mochi Squishies Advent Calendar

Disney Pixar Cars Advent Calendar

Star Wars Snowman Chocolate Advent Calendar

Little People Nativity Advent Calendar

Barbie Advent Calendar

Step2 My First Advent Calendar

Peppa Pig Advent Calendar

There are so many fun choices this year! I think my tween boys would love the Fortnite one and I’m eyeing the Step2 Advent Calendar for Emma because it looks durable and perfect for her first Christmas!

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Time To Get Pet Insurance

This post is sponsored by BabbleBoxx.com on behalf of Nationwide Pet. 

It’s come to my attention that we have less than three months left in this decade, so I’ve decided to get some of the things done that have been sitting on my to-do list for a while. Many items on the list are important but the urgent mothering and work-related tasks always took priority so I just never got around to getting some of these things done. One task on that list? Finding pet insurance for my two cats, Peaches and Boomer. And though I feel like I just thought about getting this within the past year, a quick search reveals that it’s been longer…. 2015 to be exact! Over four years ago I posted asking my friends for more information on pet insurance (after one very expensive vet bill for our new kittens). 2019 is going to be the year I get this done!

I think I’ve put it off for so long because I just didn’t know where to start. Last month though I learned that Nationwide offered pet insurance. They were the first company to do so and they’ve been offering pet insurance for over 30 years. I looked at their Whole Pet with Wellness plan and was impressedThis plan from Nationwide offers great protection for cat parents seeking the best for their feline companions. With this plan, pet parents can get up to 90% back on eligible vet bills for everything from heartworm prevention to hereditary conditions. Members also enjoy 24/7 vet helpline access for any pet health question, plus the freedom to use any veterinarian. 

So now that I’ve identified a pet insurance company and plan it’s time to request a quote which I’m doing today. (Not letting this sit on my to-do list for any longer because just look at that sweet face above! It’s almost like Boomer is watching me as I work saying, “come on mom! This is important!”)

Lucky for me, this is the perfect time to get a quote because Nationwide Pet is running their Ultimate Zoo Experience Sweepstakes. Anyone that gets a quote on the Whole Pet with Wellness plan for their cat now through December 31, 2019 is entered to win prizes including a grand prize trip to the Columbus Zoo complete with a private, behind-the-scenes tour. I’d love to win that prize since I haven’t been to Columbus since my college years!

What tasks are you getting done in the last few months of this decade? Let me know on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook.

10 Fun Ways For Preschoolers To Practice Writing The Alphabet

Learning how to write the letters of the alphabet is one of the main academic skills of early childhood education. Years ago this was mainly taught through having children practice by putting a pencil to paper but, nowadays, there are so many other creative ways to get practice time in. I wanted to share some of my favorite alphabet writing activities that are perfect for both the classroom and learning to write at home.

1) Draw letters in playdough. Set out play dough and let the child use a rolling pin to smooth it out and then write in the dough with a chopstick or craft stick (Read more at The Mailbox)

2) Write letters in shaving cream. Spray shaving cream on a table and then let children smooth it out on the table and write letters in it with their pointer finger.

3) Draw letters in paint. Put paint in a ziploc bag, tape up the edges, and let children practice writing letters in the squishy paint while keeping their hands mess-free. (Read more at Fun With Mama.)

4) Make writing time a part of play time. Put various types of paper (pads of paper, scraps, construction paper, blank cards, etc) and different writing utensils (pencils, pens, highlighters, colored pencils, etc) around play areas in the home or classroom. Encourage children to make grocery lists, birthday cards, road signs, and anything else that will enrich their playtime.

5) Trace letters in slime. Make simple white slime, put some on a plate, and let children trace letters. (Read more at The Soccer Mom Blog.)

6) Start a gratitude journal. These adorable, free printables from Little Learning Lovies are perfect for taking your children through the alphabet and making lists of what they are grateful for. The littlest in the family can trace their parents writing and older preschoolers can practice writing their letters as parents spell the words out for them. (Get the printables at Little Learning Lovies.)

7) Paint with water. Put water in a cup and let children paint letters on the sidewalk or on a chalkboard.

8) Draw letters in containers of different materials. Put a dry item like rice, sprinkles, sand, or salt in a shallow container and let children practice drawing letters with their fingers or an unsharpened pencil.

9) Erase letters with a q-tip. Draw letters on a dry erase board and let children trace over the letters with a q-tip to erase them. (Idea from a different activity I saw at Toddler At Play.)

10) Make a nature journal. Make a nature journal (how-to here) that children can draw in and help them label their pictures of what they find on their nature walks.

Want even more ideas? Here are 25 fun summer writing activities for kids of all ages.

Baby Food That My Infant Loves

This post is sponsored by Beech-Nut® but all thoughts are my own. #BeechNutPartner

When I was pregnant with Emma I had all of these big ideas of things I was going to do when she was born. I was going to take a picture a day her first year, keep detailed records of all of her milestones, and make my own homemade baby food. Then she was born and I realized all of those ideas were great but not too realistic for a working mom of three. (Plus, she’s my third and we all know how that goes 😂) The whole picture thing didn’t last more than a few weeks, I’ve realized a dozen books a day is a lofty goal for an infant who doesn’t even want to sit through one, and it turns out “get some sleep” and “play with my little one” trumps making my own baby food.

I’ve learned to let some things go and I’m trying not to be too hard on myself when motherhood doesn’t look exactly like I’d envisioned it would. That homemade baby food I planned on making? Not sure what I was thinking since I have a hard enough time just trying to get dinner on the table for my oldest two every night! Thankfully I discovered Beech-Nut® Naturals, a baby food made with natural fruits and veggies and never anything artificial. It’s baby food made with real ingredients, gently cooked to preserve color, flavor, and nutrients….with ingredients just like I’d use at home if I had all those extra hours to do so! Plus, they are all Non-GMO Project Verified.

Something I really like about Beech-Nut® Naturals is the variety of flavors they have and the flavor combinations that they pair together. I would have never thought to include kale in my baby food but Emma completely devoured a whole jar of Beech-Nut® Naturals Just Apple & Kale (see below for the video proof of my little princess trying it!)

Emma might be young and unable to talk but she definitely has her own opinions on things already and lets me know them with her facial expressions and actions! She let me know she enjoyed all of these and even tried to feed herself! Do you have a little one who lets everyone know what they think? Beech-Nut® wants to hear all about it during their new #Infantfluencers campaign! You even get a chance to win a great prize package ($50 value) by entering their This is real food for babies™ giveaway.

Is your little one eating baby food yet? Which flavor combinations are their favorite? Chat with me on social- Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

Kid-Friendly Fall Treats

Happy Fall! Yesterday I had cinnamon apples baking in the slow cooker all evening which made my house smell lovely. Apples are a favorite fall staple so, with October here, I thought it would be fun to share other kid-friendly fall treats. Here are some ones I’ve enjoyed making in the past and others that my fellow bloggers have created to celebrate autumn, Halloween, and Thanksgiving with their children.

Monster Krispies

Fall Caramel Corn Snack Mix from Two Kids And A Coupon

Wide-Eyed Turkey Cupcakes from Bitz & Giggles

Caramel Apple Crescent Rolls from Dancing Through The Rain

Candy Corn Haystacks

Oreo Bats from Hodgepodge Hippie

Eyeball Cupcakes

Scarecrow Cupcakes from Hodgepodge Hippie

Turkey Cookie Pops from Moms Who Save

Fall Pretzel Bites from Moneywise Moms

Jack-O-Lantern Chocolate Covered Oreos from Eating On A Dime

Pumpkin Pie Crust Rolls from Bite Sized Kitchen

Turkey Leg Treats from Bitz & Giggles

Mini Harvest Corn from Moms Who Save

Microwave Candy Corn Taffy from Home Cooking Memories

Cinnamon Sugar Apple Fritters from Savory Nothings

 

Pumpkin Cheesecake Popsicles from Rhubarbarians

Oatmeal Bars from Beyond The Chicken Coop

 

What fall treats are your child’s favorite? Tweet with me at @aliciamarie112 and let me know :)

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Urban Air Naperville Is Fun For All Ages (Birthday Party Package Giveaway)

Thanks to Urban Air Naperville for sponsoring this post.

It’s the first day of fall so I’m doing what every mom does when the weather starts to cool down…I’m making a mental list of indoor activities to keep us busy through autumn and the long winter season that I know is just around the corner. Those in the Chicago area can add Urban Air Trampoline and Adventure Park to their list of cold weather boredom busters. I was pleasantly surprised to find more than just trampolines at Urban Air Naperville. They had Go Karts, Spinning Bumper Cars, Sky Rider Coaster, Climping Walls, Rope Course, Tubes/Indoor Playground, Warrior Course, Dodgeball, Slam Dunk Zone, and more.

This family-friendly entertainment center in Naperville has attractions to interest every family member. Those with tweens and teens will even be amazed to find their tech-obsessed kiddos putting down their phones to connect and interact with them through adventurous, unique, and engaging activities! What I loved most was how many activities that everyone- from the younger Kindergartner in our group to the adults- could do together. Typically when we go places either the younger or the older kids are standing around bored but that was not the case at Urban Air because they could play together.

Looking to get the most bang for your buck? On Thursday nights, the Ultimate Pass, 4-guest ‘family pack’ is just $79.99 for access to the whole park except the go-karts. (If anyone in the group wanted to upgrade it would be $10/per person for the upgrade to include the Go-Karts.) The $79.99 price also inludes 4 water bottles, 4 pairs of socks, and a large 1 topping pizza. Valued at $143 for just $79.99!

Urban Air Naperville is also a fun place to host a birthday party and there are a variety of ways to customize the party. There are four attraction packages from the basic party that includes the trampolines, dodgeball, runway tumble track, and slam dunk zone to the platinum package that lets party guests play throughout the whole park. You can choose to have a private party room with a dediated party host staff member or just a table in the cafe area with a shared party host. There’s even a glow party option where lighting gets replaced with black lights, strobes and lasers while the kids play glow-in-the-dark dodgeball and jump to their favorite songs. Sounds like a tween’s dream party!

GIVEAWAY!! Want to win a party package of your own? I’m giving away one gift certificate for a free basic party package at the Naperville, IL location which includes:

  • 4 Attractions- Apex (freestyle trampoline), runway, dodgeball and slam dunk- for 10 people
  • 10 birthday plates, napkins, forks, and 10 water bottles.
  • Shared party host and a table in the cafe area
  • Balloons
  • Birthday shirt for the birthday kiddo
  • 10 pairs of Urban Air socks

The winner can upgrade the basic party package if they’d like to. Here are the different party upgrades and the cost if you win this giveaway and would like to upgrade from the package above:

  • $50- Upgrade from a shared party host and table to a room which includes a private party host and 2 large 1 topping pizzas
  • $75- Upgrade to the Ultimate birthday party package which includes the whole park minus go karts and spin bumper cars
  • $100- Upgrade to the Platinum birthday party package whih inludes access to the whole park.
Enter the giveaway below….good luck!

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Postpartum Essentials For New Moms

This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser. All opinions are mine alone. #FindReliefWithPrepH #CollectiveBias

In December I was blessed to give birth to baby #3, a sweet girl who we named Emma Noelle. Labor with Emma was anything but easy. After a day and a half of labor that was not progressing, my doctors chose to do an emergency c-section because they feared both baby and mom had gotten an infection. This was my first cesarean birth and by far the hardest recovery I’ve had, partly due to the rigorous labor and surgery and partly due, I think, to the fact that my body was a decade older than when I’d had my first two children.

I spent almost a week in the hospital before being sent home and I went home having to immediately care for three kids by myself. Thankfully, I have two older kids who could pick up the baby and bring me things I needed which was amazingly helpful. I was also glad that a couple months before I had Emma I went to Walmart and bought everything I’d need to create a little postpartum kit for myself that was full of all the items I thought I’d need to get through those first few weeks at home.

(Click the photo above to shop!)

I had not done this with my first because, back in 2008 when I was pregnant with Jacob, I had no idea what my body was about to endure. I would have loved a seasoned mom to share her knowledge with me! (Or perhaps it was all in that “what to expect” book that all us pregnant ladies buy that I read in between bouts of morning sickness and then forgot about by the second trimester….oops.) This time around, having had two babies already, I was semi-prepared mentally and knew what I was in for physically- both with the after effects of the birth and with the start of breastfeeding so I tried to prepare the best I could. Having had the c-section though there were a few other items I would have added to that kit that I didn’t realize I’d need but they will go in my next postpartum kit (should I get pregnant again, I’m not right now lol.)

Since I know from experience that expectant moms aren’t always thinking about themselves, I thought it would be helpful to put together a list of essentials. It’s easy to get side-tracked by the little baby booties, pretty hair bows, and tiny clothes but moms-to-be need to be shopping for themselves as well (after all, my blog is called Making Time For MOMMY so it’s only right I remind you all to focus on yourself occasionally!) You should put this kit together ahead of time because the last thing you’ll want to be doing in the days after you give birth is walking around the store with a baby to get these necessities.

Essentials for “down there”

I’m not going to lie here….the days after birth are going to be extremely uncomfortable and you are going to come to appreciate things you might not have ever thought you’d want to love (like those mesh diaper things they give you in the hospital). Here are some things you’ll be happy you stocked up on…

Heavy-duty, long pads (paired with old underwear/granny panties)– Put away the pretty panties and pull out those old underwear from the back of your drawer because you’ll want to be comfortable and need something to hold the pads. When it comes to pads make sure to get overnight ones or ones that can hold a lot, as well as the longest pads you can find. There’s also no shame in buying adult diapers for yourself because they might just work the best for those first days after delivery.

Epsom salt– Warm epsom salt baths, or sitz baths, can be soothing, especially if you had to have an episiotomy. (Just make sure to consult with your Doctor first to make sure bathing is ok!) Baths are also one of the best way to relieve stress in my opinion which new moms may need.

Stool softener– You can’t avoid going number two so make it less stressful on your bottomside by taking a stool softener!

Hemorrhoid relief– It’s no secret that many new moms develop hemorrhoids so having products that will help relieve the discomfort is important. If you develop symptoms of hemorrhoids you will want to treat them because the irritation won’t go away on it’s own. The PREPARATION H® Rapid Relief with Lidocaine Hemorrhoidal Cream and the PREPARATION H® Rapid Relief with Lidocaine Totables® contain the highest amount of lidocaine available to quickly relieve pain, phenylephrine to relieve swelling, and glycerin that provides a soothing protective layer to offer relief of hemorrhoid symptoms like itching and burning. The PREPARATION H® Rapid Relief with Lidocaine Totables® are perfect for on-the-go because of their discreet, convenient travel size that can be put in your purse or diaper bag. They cool, sooth, and comfort to relieve burning and itching and are flushable & septic-safe.

C-Section Necessities

Even if you aren’t planning to have a c-section these items are good to have just in case you end up needing one like I did!

Small pillow– Anytime you need to cough, sneeze, or laugh you’ll want to hold a small pillow to your mid-section. It’s also great for putting under your baby as you nurse.

Belly binder– A belly binder will help decrease the pain at your incision site. It’s extremely helpful when you have to move around!

Loose pants or nightgowns– When you have been cut open the last thing you will want is a tight waistband rubbing against your incision. A loose fitting pair of pants or a flowy nightgown will be the most comfortable thing you can wear those first couple weeks.

Breastfeeding Essentials

Whether you choose to breastfeed or not, you’ll want to have these essentials on hand to help relieve the pain and discomfort you will feel in your breasts.

Lanolin cream– This cream is a must-have when breastfeeding because it soothes mom’s sore, cracked nipples. Best of all, it’s safe for baby too so there is no need to wipe it off before breastfeeding your child.

Hot/cold gel packs– I used a heating pad a lot with my first kids but I love packs that give the option for hot or cold therapy. When cooled the gel packs can relieve engorgement and, when heated up, they are perfect for relieving mastitis or clogged ducts.

Nursing pads– During the first weeks of breastfeeding, nipples may be tender and nursing pads provide a nice soft barrier to reduce irritation. They also help keep the skin dry from leaking nipples.

Milk-producing snacks/teas– With my first babies I didn’t know that there were products out there that would help me produce more breastmilk. With Emma I was prepared to do everything I could to help increase my milk supply!

Breast pump– If you have a child in the NICU like I did, breastfeeding isn’t always an option so it’s nice to have the pump to be able to provide your milk to the baby even when you can’t be with them.

Nursing bras– Comfortable nursing bras are a must!

Other items you’ll want to make sure you have

Dry shampoo- Whether you are stuck in a hospital bed or just choose to get a few more minutes of sleep after a night of waking up every couple of hours at home, dry shampoo is a lifesaver.

Slippers- Bending over, especially after a c-section, is hard to do so skip the socks and make sure you have a nice pair of slippers you can wear.

Snacks- Taking care of a newborn is hard work so don’t forget to stock up on snacks. Look for filling, healthier snacks that you can grab and eat without prep-time and plan to keep a few in reach of where you nurse or rock baby to sleep.

I found everything I needed for my postpartum time at Walmart, from my snacks to my self-care products. What would you include in a postpartum kit? Chat with me on social! Twitter, Facebook, Instagram

Disclaimers:

For children under 12 years of age, consult a doctor. Please read the package for product warnings and complete labeling information.

To qualify for Visa ® Rewards Virtual Account* from Fandango, purchase at least 2 participating Prep H or Wipe products in one transaction at participating Walmart stores between 09/11/2019 and 11/11/2019. Be sure to retain your receipt. For full offer terms visit www.activaterewards.com/PrepH

*Online purchase excluded. No manual reproductions will be accepted. One reward per receipt submission. Must be a resident of the U.S. Reward link is void if not activated by 11/30/2019 and Virtual Account is void if not used within 2 months from the date of online reward link activation. Virtual Account can be used online wherever Visa debit is accepted for purchase(s) up to $5. Use is governed by terms in Accountholder Agreement at http://www.activaterewards.com/virtualvisa/terms_and_conditionsIf lost or stolen cannot be replaced. No cash value, except as required by law. Not valid with any other offer. Not for resale; void if sold or exchanged. Offer valid only in the U.S. Limit 2 rewards per household. Virtual Account issued by MetaBank®, Member FDIC, pursuant to a license from Visa U.S.A. Inc. This optional offer is not a MetaBank, nor Visa, product or service nor does MetaBank, nor Visa, endorse this offer. Fandango Loyalty Solutions, LLC is not a sponsor or co-sponsor of this program. See http://www.activaterewards.com/PrepH/Details for full details.

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Fall Fun At Santa’s Village

Thanks to Santa’s Village for hosting my family for a day of fun at their amusement park.

School may be back in session but the summer fun doesn’t need to end because Santa’s Village Amusement Park, an outdoor family theme and fun park in the Chicago area, is open on the weekends through October. All throughout the fall, families can enjoy the roller coasters, thrill rides, kid rides, animal attractions & more. My family visited a couple weekends ago and it was the perfect way to spend a Saturday after a long week of school and work.

We had been to Santa’s Village before but this was Emma’s first time being able to go on the rides. She absolutely loved going on all the rides with her Nana!

Santa’s Village is ideal for younger children because the majority of rides are child friendly.

Don’t worry though…if you have older kids they will find plenty to do! My tween boys loved how short all the lines were on the Saturday afternoon that we went because they could go on their favorite rides over and over again. They also enjoyed mining for gems and I was impressed at the size of the rocks they found hidden in their bags of sand.

A perk of spending the day at Santa’s Village? Getting to see the jolly man himself of course! There’s a cute little building and we stopped by for a visit.

Emma was all smiles while waiting to meet Santa for the very first time.

When we got in there, it was a different story. She’s at that age where she is starting to recognize faces and realize when she doesn’t recognize a face. Santa told my mom to hand her to him backwards but it was too late because Emma had already realized what was going on. It was a good trial run for our annual holiday photo though and we were still able to get a picture of the boys with Santa.

Overall we had a fantastic day at Santa’s Village and look forward to going back again. If you want to visit this fall make sure to check their park hours here. They also just opened a fun water attraction as well so bring your suits next time you visit on a warm day. It was a bit chilly the day we went so the kids didn’t go in but I’ve promised them that we will return next summer, too! I

Couple’s Escape in Michigan (Giveaway)

Thanks to the H Hotel in Midland, Michigan for sponsoring this post and hosting my husband and I for a romantic weekend.

For some couples, a vacation without the kids is an annual occurrence. Sadly for my husband and I though, that’s not the case. While we have traveled quite extensively over the years thanks to this blog, we only just took our second adults-only trip and our oldest turned eleven in June. Our only other trip without one or more kids in tow was five years ago when we spent a few days in the Turks & Caicos.

Last weekend my mom watched our three kids for a few days while we took a road trip from the Chicago suburbs, where we live, to Michigan. Michigan is definitely one of my favorite states to visit during the summer months and I always look forward to exploring a new place there when we go. This time we stayed in a small town called Midland which is a little less than five hours away from Chicago.

Midland has the charming downtown area that I look for on vacation, with a variety of restaurants and small shops to visit. I loved the welcoming environment of the town and the seating areas throughout, including this one pictured above with chairs gathered around a fire pit. The whole town just gave off a relaxing vibe which was much needed during our hectic back-to-school season.

Another thing I really enjoyed about the town itself was the variety of outdoor activities. I loved walking around the large Farmer’s Market on Saturday morning and seeing all of the fresh produce and homemade items. We also went to Dow Gardens and did the canopy walk in the trees which was pretty cool. There were so many other things to do as well but we only had a short couple days to spend in Midland so that just means we will have to make another trip back soon!

The hotel we stayed in, the H Hotel, was perfectly situated in Midland so that we could walk to most of the things we wanted to do. The Farmer’s Market, The Tridge (a unique bridge in Midland), and a splash pad for kids is in close proximity to the hotel’s front door. Head out the back of the hotel and through the courtyard space and you are in the heart of downtown Midland.

What I appreciated most about this 4-star hotel is the attention to detail that they put into everything. Every part of the stay is well-thought out from the in-room coffee makers to the plush robes to the black little face towels they offer for makeup removal. I adored the cute little window seat that is perfect for curling up with a book during some downtime. And the beds? Heavenly. This was the most comfortable hotel bed I’ve ever slept on and it was perfect for taking a mid-day nap before we headed out for the evening.

They also offer a nice welcome treat (we had a fruit and cheese platter) you can request anytime throughout your stay, free admission to the Dow Gardens, and an exercise room and pool area (complete with hot tub). And getting around town is easy when you stay at the H Hotel because they offer complimentary valet parking, a hotel shuttle, and loaner bikes (and a pedal car!) you an use during your stay.

There are so many benefits to staying at the H Hotel but I’m sure my husband’s favorite of them all was the amazing food we had to eat. The H Hotel has two restaurants- Table Restaurant and Cafe Zinc- and they also have a Lounge for late night drinks and bar food, as well as 24/7 room service.

The first morning at the hotel we chose to get room service so we could get ready without rushing. This was our first kid-free morning in years so we were taking advantage of the peace and quiet! Sinisa, my husband, had the smoked fish plate and I chose the Grand American with eggs, hash browns, and bacon.

For breakfast the second day we chose to eat outside on the patio at Cafe Zinc. The Cafe Omelet with asparagus, morel mushrooms, and mousseline sauce was absolutely amazing. Sinisa- with his sweet tooth and European heritage- couldn’t pass up the Nutella crepes.

We were just as happy with our dinner choices. The first night we had a very late dinner at Cafe Zinc, the modern French Bistro. We split the Escargot a la Bourguignonne because we were feeling fancy and it was wonderful. I loved the creamy sauce and the puff pastry on top. For our entree, I had the rich and buttery Lobster Thermidor while Sinisa enjoyed the Braised Short Rib that our lovely server had recommended.

For our second night in town we got dressed up and went to the Table Restaurant which is an elegant steakhouse. We started with crab cakes for an appetizer, enjoyed some freshly baked bread topped with herbed butter, and then I had the Filet & Lobster Tail while Sinisa had the Lamb Chop. Again, it was another delicious meal!

On Friday night, after we watched the Bears game in the hotel room (#diehardfan), we visited the Oxygen Lounge and picked out a couple pastries from Cafe Zinc to enjoy. They had about a dozen specialty pastries including a chocolate cherry tart, mini carrot cakes, and cheesecakes. We enjoyed our desserts and then took our cocktails out into the hotel’s courtyard area to sit on a bench next to a fire pit and just relax. It was the perfect way to end an evening!

I wish our trip to Midland and the H Hotel was longer but we had to get home to our children and the rest of the back-to-school prep. Do you need to go on your own couple’s vacation? I’m giving away a $100 gift certificate to put towards a stay at the H Hotel! All you have to do is enter by completing at least one of the tasks on the form below. The more entries you complete, the better your chances of winning. Good luck!

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Back-To-School Hacks For Busy Moms

This post contains affiliate links.

It’s August which means back-to-school season is here! My tweens just got their teacher assignments yesterday and I’m busy with my new position as the Director of a preschool. It’s been interesting having one child headed off to middle school while preparing to welcome a whole group of preschoolers to their very first day of school ever and taking care of a new baby while doing it all. It will be a juggling act for sure! Since back-to-school season means busier schedules for everyone I wanted to share some hacks that I’ve discovered over the years that have worked for us. From making mornings run smoother to helping kids become self-sufficient to spending less time running errands, I hope you’ll find a couple ideas to try :)

#1 do as much the night before as you can.

Things can be hectic in the morning so do as much the night before as you can. We try to pick out outfits, get homework back in the backpacks and get the lunchboxes on the counter and partially packed before we go to bed. The less you have to do in the morning the better!

#2 start your morning routine earlier and plan to be ready or out the door earlier than you need to be.

I’ve found that my kids always need more time to get ready than I think they will need. We start our morning routine earlier than I think we will need to and, when we drove to school, our goal was to leave our house 30 minutes early every day (though school is just a couple minutes away). Most days we were out of the house on time and I treated myself to coffee on the way to school drop off. Even on mornings we were running a few minutes behind we still ended up arriving to school early. We would sit in the car talking about our day, getting in reading time, watching funny YouTube videos, or practicing math facts. It’s such a more relaxing way to start the day and even Luke’s teachers had commented in the past that he seemed calmer when he is one of the first kids at school versus when their dad would drop them off closer to the bell time and they had to rush to their lockers and class. (Sidenote… This year will be the first time in 5 years that I don’t have to drive my kiddos to school so hurray for not having to navigate the school drop-off-line! This tip still applies if your kiddos are bussed though.)

#3 have quick breakfasts ready to go for the kids (and yourself).

Am I the only one who has had a child say they “forgot” to eat breakfast right as they are walking out the door (even though said child has been up a couple hours already)? For those mornings I have cereal in a baggie ready to go and they can eat on the go. I’ve even made breakfast muffins that take 5 minutes of prep time and can be frozen so they just need to be reheated in the morning.

#4 have a snack station to make packing lunches easier (and teach older kids how to pack their lunches!)

Just a couple years ago Jacob and Lucas started packing their own lunches and it’s been wonderful. To make things easier to pack lunches (and to see when we are running low on things) we have all of the snacks in two places. We use three containers on the bottom shelf of the fridge to keep yogurts, cheese sticks and bags of fruits and veggies and a number of small bins on the shelves of our island that store raisins, portable applesauce, crackers, chips and other snacks.

#5 freeze water bottles overnight to keep lunches cold.

In place of a freezer pack you can freeze a water bottle to stick in the lunch box. It will keep the lunch cold and melt in time for a nice cool drink to enjoy at lunch. (Remember to not fill the bottle up all the way ;) lol)

#6 help kids learn routines with schedules.

Whether you use picture schedules for younger children or written schedules for older ones, schedules help keep things running smoothly. I’ll never forget the first day of school a few years ago when Jacob woke me up early in the morning to tell me he was all ready for school without me having to remind him of a thing! It was wonderful…still working on that with my 10 year old but he’s getting there!

#7 have a homework station and stock it with everything your children will need to complete projects and homework assignments.

I’ve learned over the years that children need a lot more than a pencil to complete homework assignments. Find a place in your home where you can keep everything children need at homework time- from scissors to markers to glue sticks. Make sure to have plenty of sharpened pencils there as well! Need a portable homework station? Here are tips to set up a homework caddy.

#8 simplify after-school activities with separate bags for each activity and keep all items related to the activity in the bag.

We’ve found that bags for each activity my kids are in makes it easy to get out the door because we aren’t trying to find items as we are getting ready to leave the house. A simple reusable bag or backpack works to keep everything together and we no longer have to hunt for their scouting books or the soccer shin guards.

#9 tame paperwork with a paper file.

As parents we get tons of papers on a weekly basis. Many of them have important dates and information on them. Write all dates on your calendar immediately and file the paper away in a file folder by category (school, sports, community, etc). When that activity comes up on your calendar you can find it in your expandable paper file and refer to the paper for information about location, what to bring, etc. Once the event is done you can then throw the flier away. (Real mom talk: currently all said school papers are mixed in with my mail in a basket that’s overflowing but, when I can keep up with it, this method works amazingly. Until then I just dig through the one basket lol)

#10 make memory boxes for art work, school work and other memories.

Keep a box for each child labeled with the school year and put all “memory” things in it (art work, stories, pictures, awards, etc) as you clean out their folders every day or week. At the end of the year you can go through it and decide which things you want to keep and what you can let go of. My mom made boxes for my siblings and I and I’ve loved looking back through them as I’ve gotten older- remembering everything from my first concert to my sweet 16 birthday party. Even if you don’t physically keep everything but choose to take photos of the items and store them digitally, your children will cherish the memories you have kept for them.

#11 as you commit to things add them to your calendar.

“Mommy brain” is real. I swear! lol. Make sure to add things to your calendar immediately. Don’t write them on post-it’s, count on reminder emails or think that you will remember. We already have enough on our minds as parents so there is no need to try and add a list of important dates on top of everything else.

#12 have children take uniforms off and put them directly on (or in) the washer.

Whether it’s their school uniform or their karate uniform, nobody wants to dig through dirty laundry looking for that essential item of clothing they need. I have my boys take their sports uniforms off and put them right on top of the washer so I can wash them before their next game or practice and we always know where all of the pieces of their uniforms are. No more missing soccer socks found at the bottom of the laundry basket!

#13 prepare fruits and vegetables one day a week.

One day a week, wash and cut up all the fruit and veggies for snacks and lunches and then portion them into individual ziploc bags. I know in our house our produce is likely to be eaten more often if it’s easy to ready to go. It also makes packing healthy lunches easier because all the work is already done and we just need to put it in the lunchbox in the morning. (BTW you can always make sure you have fruits and veggies in your home with Imperfect Produce delivery.)

#14 take some time on sundays to plan the week ahead.

Every weekend look at the schedule for the week coming up. Add anything you need to your shopping list (like a birthday gift for the birthday party your child will be going to or snacks for the soccer game) and plan out your to-do list. The week will run much smoother if you know what’s coming up instead of waiting until that day to see what you have planned.

#15 limit errands you have to run by doing as much as you can online.

During the school year I have so much to do that I don’t want to be spending most of my days running errands around town. I’ve found that most of what I need to do can be done online or even via my phone. Whether it’s buying a birthday gift, putting money in my kid’s school lunch account, or paying bills, there is little need to leave the house to run errands these days.

What hacks do you have to share? I could use some help figuring out how to make sure Lucas gets dressed the first time I ask and tips to keep my car (aka the place we basically live in during the school year) clean and tidy!

ECOVACS ROBOTICS Prime Day Deal

Thanks to ECOVACS ROBOTICS for sponsoring this post.

If you like saving money you are probably well aware that today and tomorrow are the epic deal days on Amazon.com. This Amazon Prime Day sale has deals on everything from electronics to fashion to home decor. One thing you will want to grab during the sale? A robotic vacuum!

If you are a busy parent, a robotic vacuum is a life saver because it’s one less chore that you have to do each day (or, let’s be honest…multiple times a day if you have little ones dropping crumbs all over…) Lucky for you, ECOVACS ROBOTICS -the fastest growing global brand in intelligent home cleaning solutions- is on sale right now! Their DEEBOT 500 is an Amazon Prime Day exclusive on sale for $110 off (MSRP: $279.99 > $169) today and tomorrow.

I first learned about the ECOVACS ROBOTICS brand a couple years ago when I went to the Home & Housewares show in Chicago and got to see their line of robotic cleaners in action. I was extremely impressed with the innovative products they had including a window washer and a floor cleaner that vacuums AND mops. Every product in their line is thoughtfully made using the latest technology (which they are often first to market with) to make the consumer’s life easier.

The new DEEBOT 500 provides a versatile, everyday cleaning solution. With its multiple cleaning modes, DEEBOT 500 efficiently cleans your floor and has an appropriate cleaning mode for every job. You can control your robot with the ECOVACS Home App, a simple remote, or smart home system, and enjoy some free time while DEEBOT 500 cleans for you!

The DEEBOT 500 features:

  • READY FOR ANY MESS: Equipped with two side brushes and a main brush, DEEBOT will sweep, lift, and vacuum to clean an entire floor (Auto mode), a small area (Spot mode), or the edge of your floor (Edge mode)
  • VOICE & APP CONTROLS: Works with Alexa & Google Assistant voice commands. ECOVACS Smart App comes w/ 5+ advanced features including direct control, scheduling, status updates, cleaning modes, accessories status, etc
  • MAX MODE POWER: Increase suction power by up to 2X for particularly troublesome messes
  • UP TO 110 MINUTE RUNTIME: A longer battery life for even more cleaning! Auto-return & charging means your robot will always be ready to clean
  • BASIC FEATURES: Includes anti-drop & anti-collision sensors, auto-return charging, automatic software update, durable protective bumpers, high-efficiency filter, anti-scratch finish, a large easy-to-empty dustbin, large wheels for climbing thresholds, etc
  • 520ML DUSTBIN: A large dustbin ensures DEEBOT is able to clean large homes and is great for pet hair

My favorite feature is the ability to run the vacuum from the comfort of my couch while I’m holding my baby. Talk about multi-tasking! I can schedule it to run at a certain time or use the app or Alexa’s voice commands to start the vacuum. I also love the spot cleaning feature. This is going to come in handy when Emma starts crawling because I can have the vacuum spot clean under the table after my older boys have snack in the kitchen. The DEEBOT 500 sweeps, lifts, and vacuums and has a max mode, ensuring there is no food for baby to pick up as she’s crawling around (it’s amazing what little ones can find on even the cleanest floors!)

See the DEEBOT 500 in action by checking out my stories below!

Cleaning is just easier when you have a little robotic helper! So if you don’t have a robotic floor cleaner, what are you waiting for? Head on over to Amazon for this epic deal!

 

 

 

 

 

Fun Birthday Morning Waffle Bar

Thanks to SCS Direct for sponsoring this post.

birthday waffle bar

Lucas, my youngest son, just turned 10 this week. TEN! Birthdays are a big deal in our home and each child gets to pick how we spend the day. Not surprisingly, Lucas always arranges his birthday day around food. The kid is seriously such a little foodie! This year his brother had soccer camp on the morning of his birthday which meant he didn’t get to have the birthday breakfast he really wanted. I decided that, since it was such a momentous birthday, I’d surprise him with a special birthday breakfast this weekend. And what better birthday breakfast for a kid than a waffle bar with lots of yummy toppings!?

waffle bar

Putting together a birthday waffle bar can be as simple or as fancy as you’d like to make it. While I pulled out our birthday tableware, I enlisted my oldest’s help in gathering the toppings for our waffle bar. He went a bit crazy pulling out everything that he could find, from the typical maple syrup to festive birthday sprinkles to sour candy powder he was sure would be amazing on waffles (I just laughed because I couldn’t imagine eating the concoction he was planning to put together but thankfully he changed his mind on that last one!) Once we gathered all the toppings we put the syrups into little glass jars and the other ingredients into colorful cupcake liners. The toppings we had were chocolate sauce, strawberry sauce, maple syrup, peanut butter, cereals, nuts, sprinkles, crushed cookies, and strawberries. Other delicious toppings you could use include blueberries, whipped cream, honey, strawberry jam, bacon pieces…pretty much anything you can think of that you or the birthday child like on your waffle would be perfect to add to your waffle bar.

animal waffle maker

Once the ingredients were out it was time to make the waffles. We recently got the CucinaPro Animal Friends Waffle Maker which made cooking waffles easy for me to do in between taking care of a baby and throwing in a load of laundry. After I made the batter from the recipe guide I found in the box, all I had to do was preheat the waffle maker until the green light came on, open the lid and pour in the waffle batter, and close the lid to cook. Once the waffles were done it was easy to remove them because of the non-stick waffler plate surface. I love that it has a non-stick surface so I don’t need to remember to spray it with a non-stick cooking spray before I put the mix in.

making waffles

cooking waffles

cute animal waffles

animal waffles

The waffle maker makes seven adorable, perfectly shaped animal waffles in just minutes and I get bonus points for being the mom putting a plate of cute animal shaped waffles on the table! Once the waffles were ready it was time to decorate them. The birthday boy made sure there was plenty of chocolatey goodness on his breakfast plate! Not something we normally add to our breakfast but it’s a birthday celebration so why not?

birthday boy

See more of the fun we had (and his plate of waffles) in this little video clip below :)

The waffle maker can be purchased on Amazon.com for $29.95 here. CucinaPro has a vast product line of creative cooking products. For more information, please visit cucinapro.com.

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birthday waffle bar

Nintendo Switch Road Trip Tour Traveling Across The Country

Thanks to Nintendo for sponsoring this post and inviting my family for an evening of fun.

Nintendo switch tour pop up

Calling all Nintendo fans! The Nintendo Switch Road Trip tour just hit the road in Chicago, IL and it might be coming to a town near you! The tour brings demos of the latest games to you with hands-on playtime and a fun Nintendo themed experience you won’t find anywhere else.

Nestled in the giant truck and pop-up tent are over a dozen game play areas. Families can play games like Super Mario Maker 2 (which was just released today!), Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, and other great games for the Nintendo Switch System. There are even bucket chairs to sit in while you race your friends and family members in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. The boys, their father, and I loved playing the games and even baby Emma tried to play!

baby in video game chair

The games available for demo are:

  • Super Mario Maker 2 – Mario fans of the world, unite! Now you can play, create and share the side-scrolling Super Mario courses of your dreams in the Super Mario Maker 2 game, available exclusively on the Nintendo Switch system. Dive into the single-player Story Mode and play built-in courses to rebuild Princess Peach’s castle. Make your own courses or team up with a friend to make some together. And with a Nintendo Switch Online membership, share your courses, access a near-endless supply of courses made by others and enjoy online* multiplayer. If you’re not already a Nintendo Switch Online member, the Super Mario Maker 2 + Nintendo Switch Online Bundle might be perfect for you. It’s available as both a physical and digital release and includes a 12-month Individual Membership for Nintendo Switch Online.
  • MARVEL ULTIMATE ALLIANCE 3: The Black Order – Assemble your ultimate team of Marvel Super Heroes from a huge cast including the Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, X-Men, and more! Team up with friends to prevent galactic devastation at the hands of the mad cosmic tyrant Thanos and his ruthless warmasters, The Black Order.MARVEL ULTIMATE ALLIANCE 3: The Black Order will be available July 19.
  • Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! and Pokémon™: Let’s Go, Eevee! – Feel like a real Pokémon Trainer as you travel through the Kanto region in the Pokémon™: Let’s Go, Pikachu! or Pokémon™: Let’s Go, Eevee! games with Poké Ball™ Plus. The power of a Pokémon Trainer lies in the palm of your hand.
  • Splatoon 2 – The squid kids called Inklings are back in Splatoon 2 to splat more ink and claim more turf in this colorful and chaotic 4-on-4 action shooter.
  • Super Smash Bros. Ultimate – Gaming icons clash in the ultimate brawl you can play anytime, anywhere! Smash rivals off the stage as new characters Simon Belmont and King K. Rool join Inkling, Ridley, and every fighter in Super Smash Bros. history. Enjoy enhanced speed and combat at new stages based on the Castlevania series, Super Mario Odyssey, and more!
  • Mario Kart 8 Deluxe – Hit the road with the definitive version of Mario Kart 8 and play anytime, anywhere! Race your friends or battle them in a revised battle mode on new and returning battle courses.
  • Super Mario Party – The original 4-player Mario Party series board game mode that fans love is back, and your friends and family are invited to the party! Freely walk the board: choose where to move, which Dice Block to roll, and how to win the most Stars in skill-based minigames. Wait till you see the 2 vs 2 mode with grid-based maps, the creative uses of the console, and the series’ first online minigame mode!
  • Overcooked! 2 – Buddy up or go it alone as you cook up a storm, chopping, steaming and frying your way through dynamic and outright crazy levels in Overcooked! 2. Now with online multiplayer for up to four chefs, there is no such thing as too many cooks and the steaks have never been higher as you prepare to save the Onion Kingdom… Again.

kids playing video game

 

 Want to see where the Nintendo Switch Road Trip will be next? Check out the tour page here.

Meal Kits From Peapod Make Dinner Prep Simple

Thanks to Peapod for sponsoring this post.

meal kit

As a busy mom I am all about things that make my life easier. The time of day I really appreciate saving time the most is at dinner time because usually we are squeezing in a meal before or after a ball game or have just a bit of time in between activities on our busiest nights. When we are home, meal kits are one of the simplest ways to get delicious dinners on the table quickly.

I recently discovered that Peapod, our favorite grocery delivery service, offers a variety of meal kits that let me avoid the grocery store since they’ll deliver them right to my door. It’s such a time saver! Shopping with Peapod is easy, too. You can sort by category, or use one of the many filters, including nutrition and dietary filters, to sort the items as you shop.

Peapod collaborates with renowned food taste-makers to craft delicious meal kits that are convenient and easy to cook. I bought several of these meal kits when I placed an order with Peapod and loved how all of the ingredients were delivered in a bag and each one was chopped and measured so there was less work to do. It’s also nice to be able to try different flavors and cuisines without having to buy a ton of spices and ingredients (just ask my husband how often I tend to buy something for a recipe and then never use it again! lol).

Peapod ingredients

Peapod created a meal kit based off of one of Mark Bittman’s favorite recipes in his cookbook Dinner for Everyone: 100 Iconic Dishes Made Three Ways. In his cookbook, Bittman offers classic dinnertime dishes spun in three unique ways – easy, vegan, and all-out for entertaining. I think this cookbook is perfect for both novice chefs like myself and more seasoned ones like my husband.

easy pho

Fast Pho is Bittman’s “easy” recipe for pho that uses shortcuts and ingredients to shorten the traditionally lengthy process into one that gets dinner on the table in half an hour. Since Pho is a meal that I had never had before I didn’t realize this wasn’t an “authentic” pho recipe but I appreciated how simple it was to make. My husband, who has had pho before, was aware that this wasn’t a traditional pho recipe but enjoyed it just the same and was happy not to have to have it simmering on the stove for hours.

pho made with fresh ingredients

Want to order a meal kit for yourself to make your busy nights easier? Head on over to the Peapod website and use the code ‘TIME4MOM20’ to get $20 off your total grocery order of $75+ and 60 days of free delivery!

 

 

25 Fun Summer Writing Activities For Kids

Summer writing activities for kids

I can’t believe my big kids will be out of school in one week! I am ready for the lighter schedule and thankful to be done with the car rider line but I’m not sure that I’m mentally prepared for my always hungry, loud, energetic tweens to be home 24/7 while I attempt to work with a baby on my side. (Though they do make good babysitters who I can pay in chocolate and electronics time so that’s a bonus! lol)

Like last summer, I have nothing planned- no bucket list, no long vacations, and no academic activities to avoid the “summer slide”- so I’ve been looking back at old activities we’ve previously done trying to get some ideas of fun things we can do. As I was looking back at past summertime posts I came upon this one from 2015 and wanted to reshare it. If you are looking for learning activities that don’t seem like schoolwork you’ll want to read on because I’m sharing 25 fun summer writing activities that get kids to practice writing. There are no worksheets here, just fun!

1) Create a summer journal.

Buy a spiral notebook and have the kids write about their day every evening. They can add in pictures or glue in other flat items to create a special memory book. My boys got summer memory journals from day camp in years past and they love looking back on the summer memories.

2) Write a pen-pal.

I remember having a pen-pal when I was little. I wasn’t sure who my kids could do this with so I put a call for pen-pals on my personal Facebook page and had a number of responses in just a few hours from people I felt comfortable giving our home address to. I paired Jacob up with other kids who can write and Lucas with a few younger children who don’t write as much and might rely on drawn pictures to communicate. This is a great way for them to make new friends, learn how to communicate better, and learn about new places. Bonus: If they live nearby set up an end of summer playdate so they can meet!

3) Write a letter to a family member who doesn’t live nearby.

This is a great way for kids to connect to family they might not see very often.

4) Create a summer bucket list.

To be sure to squeeze every second they can out of summer, kids can make their own summer bucket list of all the fun things they want to do over the summer. See how many your family can cross off the list!

5) Write out a script for a play or puppet show.

This may be the perfect way for older kids to keep busy. Have them create their own play! They pick the theme and create a story around characters they create. Younger children may have an easier time writing a short script for a puppet show. Invite family and friends over for the show and make sure to pop some popcorn to enjoy while you watch their creativity unfold before your eyes!

6) Plan a family fun day.

Have children write out the itinerary for a family fun day. They can include what your family will be eating and where you will go.

7) Write invitations for a party or playdate.

If kids want to have a party or playdate this summer they can make their own invitations to pass out.

8) Make a packing list.

Make your (older) children responsible for packing their own suitcases for vacation or a backpack for a short family trip to the beach or zoo. Have them create a list of items they need so they don’t forget anything important. Younger kids can help create packing lists as well but will probably need more help with them.

9) Create a shopping list and party plan for a bbq in the backyard.

Have children help plan a bbq and make the shopping list for all the groceries, decor and items you will need to host a fabulous barbecue for family and friends. Don’t forget to make a quick list of things that need to be done as well- kids are more likely to pitch in with cleaning or other chores if they are helping plan the party ;)

10) Write a book.

This is something I loved doing in school and I used to do with my pre-k classroom so it can be modified for kids as young as 4 who are just starting to learn to write. Blank books can be found at craft stores, teaching stores and occasionally I have seen them in Target’s dollar section. Here are my tips for this activity (which will span a few weeks): have children plan out the book first. They should think about the theme of their story and the characters that will be in it and then write it out on paper. A parent or adult can help edit or you may choose to let the child do it on their own and let the spelling/grammar be (I prefer to do it the second way). The next step is to figure out how to break the story up into pages so they might need an adult to help them do that. This is not such an issue for shorter stories but if they have a longer story this is important so they don’t run out of pages before the story is over. Make sure to leave space for pictures as well! The last step is creating the final book. Do the cover in pencil and then go over it with marker, make the title page and then the children can transfer the story from paper to the book. This is a long process but the final product is something the kids will want to hang on to for years to come!

11) Make a card for a loved one or friend.

Instead of buying a card for an upcoming birthday or holiday, like Father’s Day, have your child create their own. It’s always nice to receive handmade things and they are a lot cheaper, too.

12) Make a list of movies to see or books to read.

My kids always tell me what movies they want to see or books they want to read next. Have them create a list so next time you are going to the movies or library you pick one they have been wanting to see or read.

13) Create a recipe.

Have a little one who loves to help you in the kitchen? Have them create a recipe of their own! They can recreate their favorite summer treat or create a brand new dish. Make sure they write the ingredients and directions and then you can make it together for the family to enjoy.

14) Make a treasure map.

Have your child hide something in your home or backyard and then draw a treasure map for family members to find it. Instead of just pictures, they can label the items on their treasure map.

15) Write to get published.

There is nothing more exciting for a young writer than seeing their name in print. Here’s a place that children 13 and younger can submit their writing to: Stone Soup.

16) Create your own board game.

Board games are perfect for rainy days so what would be more fun than creating a game of their own? Children can label things on the game board and also write out instructions so others can play their game.

17) Do a Mad Libs book or create a Mad Libs story.

Remember Mad Libs? If not, here is a reminder- http://www.madlibs.com/. These books were so fun! Someone asked you for random words and they read the story back to you with the words you chose in the spaces. They have lots of themed books nowadays but if you have an older child they may want to create one of their own mad libs stories.

18) Make a daily schedule.

I’ve found that things normally run smoother when we have a schedule. Develop a daily schedule with your children and have them write it down. Things to include: snack, outdoor time, reading time, pool time, quiet time, meals, story time and other bedtime routines.

19) Write thank you notes.

Kids can write thank you notes for gifts they have received, a thank you to a friend for helping with something or to a community worker.

20) Play a name game.

Have children write their full names on paper and then see how many words they can make out of it. They can do this for everyone’s name in their family, the titles of their favorite books, or really any set of words they want. To make it more fun they can play against someone to see who can create the most words.

21) Write a letter to save the lions.

Have a little environmentalist? Have them write a letter to their representative about an environmental topic they are passionate about, whether it’s saving endangered animals or conserving water.

22) Build a town for barbies or cars.

Children can use boxes, paper or chalk outside to build a town for their cars or barbies and then can have their toys “visit” the places. They can practice writing when making the road signs and labeling the places. This led to hours of fun when I was a little girl playing with barbies and my boys had fun doing this with their cars when they were younger. Their “town” included a car wash, bank, movie theater and jail.

23) Enter a writing contest.

Kids can write stories to enter into writing contests for a chance to win prizes or have their work featured.

24) Make signs for a lemonade stand or garage sale.

If your family is having a garage sale this summer have your child make the signs to advertise it and help price items. Another option is that kid’s can host a lemonade stand and make signs for that.

25) Write a goodbye letter to friends.

The end of summer camp can be a hard time for kids. They miss all the friends they’ve made over the summer so what better way to keep those friendships going than to have kids write letters to their camp friends saying they’d love to keep in touch. They can include a phone number so their friends can contact them for a playdate. If your kids aren’t in camp they could do this for VBS, summer school or a sport that’s ending.

What other ideas do you have? Feel free to share with me on social! Twitter, Facebook, Instagram

 

Easy Cookies And Cream Pudding Parfaits


This post is sponsored by Torani but all opinions are mine.

Cookies and cream pudding parfaits

Summer is (unofficially) here and that means warm weather and doing anything I can to avoid turning the oven on. I’m a huge fan of no-bake desserts anyway since I like to keep things simple in my kitchen. Plus, since it’s “May-cember” (aka the busiest month of the year) I am all about any shortcuts I can take to make things easier!

pudding parfaits

When I saw that Torani had a new Cookies & Cream Sauce I knew I wanted to create a special dessert for the holiday weekend to surprise my nine year old who we affectionately call “cookie monster”. I was originally going to make mini pudding pies but I couldn’t find any small chocolate crusts so I decided to make parfaits instead. I’m so glad I did because the layers of chocolatey goodness created one tasty treat! The biggest shortcut I took for these was using premade pudding so I didn’t have to make my own. You can definetely make homemade pudding but, in between taking care of a fussy baby and baseball games, I was happy to erase something off my long list of to-do’s.

cookie topped pudding parfait

Ingredients to make several pudding parfaits:

  • Two 4-packs of snack sized puddings – one vanilla and one chocolate
  • 1/2 a pack of chocolate sandwich cookies
  • Torani Cookies & Cream Sauce (Found at Walmart in the Cocoa or Ice Cream Topping section.)
  • Parfait cups (if you want to be fancy) or small bowls

Directions to make pudding parfaits:

  • Put the chocolate cookies in a quart size bag and crush into pieces using your hands or a rolling pin.
  • Put the puddings into bowls by flavor
  • Stir half of the crushed cookies into the bowl of vanilla pudding
  • Stir in a couple tablespoons of the Torani Cookies & Cream Sauce in to the bowl of the chocolate pudding
  • Layer crushed cookies and pudding into parfait cups and top with more crushed cookies and the Torani sauce

pudding parfait dessert for chocolate lovers

Another thing I like about parfaits is that there is no wrong way to make them so this is a great recipe to get kids helping in the kitchen. They can help crush the cookies and put all the ingredients in bowls. Then, when everything is ready, everyone can personalize their own parfait – whether they prefer chocolate or vanilla pudding and how many crushed cookie layers they want to add is up to them!

Now that I’ve discovered this Torani Cookies & Cream sauce I want to grab some more flavors because they are perfect for drizzling on top of desserts or adding by the spoonful to coffee or cocoa. I already have their Peppermint syrup sitting on my coffee bar so I can enjoy peppermint mochas all year long! It’s easy to craft delicious treats with Torani syrups and sauces because their flavors can create endless recipes and they bring out the best in drinks and desserts. Plus, they are made with real, simple ingredients like pure can sugar and natural flavors. What would you make?

Cookies and cream dessert the whole family will love

Water Park Fun For Little Ones At Grizzly Jack’s Grand Bear Resort

Thanks to Grizzly Jack’s for hosting my family for a weekend stay and for making my Mother’s Day special. All thoughts are my own.

grizzly jack's

A couple weekends ago my mom and I took my three kids to Utica, Illinois for a memorable Mother’s Day weekend celebration at Grizzly Jack’s Grand Bear Resort. Grizzly Jack’s is full of fun for families with young children and the perfect place to stay after a day of exploring Starved Rock, a nearby popular outdoor tourist destination. The resort has an indoor water park, miniature golf, an arcade, an ice cream shop, and a playground on the property.

Grizzly Jack's Grand Resort Family Suite

We stayed in a family suite with a balcony and I loved the lodge feel that the room, and really the whole resort, has. The room sleeps six with two queen sized beds and a sleeper sofa. I felt the room was very clean and also spacious which was great since it was my first time traveling with a baby and I brought way more than I needed for a two-day stay. I loved that the room had a refrigerator we could put soda in and a microwave for making popcorn.

Grizzly Jacks Villa

Need a room that fits more than six people? Grizzly Jack’s has a variety of options for larger families and groups including Vacation Villas that sleep up to 9 and Luxury Cabins that sleep up to 18. I think it would be fun to stay in one of the cabins with a group of other families!

kids at water park

Now let’s get to the most important part of any resort (at least in my tweens’ eyes)….the water park! Grand Bear Falls is the resort’s 24,000 square foot indoor waterpark with play zones, slides, wave pool, lazy river, kiddie pool, and hot tub. The water park itself was just remodeled this year.

nana with kids at water park

While the water park is smaller than many we’ve visited in the past, I actually think it’s the perfect size for families with little ones. I liked that it wasn’t too spread out since I like to give my older kids independence but still like to be able to keep my eye on them in the water, especially while they are in the wave pool. Since it wasn’t very crowded I could easily play with my 4 month old in the shallow end of the pool while watching my older boys in the “deep” end jumping around in the waves. I also appreciated that the boys could stand in the deeper end of the pool which they typically can’t do.

lazy river

My family also enjoyed the water park’s lazy river. My boys loved chasing each other around it while my mom and Emma floated around. The lazy river also had a “cyclone” like area that was pretty unique and kids seemed to enjoy swirling around in. There were also water slides the kids went on a few times. One thing they didn’t do for the first time ever? Play in the “kiddie” area called the Ranger Station. Guess they have finally outgrown that part of water parks which kind of makes me sad but I’ll have another one who will love that portion of water parks in just another year or two!

mommy and baby in pool

emma at the water park

One thing that should be noted about the water park is that parents really need to be diligent about watching their children since I felt like the number of lifeguards was pretty low. We went off season while it was slower so maybe that is why, or maybe I’m just used to larger water parks with more lifeguards working, but just wanted you all to be aware. Other than that I thought the water park was nicely remodeled and we loved playing there.

baby on water slide

emma in the water

Another thing I appreciated about the resort was that Jack’s Place, the on-site restaurant, delivered to the water park area so we had barbecue chicken bacon pizza delivered to us to eat while we were taking a swim break. There is also a snack shop adjacent to the water park where people can grab snacks and drinks. I felt like they had a decent amount of tables and chairs as well which was nice because I feel like some other water parks we’ve been to do not have enough seating for everyone so we are usually stuck sharing chairs and balancing food on our laps. Upstairs there is also an ice cream shop for those that have a sweet tooth!

me and my three kids

The resort also had a nice brunch for Mother’s Day with complimentary mimosas, made-to-order omelettes, a carving station, kid-friendly food, and a dessert table (the part Lucas was most excited about). The staff also gave all the moms flowers which I thought was a sweet gesture. I asked how frequently the resort has brunches and they said they often do for holidays. The next one will be on Father’s Day which would be a nice way to celebrate dad! I know my husband is all about food :)

mini golf at Grizzly Jack's

Other than the water park, my kids enjoyed the arcade which has over 60 fun games. Our family also played miniature golf before we left for home. The 18-hole course was really nice though hard to navigate with a stroller. Next to the mini-golf course there is a great playground which the boys wanted to check out but it was cold and rainy so we skipped it. The resort also has family movie night on Friday and Saturday nights which is a nice way to end the day and get kids ready for bedtime after a busy day of fun.

brotherly love

brother and sister

Overall we had a great weekend at Grizzly Jack’s Grand Bear Resort! If you are in the Chicagoland area and looking for a short staycation to take with your young children you’ll want to check it out! Book your stay here.

Grizzly Jack's Grand Bear Resort by Starved Rock

Fun Family Learning Events Happening This Weekend

This post is brought to you by Remake Learning Days and The Motherhood. All opinions are my own.

Today I’m excited to share about Remake Learning Days Across America and the special events happening around the country, including here in Chicago, this weekend. From Remake Learning (which began in 2007), the festival Remake Learning Days was developed to provide opportunities for parents and caregivers to experience learning with their children. The festival, now in it’s fourth year, lets families with children from pre-k through high school have hands-on, relevant, engaging educational experiencesThe mission is to inspire youth to find their passion and learn important skills like creativity, problem-solving, critical thinking, and collaboration that will help them navigate the rapid social and technological changes that are happening. I believe that offering opportunities like this is vital in preparing our children for the future and the fact that the majority of these events are free and accessible to all families helps close the equity gap in education.

This festival is supported by the lead sponsor, Carnegie Corporation of New York, and presenting sponsors, The Grable Foundation and Schmidt Futures but features several hundred innovative learning events that are hosted by a variety of organizations and schools. The events are designed to be hands-on and relevant educational experiences that let kids and their families learn alongside one another and encourage youth to develop their sense of creativity, perseverance and curiosity. The events are organized by different learning themes such as Arts, Maker, Outdoor Learning, Science, Technology and Youth Voice. In addition, there are Professional Development sessions for school, out-of-school, childcare and non-traditional educators. 

    • Arts features hands-on learning and expression through all kids of art including: theatre, dance, visual art, music, photography, and more!
    • “Making” is about taking things apart and putting it back together. Tinker, build, and create with all kinds of materials. Try a 3D printer, take apart a toy to see what’s inside and then rebuild it, or create a marshmallow tower!
    • Outdoor Learning is about experiencing and learning about the natural world. How can we think about the environment, sustainability, and more by exploring our very own back yards?
    • Science is all about experimentation! Kids and adults can explore chemistry, biology, geography and more. How does our world work? What can we test and explore in the world around us?
    • Technology gives kids the chance to explore their digital world. Want to try coding? Build robots? Learn circuitry? Look for technology events that help you discover new things.
    • Youth Voice is about youth leadership and amplifying youth voice. Youth have the ability to express themselves in so many ways such as: through audio, video, art, music, and more. Youth voice-related events highlight how youth express themselves in their own ways.

Remake Learning began in 2007 and this year is providing opportunities for parents/caregivers to experience learning with their children through festivals in nine regions thanks to national partnerships with PBS and Digital Promise (an organization that aims to close the digital learning gap). Eastern Kentucky and Knoxville, TN already had their events in April but here are the ones happening this weekend still:

  • Southwestern Pennsylvania, May 9-19
  • Southeastern Pennsylvania, May 15-24
  • West Virginia, May 9-19
  • Chattanooga, Tennessee, May 11-18
  • Chicago, IL, May 16-19
  • Triangle Region (Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill), North Carolina, May 17-18
  • Northeast Ohio, May 15-19

Want to find events near you? Check out the map of events here. What I love most is the variety of opportunities there are. Looking at events around Chicago I see workshops where kids can learn about electricity, a puzzle club, a chemistry class where kids can make bath bombs, and a career development opportunity to learn from a scientist about their job. There really is something for everyone! I’d encourage families to check out all the events and then choose some that interest your child and some that might introduce them to new concepts or careers. You never know what will spark an interest!

RLDAA events not nearby you? New regions are welcome to join Remake Learning Days Across America and host their own version of Remake Learning Days! Learn more here on how you can share your event as a RLD Pop-Up event.

 

 

 

 

50 Ways To Spend A Spring Afternoon With Your Tween

When my boys were younger it was so simple to figure out how to spend a sunny spring day together as a family. Now that my oldest kids are tweens, those afternoons spent together seem to happen less these days. Between sports and school activities and electronics, “time with mom” has been bumped down on the priority list. I’ve learned that I have to join their world to really enjoy some quality time with them. Here are 50 ways to spend an afternoon with your preteen:

1) Take the “try not to sing” challenge like their favorite YouTubers do.

2) Paint your nails together.

3) Play a board game.

4) Bake cookies for the bake sale together.

5) Listen to them talk about what they are passionate about. Really listen. (And yes, even if that passion is all currently being dumped into Fortnite and you’d rather talk about anything else other than that video game…)

6) Take a walk.

7) Go on a roadtrip and let them control the radio. (And don’t forget the snacks! Let them go crazy.)

8) Watch a movie together. Pick one they enjoy or introduce them to one of these throwback films.

9) Play catch or hit some balls at a batting cage.

10) Go out for ice cream.

11) Head to the mall and let your tween play stylist and pick an outfit out for you.

12) Let your child teach you how to play their favorite video game.

13) Work together to complete a puzzle.

14) Let them create the menu for the week then grocery shop and cook together.

15) Take a class together and discover a fun, new hobby you both might enjoy.

16) Make these no-bake pudding pies together.

17) Play mini-golf.

18) Let them help you plan your next family vacation.

19) Volunteer together.

20) Go geocaching.

21) Explore a new culture by trying a different cuisine at a restaurant in town.

22) Paint each other’s portrait.

23) Play a yard game like croquet, corn hole or ladder ball.

24) Go to the zoo.

25) Use an ancestry site to build your family tree.

26) Go to a ball game.

27) Be creative at a make your own pottery place

28) Build something together.

29) Make your own pizzas and let them pick the toppings.

30) Do a STEAM activity together (like this lung lift that lets them lift things just by breathing!)

31) Play laser tag or with nerf guns.

32) Garden together. Let them plant their favorite fruits and vegetables along with flowers.

33) Compete against each other while playing an active video game.

34) Go bowling.

35) Play “horse” on the basketball hoop.

36) Have a campfire in a fire pit (don’t forget the s’mores!)

37) Go on a bike ride to a local place they enjoy like their favorite park or restaurant.

38) Setup an obstacle course or relay race and see who is fastest: child or parent.

39) Make a handmade gift for someone.

40) Learn to code together.

41) Go out for fancy “coffee” drinks (Starbucks makes plenty of Frappuccinos without coffee).

42) Make thank you cards for members of the military (here’s where you can send them).

43) Go to a local museum.

44) Make your own fruit popsicles.

45) Have an A to Z scavenger hunt and see who can find the 26 things (one for each letter) the fastest.

46) Have a water balloon fight.

47) Try a new sport together like skateboarding, tennis, or golf.

48) Paint rocks with encouraging sayings and then hide them around town.

49) Turn on their favorite songs and have a dance off.

50) Go to the grocery store and let your tween pick out foods they’ve never tried before. Blindfold them and have a taste test challenge with those and other foods you have in your fridge and pantry to see if they can guess what they are eating. Bonus points for video because you know they will want to post this on YouTube!

What fun activities do you like to do with your tweens during the spring months?

 

 

Mom-Owned Small Businesses To Shop At Online

Happy National Small Business Week! Did you know that more than half of Americans either own or work for a small business? I had no idea! As a small business owner myself, I wanted to celebrate by featuring other small businesses that are owned by moms (it is Mother’s Day week after all). Whether you are shopping for yourself or looking to find a gift for someone else, supporting one of these small businesses directly helps another mom. I haven’t personally shopped at all of these (yet!!) but all of these businesses ship nationally so happy shopping :)

PewPewLasercraft

I love the name of this Etsy shop, created by a fellow blogger, and can’t type the name without making the laser sound in my head! Lizz makes laser cut accessories for everyone in the family. Her earrings are beautiful but the items that really stood out to me were these Star Wars engraved pencils. My little fans would love them! She also has Harry Potter pencils and a listing to create custom engraved sayings as well.

Check out the Etsy shop here.

InBooze Cocktail Infusion Kits

Ashleigh wanted to create a way for everyone to enjoy cocktails from the comfort of their home. After seeing mixes on the shelves with funky chemicals and ingredients, she created InBooze cocktail infusion kits using dehydrated fruits, veggies and herbs. 5 of the 7 kits are sugar free (great for low carb or keto diets) and I love that I can pronounce everything on the ingredient lists! Right now she offers Classic & Spicy margaritas, Moscow Mule, Sangria, Old fashioned and Bloody Mary but more fun summer varieties are coming soon. I think these would make a nice hostess gift!

Shop for cocktail infusion kits here. Use the code ‘HAPPYSIPPING’ for 20% off. Oh, and shipping is always free to the US!

Within The Pines

Raquel, from Within The Pines, started making baby moccasins when she had a baby with chubby feet who needed shoes. (Fellow mom of a chubby foot baby here!) Now she creates high quality handcrafted soft sole moccasins to suit any style and budget. They are available in hundreds of unique prints like baseball, elephants, and boho floral.

Find cute moccasins for your little one here.

B.Stamped®

B.Stamped® was created by Brittany, a mom of two boys. What started as a hobby soon turned into a full-time business that allowed her to stay home with her kids (which sounds very similar to my own story!) She loves creating special pieces for others, whether it be a piece of mommy jewelry, a set of bride and groom wedding forks, or an inspirational wrap bracelet. I love this bracelet for a teacher and this money clip would make a wonderful Father’s Day gift!

Shop all hand-stamped items here.

The Divatude Collection

Michelle created The Divatude Collection, home of inspiring t-shirts for all Divas. I love the relaxed fit of this Diva long-sleeved shirt that clearly defines what a diva is: someone who is driven, inspiring, victorious, and called to action! Michelle also sells jewelry on her site like these Work.Slay.Pray. earrings. WANT. Have a little diva? How about this ‘Smart Girls Are Pretty’ pouch?

Get all your diva gear here.

The Confetti Post

Leitia started The Confetti Post after she had finished throwing her daughter’s first birthday party and found herself already in plan mode for the next one. Since life gets busy she decided to put together parties in a box for others. Parties in a box are the perfect gift to put smiles on faces. They have carefully chosen themes and curated gift packages for every occasion like Hello Baby, Mother’s Day, and Feel Better. As someone who loved themed parties and gift boxes myself, I think this is such a fun idea!

See all the thoughtful gifts here.

The Glamper Life

Devon, a content creator, started an Etsy shop that features fun merchandise for those who love glamping. As someone who enjoys cabin camping myself, this shop features shirts that are right up my alley! I personally have to have this “coffee, campfire, messy hair” tank top for those summer mornings around the campfire. They also make these “Netflix, Campfire, Starbucks” shirts which honestly sounds like the best way to camp!

Find all your Glamping attire here.

Arabella Chic Bowtique

Alexandra makes handmade hair accessories and tutus. Most of her bows have embellishments on them which I think makes them pretty unique. My favorite in her shop is this pineapple one and what kid wouldn’t want to pretend to be Moana with this floral crown? I also think this 2019 bow would be cute for a young graduate.

Shop all the bows here.

American Sign Language T-Shirts

Linda, a deaf mom of four, designs American Sign Language t-shirts (like this “unapologetically deaf” shirt) in addition to blogging. Know any soon to be graduates? This 2019 Senior shirt would make a nice gift. Personally though, I’m loving this “it’s too peopley outside” t-shirt that I need to add to my wardrobe asap because it basically explains why I hate going anywhere that is going to be too crowded!

Check out all her ASL t-shirts here.

Little Threads Boutique

Jenna sews custom handmade harem pants, skirts, shorts, bloomers, and more for children. She also offers coordinating onesies and hairbows so putting outfits together is a no brainer. I’m in love with all the fabric patterns she has like this flamingo print and this watermelon print.

Find an adorable item for your child or grandchild here.

Stay-At-Home Gamers

My blogging friend Darcy loves gaming so much that she (and her husband) created the Stay-At-Home Gamers site and curate quarterly family game night boxes. My family enjoys games as well so I think this is such a fun idea! Each box features 1-2 games plus a few fun extra items such as geeky collectibles, gaming accessories, or something to help with your game time snack. This box is perfect for those with little gamers in their family and this Extraordinary Adventure Family Game Night Box seems like it would be perfect for game night with tweens.

Order a game box here to start the fun!

The Paisley Hanger Boutique

Dawn has a great line of shirts for moms. I’m particularly fond of her baseball mom t-shirts like the ‘Love baseball’ one featured above and this one that will have you singing the classic 90’s tv show theme song it’s words are similar to. I feel like every shirt in her shop is relatable to my life!

Shop for mom gear here.

FENNOFashion

FENNOfashion by Megan is a collection of handmade accessories designed & created in Cincinnati that you’re sure to fall in love with. Founded in 2007, you’ll find a little of everything from sparkling crystal-filled earrings to one-of-a kind Momma Bird Necklaces & each piece of handcrafted jewelry is made to withstand the test of time. Personally I love this gold Ohio necklace to remind me of my time away at college!

Find the perfect piece of handcrafted jewelry here.

Pretty Paisley

Jennifer makes trendy clothing and accessories for little girls and boys. Judging from her company’s Facebook page she makes a lot of coming home outfits and birthday outfits but she also makes items for holidays, big/little siblings, and personalized stuffed animals. I wish I would have known about her items when I was pregnant with my youngest because this personalized sleep sack is adorable! I’m already checking out her first birthday outfits now, even though Emma is only four months old. This first birthday outfit for a baby girl is so sweet and this bright circus themed outfit is adorable!

Get more ideas of personalized kid’s clothes you can order here.

A Girl’s Gotta Spa!®

Shannon started her beauty blog, A Girl’s Gotta Spa!®, in 2005 and since then has launched a bespoke cruelty free bath and body line to promote the mission that everyone deserves to be pampered. This Himalayan Salt Scrub looks like it would be amazing for a spa day at home!

Find all your spa essentials here.

Passports and Purpose™

Courtney founded Passports and Purpose™ with a collection designed to serve travelers with both a sense of humor and a sense of adventure. The store has expanded to include affirmation themed apparel and accessories. My favorite item is their ‘Travel is my self care’ shirt.

Shop all of the shirts, hoodies, and lifestyle items here.

CraftyShan Creations

Shannon creates a number of custom items from mugs to signs to pillows and everything in between. I’d love one of these family name signs in my entryway and this plant stand would look absolutely adorable on a front porch. Thinking ahead to Christmas already? These state ornaments are beautiful!

Look at all of the custom pieces Shannon can create here.

Golden Slumber, LLC.

Golden Slumber, LLC is an Online Baby Boutique, offering handmade organic baby items. Each item is carefully sewn by Alyssa, a mother of three.  She has been sewing for more than 25 years and is delighted to share her dream of a natural, yet playful line of baby items. From teethers to knotted baby gowns to little overall shorts and more, there are lots of adorable baby items to choose from!

Find your next baby gift here.

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Things I’m Loving This Spring

This post contains affiliate and referrral links but I’m not linking to anything I don’t use and love.

It’s a rainy day here in Chicago so I thought I’d brighten it up by sharing about all of the things I’m loving this spring season! Number one on my list is sunny, warm days lol :)

Archer Farms Vegetarian Mexican Street Corn Salad

This is one of those times I’m glad I was hungry while shopping! I’m not vegetarian but I loved Mexican Street Corn so when I saw this salad at Target I thought I’d give it a try. You guys… I’m so embarrassed to say that I ate the whole container in one day. I paired the salad (which was more like a cold, creamy corn salsa) with tortilla chips and had some for snack in the morning, a little more with lunch, and then decided it would make a great substitute for dinner on a Saturday night since I was too tired to cook after I spent the whole day cleaning my office. This was so good that I almost didn’t want to include it because I don’t want the word getting out before I get back to my local Target to buy more!

I checked on Target’s site (where it only has 2 stars- probably because it doesn’t have typical Mexican Corn ingredients) and it’s not available to order. Boo. But, there are some frozen varieties you can buy online like this Trader Joe’s version or you can just buy this Tajín Clásico Seasoning and some Cotija cheese and top the Archer Farms salad to make it a bit more authentic. Either way hope you all have more self-control than I did!

$4 Diapers from Aldi

I’m a newbie Aldi shopper (though I admit it’s not my favorite place to shop with the kiddos because the whole cart/box fiasco can be a nightmare) but I’ve discovered some great cheap finds which keep me going back. A few weeks ago my husband knew we needed diapers so he picked up a package of Aldi brand ones. Normally we don’t buy off brand diapers -other than Target’s Up&Up- since I’ve discovered they don’t work as well as Huggies and Pampers but I was pretty impressed with them. Are they the best quality? No, but these diapers are only $4 a package! Saving half off something my child is going to poop in? Works for me! Not sure how these will work as she grows and starts moving around more but for now she’s pretty stationary so they are perfect.

Imperfect Produce Delivery

I shared about my love for Imperfect Produce in a blog post about food waste last week. I’ve found that having fresh produce is inspiring me to eat more fruits and vegetables plus be more creative in the kitchen. And knowing that the food I’m using would have otherwise gone to waste makes me happy. Want to see if Imperfect produce delivers in your area? Use this link: Imperfect Produce and we both get $10 off a box.

The Act on Hulu

Looking for something good to watch? I’m about halfway through The Act season one on Hulu and would recommend it if you like true crime shows. Season One follows Gypsy Blanchard (Joey King), a girl trying to escape the toxic relationship she has with her overprotective mother, Dee Dee (Patricia Arquette). Her quest for independence opens a Pandora’s box of secrets, one that ultimately leads to murder. Don’t have Hulu yet? Use my referral link and get a 2-week free trial!

Bow Box Subscriptions

This new girl mom is obsessed with hair bows! I recently shared a post about how I organize my daughter’s bows and headbands and my favorite bow subscription boxes. My favorite bow box is from Chic Pipsqueak and comes with 4 bows (normally $11.99+ shipping/month but use code ‘SAVE50’ for 50% off). Want to try a subscription for free? Little Poppy Co. has one (normally $13.99+ shipping/month for 3 bows but use code ‘THREEFREEBOWS’ for a free month- just pay shipping). I love getting fun mail instead of bills sometimes :)

Facebook Marketplace

This weekend I bought Emma this Fisher-Price Smart Stages chair for only $5, saving myself about $30. I check the Marketplace every few days for baby items I’m still wanting to get for Emma. When you are on a budget it’s a great place to find used items that are barely used. You can even set up alerts so that when an item you want is listed for sale nearby you are notified. Babies go through things so quickly so if you can save a few bucks, why not?

Target Tank Tops

One of the staples in my wardrobe are basic tank tops from Target. These tank tops are pretty similar to the Mossimo ones they used to sell and I have a couple dozen in my closet. They come in a variety of colors and prints and pair perfectly with everything from skirts to yoga pants. In colder weather they can be worn under a cardigan sweater but the straps are also thick enough to cover bra straps so they are perfect for hot summer days as well.

Clearance Easter Candy

If your kids didn’t get enough candy from the Easter bunny now is the time to run to the store and grab all that yummy seasonal chocolate while it’s on clearance. Our local store had it all 90% off a couple of days ago and they had a surprising amount left. I got my favorites, like of a bag Reese Eggs for 39 cents and Cadbury Eggs for a dime. Score!

PhotoSpring Digital Picture Frame

This has been on my favorites list for the past couple years because I absolutely love it and it’s still something I use daily. I like that I can easily load my favorite photos on the PhotoSpring frame from my smart phone. It holds 5,000 photos which is a ton because I’ve had it for a few years now and it’s only 25% full or so even though I load new photos on it a few times a week. I enjoy looking at the slideshow of pictures as I work each day.

Primo Water Dispenser

I recently learned that my home’s tap water in our nice suburban Chicago home has 8 contaminants detected above health guidelines and 6 other detected contaminants. I was shocked! We got a Primo water dispenser (like this one but in white) that dispenses purified water. Our’s is bottom-loading, which means no heavy bottles to lift, and has 3 options- cold, hot, and warm water (perfect for baby bottles). I shared about getting a water dispenser for our home here but it really was a smart choice and reassuring knowing my kiddos aren’t drinking all those contaminants anymore!

What things are you loving this spring? Share with me on social! Twitter, Facebook, Instagram

 

Tips For New Moms

This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser. All opinions are mine alone. #ParentingWithPrimoH2o #CollectiveBias

I had someone call me a parenting “expert” before and I had to laugh. I don’t know if it’s because I have a parenting blog, I’ve spoken at parenting conferences, or because I had more than one child, but let me just start by saying I’m not an expert. I’m just a mom who has been there, done that and I’m still learning how to be successful at this parenting thing. I think I could be one of those tv moms with a couple dozen kids and still not be an expert because every child is so different! While I’m not an expert though, having just left the newborn stage with my third child means I do have a few tricks and tips I’ve discovered that have worked for our family. I wanted to share them in hopes they’d help make things easier for other moms. We’re all sleep-deprived and busy so anything that gives us a bit more time back with our kiddos or helps us sleep a few more minutes here and there is a win right?

I had to start off with a sweet photo of my oldest and youngest. As you can see there is a big gap between the two and I’ve learned a lot over this past decade of parenting (I feel so old now typing that…) Here are some things I’ve discovered:

Join a local mom’s group

I’ve talked about it here on the blog before but joining a mom’s group was probably one of the best things I have done as a parent. When I first had Jacob I only knew one other mom my age so I joined my first local mom’s group (that also had an online forum) when Jacob was just a few months old. I found it invaluable when I was up in the middle of the night with a question or just needed someone to talk to. I started going to playdates before Jacob was even moving around because I needed to get out of the house and talk to other moms. Eventually I’d join many other online mom’s groups as well but I found the local one where we could meet “IRL” so beneficial. If you are raising your child without family (or that village we hear so much about) around you’ll want to do this asap!

Always have an extra outfit for baby (and make sure it fits). Bring one for yourself, too.

Most parents have enough common sense to pack an extra outfit for baby in their diaper bag whenever they go out but do you always make sure it fits? I always keep one in there but discovered that I also want to occassionally check to make sure it’s baby’s size still. A month or so ago I was at a meeting and feeding Emma when I felt something warm in my lap (I’m sure you can all guess what had happened….) I grabbed a diaper, wipes, and her spare outfit and went to change her. I quickly realized, as I was putting the outfit on her, that even though it was her size it was definetely too small for her. Since I had nothing else for her to wear I had to just button up my little sausage baby and hope that the snaps held her baby fat in until we got home. I also recommend keeping a change of clothes in the car for yourself because Emma’s little accident had made me look like I peed myself but I didn’t have a pair of spare pants to change in to.

Don’t stock up on newborn clothes

As you can tell from the point above, babies outgrow their clothes quickly. Newborn clothes are probably one of the worst baby investments you can make because they sometimes only last a couple weeks before babies can’t wear them anymore. Plus, in the first month or so they will probably live in onesies and baby sleepers anyway. I had some of the cutest outfits hanging in Emma’s closet and she never got to wear them!

Make middle of the night feedings easier

When baby’s cries wake you up you’ll be half asleep and feeling like a zombie those first couple months. While you can’t avoid those middle of the night wake up calls, you can make things easier on yourself! If you breastfeed, have everything that you’ll need nearby. I had made myself a little basket with the essentials for pumping and put it right next to my chair so everything I needed was within reach when I was holding Emma. Now we use formula for our little girl and, though she doesn’t wake up as much, I still set everything up for the next time she’ll eat (which is especially helpful if I know daddy is getting up with her). I put a clean bottle on the counter along with her formula. I also leave a burp cloth next to the chair we sit in for feedings.

We used to fill her bottle up with tap water because we didn’t know any better…My mom yelled at me the first time she saw me do so and I brushed her words off saying she would be fine because we all drank the water. While most tap water contains chemicals and other contaminants that purified water doesn’t but I figured the water in my nice suburb wasn’t that bad. I was shocked when I looked it up online and discovered that my town’s water had 8 contaminants detected above health guidelines and 6 other detected contaminants! #MomFAIL. Pound for pound, a baby’s body can’t filter contaminants like an adult’s body can (even though adults shouldn’t be exposed to them either). Not only that but a lot of tap water sources are treated with fluoride, which also poses concerns for babies.

I knew I needed to stop having my family use tap water immediately because the quality of the water is just as important as the quality of the formula I have chosen. I heard about the Primo® First Steps Bottom-Loading Water Dispenser and it seemed like the perfect fit for our whole family. The dispenser provides cold, warm or hot drinking water with the warm option supplying water at 98.6-104 degrees Fahrenheit—specially designed for mixing baby formula. Middle of the night feedings are so much easier now that we just have to push a button to get water at the right temperature! When my boys were babies we used to have to stand over the sink holding the bottles under running warm water until the bottle was the perfect temperature. Those days are now in the past!

The unit sets up in minutes with no tools, plumbing, or installation required and the easy bottom-loading design means no more lifting heavy bottles. Primo® is the only brand that delivers best in class dispensers for the home and safe, great-tasting bulk water either exchange or refill water. The water dispenser uses 3 or 5-gallon bottles (sold separately) which we found at a number of stores nearby. Once we had purchased the water at our local Lowe’s all we had to do was hook it up and push it in the cabinet.

One of the things I was initially concerned about when looking at water coolers was that my baby would burn herself on the hot water once she started walking so it was comforting to know that the hot water has a child-resistant safety feature. Not only was there a switch to turn it off on the back but I could lock the front controls so none of the buttons would work if pushed by little fingers. There is also a self-sanitizing function that boils the water in the warm water reservoir every 12 hours (or more often if you choose) to ensure the quality of the water. While we got this mainly for the warm water for bottles and the icy cold water for drinking, having the hot water makes our hot cocoa for family movie nights a breeze to make which my older boys love!

You can learn more and purchase the Primo water dispenser at primowater.com. If baby isn’t here yet, consider adding it to your baby registry! I know sometimes, especially if you have other children, you might not need many baby things since you still have them from when your other kids were younger so this is a great gift idea if you really aren’t sure what to add to your registry!

Restock the diaper bag every evening

I learned this one the hard way. When my boys were younger I grabbed the diaper bag as I was running out the door for the day. I had forgotten that I used my last wipe and of course I needed them when I was out! Let’s just say that toilet paper does not work as well as a wipe does for cleaning dirty baby bottoms… Since mornings are always hectic I’ve found it easiest to get the diaper bag ready at night so I don’t have to worry about packing it while trying to get all three kids out the door.

Keep diapers and other necessities in more than one place

Before I had my first child I carefully set up the changing table with everything that I’d need for diaper changes. Once I actually had Jacob though I discovered that I rarely actually used the changing table. I typically would just lay a blanket out on our living room floor and change him there. Having diaper changing supplies in a few different places (my room, his room, and our living room) ended up making the most sense. This is especially true if you live in a two story home because who wants to be walking up and down steps all day just to change a dirty diaper?

What tips do you have? I’d love to hear them! Bonus points if they are helpful for babies who are on-the-go because that’s our next stage! (And honestly, it’s been almost a decade since I’ve been in that stage so I don’t remember much about it!) Chat with me on social! Twitter, Facebook, Instagram

 

 

Outdoor Activities To Do With A Young Baby This Spring

This post contains affiliate links.

Emma was born at the end of December so she hasn’t spent a whole lot of time outside in the short three and a half months she’s been alive. Now that the weather is getting nicer I’m trying to get outside with her on a daily basis. Most of the ideas I’ve found online are for older babies so I wanted to put together a list of activities that can be done with younger babies (like 3-9 months old). In honor of Earth Day today, here are ideas to get baby outside to start their love of nature early:

Bring baby toys outside- The first day we could get outside I grabbed Emma’s activity table and brought it into the backyard. I then sat with Emma on the ground, letting her put her feet in the grass and we played for about 20 minutes before she was ready to go in. Any toys baby enjoys would be perfect for outside play as long as you can easily bring them outside.

Go for a walk- Wear baby in a baby carrier or put baby in a stroller and take a walk around your neighborhood. Talk with your baby about what you see as you walk.

Practice tummy time- Emma is not a fan of tummy time so going outside into a new environment helps keep her attention and encourages her to look up for longer periods of time. (Here are ideas for outdoor tummy time including what you can talk about with baby while they are on their tummy.)

Play in a shallow container of water- Playing in water is a fun activity for all ages! Babies will love splashing their hands in a small amount of water put in a shallow container. Another alternative is putting their feet in the water instead of their hands.

Enroll in a Tinkergarten class- Tinkergarten brings families together for classes where kids learn through well-designed, outdoor play-based activities. While most of the classes are for older children, they just introduced baby classes for ages 6 months and up. Amanda, a Tinkergarten leader in Mokena, IL that I know, says “I started leading because I truly believe in outdoor child led learning. I love the babies classes because it gets families in the habit of scheduling outdoor time, babies start learning in an outdoor classroom, families gain a community of like minded friends, and babies get a rich sensory experience.” Want to try Tinkergarten with your little one? Check out the Tinkergarten website to find a class near you.

Enjoy some music- Whether you listen to music from your smartphone or go to a live music festival (standing away from the speakers), babies love music! You can dance around with them in your arms, gently swaying them back and forth, and sing quietly along with the tunes. Another fun idea would be to use some little musical instruments and make music together with baby.

Read outside- Bring a few board books outside and sit with baby on a blanket while you read books to them.

Let baby take a nap- This winter I learned that, in some places, it’s normal for babies to sleep outside even when it’s cold out. While I don’t see myself ever letting Emma nap outside when it’s snowing, I think that a nap outside on a beautiful spring day could be a great idea. Let baby nap in the shade (love this Fisher-Price On-The-Go baby dome!) while you read a book next to her and you both get to enjoy the benefits of the fresh air!

What do you like to do with your baby when the weather is nice during the spring months? Chat with me on social! Twitter, Facebook, Instagram

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Other recent baby posts I’ve written include:

Favorite baby items for the newborn stage

Baby lullabies that parents will enjoy too

Baby hair bow storage idea

How My Family Is Reducing Food Waste In Our Home

This post contains affiliate links.

Food waste is a serious issue in the United States. I wish I could say that my family hasn’t been contributing to the problem but that would be a lie. I’m embarrased by the amount of food that we’ve thrown away over the years. I’m on a mission to reduce our family’s carbon footprint one small, simple step at a time and I’m starting with this issue. Here are some ways my family is working on reducing food waste:

Storing food properly

I’ve recently been learning about the proper ways to store foods to keep them fresher for longer. Like did you know apples and pears should be kept away from other fruits because they ripen the other fruits faster? Or that asparagus should be stored standing up in water like flowers are? I had no idea! Use this handy guide to learn how to store foods properly.

Keeping track of what’s in our freezer and pantry

Keeping track of what food we already have in the kitchen has been difficult. Things get buried under other things in the freezer or shoved to the back of the pantry shelves and forgotten about. Then we buy more while at the grocery store because we aren’t sure if we need it or not. (Friends, we currently have eight bottles of spaggheti sauce in our pantry…) Then, when we are doing our quarterly cleaning out of the pantry or freezer, we find a lot of expired things that we have to toss because we didn’t eat them in time. Anyone else have this problem?

While the goal is to eventually buy less so that we are keeping less in our pantry and freezer, my immediate goal is creating a list of what we already have so that I can see what we need to buy and what we have to use up. Then each week before grocery shopping we can look over our list, cross off what was used that week, and only buy what we need to have on hand for the next week or two of meals. Another idea is if you have something you know your family won’t eat (maybe your family’s diet or your kid’s preferences changed) consider donating that unexpired food to a food pantry.

Eating the leftovers in the fridge

Most of our food waste is due to leftover food that we cooked not being eaten. Sometimes it’s because food sits on the stove too long before it can be put away so we toss it but usually it’s leftovers being put in the fridge and then not eaten. As a child I grew up with “leftovers for dinner night” so we do the same in our home now. I tell the children what their options are and they choose one of the meals we have leftovers of.

How leftovers are put away can make a big difference in whether they get eaten or not. Leftovers make great lunches and I’ve found that I’m more likely to eat them if I put them away in these pre-portioned lunch containers that I can put right in the microwave to reheat and eat out of while I work. Keeping all leftovers together on one shelf in the refrigerator and putting the date on the containers are great ideas as well so you can see what leftovers need to be eaten and by when.

Buying imperfect produce

What inspired this food waste reduction movement in my home was my first order of Imperfect Produce (if you use this link we both get $10 off a box). Imperfect is a produce delivery company focused on fighting food waste by finding a home for ‘ugly’ produce. They source imperfect produce that would have otherwise gone to waste directly from farms and deliver it to their customers’ door for about 30% less than the grocery store. I had found a discount code online and decided to try it out because I wanted to have more fresh fruit and veggies in my home. I spent $17 and had a large box of produce delivered.

I’ve loved trying new recipes with my family, even though I typically don’t enjoy cooking, so that the produce doesn’t go to waste. In the past week I’ve made glazed carrots, parmesan stuffed eggplant, zucchini bread, and ham & green beans. My oldest child and I have enjoyed salads full of fresh veggies and I’ve had fruit as a snack daily. While I don’t know if my inner chef will keep showing up every day (especially with baseball season starting) I’ve found having fresh produce is inspiring me to be creative in the kitchen and knowing that the food I’m using would have otherwise gone to waste makes me happy.

Using an app to discover new recipes for ingredients that need to be used up

Here’s a tip from my husband: When you have items that need to be eaten use an app like Big Oven to find recipes. The app lets you put in a few ingredients you have on hand and then suggests recipes you can make with those ingredients. The SaveTheFood website also has great recipes for food scraps and items past their prime here.

Learning more about expiration dates

For me it’s hard to get past expiration dates and I used to throw things out immediately when the ‘sell by’ date had passed. According to this article though, “Confusion over expiration labels leads 9 out of 10 Americans to toss edible food, which adds up in a big way: a family of four spends up to $2,275 annually on food it doesn’t eat, and as a nation, we throw out $900 million in “expired food” every year.” Yikes. That’s a lot of wasted food!

I won’t tell you how safe things are to eat after “sell by” dates and “best by” dates but here is a great visual from SaveTheFood.com and I encourage you to do your own research before you toss food.

What tips do you have for reducing food waste? Let me know on social: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram

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Fun Summer Day Camp In Chicago

This is a sponsored post but all thoughts are my own.

My children’s favorite summers have been the ones when they attended day camp while I worked. They loved making new friends, playing all day, and spending hours outside. If you are still thinking about what to do with your kids this summer I’d encourage you to look into local day camps near you and, if you are located in Chicago, you’ll want to check out Apollo After School Summer Camps. Apollo After School, in partnership with Daystar School in Chicago’s South Loop neighborhood, is offering a 7-week summer day camp in 2019!

Apollo After School offers summer day camps that are both fun and educational in a safe and welcoming environment. Their activities enhance children’s self-esteem and creative expression while keeping their brains sharp over the long break from school. Students at the Apollo summer day camp can expect to make new friends, learn new skills, and have a lot of fun.

What I really love most about the camps are the variety of activities that Apollo offers. Every week, campers will have experiences in science, math, arts and crafts, and cooking. They will also have opportunities to stretch their legs and get moving with different sports and group games. Students will participate in interactive enrichment activities along with classic camp games, crafts, and good old-fashioned playground time. I think that this camp encourages children to be well-rounded which I love and is how I raise my own kids to be.

The summer camp provides 7 weekly themes and children can participate in them all or just choose weeks that interest them (though I think enrolling your child in all the weeks is ideal because then they can try things they might not have before and they may discover new passions!) The weekly themes are as follows:

How fun do those all sound?! Each of these weeks are split into daily themes like ‘Farm to Table Food Fun’, ‘Comic Strip Creations’, ‘DIY Obstacle Course Challenge’, ‘Let’s Go To The Future’, ‘Water Science’, ‘Fossils and Dinosaurs’, and ‘Aliens’. There are so many cool things planned for the kids that they will be so excited to go each morning! Here’s a breakdown of a typical camp day so you can see how your children would be spending their day:

As you can see by the schedule, the camp offers before care and extended daycare which is convenient for working parents. Here are some more important details:

– Age: 4-10
– Address: Daystar School – 1550 S State St, Chicago, IL 60605
– Dates: June 24 – August 9. Registration is available for specific weeks or the whole seven-week period
– Schedule: Camp starts daily at 8:30am and ends at 3:30pm
– Before and after care is available at an extra cost (7:30am – 8:30am, and 3:30pm – 6:00pm)
– Morning and afternoon snacks are provided
– Catered lunch is available for an additional fee, otherwise students should bring a packed lunch

Want to learn more and enroll your child in the Apollo After School Summer Day Camps? Register here but hurry because registration ends June 3rd!

Ways To Celebrate Earth Day As A Family

Earth Day is just a couple weeks away so I thought it would be fun to share some ideas of ways to celebrate Earth Day as a family. Whether you have toddlers, preschoolers, elementary-aged children, or teens, here are some ways to get your whole family involved in celebrating this place we call home.

Make a recycling bin for your home if you don’t have one already. (We made this simple recycling bin for the bathroom to hold shampoo and body wash bottles that we could then reuse. Empty clear shampoo bottles can make great DIY I-spy bottles!)

Talk about ways to use less water and practice water conservation. (Here are some great ways your family can conserve water and use it efficiently. Even little ones can learn to turn the water off when they are brushing their teeth.)

Have each member of the family decorate reusable water bottles for themselves.

Do a one-week challenge to see who can create the least amount of trash during the week. Winner gets to pick something fun to do that weekend. (This video inspired the challenge but this zero waste family video was interesting, too.)

Spend an afternoon together picking up trash in a local park or join a cleanup already scheduled (find a local cleanup here).

Go for a nature walk to appreciate the beauty around you. (Make this nature journal with the kids before you go!)

Make a craft out of something instead of throwing it away. (Here are 100 recycled craft ideas for kids or maybe your teens want to make these self-watering planters out of their empty soda bottles.)

Read an Earth Day book. (Here are some (affiliate link) Earth Day book titles to choose from.)

Celebrate with an Earth Day treat. Try one of these kid-friendly snacks.

Walk or ride a bike to where you have to go (if possible).

Plant something.

How does your family celebrate Earth Day?

Hair Bow And Headband Storage For Girls (And Discount Codes For Our Favorite Bow Subscription Boxes)

This post contains affiliate links.

Now that I’m a girl mom I can finally buy all the adorable girly accessories I’ve always wanted to. The problem I ran into was: how am I going to store all these baby girl bows?! We live in a tiny place and Emma just has a makeshift nursery so I am limited on options. I searched Pinterest and found some cute ideas but couldn’t find exactly what I wanted so I went on Amazon to search for wall racks. I came upon something that looked like it would be perfect. Technically it’s a rack for embroidery thread spools but it works great for headbands. I bought the 120 spool rack since it was just a few dollars more than the 60 spool rack holder. I liked that it could be set on a shelf or hung on the wall.

Originally I was going to set it on the changing table I never used but then decided it would work better hanging up so I got two cheap hooks to hang it. I covered the hooks with giant cheerleading bows that I had leftover from a project I did a couple years ago. I’ll probably change them out to pink ones when I can but for now it works because baseball season has just started.

I hung all of Emma’s bows by color so they were easier to find when I was trying to put outfits together. I put all the bows with designs on the top rows. There’s still a lot of empty pegs and, if needed, more than one headband could fit on most of the pegs. This rack could probably hold 200+ headbands but I can’t imagine she will ever have that many!

After thinking about it, I decided not to hang my bows that were on nylon because they would be hard to see amidst all the headwraps and larger bows. I decided instead to use cute pink polka dot drawer organizers that I had orginally bought for Emma’s shoes to hold my nylon bows and my smaller bows on clips. They came as a pack of two and each organizer has 16 sections. I put plain bows in one (sorted by color) and bows with designs (sorted by theme) in the other.

I also have matching pigtail bows hanging from a hair bow holder that I had originally bought to keep all my bows on (long before I realized she would have way more than this would fit since I decided bows were a baby girl must-have.) I had this holder hanging in her armoire but now it hangs off the side of the Munchkin nursery cart we have that holds all her sleepers and blankets.

I can’t wait to put her hair in pigtails but that’s about as fancy as my hairstyling skills are….gotta work on that! She’s only a few months old though so I guess I have time :)

Here’s what her hair bow area looks like now (don’t mind the green wall…painting it has been on the to-do list since we moved in!)

The only other thing I want to add is a vinyl saying above her bows. Something like: “cute from head to toe”. Then when she gets older I’ll probably add some mason jars for hair ties, brushes, etc.

Are you looking for hair bows for your little girl? Here are my favorites I’ve found:

Hope this bow storage idea and bow subscription box information was helpful! I’d love to see how you organize your bows and see your little ones in their cute hair bows :) Chat with me on social! Twitter, Facebook, Instagram

Autism & Sensory-Friendly Family Events In The Chicago Area April 2019

Today is World Autism Awareness Day (or Autism Acceptance Day to some though you can read why I’m sticking with “awareness” for now). As a mom of a child on the Autism Spectrum, every day is Autism Awareness Day in our home but I appreciate those that spend this month trying to learn a bit more about Autism. For those who have Autism and those who love someone who has Autism, April means more special events than normal that are created with our families in mind. I thought I’d share some fun events going on in the Chicago area this month. Some are specifically celebrating Autism Awareness Month, some happen frequently throughout the year, some are special Easter events, and some are just sensory-friendly events I thought I’d add to the list. If you know of more Autism Awareness/Acceptance or sensory-friendly events going on in Chicagoland this month please let me know!

April 6th- Zoos Go Blue at Brookfield Zoo

Throughout the day, special Zoos Go Blue activities will be taking place for families with children on the autism spectrum. The zoo has also designated a quiet break area in the Discovery Center’s Founders Room for those who might be in need of some downtime during the day.

From 11:00 a.m. to noon, the Carousel will have a “quiet hour” with its music turned off. At 1:00 p.m., families can attend a sensory-friendly Dolphins in Action presentation with welcoming remarks from Colleen Shinn, director of community outreach-Midwest and South Central Regions for Autism Speaks. In addition, guests can attend special Zoo Chats to learn about some of the animal ambassadors. These informal talks take place at 11:00 a.m. in the Bramsen Animal Ambassador Pavilion and at 2:00 p.m. at Hamill Family Play Zoo.

The zoo also has several “care kits” that can be checked out on a first-come, first-served basis by families that include noise-reducing headphones, hard copies of visual schedules, autism stickers, and ID bracelets in case a child gets separated from his or her family. In addition, to help families prepare for their visit, several adaptive tools may be downloaded from the zoo’s website at BrookfieldZoo.org/Accessibility. These tools include a visual schedule and a story about the zoo’s Living Coast exhibit that, through illustrations and written descriptions, can help prepare a child for what he or she will see and may feel during their visit.

April 6th- Play Well Day at LegoLand in Schaumburg

LEGOLAND Discovery Center Chicago is teaming up with AUTISM SPEAKTM to provide a brand new sensory friendly LEGO experience! Events occur the first Saturday of every month from 8:30am – 10:00am!

Special accommodations will be made during Play Well Days including:

 

  • Reduction of sound and light levels
  • Quiet spaces
  • A reduced center capacity
  • Staff trained by Autism Speaks
  • Discounted admission pricing

Reserve your tickets here.

April 6th- Special Needs Screening of Dumbo at Studio Movie Grill in Chicago & Wheaton

Special Needs Screenings are shown with the lights up and the volume lowered and children are free to move around, talk, or even dance in the aisles during the movie. The sensory friendly screenings are free for children with special needs and their siblings (parental guidance is always suggested). Adult tickets are available at before-noon price. Special Needs Screenings are shown at 11:00am at all SMG locations except EpiCentre.

Get more details here.

April 7th & 14th- Sensory-Friendly Bunny at Various Locations 

All families with children with autism and other special needs can enjoy the time-honored tradition of a visit with The Bunny, in a more subdued and calm environment. While visits with The Bunny are free, cherished photo memories will be available for purchase at each sensory-friendly event.

Reservations are limited. Please RSVP to reserve your spot today! Find a list of locations and learn how to register here.

April 13th- PossAbilities Easter Egg Hunt at Calvary Church in Orland Park

At the Easter Celebration egg hunt Calvary leaders want all children to have an enjoyable time. They will have a reserved area for children with special needs, such as sensory or mobility. This space will be away from the crowds and wheelchair accessible. Please register your child by emailing PossAbilities@calvaryop.org.

April 13th- Play For All Autism Awareness Celebration at the Chicago Children’s Museum

Join Chicago Children’s Museum and Autism Speaks as they celebrate World Autism Month! This autism-friendly event is a celebration for families affected by autism and will include sensory activities, quiet spaces, and a resource fair.

Free admission will be given to the first 250 children and families with disabilities who register!
For more information, visit: https://bit.ly/2u2PTzZ

April 14th- Special Needs Easter Eggstravaganza in Geneva

Special Needs Easter Eggstravaganza: Experience Easter together!

-For families with children with special needs and their siblings
-Families will travel together on a sensory friendly scavenger hunt to find candy and toy-filled eggs!
-Participate in an interactive experience showing the miracle of Easter.
-The event is FREE and there is NO REGISTRATION required.
-There will be drawings for lots of great prizes!

Get more details here.

April 19th- Bunny Bash in Oswego

Join us for this years Bunny Bash 2019!! This year it will be held at our new Oswego Location! There will be a bounce house, balloon artist, crafts, games and more! Maybe even the Easter bunny will make an apperance! (While this does not state that it’s an Autism/Sensory event it’s hosted by a company that provides ABA therapists.)

April 27th- WE CAN Carnival – Autism Awareness Month in Chicago

Come and join us for the carnival that celebrates the amazing abilities of children in this wonderous event filled with fun and activities! There will be numerous carnival games and prizes, face painting, popcorn, bouncy houses, and the city of Chicago firetrucks and police cars!

This is a FREE event to the autism community! Registration is required, RSVP by 4/24/19: http://bit.ly/2TBDmBQ

April 28th- Sky Zone Cares Sensory Event in Joliet

Enjoy the freedom of jumping. Sensory hours provide a quieter and relaxed jumping experience. Just a chance to jump and smile and know that SKY ZONE CARES!

  • Modified safety Measures
  • Less crowded environment
  • Added staff to support all needs of all jumpers
  • Light and sound reduction

Get more details here.

April 28th- Friendship Playdate at Kidville Lincoln Park in Chicago

Children of all ages and abilities can enjoy arts & crafts, sensory gym, and snacks!

This event is free! Please register through the link: bit.ly/TNPnKidville

 

Looking ahead to events in May that you can register for now (things sell out quickly!)

May 4th & May 11th- Variety at Play Fantasy Amusement Carnival in Aurora

Your child with a disability and family are cordially invited to join Variety the Children’s Charity of Illinois, the Fox Valley Special Recreation Association and the Western DuPage Special Recreation Association for a private carnival event. The carnival will be closed to the general public during these times allowing families with children with any disability extra time to safely enter and exit rides which will be run at slower speeds when possible and for shorter duration if requested. Complimentary ride wristbands, popcorn and cotton candy will be provided along with one game prize per child.

Thank you to Fantasy Amusements for providing this event FREE for families of children with disabilities, their parents/caretakers and siblings. Limit 6 free tickets and 1 date reserved per family. Register here.

May 5th- Low-Sensory Mornings at MSI in Chicago

Low-Sensory Mornings are a series of events dedicated to providing sensory-friendly time with Museum exhibits.

On select dates throughout the year from 9:30 a.m. – noon, MSI’s exhibits will be altered, including lower exhibit volume, dimmer lights and limited crowding. On these days we’ll offer additional accommodations including a designated quiet room offering sensory toys, water and a space to relax. You can also check out noise-reducing headphones and weighted vests for free from Guests Services in the Entry Hall.

Get more details here.

May 6th- Calm Waters at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago

Calm Waters is an exclusive event for guests with disabilities to explore Shedd Aquarium’s exhibits and experiences in a comfortable and accepting environment. Modifications for this event will include limited capacity and streamlined entry with advance registration.

Family members and companions are welcome. This event is $24.95 (free for members).

You can learn more about Calm Waters here: https://www.sheddaquarium.org/plan-a-visit/visitor-guide/Experiences/calm-waters/

May 18th- Sensory Saturday at the Field Museum in Chicago

This event welcomes families and children with disabilities as well as with sensory processing needs. Siblings, family members, and caregivers are also welcome.

Sensory Saturday is free with museum admission and advance registration, but space is limited to 40 guests so that families can enjoy a crowd-free space. To register, please email accessibilityeducator@fieldmuseum.org.

The Crown Family PlayLab is geared toward young children, but you’ll find many opportunities for children of all ages and abilities to learn and create through hands-on exploration with tactile opportunities and sensory tools.

Get more details here.

Get my free sensory-friendly Chicago guide for more sensory-friendly fun in Chicago! (This is a work in progress as I’m still adding places!)

To add an event to this list you can email me at: makingtimeformommy@gmail.com. All events MUST be family-friendly and must be for families who have loved ones with Autism or other sensory needs :)

Innovative Camps For Kids

This post is sponsored by Galileo Camps but the content and opinions expressed here are my own.

The kids are just back to school, after a week off for spring break, and I’m already thinking about summer. Each year I try to pick one or two experiences that I think will benefit my kids and let them try something they might not normally gravitate to. Last year, my sports loving kiddo took a short break from running around in his cleats to participate in a coding summer camp where he discovered how exciting STEAM activities could be.

This year, I’ve already looked at a number of camps that look promising and I’m loving the Galileo Camps‘ model. Drawing from the innovation process inspired by the Stanford d. School, Galileo’s curriculum packs serious substance and sparks kids’ imaginations from pre-K through 8th grade. Their goal is to develop innovators who envision and create a better world and they do this by teaching campers a framework called the Galileo Innovation Approach or the GIA. With this framework, campers learn the steps needed to bring their ideas to life.

The camps shape a new generation of innovators by teaching kids to explore, make mistakes (and learn from them!), and create without fear. I think that “making mistakes” part is so important, especially in this day and age of social media where everyone else seems perfect and kids are afraid to fail for the whole world to see. Kids need to know that it’s okay to take (safe) risks and that it is not only fine, but vital, that they fail because that is how they will learn. The folks at Galileo believe that kids who learn to explore and fail with courage—the essence of innovation—are happier, more creative and more confident when faced with life’s challenges.

To show my boys what Galileo camp life would be like we did some group activities from the Zoom, Fly, Bolt, Blast Steam Handbook that was written by Galileo curriculum developer Lance Akiyama (who also authored Rubber Band Engineer and Duct Tape Engineer which we have) and was made in cooperation with Galileo Learning. This book gives parents and kids ages 6 to 10 a selection of 18 engaging projects to build together. And when they’re finished, they’ll have personalized creations that fly, race, and blast off!

We were limited on what we could make since we don’t have a lot of materials on hand (which will change soon with a DIY kit I’m putting together!) so we chose a couple projects with simple material lists. We made a “grabber” and a lung lift (because who doesn’t want to say they are able to lift a chair by just breathing?!) It was nice to see the kids step away from their video games to create something together. I loved how they worked together, determined to meet a shared goal, and took turns trying each other’s ideas and building off of each other’s failed attempts until they succeeded. Check out the lung lift they made in action!

If you are looking for an innovative summer camp you’ll want to check out fun & enriching Galileo Camps. If you live in the Bay Area, Southern Cali, or Chicagoland, learn more about Galileo, find a location near you, and register your children to experience the fun for themselves this summer by going here. Save $30 on your camp purchase with code SUMMER30. (Discount valid at any Camp Galileo or Galileo Summer Quest location for the 2019 season, where space is available. Combinable only with Multi Session and Refer A Friend discounts.)

What are your kids doing this summer? Chat with me on social! Twitter, Facebook, Instagram

 

Our Favorite Baby Items For Baby’s First Three Months

This post contains affiliate links.

Emma turned three months old yesterday! I feel like that time flew by (while at the same time thinking about how long each day sometimes seems to be…) Now that she is officially out of the newborn phase I wanted to share about some of our favorite things that got a lot of use over baby’s first few months.

Little Remedies Gripe Water

This isn’t a magical potion or anything but, I swear, every time Emma had gas and I gave this to her she’d immediately stop fussing the second it touched her tongue! I know that there’s no way the herbal supplement worked that fast to remove her tummy pain but it seemed to disappear immediately each time. Obviously talk with your doctor before giving your baby anything but this is a must-have in my book! We liked this day & night value pack.

Cheap Amazon bows

I’m currently obsessed with hairbows now that I’m finally a girl mom but my favorites at the moment are cheap ones I bought in bulk on Amazon. I got 20 colorful big bows for less than $10 (which I’ve discovered is a steal now that I’m checking out boutique bows). They are well made, fit her head nicely, and the set has a color to match most of her outfits. Find the exact bows I bought here.

Lots of blankets

Having a winter baby means stocking up on lots of blankets! My favorites are the large muslin swaddle blankets for swaddling at bedtime. We found that swaddling her top half tighter and letting her lower half loosely swaddled works best for us. Emma’s favorite blankets seem to be her small fleece blankets that she likes cuddling up with (one we got as a gift and the others were cheap thin ones we found on clearance at Meijer). Remember….do not put any loose blankets in the crib with baby. We only let Emma have her fleece blankets when we are watching her, especially since she likes to bury her face in them.

Boppy Newborn Lounger Pillow

One of the items that got the most use here in our home during the newborn stage was the Boppy Lounger. When my boys were little we used the regular Boppy often but, to be honest, we haven’t even used that once yet since Emma really seemed to love their new lounger. We normally keep a burp cloth were we lay Emma’s head in case she spits up but investing in a washable cover would be a smart choice in my opinion. Emma’s lounger was right next to me on the couch so I could chat with her while I attempted to work and it was a good place for her to lay when the boys fed her. She also loved laying and listening to music (these are our favorite baby lullabies).

Mustela No-rinse Soothing Cleansing Water for Very Sensitive Skin & Aquaphor Baby Healing Ointment

Emma has very sensitive skin that started breaking out when she was about a month old. Between excema like dry patches and baby acne her poor little cheeks looked horrible. After some research online I chose to buy Mustela cleansing water made for very sensitive skin and I discovered it worked very well for her. The acne she had, which was the main skin issue I was trying to find a solution for, disappeared after just a couple uses. I also like the Aquaphor Baby Healing Ointment which I put on her dry patches at night and it seems to improve them some (or at least doesn’t make the areas look so painful by reducing the redness).

One-Piece Sleepers

I bought tons of cute outfits for Emma but she ended up spending most of her early days in one-piece sleepers. They were easy to put on, made night-time diaper changes simple, and kept her warm and comfortable on chilly days. My favorites were Carter’s brand sleepers and the “little sister” ones were really cute! To save money on baby clothes check out Facebook Marketplace, thrift shops, and garage sales. Babies go through clothes sizes too fast sometimes that they don’t even get to wear all of the clothes hanging in their closets (especially the newborn sized ones they often outgrow within just a few weeks) so you can find inexpensive new-with-tags clothes.

Milestone Blanket

I loved taking Emma’s picture weekly her first three months of life (well after I got out of the post labor & delivery fog I was in the first two weeks) and I used two milestone blankets to document her growth. I love seeing how big she is getting. You can’t notice a change as the days pass by but look at the difference between her ‘leaving the hospital’ photo and her three month photo!

What are your favorite products for the newborn stage? Chat with me on social! Twitter, Facebook, Instagram

By the way, I’m currently looking for stroller suggestions (I do not like my current one) and hearing about what toys your 3-6 month old loves! Stay tuned in a few months for another post to see what our favorite products are for the 3-6 month stage.

How To Protect Your Child From Identity Theft

This is a sponsored post but all thoughts are my own.

More than 1 million children were victims of identity theft or fraud last year, according to the Federal Trade Commission. ONE MILLION last year alone and two-thirds of those victims were 7 years old or younger. I was shocked to learn these statistics, mostly because I hadn’t really heard much about child identity theft. Why is so little said about this important topic if it’s so prevalent? I wanted to share some information today in hopes that it would help shine a light on this digital safety concern.

How does child identity theft happen?

Every day, more and more social security numbers for children are sold on the dark web. As parents we try to safeguard our children’s social security numbers (like we do our own) but they still can end up in the wrong hands when we provide them to places that request them like schools, sports, and camps. Personally, I always ask if it’s necessary to write down my child’s social security number in the space provided on forms and, more often than not, I’m told not to worry about it. I wish those places would just remove that request from their forms if it’s not needed!

Why is child identity theft such a growing problem?

Child identity theft is one of the fastest growing crimes and such an issue because this type of theft can go undetected for years. Parents tend to check their credit often but do not think to do so for their child’s credit because they know their child hasn’t taken out loans, gotten credit cards, or done anything else that would impact their credit. It’s not until the child becomes a young adult and attempts to apply for a car loan or tries to open a credit card and gets denied that they even look at their credit. If someone else used their identity they have to deal with unravelling years and years of defaulted accounts. On top of that, tracking down the person who used their social security number can be an impossible task all those years later.

What can parents do to protect their children?

One of the best things that parents can do for their child’s future financial well-being is monitor their credit now, while their child is young. Parents can get copies of their child’s credit report but that will only detect some types of identity fraud and doesn’t help avoid the headache-inducing frustration of trying to stop identity theft if it’s discovered. Thankfully, there are services like Identron that do all the work for you.

What is Identron?

The Identron identity protection plans offered by Identity Protection Planning are hands down the most comprehensive plans, especially when it comes to family coverage, on the market. Identron monitors your family’s personal information in many ways and also makes sure that none of your personal information is being sold on the dark web. All the plans are bottom line a 1-million-dollar insurance policy and have US based identity recovery experts available to help in the event they are needed. You can see all the plans here but the benefits Identron plans offer include:

As parents it is our job to protect our kids and, nowadays, this includes safeguarding their identities. The Identron plans give parents peace-of-mind knowing that they are protecting their child’s identity from theives who seek to use the child’s personal information for their own benefit.

Baby Lullabies That Parents Will Enjoy Too

Now that I have a little one again we have been listening to a lot of lullabies. When my boys were younger I had lullaby CDs so we listened to the same songs over and over again. Nowadays, I typically tell Alexa to play baby lullabies when it’s time for Emma’s morning or afternoon nap and during tummy time (which is not a favorite activity of Emma’s) and Alexa plays a variety of songs. Some tunes I recognize from Disney movies, some are classics, and some I had never heard before these past few months. I thought I’d share my favorites for all of you who are looking for some new lullabies to listen to with your baby (because as much as I love “You Are My Sunshine” there’s only so many times a day I want to hear it….)

A Thousand Years (Lullaby) by Christina Perri

Father’s Lullaby by Nick Lachey

Wonderfully Made by Scripture Lullabies

Lullaby by Dixie Chicks

Keep You Safe by JJ Heller (and any of the songs on her ‘I Dream of You Volume II’ album)

A Mother’s Prayer by Rachel Aldous

Slow Down by Nichole Nordeman

Forever Young by Bob Dylan

Baby Mine by Alison Krauss

Sweet Dreams by Jewel

Then there’s the Rockabye Baby lullaby renditions of your favorite songs, like this flashback to my days of Blink-182 obsession- Adam’s Song lullaby rendition

Here are a couple other songs that aren’t lullabies but are still sweet messages to a child…

Never Grow Up by Taylor Swift

When I Pray For You by Dan & Shay

There are so many more choices of songs to sing baby to sleep then when my boys were little! What’s your favorite lullaby? Tweet with me and let me know!

 

Autism And The Special Olympics: Our Family’s Journey

It took a while to find the perfect sport for Lucas to participate in. He tried football but would meltdown every time the team intercepted the ball because, no matter how many times we explained the rules, he was convinced they were cheating by taking the ball. Soccer games were spent running around the edges of the field, not even paying attention to the ball’s location. He tried karate as well but the rigid rules just weren’t a fit with Luke’s personality and trying to do the step-by-step katas that other kids were seeming to master so easily just frustrated him. His brain just couldn’t remind his body of the steps fast enough for him to perform the sequence of steps he needed to do.

Eventually we found a few things that he could participate in that were perfect for him. He joined a boy’s hip-hop class (with an inclusion aide) where they slowly worked on one recital piece for most of the year and then spent the rest of the time learning dance moves that they were encouraged to be creative with. Luke joined a baseball team made for kids like him who can’t otherwise play baseball on a team and there are a lot of volunteers and parents on the field with the kids to help. He also discovered a love of gymnastics, which is more of an individual sport with teammates to cheer you on and involves the movement his body so desperately craves.

We originally tried gymnastics at the park district (with an inclusion aide) but they spent most of the time every week waiting in a line to do somersaults and cartwheels. Lucas got bored easily and the waiting was difficult which led to behavior issues but we stuck it out because he loved the sport so much. When I learned about a Special Olympics gymnastics program that was starting up at a local gymnastics place I quickly signed him up.

For years I wasn’t sure if Lucas was allowed to participate in Special Olympics because I didn’t know if Autism “qualified” but it turns out it’s based on the child and not necessarily any specific diagnosis. When Lucas first started on his Special Olympics team I searched online to learn more about what participating as a child who has Autism was like and there was nothing so that’s why I wanted to share a bit about my son’s experience and what I’ve observed.

This is Luke’s second year participating in the Special Olympics. Last year he went to Regionals and the State competition and this year he participated in Regionals and will be headed to the State competition again over the summer for the Illinois Special Olympics “Summer Games”. He competed in only two events last year but this year is competing in all six events available for male gymnasts.

The competitions we have been to are in large areas which may be hard if your child has any sensory processing difficulties. Lucas has SPD but is a seeker so he has no problem with large crowds, bright lights, or loud noises but those that are avoiders may find the competition atmosphere overwhelming. It did seem like our local organization tried to help this situation by splitting the Regionals into AM and PM sessions so all the participants weren’t in the gym at the same time. I think some may benefit from competing just in front of a small group without all the other participants and observers around but it didn’t seem like any of those accomodations were made (which could be because nobody requested them or because that wasn’t an option- I’m not sure.)

I was a bundle of nerves the first competition he went to. Parents are not allowed on the gym floor during competition so I wouldn’t be near him if he needed me. Knowing that he typically melts down when he makes a mistake and with a crowd of people watching my biggest fear is that he would mess up, start yelling, and take off running. Sure enough it happened. He did the wrong jump during the vault event, realized it as soon as he landed, and ran out of the gym. Thankfully he has an awesome coach and staff that are wonderful with him and had learned, by that point in his first year, how to de-escalate the situation by helping him calm down. By the time I got from the upstairs viewing area and found them he had calmed down a bit but by the time he was ready to go back in his group had moved on to another event and he couldn’t do his second jump. I was dissapointed because that seems like something that should be allowed for those that need it. I understand the need to move on when there are a lot of participants that need to have a turn but letting the child go back later to finish the event should be an accomodation that is easy enough to make.

I discovered that, in Special Olympics, all participants get some kind of reward. They have gold, silver, and bronze medals for the three who receive the highest scores in each event but then everyone else receives ribbons. Losing can be extremely difficult for those on the Autism Spectrum so it’s nice that everyone who participates feels like a winner. Some may not like this practice of participation awards but, in this instance especially, I think it’s important for these athletes to be encouraged and rewarded. They may not have won but they put in a lot of hard work!

At this year’s Regionals event Lucas won 3 Gold and 4 Silver medals. You only need to receive one Gold medal in any event to move on to the State competion where you can then compete in everything (even if you didn’t receive a Gold medal in that event.) He is very excited and very proud of his medals. Just look at that bling!

Overall, our experience with Special Olympics Illinois has been wonderful. I wasn’t sure what to expect but it’s been great for Lucas to be a part of. He has developed skill-wise, enjoyed being part of a team, and gained a lot of self-confidence. I’d love to connect with others who have loved ones that are interested in participating in the Special Olympics and am happy to answer questions you may have. You can chat with me on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.

Interested in getting your child involved in sports? Check out my guide to help you figure out what sport would be a good fit for them based on their personality, interests, and natural skills! My boys have benefited greatly from participating in sports (which you can read about more here.)