Archive for January 2016

Valentine's Sweeties {a year of creative play dates}

January 31, 2016

I recently saw a facebook graphic that suggested we get rid of Valentine's Day and replace it with a second Thanksgiving. While I would be all for that, (#teamturkey) the fact is, Valentine's Day isn't going anywhere. No way is Hallmark going to let us give up it's cash cow. And truth be told, Valentine's Day can be a lot of fun with your little ones. I recently put together a sweet little playdate that will be perfect for all your little sweeties. 

If you read my last playdate post, you know I like to center my playdates around three things: a craft, a meal, and an activity. For our Valentine's get together I thought it would be fun to make heart shaped pizzas for our meal, and the obvious choice was to make valentine's cards for our craft. I got stuck on the activity for a bit, then decided to turn dessert into the activity! Our little party guests were 4, 19 months, and 15 months. I can say without a doubt that they all had a blast. 

We started a little before lunch and first up was assembling the pizzas since they would take some time to bake. We wanted to have them ready around the same time the kids normally eat. (to avoid meltdowns of course) I precut the heart shapes out of Pillsbury Pizza dough and we assembled them on the pan. We let the kids take turns helping spread the sauce, (better for older kids) and adding the toppings. I'd say an equal amount of pepperonis made it into their mouths as onto the pizzas! 

The Recipe for these is simple!

Valentine Mini Pizzas
1 container of Pillsbury pizza dough
1 jar of your favorite pizza sauce
Approx. 1 cup of mozzarella cheese
mini pepperonis
heart cookie cutter

1. Cut heart shapes out of the pizza dough using your cookie cutter.
2. Spread a thin layer of pizza sauce over the dough
3. Sprinkle cheese over the pizza sauce
4. Top with mini pepperonis (or other toppings!)
5. Bake on a pizza pan at 450 degrees for 20 minutes

Once the pizzas were in the oven (450 for 20 minutes) a little someone realized they weren't going to get to eat right away. 

Not to worry, I had a little trick up my sleeve! I took all the traditional ingredients of trail mix, added some valentine's flair with pink iced animal crackers and valentine m & ms, and dumped them into a tray. The kids happily munched while they waited for their pizzas. 

Once the pizzas were ready we served them up on the patio along side heart shaped fruit kabobs and juice boxes. The patio was absolutely perfect during our Florida winter, not too hot or cold, but I recognize that not everyone will have this option!

The pizza was a huge hit and taking it out to the patio made for easy clean up. Every last bite of pizza got eaten and needless to say, we had a bunch of happy kids once their bellies were full! 

Full, happy bellies meant it was craft time! The kids got right to work making Valentine's for their daddies and grandparents. Ahead of time, I bent and taped empty toilet paper rolls into heart shapes and filled some cupcake liners with red paint. I made sure our paint was washable and wouldn't stain, but if you aren't sure you might want to use smocks. 

The kids stamped the toilet paper rolls into the paint and then onto a sheet of pink construction paper folded in half. Toddlers need help and supervision, but loved giving it a try after they were shown how. Pre-schoolers can be more independent. Crafting in between lunch and dessert was just the right amount of time for little bellies to digest. 

After a thorough clean up, (keep lots of baby wipes on hand!) we moved on to dessert. The kids played for a little bit while I melted some white chocolate melts over a double broiler on the stove. While it was melting I filled a muffin tin and some cupcake liners with various sprinkles. Once the chocolate was melted I dipped a bunch of strawberry wafers into the chocolate and then laid them out on plates. Quickly, before the chocolate set, we let the kids decorate them with sprinkles.

Valentine Wafer Cookies
Strawberry wafers
white melting chocolate
valentine sprinkles (or other toppings such as nuts, coconut, etc.)

1. Melt the chocolate in a double broiler on the stove over low heat, stirring until smooth
2. Dip each wafer into the chocolate and then lay on a sheet of parchment paper
3. Before the chocolate sets, sprinkle on your toppings
4. Allow chocolate to harden and then enjoy!

There was definitely some snacking going on, which was absolutely hilarious since the chocolate hadn't set yet. Chocolate goatee anyone?

The kids had an absolute blast, and my little buddy slept the whole way home. The best part is, it didn't break the bank. Our party supplies came exclusively from  Dollar Tree, Target Dollar Spot and Walmart. I'm already dreaming up all things green and gold, so I'll be back soon with some shamrock shenanigans! 

Little & Mighty

January 27, 2016

Are there any two words that better describe my boy? 

He is curious and playful, quick and strong.

He is silly and inventive, with boundless energy that exhausts us.

He loves speed, puppies, and exploring outside.

He is determined and stubborn, smart and independent. His first real sentence? "I WANNA WALK!" as he fought his way out of my arms in the middle of the mall.

He is full of affection, snuggly and sweet, with hugs and kisses aplenty for the taking.

I jumped at the chance to collaborate with children's clothing brand Little & Mighty because their mission is so closely aligned with my hopes for my little boy.

"At Little & Mighty, we fiercely believe that all Littles are Mighty in many ways.  They have Mighty curiosity, Mighty fears, Mighty imagination, Mighty joy and Mighty potential. They are enchanted by their own existence. They are no one's but their own. We founded Little & Mighty with a simple goal in mind: to celebrate childhood. We strive to create children's clothing that inspires adventure.  We want to encourage Littles to explore and marvel at the great big world around them, and by doing so, to discover their own Mighty abilities. Happy adventuring!"

There's not much this boy loves more than adventuring.

Every stick, bug, and leaf has beauty worth his time and examination.

At 19 months he already has a clear sense of self and of the world around him.

He seeks out things that make him happy, and no amount of convincing will persuade him to do something he doesn't want to do.

Jacob is wearing Little & Mighty's Original Onesie. It's bright, soft, and durable; and I'm fan-girling all over those gorgeous fonts. The fine rib knit is stretchy and comfortable, just right for active toddlers on the move.

Here's to childhood! It is ever so fleeting.

Would you like to win  $20 to Little & Mighty? Enter below! And be sure to check out Little Mountain Momma's review for a free shipping code!

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4 things not to say to someone struggling with infertility

January 20, 2016

If you know me, even a little bit, you know my road to motherhood was not an easy one. It wasn't a happy tale of easy success or surprise positive pregnancy tests. Instead, it played out more like a tragedy, filled with bad news after bad news after bad news. Doctors and tests and treatments. Shots and pills and constant ultrasounds. I had an amazing support group along the way, which was just about the only thing that kept me from giving up hope all together. But on the flip side, I got some pretty insensitive comments over those four years.

Certainly no one meant to be insensitive, but if you haven't been there yourself, you just don't realize how much some of these things can hurt. A lot of people don't know what to say at all.

Chances are, if you think you don't know anyone struggling with infertility, you know someone. They've just chosen to keep it to themselves for personal reasons. While there is nothing shameful about it, it can certainly feel that way when you are in the thick of it.

For this reason alone, I believe it's NEVER in good taste to ask someone about their family planning and when they might have a baby. (or another baby, if they already have one or more) Unless you are close enough that you would share your toothbrush with said person, don't ask. You never know if that person might already be trying and having a hard time of it. Whether they've tried unsuccessfully for five months or five years, it's going to be a sensitive subject.

However, if you are lucky enough to have a friend open up to you and share their struggles, PLEASE, don't say these four things:

1. "You want kids? You can have mine." Ugh. This is such a slap in the face. Even if it's meant to be a joke. Fertility treatments are without a doubt the hardest thing I've gone through. No one chooses to go through it because it's the easy road. They go through it because they are desperate for little ones. And for someone who would cherish a baby with everything they have, hearing that you care so little about yours that you would give them away is like a knife to the heart. I remember thinking how unfair it all was when this was said to me "Why can she have kids and I can't? She doesn't even want hers!"

2."You can always adopt." Friends, I heard this from my own family. My own flesh and blood suggested that maybe I should just look into adoption instead. Adoption is so important. But some of us are called to it, and some of us aren't. Adoption is not a band-aid for infertility. If you know someone going through fertility treatment, it's because adoption isn't their first choice. If it was, they would be filling out paperwork and starting the process of adoption instead of subjecting their bodies to physical and emotional torture. They want children they can see themselves in. Who they can look at and say "Oh, she has my eyes" or "He has a personality just like his daddy." Suggesting they could just adopt is asking them to give up on their dreams. This isn't to say that at some point they won't possibly decide on their own that it just isn't worth it anymore and look into adoption instead. They may get to that point. Support them in that choice too, and NEVER say "I told you to do that from the beginning!"

3. "It will happen eventually/when you least expect it/when you relax." Maybe. Maybe not. Truth is, no one knows when and if fertility treatments will work. Some couples undergo treatment for decades (and I'm not exaggerating) and it just never happens. The expense of fertility treatments is also excessive. The amount you shell out for a chance at something, is more than you can imagine.  Never assume your friend has the means to continue treatment unless you have an awareness of her financial situation and know that she is capable of continuing.

4. "You just need to try ___________." Chances are, she's tried it. And if she's under the care of a doctor, she needs to be following his regiment, not yours. Women receiving medical attention for infertility have bigger issues than can be solved with heresay advice. I was once told that I just needed to eat pineapple core. Sorry, but that's not going to fix my polycystic ovaries.

So what should you say?

"I understand what you are going through and these are a few things that helped me." I'm stating the obvious here, but don't say this unless you actually know! If you too have walked the infertility path, offer up a few things that helped you keep sane and hang on to hope. For me, it was leaning on my husband, pampering myself with little indulgences like a pedicure, or a massage, and writing letters to the child I was hoping for.

"I'm here for you if you need someone to listen." And mean it. Listen. She doesn't need someone to fix her problem for her, she likely has a doctor working on that. She needs to be heard. 

"I'm thinking of you/praying for you/holding out hope for you."  Infertility can feel very, very, lonely as families swell and grow around you. This lets her know that she isn't forgotten.

"If there's anything I can do to help you, please let me know." As opposed to "what can I do to help you?" which puts all the pressure on her to come up with some way for you to help. This leaves the door open and she can choose whether or not to reach out for help or support.

These are the supportive, encouraging words your friend needs to be wrapped in. These words let her know that she is not alone.

Disney Toddler Tips

January 16, 2016

Travelling to Disney with a small child? It probably feels daunting doesn't it? We took Jacob to the Magic Kingdom to get his first haircut at the Main Street Barbershop and I remember feeling very overwhelmed and very afraid I might forget something super important. I learned a lot that day (and the following day at Animal Kingdom) about what I can and can't do, and what I do and don't need and I've compiled my best advice here for you!

If you'd like to know more about our trip you can read about our day at the Magic Kindgom and our day at Animal Kingdom.

1. Bring snacks. Disney doesn't prohibit you from bringing food or drinks into the parks and this can really save you a lot of money, not to mention meltdowns. There are two exceptions - alcohol, and glass bottles. (glass baby food jars are ok). We brought tons of ziploc baggies filled with goldfish, pretzels, crackers and cereal, plus yogurt and applesauce squeeze pouches. You may still find yourself buying some Disney snacks, but having your own should cut down on purchases. We whipped out our snacks ALL THE TIME in line too. Having something to munch on helped distract Jacob and pass the time waiting. 

2. Strollers are a must. If at all possible, bring from home the one you regularly use. If that's not possible, consider a stroller rental company. There are several in the Orlando area who will deliver them right to your hotel for you. Disney's strollers should be seen as your last option. They are hard plastic and your chances of getting your toddler comfortable in there are slim. Even if you have an older toddler who you think will be just fine walking,bring a stroller. Your family is likely to walk several miles over the course of the day and little feet will get tired. Unless carrying your toddler all over the parks is part of your fitness plan - only then can you leave the stroller at home. 

3. Pack light. Besides our stroller we brought just two cinch top backpacks (as seen in the picture at the top of this page) One was filled with the snacks I mentioned earlier, two water bottles, sunglasses, sunscreen, and a sippy cup. The other was filled with a change of clothes, several diapers (add two extra on to how many you think you'll need for the day) a small travel pack of wipes, small wallet, our camera and our phones. Don't bring lots of unnecessary stuff that you'll have to carry around the park. When you get on rides you have to park your stroller and leave it outside the line queues so you won't want to leave anything important in there either. 

4. Check the weather. I'm stating the obvious, but Florida is hot most of the year. (same for California!) The sun is harsh and the humidity can be brutal. Hats and sunglasses are your best bet for keeping your child covered up. And don't forget to apply sunscreen before heading out to the parks. If rain is in the forecast, pack those rain ponchos that fold down really small and light. They are only a few dollars - unless you buy them in the parks. If you wait to see if it will actually rain, and it does, you will spend way more than necessary purchasing ponchos in the park. They don't take up much space so it's much better to bring them just in case if there's a chance of rain. 

4. Share meals. We learned this the hard way at the end of the day when we realized how much we'd spent on food. Kids meals are expensive and your toddler likely doesn't need their own. Most kids are more than happy to eat off Mom and Dad's plates. If we're being really honest, with all the snacks we brought, we probably would have been fine sharing one meal for the three of us at both lunch and dinner. When we return to the parks in March, we're definitely going to aim to share. Sharing is no problem at counter service restaurants, though it might not go over as well at table service restaurants. It definitely won't fly at buffets or character meals. 

5. Forget the souvenirs. If you want to buy Disney themed paraphernalia, buy it ahead of time at any Orlando convenience store. You're paying a huge up charge if you purchase at the parks. You could set it out the night before along with a note from a Disney character saying how excited they are that your child is coming to visit them. That way, if your kids are begging for items at the park, you can remind them of the gifts that the characters already brought them back at the hotel. We've made an exception to this only once. We knew Jacob was going to be Donald Duck for Halloween and I was dead set on getting him a Donald Duck plush toy. We planned for this expense ahead of time, so that when we went into the stores we weren't tempted to purchase anything else. Disney LOVES to try to get you on those impulse buys. 

6. Get in a nap. If your toddler will nap in your stroller, you're golden. This is why bringing your own is so important. Even better if you are staying on Disney property and can head back to the hotel for a nap and then return after. Toddler naps are often during the hottest part of the day, so it's the perfect time to head back for some rest and stay out of the heat. Keeping your child on their normal napping schedule will bring some normalcy to an otherwise very out of the ordinary day. If you plan to stay late at the parks, past your child's bedtime, for Wishes Fireworks or the Main Street Electrical Parade, don't skip nap. Your child will either be so over tired that they'll be in meltdown mode, or they will fall asleep and miss all of it. Our first day at the Magic Kingdom we returned to our hotel for a nap, the second day at the Animal Kingdom we had already checked out of our hotel so Jacob napped in his stroller.

7. Plan Distractions. Waiting is synonymous with theme parks. Whether you are waiting for food at mealtime, waiting in line for a ride or character meet and greet, or even just waiting for transportation to leave, you are going to spend quite a bit of time waiting. Plan to entertain your child during these times. I already mentioned snacks, but if your child isn't hungry that may not work. Coloring books and small packs of crayons don't take up much space and are great for waiting at restaurants. If you aren't against toddlers using technology, load some of their favorite shows or games onto your phones. You might even consider bringing a small list of easy games you can play such as I-spy, simon says, etc. Jacob is totally into letter flashcards (his are on a ring that he can flip through and repeat after us as we say the letters) so those will probably come with us in the future. 

8. Don't plan to do everything. If you are going to Disney with a toddler, you aren't going to be able to hit every ride. Just accept this and don't make yourself crazy attempting to cover it all. Plan to go at a much slower pace than you did pre-kids and follow your child's lead. We only did about a third of the rides when we took Jacob. If you go in with really high expectations that you are going to see everything and go on every ride you are going to end up disappointed, and ruin your fun trying to fit it all in. This was a REALLY hard mental switch for me to make. I'm very type A and like to plan out our day to fit in as much as possible. I knew ahead of time that I was going to have to let that go and let Jacob run the day. When he was getting tired and cranky right before our fast pass for Kilimanjaro Safaris at Animal Kingdom, we skipped it and let him nap while we walked through some of the animal viewing nature trails. 

9. Know your kids. Do they like speed? Are they afraid of the dark? Avoid rides that you know will upset your child. If they don't normally like it, they aren't going to magically like it at Disney either. We took Jacob on the Voyage of the Little Mermaid as our very first ride. The wait was short and it was a new ride since we had last been before he was born so we were excited to try it out. You sit in a clam shell that moves very slowly along a belt so we thought we were fine. Turns out your clam shell is going to visit Ursula's lair and it is VERY dark in there. Our toddler was crying on his very first ride. Not the start to the day we had hoped for.  Moral of the story - if you don't know what a ride is like, ASK. The cast members are very helpful. That being said, don't be afraid to try something new either. We were a little worried that the Dumbo and Magic Carpet rides might be a bit to fast for Jacob, but we tried them anyways since we weren't sure. I'll be darned if that boy didn't laugh and squeal with delight the whole time. Approach character interactions with caution. If your child isn't into the characters ( or is down right afraid as many toddlers are) don't push it. For this reason I feel it's best to wait on reserving character meals until you're sure of how your child will respond. They are very expensive and you're really only paying extra to see the characters while you eat. 

10. Use Fast Passes. Fast passes get loaded onto your phone and allow you to skip the regular line. Only so many are handed out for each ride for each time slot, so you don't end up waiting long, if at all. Plan your first three fast passes for as early in the day as possible. Once you've used your first three you can find a kiosk at the park and load three more onto your account. You can't load more until the first three are all used up (or cancelled) though. So don't plan two in the morning and one in the evening thinking that you'll be able to load two more after using the first two. All three have to be gone. If you miss one or know you aren't going to use it then you can use the kiosks to cancel or reschedule. 

Do you have any Disney Toddler Tips? I'd love to hear them for our next trip! Leave me a note below. 

Silver and Gold

January 14, 2016

I've never been good at keeping New Year's Resolutions. Make more money, get more organized, lose weight. By the second week of January I've lost all my momentum, not to mention my motivation and given up. I'm that girl you see at the gym on January 1st, new running shoes, cute workout clothes, head phones in, giving it all I've got and then come January 5th or so I'm never seen again. Where am I? At home. Binge watching Netflix and drinking wine. 

This year will be different I tell myself. This year I'm going to focus on a single word, instead of a resolution. Friendship. 

 It's an important word. Humans are meant to live in community with one another. We crave meaninful relationships with others. But oh, the road of motherhood can be a lonely one. 

I've quickly found that new mommyhood can be isolating. Finding the energy to get out of the house and meet up is no easy task after working all day and then chasing after a VERY active toddler. And mommy groups don't help when most meet during the work day, thus excluding working moms. 

This is not to say I don't have any friends. That would be a huge disservice to the wonderful friends I do have. But they are few, and there are great distances between many of us. Name any state - Colorado, Pennsylvania, California, Michigan - we've got amazing friends there! But they're so darn far away, and the fact of the matter is - we live here, not there. I've come to miss the easy, built in friendships of high school and college and I'm starting to realize that adult friendships don't just fall into your lap. You have to purpose to build and foster them. And thus, my word of the year for 2016 is friendship. 

I hope to nurture the friendships I already have. To be more purposeful in watering them and encouraging them to grow. To go out of my way to meet up with far away friends. I have the distinct advantage of living in a hot spot for family vacations. And yet, every time someone I know crosses our state line, I debate. Do I really want to drive that far to meet up? Is an overnight in a hotel/park tickets/the gas to get there really worth it? And I don't know why I debate, because YES, it is always worth it. To catch up after many months or years apart, to let our kids meet, and watch them create new friendships, it's always worth it. 

But I also hope to be more purposeful in forming new friendships. To seek out other mommy friends, particularly some with toddlers. I owe this to myself, and to my son. I grew up with gaggles of friends, and I realize now that this is not because of anything I did, but because of friendships my parents had fostered over the years. Their friends came with built in friends for me, and I want that for my boy. I want him to grow up feeling a part of greater community, where he is loved and accepted. 

classic 80s shot: I'm in the pink, mortified by all the attention

Naturally, this is going to require me to get out of my comfort zone. I'm far from outgoing, but I am creative, smart, and a good listener, and I have faith that I can do it. It may also require me to clean my house top to bottom so I can feel comfortable having friends over or hosting play dates. Not so excited about that.... but it has to be done. 

There is great wisdom in the old song, Make New Friends, but Keep the Old.... you know the rest.

And besides, wine tastes better when it's shared with a good friend. 

Happy Noon Years Eve! {a year of creative play dates}

January 3, 2016

Every now and then two far away lives collide and you find yourself in just the right place at just the right time. Such was the case when my dear friend Brittany {little mountain momma} and I realized we'd both be home for the holidays over New Years with our three littles. "New Years Eve play date!" I immediately squealed, and because she's known me for a very, very long time, she didn't dismiss my hair brained idea. In fact, she was equally excited!

We set about planning a fun, creative, countdown to 12 noon play date that wouldn't break the bank. "Noon Years Eve" I like to call it. We put together the basic components of a play date - craft, food, activity and gave them all a classic New Years twist. With the exception of a few small purchases at Hobby Lobby and Party City, our shin dig was put together with things we already had and from the Dollar Tree and the Target dollar spot. 

The planning stages of our playdate looked something like this - set the table for crafts, prepare the food, and blow up all the balloons. Our set up didn't go nearly as quickly as we thought it would, but here's the great thing about playdates - little kids can't read time! They had no idea we were behind schedule and that by the time we got to our countdown it would be closer to 1 than to 12. Don't stress! They will still have fun and be none the wiser.

We structured our play date around the popping of four balloons -at 11:00,11:15, 11:30, 11:45. Inside each balloon was a rolled up slip of paper announcing our next activity. If you have a group of non-readers you can read it to them. 

Our first balloon invited the kids to decorate a party hat. And decorate they did. Each place setting was set up with a party hat, a cup of sequins, and a cup of glue with a q-tip. The kids dipped the q-tip in the glue, then dabbed it onto their hat and stuck on their sequins.

Our party attendees consisted of a 6 year old who could complete the activity 100% independently, a 2 1/2 year old who needed a little bit of direction, and a 1 1/2 year old who had fun sticking on the sequins once momma did the glue part. The hats turned out adorable and the kids had a great time putting them together. 

Our second balloon's paper read "eat some appetizers" because what better food to serve for lunch at a New Year's Eve party than appetizers? 

Brittany put together a fantastic, gluten free spread. (Her kids have Celiac's, so this is important, but you can go wild if you don't have dietary restrictions)

The kids munched down on swizzle sticks full of fruit and cocktail sausages, baked macaroni cups, and crackers and cheese. 

No one went hungry (an important step in avoiding meltdowns) and they were all energized for task number 3 - the balloon drop! 

We used painters tape to hold up a piece of a plastic tablecloth to the ceiling fan and then filled it with balloons.

 Then we simply turned on the fan and the balloons whirled out. We only had a few balloons but the kids loved it so much we re-set it and did it a second time. This is definitely a case of the more the merrier. 

Then we were ready for our last balloon - #4: toast to the New Year. 

We toasted using kid friendly milk in plastic champagne glasses. And of course, what good is milk without cookies? 


This made for the perfect sweet ending to our party as we let the kids talk about what they were most excited about for the upcoming year, and make some resolutions. 

My little one had some help picking his New Years wish, but older kids can come up with their own, and might just surprise you! We wrote them down on a chalkboard and snapped some sweet pictures to remember. 

Don't forget to make your own resolutions!

If you have Netflix their countdown episodes would be perfect for ending the party and keeping the kids occupied while you clean up.

Cheers to this lady, who always goes along with my crazy ideas!

I've got quite a few more themed play dates up my sleeves for 2016 so stay tuned!