Five Favorites – Kids’ Toys with Staying Power

I’m using today’s (late) 5 Favorites post to share with you some of my favorite toys, that my kids also love. None of these is a flashy, make-them-scream-and-jump-up-and-down-when-they-see-it toy. There are no sparkly Elsa dolls or dresses on this list, though those gifts certainly have their place (and my girls will be getting a few such gifts this year). These gifts aren’t flashy, but they do have staying power. The things I’m sharing here are the things my girls go to over and over and over again. They play with these things in so many different ways. They’re just brimming with possibilities.

I thought I’d share them with you in case you’re not sure what in the world to buy that special little person in your life for Christmas. This isn’t me hinting for someone to buy these things for my kids. We already have all this stuff. I’m just trying to be helpful for all of you.

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1. Magna Tiles

A friend of mine got these as a gift for Miss one year, and since then I think all of my friends who have seen them at my house have purchased these for their kids. These are the best building toys ever. They’re versatile. They store in a small space. And no one is going to scream obscenities while hopping around on one foot after stepping on one of these.

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I have always had the hardest time figuring out what to buy for Christmas for little ones in the 0-2 year range. I’ve never been fond of the idea of buying tons of baby toys that they’ll outgrow in six months or less. This is one of the best gifts to buy for this age group, in my opinion, especially if you have older kids and are already overflowing in the baby-toy department. The little ones love to sort these and stack them and chew on them, and the tiles last and last. I got a box of these for Sis for her first Christmas to add to the box we already had. And I bought more for them for this Christmas.

All of my girls, ages 2 to almost 6, love playing with these. They’re a little on the pricey side, but I’ve purchased all of mine at great discounts. Amazon has them half-off from time to time, and the ones I bought this year were cheap on Zulily. And they’re so worth it.

2. Play Silks

My girls play with these so much, ours are starting to tear and fray. Lately their game has been to tie them all together and string them around the playroom in an elaborate way, or pull each other around with them, or pretend they are looong pet snakes. These have also been used for all sorts of dress up, as blankets to wrap baby dolls up in, and to pretty up a blanket fort.

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These are fabulous for any age.

3. Sticky Mosaics

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My older girls spend hours doing these. Then they play with the finished product. They started with the beginner ones and quickly advanced to the more difficult ones. I know these aren’t exactly the best activity for encouraging creativity, but they are great for learning numbers and fine motor coordination. And for keeping them busy, independently, for several hours. I’d say these are good for the 3 and up age range. A three year old would probably need a decent amount of help on the easy mosaic. The harder ones say they’re for 5 and up, but Lass can do them just fine (she’s 4).

*Note – The gems on the advanced ones don’t stick very well. I help the girls with these and we put little bits of glue on the help them stay. Kind of annoying, but we haven’t had any mosaic sets that are predominantly covered with gems. I think these might make me change my mind about the brilliance of this item.

4. The Rody

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I love the Rody. Each of my girls has one. This is another great gift for the really little ones that will grow with them for several years. Miss is probably too big for hers (she’s almost 6), but she still rides it anyway. And the girls play other games with them where they line them up on their sides and stand and bounce on them while holding the counter. Rody also makes a good veterinary patient.

I’m pretty sure my girls will have exceptionally strong leg muscles from all the time they’re spent bouncing around on these guys. I’d say age 18 months to maybe 5-ish (I wouldn’t buy this for a five-year-old though, as it would be outgrown fairly quickly).

5. Schleich animal toys

My girls are crazy about animals, especially Lass. We have a ton of plastic animals that they play with all the time.

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Quite a few of our animals are not made by Schleich, and come from the dollar store or the dollar section at Target. But you can only buy so many cows and lions before you need to branch out to something with a bit more variety. Schleich toys are so well made and they have so many to choose from. When Lass asked for an Okapi toy? I found one from Schleich.

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They have everything. Except an oarfish, which is one of Lass’s latest interests.

These toy animals are wonderful for all ages. They have knights and fairies and other fantasy creatures too.

Now, please share. What are your favorite toys with staying power for your kids?

Check out more favorite things at Call Her Happy’s link up.

Five Favorites – Etsy Shops for Kids

Have I ever mentioned that I love Etsy? Once or twice, yes?

(just for fun, type “Etsy” into the search bar on the side of my blog and see how many posts come up. . .)

Well, since Christmas is coming up, and I always love to get a few sweet handmade/non-mass-produced things for my girls, and because there is a new hostess of the Five Favorites link up so I want to give Jenna some love, here are my five favorite Etsy shops for kids’ stuff.

I adore Etsy so much, that I don’t think I could narrow down my favorite shops to just five overall, so these are just for kids. And maybe later I’ll share another post with my tops shops for grown up gifts and/or home decor. Then maybe another time I could share my five favorite party supply shops. Or five favorite shops for vintage stuff. Five favorite jewelry shops?

Yes, I love me some Etsy. So, without further ado, five favorite shops for kids’ stuff, in no particular order:

1. Huggie Saints – These soft saint dolls are so snuggly and very well-made. Sis has a Saint Brigid that she sleeps with every night.

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Super Friend got a Saint Philomena for her youngest daughter, which is just as cute as can be too.

2. Nana’s Sewing Closet – These dresses. I just can’t even explain the cuteness. We have a Minnie Mouse dress, a Snow White dress, and a Cinderella dress (though ours is made of cotton and is quite different from the one linked to here). And I can’t even get over how sweet the work dresses, or “raggy” dresses as my girls would call them, of Cinderella and Belle are. We have cute, comfy dresses like these from another shop too, but I like Nana’s better because hers are less expensive and she has the biggest selection of different character dresses to choose from (plus the other shop closed!).

This is my favorite type of princess dress, because the girls can wear them any day, not just for dress up. They are comfortable and easy to wash.

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I couldn’t find any good photos of our dresses. The girls wore them to Disney World, but it was so cold they were covered up with coats the whole time. Just trust me. They’re adorable.

3. and 4. Pray With the Saints and St. Luke’s Brush- These little saint peg dolls are so fun. We have dolls from both of these shops, and both are wonderful. Pray with the Saints dolls are less detailed, but also less expensive. St. Luke’s Brush dolls are amazing in their detail (check out his Blessed Mother Theresa!), and he has a larger selection. We have Saint Cecilia, Saint Therese, and Saint Brigid from St. Luke’s.

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Maggie from Pray with the Saints was delightful when I requested a custom order doll for Miss’s birthday last year. Miss had been begging for a Saint Anne-pregnant-with-Mary doll, and I couldn’t find one anywhere (not surprisingly). She also wanted Saint Anne to be holding a rosary (not historically accurate, but she was only four when she was imagining this doll!). Maggie was so accommodating and asked lots of questions to get the doll just right. She even asked what color Miss’s eyes are to make the doll’s eyes match.

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Perfect for St. Nicholas feast day presents!

5. Three Yellow Starfish – The reversible pinafores from this shop are darling. The fabric selections are gorgeous and the sewing is flawless.

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They’re reversible!

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Though this isn’t really the time of year for little dresses like these, they look adorable over a long sleeve shirt with pants underneath too.

Any guesses which of my girls that is ^^?

Bonus:

Two more shops that I am very intrigued by, but have not personally purchased anything from (yet):

Whole Parenting Goods – I’ve been stalking this shop for a while. If I had a baby, I’d be all over this stuff. I almost want to snuggle my computer screen when I look at Nell’s blankets and scarves. She just added leggings to her list of items, so I might need to get some of those for Sis (they don’t come big enough for Lass or Miss). The bandit bibs are so sweet, and would have been much cuter than the ugly, stained bibs I had during Miss’s crazy drooling phase.

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I also have to add that Nell is a blogging friend, and you can check her out here.

Catholic Inspired – I’m especially intrigued by these rosary mats. What a great idea. Finally a rosary that Sis can’t break (at least, I don’t think she could break it).

Now, you must tell me – what are your favorite Etsy shops?

And, check out others’ favorite things at the link up, now going on over at Call Her Happy.

Five Favorites – You Must See This Fabulous Way of Cutting Grapes!

1. I know. That title sounds a little dramatic. But truly, this is my favorite new thing. A new, totally awesome way of cutting grapes in half (The video is only a few seconds long. Watch it. It could change your life):

I tried it today and it really works. BUT, because my grapes were really small, all the plates I have had too much of a lip on them so many of the grapes ended up with just barely the top shaved off. So. I improvised.

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I used two lids of the same size. Same technique. Perfectly cut grapes. Genius. I know this seems sad, but this just made my life so much easier.

2. Caterpillars.

DSC_0130My girls love “raising” butterflies. How awesome is it that you can buy caterpillars on the internet and have them delivered complete with food, ready to grow, metamorphose, and fly away?

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3. These DVDs.

DSC_0138I love Scholastic picture books and these DVDs are great. There are tons of them, and each DVD has four to six stories on it. Many of them are fully animated (not just pictures from the books flashed on the screen), and my girls really enjoy them.

I’ve had a set for a while now, but kind of forgot about them so we haven’t watched them lately. Then I got a “Diary of a Worm” easy reader book for Miss from the library and she asked me to watch the story DVD. We only have “Diary of a Spider,” but I was able to find “Diary of a Worm” at the library. We watched both of them tonight.

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Bonus that I don’t have to read the actual books. They are not my favorite to read.

4. The AbMat

It simultaneously makes sit ups easier and harder. They’re easier because I don’t need to hook my feet under something or struggle at all to complete the move. Plus, since giving birth to Lass (10 lbs, 7 oz), my tailbone sticks out in a weird way and it’s painful to do regular sit ups on the floor. Not with this thing. The sit ups are harder because you extend your stomach muscles farther and work them better. My stomach ends up super sore from doing these. In a good way.

5. This book.

DSC_0139I learned about this book from a friend, and I’m so glad I bought it. Miss (without prompting) composed a morning offering prayer that goes like this:

“Oh my Lord, I love You so much that I could give this day to You. Amen.”

So we say that every morning at breakfast (she’s very proud that we do her prayer every day), and I read the day’s devotion and we talk about it. They remind me if I forget, and they ask me to bring the book when we travel, so I think they like it too.

For more favorites, go here.

Christmas Cards – I Have a New Source

A few days ago, I got an email from someone at Minted. As soon as I saw the subject line, I figured it was about asking me to do some sort of post about some sort of product (I didn’t know what Minted was until I opened the email). My initial thought was “No. No more reviews right now.”

I just did a book review and I have another one coming up next week. Though I have enjoyed reading these books and writing the reviews, I don’t want to make this blog all about reviews. That’s not why I write it. So my gut reaction to the email was “no.”

Then I opened it. And I clicked on the link that Matt from Minted sent to me. And I changed my mind right smartly.

Minted is an online stationery store. Forget about the fact that as soon as I read that in Matt’s email I started imagining lovely, thick paper and envelopes just waiting to have a note hand written on them and sent through the real mail (have I ever mentioned that I have a little bit of a stationery thing?). Nevermind that I pictured myself buying some personalized stationery again (I used to have some when I was a little girl).

When I opened the link Matt sent, I found myself looking at some beautiful Christmas card designs, and I immediately changed my mind from “No” to “Oh, I love this stuff. Absolutely!”

I have found so many card designs that I like, I’m having a hard time choosing. There’s this one and this one and this one. The upload and edit process is extremely easy. I have five different saved cards that I made quickly last night, just waiting for me to make up my mind. And though my first impression was that the cards were more expensive than Shutterfly, which is what I’ve used in the past, when I checked it out I found that they actually are comparable or less expensive. And I just like the card designs better than other online photo or card companies I’ve looked at this year.

So. There you have it. I have a new online stationery store. Christmas cards coming soon. Now excuse me while I go shop for some glorious items in their paperie.

P.S. I am receiving a credit from Minted in exchange for writing about my opinion.

P.P.S. I’ll return to regular programing after my next book review coming up this week.

Sharing Dessert, Pig Slaughter, and Advent

Linking up with Conversion Diary

1. This is something I have never really thought about before, but apparently sharing a dessert at a restaurant is an intimate act. I went out for dinner with Super Friend the other night. The waitress misunderstood our dessert order and brought us two decaf coffees but only one chocolate lava cake with ice cream on the side. Only one. Super had to get home, and the lava cake takes a bit to bake, so we couldn’t just order a second one. We had to share the one we got.

Unfortunately, the waitress also didn’t bring us extra plates for splitting the cake (I guess she never thought that sharing a dessert is an intimate thing either). The two of us sat there for a few beats, spoons hovering above the single dessert, just looking at it. We are very close friends, but it was kind of an awkward moment.

Finally Super Friend echoed my own thoughts as she said, “I can’t do this,” pulled her saucer out from under her coffee cup, and scooped half of the cake and ice cream onto her own little plate. Whew! I was relieved. And I was very bummed to only have half of a dessert to eat.

2. My hubby is going to get our pig this weekend (meaning slaughter and butcher it while telling dirty jokes with his cousin and friends). We have eaten almost all of the one we got last year, minus a couple of pork chops, a few brats, and a roast or two. Is it just me, or are pork chops the worst thing in the world to try to cook? I have almost never eaten one that wasn’t like eating leather, and I can’t seem to cook one properly to save my life. This year I asked my hubby to just grind the chops up into sausage or something. I love sausage. I’d be happy if I never had to look at another pork chop again.

3. I love fall crafting. Have I mentioned this before?

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4. We will be using glitter tonight. Lord help me.

5. I have recently discovered Advent. How odd that I didn’t really even know what Advent meant until the past week or two as I’ve been looking into it. I mean, last year we had an “Advent” calendar. But it was purely for the purpose of counting down the days until Christmas and doing a little something fun each day.

A couple of weeks ago Super Friend mentioned something about an Advent wreath, and I just gave her the deer-in-the-headlights look. I didn’t know what that was. Well, now I do. And I have plans this year to make a paper-plate-and-toilet-paper-roll Advent wreath with the girls (idea courtesy of Super Friend), along with doing several other Advent activities like filling the girls’ shoes to celebrate St. Nicholas’s feast day and maybe having a Jesse tree too (last year at this time I had never even heard of a “feast day” or a Jesse tree). I’m in the process of figuring out how to integrate our traditions from years past with some new fun things to actually celebrate the true meaning of Christmas. It’s going to be good.

6. I want to share our solution to Sis learning to climb out of the Pack’n’Play. I had heard of tents for cribs, and thought I might be able to find something like that, but all of those have been recalled. I was panicking, until I found this:

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It’s a tent bed! I had thought of getting one of these for travel a few years ago, but the old model had thin air mattress inside it, and that made me kind of nervous about suffocation. This model has a little mattress attached to the outside of the bed, so no worries.

I was afraid Sis would freak out about being put in this thing to go to bed, but I was not about to spend a week at the Farm with her climbing out of her Pack’n’Play repeatedly throughout every nap and bedtime. So, I just let her play in it with her sisters beforehand.

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When it came time for her to go to bed in it, she rolled right over and did it with no fuss. Mom win.

7. I think I might watch a movie tonight. I never watch movies. Any suggestions?

See more quick takes here!

A Horse-Themed Birthday Party, With Sparkly Tail Tutorial

I always love the process of planning themed birthday parties for my kids. I enjoy looking around for fun and inexpensive ways to bring a theme into a party. I realize that makes me sound like a big dork. I’m sure my girls probably wouldn’t really care if their parties were themed or not, but I like having them pick one anyway.

And though Lass later decided she wanted an okapi-themed party, she had originally requested a horse theme. So that’s what she got. It was a cute theme, and I found lots of good stuff to make it fun.

(Note: if you don’t care to read about how I planned the horse party and made glittery tails for seven kids under 6, feel free to skip this post. It’s all I’ve got for you tonight:)

One of my favorite finds was this personalized “Pin the Tail On the Horse” game poster. It was huge, sturdy, and only $10! I just used double-sided tape for the kids to stick on the tails that came with the game, and I had a simple paperback book about horses for the winner’s “prize.”

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I also got a pack of these ride-on horses for the kids to color and put together. I considered putting out glitter glue and paints for these, along with yarn to make manes and tails, but in the end opted for easy and not too messy – markers and some googly eyes I helped the kids glue on.

The horses ended up being kind of chintzy and hardly any of the kids actually pretended to “ride” their horses once made, but it was a fun enough activity and I was glad I had a little craft for them to do.

I also had some horse tattoos for the kids to pick and put on during the party.

And those three activities were the only “structured” parts of the party, other than eating pizza and cake. The rest of the time the kids just played, mostly on our trampoline.

At the end I had Lass pass out these favor boxes. She and Miss helped me make them by decorating them with stamps and stickers.

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Inside each of the boxes were more horse tattoos, a booklet of horse stickers, some horse-shaped lollipops, a horse finger puppet (which looks a little creepy in person), and a couple of little plastic horses.

My favorite part of the horse theme though, was the sparkly horse tails I made for the kids to clip on their shorts (or in their hair, but they all wanted them on their shorts).

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(This horse balloon and the cups/plates I got here)

I originally saw the idea for this here (lots more ideas here). A mom made tails for kids kids to use in the “Pin the Tail” game (I had originally planned to use them for our game too, but sticking with my keep-it-easy plan, I made a last-minute decision to use the little cardboard ones that came with the game instead). She used rubber bands instead of clips, so the girls could put the tails in their hair after pinning them in the game. But she didn’t provide instructions for how she did it other than to say she used different types of yarn.

So. I came up with my own way of making tails. I didn’t want to use rubber bands because I knew we would have some boys at the party. And I thought just using yarn would leave them a little flat, so I wanted to add some other textures too.

Here’s what I came up with:

1. Materials used – Different colors of yarn, including some that was sparkly, silver, and fuzzy, 3/8-inch ribbon in different colors (I got ribbon scrap packs at Hobby Lobby because I didn’t want to buy a bunch of whole rolls of ribbon), 7/8-inch ribbon (I used some gros grain I had from a previous project), double-sided tape, 1-inch alligator clips, and tacky glue (I also tried Elmer’s, but the tacky worked better).

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2. Start by cutting about 7 to 8 inches of 7/8-inch wide ribbon. Lay it down flat and put a piece of double-sided tape down the length of it.

3. Cut pieces of yarn and 3/8-inch wide ribbon to the length you want your tails (ours were probably about 12 inches), and start randomly placing the top part of these pieces along the tape, very closely together.

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4. After you have about 6 inches of yarn and ribbon laid out, stop adding and leave about 1.5 to 2 inches of the wide ribbon for wrapping up at the end.

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5. Place another strip of double-sided tape over the top of the yarn and ribbon.

6. Start rolling at the end where you don’t have extra ribbon left (the left side in my pictures). Roll the tops of the ribbon pieces all up in the 7/8-inch ribbon and tape.

7. When you get close to the end of the tape and the yarn/ribbon, put your alligator clip on.

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8. Keep rolling right over the inner part of the clip. When you get to the point of having about an inch of the wide ribbon left to roll, put some tacky glue on it and then roll it the rest of the way. Of course make sure you open the clip and roll it underneath so you don’t glue your clip closed in the roll of ribbon.

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And that’s it! They were so easy and I love how they turned out. Most of the kids seemed to get a kick out of them too.

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Miss is already asking for a turtle theme for her next birthday. I kind of want to get started on it, but I suppose I should wait to make sure she doesn’t change her mind, since her birthday isn’t until February :)

The Simple Things

Sometimes the littlest things make me the happiest.

Like watching my kids play with rocks.

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Honestly, I can’t even describe how much I love to watch how creative their play is.

With rocks.

Miss informed me they were playing a game called “Get Rocks Clean.”

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They were very intent on cleaning their rocks, though there was much more to it than that. This game was quite involved.

And I was so excited when Miss said, “Mom, I’ll put my clean rock up here now and the sun will evaporate the water and it will be dry.” Pause, “But there aren’t any clouds…”

She was thinking of our discussion of the water cycle and how evaporation leads to the formation of clouds.

Um, I get kind of giddy when she randomly talks about something that I taught her in our homeschool lessons.

The simple things…

Sis loves rocks too.

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Rocks.

Simple.

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I have been wanting a storage shelf for our art stuff for a long time. One like this:

I saw one like this at Miss’s preschool, and I loved it so much I looked for one of my own. I found several places to order one online, but I could never bring myself to actually spend the money.

Well. Miss’s old preschool teacher closed the school about two months after I took Miss out and started homeschooling. This past weekend she had a yard sale and was selling off a ton of the stuff from the school. I was so upset because we’re out of town, and I couldn’t go. But she let me put dibs on the stuff I wanted! She even showed me pics on Facebook.

I got a shelf just like the one above. Actually the shelf that inspired my love of The Shelf. I got it for a steal and it’s already put together and I don’t have to pay shipping or pay extra for the storage bins…

I am unreasonably excited about this shelf that I’m getting. Seriously.

I might have gotten up and done a little happy dance when I sealed the deal with Miss’s old teacher over FB chat.

And I might have spent the past 24-ish hours dreaming up ways to rearrange our homeschool room to accommodate the new things I got.

Because I didn’t just get that one wonderful shelf. I got another hinged/folding shelf, and a paper cutter, and a board game, and a box full of stuff for a Zoo unit that I just happened to see in a picture she sent me of the shelf. We are doing a Zoo unit next after Horses!

I’m giddy I tell you.

Simple things.

And here’s one more.

I have come to appreciate the beauty of a concrete patio this week.

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Our driveway is asphalt, which isn’t really conducive to playing barefooted.

Or lying down.

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If my kids even sit on it to draw with their sidewalk chalk or examine a bug their pants get all blackened. It makes everything black and gross.

So usually they sit in the grass or color on our brick walkway, which isn’t all that fun because how much can you draw on a brick?

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But concrete?

That’s the stuff.

It’s just right for bare feet and rolling around and making art.

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I never occurred to me until today how lovely concrete is.

By the way, Sidewalk chalk paint: Crush a stick of chalk in a ziplock, add it into a little bit of water, stir, voila!

Simple.

A Wrestling Meet, a Birthday, Some Great-Grandparents, and Disney World

Warning: This post has a lot of photos in it.

I can’t help it. We are on vacation, and in the past week we’ve watched a cousin compete (and win 5th place!) in his HS State Wrestling tournament, had a birthday (and multiple parties), taken a plane ride, visited a great-grandpa and then a great-grandma (in different cities), and gone to Disney World. We’ve been in Iowa and all over the state of Florida. These events and their corresponding photos should have been put into several different posts, but we’ve been adventuring, and I haven’t wanted to stop to take the time to post before now. Here’s a little glimpse of the first half of our vacation.

Last Friday we got to watch part of the Iowa High School State wrestling tournament from a box. It was great for the girls to be able to watch their cousin’s semi-final qualifying match and then play cards or read or color at a table in the box the rest of the time. They really got into the excitement of cheering for their cousin, whose match was very exciting, and the other wrestlers from his team.

On the day we went to the tournament I asked Miss at bedtime, as I do every night, what her favorite part of the day was. She said it was watching her cousin wrestle.

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On Saturday we had a Snow White themed birthday party for this girl who turned four.

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It was a great party, with lots of family and fun, though I kind of spoiled the opening of her one present she has been asking for for weeks. She really wanted a Merida doll and I was so excited to give it to her. I kind of get into the present opening part of a birthday for my little ones, and I love watching their little faces light up and taking pictures as they exclaim over opening just what they wanted. Well, Miss went over and started opening her gifts while I was still feeding her baby sister and tending to Lass after her cupcake. When I realized it, mid-open, I hollered, “Honey, wait! Wait! WAIT!!” She didn’t wait. I didn’t get a photo of her opening the gift. I made an annoyed face at her when she didn’t listen to me. Though I recovered myself and told her “I was sorry for yelling but had wanted to be with her and take her picture while she opened her gift,” the moment was already spoiled. This is the photo I did get of her and her much-anticipated Merida doll. I felt like a total jerk.

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We regrouped though, and she has been enjoying her doll.

Note to self – a photo is never that important.

On Sunday we flew to Florida.

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I got headphones for the girls and packed their backpacks with their Leap Pads and Tag readers, books, puzzle books, coloring books, and crayons in a travel soap box. Lass thought the head phones were quite cool, though she wasn’t exactly sure how (or what) to plug them in.

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The flight was fairly painless. The girls did a great job.

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After we landed we got in our rental minivan and drove.

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First we drove two hours for a quick visit with Great-Grandpa C who lives in a veteran’s home. It was wonderful to see him, as well as my uncle and his wife, though sad to only be able to stay a short time.

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Next we got back in the minivan and drove two more hours to Great- Grandma B’s house. We spent the night and got up Monday morning (Miss’s birthday) to play with all sorts of fun stuff that my Gram had gathered and put out for the girls. Golf balls, plastic food container lids, baskets, and empty egg cartons were only a few of the things she pulled out to entertain my lovies for hours.

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They were in heaven with all the toys, and then she whipped up a “country breakfast” for us, complete with eggs, sausage, biscuits, gravy, and a huge bowl of cut fruit. Yum.

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She had tons of balloons that she blew up for the girls to play with and for Miss’s birthday celebration.

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Great-Grandma had a big to-do for Miss’s actual birthday with pizza and cake and ice cream.

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Baby sis got her first taste of ice cream.

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We really had a wonderful time with my Grandma and my aunt and uncle (who live next door to her). My Gram really went above and beyond for my girls, which meant so much to me.

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We had a too-short visit with her before hitting the road again for two more hours to head to Disney World.

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We checked into our hotel and played for a while before dinner. The “playground” at our resort was pathetic. It consisted of lots of fake rocks and coral and three small slides. The girls had fun sliding and running anyway.

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Then we headed out for a birthday dinner,

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and back in for an early bedtime.

Miss got this “nighttime gown” like Wendy’s from Peter Pan for her birthday. She loves it. I got it from Esty (I love Etsy) here.

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The girls watched the Disney bedtime story on the TV and we went to bed early to get ready for our big day at the Magic Kingdom.

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On Tuesday:

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We did the Magic Kingdom.

Tea Cups (one of my favorites):

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Casey Jones splash pad area, which was clearly the favorite of the girls:

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As an aside, I love these dresses, and so do the girls. They’re another Etsy find. You can get them here. They were perfect for wearing to Disney, and the girls also wore them to Miss’s party on Saturday. They were cool and comfy (I saw lots of little girls in big puffy dress-up dresses who looked hot and uncomfortable), washed up very easily, and my girls can wear them any day. The girls got drenched in them twice and they dried quickly and were no worse for wear.

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It’s a Small World:

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A few other rides, and then it was time for lunch at Cinderella’s Royal Table.

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We had a nice lunch, with excellent food and service. The girls liked seeing the princesses. Each of them said Snow White was her favorite.

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My favorite was Ariel. She really tried to talked to them (though they were a bit shy), rather than just signing her autograph and posing for photos.

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She was even attentive to Sis.

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The girls got magic wands and made wishes during the “Wishing Ceremony.”

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And we had another little birthday celebration (she always plugs her ears during the Happy Birthday song!).

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Afterwards, all they really wanted to do was to go back to the splash pad. So we did that for a while, got a few souvenirs, and hit the road.

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It was only 3 when we took the ferry back to the parking lot, but the girls were totally worn out.

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I have to say, I was pitifully unprepared for all the little tricks of the Disney park experience. I had done a bit of Pinning, read up on a few things, and gotten a couple of apps on my phone, but was totally crushed by the huge crowds and immensity that is the Magic Kingdom. It was extremely crowded, which made it all the more overwhelming. In about five and a half hours we went on four rides (Prince Charming’s Magic Carousel, Dumbo, Mad Hatter, and Small World), played in the water, had lunch with the princesses, and picked out a few souvenirs. The rest of the time was spent wandering around trying to figure out where to get fast passes (most of them were not located right outside their rides, which seemed quite stupid to me), trying to find the rides that we wanted, or waiting in line. We got one fast pass for the Little Mermaid ride but then just missed our window to ride it while we were having lunch with the princesses. We never even made it out of Fantasyland! I learned a lot though and will be much better prepared next time.

One of the highlights of the Disney day for me was that we ran into some friends of ours from when we lived in North Carolina. We haven’t seen them in almost five years, and yet there they were, shuffling along next to us in the crush to get through the entrance to the park. I’m still marveling that we saw them at Disney World, of all places. How likely is it to “run into” someone on a busy day at the Magic Kingdom? Amazing, but we did. And it was so fun to see them, even if it was only for a few minutes as we were herded through security.

For the past two days we’ve been relaxing at my in law’s house. Lass, Sis, and I all have yucky colds (which means unfortunately we can’t visit some of my friends we had planned to see while we’re here, because one of them can’t be around sick people). We’re still enjoying the warmth and soaking in the Vitamin D. Eventually I’ll post about the rest of our adventures. Tomorrow we’re going to the beach. Saturday we’re going home.

“Vacation” isn’t relaxing anymore since having little ones. But it is so much more fun.

 

 

What Does One Really Need for a New Baby?

I know several people who have recently become first time parents, or are about to become first time parents in the next few months.  Some of these people have asked me for my opinion or advice on a few things, including a few questions about the items that are really necessary for a new baby.  That, plus the fact that I’m about to have another baby myself, have had me thinking recently about just what a new parent really does need for baby.  Of course, there are the obvious things, clothing, diapers, a place to sleep, etc.  But in thinking about the things that really made my life easier, I came up with the following list and wanted to share (plus, this is a fun excuse to post some old photos of my girls).
1. A few good swaddle blankets.  I have always preferred the blankets that fasten in some way, like with velcro (this one is Kiddopotomus).

This one is my personal favorite, The Miracle Blanket.  These are like little baby straight jackets and were the only swaddle that my girls couldn’t wiggle right out of.

These Halo sleep sacks with the velcro swaddle wrap are nice too.

I have lots of Aden and Anais swaddle blankets too, but I usually use those for other purposes.  I always just found the regular blankets to be too easy for my girls to wiggle out of.  I love swaddling.  Both of my girls were pretty great sleepers, and I attribute this at least in part to swaddling (it helped that they were also both pretty huge and big eaters).  I also found that sometimes when my girls would just get fussy and I couldn’t seem to soothe them in other ways, swaddling often helped calm them right away.  It was the perfect way to get Lass to settle when she would get fussy in the evenings.  I know not everyone is a fan, but great swaddling blankets are a must-have here.

2. A video monitor.  We started out with a regular audio monitor with Miss.  I had read a book that said that video monitors weren’t worth the money and recommended just getting a good sound-only monitor.    At some point before Lass was born, the monitor I had wasn’t working very well, so I decided to replace it with a video monitor.  I am so happy I did.  Not only is is great for keeping an eye on a newborn, but it is fantastic for watching a toddler too. When Miss transitioned to her big girl bed, it was fabulous.  We take them with us when we travel and have broken two monitor screens this way, but I have continued to replace them because they are such a great tool to have.

3. A swing or bouncy seat, or both if possible.  Miss loved her bouncy seat.  She would fall asleep in it when nothing else worked.  She had her days and nights mixed up for a bit, and liked to wake up and want to play at 3 am.  My husband and I spent many nights, half awake, bouncing her back to sleep in her bouncy seat.  Lass was a swing baby.  That swing could get her to sleep so easily.  These items were so helpful with the girls that my husband used to take them apart and we’d travel with them on road trips.  We even put the disassembled bouncy seat in a suitcase on more than one occasion when flying somewhere with Miss.

4. A good nursing pillow.  Especially if you’re new to breastfeeding, and/or with a tiny baby who is new to nursing, a good pillow is such a help.  I always have one right at my rocker in my baby’s room for night time nursing especially.  I have been known to doze off while nursing and the pillow helps keep baby in place.  My favorite is the Boppy though I know some people swear by the “My Breast Friend” pillow.  I tried that one and didn’t like it much.  Plus the Boppy is good for tummy time and helping with sitting too.

5. A Bumbo.  Speaking of sitting, a Bumbo is just an awesome little thing to have once baby is old enough to use it.  I think both of my girls were able to sit in it around 3-ish months.  I used it for feeding both of my girls when they first started solids.

I also found it to be a great way for Lass to be able to be upright and part of the “action” with her sister before she was actually able to sit up on her own.

Edit 8/16/2012 – You will notice in a few of the photos above, my girls are sitting in our Bumbo on a table.  In light of the recent Bumbo recall, I want to point out that I never leave my girls unattended in the Bumbo, whether up on a surface or on the floor, and I did order the new buckle just to be extra safe.  You can get a belt for your Bumbo as part of the recall here.  Please never put your baby in a Bumbo or other seat and leave her unattended.

6. A good carrier.  Okay, everyone has different preferences when it comes to baby carriers.  I started out with a Bjorn and a Moby Wrap and a ring sling.  I never found the Bjorn to be comfortable, and the ring sling just didn’t work for me at all.  I liked the Moby, but since it was stretchy, I couldn’t use it for long before my girls were too big for it.  I eventually found that my favorite carrier for teeny tiny newborns is a woven wrap.  The one I have is a Babyette.

And my favorite carrier of all time is the Ergo.  I love my Ergo.  It is so comfortable, even when worn for hours, like when Miss went on her first antiquing expedition with my mom and me.

And it is a carrier that my husband can and will wear too.

It even works for hiking.

And when you’ve got more than one babe in the mix, it is essential.  Before she was mobile, I could carry Lass and still be quite active with Miss.

I’ve also tried a Mei Tai style carrier, which I’ve never gotten comfortable with, and a few different slings, like the Hot Sling.  I don’t love the Hot Sling, as I don’t find it to be super comfortable, and I am just not comfortable using a sling with a tiny one.  But, the Hot Sling was great to use during the first six or so months of my second two pregnancies.  It allowed me to wear Miss, and then Lass, once I couldn’t wear the Ergo anymore because of my belly (I’ve never been very good at a back carry and found the hip carry to be uncomfortable), since I could carry the girls above the belly with the sling.

7. An upright, freestanding immobilization device.  For us, this has been our excersaucer.  I love this thing.  Miss used to sit in it in the garage while we worked out.

Both Miss and Lass have spent many shower times in this thing. It allowed me to take a shower with my baby/toddler in sight and unable to get into things, so I didn’t have to waste precious nap time minutes with showering.

And this past summer I discovered the portable/outdoor version of this.

I occasionally used it at home, but it was most useful when out and about.

I took it to the pool and used it as a high chair for Lass.  I took it to outdoor concerts, parks, etc.  It folds up like a lawn chair and has a bag with a strap to carry it.

Okay, so those are my essentials.  Each of the above things made my life with a tiny one, and then a toddler plus a tiny one, much easier.  I had to learn what would work and what didn’t through trial and error, but I am so glad I discovered each of these things.  I know not everyone will think these items are important, and others will have their own lists of essentials.  So, feel free to share.  What things did you find essential to surviving the early months of parenting or of adjusting to two or more babes?

Quickie

Just returned tonight from another week in the blogging black hole (my parents’ house).  We had a great visit, and I’ll post about that soon.  But tonight I’m tired from a long day in the car and little sleep last night, so here’s a quickie with a few photos from last week.
Miss has gotten into wearing dresses to school.  This is because she likes to wear tights, not because she really cares about dresses.  I don’t have a ton of dresses for her, since she’s never really been into them before, and I tend to think they’re a bit impractical for an active girl.  I didn’t want to spend a ton on new dresses for her, but I found this amazing online consignment store, where I got her three dresses for under $25.  Cute, name brand dresses in great condition.  I love a great deal (have I mentioned that before?).

And somebody got her very own ballet shoes to be like big sister.

Now they dance together.

No words needed for these next three photos.  I’ll just say I love them.

And in closing, Miss’s new thing (besides dresses) is to inspect her feet for toe jam.  It makes me chuckle just to type that.  She almost never finds any.  I do wash regularly between her toes.  But she likes to look for it.  Whatever floats her boat, right?

There.  A quickie.  Night.