Take Mealtime Stress Off Your Plate With Yumble

Thanks to Yumble for sponsoring this post.

Back in 2018 I shared about Yumble, a weekly subscription service that delivers prepared meals for kids. These meals were helpful to me as a pregnant mom of two but have been a lifesaver now that I’m a mom of three (and somehow just as exhausted as when I was carrying little miss in my tummy!). My pre-teen boys have kind of outgrown the service (though my 11 year old still happily devoured the mac and cheese!) but it’s the perfect lunch or dinner for my two year old.

 

The meals come in single serving containers that can just be popped in the microwave and heated up for about a minute and a half. It’s great for busy days because I can make sure my daughter eats a healthy meal even when I don’t have time to prepare one from scratch. It’s also something super simple my oldest can feed her if he’s babysitting while I’m on a work call in the other room. And I just might have enjoyed a couple of them for lunch myself because of how convenient they were!

Yumble meals are packed with nutritional value and made with sustainable, regionally-sourced, nutritious ingredients. I like the variety of foods that Yumble offers as well. My daughter’s favorite meal is the Mac & Mozz Burger Bowl- cheesy beef and noodles with a side of sweet potatoes. I liked the cheese ravioli with green beans and the cheesy broccoli & meatballs meals the most.  I was dissapointed to see a couple of my favorites gone (like the pizza snackers- those were amazing!) but there were lots of new meals to try now, too. They even had a contest recently to get new meal ideas! I entered my “dinner cupcakes” (aka meatloaf bites) but sadly didn’t win.

I feel the meals are fairly priced at $5.99 to $7.99 a meal and there’s even a website special for 50% off your first two weeks of meals. Best of all, the service is flexible so you can snooze your subscription or cancel anytime. Yumble is convenient for families and much more affordable and healthier than going through the drive-thru on busy evenings.

Want to try Yumble out for yourself? You can view the menu and place your first order here.

Outdoor Winter Fun In Chicago

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

Winter here in Chicago seems to be dragging on forever. We haven’t seen temperatures above twenty degrees in the past couple of weeks and we’ve gotten almost 20 inches of snow so far this month. Thankfully, I see some warmer temperatures in the forecast so I thought I’d share some fun activities to do in Chicago to enjoy the rest of our winter days. All of these activities are COVID-friendly and can be done outdoors or from your vehicle.

Go ice skating

Spend an afternoon partaking in a traditional winter activity- ice skating! Maggie Daley Park’s skating ribbon is open through the end of February. Reservations are required so that the ice skating ribbon doesn’t get too busy and people are able to maintain social distancing.

Visit Lincoln Park Zoo

Lincoln Park Zoo opens up again at the beginning of March and it’s the perfect family activity. Plus, it’s free so you can’t beat that price for a day of fun!

Eat outdoors in one of Chicago’s many igloos or greenhouses

Chicago restaurants have really come up with some genius ways to get around the indoor dining ban in the city- creating individual dining experiences outside in warm igloos, greenhouses, and more! Chicago Parent has a great list here of all the many options. Personally, I’ve heard great things about JoJo’s Shake Bar and all their Instagram worthy milkshake creations and they have the cutest setup including some igloos for small groups of 4-6.

Go on an architecture scavenger hunt

Take a drive around the city (or walk if you are brave!) and look at all the beautiful architecture that the city has to offer. Examples of awe inspiring Chicago architecture include Chicago Water Tower, Aqua, The Art Institute of Chicago, Sears Tower (locals don’t call it Willis Tower), The Wrigley Building, and The Bush Temple.

Get takeout

Explore the many flavors of Chicago by getting takeout from one of the city’s restaurants. Here’s a list of Chicago area restaurants offering takeout and delivery. Chicago pizza is a must-try if you are visiting from out of town!

What are your favorite Chicago activities to do outdoors in the winter?

Visiting the city? You might also like this list of Chicago summer activities, these ideas of what to do in Chicago on a rainy day, this sensory friendly guide to visiting Chicago, and this post about 7 ways to explore Chicago.

Boston Market’s New Chicken Sandwiches

Thanks to Boston Market for sponsoring this post.

Chicken sandwiches have been all the rage lately so it only makes sense that Boston Market (formerly Boston Chicken) got in on the action. Boston Market is known as the experts in rotisserie cooking, having prepared fresh chicken and USDA choice Prime Rib in signature rotisserie ovens at their more than 350 U.S. locations for over 30 years. The restaurant chain came out with two new limited-edition crispy chicken sandwiches recently.

For those that like a little spice, there’s the new Nashville Hot Crispy Chicken Sandwich. The crispy, all white meat chicken is slathered in a smoky Nashville Hot sauce, which perfectly blends cayenne pepper and chili powder with sugar, garlic and a handful of secret spices.

A non-spicy Crispy Chicken BLT sandwich is also available which features crispy chicken breast, bacon, lettuce, tomato, and ranch dressing on a brioche bun.

Boston Market fans can also get an extra bonus when spicing up lunch or dinner thanks to the Rotisserie Rewards program. The loyalty program, available via the Boston Market mobile app for iOS and Android, online at BostonMarket.com or in-restaurant, allows customers to earn one point for every dollar they spend, which can be redeemed for free food and other exciting prizes – like a free holiday meal for 12. You’ll want to sign up for the rewards before you go because they are offering a free individual meal with a $10 purchase right now!

Which one do you want to try first? Chat with me on Twitter or Facebook and let me know!

New Family Tradition: Random Acts Of Kindness Planning Dinners

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

Did you know that this Wednesday, February 17th, is Random Acts of Kindness Day? After the past year that we have all had this is the perfect holiday to celebrate! I’ve shared ideas for Random Acts of Kindness before and even shared some of the things my family has done-like donated toys to the local children’s hospital– but the official Random Acts of Kindness Day website has a year’s worth of kindness ideas!

Now that my boys are 11 and 12 I wanted to get them more involved in the planning of the Random Acts of Kindness we do so I decided to start a new family tradition- Random Acts of Kindness family planning dinners. My idea was to have a special family dinner every couple of months to talk about acts of kindness we’d like to do, when we’d do them, and what (if any) planning would need to be done in advance.

First, I had to figure out what we’d be eating for the dinner. Food is, after all, the most important part of most meetings in my opinion (don’t you just love when people bring snacks and treats to meetings you go to!?) so that was my first consideration. I wanted to make our planning dinners a success so I decided that every meeting would feature someone’s favorite food and for our first meeting I planned to have my husband’s favorite comfort foods. He has worked so hard for our family during this whole pandemic so it’s only right that he gets the honor of the first meal choice.

Since I don’t like to spend hours in the kitchen (and I don’t often cook from scratch) I was excited to try some of the Great American® Comfort Classics™ lineup – Country Fried Steaks, Crispy Steak Strips, and Southern Style Chicken Breast Fillets. Sold at Winn-Dixie, and found in the freezer aisle, these meats are fully cooked so you just have to heat them up in the oven, microwave, or air fryer and then top them with the gravy that is included and serve them with your favorite sides. I’m all about the simple dinners!

We cooked them in the air fryer, so they were nice and crispy, and then served them with mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, and mac & cheese. My oldest son and I loved the Southern Style Chicken Breast Fillets so much that we cooked the rest of the bag the next day for an easy school day lunch of chicken sandwiches! My husband’s favorite was the Country Fried Steak and I thought that the Crispy Steak Strips were the perfect size for my two year old’s little hands.

Once the food was planned I created a printable sheet that we could fill out every month with our RAOK ideas and then stick up on the fridge to refer to throughout the month. Kids can color the words at the top and then there is a place for your family to write down the acts of kindness you want to do for the month, the dates you plan to do the RAOKs, who you want to bless, and a spot to write down your to-do list (which could be something like ‘buy coffee gift card’ or ‘have kids color a picture’ to hand out with the cookies you plan to deliver). You can grab the free printable here.

After that, all that’s left is to sit down to dinner together and enjoy a delicious meal while talking about how you can bless others during the month. Your acts of kindness don’t have to be anything extravagant or cost much money. There are so many ways to put a smile on someone else’s face, even from a distance. My family is pretty much homebound still so we thought of a handful of things we could do together from afar including buying something for the person in the car behind us in the drive thru, shoveling a driveway for a neighbor, leaving snacks for the delivery drivers, and making a card for Grandma.

What Random Acts of Kindness will your family do this month? I’d love to chat with you on social media about it!

PIN IT:

 

Three Dangerous Toxic Pollutants You Should Stay Away From

This article was written in collaboration with the Environmental Litigation Group, a law firm heavily involved in toxic exposure cases in the military and industrial settings. I thought it was important information to share with my readers.

After centuries of industrial activity, our environment is far from pristine. We have more nice things to buy now than probably ever before in history, but this came at the cost of dirtier air, soil, and water. Sadder still is that in many cases, there is precious little we can do to avoid getting harmful stuff inside our bodies, short of constantly wearing a gas mask or retreating to the wilderness. 

For example, Chicago has recently been found to have a serious ozone problem — “ozone” is a catch all term for gas air pollution — scoring as the 18th most affected city in the US. This is very bad news especially if you or a loved one suffers from asthma. Staying inside in certain days, or choosing an air condition unit with a top-rated air filter are ways to mitigate the threat, but moving somewhere in the countryside is the only way to stay ahead of the problem. 

On the plus side, the same study showed the windy city to have fewer harmful air particles than ever in its history. Pollutants classified as such include everything from dust causing allergies to heavy metals. Speaking of which…

Heavy Metals and How to Avoid Them

It is common knowledge that metals like cadmium, lead, and mercury are bad for us, but even too much of the “good stuff” like iron, zinc, and copper in your blood can cause adverse effects. Everything in moderation, as they say. 

Heavy metals are pretty much everywhere, but usually not in concentrations that may have a discernible effect on our health. Our bodies are pretty good at eliminating toxins, but lead, mercury, and cadmium have a nasty habit of slowly building up in our blood to dangerous level. When this happens, our kidneys and liver will be the first to take the brunt. 

Abdominal pain, infrequent urination, jaundice, club nails, an enlarged liver – sometimes visible on a simple mirror inspection — are all signs of poor organ function. If you’re not particularly friendly to the bottle and experience the symptoms above, maybe it’s time to have your blood checked; as well as your home for possible sources of contamination.

Old paint is the number one culprit around the house for giving you a bad dose of lead. Always use a respirator or mask when scrubbing it off the walls, as well as gloves and a work overall that you will wash immediately after. If a family member works in a factory where he is exposed to heavy metals, wearing his work clothes at home is a big no-no. 

Modern paint and cookware don’t contain lead anymore, or at least they shouldn’t. Time and time again cheap stuff made in China or other developing countries are found to be coated in lead paint, or are manufactured from it and inappropriately coated. 

I believe that when it comes to the toys your children play with, the pots and pans you use to cook for your family, or the paint covering your walls, no precaution is taking it too far. 

Mercury most frequently gets in your body from water or food. If your local water supply is contaminated there’s little you can do, but you can avoid ingesting too much of the quicksilver by reducing your consumption of sea food, which is by far the most common source of the stuff in the present-day US. Interrogate where the fish has been harvested and verify that the area isn’t listed as having large concentrations of mercury. The USGS offers this handy-dandy guide of coastal waters and waterways contaminated with mercury. 

Many of us may already know that lead is dangerous, but PFAS is sure to raise some eyebrows. What is PFAS? Per- and polyfluoroalkyl (PFAS) chemicals have been used for decades to make stuff waterproof and greaseproof. The coating on your non-stick pan probably contains it, as well as the packaging of your take-out. Your rain-coat or that spray you use to make clothes water repellent? — You guessed it!

Forever Chemicals and Where You Can Encounter Them

PFAS compounds have been around for over 50 years and can be found almost anywhere in the environment – the water, the soil, air, and food. These are called “forever chemicals” and that’s because they never degrade. Depending on where you live in Chicago, you may be ingesting it every day with your tap water. The background concentrations aren’t considered dangerous to human health, but those living in certain areas have good reasons to be worried. 

Downstream from a plant manufacturing these chemicals is a dangerous place to be. So are airports and military bases. PFAS are ingredients of firefighting foam used to extinguish oil fires and hundreds of gallons of it are released into the environment every time the local first responders train. This has made the water around many military bases highly toxic, and you can find those that we know of listed on this map here. But there’s a catch: we don’t know how many areas are contaminated yet. 

Hundreds of thousands of our veterans and their families might have been exposed and not even be aware of it. Reports about new hazardous water sources are coming in every day and the government is already considering covering the healthcare costs for those who might have absorbed large quantities of these toxins as part of their job. 

PFAS has been associated with hormonal imbalances, lymphoma, leukemia, kidney, pancreatic, breast, ovarian and testicular cancers. It is considered particularly dangerous for fetuses and suckling babies. 

The Environmental Protection Agency is responsible for the cleaning and filtration of PFAS, and outside of avoiding the use of contaminated water sources, there is very little you can do to mitigate this threat. I’d love to tell you that whole house or over the sink activated charcoal filters are good at removing these nasties, but none of them are an entirely safe bet. If anything, these may reduce PFAS concentrations to more “manageable” levels, and this new potential threat is just another argument for using a top-of-the-line multi-stage filter for your home. 

Another way to get a lot of PFAS in you is through consuming contaminated food, particularly fish. I’m not saying you should eliminate this necessary part of your diet, just try to take the same precautions as you would for mercury. 

Asbestos can still harm you and your family 

We’d like to think that the days when workers (and sometimes their families) were coming out with nasty lung conditions from inhaling asbestos fiber are far behind us, but sadly, we’d be wrong. The use of this toxic mineral was so widespread in the past that millions upon millions of tones are still with us today. 

You can find it in many structures built before the 1980s, including family homes. When remodeling, pay special attention to your home’s insulation, as this is the most likely part to contain asbestos. The mineral is considered acceptably safe if undisturbed, but when removing or braking through old building material, toxic dust is released. 

Some bricks or plaques may also have asbestos baked into them, and various paints were also known to contain it — so be careful when you scrub! Precautions for asbestos are similar to what you would take for lead: wear a respirator, a dust mask might not be enough; always use gloves and overalls or a robe that adequately covers your body. The work clothes should be professionally cleaned afterwards. 

Many of us don’t know where and if asbestos can be found in our homes, so it is a good idea to protect ourselves whenever doing any serious redecorating. Better safe than sorry!

If your hubby is into classic cars, remind him to use the same protective measures when working on the brakes and hood lining since these might contain copious quantities of friable asbestos as well. 

Superior Source Vitamins Giveaway

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

Over the past year, I put my health on the backburner. Other than a short period of time over the summer, I really haven’t been very worried about exercise, what I’m eating, or taking my vitamins. I’ve just focused on not getting Covid and surviving this Pandemic at home with three kids. Now that we are about to hit the year mark of isolation though, I am really trying to focus more on my health.

Taking vitamins is one of those things that is important to do and I recently learned about Superior Source Vitamins. What makes these vitamins unique is that they are MicroLingual® instant absorb tablets. Their “Under the Tongue Technology” means that they work fast and are quickly absorbed into the body, dissolving in seconds – no pills to swallow! Supplements that are swallowed lose as much as 50% of the potency in the high acid environment of the stomach. The pills are Non-GMO, Gluten Free, Preservative Free, Dye Free, and Sugar Free with no chemical binders, excessive fillers, coatings, and additives.

I love that these don’t require water to take so I can keep them by my bedside. I always tend to remember everything important I need to do as I’m laying in bed at night trying to go to sleep so now I’ll be able to easily take my vitamins when I remember.

Superior Source Vitamins sent my family and I a variety of vitamins to try and I get to host a giveaway for the same set I received (a $110 value!). Here is more information about all the vitamins:

Vitamin B-12

B-12 is essential for top energy levels, heart health and mental clarity. Each tablet provides 2,500 mcg of Methylcobalamin, the “activated” form of B12.* 

Vitamin D

Vitamin D works in conjunction with Calcium to help develop and maintain strong bones and teeth. Vitamin D is essential in maintaining eye health and also helps maintain skin, teeth, eyes and the immune system.*

Vitamin C

Vitamin C helps develop and maintain healthy skin and bones, to form collagen and also enhances the absorption of iron from plant-based foods we eat. Vitamin C also provides support to the body’s immune system. NO sugar added.*

Biotin

Biotin helps to maintain healthy blood sugar levels, promotes nail and hair strength and supports cell growth, metabolism of fats and amino acids and the production of fatty acids.*  

Daily Value Multi-Vitamin 

Our Multi-Vitamin contains 100% of 11 vitamins and nutrients your body needs for optimal health, including B vitamins for energy metabolism plus Vitamin C and A for antioxidant protection and immune support.*

Children’s B-Complex with Vitamin C 

Children’s B-Complex with folic acid, calcium pantothenate and biotin is formulated to provide the nutrients that support optimal health for the production and maintenance of new cells and supports nervous system health, energy metabolism and healthy heart function.*

Beauty Collagen

Superior Source Beauty Collagen can help support skin, muscles, bone health, hair and nail growth, and maintenance. There are 19 amino acids (proteins) found in collagen. Additional ingredients include Biotin, Hyaluronic Acid and Vitamin C.*

*These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

Along with the chance to win vitamins in the giveaway below, Superior Source Vitamins is giving my readers 15% off on vitamins in their Amazon store with the code: BLVITAMIN15.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

All The Reasons Why You Should Live On Your Own Ranch

Have you ever imagined what life would be like if you lived somewhere else? I have lived in the Chicago suburbs for most of my life but dream of living in California by the ocean one day. My husband, on the other hand, would prefer a ranch in the country over the warm, ocean breeze. I decided to have an open mind and consider country living and there are definetely perks as my blog partner shares in the guest post below.

Most people flock to the cities for work or to seek job opportunities. But now that working from home has become the norm, more than 23 million Americans are planning to move away from big cities for their family’s health and wellbeing. As families are seeking less crowded places to plant their roots, living near nature has become more appealing than ever before, which is why so many are choosing to live in the countryside, near the beach, or on a ranch. Ranch living, in particular, can be great for families with children, as not only can it benefit everyone’s wellbeing, but it also encourages a healthier lifestyle. Here are all the reasons why living on a ranch can be good for you and your family. 

More space for your home and family activities

Urban living often means not having enough space to properly raise a family: the average city apartment size ranges from 674 to 976 square feet, depending on which US city you’re living in. Compared to these cramped spaces, ranch living allows you to live comfortably: custom ranch homes are built, usually over one story, with families in mind. Moreover, living in a ranch enables you to have access to acres of land on which you can do various activities as a family. You can have picnics in your property, or fly kites with the kids. You can also play sports such as volleyball, baseball or badminton, or just spend time playing old-fashioned games such as tag or hide-and-seek.

You can grow your own food

Having all that land means that you have the opportunity to grow your own food and teach your children about good nutrition. You can plant vegetables and fruit-bearing trees together, or even raise chickens and ducks for eggs. Any surplus produce or eggs can be sold in your community, enabling you to get an additional source of income. 

It allows you to reconnect with nature 

Studies have shown that being exposed to nature can have a positive effect on physical and mental health. Living on a ranch allows you and your loved ones to wake up to gorgeous views of naturescapes everyday. Also, you get to interact with wildlife within the area, and this allows you to teach your children about animal life and conservation as they get up close and personal with ducks, geese, squirrels, horses, and other creatures.

Living on a ranch can benefit your family’s wellbeing. Consider ranch living if you want a healthier lifestyle, and look forward to raising happy and healthy kids in a natural environment.

 

Valentine’s Day Tot School Setup And Themed Activities For Toddlers

This post contains affiliate links.

Over a decade ago I wrote a post with ideas for a love themed tot school lesson and it’s been one of the most visited Valentine’s Day posts on my blog since then. Now that my third child is two I’m doing tot school all over again so I’m sharing about the activities I’m doing with my daughter. In January we did a snow theme with lots of snowman themed activities and winter themed sensory play. We started with Valentine’s themed activities last week and will focus on the holiday for a couple more weeks before moving on to a new theme.

To prepare for the new month, I changed up her learning table area for the month of February. I took out the books about winter and added books for Valentine’s Day and Black History Month. I put together a small Valentine’s Day themed sensory bin with red, white, and pink pom poms and Xs & Os erasers and then added in some heart shaped containers and a scoop. I also made a sensory squishy bag with some clear gel and heart shaped confetti. The other activity I set out is what I’m calling a heart drop. I put some fabric hearts in a bin and then provided a mailbox and large plastic tweezers. The intention was she’d pick up the hearts with the tweezers and drop them into the hole in the mailbox but she just liked putting them in her sensory bin instead. She also greatly enjoyed dumping her sensory bin which will make me rethink the tiniest of the pom poms I included in any future bins I do lol. Oh well! Anyone with a toddler knows they play how they want to play :)

We also did some easy “art” activities including a couple dot marker heart pages and made a collage with sticky foam heart shapes. We sang some songs about love including ‘Jesus Loves Me’ and Barney’s ‘I Love You’ song, and we read some Valentine’s Day books (I curated a list here). Last week was really busy with work and this week is even more so with projects and a tv appearance (eek!) so I’m keeping everything super simple for right now and then next week I’ll do some of the more time consuming activities. Here are some other activities we will be doing over the next couple of weeks:

Heart suncatcher Last month we used contact paper to make a snowman suncatcher and this month we will use contact paper and tissue paper to make a heart one.

Shaving cream hearts I think my daughter will mostly just love stirring the shaving cream around and playing in it but this sensory play will lead to some beautiful artwork!

Heart shaped pancakes for breakfast – I have a bunch of Valentine’s Day themed breakfast ideas for kids here but I love the idea of giving Emma a plate full of hearts with heart shaped pancakes and strawberries for breakfast on Valentine’s Day.

Valentine’s Day foam sensory bin with rose petals I love this sensory bin from Happy Toddler Playtime! Since I currently have fillers in our sensory tables I’m thinking about trying this in the bathtub but I also might just use a giant clear storage bin.

Valentine’s playdough invitation to play Emma loved creating playdough snowmen (with these little build-a-snowman pieces) so I think she will like this Valentine’s Day themed invitation to play from Pre-K Pages.

Color with heart shaped crayons – I have a DIY to make colorful heart shaped crayons here.

Heart shaped stampers If you are looking for a craft to use up all those toilet paper rolls you now find yourself hoarding, these heart shaped stampers are the perfect diy craft to make for your child so they can easily stamp heart shapes onto paper.

Heart hopscotch As I write this post it’s 10 degrees here in Chicago so we will be staying inside and this looks like the perfect large motor activity to get some of the toddler wiggles out. I’m not sure if my daughter will understand the concept of hopscotch but she likes to jump so we will just practice our counting while she jumps around.

We may do a few more activities but these are the main ones I want to do over the next couple weeks. If you have any Valentine’s activities or crafts for toddlers or preschoolers I’d love to hear about them so come chat with me on Twitter or Facebook!

 

 

Valentine’s Day Gift Guide

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

I loved sharing gift ideas for Christmas and the gift guide was so well-received that I thought I’d put together another gift guide for Valentine’s Day. Whether you are looking for the perfect gift for your significant other or your GALentine I have gift ideas for everyone!

Personalized Locket

You can’t really go wrong gifting jewelry for Valentine’s Day and Pictures on Gold let’s you customize the perfect gift. Their lockets are a thoughtful gift to give a friend or loved one. 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. Pictures on Gold has images put into the lockets with a laser, making the images 100% waterproof and scratch-proof. They offer a lifetime guarantee on their laser engraving and the quick shipping turnaround time makes it great for those last-minute shoppers. I’m giving one away, too! Enter the giveaway here.

Date Night Gift Basket

You can’t go wrong with a gift basket of your loved one’s favorite things. I also like to create themed gift baskets. Some of my favorite gift baskets to put together are date night gift baskets because they gift time, not just things. This “dinner for two” gift basket is sweet for couples who like to spend time together in the kitchen. You can check out my date night gift baskets post for more date night at home inspired baskets, including one for a couple’s paint night and a game night gift basket.

Chocolate Heart Pizza

This solid milk chocolate heart is topped with a festive assortment of chocolate candies and finished with a white chocolate drizzle. Anyone with a sweet tooth would love it and it’s a fun gift to give kids, too! Every Chocolate Heart Pizza comes with a wooden mallet, so you can feel free break this heart into bite-sized bits knowing it’ll never return the favor!

Custom Etched Map Barware

Custom Etched Map Barware by Well Told is perfect for the traveler in your life or makes a great gift if you are the sentimental type. For Valentine’s Day you can give the one you love the gift of a memory- where you met, first kissed, were married- with contemporary barware that features striking etched maps of any US city. You can even personalize it to celebrate a precious moment in a special place. Customers can order any etched city map design and customize it with a unique message. Available in every type of glass – from Rocks to Champagne to Pints–each is meticulously designed and made in the USA with eco-friendly manufacturing in mind. I received stemless wine glasses that feature my favorite city- San Francisco- and every time I use them it reminds me of my time in the bay. I also discovered that they have home town and college town maps so you aren’t just limited to big cities.

Snug Waffle Robe

Sunday Citizen has the coziest gifts for those who enjoy nothing more than relaxing at home. Their line of bedding, throw blankets, loungewear, and more are all so soft. In fact, they are so confident you’ll love their products that they offer a 90-day love it or return it guarantee. I really like their sweatshirts that I got for Christmas because they are comfy choices for lounging around the house but also look cute with jeans. My newest obsession, their snug waffle robe made from the same material as their blankets, is perfect for cuddling on the couch with my husband and a good movie or wearing for an at-home spa day. I love the versatility their loungewear offers.

Beef Jerky Bouquet

The man in your life may not think much of being gifted flowers, unless they are edible and made from beef jerky that is! The Manly Man Co has a number of great Valentine’s Day gift ideas for men so you are sure to find the ideal gift for any man in your life. I gave my husband the beef jerky bouquet for Valentine’s Day but that box of maple candied bacon roses looks delicious as well. They also have a bunch of unique gift sets like pizza jerky, single malt scotch caramels, and a Bloody Mary kit.

RED Chocolate

You can’t celebrate Valentine’s Day without chocolate! RED has all the guiltless indulgence of regular chocolate, but with up to 50% less calories, no added sugar, and 30-40% less fat. Formulated by European Master Chocolatiers, RED offers three types of chocolate products – full bars, grab-n-go, and pralines. The full bars and grab-n-go are offered in classic dark, classic milk and other delicious flavors like orange & almond. The pralines are available in either a smooth nut or coconut filling. I love this healthier chocolate option and I think the pralines would make a sweet (see what I did there?) gift for a loved one who is on a KETO diet or for someone who loves chocolate but can’t indulge in too much sugar.

Histoire-Legacy Couple Subscription Box

Histoire-Legacy offers a monthly subscription box to help plan and prepare for any future outcomes through practical and creative activities. Histoire-Legacy focuses on legacy building and generational storytelling and their couple subscription box focuses on the couple’s bond (past and present), and the legacy they will leave to their partner. The Practical activity will help prepare for the formalities of dealing with legacy planning (e.g., Wills & Estate Planning) and the Creative activity will help you create and/or recall memories through creative and critical thinking outlets (e.g., re-creating an old family recipe). These activities will act as a reminder of long-lasting shared memories for preservation purposes to future generations. In addition to the two activities, subscribers will receive a personalized item in each box that relates to the monthly theme.

I also shared more Valentine’s Day gift ideas on CBS Rock Island, IL’s “Living Local” (WHBF-TV) and you can see the segment below:

What gifts are you giving and receiving this year? I got my husband a charcuterie board and I’m sure he’ll cook for me and get me flowers with a sappy card like always :)

 

CanvasConquest Giveaway

Thanks to CanvasConquest for sponsoring this post. At the bottom is a giveaway for a chance to win a gift certificate to their site where you can buy all sorts of products, including their 5 Piece Canvas Art and travel push pin maps.

Back in March of last year, when the stay-at-home orders started, I was convinced that I was going to get so much done around my house because we’d be spending much more time at home. Instead of going from one sport or activity to another I’d be tackling home projects, cooking from scratch, and keeping a spotlessly clean home. Well, here we are 10 months later and that hasn’t happened. Anyone else not been as productive as they thought they were going to be? Honestly I spent most of 2020 just trying to survive working from home while overseeing virtual learning for my two oldest and taking care of a toddler.

Now that 2021 is here though I have been feeling a bit more productive. I completely reorganized my kitchen, set up a tot school learning area for my newly two year old daughter, and deep cleaned a number of areas in my home -and we are only a few weeks into the new year! As much as I have gotten done so far though, I am looking around my home at a dozen other projects I want to get started.

One of those projects is putting up artwork on my bare walls. When I moved in to my home about five and a half years ago I added “decorate” to my to-do list but haven’t really done much since then. I did add some artwork to one wall with picture frames and bought a giant pushpin map to put above my bookshelves but that’s it.

I really need to tackle my living room wall and put something above my couch so I started looking online at CanvasConquest‘s website. We bought our home from my dad and stepmom and they used to have a giant three panel ocean print which I thought was pretty so I am considering doing something like that because the beach is one of my favorite places to be.

I also enjoy the Midwest and exploring all the cities around the Great Lakes so I looked at that artwork as well. There is just something so calming about artwork that features water! I love being reminded of all my travels as well, especially while I’m stuck at home and not traveling.

And of course, there’s always the choice to get artwork that features the skylines of the city I love and visit often- Chicago! There’s something so magnificent about the skyscrapers. I love this one that includes the skyline but also features the reflection of it on water.

CanvasConquest has a number of other canvas wall art options as well, from animals to flags to sports to flowers. I love the palm tree print above that reminds me of my time in Cali.

Want to add some artwork to your own walls? Enter in the form below to win a gift certificate for $120 to CanvasConquest!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

Valentine’s Day Locket Giveaway

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

I’ve loved working with Pictures on Gold over the past couple of years. I’ve made lockets for myself with photos of my three kids, one for my mom (birthmom) with photos of all her grandkids, and even one for my young daughter with photos of her and I. This past month I designed a locket for myself in memory of my mom (stepmom) who passed away in 2009.

My mom actually gave me one of my first lockets when I was a little girl. It had a photo of her and my dad in it. Over the years, the photos in the locket frayed on the edges a little bit but it was still one of my most cherished pieces of jewelry. It means even more now that my mom is not here with me.

I love that Pictures on Gold has advanced the photo jewelry category with their digital design options. No longer do you have to worry about tattered photo edges because they have new technology that uses lasers to put the images into the lockets, making the images 100% waterproof and scratch-proof.

I also love that they can pretty much work with any photo you have. I don’t have many digital images of my mom but they were able to use the couple I gave them, including the above photo taken on an old cell phone. It wasn’t the best quality but it was one of the last photos that had been taken of her and was the one shared at her funeral. They edited the background so the focus is on her face.

The other picture I wanted to use was the day of my parents’ wedding in 1989. It was a picture of my mom, dad, brother, and I. My mom is in her wedding dress and I am sitting on her lap in a fancy dress with the biggest smile on my face and a head full of curls. That day is one I want to remember forever and they were able to take that photo and edit it to fit in the locket. Years ago it wouldn’t have been possible to use that photo in a locket because our heads are too far apart but Pictures on Gold was able to edit the photo in a way that made it so our heads were closer and would fit into the heart shaped locket.

Pictures on Gold creates beautiful rememberance jewelry but also makes a great Valentine’s Day gift idea for the loved ones in your life. Their step-by-step online process makes placing an order for personalized jewelry simple and- good news for the last minute shopper- their order turnaround time is quick!

If you’d like to order jewelry for yourself or as a gift you can use the promo code “LOVE21” at PicturesOnGold.com for a 10% discount. Pictures on Gold is also offering my readers a chance to win a Sterling Silver “Forever in my Heart” Locket on SS Box Chain. You can enter the giveaway on the form below. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Valentine’s Day Books For Young Children

This post contains affiliate links.

With Valentine’s Day just a little over a month away I thought it would be a great time to share some books about love that are perfect for young children. Here are some books little kids will enjoy reading again and again. Most are specifically for Valentine’s Day but some are just about love in general.

Little Blue Truck’s Valentine

This is one of the newest books in the beloved Little Blue Truck series. Children will join Little Blue Truck as he delivers Valentine’s Day cards to all his farm animal friends. But as Blue beeps along, he starts to wonder: will he get any cards of his own? This book would make a sweet Valentine’s Day gift for any child who loves this best-selling series!

Buy it here.

Llama Llama I Love You

In Llama Llama I Love You, little llama shows his friends and family how much he loves them with heart-shaped cards and lots of hugs. What could be sweeter than Llama Llama on Valentine’s Day? Llama Llama is one of my favorite board book series. I love that it uses short and simple rhyming text to introduce babies and toddlers to their characters before they’re ready for longer full-length stories. And their small size and durable pages are perfect for little hands.

Buy it here.

Love from The Very Hungry Caterpillar

When I taught preschool one of my favorite books-and the kid’s- was The Very Hungry Caterpillar so I was excited to see that they have a Valentine’s Day book. Celebrate love with The Very Hungry Caterpillar! This charming book uses a range of images from the World of Eric Carle to give all the reasons why someone special makes the world a better and brighter place. What a wonderful message for little ones to hear!

Buy it here.

The Invisible String

If you have a child struggling with separation anxiety, loss, or grief, The Invisible String would make a thoughtful Valentine’s Day gift. This heartwarming picture book for all ages explores questions about the intangible yet unbreakable connections between us, and opens up deeper conversations about love. It offers a very simple approach to overcoming loneliness, separation, or loss with an imaginative twist that children easily understand and embrace, and delivers a particularly compelling message in today’s uncertain times. Though not a traditional Valentine’s Day book, with all that’s going on I feel it’s appropriate for this list as a book that talks about love in a compassionate way for those struggling.

Buy it here.

Where Is Baby’s Valentine

My two year old loves the Where is Baby’s series of books! Toddlers will love lifting the flaps of this board book to help Baby find her very special valentine.

Buy it here.

Baby Touch And Feel: I Love You

Delight baby’s senses with this Valentine’s Day themed touch and feel book. Babies can explore different textures and expand their senses as they discover this padded board book’s tactile elements. They can touch soft bunnies, fuzzy teddy bears, sparkly hearts, and more. Baby Touch and Feel: I Love You promotes sensory development and early language skills, and is the perfect size for small hands to hold.

Buy it here.

Love You Hoo

Love You Hoo and Big Owl give voice to what every child deserves to know: that they are, and always will be, loved; that life is a journey; that there will be good times and bad, but that their Big Owl will always, “Love you Hoo.” Such a special reminder around Valentine’s Day and anytime really.

Buy it here.

Besos For Baby

Everyone has kisses for Baby, from Mami and Papi to perro and gato. Using simple Spanish words, this charming read-aloud proves that love is the same in every language! Parents won’t be able to resist giving baby muchos besos as they share this bilingual read aloud, filled with bold, graphic illustrations, with their little bébé!

Buy it here.

Love Monster

Love Monster is a slightly hairy monster trying to fit in with the cuddly residents of Cutesville. But as it turns out, it’s hard to fit in with the cute and the fluffy when you’re a googly-eyed monster. And so, Love Monster sets out to find someone who will love him just the way he is. His journey is not easy―he looks high, low, and even middle-ish. But as he soon finds out, in the blink of a googly eye, love can find you when you least expect it. This board book version of the best-selling book is perfect for little hands!

Buy it here.

I Love You, Baby Shark: Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo

Do you have a little one who is obsessed with Baby Shark? If so, this Valentine’s book will be a hit! Perfect for bedtime, Valentine’s Day, or any love-filled occasion, Kids and caregivers alike will delight in this silly illustrated story, full of funny, eye-popping illustrations and a catchy tune you won’t be able to stop singing. Also features helpful picture guides so readers can dance along, act out the hand and foot movements, and develop their fine motor skills. Snuggle up with your little one and as you laugh, sing, and dance along to this charming and catchy read-aloud!

Buy it here.

One Love

So this isn’t necessarily a Valentine’s Day book but I think it really shows what people can do with love in their hearts. One Love brings the joyful spirit and unforgettable lyrics to life for a new generation. Readers will delight in dancing to the beat and feeling the positive groove of change when one girl enlists her community to help transform her neighborhood for the better. It’s a testament to the amazing things that can happen when we all get together with one love in our hearts.

Buy it here.

You Are The Love In My Heart

Share the ways you love your little one with ten darling animal families. A gentle story about love and joy that will have you snuggling up with your child to read this book, over and over again. Beautiful illustrations paired with a tender poem make this a memorable book that will leave your heart feeling full. This large, padded board book makes the perfect gift for new and soon-to-be moms.

Buy it here.

 

Winter Themed Sensory Bins

This post contains affiliate links.

This is going to be a long winter at home so I thought I’d share some fun winter themed sensory bins! Here at our house I have a few different sensory bins and my two year old loves playing in them. We have a sensory table (this one) in the kitchen with two bins- one full of beans and one full of waterbeads. We also have a seasonal winter themed sensory bin at Emma’s little school table in our living room to go with our snow tot school themed lesson plan.

I filled the bin with cotton balls, tiny wooden snowflakes, and little snowmen. I also made a little snowman bottle she can fill and dump out and gave her a spoon to stir and scoop things up. Emma is in online speech therapy and this bin kept her attention for a whole therapy session yesterday! She loved hiding the snowmen and then digging them out of the soft cotton ball “snow’.

This easy winter sensory bin from Natural Beach Living is filled with beautiful blues. I love her idea of adding in essential oils, too. What a calming sensory bin idea!

How adorable is this hot chocolate sensory bin from ABCDee Learning!? This coffee loving mama loves the addition of the Starbucks cups and kids will love how tasty the bin fillers are! I made a hot cocoa sensory bin when my boys were younger but it was pretty messy and it wasn’t near as cute as her’s is.

The addition of frozen water beads to Views From A Step Stool’s diving penguin sensory bin is genius! We have a sensory table full of water beads and freezing them never even crossed my mind but the frozen iceberg is perfect for a winter bin paired with adorable little penguins.

My daughter is currently obsessed with teddy bears so I was thinking about doing a bears themed tot school lesson soon and this hibernation sensory bin from Busy Hands & Minds would be perfect for a winter bears theme! I love how natural it looks with the pinecones and wood slices.

For those kids who love construction vehicles, this snowballs and snowplows play tray from Entertain Your Toddler would make an awesome sensory bin. I love the combination of the sparkly “snowballs” with the cotton ones.

Another fun sensory bin idea for winter is snowmen. I’m in love with this DIY Snowman Sensory Bin from the Glued to my Crafts Blog. The addition of plastic golf balls as the snowmen heads with little faces drawn on will really spark the imagination for creative play.

My toddler loves water play so I think this snowflake soup sensory bin from And Next Comes L would be a huge hit. Kids will love stirring the water around and scooping up the snowflakes and adding scent to the water really makes it seem like they are cooking something.

This arctic sensory bin from Adventures And Play is a little winter wonderland for imaginations. I love all the animals and trees and the addition of the scented doughon the bottom of the tray.

Living Montessori Now’s Antartica sensory bin is full of blue water beads and animals like penguins, whales, and seals. It also has a slide for the penguins to slide into the bin which my daughter would just love!

So many fun winter sensory table ideas! I think we will do a penguin themed sensory bin next because those ones are just too cute. I like the idea of adding in some ice cubes or frozen waterbeads to give a different sensory feel that she is used to.

Moms Share Their Favorite Restaurants In Chicago And The Suburbs That Are Offering Carryout And Delivery

Live in the Chicago area and want to support local restaurants but don’t want to eat indoors? I’ve polled local mom’s groups to discover the best restaurants in Chicago and the surrounding suburbs that are offering carryout and/or delivery. Plus, these moms share what they recommend ordering so you know what to get when you go!

The list is below in alphabetical order. If there are only 1-3 locations I’ve listed the part of Chicago or the suburb they are in. The list is heavy on Southwest Burbs suggestions since that’s where I live but I am actively seeking more city and Western/Northern Suburban restaurants and will add them as I come upon recommendations from moms I trust or try them myself.

Amigos Mexican Restaurant (Frankfort)

Colleen S. says, “they have Authentic Mexican and it is the best around! I won’t go anywhere else.” And Kim L. agrees saying, “absolutely! I tell everyone about Amigos! So good and they are so nice!”

B’Gabs Goodies (Chicago)

B’Gabs offers vegan cooked + raw soul food along with a cold press juice bar and smoothies. Emily L. says she typically orders the smoothies, juices, and avocado toast so it sounds perfect health-concious spot for breakfast or lunch.

Bacchanalia (Chicago- Little Italy)

This is the longest single-family owned Italian Restaurant of all the places situated in the Heart of Chicago’s Heart of Italy area and Victoria T. recommended it saying she loves their Chicken Vesuvio and cannoli.

Baked Apple Breakfast Co. (Downer’s Grove)

Lauren B. recommended this restaurant and said it was “super yummy!” One look at the menu had me wanting to try everything on it!

Bella Mia (Midlothian)

Miss fine dining? Get it delivered or do carry out! Trishy B. says Bella Mia is “delish.”

Big Mama’s Kitchen & Catering (Berwyn)

I had carryout from this ghost kitchen last month and all the food was amazing! My favorite was their lasagna that had pieces of hard-boiled eggs in it, which I had never seen done before, but it was so good! My boys favorite was the Rigatoni Marinara that even got my picky eater to go back for seconds. Then of course there was dessert which we all made room for! Their tiramisu is delicious.

Bill’s Place (LaGrange Park)

Adelina R. said “the Greek chicken dinner (it comes with rice or fries), gyros, ribs, and their broasted chicken are all YUMMY!”

Bonefish Grill (Skokie, Algonquin, Schaumburg & Orland Park)

If you are craving seafood, Bonefish Grill is a great choice. Ann O. says that their take out is as good as their dine-in and loves their bang bang shrimp tacos and the bread with dipping oil.

Buenas Nachos (Frankfort)

Lisa L. recommends Buenas Nachos and says “it’s not fancy, but it’s Chicago-style authentic Mexican food and it’s THE BEST.”

Chuck’s Cafe (Darien & Burbank)

Jennifer C says, “Love their wings, BBQ nachos, Cream of Poblano soup, and New Orleans Etouffee.”

Cultivate Community Table (Frankfort)

A couple people recommended Cultivate in Frankfort. Looking at their Facebook page I can see why…everything looks delicious! I also love that they have a “benefit burger” program where each month they have a special burger creation and donate a portion of each sale to a charity or cause that is close to their hearts. Lauren G. suggests this restaurant for brunch/lunch and orders the Veganomicon or Breakfast Bowl.

Dancing Marlin (Frankfort)

Dancing Marlin got a few recommendations and Lauren G. said for dinner she likes their General Tso’s Cauliflower and the Beet Salad while her husband loves their steaks.

Dan’s Soul Food & Cafe (Chicago)

Kristina B. recommends this restaurant and if you are craving comfort food this looks like the place to go! The website says everyday is like Thanksgiving there.

Enzo’s Pizza (Countryside)

Victoria T. says they have amazing pizza and the”‘2020 sensation”: The Beef Roll! She also shared that the owner, Enzo, and his team are pillars of the community and have worked to give back by providing meals to first responders and hospital teams through the pandemic.

Gatto’s Italian Restaurant (Tinley Park, New Lenox, Downer’s Grove)

Anytime people are looking for restaurant reccomendations this restaurant is always mentioned so I think I need to try it soon! Erin K. recommends ordering the garbage salad and chicken pinoli.

Gina’s Teardrop Cafe (New Lenox)

Gina F. (who made it clear she is not the Gina who owns the restaurant lol) said they are “very accommodating and offer gluten free options as well!!”

Girl in the Park (Orland Park)

Are you gluten-free? Erin N. said Girl in the Park is “very friendly for gluten free” and Michelle L. said, “not gonna lie, the GF brownie is delicious!” Personally, I loved their candied bacon!

Hog Wild (Midlothian & Mokena)

Two moms recommended this barbecue restaurant. One said she’d been going to the Midlothian location for 15 years and never had a bad experience there. I had Hog Wild years ago in another state and wrote the following on Facebook after my visit: “Best BBQ I have ever had. Their corn cakes are amazing as well. A must try.”

Irazu (Chicago)

This Costa Rican restaurant was suggested by Lauren B. who loves their veggie burritos.

Italian Village (Chicago- Downtown)

Lauren B. says Italian Village “has the best pizza I’ve ever had!!!”

Jamaican Jerk Spice (Chicago- Cottage Grove)

The brown stew chicken is a must-try here according to Emily L.

Kefi Greek Cuisine (Palos Heights)

Erin K. suggested this restaurant and says that everything she’s had from there is amazing!

Lassen’s Tap (Homewood)

Carol H. says, “I love the build your own burger menu and the garlic and herb fries!”

Majani Restaurant (Chicago- South Shore & Pullman)

This restaurant focuses on plant-based cuisine and was recommended by Emily L. who gets the bbq cauliflower, fried grits, and sorrell.”

Medici on 57th (Chicago- Hyde Park)

Christy B. says this Hyde Park staple is worth the drive back to HP since she now lives too far for them to deliver.

Mother’s Day Restaurant (North Riverside)

Adelina R. loves this breakfast spot. She says, “My favorite item on the menu is the Bananas Foster Blintzes. The first time I ordered it (YEARS ago), the server described it as “heaven on a plate.” She wasn’t wrong. It is amazing.”

Mo’s Philly Steak & Potato (Bridgeview)

Linda H. says, “I love the fried shrimp and hubby loves the original Philly.” Someone else said “Amazing PhillySteaks and Gyros and jumbo fried shrimp are my favorites.”

Nancy’s Pizzeria (Multiple locations)

Nancy’s Pizza has been my favorite pizza place since childhood. I typically order their thin crust pizza but their stuffed pizza is amazing as well! I also like their garbage salad which is chock full of goodness!

Next Restaurant (Chicago- Fulton Market)

This restaurant offers global cuisine and has won some pretty amazing culinary awards. Marcee G. says her family has “LOVED the meal kids from NEXT. They are very reasonably priced and a ton of delicious food is included.”

Ottimo (Orland Park)

Erin K. suggests ordering the Caprese salad, breaded zucchini, Chicken Milanese, and Pizza Bianca.

Oy’s Thai Cuisine (New Lenox)

If you are in the mood for Thai food, a few people recommended Oy’s. Carley M. says, “Their pad Thai is delicious. We also like the chicken satay egg rolls and the crab Rangoon.” and Stacy K. says, “Love Oy’s” and suggests ordering “the Tom yum soup (creamy and medium spicy) with shrimp”. Amy R. says, “We usually order Penang curry. Pad Thai noodles, egg rolls and Tom yum soup. They are able to accommodate gluten free for most items (not egg rolls). It is delicious!”

Paisano’s (New Lenox)

If you are in the mood for Italian food, Lys R. says, “Paisano’s in New Lenox has awesome Italian food….not super well known but it’s delicious.”

Papa Joe’s (Orland Park & Lockport)

My extended family had many celebrations at Papa Joe’s as I was growing up. I don’t remember the food much but everyone in my family loved it obviously. Kathi S. says they have “the best Chicken Parm.”

Pekoe & Bean (Tinley Park)

Aileen D. suggests this small coffee shop and says they have “great coffee, lattes, and tea, awesome soup and salad.” I went there once and had an amazing iced coffee drink and delicious quiche.

Phil’s Pizza (Chicago- Bridgeport)

Crystal A. suggests this old-school pizza place!

Phlavz (Chicago- University Village & Orland Park)

Artisha H. recommends the jerk burger, salmon rolls, and loaded jerk fries at this Caribbean cuisine restaurant.

Plant Based Junkie (Chicago)

Kristina B. recommended this restaurant for people looking for a vegetarian/vegan option in the city. I am not a vegetarian but looking at their website I want to try everything on it so I think that says a lot :)

Rosebud (Multiple Locations)

When I lived in Bolingbrook and Plainfield in my 20’s the Naperville Rosebud location seemed to be the most popular romantic restaurant in the area. Rosebud for Italian seems to still be a popular choice from many looking for Italian, including Mary A. and Gail S. who recommend the Lemont location. Mary says they have “melt in your mouth steak.”

Siri Thai 2 (Palatine)

This thai restaurant was suggested by two of my blogging friends, Michelle and Brandie. Michelle raved about it saying there are so many good things there that she’s a fan of and that it’s owned by the sweetest people. She said, “I LOVE their nam sod, which they make super spicy for me (on request). I order their Mussamun Curry almost every time, and it’s fantastic. My daughter loves the volcano fried rice with shrimp, and my husband orders the pad Thai every time and swears by it.” She also mentioned that they do allergies well, which is huge if you have gluten/dairy/vegan dietary restrictions.

Soundgrowler Brewery (Tinley Park)

Jill H. suggested this restaurant because it “has awesome takeout and delivery options for Mexican street food and some of the best craft beer!”

Tandoori House Restaurant (Tinley Park)

If you are in the mood for Indian, Lydia G. says they have the “Best butter and tandoori chicken!”

Taqueria La Penca (North Riverside)

Adelina P: loves this restaurant’s steak tacos and their cheese enchiladas, too.

The Pit Rib House (Hickory Hills)

Two moms recommended this barbecue restaurant. Edyta J. says they have “amazing burgers and ribs.”

The Shack (Lockport)

Jennifer C. says, “New BBQ place. Love their ribs and brisket.”

The Snail (Chicago- Hyde Park)

Emily L. recommends this thai restaurant in Hyde Park and suggests ordering their lemon chicken.

Tokyo Steak House (Tinley Park)

If you are craving hibachi or sushi, Sue M. recommends Tokyo Steak House. She says, “it’s delicious and they do a great job packaging it up perfectly with very generous portions.” She also says that she feels the takeout process is very safe and that they have a designated area (with shields) for pickup.

Trails Edge Brewing Co (Frankfort)

Victoria T. recommended this restaurant and says that they have amazing burgers. She also said that she is “obsessed with their Fried Portobello Mushrooms and the Apple salad.”

Wooden Paddle (Lemont)

This pizza place got a couple of recommendations. Melissa W. suggests ordering the “Gettin Figgy With It pizza and the meatball appetizer” and Mary A. believes you can’t go wrong with any of their pizzas.

YiaYia’s Pancake House and Restaurant (North Riverside)

This breakfast/brunch spot was recommended by Adelina R. who says that their stuffed french toast is really good. Her family also likes the burgers and fries. She says that she and her son love the jalapeno cheddar bacon burger.

What restaurants would you recommend? Share your suggestions with me on social! :)

Snow Themed Tot School Lesson Plan

This post contains affiliate links. Some activities require direct supervision due to small pieces.

This week is Emma’s first week of Tot School! I’m so excited to start this journey with her. I shared about it earlier this week in my Back to Tot School post but, if you missed it, Tot School is just basically the idea of intentionally exposing young children to early learning skills through fun play at home. I’ll be putting together themed lesson plans every week (sometimes every other week) for her and sharing them here on the blog. The first theme we are doing is snow because here in Chicago we’ve had a snowy few days and I can’t wait to get her playing in it (just look at her excitement “playing” in it for the first time last year!)

Below is a list of snow themed activities. I’m going to stick with this theme for a couple of weeks so that’s why I didn’t arrange the activities into daily plans like I typically would. We probably will not get to all of the activities on the list and that’s ok. Having a theme as well as a number of activities to choose from (and that I have materials for) helps me plan my days so they are filled with learning. I will aim to do a few activities a day with her. Some activities/books that are toddler friendly will be setup for play at her table in our tv room (aka her playroom since we live in a small home) and some will only come out when mom/dad/tween brothers are sitting with her to provide direct supervision with the small pieces.

SNOW THEMED ACTIVITIES & CRAFTS

 

TP roll stacking snowman

-Play in the snow outdoors and go sledding

-Make a snowman sensory bottle

Playdough build a snowman kit (I bought this snowman pieces set and will set it out with white cloud dough and build snowmen with her as we practice rolling the dough into balls.)

-Make a cotton ball snowman

Snowman squish bag

-Put together a child-sized felt snowman

DIY giant snowman blocks

-Wrap some small wooden blocks or toilet paper rolls (cut in half) in white paper and put them in a small bin with people, buildings, animals, vehicles, and cotton balls to encourage snowy town play

-Paint snowballs (white paint on the end of a toilet paper tube “stamped” on or white paint on fingertips dotted on) blue or black paper

-Winter sensory bin for toddlers (I’m doing cotton balls, wooden snowflakes, and mini snowman buttons)

Feed the snowman fine motor activity of filling the snowman with cotton balls

-Throw “snowballs” (rolled clean, white socks) into a container or at a target

Puffy paint snowmen craft

Play with snow in the kitchen sink or bathtub with sand toys (or I love Happy Hooligans’ idea of adding Little People to the snow sensory bin)

-Snowman sticky wall

-Color this ‘God made me unique like a snowflake’ coloring sheet

-Sensory bin with fake “snow” (saw on TikTok- just mix cornstarch and conditioner)

Paperplate snowman craft

-Paint the snow with watercolors

Snowman ball sort

Footprints in Snow movement exploration (we won’t do all of these just the simple snow related ones)

SNOW THEMED BOOKS:

 

Friendly Little Snowman Finger puppet book

Ten Sparkly Snowflakes

All You Need For A Snowman

The Snowy Day

Baby Loves Winter Lift-the-flaps book

Snowballs

Snowmen at Night

The Biggest Snowman Ever

Winter Touch & Feel board book

Olaf’s 1-2-3

The Itsy Bitsy Snowman

Babies in the Snow Lift-the-flaps book

 

SNOW THEMED SONGS:

 

Fun in the Snow (Emma’s favorite- CoComelon!)

-Frosty the Snowman

-Do You Want to Build a Snowman? from Frozen

5 Little Snowmen (there are printable puppets, too!)

Winter songs from Teaching Mama puts snow themed songs to familiar tunes

 

OTHER:

 

-Wear snowmen clothing. Put your child in pajamas or other clothing that has snowmen on them if you have some and be sure to point out the snowmen on their clothes

-For breakfast, make snowman pancakes.

-For snack, eat vanilla yogurt and talk about how it looks like snow. You could even use fruit to make “snowmen” in the “snow”.

-Focus on the letter “S”. S for Snow. Anytime you see an “S” in a book put an emphasis on the sound and trace the squiggly letter. You can also draw an “S” in your sensory bin fillers or the snow.

-Focus on the circle shape this week. Point out circles you find and help your child trace circles they see or make their own circles on paper, in dough, in sensory bins, or in the snow.

Have more snowy fun ideas for toddlers? I’d love to hear them! Chat with me on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram :)

Find more tot school lesson plans here.

Simple Goals For 2021

Thanks to Farther Finance for sponsoring this post.

I didn’t make many goals for 2020 but by the end of March it was clear that the only goal I should have for the year we just went through was to SURVIVE. From being cooped up in the house with three kids to figuring out elearning to life with a toddler I made it through the year and that was an accomplishment in and of itself. I’m glad I didn’t make a ton of resolutions for the year that started the new decade because that would have been a lot of pressure when I spent most of the past nine months in my pajamas!

Now that it’s 2021 I’m kind of used to this stay-at-home life so I decided to push myself and come up with some goals for the coming year. Having a type-a personality I like to set goals and not having any during this time has been difficult. So I set some and am sharing for accountability…I’m going to do one small thing for my physical or mental health each day, start Tot School with my daughter, keep up with a cleaning schedule for my home, and start saving more money.

As a mom I always put myself- and my needs- on the back burner so my first goal for the year is to just do one thing for my physical health or mental health each day. Maybe it’s making that doctor’s appointment for myself that I’ve been putting off, taking a selfie with my kid and not picking apart my appearance, or finally starting the book that’s been sitting on my side table next to me for the past year. I know that doing something for myself each day would make me a happier, healthier mom!

I shared about my goal of starting up Tot School again in a blog post yesterday. Tot School is simply the idea of intentionally exposing young children to early learning skills through fun play at home. I’ve set up some sensory bins and have started writing the first lesson plan with a theme of “snow” which is coincidentally the same theme I started with over a decade ago when I did this with my son. It’s a bit of work to put together but, as a past preschool teacher, it’s something I enjoy doing and I think it can really benefit my daughter.

In the past I always set a goal for a spotlessly clean house but I’ve just went ahead and thrown that unrealistic goal out the window. I never achieved it before and now, with a toddler and four people who don’t leave said house, it’s not even a consideration. So I’m just setting a goal of finding a cleaning schedule that works and hoping my home doesn’t get to “did a tornado just go through here?” status. I’m trying to focus on a room a day to “deep clean” with a general tidy up of all the main living areas on a daily basis and then just going to dig out my “Sorry you missed it… My house was clean yesterday” sign to display for any guests that might stop by. And thankfully I have two older kids to help clean so the cleaning doesn’t solely fall on my shoulders.

The last goal -saving money- should have been easy to accomplish since everything has been cancelled and we aren’t spending any money on sports, school activities, and the like but unfortunately us being home constantly means my two growing boys are eating more and that I found myself on Amazon buying things we probably didn’t need more than I care to admit. In 2021 I want to cut down on the excess spending (I know my husband will love to hear that!) and sell things we don’t use anymore to build up our savings. I’d also like to start investing some of that money.

Do you have financial goals for the year as well? If you are at a point in your life where you are looking for wealth management services you might want to consider Farther Finance. Farther is making something that was once reserved for the billionaires of the world accessible to more people through expertly crafted technology and personalized financial advice. Their clients use them for cash management and investment management services. With the ability to set-up unlimited goal-based accounts their clients can save for the things that matter most while optimizing their returns and utilizing tax-advantaged accounts to reduce their tax liability. Farther gives driven people the ability to manage their wealth with expert financial advice without the absurdly high-minimums that big financial institutions require.

What goals do you have for 2021? Let me know by chatting with me on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram!

The Return Of Tot School Lesson Plans

Over a decade ago, back when my tweens were toddlers, I did “tot school” with them. The idea came from Carisa who coined the term for the idea of intentionally exposing young children to early learning skills through fun play at home. She always had so many great ideas and I also believe that children learn best through play so I loved the concept of tot school.

I took the tot school idea a step further and created weekly themed lesson plans. (Just blame my early childhood, preschool teacher background for my love of everything themed!) I’d pick a theme and then come up with books to read, songs to sing, and other simple activities to do with my young kids. They weren’t elaborate at all but gave me a framework to follow throughout the week to make sure I was being intentional about offering learning activities, some open play activities, and some more parent led ones. I blogged about a lot of it and, to this day, my tot school posts I created back in 2010 and 2011 are some of my top visited posts. You can find them all here.

With my daughter turning two a couple days ago, I decided that I am going to restart tot school in our home. Emma has a bit more television time than I’d like due to us being home 24/7 now and me trying to work while taking care of her and also supervising my other two doing virtual learning so I’d like to cut some of that electronics time out. I don’t have as much time as I did years ago (and especially won’t when we hopefully return to all the activities and sports that kept our family busy pre-pandemic) but in 2021 I want to once again be intentional about creating an environment for learning and offering activities that encourage her to practice skills.

I plan to create more in-depth weekly lesson plans than I did years ago but I am still going to keep things simple. I’ll have a table set up with activities each morning along with an open sensory bin that she can play at as she’d like to (like the one pictured above that I had set up for fall). Then throughout the day I’ll do specific themed activities with her at times that work for my schedule and she’ll also do even more supervised activities and sensory activities in the kitchen (I have two sensory tables in the kitchen with messier sensory ingredients in them but also anything needing more supervision due to small pieces will be done in the kitchen). I hope to do tot school over the next year. I have no plans to formally homeschool but we will see how it goes!

I’m really excited to start this journey again and I hope you’ll join me. You can subscribe to this blog for tot school lesson plans and chat with me on social, too. I’d love to hear from anyone else who also does tot school or similar learning programs with their toddlers :)

Cleaning Products That Work (Giveaway)

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

As a mom, I feel like the cleaning and the laundry are never-ending. Anyone else feel this way?! Thankfully I have two older kids that can help with the cleaning. I also have a toddler who is not quite as helpful yet but she has just started to pick up some of her toys and wipe up her spills with a paper towel. She also enjoys helping me load up the dryer and gets so excited when it’s time to help with the laundry. I hope she always finds joy in assisting me with the household chores :)

One other thing that’s helpful as a mom is having cleaning products that work. It stinks to spend money on products just to have a sub-par experience using them. My kitchen and bathroom cabinets are full of such products that don’t live up to the promises on their packages! I’ve found some good cleaning products over the years though and one of my favorites is KIDS ‘N’ PETS.

I first bought KIDS ‘N’ PETS almost five years ago when we brought two cats home and, if you have pets and/or kids, this is a must-have cleaning product in my opinion. It’s an award-winning, instant all-purpose stain and odor remover that is non-toxic and can be used on carpet, furniture, mattresses, clothing, bedding & any other water-safe surfaces. With a patented formula it provides a deep clean that deters future accidents. I’ve used it to clean up potty accidents and other stains from both the kids and pets and it works!

Another cleaning product that I recommend is one I was recently introduced to called BIZ which is a stain and odor eliminator that can be used to pretreat stains or as a laundry booster. I’ve tried so many stain removers in the past and BIZ- with more stain fighters than other brands- really has proven to be the most effective on food stains and all the other stains that kids manage to get on their clothes. (They even have a money back guarantee…. If you find a stain remover that works better than BIZ they’ll refund your money!)

Throughout 2021 I’ll be sharing more here on the blog about KIDS ‘N’ PETS and BIZ along with our real-life experiences with the products (my toddler and my two boys give me plenty of stains to test). I’ll also be sharing some cleaning tips that are perfect for busy parents. In the meantime, you can enter below to win some of the products to try for yourself!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

The Homeowner’s Solution To Hard Water

Thanks to Flow-Tech for sponsoring this post.

If you have hard water in your home you know the problems it can cause. Hard water, when left untreated, leads to ongoing costs, maintenance, and issues. Clogged pipes can lead to a dramatic reduction of flow and destruction of flow throughout your home. Over time, the scale caused by the hard water reduces the efficiency of your water heater and appliances- leading to higher bills and eventually new appliances.

To avoid all these issues some homeowners use a traditional water softener. It’s a whole-house solution that prevents scale build up but it does not remove scale buildup that might already be in the pipes. Worst of all, it also comes with a lot of maintenance. I don’t know about you but the last thing I need to do is add more tasks to my to-do list! Thankfully there is another solution that doesn’t require you to do things like add salt or clean a brine tank.

Flow-Tech Home treats water throughout your entire plumbing system and eliminates the on-going costs of maintenance. You’ll save money since you won’t have maintenance costs plus it also saves up to 150 gallons of water a week so you’ll be paying less money on your water bill. It was also designed to be 100% environmentally safe and eco-friendly.

Flow-Tech Home neutralizes the magnesium and calcium ions in your hard water, allowing them to stay in your water and go out with flow – instead of sticking to your pipes and appliances. The video below better explains how the system works throughout your home:

If you think this sounds like a fabulous solution for your home then I have good news for you…. it’s easy to get this installed! You’ll want to consult a local, certified plumber (Flow-Tech has a list on their website of plumbers who are trained to install this) and then that local plumber can install Flow-Tech Home in less than an hour, with no disruptions in water service!

So if you are wanting to protect your home, save water, and eliminate ongoing maintenance you can learn more about Flow-Tech Home and contact a local plumber here.

100 Socially Distanced Christmas Activities For Families

This post contains affiliate links.

This Christmas will be unlike any other we’ve ever experienced -and most of us will be sticking close to home- but that doesn’t mean it can’t be just as magical and meaningful as past holiday seasons. Today I’m sharing 100 ideas for a socially distanced Christmas season. All of these activities can be done at home or as you stay socially distanced on-the-go.

1. Put together a hot cocoa bar (complete with DIY chocolate stir spoons!) and enjoy hot cocoa together in front of the fire.

2. Make reindeer food to leave out for the reindeer on Christmas Eve. (It’s easy- just mix a bit of glitter in a small bag of oats!)

3. Go for a drive and look at Christmas lights while listening to Christmas music.

4. Have a gingerbread house decorating contest between family members.

5. Make your own holiday themed bingo boards and play Bingo.

6. Have a Christmas movie marathon and watch all your family’s favorites!

7. Paint your own wooden Christmas ornaments and decorate with pompoms, sequins, or other embellishments.

8. Make a birthday cake for Jesus and throw him a birthday party. Here are 10 ideas for throwing a birthday party for Jesus.

9. Put together a “blessing” bag for another family and drop it off on their porch then ding-dong-ditch.

10. Make easy, 2-ingredient cinnamon dough ornaments.

11. Have a “wrapping” race and see who can wrap a gift the quickest.

12. Make homemade gifts for your loved ones. Some ideas include sugar scrubs, no-sew fleece blankets, or these delicious, edible gifts in a jar.

13. Set up a nativity scene. (Here’s a cute DIY on how to make a wooden peg doll nativity set.)

14. Read a Christmas book together every night.

15. Do a reverse advent calendar and put one food item in a box every day up until Christmas. At the end of the month bring the whole box of food to a food pantry.

16. Find a local drive through lights festival and visit it with your family.

17. Make a special Christmas morning breakfast. (This holiday casserole is my favorite!)

18. Sing Christmas carols together.

19. Write letters to Santa and send them to the North Pole.

20. Get out of making dinner one night and throw an appetizer party instead by offering a variety of appetizers to eat instead of a full meal. This is what we do every Christmas Eve! We have a couple dozen appetizer choices so there’s plenty of food to fill everyone up and it’s less work for mom because even younger elementary kids can help set up this special night. One of my favorite festive appetizers is this cucumber bites tree but we also love sweet meatballs, hawaiian bread with spinach dip, cheese and crackers, fruit salad, brie bites, and more.

21. Do Random Acts of Kindness as a family for neighbors, friends, or others in your community. Here’s a list of Random Acts of (Social Distancing) Kindness that I put together for the Girl Scouts’ new website.

22. String popcorn and cranberries to make garland for your Christmas tree.

23. Bake Christmas cookies and take some to your local firehouse or to an elderly neighbor.

24. Do an Advent devotional with your family. For those with young children, we love Truth in the Tinsel: An Advent Experience for Little Hands ebook that includes 24 days of Scripture reading, ornament crafts, talking points and extension activities, plus fun printables and templates. For adults and families with older children I love Ann Voskamp’s Unwrapping the Greatest Gift: A Family Celebration of Christmas.

25. Make chocolate peppermint cake pops.

26. Talk about 2020 and the blessings there have been throughout the difficult months and make DIY memory ornaments to help you remember the good of the year.

27. Make handprint Christmas art with your family handprints. (Be sure to write the year on it!)

28. Build a snowman and dress him up.

29. Send Christmas cards to friends.

30. Dress up in matching Christmas pajamas and take a photo together. (I love doing this every Christmas to see how my kids change from year to year!)

31. Read about the birth of Jesus in the Bible, or in an age-appropriate story book.

32. Make a paper chain to countdown the days to Christmas, removing a piece of the chain each day as you count down.

33. Decorate the Christmas tree with your favorite ornaments and let everyone in the family pick out a new ornament to add this year.

34. Turn some Christmas music on and have a dance party.

35. Participate in a toy drive and donate a toy to a child in need.

36. Put on a Christmas play and record it for family and friends near and far.

37. Make a holiday wreath with pieces of Christmas themed fabric. Get directions here.

38. Ask family members and friends to send you their favorite holiday sides or appetizer recipes and make them all for your family over the month of December. Have everyone vote on their favorites to pick the top one or two that you’ll make during the holidays going forward.

39. Make red and green colored playdough or cloud dough.

40. Get out all the sprinkles and frosting and let children decorate sugar cookies that’ll put them in a sugar coma. (The above picture is my son’s creation several years ago- he went a bit sprinkle crazy!)

41. Watch The Grinch and make Grinch cookies together.

42. Host an ugly Christmas sweater party over Zoom.

43. Take a walk around your neighborhood to look at the holiday displays your neigbors have set up.

44. Have children go through their toys and pick some to donate.

45. Dress up your pet for Christmas by making them a festive bandana.

46. Have a game night as you bask in the lights from your Christmas tree.

47. Put together a Christmas music playlist with everyone’s favorite songs on it.

48. Play holiday party games like pin the nose on Rudolph.

49. Hide the Christmas pickle. I share more about this holiday tradition here.

50. Decorate your house for Christmas.

51. Go to a Christmas tree farm and cut down your own Christmas tree.

52. Attend a Christmas worship service online.

53. Open an advent calendar each night to see what’s behind the doors. My boys have chocolate ones this year and Emma has this big, toddler-friendly advent calendar from Step 2.

54. Watch a holiday tv special.

55. Track Santa on Christmas Eve using the NORAD Santa Tracker.

56. Make and decorate gingerbread cookies.

57. Watch the Nutcracker ballet online.

58. Have a sleepover in the family room and cuddle together under the twinkling lights.

59. Host a Polar Express night for your family. Give each child their own bell and mug of hot cocoa before you read the book and watch the movie.

60. Have a pajamas and pancakes party with special festive pancakes.

61. Write a yearly family letter together and share about your family’s 2020. You can email the letter out to friends and family or send it out with your Christmas cards if you mail those.

62. Have a Christmas carols karaoke night singing all the Christmas classics.

63. Personalize your Christmas stockings.

64. Have a Christmas scavenger hunt around your home or outside in your neighborhood.

65. Eat candy canes and talk about what they represent.

66. Find a local Santa offering drive-thru visits or socially distant visits and see the big guy in red.

67. Make snow angels in your yard.

68. Cut out paper snowflakes and then hang them on your Christmas tree.

69. Make rice krispy treats and use Christmas themed cookie cutters to cut them into holiday shapes and then decorate them.

70. Find the biggest hill in town and go sledding.

71. Stream A Christmas Story and enjoy Chinese takeout for dinner.

72. Wrap Christmas gifts together. If you are still looking for gift ideas check out my 2020 holiday gift guide!

73. Have a painting party and have all your family members paint a Christmas scene or a snowy landscape on a canvas.

74. Play a Christmas trivia game.

75. Share the excitement of gift giving and have your kids help you put together a gift basket to gift someone. Here are some ideas: gift basket for a mommy to “bee”, baby bath time gift basket, iced tea gift basket for mom, pet adoption gift basket, and gift basket for a cancer patient.

76. Have a white elephant gift exchange with gifts found around your home or bought online for less than $10 each.

77. Put together a Christmas puzzle as a family.

78. Have your kids make one of these CHRISTmas crafts.

79. Have a cookie swap. Everyone in the group makes a dozen cookies per person, packages them up, and then leaves them on the porches of the other group members.

80. Go outside for a winter nature walk. Make DIY nature journals before you head out.

81. Do a video call with Santa.

82. Make birdfeeders to hang outside.

83. Decorate a plain white tablecloth with permanent markers so you can remember this quarantine Christmas for years to come.

84. Let children help make a bed for baby Jesus with The Giving Manger. Each time they do an act of service they get to put a piece of straw in the manger for baby Jesus to lay in on Christmas Day.

85. Play Christmas movie charades by acting out scenes from Christmas movies and see if your family members can guess which movie you are acting out.

86. Get bathtub color tablets to add to bath water and take a bath in a tub of red and green water.

87. Spongepaint brown paper to make your own wrapping paper.

88. Put up Christmas lights outside.

89. Help children think of meaningful gifts for their family members and then help them make or purchase them online.

90. Read The Night Before Christmas as a family on Christmas Eve before going to bed.

91. Learn about Christmas traditions around the world.

92. Have a candy cane hunt. You can hide candy canes inside your home or, if it’s not too cold outside, you can hide them outdoors and have a flashlight hunt in the dark to find them.

93. Make mason jar snow globes.

94. Create a nursing home care package and drop it off to a loved one in a nursing home. Make sure to add sweet letters from the kids.

95. Play the saran wrap ball game that’s been floating around Facebook.

96. Pray for friends and family members that send you and your family Christmas cards. You can do this as they are received or one per evening.

97. Create a family time capsule ornament. In a clear ornament add things -either the items themselves or the memories written on pieces of paper- that will remind your family of 2020. (Don’t forget the TP!)

98. Host a “12 days of video calls” and zoom with a different family member or friend for the 12 days leading up to Christmas.

99. Let everyone open one gift on Christmas Eve night. (Some families gift special holiday pajamas to wear to bed or a movie to watch Christmas Eve.)

100. Spend every second you can just enjoying time with your family whatever you choose to do. The memories made during the Christmas season will last a lifetime.

What does your family enjoy doing during the Christmas season? I’d love to hear about it so chat with me on social!

***

2020 Holiday Gift Guide: Gift Ideas For Everyone On Your List

If you are looking for gift ideas you are in the right place! I have dozens of ideas and there is something here for everyone on your Christmas shopping list. There are also some awesome GIVEAWAYS which you can enter at the bottom of this gift guide. More gift ideas and giveaways will be added in the coming month so keep checking back and stay tuned to the Making Time For Mommy social media channels for updates and gift ideas as well! This post contains some affiliate links to make shopping easier.

L.O.L. Surprise! O.M.G. Winter Chill ICY Gurl Fashion Doll & Brrr B.B. Doll with 25 Surprises (GIVEAWAY)

Who doesn’t love surprises?! This set has 25 of them that you get to unbox, including L.O.L. Surprise! O.M.G. Winter Chill fashion doll – Icy Gurl – and her sister – Brrr B.B. Icy Gurl who has highly detailed features, beautiful hair, and her own mountain-ready style. She’s the big sister to fan favorite L.O.L. Surprise! character, Brrr B.B., who is also included. The dolls come with a totally unique unboxing experience in a Winter Chill themed package. Open the side to unbox your fashion doll and reveal surprises. Icy Gurl’s fashions are ready to be unboxed from fabulous garment bags, her shoes have their own shoebox, and her hat box holds her accessories. Slide off the icy silhouette to reveal her picture. Find the ribbon and pull to spin around to find her bio and then reveal Icy Gurl in her dressing room, where she’s hanging out, ready to get dressed in her fierce fashions. Have her strike a pose to show her off on her included doll stand. The package becomes a reusable playset with a dressing room and chill zone. Each L.O.L. Surprise! O.M.G. Winter Chill includes a fashion doll, her sister, fierce fashions, shoes, a shoebox, accessories, a hat box, purse, a brush, garment bags, a doll stand and a package that becomes a reusable playset. Collect all 4 L.O.L. Surprise! O.M.G. Winter Disco fashion dolls.

Buy this L.O.L Surprise! set on Amazon here or enter to win it at the bottom of this post.

Pictures on Gold Locket (GIVEAWAY)

I love the lockets from Pictures on Gold! I have gifted one to my mom and made one for myself and this year I’m giving one to my daughter. I’m also giving one of you the chance to win a locket you design yourself so when you are done going through this list of amazing gifts make sure to scroll all the way down to the bottom to enter to win!

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. Pictures on Gold has images put into the lockets with a laser, making the images 100% waterproof and scratch-proof. They offer a lifetime guarantee on their laser engraving and the quick shipping turnaround time makes it the perfect last-minute gift.

Create your own locket here and use the code ‘FESTIVE10’ to save 10% off.

Ballpark Blueprints (GIVEAWAY)

Ballpark Blueprints is the site to check out if you have a sports fan on your Christmas list! This company makes original handcrafted architectural art of more than 140 iconic stadiums, arenas and ballparks across the country. Favorite venues from baseball, football (pro and college), basketball, hockey, golf, and more are all part of its extensive collection. Your loved one might be missing out on in-person sports this year but Ballpark Blueprints offer a sophisticated and classic way for sports fans to reminisce and display their love of the game with a variety of gift ideas at every price point: from high-end framed, canvas, and metal art, museum-quality unframed art prints, and wall murals, to golf headcoversfleece stadium blanketst-shirts and hoodiesceramic mugs and metal travel mugs, among others. I received a cozy fleece blanket with my favorite stadium- Soldier Field where the Chicago Bears play- on it and I absolutely love it!

Enter the giveaway at the bottom of this gift guide for your chance to win an unframed print of your choosing. You can also use the code MOMMY20 for 10% off all orders at ballparkblueprints.com.

Little Tikes My First Pet Checkup Set

Toys that encourage make-believe provide so many benefits to kids and this one also promotes empathy and might even lead to aspirations of becoming a vet or working with animals. I was excited to get this for my daughter because I think it will lead to hours of fun! This pet vet role play toy features three pets, plus tons of interactive play features: a pretend play ‘x-ray’ station; a working scale; a sink; a folding checkup counter; an adjustable, working overhead exam light; vet tools to examine and treat pretend pets and more. The built-in ‘x-ray’ station inspires kids to get creative by drawing on the 3 included translucent ‘x-ray’ slides. There’s also a lot of built-in storage which is great for all the accessories and any other vet or doctor items your child mighht have.

Buy it on Amazon here.

Loungewear from Sunday Citizen

Since we are all spending more time at home, perhaps the most useful gift is the gift of comfort. Sunday Citizen’s new Siesta Modal line of Lazy Pullovers, In & Out Joggers, In & Out Hoodies, and Weekend Shorts is possibly the softest Loungewear on the market (perfect for lounging around the house all day!) but also chic enough to wear outside. I was amazed at the softness when I received my pullover and hoodie in the mail. It’s definetely the softest sweatshirt I’ve ever had! And I just love the mint color that they offer….so pretty. I also appreciate that Sunday Citizen offers free shipping, returns, and a 90-day trial.

See all the products in their clothing line here.

TOPPIN Cordless Stick Vacuum Cleaner

As a mom I tend to ask for small appliances and other things for our home as Christmas gifts so if “vacuum” is on your list- or a loved ones’- this TOPPIN cordless stick vacuum is a great, affordable option if you have hardwood floors. Since it’s cordless and lightweight it’s quick to grab to clean up crumbs after my toddler eats! It’s detachable battery provides up to 35 minutes of runtime before a 4-hours recharging is needed. It features a 35mm-wide roll brush that combines soft wool with carbon fiber wool to resist and reduce hair wrap and attachment while vacuuming, ideal for families with furry pets on hard floor. I also like that it easily converts from stick vacuum to a handheld vacuum with versatile attachments, allowing you to reach corners, stairs and crevices for a full deep cleaning.

Buy it on Amazon here or buy it on toppin.com and save 20% with the code Alicia20.

Christmas Books

Books are always a great gift idea for kids and during the holidays I like to give Christmas themed books. I have a roundup of Christmas books here but this year we added a couple more to our bookshelves: Christmas is Joy and Mouse’s Night Before Christmas. Both books are for the older toddler/preschool age so my almost 2 year old will be able to enjoy them for a few more holiday seasons. In Christmas is Joy, Emma Dodd imagines the joyful celebration of this wonderful time of year, as seen through the eyes of two reindeer. Mouse’s Night Before Christmas is a beautiful picture book that brings to life the warmth that comes with receiving the best gift of all – a new friend.

Buy them on Amazon: Christmas Is Joy & Mouse’s Night Before Christmas

Nooie Smart Home Gear

Give the gift of security with Nooie Smart Home Gear – affordable, stylish, and intuitive home security to protect everything you care about. The Nooie Cam Outdoor has a full HD camera and night vision, a broad view, two-way audio, motion/sound detection, theft-deterrant alarm, and is waterproof and UV resistant. They also have indoor cameras, smart plugs, and lightbulbs as well – everything one needs to make their house a smart home!

Shop all Nooie products here.

ANIMAL ISLAND Aila Sit & Play Virtual Early Preschool Learning System  for Toddlers

For parents working from home while juggling young kids this device is a lifesaver. Animal Island Learning Adventure (AILA) Original Series for toddlers (12-36 months) is high-quality educational content developed by educators and innovators for early learning when it matters the most. It’s hands-free, worry-free, ad-free and subscription-free with automatic updates. There are three play modes with curated playlists: broadcast for exposure, session for learning and lullaby for sleepy babies. Engaging and fun content blended automatically for a toddler to sing along, dance, and learn ABC’s, 123’s, colors, shapes, words, stories and music together with their animal friends in the virtual preschool on the Animal Island so that parents have the peace of mind. AILA keeps track of the curriculum milestones and delivers the right content at the right time.

Buy it on Amazon here.

Say What You Meme Game

Say What You Meme is the hilarious new party game in which players create their own memes – pictures with hysterical sayings found on Facebook, Twitter, Reddit and other social media sites – and choose which are the funniest, wittiest meme for the win! In each round, players get the chance to try their hand at this 21st century art form by combining hilarious images and witty text. It’s perfect for family game night with social media savvy tweens and teens!

Buy the first edition on Amazon here.

Kayo Body Care

Women can always use more lotions and other body care products making them the perfect gift for a number of people on your list! Kayo developed a suite of over 15 premium products and beauty tools that tackle full-body healthy aging including a line featuring High-Performance Hemp. Kayo’s Face Grade Body Care formulas contain the same high concentrations of powerful, quality ingredients as luxury facial skin care, but they’re made just for the skin below your chin. They adhere to the European Union’s skincare ingredient standards, which are stricter than those in the US, and they don’t contain any sulfates or parabens.

Buy Kayo Body Care products here.

Lilly Tikes Sing-Along Ami Doll

Dolls are some of the most played with toys in our home so I was excited to give Ami to my daughter. The new Sing-Along Ami doll brings kids’ vibrant imaginations to life as they play all day. Holding both the Sing-Along Ami doll’s hands makes her sing her own version of “Ring Around the Rosie” and speak 10 unique phrases for tons of interactive play. When they’re done playing and singing, kids can enjoy teatime with Ami using the included, doll-size teacup, saucer, two cookies, and bunny doll. Ami stands 12 inches tall, has fully articulated arms and legs, a turning head, and changeable clothes so kids can have her sit, pose, or do just about anything they can imagine. Best of all, Ami’s soft hair is brushable and kids can style it with the included brush and two hair clips.

Buy Sing-Along Ami on Amazon here.

SWAGTRON K7 3-in-1 Ride-On Balance Trike, Tricycle and Balance Bike

The SWAGTRON K7 is the best way to get your toddlers engaging with the world around them, all while developing their balance, strength, endurance and coordination. Start them as early as 10 months on a balance trike to improve balance. As they grow in confidence and skill, quickly and easily transform the balance tricycle into a pedaling tricycle before being converted into its final form – a balance bike. This is a natural learning progression, for kids and parents alike. This comes in pink or blue.

Buy it on Amazon here.

The Clockwork Crow

I’m always on the hunt for new books that will interest my two tweens. Evoking the classic fantasy adventures of Joan Aiken and Eva Ibbotson, this darkly delightful new novel from New York Times best-selling author Catherine Fisher glimmers with winter magic and is sure to enthrall the youth of today. The Clockwork Crow comes highly rated so it’s perfect for any middle schoolers on your shopping list and will give them something to do over the long winter break.

Buy it on Amazon here.

LEGO Trolls World Tour Pop Village Celebration Set

If you have a child who loves building with LEGO bricks and is a fan of Trolls, this Pop Village Celebration Set would make an awesome gift idea! With amazing detail, this building set opens a world of imaginative play for young Trolls fans. From the branches of this super-cool tree hang two pods: one for the glitter-tastic exclusive LEGO Trolls characters Guy Diamond and Tiny Diamond, plus another for Cooper. There’s even space to add an optional third pod – Poppy’s Pod. There’s so much for kids to discover in this Trolls playhouse. With lots of interactive features and accessories, they’ll love creating their own stories. They can even take the fun with them since the Trolls’ pods close and are portable! Each set includes printed instructions and comes with Instructions PLUS to help youngsters build.

Buy it on Amazon here.

This is a Book of Shapes

Looking to add to your toddler’s board book collection? This is a Book of Shapes is an unexpected delight and definetely not what I expected when I picked up a book about shapes to read to my daughter. Written by Kenneth Kraegel for 2-5 year olds, what begins as a concept board book about everyone’s geometric favorites soon defies expectations with a series of funny and imaginative twists.

Buy it on Amazon here.

TENZI Dice Party Game Bundle

A friend recently told me that TENZI was one of her family’s favorite games so I knew that I had to add it to our collection for our family game nights. TENZI is a fun, fast dice game for ages 7 and up. To play TENZI you must roll your 10 dice as fast as you can which makes the game instantly competitive and fun for the whole family. In addition to the original TENZI dice game instructions that give you 9 different ways to play, the game bundle includes an add-on card set that provides 77 different ways to play TENZI. This set is small so it’s perfect to take with on family trips or to sleepovers and there are so many ways to play it’ll provide hours of fun.

Buy it on Amazon here.

Totally 90s Coloring Book

This is the perfect gift for 80s babies! They will relive their youth with this coloring book that’s chock-full of the best the 1990s brought us! Flipping through this coloring book I was reminded of all the things I just had to have during that decade- from scrunchies to fanny packs to outdated tech like walkmans and see-through landline phones. 2020 has given us plenty of time at home so this coloring book is perfect for adults looking to do something other than binge-watch tv and it will serve as a great escape back to better times.

Buy it on Amazon here.

Love Board Book

This baby board book by Casey Rislov is inspired by 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 and celebrates the power of love. This board book wraps little ones up in the embrace of gentle words and sweet illustrations while reminding us that–during hard times and loss– with love, anything is possible. The messages of Love rings true now more than ever as our world faces division, turmoil, and chaos from the COVID-19 pandemic — and teaches children compassion and kindness at a young age.

Buy it on Amazon here.

Camera Roll Game

Tweens and teens are on their cell phones 24/7 anyway so why not incorporate it into a game that gets them a bit of face-to-face interaction while playing!? Players search through their camera roll (or on social media for Search Up cards) to find a photo that matches the card and get points for the photos they find. I also love that this game can be played while social distancing over video chat!

Buy it on Amazon here.

Little Tikes First Washer Dryer

If you have a little one who loves to “help” you around the house this miniature washer dryer from Little Tikes might just be the perfect gift for them! This toy washer-dryer has a realistic design so kids can pretend they’re doing the laundry for hours of pretend play fun. It’s packed with realistic sounds – dial turning, spinning drum sounds, beeps, cycle changing, and more- and kids can even turn the dial to activate the spinning drum and watch it as it goes through a wash/dry cycle. My toddler was so excited to play with this right out of the box (and I hadn’t even put the batteries in it yet!)

Buy it on Amazon here.

When I think of skateboarding, Tony Hawk comes to mind because he was the best skateboarder out there in the 1990s. I used to love watching him do all his tricks as I dreamed about being a “skater girl” and going to watch him at the X Games. For all the gamers in your life who also enjoy skateboarding, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2 would make a great gift. The quintessential series that brought skateboarding to the mainstream is back and this ground-up remaster breathes new life into the classic franchise that I have loved since the late 90s.

Buy it on Amazon here.

Back the the Roots Growing Kits

Back to the Roots, an organic gardening company, has two amazing new products for kids just in time for the holiday season:  the Terrarium Kids Grow Kit and the Self-Watering Grow Kit. Kids will be excited to get their hands dirty and get their creativity flowing off-screen! Easy and fun, they will love growing different plants, that they can decorate and make their own.

The Terrarium Kit comes to life with the magic of organic microgreens in just 7 days! Kids can ave fun building and decorating their own edible terrarium, and follow along in the included Discovery Booklet to learn about the magic of nature’s ecosystems. Everything is included – just add water and watch it grow! The Self-Watering Grow Kit is a mini hydroponic system that works with all popular cacti and succulents and takes the worry out of watering! It comes with everything you need – just drop in your favorite plant ($5 rebate included!) and add water to the jar. The reliable wicking system brings water up to your succulent or cactus only as needed — so you can keep calm, and grow on!

Light up your kid’s holiday season with magic, with a gift they will watch grow to life. Back to the Roots also has a number of gift ideas for all the adults on your list, too! And it’s okay if they don’t have a green thumb because Back to the Roots offers zero-risk gardening! They’ll send you as many seeds as you need to get growing or they’ll give you your money back. Sounds perfect for people like me who can’t keep plants alive :)

See all their growing kits here.

Will You Be My Friend? Book

If you love the book Guess How Much I Love You, you will be just as delighted with the sequel to the heartwarming picture book classic. Twenty-five years after we met the Nutbrown Hares, this enchanting new tale about friendship is bound to capture the hearts of Guess How Much I Love You fans—and everyone else—the world over.

Buy it on Amazon here.

Boppy Newborn Lounger

If you have a new mom or infant to shop for, the Boppy Lounger is hands down my favorite gift for them. The lounger was the most used baby item in my home during the first months after my third child was born. The Boppy Newborn Lounger is the perfect place for baby to hang out during awake time when you need a hands-free moment. I used it often while trying to get some work done or to put Emma in while my older two fed her a bottle. The uniquely recessed design gently cradles baby during supervised awake time. It is lightweight with a simple carrying handle making the Newborn Lounger easy to move from room to room. You can watch baby and get things done while satisfying baby’s curiosity by providing different views and environments.

Buy it on Amazon here.

 

MasterChef Electric Tortilla and Flatbread Maker

Those who enjoy cooking seem to always love checking out the newest kitcen gadgets and appliances so gifting the MasterChef Electric Tortilla and Flatbread Maker is just a no-brainer! My husband was really excited to receive one. It makes homemade, 10-inch flatbread, pitas, tortillas and more in just minutes. This appliance is heavy duty, has a non-stick coating for easy cleanup and its plates are designed to distribute heat evenly for uniform baking. It includes a ready light to indicate optimal baking temperature and a cord wrap for convenient storage. Best of all, it’s easy to clean! Give the gift of kitchen creativity when you leave one of these under the Christmas tree!

Buy it on Amazon here.

CuBirds

Need a new game to add to the family game night rotation? CuBirds is a perfect small group game for those evenings you want to fit a quick game in since it can be played in just 20 minutes. It’s a trick-taking game for two to five players ages 8 and up that challenges players to be the first to build their flock of cards adorned with beautiful artwork of birds. It’s easy to learn and there’s even two different ways to play.

Buy it on Amazon here.

HamiltonBuhl Animation Studio Kit

If your child loves to create stop-motion videos this animation kit will help them do so. The simple and easy to use Animate It! software has an intuitive interface with stunningly powerful features. The Animation Studio Kit includes a 5MP, 30FPS, gooseneck webcam with a non-slip base and Animate It! stop motion animation software, developed by the award-winning makers of “Wallace & Gromit.” Almost any topic can be made more interesting using stop motion animation, and students will learn from this exciting teaching technique. Simply plug in the included USB webcam, grab an item – a toy, a fruit, a book, anything at hand – and get animating! This fun product teaches kids multimedia skills, which help develop essential skills like critical thinking, problem-solving, communication, and collaboration capabilities. It also demystifies media and IT technologies and might just introduce kids to a new career!

Buy it on Amazon here.

GingerSnap Wishes Clothing

Looking to support a small business this holiday season? I love GingerSnap Wishes and their line of inclusive clothing. Their mission is to create clothing that makes children feel happy, confident, and empowered so they can be comfortable in their own skin and be their true selves. Love it! If you have a girl who likes construction vehicles, dinosaurs, or other sterotypical “boys” themes you will find the perfect gift in this shop. My favorite outfit is the “Sundays are for football” outfit that Emma received (anyone who knows me could have told you I’d pick the football outfit lol!) but I also really like their newest “Children of the Revolution” skirt.

Use code ‘MAKINGTIMEFORMOMMY’ for 10% off when you shop her site- https://gingersnapwishes.com/?ref=8z-ptewtsujk

Laser Battle Hunters

I have a cool toy your kids are going to love! Laser Battle Hunters Remote Control Laser Tag Vehicles perfectly combine old school car play with the fun of laser tag! They are great for siblings or small groups to play (get additional cars to compete against up to seven opponents) but they also allow a child to play safe and solo with an autonomous single player mode against the computer using both vehicles which is great for social distancing. Laser Battle Hunters give kids an amazing laser tag battling experience. Choose Shadow or Reaper then Game On! Ready, aim and fire…attack or be attacked. Three hits and you win. The vehicles have hi-tech Omniwheels for side-to-side driving in tight spaces, wide open racing, or tough terrain and laser-like lights and sounds. Sneak attack or come in blasting with blazing wide turns and epic drifting. The two-pack Laser Battle Hunter with infrared cannons comes with 2 controllers and are great for kids ages 5 and older to be played indoors or outdoors with an operating range of 50 feet.

Get the two-pack of Laser Battle Hunters at Walmart here.

Evelyn Del Rey is Moving Away

From Newbery Medalist Meg Medina comes the bittersweet story of two girls who will always be each other’s número uno, even though one is moving away. The tenderness of Meg Medina’s beautifully written story about friendship and change is balanced by Sonia Sánchez’s colorful and vibrant depictions of the girls’ urban neighborhood. This book about friendship is also available in Spanish.

Buy it on Amazon here.

Resident Evil 3

My husband couldn’t wait to get his hands on Resident Evil 3! He loved the first two games and this brings back a lot of nostalgia for him since the first game came out when we were teenagers. This latest entry in the 103 million unit selling Resident Evil franchise bookends the Raccoon City saga using Capcom’s proprietary RE Engine to deliver vivid high-definition graphics and modernized gameplay mechanics. Resident Evil 3 is presented through the perspective of one of video games’ most iconic heroines, Jill Valentine, as she tries to escape Raccoon City in the completely reimagined, action-backed survival hooror game Resident Evil 3. Experience her harrowing escape while being pursued by Nemesis in the panic-stricken hours leading up to and following the events of the acclaimed best-selling Resident Evil 2. Players can also participate in previously untold Umbrella experiments on the outskirts of Raccoon City in the included online asymmetrical multiplayer game Resident Evil Resistance. In this 4 vs. 1 online multiplayer game, four Survivors must work together to escape an insidious experiment and outsmart the twisted Mastermind behind the scenes. Resident Evil 3 is available now on PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC.

Buy it on Amazon here.

Puffy Blanket

I am always cold so I love a nice warm blanket that I can cuddle under and this one is so soft! The Puffy Blanket is a gift that’s perfect for everyone this Christmas with it’s luxurious comfort mixed with classic design that will suit any style of bedroom décor or look great draped over their favorite chair. With soft faux fur on one side and velvety soft micro mink on the other, the lightweight Puffy Blanket is ideal for staying cozy during the cold winter months.

Get the Puffy Blanket and save 15% until the end of the year!

Club Eimmie Doll Accessory Monthly Subscription

If you have a little one in your life who loves dolls they would enjoy getting this monthly subscription package in the mail each month. I get it for my daughter’s dolls and they have such cute items. Each month your child will get doll clothes, doll accessories and/or doll playsets. The first box came with a cute romper, pajama set, and doll hair brush and last month they had a fun little roller skating set.

Subscribe on Amazon here.

Sok-It

I found the perfect stocking stuffer for the coffee lover in your life: reusable iced and hot coffee sleeves from Sok-It™. JavaSok™ cold sleeves fit most major brands like Dunkin®, Starbucks®, McCafé® Cups and many other similar sized cups, and not only retain ice so your beverage stays cold longer, but leaves you happy with dry hands, no mess, puddles or watermarks to worry about and HotSok™ sleeves shield your hands from extreme heat and fit most disposable cup sizes. Made from thick, insulating, 4MM coated neoprene fabric on its inner and outer sides to provide natural barriers to various elements, JavaSok and HotSok are also washable. They come in a lot of fun prints, too, so you can find the perfect one that fits the gift recipient’s personality!

See the different prints on Amazon here.

The Chicago Tribune Book of the Chicago Bears

One of my favorite things is football, and more specifically the Chicago Bears. This beautifully put-together Bears book is a must-have for any Chicago Bears fan! In Chicago, the Bears’s grip on the city spans generations and cultures, endures disappointments, and impels celebration of triumphs great and small. From the team’s humble beginnings to its century-long status as the flagship NFL franchise, the Chicago Tribune has documented every season. The Chicago Tribune Book of the Chicago Bears is an impressive testament to Bears tradition, compiling photography, original box scores, and entertaining essays from Hall of Fame reporters. This expanded second edition includes updated writing from the past five years, and was released to coincide with the 100-year anniversary of the NFL–and the Chicago Bears. The Chicago Tribune Book of the Chicago Bears is a decade-by-decade look at the team, beginning with George Halas moving the team to Chicago in 1921. The Bears soon became known as the Monsters of the Midway, dominating the sport with four NFL titles in the 1940s, seven winning campaigns in the 1950s, and a final title with Halas as coach in 1963. Their 1985 Super Bowl championship transformed the city’s passion into a full-blown love affair that continues today. Professional football was practically born in Chicago, nurtured by Halas through the Depression and a world war. The NFL game was made for Chicago, in Chicago, by a Chicagoan. Now the award-winning journalists, photographers, and editors of the Chicago Tribune have produced a comprehensive collector’s item that every Bears fan will love.

Buy it on Amazon here.

Imaginext

Out of all the toys I bought my boys, I’d say that their Imaginext sets and figures were the most played with. From preschool through 2nd grade or so, these toys were played with on a daily basis. They have a lot of different characters, from Spongebob to super heroes to Toy Story to Scooby Doo. They are also well made and last through rough play, which my young boys definetely put them all through. There are dozens of sets available at big box stores and on Amazon but my favorite that’s in stores right now is the giant DC Super Friends Super Surround Batcave. This thing is huge! (Check out the stock photo of the kids sitting next to it.)

See all the Imaginext sets available on Amazon here.

Adventures From Scratch: Family Edition

2020 has been the year of family time. Most of us have stayed close to home and had a lot of time to bond but have done a lot of the “same old thing”- from baking to watching movies to family game night. Adventures From Scratch: Family Edition, an amazing scratch off family adventure book, is here to change that and will definetely help you shake things up in 2021!

This book will spark your family’s sense of adventure. Say goodbye to the ‘ordinary’ and vow to do something different. Use the interactive family book to bond through excitement, to make discoveries, to fuel your imagination, and to venture into uncharted family fun territory. With 50+ hidden challenges, tear-out surprises, and interactive elements, this is the ultimate scratch-off family adventure book. Every challenge is designed to bring your family closer together, doing things you never would have done without this fun-inspiring book. Family adventure categories include: Explore, Create, Learn, Spread Joy, Cook, Move, Get Silly, and more. The adventures can take you to an undiscovered trail, to your kitchen, or to your own backyard.

Commit to an adventurous 2021 and buy the book here.

Watchdogs: Legion

Here’s another game on the list for older gamers! My husband was excited to get Watchdogs: Legion to check out. In Watch Dogs: Legion, London is facing its downfall. Amidst the growing unrest of a restless London, an unknown entity named Zero-Day has framed secret underground resistance DedSec for coordinated bombings across London. In the aftermath, criminal opportunists from every corner of London took hold and filled the void left by a defeated government. As a member of DedSec, players will be going up against those criminal opportunists in Watch Dogs: Legion; sadists, mercenaries, cybercriminals, and more; they’ll have to be prepared for a variety of situations. Players must recruit members into their DedSec Resistance to take on these criminal opportunists, liberate London and uncover the identity of Zero-Day.

Buy it on Amazon here.

1MORE ColorBuds True Wireless Earbuds

Anyone that loves listening to music would love these new ColorBuds True Wireless Earbuds by 1MORE. These comfortable earbuds are water and sweat resistant and deliver premium sound in a lightweight, portable earbud. They even have an auto play/pause feature so that when the earbuds are removed the built-in infared sensors will automatically pause the music and resume it once you put them back on. They also have four powerful microphones combined with noise cancellation technology that produces crystal-clear voice talk. I love that they have a pocket-sized charging case, too.

Buy them on Amazon here.

All Aboard! Great Lakes Board Book

Living in the Chicago area for most of my life means I’m blessed to have explored the great lakes often and I love traveling to other lakeside towns. Since 2020 has kept us home I haven’t been able to take my toddler to see all the sights I’d like to so I was excited to hear about this book that lets toddlers explore the amazing Great Lakes- Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie, and Ontario and all the interesting places along the way such as Niagra Falls, Mackinac Island (one of my favorites!), Cave Point, and Chicago. The authors engaging writing and delightful illustrations will have little outdoor lovers and baby explorers enthralled with every page, encouraging little ones to always be adventurous!

Buy it on Amazon here.

Trendhim Lealand Green Foldable Duffle Bag

Sometimes men can be so difficult to buy for but Trendhim, an international brand based in Denmark, that sells accessories and other cool stuff for men makes crossing off all the men in your life a snap. I love this army green duffle bag which would make the perfect gift for anyone who loves to explore. This lightweight, water-resistant duffle bag is also ideal for weekend getaways or trips to the gym. It blends functionality with design and the spacious large zipped compartment is great for packing your gear, while the 2 side pockets hold smaller essentials and secure with snaps. It comes packed folded in a small pouch

Find the perfect gift for the fashionable man in your life here.

Blitz Champz

Yes, if you are counting you will know that this is the third football related gift idea on my list…I can’t help it! I love football :) I am super excited to share about this gift though because it combines two of my passions: football and education. BLITZ CHAMPZ is a fun and competitive card game, based on the sport of football, that teaches strategy and reinforces math skills. It takes two minutes to learn, can be played by 2-6 people at a time, and is perfect for ages 7 and up. It can be used at school as an educational activity, and at home for fun, family bonding time. It’s very portable as well so it’s perfect to take camping or to the park.

Buy the game on Amazon here.

Monster Hunter World: Iceborne

Here’s another gift idea for the more mature gamers on your Christmas shopping list! The critically-acclaimed Monster Hunter World: Iceborne is the massive expansion that built upon every aspect of Capcom’s best-selling title of all time, Monster Hunter: World. The title has continued to receive a bounty of free post-launch content including the addition of new and exciting monsters, seasonal events, new armor, weapons, cosmetic options and more. The title recently launched Title Update 5, which brought two new monsters to the game, including Arch-Tempered Velkhana and the Black Dragon Fatalis, new armor sets, the Fun Fright Fest in-game event, and more. Monster Hunter World: Iceborne is available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC.

Buy it on Amazon here.

Juju Bug & Co. Mother & Daughter TShirt Subscription

I couldn’t put together a gift guide and not include my newest favorite- a tshirt subscription for moms and their daughters! My toddler and I wore coordinating shirts yesterday for Thanksgiving that we got from this subscription and I loved being able to fulfill my dream of matching mother/daughter outfits after having two boys.

Sign up for the monthly sets here.

GIVEAWAYS

Shopping for others is fun but winning free things is even more fun :) Enter below to win some amazing prizes thanks to our awesome sponsors! Please note that each prize is a different form so make sure to enter all the giveaways that you are interested in winning! Follow me on social media to be notified when more new gift ideas and giveaways are added to this gift guide!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

a Rafflecopter giveaway

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Calling All Dog Parents

This post is sponsored by BabbleBoxx on behalf of Amazon Prime Video. 

Calling all dog parents! Today a new, unscripted series called ‘The Pack‘ premieres on Amazon Prime Video. The series celebrates the unrivaled bond between dogs and their human companions. I’m excited to check it out since our family recently grew by eight paws this spring when we fostered (and then officially adopted) our first dog, Bonnie Belle, and her feline friend, Leo. I love being a dog mom and she’s quickly become a part of our family.

She’s traveled with us (on socially-distanced trips of course!)

She’s loved playing in the backyard with her human siblings.

And we enjoyed celebrating our first Halloween with her – matching bumble bee costumes and all!

It’s been a wonderful 7 months and we look forward to making lots more memories together. Mostly though, we just enjoy lounging around on the couch at home as we stream shows so we definetely will be watching The Pack together!

The Pack is hosted by Olympic gold medalist Lindsey Vonn and her canine co-host Lucy. The series features twelve teams of dogs and their humans on an epic adventure across multiple continents as they compete to win hundreds of thousands of dollars for themselves and the charities that they support. To win, the teams will have to depend on their understanding of one another’s strengths and weaknesses and prove to have the strongest bond in the pack. In each locale, the human and dog duos will face fun and exciting challenges, designed with the help of a team of accredited veterinarians and certified dog experts that also accompany the group on their exciting journey, making sure it is a positive experience for everyone. 

To celebrate the Pack Amazon Prime series, Amazon Prime Video is hosting a 3-day event called Packed Weekend featuring deals and experiences for us and our pups to enjoy together. Amazon has some special deals, perks and promotions from dog-friendly brands and even put together an Amazon Pets holiday gift guide to help you pick out great gifts for your fur baby. They also have a map where you can put in your zip code to find local deals and free goodies near you this weekend! Some pet stores by me are giving free dog treats and discounts but other places -like restaurants, salons, and retail stores- are getting in on the action as well with things for dog parents and their human kids. 

Along with all these special offers, I love all that they have put together to encourage quality time with our dogs! I’m really looking forward to joining the Pack Walk Challenge with Bonnie Belle because she loves going on walks around our neigborhood to sniff everything out. This global, virtual dog walk benefits some incredible causes and, the best part is, you can participate from wherever you are located. Plus, eligible participants have the chance to win amazing prizes when they complete the Challenge and log 30 miles by December 19th! The prizes are great but I was really excited to see that one of the charities featured is one I personally support called Best Friends Animal Society. A while back I had the privilege of visiting their animal sanctuary in Utah and they are doing amazing work there (and throughout the country really).

Amazon Prime Video sent us a special box in the mail to start our Packed Weekend celebration off with a bang, er…make that a “woof!” Bonnie Belle loved sniffing the box (I’m guessing she knew it was a surprise for her!) The box had goodies we could use during playtime. Bonnie Belle really likes playing tug of war with her chew toy so that was a favorite item in the box! She also got a little tunnel to run through and I feel like her toddler human may enjoy that just as much as her!

How will you be celebrating The Packed Weekend? Share with me on social and let me know what you think of The Pack Amazon Prime Video series, too!

 

 

Thanksgiving Books For Toddlers And Preschoolers

This post contains affiliate links.

I love having holiday themed books to read to my toddler. I noticed while going through her board books that we had a lot of Halloween books and tons of Christmas books but no Thanksgiving holiday books so I went to find some on Amazon. I thought I’d share the ones I found in case other families are looking to add some Thanksgiving books to their little one’s bookshelf, too.

Five Silly Turkeys (Board Book)

Toddlers will love the silly Thanksgiving turkeys in this fun counting book full of silly turkeys doing very silly things!  From twirling on a dance floor to being chased by a bee to tanning in the sun, these are no ordinary Thanksgiving turkeys. This shiny fabric–tabbed book is a holiday treat that is sure to be gobbled up quickly.

Thanksgiving is for Giving Thanks (Paperback)

Sure, Thanksgiving is about pilgrims and history–and turkey, of course!–but most importantly, it’s a holiday all about everything that we are thankful for. Cheerful, colorful illustrations accompany the simple text in this celebration of family, friends, and the holiday that brings them all together.

Llama Llama Gives Thanks (Board Book)

In Llama Llama Gives Thanks, it’s Thanksgiving time for Llama Llama and his family! That means yummy foods and autumn leaves and being thankful for everything from pumpkin pies to blue skies. Thanksgiving may only come once year, but in Llama’s family, giving thanks is always here!

With short and simple rhyming text, the Llama Llama board books introduce Llama Llama to babies and toddlers before they’re ready for longer full-length stories. And their small size and durable pages are perfect for little hands.

I Am Thankful (Paperback)

Thanksgiving books for kids teach us about coming together with our loved ones and to give thanks for all that we have. I Am Thankful is an adorable, rhyming storybook that follows three different families as they celebrate the holiday with their own traditions, acts of kindness, and ways of giving back.

Kids will learn how to be thankful for the people and world around them as they delight in the sweet illustrations that show diverse families and exciting Thanksgiving adventures. This heartfelt, poetic story will show young ones the meaning of giving and sharing.

Where is Baby’s Turkey? (Board Book)

Little ones will love this new lift-the-flap board book from Karen Katz that’s perfect for Thanksgiving!

Gobble, gobble! It’s time for Thanksgiving! In this interactive book from bestselling author Karen Katz, little ones can lift the sturdy, easy-to-lift flaps on each page to look for Baby’s turkey stuffed animal. Filled with bright, striking art, this book is sure to get little ones excited for the festive family holiday!

Bear Says Thanks (Hardcover)

Bear has come up with the perfect way to say thanks—a nice big dinner! When Bear decides to throw a feast, his friends show up one by one with different platters of delicious food to share. There’s just one problem: Bear’s cupboards are bare! What is he to do?

Karma Wilson’s playful text and Jane Chapman’s charming illustrations bring to life this celebration of family and friendship. Young readers will delight in discovering the special gift Bear has to share.

A Very Thankful Prayer (Board Book)

Help your little one grow gratitude as you join adorable animals thanking God for everyday blessings with this sweet fall-themed board book. From watching the autumn leaves fall to picking pumpkins from the patch, from sharing a Thanksgiving meal with loved ones to learning how to give–there’s so much to be thankful for! Cultivate a grateful heart in your little one with this thank-you prayer to God, who gives us every good thing.

This read-aloud board book encourages toddlers and preschoolers to notice all the good things around them; models how to pray with a thankful heart; engages young children with simple rhyming text, cute illustrations, and foiled leaves on the cover; and makes a meaningful low-budget gift for fall and Thanksgiving celebrations.

Peppa Gives Thanks (Paperback)

Peppa Pig has so much to be thankful for! Suzy Sheep has a new teddy bear, and Peppa wants one, too! Mummy and Daddy Pig remind Peppa that she already has her own teddy–and so much more!

This storybook includes an exclusive Peppa Pig card for readers to fill in what they are most thankful for.

Biscuit is Thankful (Board Book)

This sweet and simple board book is sure to be a favorite in your family—curl up with your toddler to share some important things to be thankful for. Biscuit is thankful for his bone, his biscuits, and lots more, too. Sweet puppy! Woof!

Generations of children have been introduced to reading by Biscuit, the little yellow puppy.

Thank You, Omu (Hardcover)

(This one’s not exactly a Thanksgiving book but the themes of Thanksgiving run all throughout this book so I threw it on the list because it has great reviews and I’m trying to add more diversity to my daughter’s bookshelf.)

Everyone in the neighborhood dreams of a taste of Omu’s delicious stew! One by one, they follow their noses toward the scrumptious scent. And one by one, Omu offers a portion of her meal. Soon the pot is empty. Has she been so generous that she has nothing left for herself?

What Thanksgiving book is your child’s favorite? Feel free to share with me on social! Twitter, Facebook, Instagram

Fall Outdoor Activities To Do With Kids

Thanks to Vuly Play for sponsoring this post and encouraging families to get outdoors.

As the weather cools off it seems like the kids start spending more time indoors and it’s harder to get them to go outside when they have to bundle up. There is lots of fun to be had outside in the fall season though so I’ve created a list of ideas to get children out of the house and excited to go enjoy the beautiful fall weather. Here are some fun things that families can do outdoors together during the fall:

Go on a bike ride

Hop on your bikes and go for a bike ride around your neighborhood or on a local trail.

Play football

Play a game of pickup football in the backyard.

Jump in a leaf pile

Rake up the leaves in the yard and jump in the leaf pile before cleaning them up.

Go camping

Go camping in your backyard or at a local campground.

Visit a pumpkin patch

Visit your local pumpkin patch and pick pumpkins together.

Have a movie night outdoors

Project a movie onto a sheet or the side of your house and have an outdoor movie night cuddled under a pile of blankets.

Take a hike

Go on a nature hike to enjoy all the pretty autumn colors. Kids can even make a nature journal to write in during the hike.

Stuff a scarecrow

Get some old clothes and newspaper and build a scarecrow to put on your front porch.

Visit a fall fest

Visit a local zoo or children’s farm’s fall fest.

Carve pumpkins

Lay out some newspaper and carve your pumpkins. Younger kids may enjoy painting pumpkins instead.

Have a bonfire

Have one final bonfire for the year (and don’t forget the s’mores!)

Try geocaching

Go geocaching as a family and see if you can find a hidden treasure nearby.

Go on a scavenger hunt

Wait until it’s dark and then go on a flashlight scavenger hunt in the backyard. You can also do a flashlight candy hunt as an alternative to Trick or Treating this year!

Go through a corn maze

Visit a corn maze and split up in teams to see which team can find their way out of the maze the fastest.

Make a birdfeeder

Make a pine cone birdfeeder and then watch the birds as they come to it.

Go on a leaf hunt

Search for leaves of all shapes and sizes and then make a leaf craft with the leaves you find.

 

Want more ideas for fall fun? Check out the Fall Bucket List I made several years ago!

Fall Writing Activities For Kids

This post contains affiliate links.

The written word is a wonderful way to connect with others and is especially useful during this time when kids aren’t able to connect in person with their friends and family members. I put a list of fun summer writing activities together last year so I thought this would be the perfect time to share some new ideas of writing activities that kids can do at home as we head into the colder months.gratitude journal for kids

1) Start a journal.

Give your child a diary, or even just a plain spiral notebook, and encourage them to spend just 10 minutes journaling in it every evening. They can write about their day, their future dreams, keep a gratitude journal, or just write about anything that comes to mind. You can even write back and forth to each other. (My friend Brandi from the blog Mama Knows It All wrote this journal for moms and daughters which I can’t wait to use with my toddler when she’s older!)

2) Write a pen-pal.

When I was little I had a pen-pal and it was so fun writing to someone that I had never had the chance to meet. When my kids were about 7 and 8 I wanted to give them that same experience I had but didn’t know where to find any penpals at so I put a call out to my friends on Facebook. Within a few hours I had a number of responses from people I felt comfortable giving my home address to. If your child is writing and it’s not legible yet you can encourage them and their penpals to draw pictures along with their writing to communicate that way. 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 it would be fun to meet up eventually!

3) Write a letter to a family member who they haven’t seen in a while.

Since many children haven’t been able to see extended family members in a while, and might not be able to spend time with them anytime soon, this is a great way for them to connect. Kids can share what life has been like for them over the past months being stuck at home.

4) Create a fall or winter bucket list.

There are so many fun things to do during the fall and winter seasons so encourage your child to make a bucket list of all the activities they want to do and then see how many your family can cross off the list! If they are looking for ideas of things to include I have some of my family’s past bucket lists here- Fall Bucket List, 60+ Ideas For Fall Family Fun, and Winter Outdoor Bucket 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. 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, where to go, or what specific activities they want to do. My youngest son loves doing this for his birthday every year as he plans his perfect day of celebration doing all his favorite things.

7) Write invitations for a virtual party or event.

Kids might not get to have parties and playdates like usual but they can plan a fun virtual event for their friends. Have them write invitations they can mail or drop off to people.

8) Make a packing list.

Make your (older) children responsible for packing their own suitcases for a trip to visit family, your next camping trip, or their backpack for a day trip. 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 plan for a family party.

Have children help plan a small get-together or party for your immediate family if a birthday or special holiday is coming up. Enourage them to make the shopping list for all the groceries, decor, and items you will need and also have them 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 page by page. This is a long process but the final product is something the kids will want to hang on to for years to come!

nature journal for kids

11) Start a nature journal.

Follow these easy instructions to make a nature journal and then explore your backyard and neighborhood while your kids journal what they see. Nature walks are a great way to get some fresh air while kids learn about the world around them and fall is the best time to explore with all the beautiful Autumn colors around.

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

Instead of buying a card for an upcoming birthday or holiday have your child create their own. It’s always nice to receive handmade things and they are a lot cheaper, too. (Here’s a cute kid’s cardmaking kit!)

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 fall 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. Here are some spooktacular fall treats for kids, many of which are easy and don’t require a lot of ingredients.

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! Enourage your child to submit their writing to different writing competitions and contests. Here’s a list of writing competitions for 2020 along with tips for kids on how to submit their writing.

16) Create your own board game.

Board games are perfect for cool fall and winter 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. If they really enjoy this I’d suggest they enter the Young Inventor Challenge they have at the Chicago Toy and Game Fair. Partnering with the fair for years has given me the opportunity to meet dozens of young inventors and it’s always amazing to see what they create. This year the fair is all virtual and more details can be found here.

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 when we were younger and they are definetely something fun to introduce to your kids if they haven’t seen them yet! Someone asks 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 and then ask family members to fill in the blanks. Here’s a fun Halloween themed Mad Libs they can fill in themselves, too!

18) Make a daily schedule.

I’ve found that things normally run smoother when we have a schedule, even more so now that we are spending more time at home. Develop a daily schedule with your children and have them write it down. Things to include: snack, outdoor time, reading time, quiet time, meals, story time, homework, 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, a note to their teachers thanking them for everything they do, or to a community worker like your local postal 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 environment.

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, conserving water, or global warming.

22) Build a town for barbies or cars.

Children can use boxes, paper or chalk outside on the sidewalk 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) 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 have a family movie night or are picking up books from the library you can remember what movies and books they wanted to check out. I have lists for Halloween family-friendly movies to stream on Amazon Prime and throwback movies to watch with kids to get them started on their movie lists!

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

PIN IT

pencils

Halloween Sensory Bins

When I taught preschool one of the most popular areas in the classroom was the sensory table. I loved creating themed sensory bins for my preschoolers and continued once I left the classroom and had my own kids. My boys grew out of the sensory table stage (they are both in junior high now!) so I was excited to start being able to put sensory bins together again for my daughter who is almost two. She loves playing in them every day and I love all the benefits that sensory bins bring.

Kids are naturally curious which is why sensory bins work so well. They are a great educational activity and way for children to learn by exploring through hands-on activities that let them touch, look, smell, listen, and taste. As they are exploring, they are developing their senses and fine motor skills through play.

With Halloween around the corner I thought it would be fun to share some Halloween sensory bins. (This post includes affiliate links.) Since Halloween is full of imagination and play already, these themed bins are so simple to put together and really capture the attention of kids. I currently have one with gourds, pumpkins, leaves, and acorns in it but it will get more “spooktacular” as we creep towards Halloween. This was a Halloween sensory table I did years ago for my boys filled with beans, feathers, sparkly pom poms, black crinkle paper, and mini jack o’ lantern buckets:

Here are 13 fun Halloween sensory bins from other bloggers that your child is sure to love! 

Kids will love exploring with this glow in the dark Halloween spaghetti and eyeball sensory bin. It is an easy sensory bin that can be put together in no time.

Slimy and creepy, this pumpkin slime guts sensory bin is perfect for Halloween and sensory play. Kids will love getting their fingers in the slime and feeling for the pumpkin seeds.

This edible Halloween bin is made up of jello and you can add some fun Halloween themed candy to make the sensory bin even more fun.

Fun, spooky, and colorful, this October sensory bin is full of Halloween themed goodies to help kids explore and learn. (I love how she uses the Little Tikes Garden table for her sensory bin because it’s the perfect height for toddlers. My daughter loves playing in her garden table!)

You can use any fun Halloween themed toys, party favors, and textures for this Halloween sensory activity. 

An easy to make Halloween sensory bin, this fun activity includes spaghetti noodles and plastic spiders that kids can count.

Perfect for fall and Halloween, kids will love learning as they dig in and explore with this corn sensory bin.

A little bit of messy play but so many different creative ways for children to learn, this Halloween water bin will be a hit.

Using a bit of slime in a bin, this glow in the dark slime becomes a fun and creative Halloween sensory bin that kids will love exploring.

Pair these Halloween bins with a few fun Halloween books and you have the perfect variety of learning activities. (There’s also dozens- probably hundreds- of more sensory ideas on this site so make sure to check them out!)

Kids will love scooping, pouring, touching, and investigation the little creepy crawlers that are included in this Halloween sensory bin. She also shares how to dye the rice orange which is really helpful!

Using a few supplies from your local Dollar Store, this fun Halloween bin will encourage children to explore and learn.

Another fun spider bin, this Halloween bin is colorful and fun for kids to touch and play with water beads and toy spiders.

 

Need a sensory table? I just bought this one for my toddler and it’s perfect! I like that I can keep the bins together for more play space or make two different sensory bin tables for separate rooms in my home. I currently have a “messy” one in the kitchen that requires a lot of supervision and one in our living room that I can leave open for her to play in throughout the day with minimal supervision because it has larger items in it and is easily picked up. The legs also adjust so I can raise the bin and it will work well into elementary school. Buy it here.

And here are 13 more Halloween sensory bins: https://makingtimeformommy.com/2013/10/04/13-halloween-sensory-bins/

PIN IT

Halloween sensory bins for kids

Books For Kids Who Are Feeling Worried Or Anxious

A couple of years ago I shared a post with a list of books for kids that have anxiety. As a mom with anxiety- who is raising a child with anxiety- I put the resource together when I was looking for books for my own family. Knowing that many more children are struggling during this time I thought I’d share additional book suggestions since a number of new books have come out. Here is a list of more highly rated books for kids who worry or have anxiety. (This post contains affiliate links.)

Marcy’s Having All The Feels

What do you do with all your feelings? In Marcy’s Having All the Feels, counselor and therapist Allison Edwards explores how sometimes feeling so many feelings doesn’t feel so good at all. Marcy wanted to be happy. Happy is all she wanted to be. But all her other feelings kept showing up—and at the worst times! There was Frustrated and Angry, Sad and Embarrassed, and even Worried and Jealous. Her feelings were there as soon as she opened her eyes each morning, and they followed her around throughout the day. Some days all these feelings just felt like a little too much and she wanted to hide! Marcy didn’t want to feel angry or jealous. And she didn’t like feeling sad or embarrassed. Why couldn’t she be happy all the time? Then one day when Marcy’s feelings disappear, she learns that her feelings don’t have to control her, and they might even have a function. Maybe having all the feels might not be such a bad thing. And that one discovery? Well, it changes everything!

Find Your Calm: A Mindful Approach to Relieve Anxiety and Grow Your Bravery

“Anxiety can feel big and powerful. It can show up suddenly, without warning.” For many kids, it can be overwhelming. Anxiety is not just a cognitive experience. When children feel anxious, their bodies respond physically to a perceived threat. They need to feel a sense of safety before being able to figure out what to do next. Your child can follow along as the young narrator practices what helps her so that the anxiety doesn’t take over. Find Your Calm is a wonderfully accessible book that teaches children how to tap into their sense of safety when anxiety sends a false alarm, so they can find their calm. Includes simple activities for them to practice.

Worry Says What?

Allison Edwards, author of the best-selling book Why Smart Kids Worry, gives a glimpse into the ways worry whispers to young minds, and offers a powerful tool all children can use to silence those fears. “Worry’s songs tie my tummy up in knots, and the things he says make my heart beat very fast. Sometimes he speaks in a whisper, and other times his voice gets so loud I can’t hear anything else.” Worry and anxiety are currently the top mental health issues among children and teens. Children have a number of worries throughout childhood that will come and go. The problem is not with the worries themselves, but that children believe the worries to be true. With a relatable story and beautiful artwork, Worry Says What? will help children (and adults) flip their thinking when anxious thoughts begin and turn them into powerful reminders of all they are capable of accomplishing.

Help Your Dragon Deal With Anxiety

Having a pet dragon is very fun! But what if your dragon is constantly worrying about so many things? What if your dragon is always asking about “What If”? What should you do? You teach him how to deal with his anxiety! Fun, cute, and entertaining with beautiful illustrations, this is a must havebook for children, parents andteachers to teach kids the proper way to think, and deal with worry and anxiety!

A Little Spot of Anxiety

Anxiety comes from feelings of being worried, scared, or anxious. When these feelings are in small amounts that’s okay because they are there to help protect us, but when they get TOO BIG, they become overwhelming and need to be managed.When a child experiences anxiety it can prevent them from doing what he/she wants and and/or needs to do, which can make anxiety a disability.

Sometimes I’m Anxious: A Child’s Guide to Overcoming Anxiety

This practical guide combines proven cognitive-behavioral therapy methods used by child psychologists in schools with simple activities to help your child overcome anxiety. It’s perfect for children ages 8 to 12 because a lot happens in these years that can impact a child’s emotional well-being, not just now but for years to come.

Anxious Ninja: A Children’s Book About Managing Anxiety and Difficult Emotions

Anxious Ninja experiences difficult emotions that paralyzes him until his friend gives him tips on how to handle his anxiety. Find out what happens in this comedic book about anxiety. The new children’s book series, Ninja Life Hacks, was developed to help children learn valuable life skills. Fun, pint-size characters in comedic books easy enough for young readers, yet witty enough for adults. The Ninja Life Hacks book series is geared to kids 3-11.

Don’t Feed The WorryBug

Say hello to Wince, one of the biggest worriers you will every meet. From cookies to homework to the weather, Wince worries about everything.  And when Wince starts to worry, his WorryBug appears. At first the WorryBug is small and non-threatening, but the more Wince Worries the more his WorryBug grows. Don’t Feed The WorryBug is great story to start the conversation on worry and anxiety. We all worry, it happens, but the key is to not let those worries aka the WorryBug grow to the point that it ruins your day. Soft bound book includes coloring pages and WorryBug note pages to help keep track of when the pesky WorryBug arrives.

Breathe Like A Bear: 30 Mindful Moments to Feel Calm and Focused Anytime, Anywhere

Breathe Like a Bear is a beautifully illustrated collection of mindfulness exercises designed to teach kids techniques for managing their bodies, breath, and emotions. Best of all, these 30 simple, short breathing practices and movements can be performed anytime, anywhere: in the car to the grocery store, during heavy homework nights at home, or even at a child’s desk at school.

Coping Skills for Kids Workbook

Dealing with stress, anxiety and anger are important skills to learn, but not all kids learn those strategies naturally. The Coping Skills for Kids Workbook can help teach children to calm down, balance their energy and emotions, and process challenging feelings. Author Janine Halloran, LMHC, share over 75 innovative, fun and engaging activities developed from her experience in schools, outpatient mental health clinics and as a mother.

Meditation For Kids: 40 Activities to Manage Emotions, Ease Anxiety, and Stay Focused

Meditation is great for dealing with tough feelings―even for kids! It doesn’t matter if your child is upset and needs to take a minute to calm down or you just want them to be a bit more focused, Meditation for Kids has the perfect exercise to help them out.

Get more book ideas here: https://makingtimeformommy.com/2018/03/02/books-for-kids-who-struggle-with-anxiety/

 

Photo Gift Ideas

Thanks to CanvasDiscount.com for sponsoring this post.

I know that it’s only September but as I told you in July, I’m using this extra time at home to start getting all prepped for Christmas so I can have a less stressful holiday season. As a mom, some of my favorite gifts are ones that come from my children and anything personalized with my children’s sweet faces. I’m sure these types of gifts are favorites for grandparents as well. I know my mom loves receiving gifts with her grandkids on them!

Today I wanted to share some fun photo gift ideas that CanvasDiscount.com offers:

Photo Blankets

I have three photo blankets on the back of my couch and absolutely love them. Besides the warmth blankets offer, I enjoy looking at the photos every day. Emma, my toddler, loves pointing at the pictures of daddy and her brothers on them. You can’t go wrong gifting a loved one a custom photo blanket!

Photo Puzzles

Puzzles have gained popularity lately with everyone stuck at home. Personally, I have always enjoyed putting together puzzles while I watch television (though harder to do nowadays with a little one and cats that like to mess up the pieces lol). These photo puzzles would make great stocking stuffers and would be fun to put together on Christmas Day.

Photo Mugs

My sister-in-law gifted me a photo mug when my first-born was an infant and I was so excited to get one. It was a magic mug so when it was cool it just looked like a black mug but when I made hot cocoa in it the photos magically appeared. Such a fun idea that makes it the perfect photo gift for coffee drinking dads, grandpas, or uncles!

MixBlox

These acrylic glass boxes are the perfect ways for parents, or anyone really, to display photos of their loved ones on their desk. I love that it’s a unique way to do so instead of just having a framed print. It’s easy to upload the image and when it arrives you have your favorite photo vibrantly reproduced. Get a bunch of them and you can stack them and display them any way you want (it’s like the adult version of those building blocks we loved playing with as kids!)

Canvas Prints

Of course I couldn’t leave canvas prints off the list of top photo gift ideas! I have several canvas prints in my home and there’s no better art to hang up, in my opinion, than a picture of my family. I have ones of our whole family and some of my children individually as well. My mom has some photos on canvas displayed in her home as well and she loves them. So if you are stumped on a gift for grandma and grandpa just know that they will probably always be happy to receive another custom canvas print.

Want to create your own photo gifts? CanvasDiscount.com is offering my readers 10% off all items on their website. Just use the code: MAKINGTIMECANVAS10

Raising a Child With Cerebral Palsy: Tips For First-Time Parents

When my youngest son was diagnosed with Autism it was not a surprise to me. Still, getting that diagnosis from the doctor- that I knew in my heart was coming- did not make it any easier to be on the receiving end of the doctor’s words. My son was already enrolled in therapies due to his delays but I immediately started educating myself more so that I could also help him the best I could at home in between his therapy sessions.

Along with learning about Autism, I found an online community who understood what I was going through. I connected with other moms who I could go to with questions, get encouragement from, and share my joys with. I’ll always be grateful for that community I discovered full of moms who held my hand during some of my hardest parenting years and helped me learn how to advocate for my son when he couldn’t do so for himself.

Since I know the importance of having quality resources and finding community, I was happy to partner up with the CP Family Network to share this guest post featuring some tips for parents who are raising children with cerebral palsy.

***

Although CDC data shows that cerebral palsy (CP) is the most common motor disability in childhood, it’s never easy for any parent when they find out that their baby has the disorder. It gets even worse for first-time parents who have no experience raising any child, let alone one with special needs. But, although it can be extremely challenging in the beginning, many parents who have raised a child with CP will tell you that there is some light at the end of the tunnel and it does get better. Whether your little one has severe or mild CP, these are some of the ways you can help them live a healthy, happy, and comfortable life.

Learn about CP 

CP is a complicated disorder, which is why you must take the time to learn everything you can about it. Learning about cerebral palsy and how it affects your child will make you a more understanding caregiver, putting you in a better position to tend to their needs. It’s important to learn its underlying causes, how it affects movement, how it is treated, and how your child will develop differently compared to non-disabled children.

After learning the basics, the next step is to learn the ins and outs of your child’s specific condition, since no two children with CP are exactly alike when it comes to the severity and its effects on movement and communication. While at it, you can also learn how to care for your child as best you can at home, so that you don’t always have to rely on health care professionals. For example, with guidance from your child’s doctor and physical therapist, you can learn how to help your child exercise, stretch their muscles, reduce pain, and build balance between office visits.

Take care of yourself 

It’s easy to get so wrapped up in raising your child that you forget to take care of yourself. The financial and emotional strain that comes with CP can be a lot to handle, which is why it’s important to address and prevent these burdens before they become too much. One way to do this is by making sure that you get plenty of rest. Although a child with CP has many needs, taking care of them doesn’t have to take up all your time and energy. Give yourself some time off regularly so that you can unwind and release any bottled-up stress, anxiety, and depression. Another way to take care of yourself is by knowing when and where to get help when you need it.

Take advantage of available resources 

There are many free resources available for parents who have children with CP. Some of them include financial assistance from various organizations, government programs, and early intervention programs that provide no-cost treatment for children with CP who aren’t in school yet. You can also find various support communities where you can connect with other parents who’ve gone through what you’re experiencing, as well as professionals who can offer valuable advice to help you on your journey.

Finding out that your firstborn has CP can easily feel like the end of your world — but it doesn’t have to be. By learning how to care for your child and getting the help you need to do it properly, you can make your job easier and ensure that your little one grows up happy knowing that they can succeed in life despite facing challenges that most people don’t.

A Social Distancing Island Vacation In The Midwest

Thanks to Miller Boat Line for inviting my family to visit Put-In-Bay for a social distancing vacation and for providing ferry service and a golf cart for us to use on the island.

A few years ago I discovered Put-In-Bay, Ohio while I was putting my trip to (nearby) Cedar Point together. It seemed like a fun place to visit so we went for an afternoon of fun before we headed home from Ohio to Illinois where we lived. My family absolutely loved the island and back in 2018 I called Put-In-Bay “one of my favorite vacations to date”. That still rings true today. Riding around on the golf cart and living on “island time” you feel like you’ve left the midwest for the day and are visiting the coast or an island somewhere in the Caribbean.

When I was invited back for a visit this summer I knew that I really wanted to visit the island again but, to be honest, I didn’t know if I was ready to go anywhere. I am at high-risk health wise so we’d been staying home since mid-March and hadn’t even gone into a grocery store so I wasn’t really sure I wanted to head to another state on vacation. But then I started thinking about all the outdoor things the island offered and how easy it would be to go on a social distancing vacation there. After figuring out a few logistics we decided to head there for a day, leaving before the sun came up and heading home in the dark of night, and I’m so glad we did.

You can read all about our first trip in 2018 here where I share my favorite things to do with kids in Put-In-Bay but in today’s post I wanted to share more about the outdoor things families can do and specifically how we were able to socially distance from others. When I was sharing about my trip earlier this week I had a number of people message me and ask about that particular topic. I think a lot of people want to get out of their homes but are still wary of being around crowds so I am really excited to share about our trip and help other families take a safe, social distancing vacation during this time!

First of all, we went to Put-In-Bay on a Tuesday to avoid the weekend crowds since I had heard Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday were the slowest days on the island. I was pleasantly surprised to discover no crowds at all, even in the downtown area. I am sure Put-In-Bay is not as crowded on the weekends as it was a few years ago- with many opting out of vacations this summer- but I still felt like a day early in the week was the best choice.

Next, we thought about transportation to the island. We loved riding the Miller Boat Line ferry last time we went to the island but I was worried about social distancing on a boat. I checked out their website and was pleased to see a variety of safety guidelines in place including requiring masks on board for ages 6 and up, social distancing reminders, and limited capacity on the ferries.

Since I didn’t know how crowded the ferry would be we elected to take our van over to the island. This allowed us to remain in our vehicle on our trips to and from the island. (Note: The only way to take a vehicle on the ferry over the weekend is if you have an overnight accommodation so keep that in mind if you are wanting to bring your vehicle.) I felt most comfortable with this plan before our trip but while we were on the boat everyone was wearing masks and social distancing so if you choose not to take a vehicle I’d recommend staying on the bottom deck where you could spread out more along the edges of the deck.

Once we got to the island we found the E’s Put-In-Bay Golf Carts just north of the dock where the ferry dropped us off. We parked in the lot next to it and then rented a 6-person golf cart. I was happy that they offered a car seat for us to use with our toddler. She absolutely loved riding in the golf cart as you can see by the video above!

My favorite thing to do on the island is just ride around in the golf cart talking and exploring the island with my family. Looks like our dog-baby loved it as well!

We went to some of the places we had gone to before but here’s a list of 25 things you can do outdoors in Put-In-Bay:

  • Visit South Bass Island Park and swim in the lake! It’s a pebble beach but they have plenty of grassy areas you can sit as well.
  • Visit Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial and learn about the Battle of Lake Erie.
  • Grab ice cream at the Chocolate Cafe and enjoy it on their patio area outside. (For adults, there is also a beer garden there….)
  • Walk along the lake.
  • Play in DeRivera Park.
  • Ride bikes around the island.
  • Learn about the island aboard the tour train.
  • Bring a tent and go camping at one of the campgrounds.
  • Play at the playground downtown or in South Bass Island Park.
  • Ride a jet ski.
  • Play mini golf at Perry’s Fun Center.
  • Go on a ghost tour.
  • Take fido to run around the dog park.
  • Watch the sunset.
  • Have a picnic in the park with takeout from a restaurant. (The lobster bisque from the Upper Deck on the Boardwalk is delicious!)
  • Play a round of golf at Saunders Golf Course.
  • Go parasailing.
  • Adults can enjoy a wine tasting at one of the islands two wineries.
  • Go hiking on one of the trails in the nature preserves.
  • Go to the Aquatic Visitors Center and fish off the dock.
  • Mine for gemstones at Perry’s Fun Center.
  • Go kayaking.
  • Hit some balls in the batting cages at the Adventure Bay Amusement Park.
  • Eat at one of the many restaurants with an outdoor patio.
  • Take a ride on the carousel.

There’s more but this list above could keep you busy for a whole week :) Make sure to check each attraction’s website or Facebook page as you plan your schedule since some places are closed certain days or have adjusted hours right now.

Overall, I think that if you are in the Midwest and looking for a social distancing vacation spot, Put-In-Bay is a great choice. There is plenty to do outdoors for both families and couples and everyone we encountered was very thoughtful when it came to the six feet social distancing guideline. There is also a mask mandate in Ohio which is fairly new so I found that comforting as well and most people I observed wore masks when in close proximity to others.

Have any other questions about my experience or visiting the island? I’d love to answer them! Feel free to message me on social media and I’ll do my best to help :)

Prepping For Christmas In July

Thanks to Basic Invite for sponsoring this post.

Who else is ready to jump ahead to Christmas and then leave 2020 behind? I know I’m not the only one since I can tell from my site analytics that a lot of you are looking at Christmas posts- and some are even already on to Valentine’s Day (you overachievers!) lol. In honor of that wish we are celebrating Christmas in July here on the blog today. Who knows what the end of this year will hold but I know one thing for sure- we have to do some extra planning for this holiday season because things are probably going to look a bit different. So grab a hot cup of coffee (or an iced one since it’s sweltering out there…) and let’s chat about Christmas! Here’s what I’m doing to prepare for Christmas 2020…

First, for many -my family included- this is going to be a leaner Christmas so our gift-giving budgets will likely be smaller. I’m starting to set aside money now in a gift fund for my family. I’m also on the hunt for gifts already, looking for deals on what my older two are hoping for and seeing what I can buy used for my toddler. Since my toddler doesn’t know the difference between new items and pre-loved ones it’s a great place to save some money.

Second, we are not going to be able to see all the family we normally do so we are going to have to be creative about staying in touch. Maybe we will have Christmas dinners over video calls and that ugly sweater contest with our friends over Zoom. Also, those personalized Christmas photo cards are going to mean so much more this holiday season! Adorned with the faces of our family and our friends that we have spent months or more away from, they will offer a bright spot in the week when they arrive in our mailboxes amongst all the bills.

I am really excited to be partnering with Basic Invite because they have some beautiful customizable cards and helpful services like offering recipient address printing at no cost on all card orders! As much as I love sending out cards I had stopped because I’d design them and order them and then they’d just sit for months. I never got around to the next steps of getting addresses, addressing them, and dropping them off at the Post Office. I love that Basic Invite let’s you collect addresses via a form you can send out on your social media channels and then they’ll address and send them out for you. What a time saver that is and something that will actually guarantee my friends and family will receive cards from me this year lol. And, because we are all about saving money now, Basic Invite is offering 15% off with coupon code: 15FF51. Get those Christmas cards done now and cross a task off your holiday to-do list before the new school year starts!

Third, our menus will likely look a bit different too since we probably won’t be cooking a huge holiday meal for a crowd this year. Personally, I love to munch on appetizers all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day so nobody has to worry about cooking. I think we will be keeping that tradition going and I’ll probably make my festive Christmas cucumber bites. I’m also gathering new appetizer recipes on Pinterest to try. I am sure I will pin way more than I’ll ever have a chance to make but at least all my recipes will be in one place when I go to plan the menu.

Lastly, people are likely going to be out less and will be spending more time with their families at home so I’m really hoping more will go all out decorating the outsides of their homes. I love driving around looking at lights! This year I will probably put more decorations up for Christmas than I’ve done in past years (and decorate earlier in the season) because we will actually be home to enjoy all the decor. We will probably add more lights to the outside as well and I’ve been scouring marketplace to try to find some festive yard inflatables before the season starts.

It might seem crazy to be planning for Christmas in July but it will make the months of November and December less stressful if you start now. Are you doing anything to prepare for the holidays already? If so, I’d love to hear about it so chat with me on social media and let me know!

A Night Without A Bed Challenge To Raise Awareness For Family Homelessness

Each year in America, 2.5 million children experience homelessness. One in sixteen American children will experience homelessness before they reach the first grade. These children are three times more likely to be placed in special education programs, eight to nine times more likely to repeat a grade, and seven times more likely than their peers to commit suicide. Now with the Coronavirus Pandemic impacting people across the country, low-income families are increasingly at-risk of homelessness and those experiencing homelessness have less access to spaces to safely practice social distancing.

Family Promise, the nation’s leading nonprofit addressing family homelessness, announced their First National Night Without a Bed challenge in partnership with KIA Motors and Avocado Green Mattress. The virtual event, which will be held on June 20, challenges participants to give up their bed for one night to raise awareness about family homelessness in America.

How To Join The Challenge:

Sleep anywhere without a bed: cars, a tent, a treehouse, living room floor, a couch on June 20th and use the hashtag #NightWithoutABed to post a video or photo on social media.

In addition to posting on social media, challenge one other friend to complete #NightWithoutABed or make a donation to Family Promise.

Family Promise and their volunteers provide temporary housing, meals, and services to more than 125,000 family members annually. They mentor at-risk families, teach financial literacy, and help find jobs and affordable housing. They also create programs to meet specific needs in their communities and advocate for public policies that alleviate poverty and promote the economic stability of low-income families.

Join me in supporting Family Promise and their vision of a nation in which every family has a home, a livelihood, and the chance to build a better future.

Summer Goals For A Healthier Lifestyle

Tracking Pixel

This post is brought to you by my sponsor, “Always Eat After 7 PM”. The opinions expressed below are my own.

There’s no denying that things have been stressful lately. This spring has taken a toll on everyone I think, especially parents who have been quarantined with their kids and wearing the hat of “teacher” in addition to everything else. Self-care has fallen by the wayside as many of us were just trying to make it to the end of the school year.

Thankfully summer is here for my kids which means I’m no longer trying to educate my boys while working and entertaining a toddler so I can finally do a few things for myself. I’ve decided that this summer I am going to focus on myself and having a more healthy lifestyle. I’ll be trying to get outside more and have some quiet time either before my kids wake up in the morning or by sneaking outside to the backyard while my toddler naps. I’ll just dip my toes in her kiddy pool and pretend I’m at a resort since that’s likely the only “vacation” this summer will bring. I’m also going to be making sure I exercise daily, am more mindful of my food choices, and lower my sugar intake by drinking more water. I started working towards this goal of being healthier about a month ago and already see increased energy and some weight loss but want to keep the momentum going during these slower months of summer.

The past month and a half or so I’ve been exercising more by going for at least one walk a day with my one year old and our new dog. Since we don’t have a gated yard I have to take our energetic dog for walks around the neighborhood so it forces me to get outside and moving even on the days that I don’t really feel like it. And my toddler is always wanting to go out in her little pushcar so that’s some added calorie burning right there pushing her around while I try to keep up the brisk pace our dog sets. We also just got a basketball hoop so I’m looking forward to spending some time with my tweens doing that.

I’ve also been working on my eating habits and incorporating food ideas from the book Always Eat After 7 PM: The Revolutionary Rule-Breaking Diet That Lets You Enjoy Huge Dinners, Desserts, and Indulgent Snacks—While Burning Fat Overnight. Based on surprising science, Always Eat After 7 PM debunks popular diet myths and offers an easy-to-follow diet that accelerates fat-burning and allows you to indulge in your most intense food cravings: eating the majority of your calories at night. We’ve been traditionally taught to avoid carbs, have an early dinner, and never eat before bed. But the fact is, the latest scientific research shows us this earlier model is not the most ideal.

Other things I want to do are decrease my sugar intake and up my water intake. I’m trying to start my day with water instead of the sugary coffee drinks I have relied on for years. The book Always Eat After 7PM suggests drinking a glass of lemon water in the morning and says, “one of the simplest 3-Minute Fat-Burning Morning Rituals, lemon water is a glass of water mixed with the juice of one half of a lemon. This drink provides all the benefits of regular drinking water, which supports weight loss, digestive health, physical performance, and cognitive function.”

Overall, I think I’m off to a good start making healthy lifestyle changes that will be easy to maintain even when the lazy days of summer fade and the craziness of the school year returns. Want to join me in working on a healthier version of yourself this summer? Always Eat After 7 PM: The Revolutionary Rule-Breaking Diet That Lets You Enjoy Huge Dinners, Desserts, and Indulgent Snacks—While Burning Fat Overnight by Joel Marion is now available to purchase. Learn more about the book and how to purchase here.

This was a sponsored post but thoughts are my own.

The Diet That Lets You Eat Your Favorite Foods

Tracking Pixel

This post is brought to you by our sponsor, “Always Eat After 7 PM”. The opinions expressed below are my own.

One time my friend gave me a bunch of “diet food” she had leftover and I was so excited to try them that I went right home and stuck one in the microwave. I got it out, put that first bite in my mouth as soon as it had cooled off, and promptly ran to spit it out. The “diet food” literally tasted like what I imagine cardboard would taste like- hard to chew and bland. I always thought that’s what “diet foods” were supposed to taste like but I’ve learned recently that that’s not the case!

Thankfully, the new diet I’m following, from the book Always Eat After 7 PM: The Revolutionary Rule-Breaking Diet That Lets You Enjoy Huge Dinners, Desserts, and Indulgent Snacks—While Burning Fat Overnight is full of recipes for meals that aren’t just edible, but are delicious as well. There are even some recipes topped with a generous helping of one food I can’t live without- cheese! Not sure I could keep up with any diet that prohibited me from eating my favorites!

And dessert, like ice cream and other sweets? Allowed on this diet! For those who like bananas there is a cherry and dark-chocolate filled recipe in the book that has lots of health benefits like reduced inflammation and a hefty dose of melatonin from the cherries,  iron and antioxidants from the dark chocolate, and bananas to help boost heart health, lower blood pressure, lower insulin resistance, and even increase mental clarity. Yes, all of those benefits from ice cream that takes just 10 minutes to prep! And don’t shy away from enjoying it right before bed because the author shares that “late-night eating also curbs calorie intake the next day.” He shares research behind it as well, saying “in a four-week study, dieters added a snack to their daily regimen 90 minutes after dinner every night, and check this out: late-night eaters ate an average of 397 fewer calories per day.”

I also appreciate the recipes that show me how to make some kid-friendly desserts, like these fruit tarts, with less sugar. Trying to cut my own sugar intake is hard so this alternative for sugar cookie crust is perfect. I can’t wait to make it for my family with some blueberries, strawberries, and kiwi on top of them.

Along with cutting sugar, this diet has been great for giving me more energy and losing weight which were goals I shared about in my first post. I put on a pair of pants a couple days ago that had previously been tight around the waist and they fit so much better. I’m proud to say that I can now look for pants in another section other than the plus-size one I’ve been shopping in for the past decade! While I’m sure that my daily walks have contributed to my weight loss, I know that being more concious about what I eat has had a big impact on my weight as well.

Want to learn more about this diet? Always Eat After 7 PM: The Revolutionary Rule-Breaking Diet That Lets You Enjoy Huge Dinners, Desserts, and Indulgent Snacks—While Burning Fat Overnight by Joel Marion is now available to purchase. Based on surprising science, Always Eat After 7 PM debunks popular diet myths and offers an easy-to-follow diet that accelerates fat-burning and allows you to indulge in your most intense food cravings: eating the majority of your calories at night. Joel Marion’s Always Eat After 7PM program makes dieting easy and eliminates 90% of reasons for resistance. You can learn more about the book and how to purchase here.

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

Finding More Energy To Keep Up With My Toddler And My Dog

Tracking Pixel

This post is brought to you by my sponsor, “Always Eat After 7 PM”. The opinions expressed below are my own.

A couple of weeks ago I shared about the new diet I was starting based on the book Always Eat After 7 PM: The Revolutionary Rule-Breaking Diet That Lets You Enjoy Huge Dinners, Desserts, and Indulgent Snacks—While Burning Fat Overnight. Based on surprising science, Always Eat After 7 PM debunks popular diet myths and offers an easy-to-follow diet that accelerates fat-burning and allows you to indulge in your most intense food cravings: eating the majority of your calories at night. I knew that this would probably be one of the easiest diets to follow because I never have any difficulty eating at night and I also always skip breakfast which according to the book is good as well. The book says:

“Those who ate breakfast ended up eating about 260 calories more a day, the review found. Those who skipped breakfast were about one pound lighter than those who ate breakfast. These findings led the researchers to conclude that eating breakfast isn’t necessarily a good strategy for losing weight. The science isn’t really there. Breakfast could very well be the least important meal of the day.”

Here are some more thoughts from the best-selling author, Joel Marion, who is a fitness expert and nutritionist debunking the myths underlying traditional dieting and who offers a simple, highly effective weight loss program.

What inspired you to write the book?

After authoring 6 best selling books it was glaringly obvious there were 2 huge misconceptions about dieting that needed to be exposed. The first is that you can’t eat late at night or before bed, which science now shows is NOT true. And second, you can’t eat large portions that satisfy your natural instinct. This book solves both these problems by providing an evidence-based, enjoyable approach to dieting that can be used by any person to quickly achieve their weight loss goals.

What was the most surprising discovery when you were researching scientific data for the diet?

That almost everything my college education and certifications taught me was NOT grounded in published scientific research.

How difficult is the Always Eat After 7 PM plan to follow?

It’s not. And that’s exactly why I wrote the book. While any diet is never truly easy, it can be more enjoyable and much easier to adhere to when you understand how Always Eat After 7pm works because it caters to our bodies natural instincts.

Thankfully this is an easy diet to follow and the perks like losing weight and increased energy help me keep up with my toddler and my new dog. I’ve been going on walks once or twice a day as well which I’m sure will help me lose weight faster. Always Eat After 7 PM: The Revolutionary Rule-Breaking Diet That Lets You Enjoy Huge Dinners, Desserts, and Indulgent Snacks—While Burning Fat Overnight by Joel Marion is now available to purchase. Learn more about the book and how to purchase here.

This was a sponsored post but thoughts are my own.

The New Diet I Am Trying: Always Eat After 7pm

Tracking Pixel

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

Growing up, my dad would always remind me that breakfast was the most important meal of the day and how it’s not good to eat late in the evening. So imagine my surprise when I discovered a health book entitled, Always Eat After 7: The Revolutionary Rule-Breaking Diet That Lets You Enjoy Huge Dinners, Desserts, and Indulgent Snacks―While Burning Fat Overnight. This went against everything I was taught when I was younger but the author, Joel Marion, has the science to back it up (sorry dad!) Based on surprising science, Always Eat After 7 PM debunks popular diet myths and offers an easy-to-follow diet that accelerates fat-burning and allows you to indulge in your most intense food cravings: eating the majority of your calories at night.

Turns out, “research shows that the average person’s metabolic rate is no different during sleep than during the day. In short, your metabolism doesn’t slow down at night. Nor does your body store fat at the end of the day. Whether it’s 8 am or 8 pm, you use food for energy the same way.” That’s great news! I’m looking to lose weight and have more energy to keep up with my toddler.

The Always Eat After 7 PM plan consists of 3 phases:

  • The 14-day Acceleration Phase to kick-start the program and see rapid results
  • The Main Phase where you’ll learn exactly which foods to eat when in order to achieve your weight-loss goals
  • The Lifestyle Phase to keep the weight off for good

I have the book in hand and am excited to dig in. Who wants to join me in reading this book and enjoying snacks at night without feeling guilty!? Always Eat After 7 PM: The Revolutionary Rule-Breaking Diet That Lets You Enjoy Huge Dinners, Desserts, and Indulgent Snacks—While Burning Fat Overnight by Joel Marion is now available to purchase. Learn more about the book and how to purchase here.

 

Tips To Keep Kids Practicing Their Instruments When School Is Out

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

My boys love all the extra free time they’ve had lately. They’re enjoying more time relaxing, more time playing video games with their friends, and more time outdoors. One thing they weren’t wanting to do that much of though since schools closed in March? Practicing their instruments. My boys are both in band, which they enjoy, and my oldest especially loves playing music (and has done so for almost 5 years) but it was hard to keep them motivated to practice when they don’t have concerts they’ll be performing at or new skills they are trying to master and show their class.

I get it. As an adult I’m finding it hard to keep motivated to get work done as well! So here are some of the things I’ve tried doing to help my kids keep practicing their instruments even when they’d rather be playing Fortnite…

Make it social. Their school has Zoom calls so the kids can practice together which is great and they love seeing their classmates. If your child’s school doesn’t do that your child can always get together virtually with a few of their friends to practice. It’s a lot more fun that way and they get the socialization they are craving now that they aren’t seeing their peers on a daily basis.

Schedule it. My boys have a two hour period of the day in the afternoon where they can finish up schoolwork, work on projects, and practice their instruments. Find a time that works for your family (like when younger siblings aren’t sleeping and parents aren’t working) and set that time aside for practice to ensure your child gets their practice time in.

Keep the lessons going. If you can afford to do so, keep the lessons going virtually if your child’s instructor is offering that. If they aren’t, or you just can’t swing the cost every week, look online for free lessons and videos that teach new skills. I even found one of the major guitar brands offering three free months of lessons through their app!

Incentivize it. At school, or wherever they take lessons, children typically have the ability to earn awards and participate in music contests and performances which gives them something to work towards. With school out they might not have those things anymore so make your own awards, contests, and challenges up! One example is to challenge your child to practice every day for 30 days straight and then celebrate their hard work with a pizza night or something else they’d enjoy. Or have them perform a new song they’ve been working on and after the performance take them out for ice cream to celebrate.

Record them and remind them of their progress. Sometimes when you are practicing a skill daily you don’t notice a change in your ability which an be discouraging. Remind them of all the progress they’ve made by showing them a video of their first lesson or another time early on in their musical history. They’ll see how much they have learned and grown as a musician so far and be encouraged to keep going. Record them playing every month or so and let them listen to previous recordings as time goes on so that they can hear their progress.

Give them time off. These months at home are challenging for everyone so give them days off from practicing. I generally let my boys have the weekends off from their schoolwork and practicing.

Want more music tips? Check out the Musician Authority website to get other ideas for ways you can help your budding musician!

PIN THIS POST

tips-to-keep-kids-practicing

Tips to keep kids practicing their musical instruments when school is closed

Daily Schedule For Tweens Learning From Home

daily schedule for tweens learning from home

The kids and I have been sheltering in place since Thursday, March 12th when they got home from school. Since I’m considered high risk health-wise I pulled them out of school before schools here in Illinois officially closed and we stopped going to their activities before they were all cancelled. My kids haven’t been anywhere outside our home other than our yard and the car (for me to run a couple errands like picking up my paycheck and depositing it in the bank via drive thru).

It’s been hard for me transitioning from our busy schedules to long days with nothing to do but the extra family time has been nice and I’ve tried to focus on that instead of letting my anxiety about what is going on in the world get the best of me. After a week or so of lounging around (and my boys playing hour after hour of video games) my Type-A personality decided we needed a schedule to make sure our days had some productivity to them. This became especially needed once our stay at home order was extended to May (though I fear it may go on through the end of the school year). And now that e-learning has started up with mandatory school assignments, I have tweaked our schedule to include more learning time.

The schedule has changed probably a dozen times since I first drafted it mid-March as I tried to figure out what worked for my family. It should be noted that I’m also working from home and taking care of a toddler plus I have a child with Autism who needs a stricter schedule so this may be more detailed than other families need. I wanted to share our schedule because I thought it would be helpful for other families who may be looking to develop a schedule for their older kids. Personally I love seeing what other families are doing! Here is our weekday schedule right now:

Elearning daily schedule for tweens

The chunk of “school” time is based on when our school district has said teachers will be available for instruction and support. I give my 5th grader, who is on the Spectrum, movement and sensory breaks during that period of time otherwise the three hour period of learning is too difficult for him to work through. Ideally, I’d have them only do schoolwork for an hour and a half then take an hour break, then have them do another hour and a half of learning then another hour break but I’m trying to stick with the school district schedule to see how that goes. We might switch back to the other schedule with more breaks scheduled into the morning but I’m giving breaks to my son as needed so this one is working right now.

My boys (5th and 6th grade) have assignments given to them from the school that they find on Google Classroom, Schoology, or Seesaw. My oldest tends to get his work done within two hours and then reads or does another academic activity until lunch. He also is very helpful when it comes to helping his brother with his math work. I’ve given them other options of things they can do if they get their work done, like watching Science Mom & Math Dad Live Streams, doing math online (using Khan Academy, Aleks, or Prodigy), writing, or researching something that interests them.

The enrichment time in the afternoon after their extended lunch/recess break is for them to finish up schoolwork that they didn’t get done in the morning. They are both in band so this is also when they practice their instruments and a couple times a week they have video calls with the other band students and the band director. Other than that, I give them a list of activities they can do (I’ve found a bunch of great ideas from Parent Vault – a Facebook group I’m in) and encourage them to try new things. So far they’ve made brownies and a couple dinners, tried yoga, learned some words in sign language and Croatian, taken a virtual tour of Hearst Castle in California, done some coding, journaled about quarantine, learned about Anne Frank, listened to some Podcasts, and started passion projects related to their favorite sports. My oldest has also worked on a programming merit badge for scouts. My kids are typical tween boys who would prefer to play video games all day so that’s why I think having this time for “enrichment activities” built in to the schedule is important and I’m excited about all that they’ve tried and learned over these past few weeks.

Here’s the list of Enrichment activities that I’ve come up with but I also tell my kids that they can suggest things they’d like to learn/try during this time as well:

  • Music: Band, Guitar Lesson
  • Exercise: Soccer Skills, Karate, Yoga, Gym Assignments, Gymnastics, Dance, GoNoodle Games
  • Language: Spanish, Croatian (Dad’s Language), Sign Language
  • Social-Emotional: Meditation, Journaling, Social-Emotional Activity, 7 Habits for Kids
  • STEM: Hour of Code, Science Mom Live Stream, Typing Lessons, Robots, STEM Kits, LEGO Challenges, STEM Games, Digital Skills (Photo Editing, html, Social Media, etc), Make a “Simple” Machine, Build a Circuit, ChiTAG Young Inventor Challenge, Steve Spangler Science
  • Extracurriculars: Boy Scout Merit Badges
  • Exploring: Virtual Tours, Google Maps Treks, Zoo Animal Cams
  • Art: Craft Projects, Doodlebuddy, Google Arts & Culture Tours, Color, Lunch Doodles
  • Service: Plan/Implement activity w/ Emma (their sister), Service Project, Random Act of Kindness, Making Dinner
  • Life Skills: Cooking/Baking Online Class, Learn Practical Skills
  • Learning: TED Talks, Listen to a Podcast, Photography Class
  • Fun: Make a Game, National Holiday Themed Activity
  • Passion Project/Genius Hour

The early evening is spent as a family and we have dinner together, watch tv or a movie, play games, go outside, or do other things together. The later evening time is typically spent playing video games online with their friends. I have been letting them stay up later during this time than I typically would because they aren’t able to be with their friends every day at school and I think the social time is so important for them. I also let them play video games with their friends during the other free times throughout the day and on the weekends they have a lot more time to connect with friends electronically as well.

Overall, the schedule has been working pretty well for us. Schoolwork is getting done, our house is staying decently picked up thanks to daily chore time, and everyone is happy (well mostly happy- they are preteens after all lol). I’m not getting as much work done as I’d like to but I’m trying to be easy on myself and realize that I can’t do everything. I love this reminder from Happy As A Mother that it’s impossible to work full-time, parent full-time, and educate our kids full-time and that it’s not the time to increase the expectations we have on ourselves (though I still try to think I can because that’s just my personality lol):

What does your schedule look like? Do you have one? (I’m kind of envious of people that can live schedule free…) I’d love to hear what you all are doing during this time! Feel free to share with me on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram :)

 

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!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

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!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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!

PIN THIS RECIPE

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!

PIN THIS DIY tutorial:

 

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!)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

 

 

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!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

Pin this post:

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. The men’s gift baskets from The Manly Man Company would also make awesome gifts (my personal favorite is the beef jerky gift box and it’s maple bacon jerky).

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).

Or maybe he just wants to relax? A portable massager would be the perfect gift for a man who works long hours! And if dad asks for socks (like my dad did almost every year when I was growing up), at least 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!

*PIN THIS POST*

Our Favorite Place To See Santa