Kids’ Lunches to be “Jelly” About

Kids love a good PB&J and let’s be honest, it can be a parent’s lunch life-savor!

I’ve seen so many beautiful, healthy lunch options lately for back to school and that is great! I’m all for good health but I’m also a busy mom of three kids and know that sometimes a PB&J lunch is exactly what is needed. It’s quick, I usually have all the ingredients on hand, and best of all, I know the lunch box will come back home empty which means their little bellies were full!

Plus, the teachers on lunch duty will thank you for the ease of that classic PB&J. Jerry Brooks says it best in his hilarious video “First Week of School Stress”.  Seriously he will have you rolling with laughter!

 

So grab your Fit & Fresh Bento Lunch Kit with insulated bag and removable ice packs and let’s get packing! I’ve got unique ways you can change up a classic PB&J and make the rest of the lunch room “jelly” for your kid’s lunch!

Add Ingredients:

Nutella, Banana, Honey… Mix and match up these ingredients with your peanut butter and you will have a mouthwatering lunch sensation that will leave your kid begging for more.

Change up the Bread:

Have you tried a PB&J on a wrap?

What about in a pita pocket?

Or on a bagel or English muffin?

Here is my health PSA for this blog…Please check your bread and other related products for high fructose corn syrup. You will be shocked at how often you will see it in many of the breads you select! Try to avoid products with high fructose corn syrup.

Waffle Sandwiches

Peanut butter between two crispy waffles with a hint of maple syrup sounds like a dream. Buy the mini waffles for a fun bite sized treat or the larger ones for the full sandwich option.

Sushi Roll

Make your regular PB&J and then squish it down flat. Roll it up and slice it every inch or so. It’s finger food at its finest. I’d say throw in the chopsticks for added fun, but I know a few teachers who wouldn’t be very happy with me for that suggestion.

Tip-Use a rolling pin to flatten out the sandwich before you roll it up!

Apple Slice

A thin sliced apple section makes the perfect vessel to carry your PB&J. Plus they say, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away!”

Tip-Rub a little lemon juice on the apple to prevent it from going brown.

Shapes

Large cookie cutters can be a quick and easy way to make more intriguing sandwiches. Make them feel extra special by stamping out a cute character or animal in their sandwich. Or you can use a butter knife to cut away the edges to make a heart shaped sandwich.

Donut You Know You’re Special

What kid wouldn’t want a donut sandwich! Cut the sandwich into a circle and cut out a hole in the middle. Sprinkle a few colorful sprinkles on top and you have the cutest and probably healthiest donut!

PB&J Kabob

While this idea sounds cute and fun…it’s a lunch room nightmare! Those little skewers are a poking hazard. Let’s be honest how many kids can you think of right now that would see that little skewer and decide they needed to pretend it was a sword or might jokingly poke their neighbor with it. Do everyone a favor and leave the skewers for an at home picnic or opt for a popsicle stick instead!

And a sandwich can be more than just sustenance, it can be friendship forming!

If you haven’t read The Sandwich Swap by Queen Rania Al Abdullah, I highly recommend it. It tells the story of two girls who are best friends and like to do all the same things! They eat lunch together and each day Lily eats peanut butter and Salma eats hummus but they think the other’s sandwich is gross! Pretty soon they have the whole cafeteria choosing sides between the two girls and their sandwiches. Things escalate and the girls have to visit the principal’s office. They decide it is time to put their differences aside. Each girl takes a risk and tries the other’s sandwich which propels them to create a multicultural potluck at their school! Of course the conversations that can propel from such a story are endless!

There you have it, easy and quick ways to fill your kids’ bellies and make all the kids “jelly” for their lunches!

Pop it into your Bento Lunch Kit that is BPA and PVC free and fill the other half cup portion pods with fruits and veggies and lunch is set! You can even add sides like yogurt and cottage cheese in the Bento box pods because it’s leak resistant! If your child is anything like mine, they will probably happily swing their lunch box at their side as they walk to recess. Leak resistant is critical when it comes to a lunch box selection for me. If will also stay cold since the snap-in ice packs are right next to your food and the lunch box is fully insulated. And, I don’t own anything that isn’t dishwasher safe! So at night, throw it in the dishwasher and it’s clean and set for the next day’s PB&J! Get your own Bento Lunch Kit at www.fit-fresh.com ! Plus if you use the code IHELPMOMS you can get 20% off your order!

Twin Cities Parks with Littles

Minneapolis and St. Paul, MN a.k.a. the Twin Cities has so many great parks and places to explore with your littles on a sunny summer day! Since the Twin Cities are right in our back yard it makes for a great day trip. I actually just returned from spending three days there with my three littles. I’m going to highlight a few of the fun places that we spent a good chunk of our time at. My kids loved these places and so we felt compelled to share these great Twin Cities parks with you so that you too can experience the fun!

Hyland Lake Park Reserve

Located in the Three Rivers District, this park seems to have access to everything you could want! It is home of the Richardson Nature Center . The center has many different events for families as well as a bunch of fun kits that the kids can borrow to catch bugs, explore the ponds, or go on a bird watching hike.

Along with having a variety of landscapes for walking and picturesque spots for a picnic, the main attraction to this park for us was their massive playground! I mean seriously massive. This place spans 16,000 square feet and has slides up to 50 feet long! A word to the wise I would definitely go with man to man coverage on your kids if you are a little more on the cautious side like I am. There is truly something for everyone at this park. I can honestly say I have never been to anything like this before. One look at it and you know why they have won awards for creativity and ingenuity!

There are multiple different play areas that are perfect for different ages and stages. The toddler park is located to the left and has a small plastic climber with a few small slides. The only downfall to this part is that it is sand which we all know can be a little challenging with littles who love to put everything in their mouths.

There are only two swings at this playground so it does take a long time to get a turn if your little one has their heart set on swinging!

At the center is a play set that is the next step up. It’s got a lot of ramps and smaller slides for those kids who are a little too old for the toddler area but not quite ready for all the climbing of the other areas. This was where my two year old found her niche. She could run and climb on everything independently and wasn’t scared of going down any of the slides by herself.

All the other areas of the park are great for stronger, more independent children probably ages 4+ (depending on your child). A large area of the park reminds me of the McDonalds Play Area only on a much larger scale! It has netted tunnels that are a maze to me from down below. My oldest had a heyday climbing through these. Coming back to this park I would make her wear something super bright colored (avoid blue or black clothing-the color of the equipment) so that I could spot her as she spider monkey’s her way through all the netting. At one point I chuckled out loud as a large mass of children were climbing their way through ropes and sitting on a suspended chair because it truly did look like a troop of monkeys!

Good to Know:
  • It is completely free!
  • Bring lots of help (one adult to one child ratio is best especially with younger children) or try to avoid weekends/holidays where it may be extra busy!
  • Establish a meeting spot in case you do get separated.
  • Have kids wear bright colored clothing (avoid black or blue).
  • They do have a Visitor Center with bathrooms and concessions.
  • Pack a lunch, snacks, lots of water or drinks, and of course SUNSCREEN!
  • Towels, swimsuts, or a change of clothes may be helpful since there is an area that sprays a mist of water.
  • Wear shoes that are good for climbing but that can also get wet. The equipment and floors can get very hot so I would make sure to bring shoes.
  • Fenced in with only one exit (whew!)
  • Handicap accessible with ramps for wheelchairs and strollers
  • Open April through October (weather permitting) 9 a.m. to sunset

 

Central Park of Maple Grove

12000 Central Park Way
Maple Grove, MN

I can’t even begin to express how much fun the Central Park of Maple Grove is and how nice it is!

Let’s start out with the interactive fountains, a 2,100 sq. ft. area with 49 jet sprays and 18 arching sprays. It is a hot day haven for kids and parents alike! This feature is free and open seven days a week starting at 10 a.m. Bring swimming suits and towels and use their clean restroom facilities to change before heading home!

Fun fact: It goes into show mode from 8:45-10:00 p.m. where the fountains light up with different colors!

Next to the fountains is the playground with seven play zones, 24-foot climbing tower with tunnel slides, a hillside slide area, a 3 unique swing including one that was like a teeter-totter swing (I seriously considered making my sister try that one out with me!), and a 120-foot long climbing wall. This park is customized with unique play equipment you won’t find anywhere else. It really is almost like a piece of art!  Most of the area is rubberized so I would advise good play shoes since it does get very hot! A few areas are sand which can be a little tricky if you are still wet from playing in the fountains.

I want to go back in the winter to try out their LED lit 810 feet long ice skating loop! Check back and who knows maybe I’ll update you on this park’s winter features!

Good to know:

  • There is a picnic area as well as a lot of beautiful green space if you want to pack a lunch or snack.
  • They do have a small concession stand inside near the restrooms.
  • Be prepared with good shoes and sunscreen since there isn’t much shade so the ground gets hot and the sun is strong!
  • Changing areas and restrooms are available.

 

Van Cleve Park

901 15th Ave. SE
Minneapolis, MN 55414

In the heart of Minneapolis is a little park with a great wading pool for little ones. At it’s deepest it is 2 feet deep, perfect for little swimmers! It is open daily from 10 a.m.-9 p.m. and will stay open till 10 p.m. if the temperature is over 85 degrees at 6:00 p.m. They do have a playground and toddler playground but truly the best part about this park in the summer is the wading pool! It is free for anyone to use and has been newly remodeled. Best of all, it isn’t crazy busy like a lot of the other parks I have mentioned so you can have a more intimate and relaxing time with your family.

(And it might just be on my winter ice skating list as well since they too have a rink in the winter!)

 

Como Park Zoo ad Conservatory 

I’m always surprised with the number of people that haven’t been to Como Park Zoo! We frequent it multiple times a year and are always please with our visit! It is a free zoo (donation based $3 for adult and $2 for children is suggested). Como is filled with elaborate gardens including a fun butterfly garden with moths, I kid you not, as big as birds, an amusement park, a splash zone, and of course a variety of animals! Every time we go we are pleasantly surprised with how active and engaging the animals are! The monkeys and gorillas are sure to put on a fun little show for you as they play together. And of course there is a whole carnival, amusement park with a splash pad to explore as well!

Before you go be sure to check out their website to find out what unique programs they are offering that day!

Good to know:

  • You can pack a cooler with drinks and food.
  • They do have a restaurant and concession stands.
  • Make sure you have comfortable walking shoes and sunscreen!
  • Strollers and wheelchairs are available to rent. Single strollers and wheelchairs are $5/day and double strollers are $8/day. Electric scooters are also available for $20/day.
  • There are multiple bathrooms throughout the area.
  • It is open every day of the year! (April-September 10 a.m.-6 p.m. and October-March 10 a.m.-4 p.m.)
  • Also in the area is Lake Como, mini-golf, a pool, and picnic areas!

Future Parks we will be visiting:

  • Elm Creek
  • Centennial Lakes

Check back or subscribe so you don’t miss out on info on these parks when we go try them out! And of course be looking for more about our winter adventures as well!

 

 

 

 

Don’t Waste Your Money on These Baby Items

When we had our first baby, we took that register gun and went crazy! We thought we needed to have all the sheet sets and every gizmo and gadget out there. After all, every store and magazine will tell you a million must have items that you need for your baby. Your head will be spinning and dollar signs will be flashing behind your eyes.

So you take a deep breath and think why not register for it right?!
WRONG!

It wasn’t too long after having our second that we realized that there were so many things that we had that we truly didn’t need or really didn’t use! As a first time mom I just had no idea! Looking back I really wished I had another mom with me guiding me through the whole registering process. Someone who had been there and done that and could say straight up whether it was truly useful.

Breast Pump:

Hear me out here. Yes, buy a breast pump! It is important so your baby can still have your milk and you can still have a little freedom. I am a big advocate of pumping since I had to exclusively pump for my first born because she was born premature. BUT, most insurances now cover a hospital grade breast pump! Seriously, check into it. Don’t put it on your registry, instead submit your receipt to your insurance company. For more information on how this works please check out Two Boys One Pup’s How to Get a Free Breast Pump post!

Wipes Warmer:

Our first little baby had a warm wipe to wipe her bottom. By the time baby number two got here that thing never made it back out of storage. Sorry babe but that wipe is fine. It’s not going to bother them. And frankly, by baby number two we changed the diaper wherever we were at the time, mainly on the floor in close proximity to the other littles! This leads me to the next item…

Changing Station:

Want to save space in the baby’s room? Get rid of the changing station. Maybe you need it because getting up and down on the floor isn’t as easy for you. I totally understand that but for us it just never got used. We grabbed a diaper and wipes wherever we were and quickly changed the baby right there on the floor. (I do have secret stashes of diapers and wipes in the living room and in the downstairs living space.)

Crib Comforter Sets and Bumpers:

I know they look so cute and cozy. I know it adds to the theme of the room. I get it. But really, it isn’t safe for the baby to be around blankets and thick bumpers. For the first year of their life there shouldn’t be anything but a fitted sheet in the crib. Before the baby gets here the crib will look cute all set up with the comforter set and bumpers. Then, you will read all about safe sleeping and your mind will start racing. Next thing you know that blanket and bumper set will find its way to the back of the closet so you can have a little more peace of mind.

Baby Shoes:

Those itty, bitty shoes are SO cute! But I promise you that they will maybe be used once or twice before you decide that it’s more work than it is worth putting them on and off the baby. Not to mention most are stiff and boxy and your baby’s feet are growing like crazy. Give them room to grow and ditch the shoes. Plus, your baby can’t walk yet. Save the money to buy a good pair of shoes for them once they start walking.

Baby Laundry Detergent:

Any “free and clear” brand of laundry detergent will do the same as a detergent labeled for babies. Save yourself the time, energy and money and put their laundry right in with yours. Laundry with a newborn is daunting enough, don’t make it any harder for yourself!

Bottle Sterilizer:

This counter clutter will eventually end up in the back of a cupboard. When you first get a pack of bottles, sterilize them in a big pot of boiling water. After that, the dishwasher will do the trick especially if they have a heated, sanitize rinse cycle. Many pediatricians will even tell you that good old soap and water and a little elbow grease will get the bottles and nipples clean.

Bath Robes:

Take the baby out of the bath, dry it off with a towel, put it in a robe, take the robe off and put it in clothes. Reread that sentence again. I’m all for simplifying life and it seems to me that we are just adding a useless step by putting the baby in a robe only to turn around and take the robe off.

Baby Oil and Baby Powder:

I had some baby oil. I never used it on the babies. I think I finally just put it on my legs after a shower to keep them smooth. As for baby powder, there are a bunch of studies right now about how they can have major heath side-effects on babies. The powder goes into air that the baby is breathing and is said to cause breathing problems.

Orajel and Teething Tablets:

Also, a health hazard. The FDA has issued warnings about a benzocaine that is found in many teething medicine. In most cases, Tylenol and a cold teether or a wet washcloth is the best for keeping baby as comfortable as possible.

Baby Blankets:

It is so tempting to buy all those cute, super soft blankets. Trust me though, that is one of the go to presents for people to get for new babies. You will have so many blankets you won’t know what to do with them all.

Baby Food Makers:

Most people have a blender in their house already. Just toss the food that you want to use for the baby in your household blender. It does the same as those fancy baby food makers.

Newborn Clothes and Diapers:

Chances are your baby will be born bigger than most newborn sizes are made for. Newborn sizes generally go to 7.5 lbs for clothes and 10 lbs for diapers. As a precaution, grab a few outfits at that size and opt for a smaller package of newborn diapers. Most likely that will be more than enough to get you by. They grow FAST!

Of course everyone has their own preferences. If there is something on the list you still want or think is important then go buy it! I just wish I would have known a few of these things beforehand. But I guess the old saying holds true—“You live and you learn!”

Don’t forget to read my husband’s prospective on having a newborn!

SLEEP: That 5 Letter Word We All Want More Of

Sleep.

That word that parents can agree we all want more of. No amount of coffee can truly do what a good night’s sleep can. As parents, we must band together and find a way to optimize bedtime!

I have been blessed with some (knock on wood) amazing sleepers. Maybe we are just lucky, but I think there is something to be said for the fact that we have three kids under the age of five down by 8:00 p.m. and not awake (or out of bed) until 7:30 a.m.

Here are the things that have been sleep-savers at our home. Maybe they will work for you too!

Routine, Routine, Routine…

I know I sound like a broken record sometimes, but kids truly do crave and thrive in routine! The expected makes them feel safe. They know what is going to happen and find comfort in that.

Many nights getting ready for bed starts almost an hour before bedtime. This guarantees that we can get everything done and still stick to the time frame. Everyone has their own methods to get their kids ready for bed and that is great! For us, we bath every other night. We get PJs on and brush our teeth before 7:30 so that way we are all ready for bed without that normal stalling that tends to happen. Provided they get all ready in a timely manner, we read a few books or do a calm family activity. Right around 8:00, we head down to bed.  Both girls go potty and then it is prayers, hugs, kisses, and I love yous!

Tv and electronics are not a part of our bedtime routine. For the most part they are off the last hour before bed.

We have also always tried to make sure to put the kids to bed awake from little on. This helps them learn to fall asleep themselves… in their own beds.

Comfort…

We sleep best when we feel secure and comfortable. Setting up the environment is key. We keep the room a little cooler, it is organized and not an area with too much stimuli. They have a firm mattress, cozy blankets, and a great pillow.

The Pillow of Health pillows that the girls have on their bed is made from premium quality materials that are made to last. They are made from a certified medical grade foam that is optimal for comfort. Pillow of Health pillows are tested out by doctors who specialize in sleep science! They are made from a durable washer/drier safe material so that when the flu strikes or an accident happens, you can throw it right into the wash! And the mom-xiety can rest easy knowing that it is made from non-toxic materials! Interested on getting your hands on a life-time warranted pillow, check out Pillow of Health! You can even use the discount code: MOM25.

Green Means Go…

Another sleep-saver in our life is our Okay to Wake clock. No more waking up at 5:00 a.m. and thinking it’s time to get up! Kids do not have to tell time! Instead they know that when their clock turns from the yellow night-light glow to a green color, it is okay to get up! Every morning you will here my girls coming up the stairs at 7:30 a.m. saying, “Mommy, it’s green!” Yes, you read that right, our kids do not get out of bed until 7:30 or later! It is heavenly! We wrote about the Okay to Wake clock under Products We Love or you can order one here.

 

Room Darkening Curtains…

This summer I truly learned the importance of having black out curtains! My middle child had the hardest time early this summer sleeping in. She would stay in bed because the light hadn’t turned green but she was wide awake…at 5 a.m.! It then dawned on me that when we moved the girls downstairs to their new room, they no longer had room darkening curtains! That same day I ordered a pair for their room! It works like a charm! The room stays dark even in the summer when it stays light so long into the evening. Plus as an added bonus, I can close them for nap-time and it is helps them rest better during the day.

They sleep in THEIR bed…

As much as it kills me sometimes, the kids do not sleep in our bed. I know how nice it can be to cuddle with your babies. I, however, find it to be a slippery slope when they are older. If I invite them in my bed one night, it would tend to become a “thing”. Don’t get me wrong, I take full advantage of the cuddles whenever I can! I will instead lay with them and rub their back or snuggle them in their bed occasionally when they can’t sleep or have a bad dream. It isn’t an every time thing, but occasionally it’s nice to have that moment together!

 

These seem to be the best options for our family. They have de-stressed bedtime for us and have allowed us to get a few more hours of shut-eye.

Do you have any sleep tips that work for your family?

For more great tips, please check out It’s A Hero!

“Mom-xiety”, Irrational Fear or Just Plain Crazy

Anxiety.

A single word that resonates with so many. A word that became more accentuated in my life after having children.

After the news of another sweet 7 month old rainbow baby passing away in his sleep, I’m sitting here gripped in fear. That is my absolute worst nightmare that they are living. I couldn’t even begin to imagine what they are going through. My heart is breaking for the DeRosier family.

I have had friends who have lost their babies. Even my grandmother lost her little boy. That though terrifies me. It grips me like a vice. Just the thought alone makes my heart race and my chest tighten. These women have strength that surmounts anyone I know. I can only pray that I never know that pain or have my strength tested in that way. I don’t know that I could rise up strong like other courageous women.

I have mentioned briefly before my anxiety and fear in something happening to my children when I wrote the post entitled I’m Sorry Mom-I Get It Now. As a mom who suffers from anxiety and depression, I often do not know if what I am feeling is normal or part of my disorder. Maybe you can help me sort through it all. Maybe you too have these feelings or you know how to ease my constant worry.

I am that mom…

I am that mom that goes in to check on the baby (and the big kids) each night to make sure they are breathing.

I am the one who has monitors in all their bedrooms in case for some reason I can’t hear them cry out.

I am that mom who will probably dream up all the worst-case scenarios for any situation.

I am the one with the inner voice giving myself a pep talk, reminding myself to let it go and it will be okay!

I am the one who hears a segment on the news about many places not having carbon monoxide detectors and immediately jump on Amazon to buy a battery operated travel carbon monoxide detector. (Yes, I do bring that to hotels and people’s houses when we spend the night.)

I am the one who made my husband install a dead bolt on the door to the garage.

I am the one who double checks all the doors to make sure they are locked before heading to bed.

 

My more level headed other half:

Thankfully my husband is much more laid back than I am. I guess they say opposites attract for a reason. We balance each other out.

While I am over here worrying about the Zika virus or some other random thing I just saw on the news, he is right there reminding me that the chances are very rare. He dutifully installs the deadbolts and gets out of bed, even though he is already half asleep, to double check if he shut the garage door. Slowly he coaxes me to be okay with our one year old sleeping with a blanket. He helps me calm my nerves as I try not to let my fears cripple them or stand in the way of letting them live their life to the fullest.

Together we joke about some of my silly nuances. Yet truthfully, it is always in the back of my mind, that plaguing “what if”.

You are probably reading this thinking, “Wow, this lady is a paranoid nut job!” I get it. It sounds crazy.

Most things have a backstory as to why I worry. Like the carbon monoxide detector, I know of two people who passed away as children from carbon monoxide poisoning. And I will say that it is true that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. My mom did tell me on Mother’s Day that the glitter in the water table may get in their eyes and hurt them. (I can safely share that because I know she will read this and know she too has spent countless sleepless nights worrying about her babies. You know I love you Mom!)

But other times it is just me thinking that life is circular and something bad is around the bend. It is my way of prepping myself for a bad situation that may come my way.

Is it irrational or just normal “mom-xiety”?

Maybe it is out of the ordinary to worry so much about your children.

I try to embrace the idea that everything is in God’s hands. I truly do try to let it go a little. And I envy the mom who is so relaxed. One day maybe I can be the mom who shrugs off the thought of something happening, letting it roll off my shoulders without a backwards glance. I need a little of that in my life.

I’ll continue to keep working on myself. For now… I need to go put my hand on the baby’s back to feel her chest rise and fall with each breath so I can rest a little easier tonight.

Summer Fun on a Budget

Summer has been full of fun, cheap adventures that have kept us happily busy!

I truly had planned to write up a bunch of fun 4th of July activities that we were going to do in preparation for the 4th of July but, that didn’t happen. Let’s be real here, it’s busy and doing a craft project just doesn’t seem to be fitting in with our lifestyle right now and I’m totally okay with that! The winter will be here soon enough and our days will be filled with crafts, books, and games once again. But for now, it is SUMMER! And we are going to live every moment drinking up this beautiful sunshine!

So you may be asking yourself what sorts of cheap or free things have been keeping us so busy? Well I’ll share them with you in hopes that you too can find some adventures in your neck of the woods!

Family Fun Runs

I am not a runner by any means. It’s just not my thing. Lately though, everywhere I look there is information about these fun different runs that people are doing! It just so happened the our whole family has now done two Color Runs! What is more fun that getting covered with a bunch of different colors as you run around together!? Look in your area maybe you all can go do an obstacle course through the mud like the Tough Mudder. Or what could be more fun than running through a bunch of inflatables as your obstacle course!  Usually there is a small fee to enter however, in our cases both were donation based events for local schools.

Making memories with family + Supporting a good cause + Being healthy and active= Major win!

                

Free Zoo

In our area there are a few different options for free zoos. Having the flexibility in the summer allows us to be able to go on more of a whim! We always try to shoot for a week day when the weather looks nice since it isn’t as crowded during the week. I pack a cooler with lunches, snacks, and drinks to help save money on food. We all wear comfy shoes and spend the day meandering around the zoo. Even the littlest one is in awe of all the animals.

As you can see, my middle child was not happy being so close to the mom and baby gorillas!
A face to face view of the grizzly bear!

Free Zoos near Eau Claire, WI:

Irvine Park

Como Zoo

Trips to the Beach

Nothing beats the beach on a hot summer day! Most beaches are free to the public or just have a small parking fee. I have a bag of sand toys always packed and ready to grab! We throw together a bag full of sunscreen, towels, life-vests, tubes, and a change of clothes. (Be watching Instagram to find out about the newest all natural sunscreen that I recently discovered!) Then we work together to pack a few food items that everyone likes! And of course being out in the sun we make sure to bring lots of water to drink! The littles can play to their hearts content and then nap on the beach when they get tuckered out! That is definitely one of my favorite ways to spend the day! These pictures were taken at Lake Altoona Beach, a great place to swim in early summer.

             

Bike Trails

Our area is full of different bike trails and paths to explore. Even if its just for a quick jaunt together or a longer trip that usually end with a stop to get ice cream, we always have a blast! The girls love riding in the Burley Bike Trailer and my oldest is building up her stamina to ride her own bike! Once again we feel good since we are having fun together but also staying active!

Good thing she has a little sis to give her the extra boost she needs every once and awhile!

Nature Hikes

Along with bike trails, there are lots of unique walking paths in our town to explore. And sometimes we find ourselves forging our own trails! The girls love to find different flowers along the way, as well as sticks, feathers, and other fun things to collect! We usually pack snacks in the stroller because as you all know, kids are hungry all the time! This allows for us to explore for longer periods of time. These pictures are from a recent hike along the Chippewa Water Trail.

                 

Feeding the Ducks and Throwing Rocks

Eau Claire means “Clear Water” so our city is full of fun areas along the river to spend an afternoon. My girls could throw rocks in the water for hours! And of course we have to bring along any bread to feed any ducks we may see.

Treasure Hunting

Growing up we always stopped at thrift sales (or garage sales as some call them) whenever we went anywhere. As kids we would grab whatever coins we could scrounge together and come home with all kinds of fun treasures. It is still something my Grandparents, my Mom, and I love to do. Of course the thrill of finding unique treasures has now been passed on to my girls. My husband is not a huge fan but it has seriously clothed our children, basically filled all our bookshelves and playroom, and decorated much of our house! (Check out the cute lemonade stand I just scored here.)The other day it was my husband’s birthday and my four year old grabs her purse on the way out the door to lunch and says to him excitedly, “Do you think there will be any thrift sales along the way Dad?!” Of course it was a Sunday and it was his birthday so the chances of going treasure hunting that day were slim to none. I had to laugh at her excitement and the fact that the tradition had now rubbed off on her!

These roller skates were our newest finds! We found the brand new Frozen pair for $4 and the other pair at another sale for $1!

Trips to the Park

There are so many different parks around town to explore. Each one has something different to offer the kids. It has been kind of a fun bucket list idea of ours to write down all the parks in our town and try to visit each of them! I love to see how excited the kids get when we visit a park they have never been to before. If you haven’t checked out the new playground at Altoona Elementary School, we highly recommend it! They did a great job of survey the kids to get their input on what type of equipment they enjoyed playing on.

  

Free Kid’s Classes

Keep your eyes and ears posted for fun classes that are being offered.

Churches are a great option for fun summer activities. My four year old just had a blast at her Vacation Bible School Class this past week. It was free for anyone who wanted to come and have fun and learn about God! They sang songs, did all kinds of fun experiments, played games, and made different projects together! She gained so much from that week.

We have also found a fun free Yoga in the Park for Kids class that happens every Tuesday. The girls grab their mats and practice their poses with other kids. The leader does a great job leading them in playing games, doing stories with actions, and strengthening their bodies.

Another resource to check is your local schools and libraries! They have a bunch of fun, free classes that they offer for kids over the summer.

S’mores and Campfires

Evening fires and s’mores have been a large part of our evenings lately. We just finished up our new patio area and so we are spending a ton of time out there. Sitting around the fire is a perfect time to reflect on the day together and just relax. Of course, the girls are always thrilled to roast a marshmallow over the fire. Although it is messy, nothing is cuter than a kid devouring a large s’more.

Our first s’mores on our new patio!

Community Events

I love to check out the Events Calendar that our city puts online. There are so many great activities happening all the time!

Last week, on the day of the Summer Solstices, a local yoga company put together a large free event for the International Day of Yoga. They had face painting, vendors, and live music. Then they led a class for a large group of people. The older two girls and I went with some friends and had a great time! There is also free Yoga in the Park for everyone on Thursdays and Saturdays!

Booked on our calendar is:

  • Family Fun Day– a free event with live music, sports, demonstrations, exhibitors, arts, an outdoor movie, and so much more! This year we are excited to watch The Secret Life of Pets on the big outdoor screen!

             

  • Chalkfest– a free event where local artist spend the day covering the sidewalk with unique pieces of art. At the end of the day, the pieces are judged and awards are announced. They have fun chalk related games and food vendors out so you can spend the day watching the chalk artwork progress. The kids can also participate by adding to the kid’s sidewalk mural.

                   

  • Dragon Boat Festival-watch teams paddle large Hong Kong style dragon boats along a 250 meter course.
  • Ski Sprites– We love to go on Wednesday and Sunday nights to Lake Altoona Beach to watch the Ski Sprites preform daring tricks!

I’m sure there will be many more spur of the moment community activities that will fill our calendar.

Strawberry Picking

I just took the kids to a local strawberry patch with a friend and her little ones this week! It was perfect! The baby was content pulling berries off the vine and stuffing them into her mouth. The kids were content eating strawberries and occasionally putting berries in their buckets. And we got to pick berries while chatting together. It really was such a wonderful time! And we came home with a pail full of delicious, juicy berries! These pictures were taken at Mcilquham’s Orchard.

                 

I’m hoping to take them blueberry picking soon because those are my favorite to pick! They are seriously the easiest berry to pick and fresh blueberries are hands down THE BEST!

Playing in the Rain

Summer rains are the best time to go out and play! The air is warm and the cool rain is refreshing. Rain boots and “sumbrellas” as my middle baby says, are fun accessories that we don’t often get to use! Here is the link to score a cute frog umbrella like ours! I’ll be honest though, I got mine treasure hunting at a thrift sale! I love going out with all the kids and splashing in the puddles with them. We have splash contests and races. Best of all, occasionally Daddy comes home during our rain adventures and joins in, dress clothes and all!

  

Backyard Water Play

I love setting up water play areas in our yard. It is so much easier for me than to bring all these young kids to the pool.

  • I put up our pool which has a slide and sprinkler on it. (Another find of mine from treasure hunting that I scored for FREE!) I also bring over a small little tikes slide and put that into the pool as well. Then we fill it with ball pit balls (see more here). The kids could spend hours in this pool.

  • Another favorite is a simple slip and slide!
  • Turning the sprinklers on is another easy way to stay cool and keep the kids happily, busy!

  • And of course we always have our water table on hand! Here more about my love for our water table here.

Outdoor Music Concerts

On Tuesdays, Owen Park in Eau Claire is filled with Blues Music. Local food vendors gather and people bring their blankets, chairs, and beverages to relax and listen to the music.

Schultz Barn in Eleva has a featured band every Tuesday in the summer too. I actually just came home from there. It was just gorgeous! It isn’t too crowded and its set at a barn looking out over the rolling fields! They have a woodfire pizza company come and they also sell ice cream. You can bring your own beverages and just relax with family and friends.

                 

Thursday, Pheonix Park in Eau Claire has their Sounds Like Summer Concert Series. 2,000+ people come to these every Thursday night!

                

Take a look in your community to see if they have any live outdoor music shows! It is a perfect venue for a family picnic!

Take Me Out to the Ball Game

Local baseball games are a family event that can be enjoyed by all ages! We have our local Express games that we like to frequent. The kids have a fun time seeing the game, enjoying a hot dog, and doing the different family events that they often have. While we are there we also try to hit up the train ride that goes through Carson Park!

                             

That’s what we have been doing…

And of course LOTS of play-dates with friends and family!

Do you have any family things that you can do on a budget over the summer?

 

A “One-derful” Woodland Adventure

Another Birthday for the Books

Turning one is a “one-derful” occasion that deserves a grand celebration! Here is a recap of the fun filled “One-derful” Woodland Adventure birthday party we held for our little one!

Inspired by the books:

(If you haven’t read these books…YOU NEED TO! They are the cutest stories with rich language and pictures that really add to the story.)

A New Motto: Simplify

Another birthday has come and gone for my little ones! I can now sit back and sigh a little sigh of relief knowing that it was pulled off without a hitch! Sure there were hiccups. The day ended up being 94 degrees with a 25+ mile an hour wind, both of which makes outside parties a challenge. But we all pulled together and made it work.

As a mom who has done a “big” birthday party 7 times now, I’m realizing it is okay to just let things go and just enjoy the moment. Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook and the internet has glorified these parties to become big ordeals with gorgeous decorations, perfect looking food, and elaborate activities. They have made the whole party become a big production with all the stress of what it “should” be.

I know first hand that stress. I’ve been fallen into the trap numerous times. You can see one of them here.

The one thing that keeps me doing these parties is the fact that the girls will talk about them ALL the time. They will bring up little details throughout the year that I never would have thought that they remembered. To me that is most important. It is a big deal to them and therefore I will continue to throw them the best birthday party that I can. However, I’m sticking with my new motto of simplifying things as much as possible!

I embraced the simplification as much as possible this time around and it made the party so much more enjoyable for me. There were a few decorations that were made that added to the “one-derful” Woodland Adventure. But as you will see when you read on, my village really came through on the decorations this year! I also tried to get food that fits the Woodland theme but my other stipulation was that it had to be easy! And there were no themed games but we had TONS of water fun (totally not related to a “One-derful” Woodland Adventure) since it was SOOOO hot!

It does take a village.

The other amazing this about this “one-derful” birthday is the fact that so many amazing people pulled together to help with this party! As you can see when you read below I have some amazing people in my life! They are pretty “one-derful”! (Sorry I just couldn’t resist!) Like I said before, it takes a village!

It is tradition that my mom makes the cake and the smash cake. The girls have always loved the fact that their Mema makes the cakes for them. And let me personally tell you that not only do they look amazing but they taste delicious! Fitting with the “One-derful” Woodland theme and the story Hedgehugs, she made a hedgehog cake!

The birthday girl with her Mema and the hedgehog cake!
Seriously the cutest hedgehog cake ever!
I love how she put the smash cake on a slice of a log and spelled her name out with pretzel sticks.

For another feature of a gorgeous cake that Mema made, check out my two year old’s Party Animals Birthday!

“One-deful” Woodland Decor:

My amazing friend came and made the high chair fabric banner with my girls while I was helping my husband lay bricks for a new patio. (Yes, we were crazy enough to put in a new patio ourselves two weeks before the party! It was down to the wire getting it done but we pulled it off and I’m so happy with how it turned out! It got a good workout the day of the party!) These banners are super easy to make. Just find fabric that matches your colors and theme.

That same friend and I actually sewed the big Happy Birthday banner for my oldest’s first birthday. I love the rich look of the cloth banner and the colors seem to work for every theme we have had. I’m not going to lie, it was a lot of work to make the banner. We had to sew all of the triangles and then ironing on the letters. I’m not a sewer so this was a daunting task. Thankfully my friend is amazing and she walked me through it. Best of all, once it is complete it really simplifies things for all the other birthday parties!

My wonderful sister had been looking at every target in the twin cities for the number one balloon at their dollar spot. She did end up finding it right before the party. When we opened the package, it was less than a foot tall and there was no way to put helium in it. Thank goodness the 50-50 Factory Outlet has every number balloon available and so she ran and got helium put a number 1 from their store!

The birthday girl holding the large helium filled number 1 balloon!
The birthday girl holding the large helium filled number 1 balloon!
Birthday girl standing near a small one balloon holding the letters O N E.
Here is the Target dollar spot number 1 balloon so you can see the size comparison!

Another amazing friend of mine helped created the adorable onsie for her birthday! It says “One-derful” on the front and has a number one with a bow on it on the back! I’m in love with how it turned out!

 

Those of you that read the blog frequently or who check our Instagram probably know I LOVE Shutterfly! A few months before the party I got an email with an offer for a free poster! I decided to create a number one poster with a few pictures of the birthday girl! Not only is it a cute decoration but it is also an amazing keepsake! I’d say it turned out “one-derful”!

When I was shopping for the fabric for the high chair banner, I stumbled upon these cute wooden animals at JoAnn Fabric. I nabbed up a few and set them up near the food. I also have little chalkboard signs that I’ve found at the Target Dollar Spot that I use for every birthday to label the food. These are great since I can label the food to what the theme is for each party and just erase it for the next time. Simple: my new motto here!

Another talented friend made the gorgeous 3-D flower banner that went above the food table! She couldn’t even come to the party because she was out of town but she was so sweet to help with the decorations! I love the flowers because in the book Hedgehugs and the Hattipillar, they get flowers stuck to their quills that look quite similar!

Forest Food:

I tried to keep the food as simple as possible while still sticking to the theme. The main part of the meal was the brats (a.k.a. logs). For sides we had salad (Field Greens), fresh fruit (wild berries and melons), pretzel sticks (twigs), and celery with peanut butter and raisins (ants on a log). I put the pretzel stick “twigs” in brown paper bags with the tops rolled down. Originally I wanted to place these bags outside on the tables for people to snack on through the day however, with such strong winds we had to keep it all inside.

Drinks:

The week before the party I found this cute little Melissa and Doug lemonade/grocery store at a thrift sale! It worked perfect for a drink station! I knew that keeping everyone hydrated would be critical on a scorching hot day! We refilled the lemonade often as well as had water and other adult beverages in coolers near by.

Entertainment:

Since it was a birthday for a one year old I decided I would relax a little and not stress about planning games and activities. I did cover the tables with white rolls of paper and put mason jars of colored pencils on them. (Originally I wanted to fill the jars with crayons but that would melt in the scorching heat!) People could decorate the tables with any little drawings and messages that they wanted.

Other than that, I just wanted everyone to stay cool! I told anyone with children to have them come with swimsuits! We set out our pool and our water table. (I’ve raved about this water table on our Products We Love page.) Then we borrowed a pirate water table and the giant inflatable water slide from neighbors! The kids were more than entertained for hours! They had so much fun hopping from different water thing to another. But, by far their favorite was of course the water slide! After the party my husband came to the conclusion that investing in a blow up water slide like this is totally worth it for anyone who has children!

The highlight of our party…the water slide!
Of course we must always add all the ball pit balls to our swimming pool for extra fun!

It was another “one-derful” party for the books! I couldn’t have done it without my village. For more on my village click here!

Experience Gifts for Dad

Because the best memories are made together!

Most Dad’s want nothing more than to spend time with their family on Father’s Day. An experience gift is perfect especially for the Dad who seems to have it all. Check out these fun ideas for unique ways to create special memories that Dad will treasure forever!

Backyard Lawn Game Tournament

Set out all the different lawn games in your yard and have a fun family tournament. Enjoy ladderball, Bag Toss, Yard Yatzee, Jenga, Lawn Darts, or of course our Eau Claire favorite Kubb. (If you don’t have some of these games they would be a great Father’s Day present as well!)

Camp in the Back Yard

Set up a tent and pack a few camping essentials to create the perfect back-yard getaway! Dad will love the simplicity and fun of this easy experience gift! It’s a perfect way to create lasting memories together!

Fishing

 There are a lot of great local spots to spend the day fishing! Grab your poles and a container of worms and relax with Dad by the water. Catching a fish is just an added bonus to spending the day with Dad.

Hiking

Everyone pack some snacks and good walking shoes for a fun time exploring nature. Take in the sights and sounds as you explore uncharted territory. We took my husband out the other day and the kids were so excited to find different places where a beaver had chewed! It was like a scavenger hunt trying to find the beaver itself!

Build and Create Together

If the Dad in your life is anything like the guys I know, they love to build and create things! It also gives him a chance to use the new tools you’ve bought him. Find a fun Pinterest project to create and have all the supplies set up to do a family project.  When you are all finished you can proudly display what you created and share the memories every time you see the finished product!

Take a Road Trip

Find a local highway or just a fun nearby town to set out on an adventure with Dad. Let the day just take you in any direction. You will have so much fun just going with whatever comes your way. Just think of all the unique memories you can create together! Plus some of the best conversations seem to happen in car rides! Or see if there is a National Park or Monument not too far from you that you can check out!

Arcade or Fun Zone Afternoon

In our City we have a place called Action City that is every Man’s childhood dream come true playground! I’m sure that there is something similar around your town. Take Dad and the kids to spend the afternoon checking out the new trampoline park, playing laser tag, crashing around on the go-carts, or flying 130 feet up in the air on their new zip-line! There is nothing better than watching Dad play and laugh with the kids. If you can’t find a place like this in your area, create your own and go to a fun playground, bring some squirt guns or Nerf guns and have at it!

Tickets to a Game

Take Dad to go see the Packers or the Brewers play or I guess any other sports team would do as well. Spend the day creating memories together as you take in the sights and sounds of a game. For those Dads who seem to have it all these experience gifts are perfect! (For a less expensive, local option you could always go to a local team game in your town.)

Golf Outing

Golfing together is another great experience gift for Dad. Spend the day on the green zipping around on a golf cart. A few adult beverages, a bucket of balls, and some clubs would make most Dads ecstatic.

Whatever you choose to get or do, make sure that you let the special Dad in your life know he matters and that you notice all the little things he does! And don’t forget to check out our other post for 10 different craft ideas for the kid’s to make Dad.

 

The Power of “No” as a Parent

N-O- sure is a powerful two letter word. What happens when we use “no” too frequently?

“Say yes more often so that when you say “no” they know you mean it.” These words spoken on Zen Parenting Radio hit home. They made me stop and think about all the times in a day I say no.

As a parent to young kids, I feel like I’m always saying no.

“No, you can’t have another snack.”

“No, we already watched a Goldie and Bear so the TV is staying off.”

“No, I can’t push you on the swing right now.”

“No hun, I’m sorry we aren’t getting the paint set out right before dinner.”

Baby smiling on a swing with hands in the air.

Okay, you get it! The list just seems to go on. These are all true statements that I uttered just today!  I really should make a point of counting the number of times I say “no” verses the number of times I say “yes”. Sadly, I wonder if my “no’s” would be more frequent than the “yeses”. I understand there is a fine line to walk between spoiling your child by giving in to their every whim and begin too firm all the time. But somewhere in there I need to make an effort to find a better balance.

I need to realize that it really isn’t a big deal if they have more ketchup. Just squirt a tiny bit more and move on. And if they want a push on the swing, go do it! I’m going to miss their little giggle as they “fly” on the swing. One day I’m going to be wishing they would want me around. I’m going to be the one begging them to spend time with me!

Or instead of saying no to something they want to do, what about offering up something else instead. “Instead of painting before dinner, let’s grab these crayons and you can draw me your plate filled with your favorite foods!” I need to work on finding other ways of saying things so that I can save my “no” for when I truly mean it. I feel that compromising and relaying my message in a more positive way will have a profound impact on who they are and our relationship!

Mom and three daughters all covered in color from the Color Run.

It’s a goal of mine to start making a conscious effort to say yes more often. Life is too short and they are little only this fraction of a time. I’ve got to loosen up. I’ve got to put a more positive spin on how I approach things. I want my No’s to have meaning when I use them.

Leave the dishes, let the table stay dirty, the toys can be picked up later. Go and say yes! Be present! Say yes to the next book they ask to read or the game they have been begging to play. Do it and you may find that you truly enjoyed it as well. It feels good to let go a little.

Mom and three daughters by a scenic river.

Try it out and get back to me! Count the number of times you say “no” to your child. Then the next day try to find a more positive way to approach things. Tell me what you discovered!!

On a side note, if you haven’t checked out Zen Parenting Radio I highly recommend that you take the time to check them out! I listen to their podcasts all the time. I find myself relating to so much they say! They are so real about everything they discuss and make you really ponder how you are thinking and responding to different aspects of your life! Above is a direct link to their website and here is a link to their Facebook account Zen Parenting Facebook.

I try to make it a point to follow ZPR motto: “the best predictor of a child’s well-being is a parent’s self understanding”

Also for more on behaviors and positive parenting, check out our post about how we use a positive behavior plan on Yes, the Principal’s Kid Can Be Naughty!

I’m Sorry Mom-I Get It Now: 7 Things I learned After Having Kids

Things I Realized After Having Kids

  1. Dinner time is a challenge.

    You worked really hard on that delicious meal. You probably racked your brain trying to come up with something you could throw together. It was carefully planned to meet the criteria–healthy and fast. You spent time prepping it and baking it. And then I wouldn’t eat. I get it now Mom. I get the frustration. And I get the debate as we wager how many bites must be forced down to be excused. I get the exasperation when everyone is hungry and asking for a snack an hour later.

    We are very strict about the kids eating what we eat in our house. I refuse to cook a special meal for each kid. And for the most part it has worked out just fine. Our kids have a pretty wide range of items that they enjoy eating but, we all have those days where it just seems they won’t eat anything!

2. Everything becomes a hazard or fear of what might happen.

Danger is lurking at every corner. I remember distinctly being unable to grasp why I couldn’t ride my bike around the block myself. I remember climbing up on top of the garage roof and peering at the cars below only to be summoned down by a frantic mom. At that time, I didn’t see the big deal, but man do I get it now. I mean seriously, I ordered a travel carbon-monoxide detector because what if they spend the night at a friend’s house and they don’t have one! (That’s a whole other post…all about “mom-xiety!) I get it Mom, I couldn’t live with something happening to my children just like you couldn’t live with something happening to me!

I’m serious when I say that everything becomes a hazard. This is from a Frozen microphone. The jack that you use to plug in to your phone or computer somehow got lodged in her head!!!
3. Signing up for every camp, activity, and event that “everyone else is doing” is just not feasible.

First of it would cost both arms to afford and secondly who has time for all that running!? While it is crushing as a kid to see “all” your friends in a million fun activities and not to mention the five different summer camps, I now understand.

As an alternative to all the camps and sports clinics, we often find local events around the community for the children to attend. This is from the Maker Faire. The kids got a first hand look at some amazing STEAM projects!
4. Mom needs alone time!

You were probably thinking, “You are a pretty cool kid, but NO YOU CAN’T SPEND EVERY WAKING MOMENT WITH ME!” You need a break too. I hear ya! You need a time-out from kids. A chance to just be, to breath, soak in a few minutes of silence and regroup. I mean really, you should be pretty flattered that I wanted to spend that much time with you right?! 😉 But in all seriousness I get it! My kids are amazing and I love them with all my being but sometimes I just need a little time for me.

5. Laundry never ends.

No, the laundry didn’t get done today and we will be lucky if it gets done tomorrow. Your favorite pair of jeans are not clean and if you want to wear them to school you will have to wash them yourself. I GET IT NOW LAUNDRY IS NEVER ENDING!!!! My current view is three heaping baskets of laundry that need to be folded and put away and lord knows I’m being honest when I say that they have been that way for days now.

The Laundry Monster is one of our favorite books to read when the laundry is piled up for a few days. We now joke about our own “Laundry Monster” coming to get Mommy!
We are starting early learning how to fold, hang laundry, and match up socks! As Daniel Tiger says, “We are all BIG helpers in our family!”.
6. Making time for family is important.

Going to see your Great Aunt Betty Jo Lee is important. She may be slightly senile and have a hard time hearing. She may have a thousand breakables that you are only aloud to look at and not touch. But you still need to do it. As a kid this can be so hard to understand! You just want to be outside or nose deep in a book or really anywhere but there. I get it now. Family is so important and one day you will regret not investing as many hours as you possibly could with those people. Life is short and unexpected. They may not be here tomorrow and we can’t take that for granted.

7. You learn to love where you live not because of the location but because of the people.

You picked our town to live in even though the winters are brutal and you never moved and now I see why. As a kid I swore I would get out of here as soon as I possibly could! I’d go somewhere warm with sunshine year round! Nope, I stayed put and as my husband would say, “my roots are planted deep here.” Our family is here and if you read number five you understand the strong feelings I have come to realize about being around your family. I need my family around and if that means taking more vitamin D pills a day to get my dose of sunshine then so be it!

I have a feeling this list has only just begun. And I probably haven’t said this enough but, Mom, your job was hard. Thank you for sticking with it and for doing everything you could to raise us to the best of your ability. You have shown us a strength and love unlike anyone else. I know so the reason for so many things that as a child I never could understand.

What is something that your parents did that, after becoming a parent yourself, you were able to reflect on and see in a much clearer light?

My mom and me on my 1st birthday!